Cherry Blossoms in Takamatsu

Today I went to Ritsurin Park to see cherry blossoms. Even though it was raining, it was a wonderful time. The park is so beautiful. It's the kind of place you'd want to walk around, even if you have to put your umbrella up. There are winding paths, ducking in and out of wooded areas, as well as bridges arching over ponds with fish swimming in them. One of the reasons I came to Takamatsu was to experience the natural beauty of Japan, rather than it's intense urban centers, and I am finding just that.

My father sometimes describes these type of images as emblematic of the beginning of time. I know the feeling. When I look at these stalks in the water, I can imagine what ancient poets might have been thinking when they wrote. It was very peaceful and calm. I am going to go again next weekend, with a totally different atmosphere. It will be daytime, and I expect not a rainy day. The next time, there will be a group of about 20 people, and we'll all bring a lunch box and plenty to drink. That's the tradition, so we can all live it up and have a great time together. Ritsurin park is actually really close to my apartment, so I can go there any time. It's just $4 (400 yen) to enter, which in my view is completely worth it. If you're planning to visit Shikoku, definitely don't miss it.

Lastly, my friend and I went to Youme Town, which is a kind of shopping mall with a little bit of everything. There is a grocery store which includes foreign foods and even organic ones, which I didn't know was popular in Japan. There is also a pet store, where I saw the cutest animals. It's definitely worth a trip to Youme Town if you're in Takamatsu and are craving something other than udon shops for a change. You can get Chinese and Korean food as well.


Reported Speech

From an exchange with linguist Noam Chomsky:

Question: In reported speech, what is the approximate human limit to understanding embedded phrases? For example, "John asked Mary to tell Susan that Mark asked Alex to tell Jill ..." Or, for comparison, "He asked her to tell him that he asked her to tell her ..." Moreover, what are the reasons for the limitation? My initial guess is short term memory, but I imagine there is a lot more going on behind the scenes. When I tested it with both NS and NNS, one of the first effects was that people started interchanging pronouns. I'm not sure what was happening in the mind.

Answer: Those are not embedded. Recursion is often confused with embedding. Sentences of the form you mention can be understood up to the limits of patience. They are typically reformulated prosodically in speech, like the famous "this is the cat that ate the mouse.....the house that Jack built."

Truly embedded sentences, like "if [the man [who Bill saw] is smart] then...." can be understood up to about 7 embeddings, as expected: that's the cross-specific limit on short-term memory. Self-embedding, like a relative clause within a relative clause, breaks down in speech at about 3. There's discussion of this in a paper of George Miller's and mine in Luce, Bush, Galanter eds., Handbook of Mathematical Psychology, about 1964.

An example of 3: The man who the boy who you met saw likes Mary.
Try: The woman who the man who the boy who you met saw likes just left.


Karaoke in Takamatsu

One place that is quite good is Big Echo, and another is Banana Club. Both are located in downtown Takamatsu, near Kawara-machi (Kawara Street). Any trouble finding them, just catch a cab. I don't have the addresses handy. But I'll probably go next weekend. If I do, photos and more details to come.


Valentine's and White Day

According to Wikipedia, "In Japan, Valentine's Day is observed by women who present chocolate gifts (either store-bought or handmade), usually to men, as an expression of love." Actually, it is also observed among friends, and even co-workers.

One month later, on White Day, men who received a chocolate on Valentine's Day are expected to return the favor by giving gifts, usually more expensive. Sometimes the term sanbai kaeshi (三倍返し, literally, "three times the return") is used to describe the generally recited rule that the return gift should be two- to three-times the cost of the Valentine's gift."

As far as I know, that's true about White Day. But notice that these days are "observed" more than they are "celebrated." In America, people make a big fuss about Valentine's Day, and White Day doesn't exist. My experience? Don't do too much -- in Japan, excessive compliments make people feel shy. So, don't go by American standards in Japan. And the reverse, don't go by Japanese standards in America. Have fun though!



Rain bathes the train windows as announcements flow in Japanese.

Tsugi no eki de gozaimasu. Matsuyama eki desu. Arigatou gozaimashita. Shitsureishimasu, ki wo tsukete kudasai.

An ocean away from home, Shikoku is my island now. Culture shock comes in waves. Things seem upside-down here. Maybe American is upside-down. My perspective is dribbling away.

Dogo town's hot springs attract me, and 3,000 years have aged them. The streetcar to Dogo squeals under rainfall. At the final station, I follow the crowd to the hot springs.

People gush out fresh, clean. I slip off my shoes. Attendants give me a robe, and light streams through milky windows.

Upstairs, I disrobe to bathe. Wooden stools line marble walls. I sit on one and scrub myself before entering the hot spring. Fountains pout ancient water. Understand that water is silent.

Fellow bathers edge away, slightly nervous. I am a guest and often an outsider. Maybe I should say hello? Maybe it's me, not them. I sink in more deeply, saying nothing. I think we're all curious to talk with each other, but none of us has the nerve.

The bath refreshes me, and I dry myself, feeling better. Attendants bring tea. I sit crosslegged and sip, tasting its subtle leaves.
While walking the grounds, I meet a couple. She has lived in Boston, as have I. He speaks Japanese, and she translates. We have coffee, and I'm relieved by their kindness. Why am I in Japan, they wonder.

We chat for an hour but I can't fully explain it. I'm just searching for something pure, like water.

March 2008. Dogo, Japan.


Round One - Japanese Fun Center

I went bowling with friends last night at Round One, a six floor mega entertainment complex. It was about $5 per hour each, and the five of us had a great time until 3am. They have Japanese bowling (mini everything), karaoke, electro-darts, scads of video games like you've never seen, bike racing, skating, and just about every mind-numbing thing you could imagine. It's a great place to go for fun. I don't have the exact address, but if you take a taxi, just say "Round One, kudasai" and they will know it. Have fun!