Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ordering from Amazon Japan

Awhile back, I posted about my phone caterwauling at random intervals (most likely due to demonic possession). After stabbing phone-shaped voodoo dolls, calling in a telephonic priest, and just plain ignoring it and hoping it would eventually go away, we gave up and ordered a new phone from Amazon Japan.

Dealing with a Japanese web page when you don't understand most of what is written there can be rather daunting but Google's automatic translation services can help. Well, it can help a little. Anyone who thinks technology will eventually replace human translators should find any non-English page and apply a Google translation to the page and try to understand the mishmash that results.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I am familiar enough with bad translations of Japanese into English and can decode the translations fairly well. I can read a little of the Japanese (and my husband who studied kanji can read more than I) but not enough to get much of a sense of things so even bad English is better than only Japanese. Once you get through registering with Amazon Japan, they have your address and credit card information so you only have to get through the important stuff once and then just log in and buy, buy, buy thereafter with just a few clicks. If you can't read it yourself, you can get a Japanese friend or coworker to get you through the hard part, just don't forget your user name and password.

Given that Amazon Japan is as cheap or cheaper than most shops and delivers the next day in most cases, it's a pretty good place to turn to first when you need something. I've even been recommending that my students give it a go and they are pleasantly surprised. You'd think they'd investigate it on their own but the Japanese are more suspicious of on-line buying than Americans. Most of them who buy goods on-line have them delivered C.O.D. rather than use their credit cards.

it's an angelic iridescent white...hopefully, the demons will be put off

My new phone is not incredibly dissimilar from my old one functionally except for one important point. It lacks the "door phone" functionality that was malfunctioning on my old phone. If it goes wonky, it will have to do so in a different way. As an added bonus, it's supposed to allow you to talk on the cordless handset and the wired handset at the same time. So, if my husband and I want to, we could talk to someone at the same time.

Of course, this is "in theory" since neither of us are phone slaves to begin with. To illustrate this most shockingly, I'll reveal that we don't have cell phones. This point tends to flabbergast most Japanese as they can't seem to go anywhere without their phones glued to their ears, vibrating in the bags, or melded to their hands so they can peck out text messages during any spare moment. Personally, I only grudgingly keep any phone at all so I can receive calls from my student referral agency and students themselves. I can't understand the appeal of being at hand for anyone to interrupt you at any moment.


Tokyo Rosa said...

Even I'm shocked that you don't have a cell phone!! I mean, how is it that you are allowed to continue to live in Japan?? (^-^)

Actually, though, I really liked my Japanese cell phone and the handset was one of the few souvenirs that I brought home with me...

Luis said...

Here's a fun game: open the Mac translation widget (or, equivalently, go to any translation web site), and type in an English sentence to be translated into Japanese. Then reverse the translation (a single-button action in the Mac widget). Then reverse again, and again, and again. Sometimes the translation gets stuck and won't change, but usually it will change into something new and more and more bizarre each time.

I tried it with this sentence:

"The heater in my apartment room works wonderfully in getting the place nice and toasty."

After one round, it became:

"The heater of my apartment room the place is splendid, toasty works splendidly by the fact that you obtain."

Next time around:

"The heater of my apartment room the place element clear forcing and toasty job does nicely with the fact which you obtain."


"The heater of my apartment room does clear forcing and toasty job of the element of fact and the place where you obtain securely."


"The heater of my apartment room fact and removes forcing of the element of the place where you obtain securely and toasty job."

Several iterations later:

"You force the element of the place where you obtain securely because of the heater of fact of my apartment room toasty job which it removes."

You get the idea. Fun for the family!

But I think that Japanese translates much worse than European languages, due to the very different syntax and linguistic styles. I've seen Spanish pages that translate pretty clearly into English.

Shari said...

Tokyo Rosa: I'm betting they'd cancel my visa if they knew. ;-) I think the phones look cute and all but they represent something I fight tooth and nail - that is, that you should be available to people who choose to contact you. I don't even answer the door when I don't want to. I just don't like being at the beck and call of anyone.

Luis: I've used the Mac translation utility before but never thought of playing a technological game of "chinese whispers" with it. ;-)

Tokyo Rosa said...

i'm with you on never answering! but it was easy in japan because there are so many instances when you *can't* answer (sorry, i was on the train/working/in a restaurant/whatever), that it was never a problem! (texting, though, well...)

and i always used the "i don't know enough japanese to figure out how to check my messages" excuse when people did leave messages. worked every time!

Shari said...

"I don't know Japanese" is a great excuse to get out of a good many unpleasant things. On those occasions when NHK shows up, I always pretend I don't have a clue what they want. Also, it drives the newspaper man away without a fuss. :-)

Don said...

I don't mean this as a personal attack, but as your profile says you've lived in Japan for about 17 years, I was wondering why you aren't reasonably fluent in Japanese already (as suggested by your post on Amazon Japan).

I read in your first blog entry that you choose to live a western lifestyle, and I can understand that. What I can't work out is why anyone would choose to live so long in a country without learning the local lingo. Would you mind talking about that a little?

Shari said...

Don: This is a reasonable question. However, learning to read and write Japanese isn't as simple as learning to do so in western languages. There are 3 types of written Japanese - 2 phonetic alphabets (katakana and hiragana) and one pictographic one (kanji) which includes thousands of characters. I can read the phonetic alphabets but I can't read kanji. The phonetic alphabets are in the area of 50 characters each (compared to 26 letters in the English alphabet) and a basic solid kanji understanding is about 2,000 characters.

Learning to read kanji takes an immense amount of time and dedication. There are characters that Japanese people don't even know or forget because there are so many. What complicates matters further is that there are multiple readings for the same characters based on context. I can read the katakana and hiragana on web pages but I can't read the kanji and most of the information is in kanji. Mind you, I can read some kanji but only that which is directly connected to repeated reading in my daily life (such as the names of places).

What is more, I never planned to live in Japan for as long as I have. The original plan was to live here for 5 years only and then return to the U.S. It all just sort of got away from us and Japan just became another place to live and work.

It was never my intention to be a lifelong resident (and it still isn't). I still plan to go back to the U.S. when my health has improved.

Learning kanji is such a big undertaking that its use in Japan retards the literacy rate relative to western cultures. While all Japanese people eventually become literate, it takes them 2-4 years longer to reach the same level as an American child because there are so many characters to memorize. Since I have no intention of working in Japanese in the future (and I wouldn't even if I remained in Japan), it's not worth the time and effort to learn to read in kanji.

There are people who have been here longer than I and are intending to stay essentially for the rest of their lives who also cannot read many kanji.

My goal upon returning to the U.S. is to work in corporate training or adult education in computers or computer graphics software or possibly in desktop publishing. It will have nothing to do with Japan. I've spent my time on pursuits related to that goal.

I hope that addresses your question.

Roy said...

OMG, I can't believe you don't have a cell phone.

Well, it's not that hard to believe. Years ago I used to preach to my students why cell phones were evil and would erode what little sense of social etiquette young people had left.

Then someone showed me a P201 and I was like "Must have!!!"

It's a sickness, I'll be the first to admit it.

Shari said...

I knew that'd be your reaction, Roy, and I love that it is! It provides balance to the universe. :-)

Actually, I used to be the way you are about computers (esp. new Macs) and new computer technology. I used to itch and have to restrain myself from buying the newest, fastest thing. There was a point when I bought a new computer every year. At some point, that desire just vanished.

As for etiquette in regards to phones, I think it's all in the hands of the people who are being pestered to keep the pesterers in check. That is, if you politely make it clear to people that there are limits, then they will respect them. Part of how manners fall apart is people feeling too insecure to place limits.