The AIUEO Song

‘“The AIUEO Song” was one of several films screened in the Japanese empire to teach the Japanese writing system to schoolchildren, released close behind the tunes “Flower of Patriotism” and “Our Unity” – there are accounts of all three being screened repeatedly. Digging around in the archives, Takashi Kayama has uncovered another version of the song, released on vinyl by Nippon Columbia in November 1942, and recorded by schoolchildren in Singapore, seemingly native Chinese speakers struggling to get the sounds exactly right.’

Over at the All the Anime blog, I delve into new revelations about the singalong Japanese lesson that forms an early highlight of Momotaro, Sacred Sailors.

Terminal Boredom

‘Suzuki excels at unreliable narration. In the Bradbury-esque “Night Picnic” (translated by Sam Bett), four creatures that identify as human beings pore over a library of forgotten books, comically and ham-fistedly trying to reconstruct what it means to be an Earthling. In “That Old Seaside Club” (translated by Helen O’Horan), a possibly drug-addled glimpse of seafront nightlife turns out to be the hallucinatory refuge of a doleful housewife, reliving a replay of her twenties heyday. In much the same fashion, in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (translated by Aiko Masubuchi), a woman’s recounting of her night-club experiences carries a niggling, growing sense that time is not working in the way it should, and that her perception of the passing of the minutes and the passing of the years might be confused.’

Over at All the Anime, I review the new collection of science fiction stories by the late Izumi Suzuki.

How Do You Live?

“Copper is adept at finding out things for himself, and the reader shares in his joy as he uncovers such things as the supply chain that puts a mouthful of Australian dairy milk onto his Tokyo breakfast table – the cows and the milkers and the factory and the freight train and the steamship… Uncle is there to point out that what he is actually talking about is the ‘relations of production,’ and gently tries to inform him about the basic principles of Marxist economics.”

Over at All the Anime, I’ve been reading the book of Hayao Miyazaki’s next film.

Coffee is Carnage

The last thing I want to discuss at 9am is whether I want whipped cream on top of my coffee, particularly in Mandarin. Why can’t I ask for a coffee and get one, and not have to say grande instead of medium? The arseholes who invented the illusion of choice at coffee shops clearly never stopped to consider the miseries of ordering such minutiae in Chinese, where foreign concepts are assembled from a jumble of syllables that sound almost equivalent to Chinese ears, all of which have their own discrete meaning. Even asking for a Caramel Latte involves saying that you desire Cooked Sugar Seize Iron Add Africa. And a Mocha is a Magic Card. I feel like I am inside some Situationist art installation, asking a woman in an apron to bring me a Shining Fish Wiggle Rainbow, and doing so with a straight face.

“What size do you want?” asks Betty.

“I just told you,” I say, “dabei”. Which means Big Cup.

“Does that mean the biggest cup?” she asks, which is tebie dabei (or Special Big Cup) in Chinese, “Or does that mean the medium cup?” which is called ‘Big Cup’ in Chinese, as I just told you. And her.

“Grande,” I sigh. “You call it dabei. It says dabei here on the sign. I am reading out your own labels.”

“Ah,” she says. “Gu Lan De,” making up an entirely new concept in Chinese to describe the thing that is already described as Big Cup, but now is apparently also to be referred to as an Old Blue Independent.

“All right, then,” I say. “An Old Blue Independent Cooked Sugar Seize Iron Add Africa,” using the correct terminology, which is only correct at this moment, in this conversation, between me and Betty. If I use the same jumble of ideas with anyone else, they will blink at me blankly and wonder if I am mad.

“Would you like a muffin?” she adds, innocently. Which, if you ever need it in Mandarin, is Ma Fen, which means Carnelian Finn. But if you say it with the wrong tones, it means a Pointless Faff.

Jonathan Clements is the author of The Emperor’s Feast: A History of China in Twelve Meals.