In which I try, and probably fail, to explain Miyavi

I mentioned before that Miyavi has a tendency to fold, spindle and mutilate language to suit his purposes; a lot of Japanese musicians do, particularly when they speak decent English. Gackt likes to spell things funny and use the LEGO method of building his own verbs, for one, and Amuro Namie flips back and forth between rhyming English words with either their native or their Japanese pronunciation. Miyavi is one of the worst -- or one of the best, depending on how you look at it.

Below are the lyrics to a song of his called "Señor・Señora・Señorita". Right off the bat, you may notice that A) the title of this song is not technically in English or Japanese, and B) those dots in between the words do not exist in your boringly standard alphabetic font. (They're part of the full-width katakana character set, in the Windows IME.) This happens a lot. Miyavi is not actually incomprehensible, but he believes that typographical conventions are for boring people. The people who typeset his CD inserts are either made of much sterner stuff than me, or they drink a lot more. Someday they're going to have to draw short straws to see who has to tell him that there is no way to make Unicode display a double-bucky upside-down video-inverse hedgehog, or some such.

Also, note that I've taken the time (a lot of time) to fix the markup on this sucker. Apologies to anyone whose browser doesn't speak Ruby -- it's going to be complete gibberish on your end.

Shall we dance? 
One, two, step; step by step
(One, two, step; step by step)
(One, two, step; step by step)
(One, two, step; step by step)
One, two, step; step by step
おどりませんか可愛い人bonitaを とり
(One, two, step; step by step)
こしこりませて1, 2, 3un, deux, trois
(One, two, step; step by step)
(One, two, step; step by step)
ささやく言葉ことばは"te amore" 
Ah... そしてぼくきみおもうたび
One, two, step; step by step
(One, two, step; step by step)
とどかないkissならば、みのらない恋物語love storyならば 

Well, that was a fun trip. Took about two hours. Ruby is a right bitch, especially since you have to toggle it word by word -- the alignment doesn't work right on spans. And since he switches pretty freely between English and Japanese, I have to, too. This is somewhat less than convenient with the Windows IME, although this is still loads better than fifteen years ago when I first attempted to figure out how to type in not-English on a PC. Anyhow.

The occasional readable English word shows up in the main text. This is actually not that unusual; Japanese culture tends to think of English as "cool" whenever it exists inside of an otherwise extremely Japanese thing. There exists a thing called 和製英語, wasei eigo, which means approximately "Japan-ized English", and it describes the category of words Japanese has borrowed wholesale from the English language. There are a lot. (They've also borrowed from other languages, most of which they got from early European explorers -- they've adopted the Portuguese パン, pan, for western-style bread, and the German アルバイト, Arbeit, for a part-time job. Chinese words, they tend to steal the hanzi but read them in Japanese fashion. The word "ramen" originated as the Japanese reading of the Chinese characters for lo mein, as in noodles, although nowadays "ramen" is spelled phonetically in katakana.) Some of  the phrases strike English speakers are weird but understandable once explained; for instance, a ドクター・ストップ, dokutaasutoppu, "doctor stop", is the order your physician gives when he tells you to knock something off for the sake of your health. Occasionally they get mixed up. "Visual kei" is written out as ビジュアル系, with "visual" in phonetic English, and kei, a kanji which means "fashion" or "style".

Some of them are so off they make your brain twitch. The word フェミニスト, feminisuto, is a rendering of the English "feminist". It doesn't refer to someone who holds to a social or political philosophy advocating equality for women, but to a man who makes it a point to be chivalrous and kind to ladies specifically on account of their gender. I mean, you can see what they were thinking there, but the point seems to have missed them by about five miles.

All those tiny little things floating above the main line of words are called "furigana", which literally means "flying letters". Because one of the three writing systems in Japanese, the kanji, are non-phonetic and most of them have more than one possible reading, furigana were introduced in order to give the intended pronunciation of unfamiliar or archaic characters in a text. It's also used for common stuff in material intended for an audience who might not know the kanji yet, like kids still in school -- lots of manga have full furigana, for instance. They're also common in printed song lyrics, particularly on kanji whose reading is not always obvious in context, and they're always used in sheet music, because the relationship between kanji and syllables is rarely one-to-one and otherwise there's no way to tell you what part of the word happens on what note.

Particularly astute people who can read all the furigana without locating a magnifying glass may also notice that not all of the furigana in those lyrics are Japanese characters. This is because Miyavi is abusing them badly. The thing about furigana is that they're meant to tell you how that word is read in that context, without any particular regard to what the dictionary says. There's no rule saying you have to use the reading everyone else is using. It is entirely possible to slam together a large compound word out of kanji that mean "super duper spectacular magnificent piece of artistry which will outlive the universe" and tell your reader it's pronounced e, which happens to also be the way you pronounce the word that just means "painting".

I'm a nice person, and also somewhat obsessive, so I've done full furigana for everything in case someone out there is a student of Japanese and wants the practice, but a pretty good chunk of those readings are things Miyavi has just pulled out of thin air. Anything captioned in not-Japanese is a Japanese word which he's decided to pronounce in some other language while singing. The one that says "señorita" is ojousan ("lady" as a form of address, or a very respectful "miss", particularly used in the Kansai area where he's from); the one that says "bonita" ("beautiful lady" in Spanish) is a ka in front of the idiom itooshiihito ("potential lover", more or less); the one that says "rendezvous" is aibiki, which is just the Japanese word for the same thing; and the one that says "love story" is koi monogatari, which kind of is "love story", but with more a connotation of "epic romance".

Some of the Japanese things, he has also gotten... creative with. There are several instances of "technically, you don't spell it like that" on otherwise perfectly reasonable words, except that he has, and because of the furigana he can get away with it; the effect is to add the meaning of the kanji to the pronunciation. Most blatant is that for aa -- which is, seriously, just the interjection "ah" -- he's decided to go with an extremely archaic spelling that absolutely no one else uses anymore which means "sobbing, calling". This is like dropping "Alas! Alack!" into your everyday conversation. The most snerk-worthy is when he decides to use the reading ii otoko ("nice man") for kanji that normally say kyuuketsuki, which means "vampire", as in "bloodsucking devil".

In the interest of adding sanity to the discussion, I should mention that he does pronounce the Spanish things as Spanish, rather than as rendered phonetically in Japanese, the way most J-rockers would. He switches accents well enough that I did recognize they were Spanish without having to look up the words, which is a miracle when it comes to native Japanese people singing in things that aren't Japanese. Miyavi's a bit of a language sponge; when he does world tours, as he has a few times now, he makes it a point to drill some sort of "hello and welcome to the concert" message into his head in the local language, and use it at the start of the show. A surprising amount of it sticks. Occasionally it either gets partially dislodged or his input method doesn't cooperate with his brain -- he thought it was as funny as his blog audience did when he tried posting from China about the 少籠包 ("little basket buns", those steamed things they sell from street carts) and his iPhone decided he was obviously misusing the radical search and clearly meant 少龍包 ("little dragon buns", implying that they were buns with dragon inside) instead.