Hello there, reader. I hope you will enjoy / are enjoying / have enjoyed What the Luck? This blog post is intended to serve as an informational supplement to the book. It will work best if you read the introduction now, and then look at the relevant pictures/video for each chapter as you read the book. I don’t think there are any real spoilers if you want to look ahead, but you won’t really get the context so I advise against it.
It was an interesting challenge to write a book that takes place in a foreign country, in this case Japan. For one, there is the language problem, so as a writer I had to decide how much of the foreign language I wanted to include in the book. I did not want the book to become a Japanese lesson book, so I smartly kept most of it out. To that end, the main character, Bill, was made out to be a quick study in languages and was given several months to prepare for the trip. Even so, I will admit that, realistically, he probably would have had a harder time understanding the people he interacts with. However, I did not want the story to get bogged down in “lost in translation” moments so I kept the “What was that?” conversations to a bare minimum.
So why pick Japan, you ask? To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure. These things just sort of evolve. I suppose that I wanted to write a little bit about the Fukushima power plant. Actually, while I am on the subject of the power plant, I just wanted to ease any worries you might have about a humorous book having to do with Fukushima. Rest assured that I do not make fun of the tragedy over there. In fact, the book is tangentially about helping its victims. Any humor to do with the plant is purely satirical, mostly directed at my perceived ineptitude in the handling of the aftermath.
Another reason for writing about Japan is because most of you have never been there. I have been to Tokyo twice, and It really is a wonderful place to visit. I thought it might be interesting for my readers to get a peak at the world over there. Of course, since Bill is a tourist, most of what you will be getting a peak at is the nightlife and the restaurants.
Since this book does take place in Japan, it obviously contains many Japanese words. I will give you a pronunciation cheat-sheet for the main characters below, but you might also like to visit my Easy Peasy Japanese Pronunciation Guide. By the way, Japanese names are given in the reverse order from that in America, i.e. (Family Name) (Given Name). Some characters are referred to by their family name, while other by their given name. The book covers why this is so, but the basic premise is that the older or more powerful characters tend to be called by their family names out of respect, while the younger or less formal characters tend to be called by their given names out of friendliness or familiarity.
Natsuko: Pronounced “nots ko”. The “u” is not really sounded, but perhaps there is a small pause in its place. This is a given name. Incidentally, it means Summer Child.
Kurokawa: Pronounced pretty much like it looks – “koo roe kah wah”, although the “r” almost sounds like a “d” in that your tongue should actually touch the roof of your mouth a little when you pronounce it. This is a family name. It means Black River, which I think is a pretty cool name.
Sakura: Pronounced “sah koo rah”. Same deal with the “r”. This is a given name. It means Cherry Blossom, and is a very popular girl’s name.
Okane Noboru: Pronounced “Oe kah neh noe boe roo”. Same deal with the “r”.
Okane Gin: Pronounced “oe kah neh geen”. “Gin” has a hard “g” and the “i” is a long “e” sound. It is not pronounced like the alcohol.
Sakamoto: Pronounced pretty much how it looks – “sah kah moe toe”. This is a family name.
Ishiku-gumi: Pronounced “ish koo goo mee”. The one “i” in the middle there doesn’t really get sounded, although there is a slight pause there in its honor. This is a fictitious Yakuza group, and was loosely modeled after the real life Yamaguchi-gumi. Ishiku-gumi means The Stonemason Group or The Stonemason Family.
Yasei-kai: Pronounced “yah say kie”. This is another fictitious Yakuza group, but was not modeled after any particular group. The name means The Wild Association or The Wild Bunch.
OK, with all that out of the way, let’s get into the bonus content. I do not have something for every chapter, but there are some chapters (especially the early ones where Bill is investigating Tokyo) that I thought adding some pictures and video (mostly from my own trips) would be helpful / funny / interesting. You can click on the pictures to get the full-sized version. They are presented by chapter, and hopefully in the order in which they appear in the book. Enjoy!
This really is a common sight in Japan, or at least from what I saw in Tokyo. They are called sanpuru, which is derived from the English word “sample”. You can find out a little more on wikipedia.
I asked a Japanese friend of mine about the “grass skirts” on the trees, and this is what she said:
“Those are called komomaki and they are there to provide a place for the caterpillars laid from moth eggs (matsugareha) higher in the tree to go instead of into the ground. Once the caterpillars crawl down the tree they stay in the mats because they are a comfy place to go in the winter, and then we burn the mats to get rid of them all. It’s our way of population control for these pests. That way the next year there will be less of them and they won’t destroy all of the needles on the trees, making the trees starve for nutrition and unable to absorb the sun, then dying. I believe I read in history class they were invented in the Edo period, so we’ve been doing it a long time.”
If you are from America, then you can think of Fukushima as a state (it is really a prefecture), while Tamura is a city, and Funehiki is a town within the city.
Yes, there really is a Kirin City in Shinjuku, and I stand by the description of the food (very good but very small) and the service (lacking). Although, I have since learned that waitresses in Japan tend not to hover over you like they do in the States, and it is perfectly normal (and useful) to call out to them with a “Sumimasen!” to get their attention. This is much preferred over setting fire to the menu.
Also, while I’m here talking about this chapter, I’ll explain the Bill / Beer thing. Bill in Japanese would be biru, pronounced “bee roo”, although that sneaky little “R” sounds a little like a “D” and maybe a little like an “L” too. This sound serves the purpose of both an “R” and an “L”, and I’m sure it is the origin of the gag about Japanese people getting these confused. Although, I have read a blog by an American who went to Japan and married a Japanese woman, and she admitted that she tries to avoid talking about politics in English during certain times because she is terrified of mispronouncing “election.” But I’m getting WAY off topic.
Anyway, Bill (biru) is pronounced “bee roo” and beer (biiru) is pronounced “beeee roo”, the first syllable is just held longer. And so that is what Natsuko is referring to.
In reality this park (Kyū Shiba Rikyū Garden) is in Minato, not Shinjuku. But this is fiction, and if I had never told you, then you would have never known. So just forget that I said anything, OK?
Seriously though, if you are ever in the area, then go here. It is staggeringly scenic. Here are a few more pics:
You can see more pictures of these guys with this Google image search.
If you somehow manage to find this place, please don’t bother the people who live there. This is just fiction after all. Oh, and please don’t put up a plaque that reads “Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, resided here in April of blah blah blah” either.
Here is a short video about the fake plastic food industry in Japan.
As with Bill’s apartment, please don’t disturb this place thinking that you are going to gain super powers if you can shake the rope hard enough for the bells to fall on your head. Honestly, I’ve never been to this place in real life, and I’m not even sure that it has big bells – some of the shrines do not. So listen, just don’t, OK?
Oops, she forgot the holy water too. Now she has desecrated the sanctity of something or another – shame, shame. In this next video, you can see about the holy water:
As with Bill’s apartment and the shrine, I don’t suggest that you visit this place. Speaking of which, I’ve never been inside of Fukushima Daiichi, but I have been inside several power plants and one nuclear plant before, so that is where my descriptions come from. And, just to cover my ass, I’d like to stress that I have no first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of this plant, and all references to it in the book are the product of my own imagination. So don’t sue me, bro!
OK, no, it’s not really him because he is fictional. But this is the face I pictured when describing him. And just look at that wonderful frown! In case you are curious, this person is really Satoshi (Dorian) Nakamoto, the man that Newsweek falsely identified as the creator of Bitcoin.
Sorry, no pictures here – just a little side note. Bill’s code of ethics was very, very loosly drawn from Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness. It’s actually an interesting read, but I suggest that you read Atlas Shrugged and maybe even The Fountainhead first, which are two novels that demonstrate her philosophy (called Objectivism). She is good author, if not a little long-winded at times.
This is apparently how they actually make the fake shrimp tempura. That’s good because I’d hate to picture poor Sally having to hand carve all those flaky bits.
Sakura’s Suicide Prevention Hotline ringtone.
Did you really want to see pictures of this?!? Sicko!
Incidentally, the name “Sadamoto Hayao” is a nod to Sadamoto Yoshiyuki (the character designer of the best known Gainax anime series, Neon Genesis Evangelion) and Miyazaki Hayao (a well known Japanese film director, animator, manga artist, illustrator, producer, screenwriter, and all-around talented guy.)
You can see more of this room by taking a virtual room tour.
Wow, the last chapter. Bummer. But at least you can go back and read it again if you want. I hope you enjoyed it half as much as I did writing it. If you did, you might like to check out my Zero Calvin books.
Oh, by the way, I have been to a laundry mat / video arcade, and I have been to a video arcade / bar (both in Tennessee), but I’ve never seen a place with all three combined. I call dibs on the idea!