i’ve been wanting a good size tote bag but i haven’t found one i like enough to buy. so when i went to the downtown public library the other day i didn’t have anything to carry my books home in. as usual, i got carried away and took out more books than i could carry in my hands. the library gave me some recycled plastic grocery bags, but they weren’t strong enough. the bags ripped and my books fell onto the street. so i decided i’d better design my own tote bag.
i bought a canvas tote bag at a craft shop yesterday and hand-painted 宇宙人 (“uchuu-jin”, meaning alien) on it in kanji. you might remember that “uchuu-jin” was lesson one in my quasi-calligraphy series. one good thing about writing in japanese in an english-speaking country is that not so many people understand what it actually says. they just see the kanji and think “ah, japanese — how beautiful”. or maybe they think it’s chinese — same thing, right? either way, it’s easy to have a secret meaning in public. this is the mystery of the orient.
i have another bag that says in kanji: 回収 (“kaisyuu”) and underneath it says “recycle” (in english). i bought it at an artsy gift shop in kingston. it’s kind of funny because kaisyu doesn’t mean “recycle”, it means “collection”. maybe there’s confusion because you can see signs saying “kaisyuu” at garbage collection areas or recycling collection areas in japan. there are several kanji that mean “recycling” in japanese, including 再利用 (the kanji mean “repeat use”) and 再資源化 (“re-resourced”, more or less), but the most common word is リサイクル which is written in the katakana alphabet, because it’s the english word “recycle”, borrowed into japanese (“risaikuru”).
it’s kind of funny to have 回収 “collection” written on a bag in a thick font. when i was travelling around japan with paul a couple of years ago, i carried this bag around with me. i remember seeing some japanese people looking perplexed and obviously thinking it weird to see that written in beautiful calligraphy. i enjoyed the reaction.
that gift shop in kingston (where i used to work, until i quit) sold “japanese” calligraphy greeting cards and framed calligraphy. but the calligraphy itself wasn’t very good. it looked like my ten-year-old nephew’s writing. some of the word choices were interesting, like one that said “horse, tiger, dog….” — the chinese zodiac animals. nothing amuses me more than seeing “dog” in calligraphy. imagine someone writing “dog” in english in beautiful gothic calligraphy — what’s the point?
i guess these things are the equivalent of the weird english you see in japan. when i was in elementary school, i had an “english newspaper print” shirt. it was a white button-up bowling shirt with fake newspaper printing and newspaper photos all over it (even on the collar). hey, it was the 80s. to me, any english writing seemed cool. i knew a few words of english, but not enough to read my shirt. later on, as my english improved, i started to notice mistakes in the english phrases you can see around japan. in college, my foreigner friends would point out “funny engrish” to me. they would have a good laugh about it.
i don’t mind people noticing mistakes and finding them funny. but when i find canadians making mistakes about japanese, it’s hard for me to point them out, especially when the mistake is impossible to correct. in kingston, i once saw a pretty girl at the gym who had a tattoo of the kanji 太 over her shoulder blade. i was speechless, because that kanji means “fat”. maybe it was a mistake, since 大 (without the little dot at the bottom) means “big” and 犬 (with the little dot in the top right) means “dog”. i don’t know why she would want a kanji tattoo saying “big” or “dog” either, but it actually said “fat”. she was working on her upper body in front of me. as the kanji for “fat” stretched across her shoulder, i decided not say anything. too painful.