Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Trend Update

Guimauve

Japanese people can go crazy about touring from shops to shops, cafes to cafes exploring new kinds of luxury cakes and confectionaries, but this is probably the first time for luxury marshmallows to catch attention.

One TV show featured luxury marshmallows in Tokyo the other day. It seems like the petit boom started a couple of months ago around the White Day season (White Day = March 14th, a day for boyfriends to give their girlfriends a gift in return for the Valentine's Day gifts. For Valentine's girls usually give boys chocolate, and for White Day boys give white sweets like white chocolate and marshmallows).

Luxury marshmallows are those that are given labels of luxury hotels and restaurants, and they are available at the confectionary/ pastry shops of those places.

At first, I was only like, "how could marshmallows be so different?" but I happened to have a chance to buy these marshmallows for my aunt so I got a box for myself. The place I went to is the
Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo and they actually call them not marshmallows but "guimauve" (French, I think?), and Park Hyatt's guimauve looks like the one in the picture (I didn't bother taking a photo until the last piece so it looks kind of odd...).

The shape is like a slightly bigger version of kiss chocolate, and the texture smooth and moderately springy. As compared to regular marshmallows sold in supermarkets this one is a lot softer and delicate, and you'll feel that even more when you take one into your mouth. It's really delicate and fine. I was surprised how it melts on the tongue. It feels more like meringue barely keeping its form... and the flavor too was very rich. This one in the picture is raspberry flavor and it tasted like I was tasting raspberry puree. Very rich.

Park Hyatt had two kinds, raspberry and passion fruit, and I bet the passion fruit tastes as rich as the raspberry. A box costs Y800 (US$6.7) so although they call it luxury, it's not like it's unaffordable. I think it's certainly worth a casual gift for someone or even for yourself.

Baseball

About 10 months ago the entire country was literally stirred by the two highschool baseball monsters Saito Yuuki and Tanaka Masahiro. The same fever has now shifted to university baseball league and professional baseball league.

Winning pitcher Saito Yuuki decided to go on to higher education and entered Waseda University this past April. Waseda is one of the
Tokyo Big6 Baseball League (Tokyo's uni sports conference, sort of like the equivalent to the IVY League in US) and its baseball team is strong enough, but with Saito joining the team looks like its gotten even stronger and energetic.

The participation of Saito in the Big6 didn't only vitalize his own university but brought a huge influence on the popularity of the Big6 League itself. University baseball, back 60 years ago was the most popular amateur sport that attracted the largest number of crowds (people waited in ticket lines overnight... thought this was a modern phenomenon, nevertheless...) but the popularity kind of sank in the following decades. Eventually the center of baseball became the professional leagues (we have two, the Pacific and the Central) where the top players play every night.

However, by entering university baseball instead of professional Saito brought his fans to the Big6 games and now tickets for every game he plays sell out in seconds. More games are being shown live on TV, and the goods are selling out as well as the tickets.

This weekend is going to be a festival around the Jingu Stadium and at the campuses, for the game taking place is fought between Waseda and Keio. Known as "Sokei-sen" (So for Waseda, Kei for Keio, sen means match/battle) the match-up between these two are traditionally the most popular especially for baseball, and this weekend is even more special because if Waseda wins it automatically makes Waseda the winner of the spring tournament. The game is going to be aired live on two channels which is needless to say an irregular case.

Besides the baseball game itself, Sokeisen provides a stage for another kind of battle, which is the cheering. Called "Ouen-gassen" the cheering for both schools (and other schools of the Big6 as well) is another feature of the Sokei-sen and no doubt the most important leader of the crowd. So that's another something to look out for. As for Saito, he's doing pretty well improving his baseball skills and marking good records.

The other mammoth pitcher Tanaka joined the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, a relatively knew team having its home base in Sendai. The team despite its unwell team performance in the past couple of years is quite popular and the popularity rose higher with Tanaka joining the team. He's expected a lot from the fans. Though his debut game was not really a good one for him (as far as I recall which is not too much) he's been dedicating to the team a lot in terms of results in numbers and as a stimulator for the other players. His influence on the team can be seen in the team performance of Rakuten this season. Pretty good ;-)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Japan Travelog vol.3 - Kyoto Day 1

Fushimi Inari Taisha (Shrine) is located only two stops south from Kyoto Station on JR Nara Line, and the grand gate to the shrine is located right in front of the Station exit. As you go through the gate you will find a shrine pavilion and behind that the main shrine where you make offerings and pray. Behind the main shrine there is a path that leads you to the widely known Sembon Torii (thousand torii). This Sembon Torii was what I wanted to see with my own eyes, and thus the highlight of this trip.

Torii are the gates you find at Shinto shrines or grounds that are affiliated with Shinto sanctity. They are often located at the entrances to the shrine grounds as well as within, and many times in the nature as best represented in rocks and forests/ woods. Torii are made of wood and are in the color of the wood (brown - dark brown) if not vivid vermillion red representing brightness (light, hope, life).

Since these gates are indicators (or even reminders) that are built on the boundary of the sacred and the profane, in most cases the gates stand individually. Fushimi Inari is no exception in terms of the main entrance, but the most unique feature of this shrine is this Thousand Torii where hundreds of them are placed one right next to another creating tunnels of torii. The location appears in many posters, travel brochures, TV commercials, TV dramas and films... and I simply wanted to see this almost insane collection of red.

Probably because a Japanese like myself is brought up tacitly being taught that torii as well as vermillion red for the shrines
are something sacred or something apart from our daily lives, these kind of places give me a sense of chilly awe and take my breath away in a different way from standing on top of a mountain and looking across the universe. It was beautiful but at the same time a bit eerie. Would have been much eerier if there weren't any fellow tourists and students on trips.

As you come out to from the narrow vermillion tunnel you reach the Okunoin, and behind it Mt.Inari. Not only the shrine ground and the approach expands to the entire side of the mountain, like many other Shinto shrines the Shrine worships this whole mountain (... is what I learned afterwards. I didn't even know that the visit would be a good 2-hour-hike).

The approach that climbs up the mountain is marked with another set of hundreds of torii, this time larger and placed slightly (only slightly) apart. Moderately steep stairs lead most of the way with partially really steep places, and along the path stand several houses. Many of these houses have rest areas located next to them, offering food and drinks as well as great view. (The picture is of hiyashiame, literally cold candy, a very sweet drink made of malt sugar with ginger. Savior of my soar throat this day.)

Also along the circular route across the mountainside are smaller shrines, all related to the main Inari but each with different purposes. Some are for safe traveling, some others for health around your neck and head, others for health for back and legs, etc. etc.. Some are relatively bigger in terms of size and significance than others, but there were more than a dozen located on the route.

In addition to the shrines are the... heaps (I don't know how to describe them)... called tsuka. At a glance these places look like a mixture of Shintoism with Buddhism as the carved stones look like Buddhist gravestones, but the surroundings are of complete Shintoism. The stones are actually not gravestones but are each gods - households that worship Shintoism carve the sacred (gods') names on the rocks and enshrine the rocks on this mountain as part of the Inari (god of agriculture and harvest) because this is Inari's center of worship.

Overall the visit was a pleasant one, not to mention fascinating... and good exercise. Just one thing though: even though there were fairly many tourists, there weren't too many that actually climbed the route and so I wasn't always seeing people around. When encountering couples and groups I didn't really feel anything, but when I saw some people who were there alone, silent and slow, there were some times when I didn't know if I were seeing real people or not. I don't usually see ghosts and phantoms, but so-thought sacred grounds like this sometimes make me feel... unsure.




Friday, May 25, 2007

Japan Travelog vol.2 - Osaka

My first night in Osaka was my first time to use the internet cafe as an accommodation. It wasn't awfully bad, but perhaps by no means comfortable. Chilly and smokey, plus the flat type rooms were all taken so we had no choice but to take the recliner seats. Well... the seats weren't bad. What bothered me more was the rustling sounds people made throughout the night whenever somebody moved around. It's an internet cafe after all. Can't complain.

We spent the first real day in Osaka in the Namba area. That's probably the busiest and noisiest area of the city, I think. This is where you can find the famous Glico neon board and the Kuidaore figure, not to mention tons of eatouts particularly of Osaka's specialties takoyaki and okonomiyaki. It was a Friday morning but the place was already bustling with mostly tourists and students on school excursions. Busy place. I went back to the area alone on a Sunday after my friends had headed back home. Well, that was quite a crowd. Not just this Dotombori area but even more crowded in the Shinsaibashi area. My impression of Shinsaibashi was Shibuya made into a single straight arcade. Lots of shops and young people. I had heard before that the fashion in Osaka (actually not just Osaka but also big cities like Nagoya and Kobe respectively) is different from Tokyo. I think I would agree. At least for the girls, it looked like Osaka girls prefer gears on the gal side more than the Tokyo girls like. Strong vivid colors and glittery accessories, too.

The following day we went to Osaka Castle and Shitennoji Temple. The temple ground was pretty big though not vast like the ones in the ancient capital Nara. Still the 1,400-year-old temple is preserved well (of course with nummerous refurbishing and restoration) and is a peaceful place to stroll around. The exterior is good enough, but the impressive features of this temple are the religious (wall) paintings and statues stored inside the halls. The paintings tell the stories of Buddha and Asoka and the art is very beautiful.

I stayed in Osaka for another day after my friends have left, and went to see a shrine called Sumiyoshi Taisha. This was another pretty shrine with unique architecture (I like architecture of shrines and temples). An amazing contrast of vermillion lacquer, deep brown of the thatched roofs and white all surrounded by early summer green. I got to see three Shinto style weddings that morning. They were certainly beautiful especially on a day with such perfect weather, but I have to say that although they were three separate weddings, the way the shrine conducted (conducted more like, than carried out) the weddings were kind of systematic. One right after another. Popular place, good day, I guess it couldn't be helped.

Then I wandered into the Shinsekai area. That's where the Tsutenkaku Tower is (every big city has its own tower). Since I already went up the Castle to get a view of the city I didn't go up this one and just walked around the area at its foot. Shinsekai looked like a block of dozens of kushikatsu (fried... pretty much any kind of food stuck through skewers) eatouts huddling together. Most of these places had statues of Billiken in all sizes placed at the entrances. First I didn't know what it was, but later on found out that this is the famous Osaka god of all-purpose luck. Actually, I just found out that Billiken was designed by an American artist based on the inspiration she got from her dream one night, and the figure went popular worldwide, that is to say back in early 1900s. Is that right? At least, not too many of the Tokyoites know of the god. Anyway.

The following day I woke up in the morning and decided to leave Osaka for my personally most exciting destination for this trip, Kyoto. I've been to Kyoto so many times but like many say, you can visit Kyoto one hundred times and not even see half of it. This trip was particularly an exciting one. Will go on to vol.3.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Japan Travelog vol.1 ?

Didn't mean to have a break so long... well I am back to blogger after 6 weeks. Many things happened - or rather, I was engaged in many projects during these past weeks.
I did quite a lot of Tokyo guiding as well as interpreting, went to Australia for a week accompanying a filming crew as an interpreter (now that was one awesome trip: we traveled parts of Cairns, Brisbane and Gold Coast). Then I played in an orchestra for an operetta, and after another Tokyo city tour I traveled around Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto, all pretty big cities as well as tourist attractions in mid-west Japan.

It was my very first time to go to Kobe. Quite honestly I didn't know what to expect.
The overnight bus from Shinjuku (Tokyo) to Kobe was surprisingly comfy with considerably wide space and relaxing recliner seats. Though the price can't exactly be described as cheap, it's a whole lot more affordable than bullet trains when traveling this country for such long distance. The downside of it, however, is that the bus arrives at the destination pretty early in the morning (7:3o-ish) when not many of anything in town are open. Two more friends and I had to kill time in a cafe, but it was okay cuz this way we could plan the route for the day.

We only had one day in Kobe and that day had been pretty miserable weatherwise. It poured and poured and poured all day and I got myself soaked on the first day of my trip.
Kobe I imagined prior to this trip was a classy stylish town: the impression I actually got was that the town resembled a lot of the int'l port town of the east, Yokohama. Of course these two cities are different, and if I had more time to explore the town I probably could have gotten more different impressions, but it seemed to me that the types of attractions... or districts they have are quite similar. The former foreign (western) residential area, China town, the shopping/commercial district, the port area - I thought that the two cities shared a lot of common elements.

What interested me the most, or gave me the biggest impact, was the remains of the dock located in the port area. The dock known as Meriken Hatoba had been damaged severely (almost destroyed) just like how the entire region was by the Hanshin Awaji Earthquake back in 1995. As a remembrance of the tragic disaster of more than 40,000 casualties the dock is preserved in exactly the way the earthquake left it.

Afterwards we went to a Chinese temple (by chance, kind of) and made an interesting observation on Japanese uni students and professor. I looked like a class on religious studies or art or sociology or one of the kind was visiting this temple, one professor and about a dozen students. At first they were just looking around the small temple and its grounds, but (unfortunately, to them at least) they were caught by an elderly (yet more energetic than any of the class there) worshipper who literally started a lecture that went on for half an hour. The lecture was actually pretty good, though the attitudes of the students were by no means nice. They looked like they as well as the teacher were terribly annoyed and wanted to leave asap. No comments, no questions. My two friend coming from overseas were amused by the situation. They said they couldn't believe what they were seeing, the silent and annoyed group, because if this was the case in their country there would definitely be a shower of questions and the professor would have to stop them because otherwise they'd run out of time, not because they wanted to leave any second.

The day ended with good Indian dinner followed by a businessy conversation with the Indian owner of the restraunt, and after relaxing in a jazz bar with live performance we left the city for Osaka.
So much for today. I will write about Osaka in the next entry.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bimyo na Nihongo - The Delicate Japanese?

At the same time as writing articles and editing them for the website I automatically do some JPN-ENG translations because the base data for these articles are in Japanese, and every time I try to write something very Japanese I hit a wall of language differences. For more professional translators and interpretors this wall of language differences (and I say wall, not a barrier... I feel like they're somewhat different) is probably close to nothing, but for a person like me who understands both languages pretty well but not well enough to accomplish the task without almost no difficulty, the little things about the language differences bother so much. The differences of the languages are the differences of cultures and I can't be adding footnotes everytime I do translations. I feel this especially strongly when translating sentences that have to do with senses of beauty and comfort.

Good examples (which means I have to deal with the following rather frequently) are as follows:

- yuugen: subtle and profound, ethereal
- mugen (yumemaboroshi) : illusory, dreamy
- shimpiteki: mysterious, unearthly
- gensouteki: fantastic(al), magical, translunar(y)... (it's more... dreamy and nice)
- iki: chic, edgy, nifty, stylish
- shareta: chic, classy, fancy, stylish
- joucho yutaka: exotic, emotional... (I don't think this's right)
- fuzei no aru: taste, flavor, appearance, attractive
- joushu afureru: sentimental, spicy... (haha! "spicy")
- okuyukashii: discreet
- ryuugi: style, way, fashion, tradition
- yuusou: gallant, valiant
- hanayaka: gaudiness, pomp(ous), gorgeous
- jojou: lyric(al)
- yuruyaka(na): mild, gentle, relaxed, moderate
- miyabiyaka / jouhin / yuuga: elegant, refined, ethereal
- seijaku: quiet, tranquil(ity), composed, relaxed, silence
- wa: Japanese
- kokoro: heart and mind
- kyoushuu / natsukashii: nostalgia, nostalgic, reminiscence

The nastiest one for me personally is "kokoro" which according to the dictionary is "heart and/or mind". It's not wrong, but it's neither exactly heart nor mind, nor is it feelings, emotions or spirit. It's like a mixture of everything mentioned but is indescribable in other words. Kokoro is kokoro.

The other ones that are hard to tell are those related to other-worldliness like yuugen, mugen, shimpiteki, gensouteki, etc. There was a translation in the dictionary, "ethereal" but because I've never really used that vocablulary in my daily life when I lived in the States, I have no idea what it means exactly. Can somebody tell me if it's an appropriate word to describe other-worldy beauty, or the quiet and profound atmosphere that makes you feel a sort of sacredness???

Shimpiteki is another tricky one that I can't completely agree with the dictionary. The kanji says, "god(s) - secret" and the Jpn-Eng dictionary gives "mysterious" as the English translation, but it's a twist different from mysterious. It certainly implies mysteriousness, but it also carries the meanings of sacredness or holiness. Something sacred and holy, something that makes you feel the presence of the gods is mysterious. I think that point is more or less common in any culture or religion. Well, the traditional Japanese religion (Shinto) believes that there are gods in pretty much everything existing in this world and worships especially the nature. Therefore the term "shimpiteki" is used many times with descriptions on nature, scenery, art and atmosphere. When the term is used it does denote holiness, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's a sanctuary that the outsiders are prohibited connection. It's just the description of the atmosphere.

So. My point. How much of these translations are credible? Most of the above, I have been using every once in a while because I cannot find alternatives, but honestly I do doubt if they're actually correct. They are Japanese-unique expressions that perhaps can be translated better into Chinese and Korean more than English because we share part of the writing systems as well as having similarity in the cultures. How can I tell precisely the most delicate nuance of the difficult language in a different language?

If there's anyone out there who understands both languages perfectly, I am dying for your suggestions!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

mixi

After all that fussing and complaining and making excuses, I finally joined mixi not too reluctantly. "mixi" (pronounced mix-ee) is the name of an SNS which I believe is the largest in Japan? I think. My ex-boss wrote about the discussion (or maybe controversy) on how it spread so widely so fast in Japanese society and its addictiveness (see entries for May 18 & 19 here: it's kind of confusing that the blog keeper's name is me, monamie, but the author of all the articles there is my ex-boss kaduak).

Anyway, I had a bunch of friends who were making full use of mixi from a while ago, and they've always asked me to join it. Because mixi is a completely exclusive membership network, you need to receive invitations from a member in order to become a member. So I had several invitations sleeping in my e-mail inbox, but they were always there being untouched because I had no intentions to join the network and my friends did know about it. The reason for being so reluctant to join this online community was because I didn't really appreciate the idea of being connected online... how do I put this... I always like meeting people in person and making new friends in person. Put simply, I don't entirely trust online communication (don't ask why I'm in this business, keeping a blog). When I tell this to my friends, they tell me that mixi's safe because you only need to form your own network among people you already know etc. etc. and that is kind of true, but back then during those days I was still pretty suspicious about the whole idea. I was also too concerned with by these "rules" the SNS has. They're not real rules, but it can sound almost religious at times (just read my ex-boss's blog. it's all explained).

Now, the reason I decided to join it: it's simply because I have more time. I have so much time now that I'm almost bored to death. I actually did register myself on mixi but never really made use of it, and this time I decided to add some information about myself on it so now there's my profile and one entry of a journal. I doubt I'll have new entries everyday, but let's see how long I can continue this. Speaking of continuing, this very blog going on for so long is already like a miracle.

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Went to see the movie STEP UP. It's a dance movie and I think it came out in the US and other countries last summer or so? But it came out in Japan finally this spring, a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't advertised so much as compared to other imported films, but I got to know about it through my younger sister who just came back from her studies in New Zealand. She saw the film in NZ last winter (?) and loved it, so we went out to see it again for my sister and for the first time for myself. The film made me want to dance so badly - I can't dance that much, but I did use to dance classic ballet so I kind of regretted I quit it. Dance movies are cool.

Friday, March 30, 2007

On Manga & Ikemen

Random Selection of News: late March, 2007

Those Japanese manga fans out there, there's a little news.
You don't have to wait months for the newest volumes of Japanese manga to come out in your langauge! Unfortunately, this doesn't apply for all the works being published internationally, but just recently publisher Gentosha announced that it will release paperback copies of the works published online on its webmanga site GENZO (
Japanese / English). The very first one to be published is Gravitation EX the newest version of the popular series Gravitation, and it is scheduled to come out in seven languages including Japanese, English, German, Spanish, Taiwanese, Italian and Korean.
Again, this is only for the works on GENZO, but once one publisher starts doing this I bet others will start similar projects as the international manga market is steadily growing.


"Ikemen" connects East Asia
I think the whole fad about ikemen started several years ago just about the same time this crazy hanryu boom (Korean boom) swirled up in Japan. And I think this was when the Asia-internationalization of showbiz really started to become part of the mainstream of entertainment in Asian countries.

Ikemen is a Japanese term for "hot guys" which popped up around 2000. The term is coined from the words "iketeru" (modern casual language for "hot", "cool") and the English word "men". Right now the term is used so commonly from daily conversation to titles in magazines and variety shows, even on news sometimes despite it not being "proper" Japanese language.

When the Korean boom started with the import of a number of Korean love romance TV dramas best represented by Winter Sonata starring Bae Yong Joon, a whole lot of other young and handsome Korean actors were introduced to Japan with titles like "Shitennoh (Four Heavenly Kings)".
Chinese ikemen are introduced to Japan many times through movies rather than TV dramas, and Taiwanese as well as Korean ikemen through music activities. I notice that now there are so many musicians who sing songs in Japanese and you never know they're actually not Japanese.

I don't know so much about how Japanese pop stars have been seen in other East Asian countries in the past (I mean, before the trend of ikemen Asianization), but I have been told that Japanese actor Tsubabuki Satoshi and several members from the Johnnys Entertainment - (supposedly) the ikemen talento agency - are really popular in Taiwan right now.

Today the ikemen network (not of the ikemen themselves but of the media and fans) is wider, tightly connected and stronger than when it started. Fans for an ikemen are scattered around East Asia from Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong to Taiwan, and hearing news of Korean, Chinese, Hong Kong or Taiwanese ikemen coming to Japan has become almost regular. One day, so-many-thousands of fans gathered up for a concert in place A, and the next day several hundred fans flood over to an international airport to have a glance of another ikemen. These news were fresh news a few years ago, but now it feels like making oneself famous in the Japanese entertainment industry with his handsomeness is not too different from debuting in the eastern end of the Eurasian continent. Ikemen connects East Asia.

I wonder why handsome men tend to be more featured than beautiful women, though. Are men in these countries not as interested in beautiful women as women are in handsome men?

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Today is the last weekday of March so people are kind of busy and some maybe nervous too in this country. As some of you probably know, the school/fiscal year in Japan starts from April and goes till next March. I think by now all schools from kindergarten to universities have finished their graduation ceremonies, and freshers are getting ready for their lives starting in only three days from today. Next Monday the faces on the commuting trains would probably look a lot different, and there would be a lot of new uniforms and business suits walking around. This is also the time of year when you feel like you've grown old :p

If there any of you are regular readers of this blog and of my website, first of all I would like to thank you for sparing time to read my writings (which sometimes aren't even worth calling articles). From next week, you may notice some changes in the blog as well as website, and that is my "seasonal change". I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for reading and leaving comments on this blog (not to say that I am going to stop writing) and for sending e-mails to my website Japan Mode.

Today's update on Japan Mode:
Webmanga CHARMY ROP Chapter 13 - Final Episode (to be updated around 18:00, Mar30, JST).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Japanese Aesthetics

As I was writing about the "Japan Boom" in Japan today, I came across the idea of Japanese aesthetics in the old days. Things people see as "beautiful" differ from culture to culture, and I'm not sure for other cultures but at least for Japan what people consider "beautiful", or the value of certain things, have changed or forgotten over time.

There is this concept in Japan, wabi-sabi, and is an expression of simple refinement. The expression contains a rather lone, simple, quiet and decaying meaning, but for some reason the ancient people considered this aesthetic and sought refinement in things that were lone, quiet and decaying. In a similar sense, there is an adjective hinabita which means rural and rustic. This too is associated with a sad, quiet and lone image, but is a word used most times to compliment the place.

During the years when it was fairly peaceful (before and after the Sengoku civil war era), Japanese people had much affection to nature, time and space. A slow life was a luxurious life, and the most luxurious and refined practices back then were to read poems and appreciate the nature. The tradition of blossom viewing, moon viewing and autumn leaves viewing are thought to come from those days. People, especially those in high rank in the courts, spent time looking at the smallest lives on earth like grass and bugs, and let their imaginations run. Sometimes they put those imaginations and emotions into words, and a thousand years later those poems become legacies of the history.

Traveling was another leisure, though more costly and dangerous in a way. Even in the peaceful days, roads were neither smooth nor lighted at night. There were wild animals and thieves. But there were people who spent years traveling without a particular goal or a purpose, and recorded what they saw or felt on the way. I was writing about Matsuo Basho, a poet and a writer during the early Edo whose haiku poems are very famous, and he too wrote about the most silliest things with little value - that is to say, in our sense. But the words he use and the nature of haiku or tanka of compressing sentences worth of expressions and emotions into 17 or 29 syllables attach ancient aestheticism to whatever he has written about.

Slow and qualitatively rich life is grabbing attention of Japanese people these days. It's probably the counter-reaction to the time-pressed, busy and stressful lifestyles that's been here for half a century. It may be the time we look back on our culture in the older days when people were more relaxed and laid back. And that's probably why Japan is the trend right now in Japan.

Today's update on Japan Mode:
Trends in Japan <> - it's basically about the details of what I wrote here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Food in Trend

I wrote a while ago about Japanese food nationalism, that some of the so-called, so-sold and so-thought Japanese food aren't really Japanese. Well, this morning it was in the news that Japanese food, particularly sushi is really really popular in Moscow (and probably other parts of Russia too). So many people dream to become a sushi chef (we calle them sushi shokunin) and have their restaurants, and so many more like to enjoy sushi even though sushi by no means is inexpensive there. The news also mentioned that there are competitions for sushi chefs, and the participants as well as their art and ideas are truly amazing.
The chef I saw in this feature makes a lot of his original menus that are, from a Japanese point of view, extremely unique and unimaginable in a positive sense. The one he showed was called "fusion sushi" and as far as I can remember it had sushi rice, almond, salmon and chocolate sauce. I don't know if this is counted as a dish or a dessert, but more than I can't distinguish which it belongs to, I can't imagine what it tastes like. It sounds impossible, but since he came up with the idea and the final menu over several trials (I assume), and because there are people who like his other creative menus I bet it tastes pretty good.
I did say that authenticity is a difficult issue to talk about once something leaves its native origin and especially if it wants to be accepted from the destination it lands. But developing and changing is always a part of adjusting and adapting, of evolution in a way so I'd say this sushi chef's fusion sushi is something good. I even feel like it's outside of the authenticity issue. One of the judges for the sushi competition, an experienced Japanese sushi chef, praised the ideas of the fusion sushi chef that they are innovative, and also commented that sushi or whatever the food is should flexibly adapt to the culture it travels to.
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Switching the subject to trendy food in Japan: doughnuts

It's not like we never had doughnuts before, but doughnuts are people's favorites these days. I mentioned Krispy Kreme Doughnuts causing a crazy fad in Tokyo, well, the fad and the crazy popularity of its glazed doughnuts kind of stimulated the other doughnut shops and now there's a doughnut battle emerging (not that it's that visible).The hottest doughnuts these days are the mochi-mochi doughnuts. It isn't the name of a particular doughnut or a brand, but is the name for doughnuts that have mochi-mochi texture. Mochi-mochi is an onomatopoeia for this texture that is sticky, glutinous, kind of opposite of crisp... how should I explain... I think the expression comes from "mochi", Japanese rice cake even though I don't think it's cakelike at all. Kind of like the texture of tapioka. Anyway, the mochi-mochi doughnuts are doughnuts that have a slightly glutinous texture when you eat them and they're good :-) Um, I can't describe any further in words... maybe you'd like a look at this website:
Mister Donut (Japanese)

Today's update on Japan Mode: Cherry Blossom Festivals in northern Japan

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Y2007 and Day Trader New Graduates

It is almost the end of the school and fiscal year, and next week the many of the cities and towns across Japan would surely look and feel different with a fresh and a little nervous mood. Grade school graduates will be wearing a fresh new attire of school uniforms, and middle school graduates will enter the most exciting three years of (teenage) life (at least, many of the people claim that the high school years were the best). High school graduated will scatter in different directions be it school or work, and college graduates will start working dressed in that unfamiliar touch of brand new suits and leather shoes. This all starts next Monday.

There is an institution in Japan that observes the characteristics of the group of people graduating from college and going on to their respective careers every spring. The "character name" this institution has given to the college graduates for this year is the "Day Trader Type". It's not that there's a general tendency of this year's college graduates are (or hoping to be engaged) in the stock market or are becoming real day traders.

They are given this name because these people do not wish to give their sole commitment to the company for years and grow up as businessmen under the given environment for years, but instead are always keen on searching for better deals - better money, better environment - and hop from one job to another. You see, the mainstream even today is to stick pretty much all your life to the company you first get to get into , be it beneficial or just labor-dedicating or stressing. Things have changed and switching jobs have become easier just a little, but still many are reluctant to do so because of the instability.
Anyway, these fresh graduates are day traders because their tendency (they haven't started working but their tendency already shows I guess) is similar to the way how internet day traders are always checking on the best conditions to buy and sell in the stock market. Companies to these new workers are like stocks for traders.

This tendency has a lot to do with a larger framework of the Japanese society. There is this problem called the "2007-nen-mondai" which translates to "Year 2007 Problem". A good chunk of workers are retiring this year (actually in a few more days), and this good chunk played some of the most significant roles in developing and sustaining the Japanese economy the past several decades after the war. It means that the hole after they leave must be replaced both in terms of quantity and quality but this is quite a task because it is a big hole, and the population itself of the younger generation is steadily decreasing.

What is means is that for those entering the business world this year, the start itself is relatively easy because a good deal of companies are eager to employ more workers (thanks to the recovering economy), and those who have the ability and skills have more chances to switch from one job to another with better deals because the companies want power ready to fight any time. The latter can also be said with those already in the business world. It may be chances for the workers but may a little tough on the companies, as this tendency would definitely hinder them from trying to raise workers that are efficient and effective at the same time as obedient and faithful to one company.

By the way, the "name" for my year was "blog type". According to this institution, people of my year tend to appear rather quiet and submissive to the company, but have strong thoughts and opinions inside and show at times bold and daring self assertiveness online. Well....... what do you say my friends...?

http://www.jpc-sed.or.jp/eng/index.html is their website in English, though frankly I haven't taken a close look on it.

Today's update on Japan Mode:
Major Events in May - some really REALLY major ones are coming up in May including a couple of the wildest, most gorgeous and crowded festivals in Tokyo, the Kanda Festival and Asakusa Sanja Festival. These two are HUGE, and because the Kanda Festival only has main festivals every other year and this year is it, it's going to be a real big event. If any of you get a chance to come to Tokyo in May, I tell you , don't miss them. Events taking place in other places are equally worth seeing. May is a good month :-)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Japanese Atheletes Today (Sports cont:)

So sports. Right now the country is still in the midst of the swirling excitement of the night Ando Miki and Asada Mao won gold and silver medals in women's figure skating. I actually watched all of the programs that were available on TV so the past week had been a very exciting one for me. Winning not just one but three, and not just any medal but gold and silver is an extremely remarkable feat. Many expected the medals, I think, but the actually winning them is a different matter. The whole nation is enthused over the news. One news article said that the highest viewership of the figure skating championships marked above 56%, which was the moment right after the points for Ando was announced and the whole arena got to know she won first place. Although not a Japanese, another favorite skater of mine, Yu-Na Kim won bronze medal allowing Asians to monopolize the podium.

And other sports: well, I'd mentioned baseball several times before so I think I'll skip over that.
At the same time as the figure skating championships, the World Swimming Championships was taking place and was aired on TV. The media was especially excited over syncronized swimming because Japan's pretty good at it. Swimming is one of the sports Japan is good at, and because the young swimmers are staying at the top level rather stably people do expect medals and watch the matches.
Professional golf: the way people see golf or at least the golfers especially female golfers are different from before. Young golfers led by Miyazato Ai are treated as idols of the golfing world and are in great demand among TV shows.

Idols - overall, I think I've come to reach this conclusion that the way people are drawn into sports and the difference of 10 years ago and now is all about media attention. All of the atheletes mentioned and a handful more in the sports world today are featured on TV and magazines like idols, not so different from the "talento" (TV personalities) and fashion models pampered by the media. The only difference is that the atheletes' profession are their respective sports instead of being interviwed and giving comments. I don't think that there were as many active atheletes showing up in variety shows and being used on various commercials.

I guess the attention of the media works positively in many ways (though perhaps not including enough respect for individual atheletes). Whoever wants to use the fresh and active image of the atheletes will probably get the kind of impression they want from the general public, just like how many of the brands and companies use famous TV people for as their "image characters" (poster people) and for their commercials. Many of the sports benefit from the media's attention on their young and prospective players because the way media portray the players attract more children into that world.

Well that's the end to my random thought on sports. Sorry it's pretty disorganized.

Today's update on Japan Mode:
This Week's Events in Tokyo / Sakura Forecast Tohoku & Hokkaido / Night Sakura Spots

Friday, March 23, 2007

Sports

Sports are pretty hot in Japan right now. Playing sports has always been part of our daily lives, and watching too, but I feel like the enthusiasm of the nation (well... mainly media) for especially national or world scale sports competitions has distinctively changed over the past several years.

One of the biggest differences is sumo. 10 years ago, the grand sumo tournaments (professional) held every other month (odd-number months) was a sports for 40s+ to watch on TV on evenings and not so much of the younger ones cared about it. But now, even though the sumo world is said to be suffering shrinking athelete population, the sport itself appears on the news much more and with excitement. I think that the exceedingly good records of Asashoryu (who is a Mongolian) the only yokozuna at the moment and the internationalization of the rather closed world makes the difference. Every time Asashoryu renew his championship records, the fans and viewers get excited with his performance the next tournament. Right now a good portion of the makuuchi (higher level) wrestlers come from overseas led by Mongolia, and having so many of them in the field is still a fresh sense so they provoke a kind of amusement (in positive terms) as well as national identity among the Japanese because sumo is a national sport. So as compared to a decade ago, the sport is gathering more attention.

Many of the young Japanese atheletes are proving that the level of the sports in Japan is dramatically improving to the stage that they can equally compete in the top level of the world scale competitions. A good example of this is figure skating: starting a few years ago especially with the women's single skating, the Japanese atheletes started to mark good records and finally reached the top a year ago at the Turin Olympics (Arakawa Shizuka winning gold medal for the first time in Japanese figure skating history). Just yesterday, Japanese skater Takahashi Daisuke won silver medal in men's single-skating at the world championships which is also another historical event in Japanese figure skating. Then today there's the women's single skating the entire nation looks forward to.

At the same time as being the top athelete country in some sports, being a Japanese was considered disadvantage for some other sports because of the body type etc. But now these young ones are positively growing in the so-thought disadvantaged sports and are reaching the world standard. This is a great excitement.

I was going to write about some more of other sports but couldn't finish it in time. Will mention them later... hopefully (so many unfinished projects on my mind!)

Today's update on Japan Mode:
Charmy Rop Chapter 13 Preview... ant it's the FINAL EPISODE!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Trends in Present Tense

I was thinking about what's hot in Japan - like what the social/ cultural trend is right now. It's actually a bit hard of a task because you tend not to notice a trend when you're in the midst of it but only realize it to be a "past" trend after the heat has gone. Some of the trends are pretty visible, especially fashion, but keeping your eyes open for cultural trends is kind of hard. At least for me. Also, even though you're aware that one thing is pretty hot at the moment you feel like it's settled down, kind of stablized as something "normal" rather than a transient trent. Maid cafes are one example. There are so many of them that it's not as worth giving attention to as the earlier days.

A couple of ideas came up in my mind, and they were LOHAS (life of health and sustainability) and the health related boom (food, yoga, etc.) and the other is JAPAN. They kind of intertwine, but since the former is half an imported trend (it's not particularly Japanese) so I decided to focus on the latter - which is actually a very deep observation and discussion if you start thinking about it.

The JAPAN boom is in Japanese called the WA boom (wa=adj. Japanese) and is about the revival of Japaneseness in various aspects. For example, it can be food like so many other countries are experiencing Japanese cuisine trend,
tea like I talked about before (see here also), fashion (maekake mentioned a little while ago) or wearing yukata to fireworks, learning the traditional arts (calligraphy, flower arrangement, tea, etc.) or acquiring the essence of bushido (way of the samurai) etc. etc. It's visible in daily life and also on TV, like a number of traditional / cultural Japan related TV dramas and films get high viewership and the Japanese films doing well last year in terms of box office.

Part of this social trend comes from freshness and exoticness especially for the younger generation, rather than the idea of treasuring the good old things. For many people the beautiful patterns of the kimono are pieces of art that can be added to and blended with the latest fashion, the prints of the maekake aprons a stylish design to make into bags, yukata (summer kimono) a season-limited fashion specialty. The other part of the trend, especially for older people, comes from the spirit behind the Japanese designs and act. For instance, having tea in a relaxing and strain-free cafe is a time to treasure the quietness in your mind. Learning the ways of art is acquiring the spirit of art or the way, of concentrating, of emptying your mind. This is in a way related to the idea of LOHAS and having a life of good quality.

I think I will not reveal too much of it here at once. May continue some other day, but for the meantime read
here for details (which also turned out to become a series to my regret).

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Newest Ghibli Film

One of Japan's most famous animation production Studio Ghibli announced its ongoing project of a new animation film. Its title revealed yesterday is Gake no Ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on the Cliff) (N.B. the title and translation I give here is only a pure romaji conversion and literal translation for the official English title has not been announced) and it is an original story created and directed by the master of Ghibli, Miyazaki Hayao.

Not much of the story has been revealed but we know that it is a "Japanese version of The Little Mermaid" (Producer Suzuki) and the main characters are a mermaid who wants to become a human, and a 5-year-old boy named Sosuke. I think the story takes place in Japan, maybe in an unverified town in the western seaside regions, as it is said that Miyazaki fell in love with this town facing the Seto Inner Sea (close to Osaka and Kobe, the northern shore of Shikoku Island located mid-west of Japan) when he visited the place in 2004 and rented a house for 2 months coming up with the story. But this is just my guess. As far as I know, the locales in most of his stories are untold clearly to the viewers but are based on existing towns.

The announcement also included the information about the model figure of Sosuke being Miyazaki's eldest son Goro, and mentioned the relationship between the creation of Ponyo and Miyazaki Goro's director debut film Ged Senki (Tales from Earthsea). Producer Suzuki spoke for Miyazaki Hayao that, "Miyazaki took Ged as a rebellion of Goro against his father, and believes that such situation developed because of his (Miyazaki's) lack of attention to his son (Goro) when he was a young child, coming from his work busyness. In Ponyo, Miyazaki puts in his feelings of reflection so that children like him will not increase."

The images are not yet available, but according to the news article they are softer in touch, quite differing from the previous Ghibli works. In this new film, Miyazaki hopes to return to the very basics of animation.

I'm pretty sure that this announcement has given much anticipation in the hearts of many Japanese people. Miyazaki's films always enjoy great attention, part of it because the name "Miyazaki (Hayao)" or "Ghibli" have become an established brand (sadly, kind of) but also because his works are worth the attention and are enjoyable as well as well themed. Apart from the fact that his works are marvelous pieces of art and creation, they carry messages throughout the stories that makes the audience think during or after watching the movies. Once I commented to somebody that some of his movies are difficult to understand, but he only responded, "which part of it was so hard? It was very simple: this happened, that happend so they bla bla bla...". Of course I understood the flow of the story, but that's on the surface. There's always much more to his films (that perhaps some people don't want to discuss about).

Well, I don't mean to become so enthused about the topic so I'll stop here. I really look forward to its release though. It's scheduled summer 2008.

Today's update on Japan Mode:
country names in kanji
This, for a while, is the last update of country names converted in kanji. The kanji conversions are of existing ones so don't think we (Japan Mode) did it. Most of them don't make sense as a word or a name. They're converted purely phonetically. Today's update covers the Central and South American countries, Central Asia to Middle East and African countries.

Monday, March 19, 2007

"Touch and Go"

...was the promo phrase for JR East's Suica came out a few years ago. Suica the name for the IC ticket card usable for JR trains in Tokyo and around and it spread quickly across the city as it is very convenient because it takes away the time and trouble to stop by at the ticket machine and deal with coins. All you have to do is to charge some money in your card and let it (and you can keep it in your wallet or pass holder not taking the card out) touch a specific part of the gate when you get to the platform and vice versa. All you have to be careful is to make sure you have enough charged money left on the card (you don't even have to bother with this with the JR IC card in Osaka, at least that's what I heard). I'm sure some of you if not all are familiar with the system. I know that some other countries use this IC card system.

Suica is very convenient indeed, but a bit inconvenient in fact because you can only use it for very limited area, meaning only JR lines and a couple of other lines in Tokyo. The train network of Tokyo is a mess - there are way too many lines literally tangling with each other (see
this map for example) though I have to admit this messy network allows you to get to pretty much anywhere within a 15-min-walk from one station or another. Anyway, half or more of the lines of this network are non-JR lines which we usually refer to as "shitetsu" (meaning private railways because JR used to be state-run and the others were and are private sectors) and they had their own shitetsu-interoperating system that were non-interoperable with JR. The card for their system was (and still is) called Pasnet which is a mag card that you have to let through the gates like the other tickets. The part of contacless (Suica) or mag (Pasnet) doesn't matter so much, but having to have two when you wanted to make transfers etc. was kind of troublesome.

Yesterday this new system and card called PASMO started and this allows the smooth interuse of pretty much all if not all the lines plus bus services in Tokyo. You either buy a new PASMO card or can keep your Suica card and get on and off JR and shitetsu and buses without trouble. I was out yesterday and had to take several different kinds of trains so bought myself a brand new PASMO and used it. It's not like it was my first time to experience this "touch and go" but it was kind of fun. As far as I observed yesterday, many people preferred buying normal tickets yesterday at least at the subway ticket machines at Shibuya Station. The news last evening told though that the service seems to have had a good and fairly smooth start. I think it will settle down as part of our normal lives rather soon.

Both Suica and PASMO have optional services most of it having to do with points. You can attach the cards with or to credit cards so that you can make use of the auto-charge allowing you to be free from worrying the remaining amount on the card, and the use of the card as train fare counts as points for your credit card. Then what happens is that several credit card companies promote their services and how benefitial each are comparing themselves to their rivals and so on. The benefits are quite different - you can earn points to use at department stores, or earn mileage on a plane company - and trying to pick the one that best suits your interest becomes a headache, so I only bought a plain only-charge, no-points PASMO.

The downside of it though, if I were to point out, is that it numbs your sense of how much you're spending on your transportation fare. Suica doesn't show the details on how much you've spent on one trip and how much you have left but Pasnet did, so being kind of used to seeing your trip records, the new systems feels a bit blinded. In any case, it did become much more convenient to get around using the train and subway system (which many of the people do to commute). Now their next task is to make is usable nationwide. That'd be really helpful, though I do kind of suspect that for some local areas it's only going to become deficit projects.

Today's Update on Japan Mode:
-
Tokyo Event March - April... the most exciting one for me personally is the figure skating world championships 2007. I've always liked watching figure skating (especially ice dancing) but because the younger Japanese athletes are doing pretty well the matches are very exciting these past couple of years. Generation change, finally.
Also the Tokyo International Anime Fair 2007 is coming up this weekend.

>>Resources>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

PASMO (Japanese, English, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Korean)
Suica (Japanese, English)

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Barter Journey

A man from Hokkaido has just finished his "recycling journey" a few days ago. This 25-year-old man started his trip last April (2006) and walked 3,500 km across Japan from Hokkaido down south to Okinawa pullying a small two-wheeled-cart.

He works for a company that aims to resolve environmental issues, and inspired by a co-worker of his who had crossed the archipelago picking up trash he decided to set off for a similar journey though not completely the same. The principle objective for this trip was to reduce garbage by collecting and bartering unnecessary things from the people he meets on his way. He asks them to give him whatever they kept in the house but did not need, and if there was something in his cart that they wanted he would trade whatever is unneeded with the needed. In this way he bartered all kinds of things including commodities, clothes, bags and more.

He says that on his trip he had seen many issues regarding the environmental pollution and irresponsible disposal of various things. Also, he says that his encounter with so many people, their cultures, societies and problems that each of them carry have broadened his worldview. In the following years he says that he wants to concentrate on environmental activities.

Japan has this kind of custom of families bringing unnecessary things together and trading them amongst each other. I suppose there are similar customs around the world probably in the majority of the cultures so it's not particularly Japanese or anything. Anyway, sometimes these bartering gatherings are for the pure sake of the members, of getting rid of unneeded things. Some other times, like the parents do in schools, the pot-luck bazaar collects money from outsiders (e.g., visitors to the school festivals) so that they can gather fund for their children's school activities.

School bazaars are still very common today, but I don't think that the neighborhood bartering is no longer practiced, at least not in the same way the school bazaars are. Until several decades ago, sharing commodities and kitchenwear as well as food with your neighbors was normal too, but this too is almost like a fossil custom. Either the customs decayed, or the trust relationship in the neighborhood has weakened, or rather, I think, the neighborhood human relationship itself is fading not to mention the sharp decrease of young people residing in the countrysides.

Besides these customs there were many other methods of the reduce reuse and recycle in the daily lives of Japanese people in the old days, but unfortunately the overflow of materials and the busy and wary lifestyles today is diminishing the wisdoms of the past. It's such a pity that the culture of recycle has become a culture of waste.

Having said that though, I can't change the fact that I'm a resident of 21st century Tokyo. Of course I try to reduce waste as well as a bunch of other people are. I hope that even these littlest things that we can do are helping the issues.

Geez my mind is so Friday.
My readers out there, have a nice weekend :-)

Today's update on Japan Mode

- Charmy Rop Chapter 12
- Cherry Blossom Forecast 2007... revised because the Met Agency made some miscalculations and got the expected dates wrongly for some cities. Also the temperatures are unusually low these days (I feel like it's colder than February which shouldn't be the case if the weather was regular) the blossoming seems to delay a tad bit.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Festivals in Japan

Since I started this little corner on Japan Mode introducing cultural and traditional festivals (in advance) I came to realize how so many of them are out there. Only a handful of them are featured on country guides and news and sometimes I think it's such a pity that the majority of them are not known, or if worse, fading as a tradition because there aren't enough attention given.

It is kind of true that a lot of the tourism-wise unknown take place in locations that aren't as easy to access, and I guess the most important part about having them - since they are after all rituals and ceremonies related to one religion or another to some extent - is to practice them not with reluctancy but with sincerity.

Well I'm running out of time so I'll keep this super short.

Today's update on Japan Mode (go figure)
A number of spring festivals are being held literally all over Japan and it was very very hard to pick out just a few to introduce on Japan Mode.
Spring events are graceful and beautiful with lots of decorations in bright yet soft colors. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Heisei no Miyako

On one hand overseas travellers coming to big cities in Japan like Tokyo and Osaka say that big cities in Japan are fairly clean considering its size and population, but on the other hand I have heard many people pointing out the lack of scenic aestheticism of the cities especially Tokyo. As I have written some time ago, Tokyo is a city of constant transformation and the buildings change at a very fast speed. Some of the buildings promoting the specialness of their designs, boasting that this one is designed by the famous architect so and so, but many of them actually don't bother considering how it would look with their neighbors so this is how this messiness of the city expands.

The messiness in Tokyo, the capital of the country and the symbol of Japanese modernism, is in a way special and even one charm of the megalopolis but the case is a little bit different as well as sophisticated in our ancient capital city Kyoto. A draft of a new landscape conservation regulation will be suggested to the city council shortly and this regulation is causing a huge controversy between the city and the residents.

Basically what the draft says is that the law is going to prohibit all buildings in the city to exceed the height of 10meters which is no more than a 4-story-building. This is not so much for safety whatsoever but is solely to make the city look nicer, to get back the wide and calm sky that probably spread above the city more than one thousand years ago. The city explains that the regulation allows the city to retain the unique and proud atmosphere of the ancient times and the tourists welcome the idea for the same reason, but for the residents the regulation is so much more than a joke. Of course.

Currently there are about 1,800 residential buildings (what we call mansions in Japanese) in the areas the draft covers (city center and 14 other locations around the world heritages) that exceed this height limit and if the regulation passes they would be torn down to the limit. People living in the disappearing floors would be forced to move out, but being unable to sell their houses because no one's going to live in that vacant space, and even if someone bought the place their loan requests will not be accepted because the places are illegal. This way the values of the real estates are dragged down to almost nothing, and no one expects that the city can afford compensation.


The regulation also claims all neon and flash/blinking advertising boards to be ripped off and that also half kills the residents and the advertising industry. At the moment there are about 4,000 sign boards that would become illegal by the definition of the suggested regulation, and if they don't obey the new law they would be punished by it. Ad agencies say that the passing of the law would only increase the number of illegal ads and would most likely kill the local agencies because advertisers would only go out of the city or prefecture to continue their ads. The city is already full of illegal ads and the situation probably won't improve.
One ad agency commented that people won't gather to a place without light (neon) - well, I don't know about that. Could be true to some extent, but I don't think all of the big cities in the world are filled with neons the way our cities are.

I don't know which side is going to win the discussion... I don't really think that the attempted law would pass because there are too many problems dangling along... but in case it passes this is going to be a huge huge news that would shake all kinds of businesses.

Today's Update on Japan Mode:
Men's Fashion Spring 2007 - for the first time Japan Mode focuses on men's fashion... at least tried to. Men's fashion circumstances in Japan has changed dramatically over just the past few years. I only wish I had more photos to show. Anyway, the links give you a pretty good idea though they're only available in Japanese.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Gochiso Burger

I read a news article that the Malaysian ministry of health is considering of banning advertisements on fastfood like hamburgers due to its adverse influences to health, and the article also noted that the health minister commented that hamburgers are silent killers. Well, fastfood hamburgers in Japan are also somewhat understood to have bad influences on health and yet they are pretty populat, but increasingly popular these past one or two years are what we call the "gochiso burger" which I guess can be translated to "feast burger".

Gochiso burgers, as compared to McDonald's or even Mos Burger (Mos Burger is a Japanese hamburger chain which serves pretty good hamburgers and fastfood at twice - 2.5 times more or less the price of McDonald's), are first of all large in size (much much thicker), have rich amount of meet, have lots of fresh veggies and sauce, all sandwiched by good buns. Usually they cost about anywhere b/w Y500-Y1,000, aren't wrapped with paper, can't make them to go, but are instead served with chips (fried potatoes / french fries) on a big plate. Perhaps a lot of you reading this, especially if you are an American, might think this is rather normal (maybe except for the price), but because to Japanese people the image of hamburgers are directly and immediately associated with fastfood burgers, these relatively large volume fresh burgers are considered "gochiso burgers", special "feast" burgers.

Before the gochiso burgers had become to be acknowledged as gochiso, burgers served at T.G.I.Friday's or Kua Aina were kind of like the representatives that not so many people knew. But then, someone - or rather some media apparently cast spot light on these big burgers, burgers that are not from McDonald's or Mos or Wendy's or any of those chains soon became part of slow food, luxury food and eventually gochiso burger.
Now there are many restaurants and hamburger shops that serve gochiso burgers scattering around big cities particularly in Tokyo, and going to those places for lunch on a weekend has become a kind of little relaxed luxury for some people.

In Sasebo where there's been a US camp for a long time now, there is this kind of burger called Sasebo Burger. Having said that though, Sasebo Burger isn't a specific kind of burger with specific kind of fillings, but is a generic term for Sasebo style burgers which are made by hand only after the order is made. There are many shops selling different styles of Sasebo Burgers and they are all different (although it's said that the majority use secret mayonaise). Today Sasebo Burgers are very popular and have established themselves as a local specialty of Sasebo City, but I learned recently that until it started to gain immense attention as part of a city promotion campaign of Sasebo hardly anyone cared about it. I guess its social debut is part of the gochiso burger boom.

...And now that I wrote about burgers I am dying to have one.
Oh, and completely unrelated to the topic, this song called "Fake" by J-pop musician Mr.Children has been playing over and over in my head while I write this. It's the main song for the movie Dororo which I've seen, plus their album is coming out tomorrow so I think that's why. Random songs and music play in my mind pretty much all the time while I work and it is very tempting to hum them but I dare not in office. This place needs music...

Japan Mode Update
Cherry Blossom Events in Tokyo (and other cities also)

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Blood Circumstances

It looks like the medical circumstances in Japan is becoming graver not only due to the systems that I wrote about some time ago, but also because of lack of blood. The lack of blood meaning blood donation has been decreasing for some years now and it's not that the news of the shortage is new, but it's getting more serious. a news article today reported that the number of people donating blood has gone below 5 million people last year for the first time as far as the records tell.

The factors for this ongoing sharp decrease is neither few nor easy to solve as it really involves the society as a whole and the lifestyles of the people. First of all, Japan has been experiencing rapid aging of the population amid extremely low birthrates and the people who can donate blood is decreasing. The birthrate in Japan is about 1.25 and does not look like it's going to suddenly - or even gradually increase - in the near future. A lot of it is due to the rapid change in women's social status (though not completely, more equal to men than a decade ago). More and more women are willing to work rather than rear children, naturally raising the marriage age and lowering the birthrate. Then men don't participate in child rearing though much better than a decade ago, because this tacit Japanese traditional understanding of women taking care of the household while men go out to earn the money is still deeply rooted in the society and the minds of the younger people are not so liberal on that point. So, that was the first reason, lessening of the population that can donate.

Regulations of the government on blood donation can be another factor that hinders people from donating blood. It is all perfectly understandable that it is for safety reasons, that it is to prevent transmitting diseases through transfusion, so it can't be blamed so much but at the same time real numbers show that the strictness of the regulation takes away potential blood that could have been donated. For instance, people who have stayed in UK during 1980-1996 for more than one day cannot give blood, or is restricted to do so, due to safety measures against CJD (mad cow disease). Some of these regulations are fairly loose, like you can't give blood for 4 weeks after coming back from overseas, but the others such as the CJD example prohibits donation semipermanently... until the safety is confirmed.

Another major reason includes the reluctance of schools to cooperate to blood drive. The Japanese law allows blood donation from 16 years of age (18+ for 400ml donation) which includes the majority of high school students, but the schools barely provides education or not even information on blood donation to their students and very rarely accept blood drive cars to come to schools.
Also, many schools are being protective about their students worrying the health state of their students. A good portion of the high school students neither get enough sleep nor nutrition due various lifestyle reasons, and can faint lacking blood him/herself before helping anyone with his/her blood. Needless to say, the lack of blood for themselves has a lot to do with their families' dietary habit as well as their social roles be it being a good student keeping good grades, going to cram school, or hanging out with friends till late at night.

If you try to see more reasons, I bet all of them intertwine in a sophisticated way and create a vicious cycle that's hard to break.

The Red Cross which is the organization responsible for blood drive in Japan is coming up with a number of solutions to somehow increase the amount of blood donation or at least to attract attention of the younger generation. Blood donation rooms (kenketsu-room) located in towns like Shibuya and Shinjuku where thousands of young people gather have all kinds of services such as all-you-can eat/drink hamburgers, doughnuts, candy, soft drinks as well as having a good wide selection of manga, magazines, video-games, films and more.

The rooms are clean, bright and warm disenabling them to look the slightest bit like a hospital (hospitals don't leave that much good impression on many people), and the seats are much comfier than seats on a bullet train or an airplane. This attempt of changing the impressions of blood donation rooms has in fact succeeded in making the donators want to stop by or come again. If all the blood donation rooms across the country can follow these models perhaps the awareness of the young people would change.
What are the circumstances like in your country?


[This Week's Events in Tokyo]
- Tokyo Tower Special Light-up (Green for St.Patrick's Day)
- Sensoji Temple Dance of the Golden Dragon
- Japan Fashion Week : Tokyo Collection
- St.Patrick's Day Parade in Omotesando
- Cherry Blossom Forecast 2007 (complete map)

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Most Expensive Cities

It's kind of an established preconception that Tokyo is the most expensive city in the world, but that isn't exactly right. I've always felt that certainly prices in Tokyo are on the expensive side, but when I went to the Scandinavian countries and UK a little while ago I thought I can go broke in a month. I barely paid for accommodation and yet I couldn't keep myself from spending a great amount of money, not shopping bags full of favorites but to eat and to get around. Prices in those countries are crazy from an outsider's point of view.

Today there was a news of an annual report of the most expensive cities in the world announced by EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit). First place was defending champion Oslo (Norway), followed by Paris (France), Copenhagen (Denmark), London (UK) and finally Tokyo coming in 5th place and Osaka as well as Kobe in 6th.
The ranking to me seems very natural, or at least not surprising at all. Well, I didn't really think that things in Paris is more expensive than Tokyo.

So that you can see what the prices are like in this city, I'll list some examples for your comparison.

- a can of soda or tea (350ml)... Y100-Y120 (approximately US$1)
- a bottle of the above drinks (500ml)... Y150
- a can of beer (350ml)... Y230
- lunch set... Y600-Y1,000 (more or less. depending on how much you eat)
- when you go out for a drink and dinner with your friends... Y2,500-Y3,500 per person
- rent... Y100,000 (but this one really varies. some are like Y20,000 and some others are much higher)
- train ticket... Y130 (base fare for JR lines)
- bus... Y200 or Y210 (usually flat rate)
- taxi... Y660 for the first 2km
- a cup of coffee in a cafe Y250-Y300
- cell phone bills... a minumim of somewhat Y3,000
- a volume of novel... Y500
- CDs (Japanese artists)... single Y1,000+, album Y3,000+

What else...? These aren't too bad. I would say they (transportation especially) are affordable, friendly prices as compared to, say, the London tube tickets.
Perhaps below are the factors that are raising the "expensive" feeling of the city.

- clothes... a college student (guys and girls) for example spends something like Y20,000 - Y50,000 on fashion and beauty goods each month
- haircut... the mode hair dressers (where most if not all of the young people get their trendy hair-styling) take about Y4,000-Y6,000 for shampoo&cut, Y10,000 for normal perm, twice as much for straigtening perm and digital perm, Y12,000-Y1,5000 for coloring (dye) so on so forth.
- movies... Y1,500 for students, Y1,800 for adults, Y1,000 for ladies every Wednesday
- live music concerts (arena scale) ... around Y8,000 or more

Hanging out with friends, not just plain hanging out but hanging out looking nice can cost you a bit of money in Tokyo. Actually, a good lot of college students spend most of their income on hanging out with friends and buying daily clothing, which in case of Tokyo, is pretty fashionable. FYI an average college student earns somewhere between Y50,000-Y100,000 per month. Or rather, the average wage is about Y900 at jobs like convenience stores, cafes, etc. etc. and students work 3-4 days a week, about 4-6 hours a day.

So that's as much a college student earns and spends in a month. Of course, some have extraordinarily high income through different ways and means, and some with passion in a certain field spend a whole lot more.
Now that I've written them out visually, I kind of doubt if it's really affordable being a Tokyoite like I thought it to be. But then, I'm not really claiming that it is a savings-friendly city. All I meant to say was that it's not that extremely bad at least not the way it is imagined in the minds of those who have never spend time here, and it's not. What do you make out of these numbers?


Today's update on
Japan Mode: two contents, actually. One is the preview for webmanga CharmyRop chapter 12. The illustration looks a little different from the previous ones, I mean, the colors and atmosphere it has. Then I also posted new stuff for the cherry blossom forecast this season. The Met Office announced specific dates for the blossoming forecast, quite detailed in fact. So that's there too.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

DEATH NOTE laptop on sale

The DEATH NOTE craze seems to increase momentum.

DEATH NOTE, a psycho suspense manga that came out three years ago sold more than 25 million copies (vol.1-12 all together), released a pair of live-action movies last year with a box office sales of over 8 billion yen in Japan alone, followed up with a spin-off with "L" as the protagonist coming out in 2008, currently airs a TV anime series, and most recently came out with a game soft on Nintendo DS. All of them are selling extremely well, and I bet there is hardly anyone between the age of five to fifty (at least in Tokyo) who has never even heard of the name somewhere.

The latest news on DEATH NOTE tells that not the paper-version notebook but a laptop computer version of the "death note" is going on sale. It is a plain-looking laptop except that it has a special cover on the top side with the mark and scribbling that says "DEATH NOTE", and comes with an apple-designed USB memory. Only 30 of them - strictly thirty and no more no less of course with serial numbers - in the world are going to be sold, probably around 200,000 yen ($2,000 more or less). You can see pictures
here (Japanese). Supposedly the machine carries the state-of-the-art specs including FeliCa Port (contactless IC card reader) and Windows Vista meaning its a windows machine. It looks like its an NEC.

So what do you think? Many of the comments posted to this article are rather on the cold side and those comments are I guess kind of true. They say it rather looks cheap, and also that if they were going to come out with a computer anyway they should have made it with Mac instead of Windows for one) "L"'s computers used in the original manga were all Mac, and two (a minor reason)) if they were going to associate Ryuk's love for apples they might as well made a more artistic version of the laptop DEATH NOTE with Mac's symbol apple instead of attaching an apple-shaped USB. These people've got a point, I think.

Even then, the very-limited laptop DEATH NOTE are sure to be a target of fierce competition when it comes out. I see this particular characteristic of Japanese people being so obsessively attracted to "numbers" so on top of the fact that only "30" of them are going on sale, the (extremely effective) advertisement of the limited computers having "serial numbers" makes this news really a killer.
Um... if anyone who happens to have his/her name included in the data of this computer suddenly dies in a mysterious way, than that would become a real news.

So much for today.
Today's update on Japan Mode:
Country Names in Kanji vol.2 - I have added a few to the previous page (vol.1) and about 15 or so more countries on today's page. So far there are several European countries, USA and some Asian countries listed.


Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Uniquely Japanese? Cont:

Maid Cafe

So the other one: the other one is about part-time jobs the girls in Shibuya are interested in trying at least once. This was not from a news article or a program but a TV show that does all kinds of rankings.
I don't remember all jobs of the top 10 on the chart, but I remember the following were included:

-working at a "combini" (convenience stores)... because it's fairly easy work, fun, and relatively young
-cafe staff... because it's kinda stylish (cafes in general are considered stylish here)
-staff at a gasoline stand... apparently some people like that particular smell of gas (which makes me feel sick)
-staff at a movie theater... you get some chances to see the latest movies for free or with discount

Uh... obviously my memory's pretty bad.
Well, the most popular or intereseted job among the girls (18-25 yrs old more or less?) in Shibuya was a

MAID AT A MAID CAFE.

This was quite surprising as I knew there are people who are interested in going there as regular customers but not so much who wants to work as a maid. I mean, not so much anyway among those who don't have the slightest appearance of being an Akihabara kind of person, and also among those who already have one or more jobs. It seems like the maid cafe trend is still present in Japan. I thought it already kind of stabilized as a regular part of the subculture. Maybe it's still simmering as a trendy trend.
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Pen

It's near the end of a school year and that means that a variety of companies related to school stuff like stationary and study goods as well as children (grade school to up to high school) like clothing, shoes, bags, are busy getting ready for the new school year.

Pens in various colors - not coloring pens but colored pens - is a must-have for young Japanese students especially girls. If you get a glance at their notebooks you'll find them very neat and colorful. As a matter of fact, I was one of them up until about 8th grade. Then one day I realized that three colors (black of pencil, red and blue pens) looked more smart.

The Japanese stationary companies announced the release of a new series of colored pens just recently. The business is so big, big enough to make the developers come up with new pens at least every year if not every season, with colors, scent, lame, erasable, extra fine, etc. etc. and for the media to pick it up as a small pleasant news topic for the beginning of the new school year.
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Cherry Blossoms

This isn't really part of the "Uniquely Japanese?" topic but since it's a fairly big news I think I'll jot it down over here for the sake of those who are expecting to enjoy some hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in Japan this season. The Met Office announced the blossoming forecast for this season and said that the sakura blossoming is very early this year due to warm winter coming from global warming. How early - two weeks.
The blossoming forecast is announced for the blossoming of this kind called
Someiyoshino which is by far the most numerous kind that is most widely spread in terms of area also, so its a good tree to set as a blossoming guide.

Usually sakura starts blossoming from the southern and warmer regions including Kyushu & Okinawa, Shikoku Island and Shizuoka Prefecture being the head starters. According to the Met Office, the Someiyoshino in Shizuoka is expected to blossom by the end of next week which is 15 days earlier than average. And because Someiyoshino is not the earliest kinds to blossom, there are several earlier kinds that are at the peak of its beauty right now already so the hanami season from now is really going to fly by quickly.
If you have plans for coming to Japan in April for the blossoms, you might want to head to the northern regions.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Uniquely Japanese?

I have two things I want to write about today, of which I suppose are kind of characteristic to Japan though not necessarily unique.... well, let's see.

One is about karaoke. In Tokyo alone there are more than one thousand shops that we call "karaoke box" which is a place you go in to sing songs (I'm pretty sure you know what karaoke is). These came out during the 1980s and quickly became part of our culture that simply cannot be cut apart from our daily lives (wow, unimaginable).

For those who don't have a clear vision or imagination of what it's like, it's a place that has several separate rooms (not exactly "boxes" like phone booths) each with karaoke machines and you can go in to sing your favorite songs from all time favorites, latest hit singles, from J-pop, enka to imported songs. One room hosts about 4-10 people in larger rooms and the rooms, although most times they don't have such good acoustics, lets you sing (or shout) in full volume with music. The average money you spend is about 500 yen per hour, plus drinks and food which is usually required. Rates vary widely depending on day and time. Anyway.

Karaoke boxes are extremely popular among Japanese mostly from middle school students up to working men in their 50s. Students hang out in karaoke boxes in a group of two to five more or less after school. It is part of the routine dating spots for couples too. The most popular and common use of the boxes are for after-parties or after-after-parties among college students and working people. People get together for dinner and then after a couple of drinks and food they go into karaoke boxes for another drink or two. This is a very typical scene you see if not engaged on Friday and Saturday nights.

Well there was a report on the news the other night that an increasing number of people are suffering polyp in their throats from overuse of throat by karaoke. Unlike singing out loud at home or in your car or just humming along the music, karaoke (naturally) puts you in an atmosphere and feeling that you want to shout out and sing in the loudest and best voice you have. For those who are good at singing and know how to control the voice there is nothing more soothing than singing, but for those who aren't good or unused to it the singing parties are throat killers. As a result from over-singing people get polyps in their throat, and a Japanese doctor recently named this "karaoke polyp".

One is likely to happen when singing songs that have high notes, which is steadily increasing these days. The report noted that high note songs are increasing because many of the music today are composed digitally, and it is easy to make high note songs with digital technology which wasn't a conspicuous tendency for composing with acoustic skills. When high note sounds are made the vibration of the vocal cords increase by five times, and that sudden and high impact activity literally bullies the vocal cords. In addition, the jumping and the dancing that oftentimes accompany the singing escalates the creation of the polyp.

Karaoke polyp can be a minor threat as it doesn't always happen but is yet a threat because it can happen to anyone anytime. There are ways to prevent it though. A professional voice trainer suggested that relaxing your body with simple exercise (especially around your neck and shoulders) before singing lightens the strain on your throat, and also warned that facing upwards at high keys which happens a lot would only kill your throat. The namer doctor of karaoke polyp suggested to be quiet for three minutes after singing three songs. That's not too hard, I guess.

This has become long. I think I'll save the other one for tomorrow.

Today's update on Japan Mode:
Live Action Manga (manga-drama review and requests) - it is a rather personal, subjective review on the live action TV drama of Nodame Cantabile (it was the best one that I could comment on in terms of original - drama comparison). I think you'll find the other page more interesting though, which is a list of manga titles that Japanese people wish to see live action made in Japan and in Hollywood. You can see quite a bit of a difference here.