Japanese News and Culture Blog Roundup: 11/12/09-11/18/09
11/18/09: Japanese Mortified By Obama’s Bow? Uhh…..no.
Ah, the bow seen ’round the world. Some right-wing news sites interpreted Obama’s bow to Japan’s Emperor Akihito as a sign of submission. Others criticized his bow as being too deep, or too curved, or odd because it was sort of a handshake/bow combo. What’s remarkable is that most of this criticism is exclusively from America! Most US news stories have been quoting an unnamed Japan “scholar” who claims that Obama’s bow was “weak” and embarrassing. The Japanese media didn’t really seem to think anything of the encounter until they realized that the American press was going berserk. More posts and quotes about the infamous bow can be found here and here.
11/15/09: Business Manners: Meishi Koukan
A post about a helpful video featuring the Japanese exchange of meishi (名刺 – business cards). There’s all sorts of etiquette associated with meishi, so the video is worth a look! Though it’s a little annoying that the narrator calls Japan the “ancient, mysterious land of the rising sun.” Does he really need to exoticize it into the “mystical East?” Anyway, it’s a little difficult to hear what everyone is saying the video, but here are the important phrases. “Hajimemashite” is a standard greeting in Japanese meaning something like “It’s nice to meet you.” It’s often followed by “(Douzo) Yoroshiku onegai shimasu” or “(Douzo) Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu” (itashimasu is the humble keigo form of shimasu). This set phrase is also a common greeting meaning “It’s nice to meet you,” but it literally means something like “Please look favorably upon me” or “Please be kind to me (in the future).” More meishi etiquette can be found here.
11/12/09: Fumiko’s Confession (a short animation)
A great short animation called フミコの告白 (Fumiko’s Confession) with some pretty stunning art from a 5-person team of Japanese artists (a making-of post can be found here). There aren’t a whole lot of words, but the gist is that Fumiko declares her love for a boy (Takashi-kun), but he refuses, saying that he wants to focus on his baseball practice instead! At the end, she asks if she can make miso soup for him every day, but his answer is…
11/16/09: Sakai Noriko and “Japanese” Morality
Here’s something about the Japanese music industry that I didn’t realize: if an artist is arrested or does something very embarrassing, their record label pulls all their songs from the shelves! When Sakai Noriko was arrested on drug charges in August, her label managed to remove most of her songs, but a few escaped unnoticed on iTunes. Soon one of her hits from 1995, “Aoi Usagi” (Blue Rabbit), became the #1 seller. The article argues that the Japanese public obviously isn’t as uptight as the record companies when it comes to the “morality” of their artists.
11/16/09: Top 60 Japanese words/phrases of 2009
I always love reading the top words/phrases of the year since they tend to cover some huge parts of Japanese pop culture that were never widely reported in the Western press. Some of my favorites:
• Regime change (seiken koutai – 政権交代): Japan has its own historic election this year as the Democratic Party beat the LDP for the first time in 54 years. Prime Minister Hatoyama was nicknamed “The Alien” (uchuujin – 宇宙人) during the campaign for his “quirky hairstyle, prominent eyes, and eccentric manner.”
• Herbivorous men (soushoku danshi – 草食男子): This was covered in some US papers, but I still like learning the Japanese phrase. These “passive” rather than aggressive men became labeled as a trend, as decribed here.
• Eco-points (eko pointo – エコポイント): The Japanese government gives subsidies in the form of “eco-points” to consumers who purchase eco-friendly devices like special air conditioners, refrigerators, and TVs.
• New flu (shingata infuruenza – 新型インフルエンザ): Japan’s media name for the H1N1 virus, or Swine flu, which has infected about 6 million people in Japan so far.
• 1Q84 (ichi-kyu-hachi-yon – 1Q84): Parts 1 and 2 of Haruki Murakami’s new novel were released this year in Japan, selling out on the day of their release. Part 3 will be released next year, but who knows when there will be an English translation! The title 1Q84 is a play on Orwell’s 1984.
11/18/09: Shichi-Go-San silence?
The Japanese holiday Shichi-Go-San (七五三 – 7-5-3) is celebrated throughout November, and marks the years that children turn 3, 5, or 7 years old along with wishes for good health and long life. More details about the history of the holiday can be found here.
11/18/09: Learn Japanese Kanji – Everyday Kanji (Operating System)
One way to force yourself to practice Japanese would be to use a foreign computer or even to buy a Japanese copy of an operating system like Windows. Luckily, if you’re fairly familiar with the English version of the OS, it’s usually not too difficult to figure out what is meant in Japanese even if you can’t read it. But it’s still not a bad idea to know the kanji!
11/18/09: Endangered Kyoto Machiya
Machiya, the traditional wooden houses/businesses prevalent in Kyoto, have been placed on this year’s World Monuments Fund (WMF) Watch List. They have been disappearing at a rate of about 2% per year due to urban redevelopment.
11/16/09: Alcoholism in Japan
Coverage of a Reuters story about how alcoholism is not often seen as a disease in Japan. There are liquor vending machines all over the place, and when I lived in Kyoto I would regularly see salary men passed out on the sidewalks late at night. Drinking certainly seems to be a big part of work culture in Japan, though the proportion of alcoholics is still less than that of the US or Europe at 0.6%.