Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Japanese Clothing

I've been wondering how Japanese fashion and clothing are viewed from outside of Japan. Sometimes I hear people say Japanese people are one of the most fashionable people in the world - I don't know if the fashion level is "high" in the world standard, but I do think that people here pay a lot of attention to what they wear and what other people wear. So many of the people in this country especially the generation from teens through 30s are so conscious about fashion, always keen on checking up witht the latest trends.

I don't mean to make any jusgements today on Japanese fashion sense cuz I'm rather pretty proud of our artistic sense (even though it wasn't until recently that I finally realized how fashionable Japanese people are), but am curious to know how non-Japanese people think about our fashion - of the designs that are out there and the way we wear them. Do they appear fashionable to you, or silly?

The biggest question in my mind at the moment is, do the thoughts/ideas of coordination come up in daily fashion in your countries? Coordinating dozens of items considering the balance of colors and volume is almost like common sense here even for daily clothing. We have layers and "today's one-point fashion" and all those sort coordinated together not only with clothes but also with shoes and hairstyle and nail fashion.

I also wonder how many people are actually interested in dressing themselves up with clothes from Japanese brands. Most of the clothes we have in fact have a lot of Western origin and influences, but are modified with little details and are added lots of little values which I suppose, build up to stylishness. Many people are good at finding the balance of their total coordinate but what's been in my mind lately is that does our fashion style have any chances of spreading overseas?

I noticed that a lot of the punky gothy clothes are pretty popular in the name of Harajuku fashion, but I feel a lot of British punk rock elements in them and also that style, although pretty famous and popular in Harajuku (which is a 10-min-bike ride from where I live) it is by no means a representative of the whole customer population there.

Shibuya is also famous for young generation's fashion as many times represented in the term "109 fashion" or in Japanese (marukyu-fashion). How many of you would actually be interested in buying loads of clothes in Shibuya and wearing them daily back in your home country? And how available are Japan-originated clothes outside of Japan?

Once a pretty big figure in the Italian fashion industry said that the men's fashion culture in Japan is well-established and is something the whole world can learn lots from. Come to think of it, I guess that's kind of true. Men here are pretty keen on fashion even just wearing T-shirts with blue jeans. Graphic printed T-shirts are extremely popular among them. Have a look at this brand,
graniph, they're one of the prominent brands in the T-shirts industry in Japan (kind of like a Japanese version of Stussy). See here also for more popular fashion brands in Japan. Too sorry a lot of them only have Japanese website.

Okay I think I must stop here as I am not exactly ready to update today's feature on my website. Today I have an article on manga that I've talked a little about on this blog a couple of weeks ago. It's about how common and popular it is to make live action films and TV dramas in the past few years. Come see Japan Mode for more :-)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Debut of the Monster

The news of Japanese baseball pitcher Matsuzaka Daisuke playing in the States has stirred up the Japanese and American (baseball) societies at the end of 2006 (see here for more observations on him). It's been a little quiet this past month, but today the latest update on him popped up in the news.

It was about the specific date of his debut match. Since his move across the ocean involving 6 billion yen made such a big news it was quite natural for many of us to think that he'll make his debut at the very first match of the new season at Fenway (Boston Red Sox Home), but it turned out that the opponent for the first match is the Mariners, which is precisely the team another monster Ichiro has been playing with since 2001.

If it were only a match-up of two Japanese players in the US than it wouldn't have become much of a news, but it's Ichiro versus Matsuzaka, and above anything else, Matsuzaka happened to reply at his press conference to the question "which player do you wish the most to play against in MLB?" - "Ichiro." Okay, it's good maybe to acknowledge Ichiro as an MLB player, but personally I don't really think it was the smartest answer to give at his US debut press conference. You know, he could've given a name or two or three of a non-Japanese player.

Anyway, if Matsuzaka pitched against Mariners from the very beginning, it would mean that his dream is highly likely to become true in a day. I believe that that would surely make a big mess around Fenway. It's said that more than a hundred press-related people from Japan and several times more of fans would flood over to Boston that night. I'd say this fever is uncontrollable.

The monster reveals his "power" on April 5th, so it seems. Hope his monsterlike-ness doesn't only end up in the monsterous contract money and the monsterous news topics.

Today's update on
Japan Mode: kanji name conversion samples - I don't know it I mentioned before but I've restarted kanji name conversions. Give me an e-mail through the website if you want to see your name in kanji. I appreciate the requests, but please don't flood me with a dozen names at a time just cuz the service is free! It'll take a little time to get back.

Monday, January 29, 2007

For Children Who'll Become Adults

So I've been doing bits and pieces of research on manga lately, from its history to what kind of works are popular these days and what kind of general tendency can be observed. I'll post these kinds of things on the website shortly, but today I would like to write a little about how manga was viewed socially when it first came out, since I happened to see a program on it a couple of nights ago.

It was a short documentary program on not a manga artist (mangaka, as we call in Japanese) but an editor of one of the earliest manga magazine. Until then, I tended to think that the manga culture we have today was created by the early masters like Tezuka Osamu and so it is, in terms of the style and form and content of the manga itself. But it wasn't just the quality of the works these masters have produced that built up the Japanese manga culture into an established subculture a large part of the society enjoys. A good portion of the credit of the spread and social acceptance of manga belongs to an editor named Kato Kenichi.

It's only too bad that I didn't know about this program and couldn't watch the entire story, but anyway, I'll introduce what I learned from the show.
Kato was a very talented editor who loved manga himself and spotted the positive potentials of manga in the earlier stages of the culture. He knew what kinds of stories kids loved and he also knew which mangaka created excellent works. If it were not for him, Tezuka might have not become a manga artist.

But back then in the early 20th century, manga was not socially accepted in Japan like the way it is today. It was rather viewed as a ridiculous children's stuff - ridiculous though, dangerous as the government viewed. They feared the potentials and influence of manga on children of letting all kinds of imaginations grow including those that were considerably against the government's policies and their education of good and healthy citizens.

For this reason Kato was once caught by the government for spreading out bad influences on children's education and was forced to leave Kodansha which is still one of the biggest publishers today.
To the icy looks and disapproval against manga being children's stuff, Kato confronted the situation claiming,

"sure manga is for children, for children who will grow up into adults who create and support the society one day. manga can teach children the joy and happiness of life, morals and virtue, of what's right and wrong. manga has the power to guide children to the right direction so that they won't cause a horrible war like we have."

At that time he had already known Tezuka, but Tezuka then was standing on the crossroads of his life of becoming a mangaka or not. He wasn't confident. Kato who strongly believed in Tezuka's talents gave a kick in his back and told him to open up the future of manga with this message, and like this, the culture was established and spread at once.

And so half a century has passed since then. The children then are adults now, who have greatly contributed to the massive and rapid economic growth of the country. Whether Kato's belief turned out positively or negatively is a big question - for we have not exactly caused nor have seriously suffered from war for over six decades now, but the society seems to have become a bit feeble in a different sense even though the spread of manga may not have anything to do with it. Anyway, this is how manga became one established subculture of this country.

Like I mentioned in the beginning, I would like to write about the general tendencies of manga related business soon. I'll let you know when I'm ready.

BTW a manga-based movie called Sakuran is going to be shown at Berlin International Film Festival as the only Japanese film under Official Selection. So far it's only scheduled to be shown in Japan (in theaters Feb 24) but the participance opens up a great possibilityof distributing the film internationally.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Train People

Japanese mobile phones or "keitai" as we call them, are said to be one of the most high-tech and highly designed phones in the world carrying an unbelievable number of functions from calling ('course, it's a phone), SMS, chat, text-mailing (e-mails with colored and moving icons we call emoji: most common next to calling), surfing the internet (mobile sites and PC sites), downloading all kinds of things like music and games, music player, infrared communication, e-money, etc. etc. and the Japanese population's owning/usage rate of mobile phones is pretty high.

Despite the high rate and the convenience of the device being "mobile" and carriable, however, the rate of mobile game users reach the highest during the hours from after dinner to bedtime. From this mildly surprising report, some groups decided to conduct a survey on what people do on the train/subway while they commute every morning and evening.

The gender ratio of the survey subject of 300 individuals is 50%-50%, and the age bracket ratio is 20% for each of the generations: A-teens (age 18-19), B-20s, C-30s, D-40s, E-50s.

The report told that to the question, "What do you do on the train?" 67% (201people) out of the whole regardless the gender and generation answered "sleep". Considering not all people can get the seats on a full rush-hour train, I guess this means that most of those who win the seats sleep. I thought that the answer resulting in a high percentage proves how tired and pressed by time and work these people (who probably represent the most typical kind of people in Japanese cities) are, at the same time as how safe and vulnerable this country is. It's not that there are no pick-pockets nor groping (actually groping is pretty bad), but I've heard from people who come from outside of Japan that sleeping on the trains is basically unthinkable if you don't want to lose your belongings.

Following the answer "sleep" was "read", which covers books, newspapers, comics, magazines, novels and that sort of hard copy reading materials. Majority of the people responded that they read paperback books followed by novels, telling that compact and carriable materials are most popular means to kill time on the train. Moreover, hard copy materials prove to gain more support than things on the internet, probably because for reason one) people just aren't too familiar with using the mobile internet, two) reception isn't always smooth especially on the subway, three) the text is too small (that's only what my parents complain).

One of the honest but funny replies that were collected in this survey was how so many people peek into other people's stuff. According to the same survey, nearly 80% of the people whether they carry a piece of reading or not, peek into their neighbors papers, books or magazines. By the way I'm pretty sure that the temptation grows stronger if the material is some kind of gossip or paparazzi.

Exactly 50% of the subject answered that they use the mobile on the train, which I consider a pretty low. In any case, 90% of them answered that they read e-mails, 83% send e-mails, and when it comes to viewing mobile sites the rate dropped down to 38%.

Overall, I suppose I can conclude that mobile phones have spread so widely and have rooted in our daily lives so much in just less than a decade, that it is impossible for us to maintain an un-chaotic life if we lose them right this instant. It's quite interesting though that non electric stuff still occupy a good portion of our busy lives. Like this refrence article rounded up, what would grasp the attentions of these commuters if there weren't mobile phones?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The City of Change

Within a quarter mile radius from my house there are three major constructions going on building a house and there are four square vacant lots for sale. It has been like this more or less for the past decade, as far as I can remember, with housing constructions going on constantly at one place or another in turns.
My way to work is very similar as well.

Tokyo, is a city of constant transformation.

I did not notice this until I had a chance to see an exhibition held at a museum in Stockholm, Sweden a few years ago. I was only traveling using my holidays from school and I only happened to be in Stockholm and stop by in the museum while the special exhibition was held - but anyway, this special exhibition was a comparison of the capital cities of Sweden and Japan, i.e., Stockholm and Tokyo.

There were all kinds of comparisons made in various forms. For example, there was a comparison of transportation fares: I don't remember the exact numbers or ratios but I do remember that public transportation such as buses and subways were three-four times more expensive in Stockholm whereas taxi fares only showed a modest difference.

There was also a comparison in the crime rates, which to my slight surprise, said that the crime rate in Stockholm was higher than Tokyo although not dramatically different. I mean, determining only from my several-day-stay in Stockholm by that time the city gave me an impression of an extremely peaceful place. Come to think of it, though, considering the huge difference in the population (S-less than or more or less a million: T-twelve million) the gap between the actual numbers of those committing crimes widen largely.

Anyway, there was this display of a very well-made model of a certain area of Stockholm and Tokyo, three decades ago and today. Whereas the model of Stockholm thirty years ago and today showed only a mild difference, the models for Tokyo now and then looked almost entirely different that it was harder to spot the same buildings. Next to the model there was a brief analysis of the models and the cities, telling how things in Tokyo are literally constantly changing.

Viewing Tokyo as a city of busy transformation doesn't give me a strange feeling or the thought that "geez why are people so busy?" at all probably because I grew up most of my life in it. But I did feel a funny sense of contradiction cuz we often times boast our country's millenniums-long history and tradition. Perhaps the intangible things and artwork continue to be handed down, but look at the land, there's hardly anything left.

My father who is an architect once asked me to translate a presentation document explaining a project to completely renew an apartment building that was thirty years old. He needed an English translated version because he and his project team was going to ask for an opinion from a British architect.
One of the reasons for renovating the whole building was because it was getting old. Old.
My father, who (naturally) is an architechture freak who knows and has seen hundreds of buildings around the world laughed, "what a joke it would sound like to him (the British architect) to renovate a 30-year-old building because it's old." ...My understanding is that in Europe there are hundreds of buildings that are centuries old that it would sound ridiculous to address a 30-year-old flat to be old.

Well then, what about Japan...? That remains hidden for now, although I kind of have an idea for the answer.

Overall, together with the observations I make on other elements of Japan, I analyze that Japanese people have an aspect of not fearing changes at the very same time as being extremely conservative.

Today's update on Japan Mode:
Sakidori Events vol3 - I think this'll be the last for February and will go on to March and April fairly soon.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Academy Awards, but...

Well... though I wrote The Academy Awards for today's title, I don't think I'm going to go in so much. It's just that the Japanese entertainment industry is getting a bit excited about the nomination of Japanese actress Kikuchi Rinko for best supporting actress. She played the role of a deaf and mute high school student in the film Babel and is nominated for the role. IF she receives the award, then she would be the second Japanese actress to get an Award for the first time in 49 years since the first winner Nancy Umeki in the film Sayonara.
Since the film isn't released yet in Japan I haven't seen the work yet and can't comment on it, but I do hope that she wins it. We need happy news.

Then, I hear that the film Letters from Iwo Jima is also nominated under four (?) categories as an American film. Well, since it is an American-made film it is not a surprise, but the fact that most of the film being made in Japanese language and still being recognized not as a foreign film but an American film is quite something. In any case, we are proud.

Speaking of films, a number of Japanese films seem to be striking the world's film market recently. Today I am going to update information about the film DORORO which is based on the manga (comic) by Tezuka Osamu. I've seen the trailer in theater and it was very exciting that I am thinking of go seeing it right away. It's a grand piece of work for a Japanese film for it was shot not in Japan but almost entirely in New Zealand, featuring good actors and welcoming one of the best action directors in the world. The last time I picked up a Japanese film it was Sakuran and it's only going to be released in Japan, but this one is going to hit the screens in 20 countries around the world. See here for more information.

As I was skimming through the news topics just now, I also found out that MUSHISHI, a film based on the manga by Urushibara Yuki is also receiving passionate distribution offers from more than ten countries around the world including US and Australia. Since it's most likely going to be shown in other countries, maybe I should try to see if I can officially feature MUSHISHI as part of Japanese film entertainment on my

All right, that's all for today.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Would Fish Disappear?

Japanese food culture seems to be getting increasingly popular around the world, is what I understand from different articles and TV shows lately. Most of what makes it popular comes from the healthiness which I guess we can be proud of, but personally am not too sure of. Certainly, our diet takes in a huge variation of vegetables and fish, and it is commonly known that fish fat is easier on your body than fat from other meat like beef and pork. But has anyone picking up Japanese cuisine gave attention to how salty the food on the whole can be?

Anyway, the amount of sodium is not what I wanted to write about today. Today I want to cast an eye on the fishing industry in relation to the global expansion of diet based on fish.
A couple of nights ago I saw a portion of this TV program called
Spaceship Earth (Suteki na Uchusen Chikyu-go). Its topic for the night was "See the world from the kitchen : sea-bream, blowfish and flatfish are mountain delicacies!?". Well of course, these fish definitely come from the ocean.

The show started with an introduction telling us how Japanese food culture is becoming more and more popular around the world, of how the global diet tendency is turning their eyes on healthiness, and how the stomachs of the world are wanting fish. A prominent example of this is the sudden increase of the demand of tuna, save tuna-eating cultures such as Japan (I know we overfish), and the variation of fish being eaten globally seems to be expanding more and more. If the current situation continues, experts calculate that all the natural (=noncultured) fish would go extinct by 2048.

It is of course important to prevent overfishing, yet it is as important to find some kind of alternative ideas to prevent fish from completely dying out from this world. One of those alternatives a Japanese professor came up with is the invention and development of this mysterious water.

What is so mysterious about the water, you'll know immediately once you see the scene of a goldfish and snapper swimming in the same watertank. It is a water that enables saltwater fish and freshwater fish to swim together. If you see it from the conclusion the fish grown in such environment would be cultured fish, but this mysterious water has characteristics that can save culture fishery from various problems they have today.
First of all, the water composed of minimum amount of kalium, sodium and other minerals prevent fish from being affected by various diseases. Then these elements encourage fast growth of the fish, and cuts down dramatically the culturing cost. In addition, it doesn't limit the location of culture fishing to the ocean meaning in the future, there may appear saltwater fish which its production area is in the depth of mountains.

At the same time of anticipating such future, I fear the destruction of the eco-system. The best way is not to make the future into something that requires these kinds of alternatives, but the question is, is it already too late or not? There's a lot we need to think about: for us, reflect upon the amount we fish because we're definitely fishing more than we can consume - which means waste - and for the others, find out the right amount of supply that meets the demand before they fall into a situation like us.

Speaking of healthy food and Japanese food culture, the daily update on Japan Mode is
Japanese Tea Culture vol.3 - which talks about the three most popular green tea refreshment drinks (canned and bottled drinks) and the Green Tea War in 21st Century Japan.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Empty Winter

Late January would normally be the very depth of winter in Japan, but the waves of global warming is becoming stronger and stronger year after another. This winter is a severe one - not in the sense of coldness but rather the opposite, warmness.

Winter is supposed to be cold and brings snow to more than half the area of the country but this year we've hardly had any snow on national average. Snow causes trouble in the metropolis (especially Tokyo because even if it snows every year, the city structure and systems are not used to dealing with the thinnest bit of snow) and in the rural areas too if it gets too deep, but no snow causes bigger trouble for these rural - suburban villages, for these places snow means money.

I'm pretty sure this can be said for snow/wintersports resorts in other parts of the world, but having no or little snow means having no or little business in the ski mountains and hot spring resorts all over Japan. Whereas normally the ski mountains would be packed with thousands of skiers and snowboarders, the slopes are emptier in terms of visitors and in terms of whiteness. The slopes are close to bare than covered with thick snow, and some of the mountains barely keep their business by adding manmade snow.

There is an increasingly famous and popular tour in the northern part of the country called the snow drift experience tour, but they're not going to have it apparantly because there is no snow drift this winter.
It was only last night that the old houses of World Heritage village Shirakawago were lit up for winter illumination (though having said illumination, it's nothing like the ones we have in Tokyo. It's more aesthetic and fantastical). Usually at this time of year, at least a foot of heavy snow pile on top of the thatched roofs but this year you can see the thatch which makes the sight very... incomplete.

The first snow in Tokyo was more than a month later as compared to last winter, though like I just mentioned, snow isn't really welcome in the city. Warm is good, at least for my fingertips and toes, but a warm winter is somewhat sad and empty.

There's a famous Japanses classic literature called Makuranoshoshi by Seishonagon, and there's a part she writes about the four seasons. The first line for each season describes the most valuable element of the season, of what makes that particular season distinct and special. (note: below is a quick translation of my own and is not cited from a properly translated and published article/document)

Haru wa akebono - Spring, sunrise. The whitening rims of the mountains and the slightly purple, thin clouds.
Natsu wa yoru - Summer, night. The moon of course, yet dark nights with fireflies or drizzle have as much flavor.
Aki wa yuugure - Autumn, sunset. The birds flying back to their nests and the crickets singing after sunset.
Fuyu wa tsutomete - Winter, early morning. Burning fire in the brazier in the cold of the snow and frost.

When I first studied about this literature in secondary school I didn't really understand why a cold morning could be so good, but after I've grown a little more mature I've come to appreciate the changes in the seasons and their specialties. So in this sense coldness of the winter too, is something that should be there as a season. Losing it feels like losing something very important that our predecessors kept for thousands of years.

Today's update on
Japan Mode: This Week's Events in Tokyo - well... there wasn't much to introduce this week so I chose some month-long events. One's about winter peony, another's on media arts (includes digital arts, animation, manga, graphic design, etc. in Japan - sounds pretty interesting) and the last one is on stars and ukiyoe prints created by Hokusai.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Make-up Culture

As I travel every now and then to various destinations, I realize that not so many women wear make-up the same way we do here in Japan. The same way, means most if not all of the following:

- foundation (liquid and powder)
- concealer
- face powder
- eye shadow (usually using several colors)
- eyeline
- mascara
- eyebrow
- cheek
- lipstick or lip gloss

and when it comes to ladies with more perfect make-up, layers of them. Whether you think this is less, normal or too much depends on, I guess, the society you live in and the culture you grew up in. For many Japanese females belonging to the age range of 18-27,28 or so, I think I can say this is normal.

I notice that here in Japan we have a unique culture of wearing make-up, and like in clothing and hairstyle there is a trend in make-up as well that shifts every season and gradually changes year after another.
For example, a couple of decades ago the trend was the so-called "surfer-make" which was generally represented in sky blue eye shadow and rather bright pink lipstick. Eyebrow trimming which is a common sense today was not so common back then, so thick brows were the mainstream.

A decade ago was about the time when "natural-make" started to spread (save the whole gal phenomenon). This is a kind of make-up in which you put on some make-up, but only within the extent of making your face look as if you don't have so much make-up on. Colors were close to the natural color of your skin and lips.

Right now since about a year ago, the idea of "chocolate make-up" came up using colors close to gold, bronze and brown. These colors mostly deal with eye make-up and lipstick (in the case of lipstick, a bit more redder than brown) but also are used for cheeks.

The reason for wearing full make-up, not point make-up like just mascara and lipstick, mostly comes from wanting to make your face look more distinctive, I think. I wouldn't go into the topic of inferiority complex that a lot of Japanese people have with their features and figures, but for women especially, there is definitely a tendency of wanting to make the eyes look bigger and rounder and lips sexier.

In addition to the above reason, there is also this kind of tacit understanding that wearing make-up is part of the social etiquette. If you're going out for grocery shopping it doesn't really matter so much, but if you are meeting someone like at work or are going to be present in a group of people (whether you know them or not) you might want to put some on. Of course, this isn't a rule and there are many people who don't wear make-up at all times so it's completely up to the individual and no one has the right to criticize anyone for not wearing it. I'm not sure if this has something to do with it or not, but there's been an understanding in Japanese tradition and culture since hundreds of years ago to completely separate private and public faces, to draw a clear line between the this-world and the other-world in many senses.

Thus, wearing make-up is part of the every-morning preparations for many college students and working women in Japan. But mornings are super busy unless you get up hours before you set out, and wearing this much make-up takes a surprising long time if you do it neatly. When I was in univ some of my friends were telling me they get up two hours before they leave home - an hour and a half for shower, make-up and hair styling, and half an hour for the rest of the preparations.

So I was thinking that this is the case for many females who look so perfect on trains and schools and office, but I was surprised to read an article based on a quick poll of how much time working females afford for everyday make-up. Nearly 80% of the twenties through fourties only required less than 20 minutes, covering most or all of the items mentioned earlier. I was like, wow, and this morning I observed how much time I needed to wear make-up, and wow, it only took me 15 minutes - which was less than I thought I needed every morning.

To many people who don't have the habit of wearing make-up, 15-20 minutes may seem like a long time just to wear make-up (like men who always wonder and complain why women take too much time to get ready), but if you want to look good and as perfect as you can, it's pretty short. I guess it's not like it only takes that little time, but women train themselves and obtain the ability to make preparations more efficient and shorter.

So that was my thought for the day. Not much point really.

Today's update on Japan Mode (will be up around 17:00 JST): webmanga CharmyNurseM chapter 8

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Big National Event

A HUGE national event is coming up this weekend. It's not so important culturally or traditionally or religiously, but it could be the crossroad of life for many youths in Japan - it's called the "center-shiken", the "center examination".

The center-exam is kind of like an equivalent to SAT in the States and though I'm not sure of the name I think there's a similar one in South Korea too (sorry, I don't know the educational systems in other countries). It's a big exam most people who want to go on to college are required to take, and the scores for this exam become the guideline and indicator of whether you have chances to go to the school of your choice.

If a Japanese person wants to go to college/university, the most common way is to take a written entrance exam (juken) and simply get high scores. But since this style of exams only pushes students to remember facts and hinders them from obtaining real learning skills in their teenage years, an increasing number of colleges/univs are getting started with interview-style and other exams based on self-presentation and self assessment. The center-exams are used for both methods though not for all schools.

You can read more about Japanese education system and issues in the educational policies
here at my ex-bosses blog. It's a pretty good and detailed series and it's up to date, too.

Anyway, this center-exam is the starter of the whole college entrance exam battle, or "juken-sensou" as we call it in Japanese. It's been around for decades, and sadly it seems like even with the gradual change in education tendencies and the decline of birthrates (= scramble of students) this so-called battle won't disappear for a while.

As mentioned a bit in the past entries (
fortune telling / blood type characters ) Japanese people are pretty superstitious. And together with the millennium-long tradition and natural character of playing with words, there is this funny custom of wishing best luck with objects, animals and food. For example, there is this little ornament of a frog at the entrance of my house and this is for safe return because frog is "kaeru" and "kaeru" is also the verb for "to return (home)".

Similar beliefs (though by no means serious worship) exist with good luck on passing exams. The most historical one, at least among the ones I know, is tonkatsu. Tonkatsu is a Japanese dish of pork cutlet, and I don't knot about the "ton" part but "katsu" means to win. So what people do is to eat tonkatsu before an important test.

The custom spread rapidly in the food business especially in the snack industry. A famous one - and a product even originally non-Japanese - is KitKat. KitKat pronounced in Japanese "kitto-katto" is somewhat close to the sound of a short sentence "kitto katsu" which means " (I'll/you'll probably win). "Probably" here is a pretty strong possibility. A corn puff snack Carl (kaaru) turns into the verb "to pass" if you add an "u" sound on the top so that too is an exam-lucky snack. If you switch the order of the sounds of the name of the famous chocolate stick snack Pocky, it (the sound) becomes "kippo" which is good news.

Ones that can't really related the names to good luck for the exams related the goods with cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms is the symbol in Japan for the season spring, and spring is the season when the new school year starts. The term "sakura saku" = cherry blossoms bloom is used to describe happy situations, in which somebody's long effort finally achieves a goal. Cherry blossom isn't really a food but the petals and leaves are sometimes used for dishes and sweets, and it has a unique aroma too, so snacks add hints of cherry blossom fragrance or extracts or just color the food slightly pinkish to ride on the juken wave.

Like this, a good load of snacks are trying to increase their sales by relating these snack products to the national event. The tendency is escalating every year and this year I see more than the last. Not that many people take it seriously, but I find it pretty funny looking at the line-ups on the shelves of super markets and convenience stores. It sounds stupid, but I like this aspect of Japanese character of making everything into something else and doing stupid things seriously.
We're supposed to be stern, rock-hard serious people, right?

Today's update on
Japan Mode: Yojijukugo - is a four-kanji-idiom which most derive from ancient Chinese sayings but are used commonly in Japanese language. I haven't had new posts for this section for nearly two months, so it's the first update in a pretty long time. For the first edition of the new year I chose ones that have ambitious meanings.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fancy Phones

Ten new models of cell phones were announced yesterday from au (KDDI) and NTT DoCoMo respectively like they do every 3 months. Softbank didn't make its announcement the same day but I'm pretty sure they're going to do so in a short while. au and DoCoMo are going to have four more models each so for spring there will be 14 kinds of new designs coming out from each carrier.

Because spring is the beginning of the new school year or office year, it is the most busiest time for cell phone companies. A good load of students entering a new school is likely to get new phones as well as freshmen in office because they're going to be using their phones for business on top of private.
Therefore the energy the phone companies give to the spring models is more than extraordinary. They've got to get new customers, and especially after the distinctive victory and defeat among the three companies in the battle of the introduction of the number portability system, they're all going almost mad.

The models for DoCoMo focused on the appearance, of making it thinner and lighter than the previous models. Most of the new ones have the function of wallet-mobile in which your phone carries e-money meaning you can make payments with your phone by just touching a panel with it. This function was only included in the higher and more expensive models, but because the function and system spread wider they made the function more handy for all people.

au, the winner of the number portability battle strengthened the quality of displays and media contents. Not that the displays weren't as good as others, it just made them clearer and more smoother. But more than anything, I think the difference between au and the other two is the passion in designing. au has this project called "design project" which releases models that focuses on artistic designs on top of the spec of the phone, and the ones in this project are designed by the designers of the day or next-generation designers. It was only a couple of days ago that I heard in the news that four models from this design project are going to be kept and displayed in MoMa for its artisticness. The newest one, by the way, looks simple but is covered by this special kind of smooth material that feels soft and comfortable on your skin. They even say it's a new kind of skin. I'd like to feel what it's like, though I'm not sure if I want to have it as my own...

You can read the
mobile article on Japan Mode if you want to know more about Japanese cell phones and what kinds of elements have higher priority in making, selling and buying cell phones in Japan.

Okie, I have to make this short cuz I'm really super running out of time.

Today's update:
Sakidori Events - Major cultural events in February vol.2: there're five all together but I'll add more in the upcoming week. They're all big events and are very Japanese so even if you can't come you might want to have a look of what kinds of events are being held over the winter. I also got lots of help from city offices so there's a good lot of pictures too.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Comics in Education

Continuing from yesterday's entry I will go on with manga (Japanese comics). Today I would like to write just briefly how manga can become a great tool for education on creativity and logical, critical thinking.

Comic books tend to be looked down as just something for children to read and is rather cut apart from ideal education, but as can be seen rather clearly, it is a work of art. Of course, the level of art varies from top quality "beautiful" kinds to pretty rough or "unique" ones, but comic as a form of creative artwork does not just stop there. In my opinion, it is one of the ultimate means of presentation of the finest expressions and elements of human beings that can be created by a single person.

Creating a good comic requires good drawing skills but what exactly does this drawing skills mean? It may mean good skills in drawing characters and backgrounds in the "right" proportion and making them look to some extent unrealistically, but a really good artist makes visible the inner expressions i.e., thoughts and emotions, and a really good comic artist can draw thousands of different expressions. Expressions can be seen in the character's face, action, reaction, words and are often times exaggerated a lot. The differences and the exaggeration allows the reader to see the motion and flow of the story.
Imagine a comic strip with excellent artwork, but with poor expressions. I bet it would look plain and boring, or more like a piece of illustration rather than a sequential story.

That brings me to the point of the storyline. When I start reading a new series, I choose mostly by recommendations from my friends but other times I look at the art. But the ones that I feel like I want to keep on reading have good storylines like a good book, and many of my friends say the same. It's probably not too much to say that the quality of a comic book is more determined by the storyline than the artwork. Ones with the combination of the two, plus a fixed theme makes a masterpiece, I think. A good storyline requires a great deal of plotting, logical and critical thinking, and careful revising.

Ones with a good, fixed theme becomes a masterpiece that doesn't fall even after decades since its first publish. It's mostly because it carries a philosphy or throws a universal question that we need to think about at some point. For instance, the works of Tezuka Osamu constantly questions and even challenges the reader with themes like life, death, development, environment and so on. His works may be very exciting stories for small children, but as you grow up you realize that there's a whole lot to think about in his works.

Especially for the very last reason that I just mentioned, comic books of a certain kind or with certain themes are often kept in school libraries for students to read freely. Aside from the pop comics, there are also comic books made on history to make it easier and more entertaining for students to study history. Like this, manga has been in Japanese school education for a while by now.

As for the first two, the art and plot, it is not so much used as education means in school but I think it can become an effective educational tool to solve the problem of the modern lack of imagination and logical thinking among children, and even as a tool for cultivating communication skills. It is quite true that children who read a fair amount of manga have rich imagination and self-presentation abilities than those who don't, and are good at making people laugh and being cooperative with others... only if the kid's interest in manga doesn't go as far as obsession or delusion.

All the above is what I had been discussing with my boss a few days ago, my boss who is a father in the midst of educating his grade-school son using manga.
Well... for two days I've written about manga and I'm afraid that all I wanted to tell is that manga isn't merely a children's crap. But really, some of them is just more than entertainment.

Today's update on Japan Mode: Hot Spring Guide Chubu Region ed. - got started with this hot spring series a couple of months ago (when I wasn't yet a webmistress) and am kind of regretting it cuz it never seems to end... Anybody got any ideas on some features on the website?

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Manga Talk

I am a working female in her twenties but recently I've been reading a pretty good amount of manga. Manga, for those who don't know, is a Japanaese word for Japanese comics. It certainly is sort of like a very tacit understanding that manga is for children, or teenagers at the oldest, but even then so many of the adult population - from twenties to fifties or even sixties are regular readers of manga, and I guess it's socially acceptable.

Since I have a younger brother and a sister the manga selection in my house is pretty random. A good portion of the bookshelf is dominated by shonen manga (that's comics geared towards teenage boys but girls too read them anyway) mostly coming from the weekly manga magazine JUMP. Shonen manga's got a lot of action, adventure and bits and pieces of erotic essences.

And then, my high school sister's got a collection on shojo manga (for girls) like Fruits Basket - which I recently learned that it's pretty popular outside of Japan as well - and "Bokura ga Ita" (tranlates to "we were there"), a monster hit. Shojo manga mostly if not completely focuses on love romance issues and is extremely popular among teenage girls.

It has always been and still is part of teenager life to lend and borrow manga with your friends in school (just have to do it secretly cuz they're not allowed in school) and expand your manga reading selection. My sister brings loads of manga and she swapped with friends from school. In fact, I myself still do it sometimes in office with my colleague :p

The strong tendency these days is the making of live-action versions of the best selling manga. A good number of manga are made into movies and TV dramas, but there are also stages and musicals. Since I haven't seen any of the musicals I can't really say anything about them but I've been watching a few TV dramas based on manga. It wasn't until very recently that nearly half or even more than hald of the TV dramas we have in the past five years are "based on the manga by ...", not "based on the novel by ...".

Some of them do the justice of the original but in most cases the dramas have their own storyline that don't go as far as a different work or a filler. Two of my favorite works have made into a film and a TV drama: "Honey and clover" into a movie, and "Nodame Cantabile" into a TV drama. Both are... love-romance comedies with a somewhat serious theme... and the latter one was pretty good on TV. I even think it was more comical than the original and easier to follow because it had sounds, which is an essential element in Nodame Cantabile since the comic is on classic music. Right now, my generation's all time favorite "Hana yori Dango" 's 2nd ed. is shown on TV and this one has been made into a TV in Taiwan as "Meteor Garden" way before Japan.

My most recent favorites are PLUTO, a manga based on the manga by "The God of Manga" Tezuka Osamu (the artist of Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atom), Black Jack and SO MANY MORE with deep philosophy) created by Urasawa Naoki, a genious on SF thriller suspense best represented by his works Twentieth Century Boys (
film coming out next year) and MONSTER. The only thing about this is that it comes out veeery slowly. Twice a year at the best. So I have to wait a lot.

The other is "Kami no Shizuku" (subtitle: Les Gouttes de Dieu = The Drops of God) a manga on wine. It gives a long but entertaining talk on all kinds of wine (so far mostly French and Italian) and reading this, I tell you, really really makes you want to drink wine :-) I don't know so much about wine - I only appreciate it with cheese as an evening drink - but it's fun to read and gives you knowledge as well as curiosity about the world of wine. The art is pretty good too.

Both these works are personal recommendations, though I'm not quite positive that there're foreign language versions published yet.

As I started writing I came up with another topic on manga so I think I'll write about that tomorrow or some time soon.

Oh, and speaking of manga, we have a small web manga going on our website too. Come have a look, it's free. lol.

Today's update:
This Week's Events in Tokyo - January Third Week... there's one on snow, one on video-games and one on fire. Check it out ;-)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Blood Type Characters

Since there was a question for yesterday's entry, I think I'd write about blood type characters today. It seems like for some reason the comment tool didn't work the question's invisible - it was "what are blood type characters all about (in Japan)?"

Well... to some people, it's about everything. I have a colleague in office who tends to believe in blood type characters and I tease her sometimes calling her a "blood type believer" . The general understanding, regardless the degree you believe in it, is that each blood type out of the four (A/B/AB/O: just ignore the rh+- for now) each represents a certain kinf of character.

(A) For example, people with A-blood are said to be serious, thorough, very punctitilious, careful, not so outgoing, high self-esteem, stick-to-the-rule kind of strict and perfectionist people. For their seriousness, responsible, sensitive and considerate characters, though, they can be relied upon as trusted and calm leaders.

(B) Than B-blood people are sort of accused from other people of being too self-pace. In good and bad ways do not care about what other people are doing. On the brighter side, B-blood people are said to be cheerful and are good at swtiching feelings so can become good leaders, but because s/he can be over-excited by even small compliments s/he can be isolated at times. Perhaps a bit emotional and moody.

(AB) AB people are many times referred to as geniouses and weirdos at the same time. It is commonly understood that people with AB blood type are gifted with many talents especially in the artistic field and are efficient in carrying matters. On the other hand, however, the means and ways of expressing feelings and things may appear awkward at times to other people, therefore the geniousness can turn into weirdness. Not too fit for a leader.

(O) Last but not least, O-blood people are interpreted to be easygoing and outgoing, which the other side can be lazy and disorganized. As opposite to A-type people, O-type people tend to be careless in both good and bad terms. Generally positive about things: have a tendency of believing things'll be somehow all right. Sensitive, bright, and mentally strong. Makes a good leader with upward mobility.

This is all superstituion to I suppose most of the people, but still, a lot of people like to believe it when they want to. Some people are heaviliy influenced though, which I believe isn't a good measure to get to know new people and get along with them. I also think that sometimes it works the other way - meaning, people behave and present themselves (to others and to oneself) accordingly to how each blood type is being portrayed and believed.

To me it's nothing more than other kinds of fortune telling, or less. It's just some entertainment and guideline. The only time I like to classify myself as a member of one blood-type is when I watch the daily blood-type based fortune telling... and only when the results are good :p

I wonder why and how blood type characters became so commonly understood. I bet it's only Japan or if not, very few cultures that distinguish characters by blood type. I know that in some places you don't even check your blood type unless you need to know for medical reasons.

Today's update: webmanga
CharmyNurseM Chapter 8 Preview

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Fortune Telling

How many of you believe in fortune telling of any kind? I'm not over-reactive to it, but when I get good results I like to take it positively and believe it just to have a good feeling.

There are so many kinds of fortune telling and I find it even more so in Japan. First of all the variation widens from daily luck reading to year-long or several-year-span future telling, and then the kinds vary from palm reading, paper fortune telling from shrines and temples (what we call omikuji), names, birthdates&birthyears, blood type (like some of you know, Japanese people tend to be strong believers of blood type characters), zodiac, stars, cards... I don't think I can list all the variations of fortune telling in Japan.

Well, today I'd like to write a bit about the omikuji circumstance in Japan. Omikuji is a kind of paper fortune telling, and are available mostly at shrines and temples. When you pay a visit to a shrine or temple you can draw a random piece from a box for about a hundred yen, and it tells you about your luck of the year in several ranks from luckiest to unluckiest (see
here for more) and then goes on into the details on the luck of work, studies, marriage, love, traveling, gambling, accomodation, birth giving, money, family, business, lost-and-found, illness, lucky color&direction and so on.

Omikuji is available all year round and there are even shrines/temples that have omikuji in several languages, but it's especially a big thing on New Year's Day since it's the first day of the year and you want to know how your year is going to be like.
This year the popularity seems to be extraordinarily... popular...? Anyway, shrines and temples prepare all kinds of humour omikuji and they say the omikuji are "sold out". I kind of understand it because humour omikuji are kind of special I guess... I mean, they're kind of limited in numbers, but they claim that even the normal went empty in the first 3-4 days. Wow, I bet there're more than usual number of people who're wanting to bet their lives on fortune telling.

It's usually understood that "daikichi" is the luckiest and "kyo" the unluckiest, but when you read the details it isn't necessarily so. Daikichi can have warnings written on it that you can hardly believe you've got a daikichi, and vice versa also happens. Priests of shrines/temples also say that if your mind goes light by drawing a daikichi then the year may prevail out of lack of upward mobility, and on the other hand if you draw a kyo and feel like you have to behave that year the year can turn out nicely.

Personally, I got a "daikichi" this year and am quite happy about it. There was one time I drew a "kyo" at the very end of the year and suffered a terrible time from that same night.

Anyway, today's update on Japan Mode: "Sakidori Events" (couldn't come up with a better name) - well... for those thinking of traveling around Japan in February through March, I've picked out some major long-lasting cultural events being held in Japan. I wanted to cover a wide area, but today I have just a few to start with. Will be adding more in a short while though.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Get the Smoke Out!

This is my silent scream. I know that second-hand smoking is quite a killer but I've been wondering the past 24 hours if the smell of cigarette is any harm.

Since several years ago, one by one the 23 wards of Tokyo have started banning cigarette smoking in public (=on the streets) but it seems like the policies have barely any effect for I see and suffer from smoke coming from those illegal smokers smoking on the streets. I remember that when the policy started there were staffs from the ward office walking around to check on people's smoking manners and I've seen several times when some of the unlucky ones getting fined Y2,000 but hey, where are all those checkers!? I need them cuz I'm so super sensitive about cigarette smoke and even the smell. I get so upset when people passing by on the street have cigarette in their hands.

As I travel and observe every once in a while, I notice that the public policies on smoking on the streets vary widely across the world. In some countries smoking is no big deal since more than half of the population smokes, and on the other hand some places are extremely strict about public smoking and have serious punishments. As being one of the people who're extremely sensitive on smoke and the smell of cigarettes, I wish that at least this city if not the whole country would become totally smoke-free. Tokyo to me right now, is sometimes a very resident-unfriendly place.

Speaking of resident-unfriendliness, I almost got my bike towed while I was stopping by to grab some lunch at a local convenience store. Can't I even get around my local neighborhood with my bike!? Crazy. Driving too has become hard. Well... as for driving, I don't know which stance to take. It's not the driving regulations but the parking regulations that have become strict. You're basically not allowed to park on the street unless its officially a parking space. That part is understandable. The regulation aims to reduce severe traffic jam. That too is understandable. But the watchers look into the narrowest streets in residential neighborhoods and point out "illegal" parking in front of your house, or a 2-min-parking of delivery services (inc. mail deliverers).

Why have our society become such a place where its people have to live in mental and physical suffering whereas the policies should be improving it?

..Well, so that was my scream that I can't really let it out loud in office. Guess why...

Today's Update on
Japan Mode: Kanji Names - "5 Most Popular Names for Babies born in Japan in 2006"
We've had non-Japanese names converted and displayed on our website for a while, and I've talked about Japanese baby names in the past entries for this blog, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time to feature Japanese names on the website. See what Japanese names are like!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Fly Out

Most of the offices in the country were closed until Wednesday because of New Year's Holidays last week, and because this past weekend was a three-day-weekend, a whole lot of people took off Thursday and Friday so that they can have a 10-day-holiday. If this was only a 5-day-holiday or so, then the number of people flying out of the country probably wouldn't have gone up so much, but when people have ten days off from work and have just recieved their yearend bonus salary, they'd surely be tempted to go on a vacation abroad.

People who fully enjoyed their holidays till the last minute flew back into Japan yesterday (and a lot of them go to work today) and the TV news said that the number of travelers flying outside of Japan this yearend and New Year's holidays was the largest ever since some organization (perhaps the airport?) started counting and keeping records.

The popular destinations were beach resorts such as Hawaii, Guam, Saipan, that direction as always, but according to some travel agencies and airports destinations in China seems to be picking up as well as the Southeast Asian places which suffered a huge damage the last couple of winters, by many means. It seems like so many people wanted to escape the cold here :p
I am so super jealous. I love traveling.

Anyway, the news also said that the number of three-day-weekends this year in Japan increases a little bit so a whole lot of people in the tourism industry are quietly excited about their prospects.
So if there're anybody in the tourism industry in and outside of Japan, this year would be a huge chance to attract Japanese tourists to your places!!

In relation to this, I'm thinking of setting a section on Japan Mode to promote towns and cities. You know, like "town of the month" or sth like that. If there's anyone out there who wants to write an article of a couple of pages and have it published on Japan Mode (most likely under Japan Guide) give me a holler here or send an e-mail to the address written on Japan Mode. It could be any town or city, within or outside of Japan, as long as you are wanting to "link" Japan and your town/city/country. The idea's still tentative, but I'm sure we can work out something brilliant *sparkles*

Today's update on
Japan Mode: This Week's Events in Tokyo ... gathered some info on events you can only see at the beginning of the year.

Friday, January 5, 2007

The "First xxx"...

Happy New Year!! I wish you all a happy and exciting year 2007 :-)

I'd been thinking about what to write for today's entry for a while - there are a couple of personal things I have in mind but since they aren't exactly cheerful news I think I'd be a typical writer today writing about New Year's Holidays in Japan, of what it's like.

New Year's Day and the holidays before and after January 1st is I think the most significant event/holidays in Japan culturally and religiously. There are dozens of traditions that are practiced during these holidays but I'm not going to go about explaining all of them here.
Just to give an idea of a typical way of spending New Year's holidays...
Many families travel back to the parents' hometowns to greet grandpas grandmas and relatives, clean up the house in the last couple of days of December, eat year-crossing soba noodles, go see the first sunrise of the year, go out to pay their first visits of the year to the shrine or temple, eat osechi (New Year's dishes) together, greet their neighbors, maybe go out for some shopping... but basically just relax at home.

What I want to write about is the "first xxx" (I mean, not kisses but ex-ex-ex ye know) like I have in the title. Since January 1st is the beginning of the brand new year, whatever you do on January 1st counts as the "first xxx" of the year and I'm not sure why but there is a tendency in Japanese culture and society of making a big deal out of this "first xxx" ("hatsu xxx").

Hatsuhinode is the first sunrise of the year and is important I assume from religious reasons. Shinto(ism) the Japanese religion praises the nature and because the most significant of gods of nature is the sun, seeing the first sunrise of the year is said to bring happiness. A lot of people go out to the coast or climb up the winter mountains to see the first sunrise.

The first dream you see is hatsuyume and is believed to sort of tell one's fortune of the year. Just fyi the luckiest dreams are said to be #1-Mt.Fuji (tallest mt in Japan) #2-hawk (taka<takai=high) and #3-eggplant (nasubi<nasu=to achieve) and it goes on.

Hatsumoude, another "hatsu" thing that many people are involved in is the first visit of the year to the shrine and/or temple and this too kinds of plays a role in determining the fortune of the year. The number of total visitors to shrines/temples this year went up to almost 100million (out of the national population 126mil) in the first 3 days.
I got a daikichi (luckiest luck) for my hatsumikuji, the first fortune-telling (sheet of paper) so that brings me great hope for my new year... and I'm also a toshionna (zodiac of the year) so that's even better ;-)

What else... hatsuuri is the first bargain... this is a festival and a battle at the same time.
I can't think of more right now, but basically you can put "hatsu" in front of anything you do for the first time that year. I guess Japanese are a kind of people who want to make the littlest events festivals and celebrate them, lol.

Okie, today's update on Japan Mode: CharmyNurseM Chapter 7

P.S. Question to all the readers out there: does anybody want to talk about their experiences in Japan or just about their towns/cities/countries on Japan Mode?