When our own cultures constrain us we reach out to other languages — often in surprising ways.

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I was recently having a conversation with one of my Japanese friends about philosophy, and was surprised to learn that the English adjective “stoic” (ストイック, sutoikku) is now common parlance in Japan — not only in reference to the Greco-Roman school of philosophy (known in Japanese as sutoa-ha (ストア派) or “Stoa school”) but also as a word to describe calm, serene determination in the face of great hardship.

It’s not the presence of an English loan word like this in Japanese that surprised me. The Japanese language is, of course, teeming with Japanized English words, ranging from the obvious (ラジオ or rajio for “radio”) to the far less obvious (トラブルシューティング or toraburushūtingu for “troubleshooting”). As I’ve written about elsewhere, the Japanese language has taken on so much English language terminology since 1945 (prior to which imported concepts or objects were accorded fully Japanese nomenclature, like yakyū (野球) for baseball or jitensha (自転車) for bicycle) as to make pre-1945 writings quite challenging for modern-day Japanese outside academic circles. …


Or am I just REALLY bad at delayed gratification?

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Source: Pixabay

At the beginning of this month I was forced to clamp down on a habit of mine. Yes, after a month or so of overdoing it, I was forced to get tough with myself and restrict my beer purchases to once a week.

And by beer, I’m of course referring to Grolsch non-alcoholic beer. I have, after all, been sober for more than three years.

Here’s the thing. I don’t doubt that I fit the bill for a capital-A alcoholic. For nearly two decades of my life I drank very regularly and often in unhealthily large quantities, and even when I wasn’t knocking back absurd amounts of booze, I still knew at a fundamental level that I was relying on it, not just as a social lubricant but as an anti-anxiety medication. …


10 Reasons Why Japan Should Join The EU

#Brexit, meet #Japenter.

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Sources: Library of Congress (left) and Hulton Archive / Getty Images (right)

On February 1, 2020 the United Kingdom officially parted ways with the European Union — exactly one year after the EU signed a historic free trade agreement with Japan. Could it be that since the UK announced its intention to divorce from Europe in mid-2016 that Brussels has been on the dating scene with a very specific “type” in mind: a large, economically prosperous island nation with a checkered imperialist past and an awkward relationship with “the continent”?

If so, it most definitely found one — one with better manners and decidedly superior food to boot. Which is why I think Europe should “go all the way” with Japan and invite it to take the UK’s place in the European Union, and that Japan should accept this offer. …


When it comes to controversial historical figures we should “add, not subtract.”

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There’s something about our society’s recent move to rename buildings, neighbourhoods, and other monuments long named after historically problematic figures that I find troubling. The question arose most recently in Edmonton in 2017 over a push — which thankfully subsided — to remove the name of former member of parliament Frank Oliver from the downtown neighbourhood that continues to bear his name.

Frank Oliver, for those who don’t know, was a 1900s era Edmonton politician who, as a member of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s turn-of-the-century Liberal government, was instrumental in drafting legislation that removed First Nations people from their traditional lands, and most notoriously the Papaschase Cree, whose traditional territory encompassed more or less the entire northeastern quadrant of what is now Edmonton. After over a century, the Papaschase Band has yet to achieve any real closure, their various lawsuits having been rejected on grounds that they are not a “recognized Indian band” and therefore ineligible to make claims against the federal government. …


Nikolai Bukharin’s 1938 show-trial “confession” demonstrates the importance of choosing your words wisely for the history books.

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Joseph Stalin (centre) seated next to Nikolai Bukharin (second row, second from right) at the 15th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party in 1927 in Moscow. (Source: TASS)

Imagine you find yourself in the following situation. You’re on trial for a crime you not only didn’t commit, but on charges that don’t even make any sense. The entire trial process is rigged and a guilty verdict is 100 percent guaranteed — the penalty for which will be death by firing squad. You also know that if you do not produce a satisfactory confession, then the authorities will either torture you some more and/or do similarly grievous harm to your immediate family.

There’s a twist in the story, however. You also know that your final words in this kangaroo court will be filmed by both domestic and foreign news crews and that your final plea will be forever commemorated. …


King Sejong, the neon signs of Ginza, and a potential indigenous-futuristic vibe for Edmonton’s city streets

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Saskatchewan Cree visual artist Joi T. Arcand’s installation “ᐁᑳᐏᔭᐋᑲᔮᓰᒧ(êkâwiya akayasimo / “Don’t Speak English”) at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (Photo credit: Scott Benesiinaabandan)

There’s something about big Asian cities that virtually every westerner finds completely electrifying. A lot of this is the sheer volume and energy of the crowds and the mystifying mishmash of ancient and ultramodern, but for me — and for many I would imagine — a big part of the appeal is the dizzying array of neon signs, most of which feature written characters whose roots date back to the Neolithic.

The Chinese characters employed by both the Chinese and Japanese languages (and to a more limited extent Korean, and historically Vietnamese as well) are easily the oldest continuously used writing system in the world. The bamboo books and “oracle bones” of China’s earliest dynasty, the Shang (c. 1600–1046 BCE), feature many characters that are more or less recognizable to anybody with a solid grounding in modern Chinese or Japanese characters, while earlier forms of such logograms have been found that date back to the 6th millennium BCE — a time when Europeans still lived as paleolithic hunter-gatherers. …


The language I learned in school no longer seems so European these days.

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Lamine Touré (centre), owner of Montreal’s Balattou Club and founder of the city’s Nuits d’Afrique (Africa Nights) festival (Source: Radio-Canada)

When I was a high school student enrolled in the French Immersion program, I always looked forward to my French language classes — if for no other reason because there was always a good chance that our teacher would put on a French movie, most of which were notable in their copious amounts of nudity.

In those days, the French language was, to me, synonymous with all things European. Sure, most of my instructors were Québécois who were culturally far more North American than French and spoke in an accent completely unlike the snooty Parisian speak of those movies, but the allure of French was still unquestionably continental. French was still the language of left bank artists and intellectuals who chain-smoked Gaulloises and had bored-looking sex with one another. …


How Canada’s cities can decolonize through language revitalization.

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Source: Taproot Edmonton

Anyone looking for a good news story about Indigenous cultural revitalization need look no further than New Zealand. Since 2015, the country has embarked on a serious campaign to revive and promote the use of the Māori language after a long period of decline. While Māori has enjoyed official status since 1987, less than four percent of New Zealanders report being able to converse in the language fluently. …


Taking the bus is good for your wallet, the planet, and quite possibly your brain.

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Photo credit: Scott Webb // Unsplash

I’m a lifelong transit rider. As a kid I remember being very excited when I was first allowed to ride a public bus on my own. As a foreign “salaryman” in Tokyo for many years, I took a certain stoic pride in my daily sardine tin commute from Saitama City to Akasaka. …

About

Benjamin Freeland

Writer. Teacher. Grammar cop. Distance runner. Historian in the wilderness.

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