Walking home with colleagues after dinner the other night, we passed this cute sign advertising some porcine parking, and I was reminded once again of how fantastic Japanese is for the making of inventive puns. “Boo boo” (ブーブー) is, of course, what pigs say in Japanese and, as my colleagues informed me, it’s also the sound that Japanese children make when imitating the noise of a car. So, obviously, BooBooPARK. (And as you have already probably guessed, there is plenty of “boo boo” pork out there as well.)

Animals, of course, make different sounds in different languages, as I once discovered when my friend Josh and I completely failed to understand a joke that was told to us by our friend Barbara, from Holland. The joke goes something like this:

One pig says to another one, “Knor?” Then the other pig replies, “No thank you, I’m not hungry right now.”

This joke only works if you know both that the sound that Dutch pigs make is “knor,” and that Knorr is also a popular brand of instant soup.

The number of intercultural misunderstandings made possible by these kind of knowledge/language gaps is almost limitless, and the failure to understand when a clever pun might be at work must surely be the basis for any number of “wacky Japan” communiques. Once you understand the language game that’s at work, however, what seems to be at first a culturally endemic penchant for random eccentricity instead needs to be reread as a culturally endemic penchant for inventive language play. The BooBooPARK sign might at first appear to be a completely random collision between pig and car – surely the next best thing  to the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella – but it turns out to have a perfectly systematic inner logic once the wordplay is taken into account.

This classic ANA advertisement featuring a team of deer ripping up the basketball court is a perfect example of a cultural product that will seem unfathomably strange until the pun that holds it all together is properly understood. Why deer instead of bulls, since everyone knows that the famous basketball team from Chicago is the Bulls? The key lies in the fact that the Japanese word for deer, shika (鹿 – pronounced ‘she-ka’), forms the first two phonemes of the Japanese pronunciation of Chicago (シカゴ). And, of course, the final phoneme of シカゴ is ゴ, which is a homonym for “go,” a borrowing from English that is so ubiquitous that it might as well be a Japanese word. So “Chicago” becomes シカゴ, which then becomes 鹿ゴ!, or “Go, Deer!” And since Chicago is associated with basketball, of course the deer are going to be on a basketball team.

The point here is that a lot of assumptions about Japanese “weirdness” are actually based on misunderstandings that become perfectly legible with just a little bit of digging. The assumption that there’s some ineffable and essential quality of Japanese culture that makes it a non-stop assembly line of incomprehensible absurdities just doesn’t really hold water . . . but I’m afraid that pigs will probably take to the skies before uninformed “wacky Japan” memes start disappearing from the Internet.

The name BooBooPARK somehow had the magic power of immediately conjuring the song “Goo Goo Muck” in my head, an earworm that wouldn’t leave me alone for several days after spotting the sign, thus ending up becoming the source for the title of this post. Enjoy.


sky creature

It’s the rainy season in Japan – the time for tsuyu (梅雨), or ‘plum rain.’ After having lived in Japan for over eleven years, I’ve finally gotten around to buying a proper pair of boots for the season so that I don’t have to spend day after day walking around in soaked shoes. I had a chance to test the boots out during the season’s first decent rain and after two kilometers of striding I can happily say that the only parts that were in any way damp were my knees.

But after that first rain, which should have been the opening of the seasonal floodgates, nothing but mostly sunny, cool days, with a bit of dramatic cloud cover from time to time. At dinner the other night, everyone was commenting about how the rainy season has been drying up, yet another victim of global climate change. Kyoto’s famous moss gardens have begun to grow brown due to this year’s unseasonal lack of damp. A normal rainy season should bring with it a month or so of solid rains, with maybe a day or two of respite between the downpours. In the eleven years that I’ve lived here I think I’ve experienced a genuine month-long rainy season only once. There’s still time for the rains to come, since the rainy season traditionally lasts until the middle of July, but the current weather forecast shows little chance of rain for at least another four days. I hoping there are proper rains this year: rice needs the rain, and I want to use my boots.



There was an enormous lightning storm the other night in Toyonaka so I jumped out onto my balcony to try to get a few pictures. Instead, the lightning confused the camera in my phone and all I got were a bunch of post-apocalyptic views of an alien prison planet. Welcome to the nightmare.

square life (2)


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All photos taken with an Asus ZenFone 3, using Instagram filters.

square life (1)


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All photos taken with an Asus ZenFone 3, using Instagram filters.

throat records


Throat Records

After years of wanting to visit Throat Records, in Nara, I finally had my chance to drop in. Throat, which is run by Takahisa Gomi, offers a fantastic selection of rock, indie, punk, soul, ska, jazz, alternative, and just about anything else you could want. And if you like, you can even take it for a spin on the store’s turntable before you decide whether or not you really want to take it home.

Gomi-san also plays bass and sings in the group Lostage, alongside his brother Takuto (on guitar) and drummer Tomokazu Iwaki. I had a chance to see Lostage live a few years ago when they were on the bill with The Velvet Teen and The New Trust at Conpass in Osaka. Josh, who plays bass and sings with both The Velvet Teen and The New Trust (and who I used to draw pictures with in art class at high school), told me that I needed to get down to Throat records when I had a chance, because it’s a great shop. And he was totally right.

I ended up picking up a ridiculous amount of records: Thrill Me Up by The Toasters; A Golden Wheel by Predawn; a collection of Bollywood songs called Jubilee Hits 75; Chef’s Special by Kaoru Sudo; One Mississippi by J Church; Close to the Bone by the Tom Tom Club; a repressing of Jazz Tempo, Latin Accents, which features Sonny Simmons and Prince Lasha; Hey Drag City, a compilation featuring Pavement, Gastr Del Sol, Smog, and Red Krayola (among others); and The Beat Generation, a compilation that features J Dilla, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Marley Marl, and Allen Ginsberg. I also picked up three 7 inches, including one from Bakamono, one from Japanese metal band No One Rules, and an EP with songs by Iggy Pop, Fishbone, Dan Reed Network, and Blue Aeroplanes.

And if you’re still not convinced, check out the cute sticker set.

throat stickers

post-work relaxation selfie

In the last couple of weeks I’ve finished writing a paper (handed in on deadline day), given a talk, and prepped like crazy for the new semester. It’s been just a bit tiring, so at the end of the week I rewarded myself with just a small glass of The Chita.

The paper that I just finished is a funny hodgepodge of Pokémon Go, Marc Augé’s notion of the “non-place,” just a bit of Adorno, and a few of Thoreau’s Wild Fruits. The talk, an expanded version of a talk I gave a couple of years ago at the International Melville Conference held at Waseda University in Tokyo, covers Melville’s “Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids,” Thoreau’s The Maine Woods and Wild Fruits, Moby-Dick and Moby Duck, and there’s also side riff on Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, just to spice things up.

After all this activity, Golden Week has come just in time so I can sloth it out for a couple of days. My slothing will not involve the digging of giant underground tunnels, which is apparently how prehistoric sloths liked to spend their time, but it might include eating a few avocados. Did you know that it’s quite possible that giant prehistoric sloths are responsible for the spread of the avocado throughout the Americas? You cannot be thanked enough, giant sloths.