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This post has been long in the making, for spare and rare was the time I had to spend "researching" it. And here, at last, it is:

When I first arrived at the Uryu Board of Education, I didn't have a whole lot to do. This is standard procedure for the JET Program; apparently the mode of thinking is that we'll be less overwhelmed by our new duties if we can just chill in Japan and get used to the culture for a week or two before we're thrown to the lions, so they bring us over a few weeks before the school year starts. We get to spend those weeks puttering around our offices, examining the many amusing knick-knacks left behind by our predecessors, and figuring out how not to make our fuse boxes explode.

Among my personal crop of leftover knick-knacks were several extremely entertaining books:

-Japanese Phrases for Dummies.
-Several books of beautiful essays by past JETs.
-Complete sets of two different English textbook lines not used by the Uryu school system. (Uryu's preferred series, One World, not included.)
-Assorted Japanese dictionaries.
-A Penguin Level 2 Reader of Raymond Chandler's The Lady in the Lake, in case your second grader needs to know words like cover up, drugs, shoot, suicide, or whisky. (I kid you not. I'm severely tempted to give this thing its own mini entry one of these days.)
-And an absolutely gorgeous photography book, suitable for coffee-table display and reading, titled Ryokan: Eternal Beauty and detailing all the glories of the upscale Japanese traditional inn.

Now, I'm very fond of ryokan, but every one I've ever stayed at was a small, aging, somewhat worn yet meticulously clean warren of narrow hallways, with very low ceilings and a lot of dark varnished woodwork. The rooms are tatami-floored and full of shelves packed with china dogs and dolls in traditional Japanese dresses and other such grandmotherly trinkets, and the whole is run by an equally warm, friendly, grandmotherly woman. They're very comforting, cozy, chicken-soup places.

This book claims to be an introduction to the traditional Japanese ryokan. And yet, my own familiar homegrown ryokan compare to the ryokan in this book like chicken soup to canard à l'orange.

These places are works of art. They're lovely to look at, but the minute I imagine my travel suitcase sitting in those corners, overflowing my dirty undershirts and bags of toothpaste and hair ties onto that spring-green silk-edged tatami, I start to feel guilty and jumpy.

Beautiful as they are, these rooms just don't seem designed for human habitation. I would feel like I was spoiling the clean, elegant lines of the empty rooms shown here by being outrageous enough to actually sleep in them. Staying in one of them, I would feel obligated to hide my green nylon suitcase discreetly in a cupboard, carefully don the provided summer kimono, make sure my hair was up and smooth without a strand out of place, and then lounge picturesquely by the window with a book in a cover that matched the decor, just to avoid ruining the look of the thing.

(Considering as how I strongly prefer to scatter used clothing around freely, wear my kimono over my long johns in winter, and eat Seicomart egg cakes in bed, you may infer that this doesn't exactly dovetail with my idea of a vacation.)

In any case, I digress, and I can't help it. I love ryokan. They're cheap and friendly and overflowing with local color and personality, and it's nearly impossible for me to write an entry about them without babbling interminably.

That said, if you've read this far and not skipped to the point, you're about to get your reward:

Although they obviously weren't designed for comfort, the rooms in the photo book were breathtaking to look at, and I spent a few mornings paging through it in raptures of delight. My delight was not just visual, but linguistic, for as I quickly discovered...huge chunks of the book were written in spectacular Engrish.

Considering as how this book claims to be a comprehensive introduction to Japanese ryokan inns for the readers of the Western world, I have decided it is my duty as an educator and vehicle of internationalization to transcribe these linguistic jewels, in hopes that you, my various acquaintances, may thereby edify yourselves. :D

The following phrases were all taken from the same book, Ryokan: Eternal Beauty. There were many cute little slips, but these are the real humdingers. Also, in the translator(s?) defense, there are many beautifully turned phrases of perfect English in the book as well...but I think we all agree that in any Japanese translation, the Engrish is always, always the best part.

Anyway, hot springs are gifts from magma.

Smacking Your Lips Over Dishes of the Season.

AZUMAYA: A rest station with no walls, built mainly in a garden.

The guest room... A room that Japanese feel at home, surrounded by elaborated wooden fittings. Stay clam for a while, and you could hear the sound of science in mid-afternoon sunlight.

Shojis block gentile breeze but let dim light into the room.

A ranma (ransom window) for daylighting and ventilation.

Plateaus, having colorful and beautiful patterns on them, are also used for actual dishes. Designs and patterns on plateaus are devised so that people can enjoy them while having foods on them.

The motives dealt by Noh cover God, man, woman, farce, and devils, which are familiar subjects dealt by Buddhism.

You could stay standing on the bridge and hear to the sound of silence.

It is believed that gravel purifies you soul and makes you peaceful.

An iceball on which a fish is cooked alive.

After you register your name and address, a nakai (female room service) will lead you into a guest room where a yukata is available.

And my personal all-time favorite:

Unlike Western-style hotels, guests with a yukata may expose themselves at public spaces, such as the lobby and the garden in the ryokan.

God bless you, Japan. ♥
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December 2011

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