Tuesday, May 24, 2016

RAIZIN: Japanese Energy Drink - Ew!!!

So I was on the train this morning, and I saw this.

At first blush, the foreigner in Japan might look at this and think "What does it all mean???"

There's a guy wearing green contact lens, apparently pushing an energy drink called "RAIZIN Green Wing."

What do a guy with green contacts, raisins, green wings and energy drinks have to do with each other?

Perhaps some people who work for this company wanted to tap into the currently existing energy drink market and use it to their advantage.

The Japanese seem to have this penchant for taking something, modifying it slightly, and then reselling it as something "original." (Examples here, here and here.)

I'm thinking, "Okay. So what are some energy drinks that are out right now on the market? Let's see. Well there's that Red Bull thing, and then there's that green Monster drink. Red Bull's slogan is 'Red Bull gives you wings.' Maybe some guys thought 'OK, we need a color, we need wings, but we need something of a distraction. Something that says 'original.' I know! We'll do green wings and have a guy wear green contacts! And just to throw people off even more, we'll call it 'RAIZIN.' Because who puts raisins in an energy drink? Yeah that's what we'll do.'"


"RAIZIN" was born.

Actually, as a Japanese scholar, I know that there is a little bit more to it than simply a guy in green contacts with wings; there is actually clever marketing going on.

There is this special uniquely Japanese way of Romanizing the Japanese language called "Kunreishiki."

It's always been there, people just never stopped to think about it before.

We have the normal system that everybody knows, where basically the language is spelled out in Roman letters and most English-speakers can read because the sounds correspond to the way English-speakers read and write using Roman letters. Under this system, also known as the "Hepburn" system, basically what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

As an example, take this sentence:

私はアメリカ人です。 (I'm an American.)

In under the Hepburn system, it's:

watashi wa amerika-jin desu.

The way you read this is basically straight-forward; all consonants are pronounced the way we would in English, and the vowels are all short.

The trouble with the Hepburn system is that, when analyzed for uniformity from a linguist's perspective, there are many inconsistencies.

Look closely at the "sa," "ta" and "ha" columns.

Going down each column, one will notice that some characters have an inconsistent number of Roman characters to spell out the sound. That's because in Japanese, these characters are considered part of the same sound group. A Japanese sees no difference when looking at the Japanese syllabic characters, but these sounds must be spelled out differently, because they are technically different sounds.

Linguist scholars decided that a "better" system was needed, one that better matched up with Japanese morphology.

Thus the Kunreishiki system of Japanese Romanization was born.

Under this system, all of the spellings of Japanese kana would be uniform.

Instead of "ta," "chi," "tsu," "te," and "to," the sounds would be spelled "ta," "ti," "tu," "te," and "to."

Instead of "sa," "shi," "su," "se," and "so," the sounds would be spelled "sa," "si," "su," "se," and "so."

"Fu" would be "hu," and so on.

The new system would be a streamlined system for scholars of Japanese who wanted a more uniform system "consistent" with Japanese morphology, and "better suited to teach Japanese grammar," but would cause headaches for non-speakers of Japanese who had no interest in ever sitting down to learn the language.

Japanese written in Kunreishiki Romanization is almost impossible for non-Japanese and/or non-scholars of Japanese to read and pronounce correctly.

With Kunreishiki, "Mt. Fuji" becomes "Mt. Huzi," (looks like "hoozie" to normal people) and my name becomes "Jyo" or "Zyo," depending on how you wanted to spell the sound. (In Japanese there are a couple of ways to spell the same sound.)

watashi wa amerika-jin desu.

watasi ha amerika-zin desu.

Remember I said Kunreishiki has always been under your nose?
This brand name, spelled "Nissin," is actually said "Nisshin."

To me, the fact that a system can only be used by Japanese people who have studied it, and/or specialized scholars of the Japanese language, brings its own relevance and necessity of existence into question.

What good is a Romanization system that can only be used by specially trained Japanese and linguists?

There is already a suitable way to represent Japanese morphology; it's called kana.

If Japanese and linguists are going to spend time and effort learning a separate, "Japanese" way of spelling things that no one else understand, why not just use the already-existing kana system?

Which Japanese and scholars have to learn to read and write anyway?

Is not the purpose, and the need for a Romanization of Japanese, to assist non-Japanese speakers in reading and pronouncing the language?

To make matters worse, when Japanese learn this new system of Romanization that applies only to the Japanese language at school, this screws up their efforts to learn other languages that use Roman characters, because now, a uniquely Japanese way of pronouncing them has been cemented in their brain.

Now, when Japanese students want to learn English, or French, or Spanish, or other languages that use Roman characters, they have to "unlearn" Kunreishiki, as it were, and learn the sounds and correct spellings of words.

In my years of teaching English at Japanese schools, I have encountered strange and interesting attempts to spell English words, using Kunreishiki.

Additionally, I have encountered the strange phenomenon of students pronouncing Japanese words as an English-speaker who can't read Kunreishiki would, when speaking to me in English.

Just the other day, a Japanese person asked me: "Mr. Joe, do you like sussie?"

And I'm like... "Sussie... What's that?"

The student says "It's raw fish on rice."

Ah! You mean "sushi."

And the student responds. "That's what I said. Sussie."


So now some Japanese students think they're doing English-speakers a favor if they pronounce Kunreishiki Romaji the way a non-Japanese speaker/scholar would! (In Kunreishiki, "sushi" is spelled "susi.")

Japanese that learn Kurneishiki are essentially learning just another system of Katakana.

And scholars of Japanese really have no use for Kunrei once they start reading and writing exclusively in Japanese.

So back to the energy drink, people would probably be less confused if the makers of the drink decided to spell it "RAIJIN" instead.

And I know that this is how the name is intended to be said because the kana above it give it away.

It reads:


Romanized in Hepburn:

tsugi he no enjin.

([Your] engine to your next destination.)

So naturally, to match or rhyme with "enjin," (engine), the word would naturally have to be said "raijin."

And once you know what "raijin" means, the whole thing comes together.

"Raijin" is the name of the Japanese god of thunder and lighting, 雷神.


The makers of the drink called it "RAIJIN" (spelled "RAIZIN") because they wanted to imply that drinking it would make you as quick and as fast as lighting.

I'm still in the dark about the guy with the green contacts...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

First Post Ever

Alright, this is it.

My debut as a blogger.

My first post ever.

I'm not sure where this is going, or how far it will go, but I've decided to start a personal blog to talk about my interests and life in Japan.

My name is Joe Cortez, and I was born and raised in Salinas, California.

I've been living in Osaka, Japan, for about ten years already.

My interests include Asian culture, retro-gaming, music and language acquisition.

I'm a self-proclaimed ethnomusicologist, and I love to listen to music from all over the world.

I love to listen to music from older videogames.

I'm fascinated by Chinese characters and the languages in which they are used.

I'm also just fascinated by language in general.

Currently, I can speak English, Spanish and a little bit of Japanese.

In the future, I'd like to study Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Portuguese, Italian, French and German.

My favorite food is noodles.

Anything from spaghetti, to udon, to chow mein, to ramen, to macaroni and cheese, to Mexican soup.

One of my quests in life is to try all the different noodles of the world.

My comfort food is Kraft Macaroni and Cheese; there's nothing quite like a classic blue box.

Of course there are other foods I like; I enjoy Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian, Indian and Mexican.

There's a special place in my heart for an all-American breakfast; eggs scrambled or over medium, breakfast sausages, bacon, hash browns, toast, pancakes and orange juice.

Anyway, I think I'll end this post here for now.

I'll tell readers more about myself as the blog progresses.