Asian People Say the Darndest Things
One day I was screwing around on the computer at lunchtime. Unlike my English teacher gigs, this is a job where I actually have to do work. Unfortunately, I’d gotten used to browsing my favorite sites during the daytime, especially considering that it’s nighttime back in America, when many message boards are at their most active. One could theoretically make a witty post, and then check the thread in real-time for all the people who are “rofl”ing at the witty post and crediting the poster with having won the thread, sometimes even the whole internets.
Not that I do that, of course.
Anyway, the habit is kind of hard to break, so sometimes I’ll sneak peeks at my favorite pages when I can. I was doing that one such day, when the company president came up behind me. “What’cha doing?” He asks. He came up with all the silence and suddenness of a fucking ninja–I had no time to quickly switch over to an actual work window. I figured I’d been found out, and it was lunchtime anyway, so I was honest–“I’m just conversing with some friends back home on a message board.”
As for what I was posting about…well…it was about the first time we ever discovered the wonderful and beautiful artistic sport that is masturbation. Again, don’t ask how we got to this point. If you have to ask, you just haven’t been surfing the internets long enough.
My first ever wank was actually the Legendary No Hands Jack™. I was 12 years old–I was watching the Queen of Skin Flicks, Shannon Tweed, in one of her Showtime masterpieces, Night Eyes II. I was enjoying the movie very much, simply laying on my stomach on the bed. Next thing I knew, things felt really good, and then the bed was wet. I thought I’d pissed myself at first, but upon further inspection of the fluid, I found that it was actually a new substance. And thus began my long and continuous career of dolphin flogging. An Emmy-deserving story if ever there was one.
Anyway, so I’m writing about this, when the company president looks over my shoulder. Having lived in Japan for four years, I’ve learned to relax the reflexes when it comes to Japanese people looking over your shoulder. It usually doesn’t matter what you’re writing, as long as it’s in English they have no idea what you’re saying. As I mentioned before, I had students once looking over my shoulder at an editorial I was writing about them, and they just had no idea.
I forgot, though, that the prez has some decent English abilities.
“Man, this is really sleazy!” he says. …Whoops. Try to imagine, you’re a foreigner in a strange land, who finally lands a job doing serious, actual work…and your company president catches you talking about your masturbation experiences over the internet. I was mortified. Would I never be trusted again? Always looked at with a discriminating and condescending eye? Or even worse, flat-out fired? Luckily for me, this is Japan.
Laughing, the prez says, “Me too!” as he walks away. And I’m very glad he did walk away, because I had absolutely no idea how to respond to that. “Sir, your first masturbation experience was with the No Hands Jack™ with Shannon Tweed and Night Eyes II? What a coincidence! You have *excellent* taste in softcore porn.”
The company that whacks together, stays together?
One day I was doing some translation work. Usually, we get the Japanese in an excel file, and then translate it into English. Simple enough. But sometimes, the Japanese used in the copy is very vague or seems completely out of place. For that reason, we also have actual copies of the catalog, so we can see the product. For example, I might be translating the copy for a stylish bag–the Japanese version of the copy may include a sentence like, “With enamel for the latest trends this season. And the brown bear is a nice touch.” …Bear? WTF?! How in God’s green earth did we go from trendy enamel to a muthafuckin bear? Is the bag really a delicious pic-a-nic basket? However, actually looking at the item in the fashion catalog, I find that the bag has a bear-shaped keychain. Okay, that makes sense.
The translation I was doing that day also had some really vague Japanese.
Fancy, stylish package gives this item a special charm. The rubbery smell is totally eliminated to make it more pleasing to women. Each of three different styles have a distinct feel. The mature feeling will enhance your romantic moments.
Rubbery smell? Mature feeling for romantic moments? Okay, I get the feeling we’re not quite talking about clothes anymore, but I still don’t really know what’s going on here. A look at the item name didn’t provide for any other helpful hints.
From here, I figured I could either dispatch my team of teenage sleuths and their trusty talking dog, and have them fumble around a haunted house/mansion/villa/cardboard box for 20 minutes until the stoner accidentally traps an old man wearing a phantom suit, who would then tell me what the hell it is I was translating, or just pop open the catalog and see for myself. As fun as option 1 sounded, I opted for the latter.
Ta-da! Yep, Japanese condoms.
I have to say, I’m more than a little surprised we sell them. My own personal preference aside, condoms have always struck me as a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. Like, you find yourself in a position where you will need condoms (you know…animal balloon shapes and whatnot), and you think, “Hey, I don’t have any. I’d better go get some.” I’ve never really thought of it as a premeditated act, much less something you’d have to buy from a mail-order company. But considering I get American condoms sent from home by Mom, I guess the reverse is possible for Japanese guys. “What is this, a condom or a trash bag? Is this for horses? I need a better fitting condom.” And thanks to our site, Mr. Tanaka doesn’t have to make any embarrassing phone calls to Mom.
So there I am at my desk, with a catalog spread open to the condom page. This 50-year old Japanese lady walks by my desk, and casually asks what I’m doing. I say “Oh, just translating,” but given how she’s Japanese, she’s almost obligated to look over my shoulder. Seriously, being Japanese means a lot of bowing, apologizing, and looking over people’s shoulders apparently. She does just that, and sees my catalog open to the condom page. Now, of all the things she could have possibly said here, what she did say was the one thing I couldn’t have possibly expected–“ah, hisashiburi.”
“Hisashiburi” is Japanese for “it’s been a long time.”
Now, I suppose it’s entirely possible that “hisashiburi” here could have meant that she’d been hitting it raw for the past 20 years. Given how sexless this country is however, and how Japanese men are particularly fond of young girls, in this case I took it to mean “I haven’t had sex for a long time.” And, if you think about it, this is a really freakin’ weird thing to say to one of your coworkers, even if he is translating catch-copies for condoms that he doesn’t use because they’re too small.
Have you ever taken a moment to ponder the events in your life that lead you up to a certain moment in time? Like, all the forces of nature and the universe that had to come together to produce a very specific event. I thought about what it had to take to get me, an American black guy, in a Japanese office translating condom catch-copies, and what it took to get a 50-year old Japanese woman looking over said guy’s shoulder, and to say “hisashiburi” upon seeing the condoms. The universe is one hell of a thing, isn’t it?
Anyway, despite being speechless, again, this time I actually do manage to say something. I say the first and only thing that comes to mind–“Sumimasen.” Trans: “I’m sorry.”
…I’m sorry for what exactly? I’m sorry you haven’t had sex in a long time? I’m sorry you don’t get to use these totally awesome condoms? Geez. I don’t think I can actually go back to America now. I’d be in jail for sexual harassment faster than you could say “ribbed for her pleasure.”
I sit next to a very eccentric and interesting Chinese lady. She primarily does customer support in Chinese, but will also do translation when the situation calls for it. She was doing translation one day, and then showed me what she was working on–the kids line of clothes. “Aren’t they so cute!” She says. “But oddly enough, none of these kids are actually Japanese.”
She’s pointed out something I’d noticed before. Now, we sell clothes that are made in Japan for a Japanese market. As you can imagine, the models for these clothes are…well….Japanese. Like this girl. And, her too. You get the point.
However, there are two clothing types where, suddenly, the models become Gaijin. One is the aforementioned kids. The other is underwear. In fact, underwear models are almost exclusively Gaijin women. As you thumb through the catalog, it’s kinda weird. Shirts, blouses, tank tops? Japanese. Pants, skirts, leggings? Japanese. Bras and panties? BAM! Suddenly Gaijin.
Of course, when I get to spend my whole day at work translating this, well, I can’t really complain.*
*Incidentally, if you find any weird/unnatural/wrong English…don’t crucify me, I didn’t do it. I can only do so many of the translations.
I point this out to the Chinese lady, and even show her my findings. “Why is that?” I wonder. She takes a moment to think about it, but quickly comes up with an answer. “You see,” she says, taking the catalog, “this is a beautiful model, isn’t it? Take a look–she sticks out here, there’s nice and round, oh…it’s sexy, right! We Asians, we can’t do that. The front, the back, it’s all flat!”
This woman has, in one sentence, owned Yellow Fever harder than I ever could in the past four years.
Now I am dying from laughter. The lady feels the need to further explain her point. “We’re trying to sell these clothes, right? You need a pretty picture to do that. Use a Gaijin model, and oh, very sexy! She’s got curves, peaks, valleys, all that jazz. Use a Japanese model, it’s just a plank wearing a bra and panties. Nobody’s going to buy that! The customers need to look at the picture and think, ‘Wow, that’s sexy! If I buy this bra and panties, then I’ll look like that too!’ So, that’s why the models suddenly become Gaijin.”
In between my laughs, I manage to ask, “But then, what happens when they buy the bra and panties and it doesn’t look like the picture in the catalog?”
The lady has an answer for this too. “That’s why our number one return merchandise is underwear. These Asian ladies buy the underwear, then they put it on and look in the mirror and think, ‘Hmm, that doesn’t look like what I ordered at all!’ …Of course it doesn’t! You don’t have the equipment for it. It’s just a bra and panties, not magic. You must remember that Asian women are just flat. The front, the back, the sides, flat. It’s kind of not fair, but we wouldn’t be able to sell anything with flat models.”
This doesn’t exactly explain why the kids models are Gaijin too. But after the answer I got for the underwear, I decided…I just didn’t want to know.