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Electronic Text and BLOWFISH

Libra, (September 2001).

In December, two Library employees, Sachiko Iwabuchi, Project Coordinator of the Japanese Text Initiative (JTI), and Chris Ruotolo, Associate Director of the Electronic Text Center, traveled to Tokyo, Japan to present a paper about the JTI at the National Institute of Japanese Literature (NIJL) Conference concerning computing-and Japanese literature. The JTI is a collaborative electronic text project (located at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/japanese/) between the U.Va. Library and the University of Pittsburgh Library to put masterpieces of classical Japanese literature, poetry, Kabuki plays, and more on the Web in English and Japanese.

While in Tokyo, they met with executives at the Toshiba International Foundation. Toshiba donated $15,000 to fund the inclusion-of Kabuki plays on the JTI Web site. Sachiko and Chris showed the executives' the progress made on digitizing, the plays and discussed future ideas.

They completed the business portion of their trip with a visit to Keio University, where very rare books are digitized, including various copies of the Gutenburg Bible. They saw the impressive camera used to digitize these materials: I spoke with Sachiko and Chris about the recent trip and about their experiences and impressions. Sachiko is a native of Japan, having grown up in Sendai City in the northern part of the country. This was Chris' first trip to Japan.

Explain more about the NIJL Conference and your purpose for going.

Sachiko - Founded by the Ministry of Education of Japan, the NIJL is made up of both private and public universities interested in the study of Japanese literature. The main purpose of the conference was to promote their database of digitized Japanese literature, which includes poems, prose, and religious material, and to inquire about the use of the database. We went to present information about the JTI and its research benefits to scholars.

Chris - Although their database is very similar to the JTI, the JTI offers some features that theirs does not. For instance, the JTI is freely available to everyone 24 hours a day and the NIJL database has restricted use.

Was your presentation successful?

Chris - I got the sense that they were skeptical at first, but were eventually convinced and approached Sachiko afterwards for more information.

Sachiko - There was a noticeable increase in the use of the JTI immediately following the conference.

Chris, other than the obvious language translation, what advantages were there in traveling with Sachiko, someone who knew the country?

Chris - Being familiar with Tokyo, Sachiko was the master of finding our way around and keeping our trip on budget. We rarely took cabs and instead took public transportation. I could not have figured that out on my own. She found inexpensive, but good, places to eat.

Sachiko, how did traveling with someone visiting Japan for the first time change your experience?

Sachiko - I found it challenging to speak both languages at the same time. Once, we took a cab and Chris and I were speaking in English, while at the same time the cab driver wanted to speak to me in Japanese. Another time, a i man in the fish market overheard me speaking English to Chris and told me not to speak it. I don't quite understand :' his motivation for criticizing me, but I think that some people are intimidated when they don't understand the language being spoken in their country.

It must have been challenging switching back and forth constantly between languages.

Sachiko - It was. Also, it was a challenge balancing customs. For example, when we met with the Toshiba executives, I didn't know if I should do the Japanese custom of bowing or the American custom of shaking hands.

Which did you do?

Sachiko - We bowed.

Chris, what were your impressions and did Japan live up to your expectations?

Chris - I didn't really know what to expect. I thought that Tokyo would seem foreign, but in fact, it seemed very familiar. Tokyo is very urban, so you see the same stores and fashions that you see in most large cities. One thing that did strike me was how crowded it was. There were always people bustling about. Overall, people were very stylish and dressed up - especially the women. I was also surprised at how decorated the city was for Christmas. Carols in English could be heard coming from all of the stores.

Sachiko - Christmas has become a young person's holiday. They celebrate the spirit and commercial aspect of the holiday such as giving gifts. Most homes have a Christmas tree and eating Kentucky Fried Chicken and Christmas Cake (a layer cake frosted with cream and topped with strawberries) is becoming the tradition.

Do you have any funny stories or unusual experiences from your trip?

Chris - We ate blowfish, the poisonous fish that can kill you instantly if you eat the wrong part.

Sachiko - I asked a friend to make restaurant reservations for us and she picked a blowfish restaurant, thinking that since Chris was coming all the way from America, she should try something truly Japanese. When I asked Chris if it was okay, she showed me a humorous Dave Barry article describing his experience eating blowfish. It talked about eating every part of the fish (except for the poisonous part), including the organs. It was hard to get reservations at this restaurant, so we decided to go.

Did you like the blowfish?

Chris - It was underwhelming. It is a bland white fish. I think it's the thrill of escaping death that attracts people to eating it.

Chris, despite the blowfish, do you plan to return to Japan?

Chris - Most definitely. Seeing Tokyo has made me want to see more of Japan - especially the less urban and older cities such as Kyoto.


Melissa Cox Norris, Head of Communications and Publications (mln4n@virginia.edu).