Alas, I have no new tales of cycling adventure or beer discoveries this time around. My job hunt has been half-successful. I’ve managed to find a part-time job at a university but it doesn’t start until mid-September. I’m hopeful something else will come up to keep me busy and I suppose it will; I keep saying it’s just a matter of time. In the meantime, I’ve started working a few nights a week at Kazuko’s parents’ convenience store.
The konbeni is a splendid Japanese institution starting, most likely, with 7-Eleven moving into the market from the US but in Japan they have developed a life of their own. There’s not quite one on every corner but it’s pretty close as the map of downtown Sapporo below shows:
It took me quite some time to remember how to get the red border around that text so please appreciate it. As you can see there are lots of little logos for the various konbenis.
Konbeni, as you should have guessed, is the Japanification of convenience store. Japan’s national ability at English is generally poor despite their spending so many years at school studying the language and that Japanese itself is liberally scattered with English words. Taxis have stickers on the rear window stating they are driven by a safety driver, although not so safety that he doesn’t occasionally need reminding to supido daun (speed down). If someone throws something to you and you don’t drop it, you may be congratulated on your naisu kachi. As you can see, the English words go a bit missing when they are transcribed into Japanese. Japanese is syllabic: every consonant is always followed by a vowel, except for n. The Japanese r is pronounced somewhere between our l and r and covers both letters when transcribing English. There is no letter v so b covers that. Everyone’s favourite junk food shop McDonald’s becomes makudonarudo, which in turn gets shortened to makudo or maku, just as some people, mostly the bogans who eat there, will call it Macca’s. These abbreviations further mangle words so that I change channels on my terebi with a remokon, type this blog on a pasokon and try not to let too many people know about my rorikon. The correct answers are: television, remote control, personal computer (technically not true for me – I have a mac) and lolita complex. Perhaps this explains a little why Japanese struggle at English so much. It must be frustrating thinking you are speaking English but getting blank looks in return.
In any case, back to the konbeni, which we can all agree is one of the easier Japanese English terms. As the token foreigner, I don’t have to wear the uniform, which is just a top that goes over whatever else you’re wearing, or shout irasshai! whenever anyone walks in. This is what happens in Japanese shops. When you walk in, someone shouts welcome! (note for Cam – there is always an exclamation mark after irasshai!. It is never whispered). Any other employee within earshot will hear the shout and repeat it as a matter of course. If I ever find a home for retired shop employees, I will walk into the games parlour and shout irasshai! and expect all of them to automatically take up the call and seamlessly continue their chess or carpet bowls or whatever it is that old people do at these places. What always amazes me is that when I walk into a shop and answer hello to this call, I get blank looks back. It seems no one ever replies to irasshai!
Konbenis sell all manner of things. My job is to stock the shelves with pot noodles and tasty dried fish beer snacks and keep the fridge full of the astounding range of iced tea, coffee, soft drinks and beer that are in high demand. Konbenis also sell bentos which are packaged lunches of many types and which the shop assistant will heat up for you if you answer hai to the question atatamemasuka. Sometimes in winter they have oden, which is a kind of soup and you can choose from all manner of odd-looking floating things to put in it. You can also make photocopies, pay bills and buy DVDs ranging from Tom and Jerry to soft porn, buy magazines ranging from fashion and sports to soft porn or comics ranging from children’s comics to hard porn, often featuring schoolgirls just to feed the inner rorikon. I only mention this to put into context the following clip that I stumbled on to while researching konbeni:
Note the mamachari. It’s also true about 50 and 100 yen coins looking similar. Note that most of the staff at konbenis are students. At Kazuko’s parents’ Sunkus, the background music is an 80s compilation so I get to stock shelves to the tune of Van Halen or early Kylie Minogue and pretend I’m a teenager again.
Sunkus apparently derives from the Japanese pronunciation of the English word thanks, which I’m sure helps to foster a spirit of kinship with the customers. This is the reason Lance Armstrong’s new cycling team will probably be called The Shack instead of RadioShack because apparently “When a brand becomes a friend, it often gets a nickname” according to the RadioShack boss in an article in Cyclingnews. This pleases me but for quite a different reason. To the best of my knowledge, the only places you will see capital letters in the middle of words are in the writing of children who are still learning to write and in large corporations’ names and propaganda. But it was something at the end of the article that caught my eye. Chong has noted, in the comments section of this blog, the possibility of a sinister system of ‘offing’ people where you can book an off, choose a hard off option and watch it unfold at the off house. I fear Mr Armstrong may somehow be involved in all this and anyone who wants to see their bike again should probably not take it to the Summer Netogether:
And unlike Lance, no butterflies were offed in the making of this blog.
In my first week of work I was far too shy to take photos of the Sunkus and risk being accused of industrial spying but such was the demand that I took the camera along to work yesterday. As the token foreigner, I don’t have to wear the uniform and I couldn’t find a spare Sunkus shirt to put on for a photo or figure out how to explain why I would want one so you’ll just have to wait and see whether Kazuko decides to tell her mum to make me wear one or not. to keep you going, here are some pics of the shop: