Friday, December 29, 2006

Prefectural Characters

I notice that topics on national characters come up in our daily conversations a lot at least here in Japan like Japanese people are very serious and all that, but what about characters within the country?

I was watching this end-of-the-year special show on TV and it was on what's called in Japanese "kenminsei" (prefectural characters) and it was very interesting and extremely funny.
When I switched the channel nearly half of the show was already over but it happened to be talking about people's general character in Miyazaki Prefecture, a place that I have never been to nor have any friends that are from. It's located in southern Japan and is a very sunny and easy-going prefecture... is what I learned from the show.

The prefecture ranks first place among all 47 prefectures in Japan in the total amount of money spent on pachinko and also shochu (a kind of Japanese liquor) as well. It depends on how you interpret this - on one hand it's a relaxed and easy-going character which isn't over-serious about work and knows how to take things easy, but on the other hand it could be described unserious and lazy. I decided to take it in the former stance though. Results of a survey the show conducted how challenging (not in a hostile sense) Miyazaki People are or positive about sink or swim situations. Whereas people from some other prefectures are very conservative or reluctant to do anything risky, these Miyazaki-born Miyazaki-grown people looked very positive about taking a chance.

Hokkaido Prefecture was given the title of the most sound and conservative prefecture in Japan. Apparantly most people born, grown up and live in Hokkaido all their lives don't consider themselves to have such rock-solid minds, but it was funny because what they were telling the interviewers were definitely rock-solid. Residents of Hokkaido who're originally from other prefectures describe Hokkaido people to be very serious and conservative e.g., they don't smile more than necessary whilst there are prefectures which its residents are always smiling.
Analysts claim that the seriousness of Hokkaido people comes from the pioneer spirit. Being descendants of the pioneers who broke ground and built their lives on the north island of rich but harsh nature conditions, they aren't so easy-going and are earnest. The admirable point of their character is that they love their prefecture. The prefecture ranks last in the chart of residents who want to move out from the prefecture.

The other prefecture that left a huge impression was Aichi. It was the biggest eater prefecture of the country. Here "big eater" doesn't mean big in amount (actually it does) but the custom of eating is quite different. Breakfast is like dinner in Tokyo in respect of amount, and mixing is a conspicuous characteristic that too many of the residents show to call it individual character. I was writing about oyster and ice cream the other day, but the mixing here goes way above. Very challenging.

It's becoming too long so I'll stop soon, but the idea of prefectural characters even apart from this show is pretty wide spread among Japanese people. By the way, I've grown up most of my life in Tokyo so I guess I can claim to be from Tokyo, but because Tokyo has more people from other prefectures than those purely from Tokyo there isn't really a symbolic prefectural character as conspicuous as others. My parents from Shizuoka - the tea and tangerine pref - agreed with the show that they're somewhat relaxed (prolly due to the warm sunny climate) but are generally serious and conservative about work.

I bet there're are state/district/county/etc. characters in other countries too, just like people having nationalism for countries. I'd be curious to know what they're like.

Today's updates on Japan Mode - and this is the last update for year 2006: webmanga CharmyNurseM Chapter 7 preview.

Okay my readers, hope you all had a wonderful year 2006 and wish you a happy year 2007!!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fashion and Tradition

Take off your apron and wear a "maekake" - maekake (pronounced: ma - eh - ka - keh), a Japanese style traditional apron which has been around in Japan for quite a few centuries now is becoming a silent boomlet these days.

Even with the long history though, maekake is not too common for it is a king of a working outfit or perhaps part of the uniform for those workers (mostly men) who work at liquor shops, Japanese sake factories, soy sauce factories, miso factories, those kinds of places. It is a large apron worn around the waist and down to the middle of your shins, made of thick strong cotton or cotton linen, usually dyed with indigo and has prints in white in the middle of the cloth. It's sort of like a sommelier's apron only in terms of shape. The prints are of the names of the factory/shop/cellar and its emblem mark. Maekake developed as an apron for these occupations for the fabric is strong enough to endure heavy load work and protect the workers' legs from being hurt.

The main reason for maekake to become popular especially among the younger generation is the design. As I just wrote, a common maekake is in two Japanese traditional colors - deep indigo and white - and also with the writings the entire design gives this sense of "iki" (Edo stylishness) and is pretty hot among the young workers (who wear aprons for work) who are keen on dressing themselves modern-fashionable and traditional at the same time. Since maekake is originally made to be customized with respective names and marks, non-originally-Japanese places such as Western style cafes and Chinese restaurants are also ordering maekake to wear for work.

As seen in this example, traditional Japanese-ness in fashion is slowly gaining attention lately. Sometimes I wonder if it's one of those subconcious warnings your mind gives yourself, to not completely lose your identity of being a citizen of the culture you're born in. Or maybe it's just individual preference in fashion.
The maekake designs are taken into casual fashion like T-shirts and blue jeans too. They're actually pretty cool.

Well so, when you get a chance to come to Japan and don't know what to buy for souvenirs for family and friends try heading to one of those shops (not only clothing shops but sake cellers sell maekake now) and get one.

Today's update on
Japan Mode: kanji name conversion - I haven't had conversion examples updated for a while but here it comes again. We're still not ready for new orders though, sorry.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Oyster and Ice Cream

I'm not kidding and this isn't a title of a song or a book or anything like that.

It's the oyster season here and oyster is generally popular in Japan, but the business is about to collapse this winter. The Norovirus spreading so surprisingly rapid across the nation is been said to be a kind of a food poisoning coming from clams and shellfish and naturally when those kind of warnings go around the business faces a really hard time.

One of the ports in Japan's leading oyster fishing (fishing?) prefecture Okayama decided to sell this menu "Ice Cream with Fried Oyster" and it is selling off so well. I saw a picture of it, and it was a vanilla ice cream (actually what we call "softcream" and not really ice cream) with two pieces of fried oyster stuck into the top part of the cream, with a bit of sashimi soy sauce poured on top.

UMMMMM....... not for me, no thanks.

It's sold at Y250 per cone (that's about slightly more than a couple of bucks) and the inventors say that more than 100 cones sell on weekends. I bet a lot of those 100 were bought out from pure curiosity, but anyway, how did they come up with the idea of combining ice cream and fried oyster???

Speaking of ice cream (btw I love ice cream) Japan has a whole selection of weird ice creams like shrimp, green onion, gyutan (ox tongue), miso, chicken wing...... My favorites of course are regular flavors and I don't even feel like adventuring around these - but wow, I'm impressed by the creative brains of all these inventors.

What kind of abnormal ice cream do you have in your country?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

SLAM DUNK Scholarship

I hear that the Japanese manga artist Inoue Takehiko best known for his works "SLAM DUNK" "REAL" and "Vagabond" has set up a basketball scholarship "SLUM DUNK Scholarship" together with the publisher Shueisha, for teenage basketball players in Japan. Scholars are chosen from Juniors in Japanese high schools who are eager to brush up their basketball skills after graduation, and aim to play in NBA in the future. The fund will help the scholars go to basketball prep schools and support them financially.

Basketball in Japan is by no means a minor sport, but comparing to baseball and soccer the playing population is small and the level is pretty low - "pretty low" as long as we consider us to be weak.
That is the Inoue's message.
"Japan is weak" "Japanese people aren't really suited for basketball as a competing sport"
This is what Inoue wished to eliminate from our minds. Sure, the chances for the Japanese team to win over teams from other countries are small, but that's not only because we aren't trained as well in the sport. Part of it is because we perceive ourselves to be unsuited for the sport and as long as we continue doing so we will never achieve higher levels.

Inoue wants to give hope to children and teenagers who purely enjoy playing basketball and dreams to become a pro player and tell them that there is no wall of "impossibility". The program is also his way of showing gratitude to all the basketball lovers.

Perhaps the idea of establishing a scholarship fund isn't so new and innovating, but I liked his message of not only wanting to support those who dream to become a pro player but also to encourage them that it's not impossible and that there's always a chance. I bet so many kids' hearts brightened up with the news. I'm excited to know how the program turns out even though I probably won't know the results for another few years.

A short and easy one for today.
See the
Slam Dunk Scholarship official website for more. It's only available in Japanese though...

Today's update on Japan Mode: Hot Spring Guide "Kanagawa Prefecture" - it's so hard to try to pick out a few hot spring resorts out of sth like 3,000 all together in this country. I don't think I'll ever be able to completely finish this section.

Monday, December 25, 2006

An Hour for Doughnuts

One of my co-workers told me a few days ago that there's a new kind of doughnut not that just went on sale not too far from the office and that he was going to stop by that night for dinner ("Doughnuts for dinner!? - "Why not?"). At that time I wasn't really informed in details what kind of a shop it was so I didn't know that it was a brand new shop, but anyway a couple of days later I decided to go have a look on the way back home.

I found the doughnut shop and it turned out to be the American Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and as I tried to find the entrance.... I realized that there was a loooooong line stretching out from the entrance. The line went in zig-zags in front of the shop and the people who couldn't fit in the open space in front of the shop formed a line on the other side of the shop.
I asked the person holding the "end of line" board and asked him if it was always like that and he told me that it's been worse in that past week ever since its grand opening on Dec.15th as the first KKD in Japan. I was also told that even though the shop's business hours are 7:00-23:00 they close earlier b/c of the lack of supplies.

I wanted a doughnut but I wasn't in the mood of getting in a line of an hour so I gave up that night. I still want to try these KKD doughnuts though. Guess I'll have to wait for another month if I want it w/out the trouble.

Well so, that's one example of another something from across the ocean becoming hot in Japan. Anything new here has a great chance of huge success, especially if its targeted towards young women. Most of the people in line were women in their 20s to 30s and their boyfriends (who apparantly wore tired looks on their faces) and they do not mind the cold or the wind or the hunger at 20:00 if they could get the doughnut in the news. A good deal of people are easily influenced by the phrase "the hottest (product/service) in (country name)!" even if it really isn't THAT hot... so... if any of you are seeking a business chance in Japan, there's one tip. Whatever you want to sell has to have good quality, but with a little exaggeration people would jump at it.

BTW I had a chance to go see the papabubble candy shop (
see this entry) in Tokyo... and the tiny shop was full of people and barely had any candies left!

Today's update on
Japan Mode: This Week's Events in Tokyo (and it's the last week of 2006)

Friday, December 22, 2006

TV Commercials

The December ranking chart for the most popular TV commercials in Japan have been annouced today and the winner for December was this series "gas-pa-cho" which is a kind of a new gas heating system. The survey is conducted monthly and generation-separately and in fact this CM series won first place among the high school students in the past but this is the first time to rank top among older generations.

In Japanese culture TV commercials are kind of like a part of entertainment: of course their primary focus is to fulfill the purpose of advertising the product, but taking that for granted they have to be fun.

So to make the commercials entertaining, many of them feature famous figures especially showbiz celebrities. I once heard that in the States, celebrities like Hollywood actors/actresses appearing in TV commercials kind of denotes the decline of the person in that career. I don't know how true that is, but it's exaclty the opposite in Japan. The more popular you are the more commercial offers you get.
In my analysis, Japanese people tend to charismatize and idolize pop stars and dream of wanting to become like them so that's what makes using pop stars in commercials effective ways to promote the product.

The other way to attract TV viewers to the commercial besides using famous figures and maitaining high level of visual artistic quality is to make it like a short short ongoing drama of just a few seconds.

The most successful commercials lately using this method was KDDI's CM on "au" (mobile carrier). Not only it featured the popular actress Nakama Yukie, each commercial for "au" for this certain period was like fragments of a story. The "au" original song that Nakama sang as a singer in the commercial too became so popular that they released it as a single CD.

Credit card company Life's CM is another long-run hit. This one feature's another pop actor Odagiri Jo and the way the commercials end is just like how a soap opera ends each air. At the very end it says "see website for more" and this proves to be extremely effective. Like the song in "au" this item "lifecard" Odagiri uses in the CM is now made into a product for sale.

Going back to "gas-pa-cho" - this is actually my favorite commercial at the moment. There are several versions, and each of them pick up famous historical figures like Galileo Galilei, Flemming, Beethoven, Oda Nobunaga, Onono Imoko, Newton, the Chushingura samurais, Shakespeare (and is interpretor) so on so forth with the actor Tsumabuki Satoshi playing the protagonist. This commercial so marvelously turns these "difficult figures" of the history textbook in to a 10-second-comedy that makes you chuckle if not burst our laughing.

The first one of this series that I saw was Galileo Galilei ver. and this really caught me. My favorite now is Onono Imoko ver. I think many of them are available on YouTube so if you're curious to see what they're like, go to YouTube and search "gas-pa-cho" ;-)

Today's update on Japan Mode:
Holiday Giveaway 1. "CharmyNurseM" Special Christmas E-cards... send out exclusive CharmyNurseM Christmas Cards to your friends!
Holiday Giveaway 2. "CharmyNurseM" Christmas Desktop Wallpaper... available in two sizes 1024x768 and 800x600

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Popular Names

The top popular names for newborn babies in Japan this year have been announced today. I don't know about other cultures, but in Japan names are definitely a kind of mirror that reflects the society, what kinds of events happened and who the heroes were during the year.

For example, the most popular name for newborn boys this year is "Riku" which means "land" in Japanese. It ranked 14th place last year but made it all the way to the top in one year. It's not that there was a national hero like an athelete who achieved incredible results, but there are analyses that in this age of social instability like the widening disparities and so forth, name like Riku that are associated to grandness or stability became popular. It's interesting that the popular kanjis for boy's name last year was "ocean".

Other popular boy's names include those using the first kanji for the newborn prince's name Hisahito. The kanjo for the part Hisa can also be read Yuu, and the character itself means "far and away" "relaxed" "at ease".
Because the winning pitcher for the national high school baseball tournament Saito Yuuki's name - though not the same "Yuu" as the Prince - includes a different kanji for "Yuu", names like Yuuto, Yuuki, Yuuta came into higher ranks (7 of them in the Top 100).

The other name that jumped to a higher rank is "Daisuke" undoubtedly coming from the professional baseball player Matsuzaka Daisuke who successfully made his way to the MLB. The kanji for this name means "big, grand" and "to help".

As for girl's names, "Hina" came in first place for the second consecutive year. The kanji for Hina is "sun" and the flower "field mustard". They both provoke the images of warmness and girly prettiness. There are 13 names that end with this particular "na" ranked in the top 100, and quite a few with the kanji "love" and a range of flowers.

Quite a number of baby girls got their names from figure skater Asada Mao who placed second place in the Grand Prix Final which closed just a couple of days ago. In addition to being a really good skater, she has a bright and charming character so I guess that's what boosted up the popularity of that name.

To sum up - names associated to future hope for boys, and good character for girls. I mean, both hopes are included in most of the names regardless the gender but as a general tendency I think I can conclude it this way. Generally speaking, in an age when the future looks foggy names associated to hope and stability increase and on the other hand, at times of prosperity names related to strength come in higher positions. For girls... maybe the tendency isn't as clear as boys.

And there's always the other major way of naming babies which is to borrow a character or two from the parents' names. In my case, I don't inherit a kanji from neither of my parents and my name doesn't even mean anything in Japanese, but I inherited the meaning of "friend" from my mother's name.

Those of you interested in names and/or kanji can come see the kanji section on Japan Mode. Some time soon I may update the page with year 2006's top 5 baby names. But for today, I have an article on the film "Sakuran" published. The film's only going to be released in Japan next February but is another one on geisha (actually "oiran") so if you're interested
come have a look!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Miyazaki Clock

The huge carillon clock built on the outer walls of Nippon Televison Broadcasting Center in Shiodome is about to move. This clock known as Nittere-Ohdokei (NTV Grand Clock) is designed by the world famous Ghibli animator and film director Miyazaki Hayao and resembles a bit the castle in "Howl's Moving Castle".

It's got lots of hidden tricks in it, and those tricks are going to be revealed after 5 years of careful planning, designing and building. The great clock will move from 11:00 - 19:00 from tomorrow through Christmas day, and regularly from next Tuesday the 26th.

I haven't seen the actual thing since I don't have a chance to pass by Shiodome, but I am quite curious to see it move. Being a fan of Miyazaki's rich imagination, deepness of the story and the artwork that marvelously puts those into shape that can move people's hearts, I want to see his works in this world.

Here's the link to the clock's official website: It's in Japanese but do have a look if you're a Miyazaki fan.

Today's update on
Japan Mode: Photo Gallery "Asakusa Hagoita-Ichi" - it's a small collection of the Japanese battledore fair which was held at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa from last Sunday untill yesterday. I went to take the pictures on the first day and it was pretty exciting. Thousands of battledore with fabulous artwork and crafts skills were sold, and thousands of poeple were there.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


It's getting colder and colder, and it's finally starting to feel like winter. I don't really mind the low temperature but what bothers me so much this season is the swelling of my legs. I know it's not just the cold that makes my legs swell so badly because I spend my entire day sitting in front of the computer in an office so steaming hot (hey, where's the env-friendly eco policy?) and most of it's probably due to lack of sufficient excercise but anyway I am almost depressed by how swollen and dull my legs become by the end of the day everyday.

Last night I was sitting in the bathtub and rubbing my legs for some massage and they felt like huge chunks of meat. It wasn't muscle nor fat, it was the texture of heavy rubbery meat. I continued the massage after I was out of bath but no matter how much I worked on it my legs felt so... gross. I wasn't like, "these aren't my legs!"

Anyway, I was wondering how people deal with this around the world. I don't really think the preventions and solutions are universal, so I'm looking for a better way to get rid of this problem. Does anybody here know a good way of preventing and/or eliminating it?

Today's update on Japan Mode: Special Report "omotesando akarium collection" ... finished it, and got lots of photos (I worked all day on this)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fish Sausage

It was in the news today that fish sausage is gradually regaining social acknowledgment these days. Before, fish sausage was only something like a replacement for proper meat sausage and it was by no means a menu that was regarded as really a dish.

But in 21st century Japan, fish sausage is gaining attraction as a health food. It contains a rich amount of DHA and other nutritious components that reduces or solves various health issues. There even appeared a kind that became the country's first (government) specified health food product (no sure if that's the correct translation... sth like that) and it's selling sooo well among middle aged women especially.

Well, sounds like a healthy social tendancy. It sounds right that healthy food is being given more attention than before. But come to think of it, it wasn't just public unpopularity that made the fish sausage market shrink. A large part of it was due to the decrease of marine resources. I thought that the decrease hasn't stopped. Well then, how can the market grow bigger?

Anyway, fish sausage. Frankly I haven't had so many chances to taste it, but it's not so bad. It's just not the same as meat meat. Health conscious people, try some fish sausage.

Oooh, today's update: This week's events in Tokyo - December 4th Week AND Winter Illumination (finally finished it a week before Christmas.phew)

Friday, December 15, 2006

New Year's Cards

New Year's day is culturally the most important day in Japan and there is this tradition to send out New Year's postcards to people connected to you thanking them for their goodness and kindness in the past year and wishing them a happy new year. This postcard doesn't have to be of a particular kind and the designs truly vary from ready-to-send printed ones to cards that are individually hand-drawn. Either way, many people prefer to use the cards issued by the post office (they're plain white cards so that you can design it freely) because there's some fun to them.

Each of the post office issued new year's cards have several digit numbers written down at the corner, and if you received those you have a chance of winning some great New Year's Prizes. The prizes for the drawing range from post stamps at the lowest (the last two digits, I think) to a trip to some hot spring resort or a foreign summer resort (all numbers need to match). I've never won anything more than post stamps (but they're special kinds limited in design) but every year, myself as well as everybody in my family anticipate and compete in how many New Year's postcards each receive and who wins what... or none. It's just a small new year's happiness.

Having explained about New Year's cards, though, I do think that the total number of cards being sent snail mail are decreasing due to the rapid increase of the use of cell phones. Ever since I got my first cell phone I've been receiving more New Year's messagaes through text mail so much more than those cards. It's a whole lot handier and saves LOTS of time, yes, but it's a bit sad not because I have less chances of winning something, but because it feels like the feelings of warmth and appreciation is being lost.

The post office issued postcards have gone on sale just today (forgot to say, this kind is sold only for a limited time) and it's about time we start sorting out the addresses and come up with some ideas for the designs.
Don't mean to say that e-stuff are iron cold, but some things I prefer the troublesome manual ways.

Today's update on Japan Mode: webmanga CharmyNurseM Chapter 6

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Green Tea and Wa

I am a tea-person and though I enjoy all kinds of tea, my favorite of all is Japanese green tea. Part of it may be the fact that all my grandparents live in Japan's top green tea producing prefecture, but put aside that, I like the fragrance and taste. Most times the bottled drinks I buy at supermarkets and convenience stores are green tea of one kind or another, and I like to pour some hot green tea after dinner.

It was in the news a couple of days ago that lately green tea's pretty big in many countries around the world. The day people appreciate it varies depending on the country but as far as I know most of the "drinking methods" involve a whole lot of sugar and flavor addition. Um...

Like I wrote in the "Authenticity" article I don't want to be to nationalist on the ways food and drinks from Japan are being enjoyed outside of Japan, but personally, I don't appreciate green tea to be sweet or fruity. I have experiences trying what was called green tea in the States and also in Singapore and I was shocked by the taste. They were nothing like what I expected to be. I mean, the taste was good as a beverage but it wasn't any kind of green tea that I've known of.
I hear that the reason for green tea to be so popular is because of its rich health effects, but how healthy is it if you add so much sugar...?

Anyway, green tea has been around in Japan for more than a millennium and it is so naturally a part of our daily diet, but it has been re-gathering attention and re-picking up popularity in the past couple of years. In another words, green tea is huge in Japan too like other parts of the world. The reason for its popularity is more or less the same as elsewhere, its rich health benefits. I won't go into it right now because I want to write an article about it not on this blog but on Japan Mode.

I also suppose that the whole movement of reflecting back on "Japanese-ness" or the "Wa" boom lately plays a role, too. Not so much about the fact of drinking green tea but the prints and patterns on the bottles and packages as well as the tiny free gifts or campaigns the manufacturers hold are deeply related to "Wa". "Wa" is like nationalism - NOT in the sense of politics, but culture and tradition. Since a large part of Japanese culture and tradition has to do with living in harmony with the nature, looking back at "wa" arouses a sense of comfort (which in Japanese English is called "healing") and relaxation in this society of chaotic busyness and overabundance of materials.

So, that's the 21st century green tea situation in Japan.
And today's update:
Green Tea (go figure) - it's actually going to be a series cuz there's a lot I want to write about, and "Green Tea" is supposedly going to be the first series for this section called "Japanese Tea Culture" in which I plan to add the situations in Japan for Chinese tea and English tea.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Last? Business Resource

"Early bird catches the worm"...

With the air cooling down more and more each day, getting up early in the morning could be one big trouble... well, at least it is for me. I was assuming that it is the case for many people in this hectic business city, but maybe it's not.

I read a news article today telling that "early morning activities" are picking up popularity among the working generations at an amazingly fast speed. An event called "Morning Expo" held in Marunouchi, one of Tokyo's core business districts that carries 240,000 workers, attracted nearly 1,100 participants quickly filling up the capacity of the nine-day-long event. The activities included various class from hula dancing to how to make excellent morning coffee to even lectures on science held by astronauts.

Many of the participants commented that they were glad they took this opportunity to get up early and do something before work. The organizer of the Morning Expo analyzes that just doing something you like with a tiny bit of extra time pleases your ming and body, and getting up early which is something you're usually relunctant to do gives you a sense of achievement. Plus, the trains are less crowded so overall, the morning project takes away a lot of stress from your weekday life. It gives you more room mentally, too.

Morning activities might be potential business chances for the participants as much as they are for the organizers. These activities are a great chance to get to know someone completely outside of your daily job routine and expands the human network. Even cutting apart the business chance part, it still is a healthy way (I guess) to get to know new people face to face in this age of "invisible" human relationships.

This attempt, if it continues and establishes as a common practice, will bring larger social latent effects. It is well known that late nights, late mornings, mal-nutritious breakfasts (not to mention skipping breakfast) hugely affect healthy growth of children, and these factors are most times deeply associated with the living rhythm of the parents. The early morning projects have a great potential of improving the health of the larger society.

So everybody, get up an hour earlier! Early birds are cool!

Having giving so many good points about early mornings, I still don't think I want to (nor can ever) reduce my sleep in the morning. C'mon, it's one of the things you just can give up.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

This Year's Kanji

Every year we choose a kanji that well reflects or concludes the year, and this year's has been chosen today. It's "inochi" which means "life". It does look like a good kanji, but considering the events and incidents happening this year it is pretty heavy.

Of course, there were happy occasions such as the birth of a new prince (I'm not going to argue whether his birth as a "prince" is happy or not) but uncountable number of sad and cruel events related to life have happened that my feeling for this choice is more associated with death like murder of very young children and suicides committed by teenagers.

The year's kanji has been chosen since 1995 by public poll, and the kanji that came in second place was "yuu" or the first kanji for the newborn prince's name. Third place was "to live".

We've only got less than three weeks of year 2006. I hope next year would become a bit more cheerier.

Today's update: Report - Omotesando akarium Collection

description: it's a report on a fashion show I went to see last week held in Omotesando, the center of Japan's arts & designs & mode. It was on winter fashion this year and was pretty fun. Couldn't finish writing up the whole thing so today's update is only the first half but I've got lots of photos.

Monday, December 11, 2006


There has been a minor but major dispute arising lately on Japanese cuisine outside of Japan. I'm sure some of you are quite aware of the issue for (at least what we hear on the news in Japan) the topic seems to be pretty hot on papers and news these days especially in the West.

To very briefly explain the situation to those reader who don't know about this problem: (I don't know who decided to pick on this question and how, but anyways) in a word, the Japanese government is complaining that very few of the so-called "Japanese" restaurants serve authentic Japanese food and is trying to start with the restaurants ratings system of how "Japanese" the place is, or to explain it a little clearer (but harsher) whether the restaurant is actually "Japanese" at all. Some media is criticizing this act as nationalism.

True, traveling around US, Europe and even in Southern East Asia I have had experiences encountering some... odd... "Japanese" food. Describing the food "odd" doesn't necessarily mean the taste is bad because in fact the tastes of food could be amazingly good, but there are some cases in which the ingredients or the recipes don't look Japanese at all. Tempura can be fries of many kinds of food, but hey, bananas barely grow in our country.

What happens a lot is the mixing of Far-East Asian cuisines. Something Japanese and Korean and Chinese can all be mixed and called authentic dish fromo either one of the cultures, and if you're not someone from those cultures or not a gourmet, it might be that those differences don't really matter as long as you enjoy the food.

The news tells us that only 10% of the Japanese restaurants in the US are actually owned by Japanese people, and there are many that don't even have a single Japanese cook. I wouldn't directly conclude that not having a Japanese cook or a staff would lose authenticity in the food they offer, but I am pretty sure the authenticity level would drop.

The largest part of the controversy is probably the ratings for the menus that evolved in the foreign culture but from original Japanese recipe such as California Roll Sushi. Sure, it's sushi but it was invented in California. But then, it's true that may Japanese residents outside of Japan enjoy the menu and we even reimported it into Japan.

Personally... I can't decide on which side to take without hesitation. Being a Japanese, I do have pride in our culture and food so I don't want people to misunderstand what's truly authentic and what's been created based on the original. At the same time, however, I do think that once a culture travels outside of its origin it's quite natural to adapt to where it lands. We too in Japan have all kinds of imported food cultures and many of us mix one with another at some point.

What I see a lot, and increasingly these days, are restaurants calling themselves "creative Japanese" "creative French" "creative Italian" "creative...". In many cases the cooks go through trainings in authentic cuisine of one culture or another, and then opens his/her own restaurant that serves "inspring" creative cuisine.

Sounds like the best solution, but then I assume that in the end, attaching the "creative" part or not requires some kind of rating system.

Today's update: This Week's Events in Tokyo - December 3rd Week

Friday, December 8, 2006

Too Much Food

Do you know the self-sufficiency ratio of food supplies for your country? Our number is extremely low, somewhere between 20-40% depending on how you calculate it. That means that we are dependent on more than half or actually most of the food we feed ourselves with, including the main crucial products such as soy beans.

What I want to write about today, though, isn't about the ratio but how some of the food we can grow by ourselves is being wasted. Here I'm not talking about left-overs but raw vegetables in perfect condition waiting to be harvested.

Due to the perfect weather conditions for growing agricultural products this past autumn, we have more than enough winter vegetables in the fields. Chinese cabbage, Japanese radish, cabbage, onions and so on are being dumped in huge volumes like thousands of tons. It's so sad to see them being dumped or run over by agriculture tractors. They're not soggy at all, are in perfect shape and I bet the taste is excellent too.

The national government decided on this action to protect the farmers from vegetable inflation. Indeed, the prices for these vegetables have already dropped to less than half the average price. This policy adjustment of food demand and supply was adopted 26 years ago (I think, 26) and there has only been one year that our country didn't need to do this.

By just watching the news I bet a lot of people wonder whether those vegetables really have to be destroyed. There must be some alternative way - the TV commentators also say. Some people suggest on making them into pickles like we do with many kinds of food. Others say that because we are totally dependent on imports for ingredients for frozen food we can use part of it for that. Some others wonder if we can export them abroad or grant them to countries in need of food. But then in the end, the first two aren't so efficient in terms of volume because it will only use a small portion and a great volume will still be wasted, and the last one brings up other issues like hygiene problems and cost.

I guess crushing and dumping is the easiest and cheapest way to "adjust" demand and supply.
It's reasonable, but it's really "mottainai". I remember that not too long ago we were extremely short of green vegetables and the prices were 4 times expensive than average. Every year some part of the country suffers typhoon attacks that destroy the fields with fruit and vegetables waiting to be harvested in just two more days.

How does your government act to these kinds of situations?

Today's update: webmanga
Charmy Nurse M Chapter 6 Preview

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Culture and Entertainment

Ever since - or even before I took over this post as a webmistress for Japan Mode, I've been trying to think everyday what kind of things I should post.

Okay, I've been involved in this project for a year and I do know what kind of contents we have added and how my ex-boss and us staffs have worked hard on it, but since it just celebrated it's 1st anniversary a couple of months ago and because I want the site to focus on "something" rather than making it too general, I thought I'd point to the site in some direction and I guess... that would be cultural entertainment.

Not just "culture" because there already are a lot of websites that introduces Japanese culture and culture shock experiences. I actually think it's about time to go beyond mere descriptions and explanations on culture... but how...?

I also want to make it a website that people living outside of Japan can enjoy. Right now I feel like it's more targeted towards residents in Japan, more specifically Tokyo, because a lot of the information is on destination & event guides.

So what I need....... suggestions from you viewers out there!! Tell me what kind of information is needed and more importantly fun. I want to make the website "fun" just as much as it is informative.

Not that I meant to play with it, but I did include some hidden (internal) links on the top page of "Tokyo Event" for some people to explore - just for fun.

Okie, todays update: winter illumination 2006 Yokohama and Kobe ver.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

New Year's Bargain

This morning I was watching the news on TV and it featured year 2007's New Year's Bargain. New Year's Bargain in Japanese is usually called "hatsuuri" or "fukubukuro" and each year the department stores and malls turn into chaotic battlefields.

Races for fukubukuro - which literally translates to "luck bag" or "happiness bag" - is especially fierce because the contents of the bags are worth many times of the bag's price. For example, the fashion fukubukuro the news showed this morning was 8,400 yen (tax included; about US$75 more or less) but contained items worth 6 times. Fukubukuro for clothing is probably the most famous, but the variations range from clothing to food, jewelry, games, food to travel plans and the price also range from a couple thousand yen to millions. But naturally the number of bags prepared are limited so men and women of all generations go pretty wild to win the one they want.

The fun part of fukubukuro apart from dashing for your target is that you don't know what's inside it. It's a tiny gamble in a sense because you can pay Y2,000 for a bag and get Y10,000 worth of clothes that you like, or get something worth the same price but not your taste. But this is only the traditional fukubukuro. Sadly or fortunately, many many places started to disclose the contents of the bags in the past several years. Even though they don't show everything in the bag they still do say "this bag contains something similar to these" showing samples. Business-wise I guess that's more effective, but hey, where's the thrill?

Having complained a bit though, I can't wait to get at least one bag for myself.

BTW speaking about clothes, today's update for
Japan Mode is Ladies Fashion Winter 2006. Those interested in girl's fashion in Japan do come have a look! (I couldn't fetch pix today but will post some in the following days... hopefully)

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

National "HIT" Products 2006

The megahit products for this year in Japan have been announced yesterday and it's quite fun to view the chart because it reflects the political, economic and sociocultural news and current of the year. The way they list the products too is pretty interesting and very Japanese. Products (not necessarily tangible, however) are listed like the sumo ranking chart using sumo rank names like yokozuna and so on, and the chart also compares East and West (so there is the East yokozuna and West yokozuna and on and on).

Anyway, so let's have a look at what sold well in Japan this year.

[East (from high to low rank)]
yokozuna: Nintendo DS Lite and softs
ozeki: --- (=none)
sekiwake: "The Da Vinci Code"
komusubi: TSUBAKI (shampoo targeting Japanese women for beautiful Japanese hair)
maegashira 1: flat-screen TV
maegashira 2: "one seg" (one segment devices implanted in mobiles etc. whereas the usual T-DMB takes 13 segs)
maegashira 3: "Oh Japan" and "Handkerchief Prince" (national baseball team led by field manager Oh / winner pitcher of the summer national high school baseball tournament Saito Yuuki got this "nickname" since he used this particular handkerchief instead of his arm or sleeve to wipe his sweat. "prince" because he's handsome)

[West (likewise)]
yokozuna: --- (=none)
ozeki: mixi (SNS)
sekiwake: Wagon R (car)
komusubi: Labre drink
maegashira 1: "Oshare Majo Love & Berry" (fashion game&anime for grade school girls)
maegashira 2: "Kokka no Hinkaku" (literal translation: Dignity of Nation... a book discussing,,, the dignity of nation,,, which could be understood as nationalism)
maegashira 3: Arakawa Shizuka (gold medal winner of Turin Olympics women's figure skating)

The list goes on a little bit more but I'll cut it here. I was quite surprised to see no same products or names in the ranking lists for East and West, and both of them don't look like they have a certain... rule? I don't know if I can call it a "rule" but they appear to me as pretty random.

All of them can be described "domestic" too. Could this be a portrayal of our homey love for the country and culture, or a realistic reflection of our indifference to int'l events etc.?

Year 2006 has only 26 days left now. Maybe it's a good time to look back at what happened to myself and around me.

What does your country's "hit" ranking look like?

Monday, December 4, 2006

Nihongo Around the World

I read in a couple of web news today that a good number of people around the world are quite enthused about learning Japanese.

One article said that the examinees for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) have increased by nearly 50% in China, and the surprising part is not just that - it also said that the applicants reached the capacity of 100,000 people in less than an hour from the moment they started accepting applications. Wow. The reason behind this is economic, for it is understood that the increase has to do with the expansion of Japanese corporates into China along with the country's (China's) rapid economic growth. It seems like those with Japanese language skills have more advantages in winning the fierce job hunting.

The other one was about the situation in the US and I guess similar situations can be seen in other cultures. It was about some kids in high school who are crazy about Japanese manga (comic)/ anime stuff. They aren't just fans, they get themselves involved in lots of activities which stretch out to language studies and culture learning, even founding companies. I grew up with these manga and anime stuff around me so they were never really something special. But then, I recently realized how much potential manga/anime (actually movies and TV shows too) can have as means to tie multiple entities across borders which takes decades for politics to cross. Now I think it's actually a very strong tool that can be used in both ways.

On our website Japan Mode we offer this tiny service "Kanji Name Convertor" and the numbers of requests are rising rising rising. I have to confess that we aren't being able to catch up with the list that just grows longer each day. Some people tell us that they want to have the names tattooed, some made into name cards, just for fun etc etc. FYI if you make a request now it will take a good month to get back to you... just so you know.

Wow. I never knew Japanese stuff was so widespread not just in terms of materials but also culturally. I would have to spend years to observe how Japan is being seen from the other side of the world, but I wonder, is it similar to the way Japanese people see Western cultures?

Friday, December 1, 2006

Japan Mode Renewal !?

It's been a little more than a year since Japan Mode started off as a website introducing Japanese culture and entertainment, and today it is being renewed. Well, there isn't really anything different in its appearance but our previous webmaster kaduak has left the management board and I am taking over the post so the people working on it are renewed... a bit.

I don't know how good a successor I can be but I do give a lot of love and empathy to our website so to those frequent viewers, thank you for visiting our site and please keep on revisiting, and for those newcomers, welcome to Japan Mode. Hope everybody enjoys it, and I will work really hard with my staffs to keep it a useful and entertaining website. Any comments and suggestions on the content are welcome so feel free to post them here or e-mail us.

For the moment that's all I can think of... Oh, the newest chapter for our webmanga CharmyNurseM is up so check that out. Other than that, updates for December will cover a lot of illumination information + reports as well as cultural introduction to Japanese year-end holidays so on so forth (hopefully).

Okay, that's it for today. See you on Monday!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Culture in Songs

I like to listen to music and I listen to one kind of music or another all the time when I'm out of office. This habit started a couple of years ago right after I got back to Tokyo from a late summer trip around the northern European countries. The trigger was when one of the travelers whom my friend and I shared a compartment with on the sleeper lent me his MD player while we were waiting for a train in Duisburg. When I wore the headphones the normal station scene in early morning suddenly turned dramatic. It felt like I was thrown into a music video, and this is how I became unable to cut myself apart from carrying music.

Well, so much for that. What I wanted to write today was how I subconsicously identify my home culture to be Japanese through Japanese music.
Half of the music I listen to is from outside of Japan, mostly sung in English language, and I do catch and understand the lyrics but I feel like it's still on the surface level. I feel like I have to do some "read-b/w-the-lines" when I try to truly understand the lyrics.

Whereas for Japanese music especially songs, I sympathize with them really comfortably. It is largely for the lyrics aside from memories that I like J-pop music. The lyrics are pretty straightforward in terms of words, yet a lot of the songs (I like) sing about little things/emotions that anyone can experience. For me it's easy to either tie them with personal experience or to imagine a "rich" scene with emotion, not just the picture.

Masterpiece music have masterpiece lyrics in any language, so I think the difference comes from not the depth of language knowledge but how much time I've spent with the languages in question. I am quite comfortable reading, writing and speaking in English and being an enthusiastic traveler as well as a daughter of an ex-expat I am also comfortable in becoming acquainted with other cultures, but at the same time, though, I was raised in a Japanese family in this language.

The music-lyric thought is just one of the moments when I reassure the feeling that my identity is more closely tied to Japan than any other one.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Japan outside of Japan

I was watching a TV show the other night. It's a weekly show in which an actor/actress or somebody in the show/entertinment business in Japan goes abroad for a week and experiences homestay as well as helping the job of the family member. The desitination could be anywhere outside of Japan from major cities to tribal villages and for almost every time the experience ends up as a moving Drama.

Anyway, the destination for the last show was Barcelona, Spain, and a young Japanese actress was experiencing candy-making for the first time in her life. What I found interesting about it was that it wasn't traditional Spanish candy-making that she was challenging but traditional Japanese candy-making! We call it "kintarou-ame" (Kintaro is a character in a Japanese folk tale and "ame" means hard candy) and I don't know what it's called in English, but it's a candy-craft that has designs inside so when you cut the candy you always see the same design on the sections.

At first I thought, "oh, I thought it's something Japanese but maybe I was wrong and it's originally from Spain" but then the show said that when the owner of the store came to study in Japan he fell in love with this candy and studied and brought the skills back home. He and his staffs make really pretty and artistic candies and it was amusing even just looking at how they make them and the finished candies on the TV screen... I could easily see why the shop is so popular there because I wish I could try some of those... and guess what! I just found out that there's a branch in Tokyo!

Going back to the point (not that there's really a point, but): Japan in Spain and Spain in Japan - I know that in a world so globalized like today it's not so rare to see Japan-related restaurants & shops outside of Japan and vice versa, but seeing a culture originating in Japan developing in its own way abroad blending into the culture makes me kind of happy.

Link: the shop's name is papabubble and those who live in Barcelona, Amsterdam or Tokyo have higher chances to appreciate their sweet delicacy ;-)

Monday, November 27, 2006


Hello to everybody, to those who came from Japan Mode, through blogspot and those who just coincidentally stumbled upon my page. Like the brief description says, this is a blog on my random thoughts and observations on the city and country I live in - that's Tokyo, Japan - and I also hope to cast a spotlight on little daily-life trends in Japan as well as feature some "Made in Japan"s in other cultures.

I think I'll start with a self-introduction for today.
My name is monamie and I am one of the writers for Japan Mode, a website on Japanese culture and entertainment. I am a Japanese in my early twenties, a travelholic and a photography-lover. I have been working with Japan Mode for almost a year.
Ummm, what else...? I have been living in the heart of Tokyo for most of my life but have some experiences abroad.

What I like about Tokyo... it's a mess as many times describes by non-Tokyoites, but it's reeeally convenient, from my point of view. The city's overwhelmed with people and material, but I guess that's what I like about the city - the mess.
As for what I see and feel and observe about this city and country, I'm going to post them randomly in the following entries which I hope to update everyday so be sure to check back if your eyes and ears can't miss the name TOKYO or JAPAN ;-)