So; I come across a news item about a book published in Japan that teaches the periodic table by presenting the elements as a litany of pretty (as in moe) manga-style girls.
First reaction: That is so Japan.
Second reaction: That is brilliant, in a totally weird-assed anthropomorphorandom way… wait, I said that already. I mean, I love it, I want. (Read Japanese? Of course I don’t, but the pictures would be nice. If I can’t squeeze any other fun out of it, at least I can, shortly after getting the book, brag that I’m the only person round that’s jacked off to a picture of actinium. My if-nothing-else processor is a bit funny.)
Then I investigated a bit. The story was sourced back to a now dead article over at Mainichi News, a Japanese newspaper; occasionally there was a link to a small American importer of Japanese weirds, whose inventory didn’t seem to hold the book no more. The various blog posts had pretty much the same info, and the same incestuous sources; only the amount and quality of snark differed. I got to know, over and over again, that the book was called “The Periodic Table: Learning Basic Chemistry through Moe” (in Japanese Gensoshuki: Moete Oboeru Kagaku no Kihon), and was invented by one Miyuki Mitsuda, a chemistry teacher. (A female chemistry teacher, I hasten to add, before you hypothesize altogether unpedagogical origins.)
Googling her name gave what was probably her very bare homepage over at the Musashi Institute of Technology; googling the book’s name gave only the same English blog entries over and over again; as Japanese isn’t written in these here letters, that was both predictable and fruitless. No way to leap to the Japanese side of the Net going that way. (I wasn’t gonna try transcribing the kanji and kana in a picture of the book’s cover into actual glyphs I could Google with; I am the kind of lazy that sooner does an hour of tedium than five minutes of hard work.)
Then: the article told the initially skeptical publisher was “PHP Interface Publishing Co.”; a bit of googling brought me to that entity’s page, and its catalog of about seventy books published… per month… for quite some years. All names in kanji and kana and nothing else.
Happily, since Internet addresses are in our letters, even full-Japanese, for Japanese, by Japanese web sites tend to have straightforward English tree structures, like this:
— which means you can navigate a bit with luck, and with looking at the address each link points at. (Well, unless the webmaster has gone all translitteration-happy. Then there’s bakayaro.co.jp/chikushou/wakarimasen/ and a lot of stumbling around and cursing.)
The only clue as to what book each page extolled was a small picture of the cover; nice, as I knew what kind of a cover to look for. Not so nice that each individual page had the cover, but not the catalog or the search result list. As I wasn’t going to wade through a few hundred pages looking for something familiar — even lazy has standards — I instead thought about the name of the book — “The Periodic Table: Learning Basic Chemistry through Moe” — and did a standard trick I do with Japanese names. I went to Wikipedia and looked up “moe“.
Like with most Japanese concepts and personal names, the first paragraph of the article had the corresponding Japanese glyph for the word. I copied, I pasted that to PHP Interface’s search box, and bam! There the book was.
I copied the glyphs for the title (could have taken the ISBN too), went to amazon.co.jp, and bam! there the book was, for sale for 1995 yen or round 18 euros, plus 30 euros for the postage.
Now I just need to wait for that reckless impulse, and then Paypal makes a swishing sound and something flies home to me. And then happy actinium days, if nothing else.
Edit: And shortly afterwards I notice one of the first blog entries had a link to the PHP Interface page for the book, the noticing of which would have saved me 90% of the bumbling above; but hey, I sooner feel clever than observant.