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amic - October 2, 2004 12:05 AM (GMT)
a boyfriend pillow?

Boyfriend pillow for Japan singles

Ms Suzuki says the pillow has other advantages
Japan's single women are being offered the ultimate sleeping partner - a comfort to cuddle up to, but one which does not snore or make demands.

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:lol: That's hilarious! Who the heck would think to invent that?!

amic - October 2, 2004 08:20 PM (GMT)
What Japanese Smile are You?

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kimurafan - October 28, 2004 09:33 AM (GMT)
Oddball Car Short Films --


Fascinating article on women in Japan remaining single

Japan's women wary to wed

It is nearly 15 years since Japan's economy ground to a halt, triggering a period of introspection about the country's values and its place in the world. In the first of a special series, BBC News Online's Sarah Buckley reports on women's changing attitudes to marriage. 


Gadget Helps Women Use Bathroom in Japan

Mon Oct 4,10:24 AM ET

By AIKO HAYASHI, Associated Press Writer

TOKYO - When Naoko Ito uses a public bathroom, she cringes in embarrassment at the thought that other patrons can hear the sounds coming from her stall. That's when she turns to the "Sound Princess."

Ito, like a rapidly growing number of Japanese women, presses a device installed in public toilets to simulate the sound of water flushing — and mask the cruder noises of nature.

"I usually use the flushing sound when I go to a public bathroom, such as at a department store, because I get a bit self-conscious," said Ito, a 60-year-old waitress.

The device — a curious mix of Japanese bashfulness and modern technology — is spreading rapidly through public buildings and has now become standard equipment for new construction.

Leading toilet producer Toto Ltd. has sold 500,000 of their "Sound Princess" — "Oto-Hime" in Japanese — since 1988, and the company says orders surged 125 percent in 2003 alone.

"The core of our clientele is schools and companies," Toto spokeswoman Kumi Goto said. "Japanese women are very embarrassed by the sounds they make in a toilet."

There's another reason behind the increase in the gadgets: ecology. Women in Japan have traditionally flushed several times to cover up their noises, so the Sound Princess is saving water and cutting down on public building operators' utility bills.

The Sound Princess is fairly simple. The user passes her hand over a sensor, and the convincing sound of a torrent of water comes from a speaker.

Such gadgets might seem a dainty, modern excess of a shame-obsessed society, but the Sound Princess has deep roots in Japanese culture.

The Japanese are notoriously fastidious: the daily bath is practiced with near-religious fervor, and walking inside with your shoes on is considered filthy. The Japanese word for clean — "kirei" — also means beautiful.

And what happens in a bathroom stall is, well, among the dirtiest things that humans do.

Going to the toilet has been considered embarrassing and even shameful for women since ancient times in Japan, said Noriji Suzuki, a parasitologist at Kochi University Medical School.

"Sometimes you see people talking to each other over a stall in Western countries, but that would never happen in our culture," he said.

The trend is not limited to women these days. Some schools have done away with urinals because boys are increasingly too embarrassed to use the stalls, since going there would tell onlookers exactly what's going to happen next.

Tadafumi Morioka, a spokesman for another Japanese toilet maker, INAX Corp., said his company also started selling a similar product in 1988 amid concerns of wasted water.

He said the installment rate of such devices in modern skyscrapers in Japan is 100 percent. INAX's sales increased 25 percent in 2003, Morioka said, although he refused to give precise numbers.

"Most of the demands for the device come from public facility owners and managers including department stores and elementary and junior high schools," he said.

But for now, "Oto-Hime" seems to likely to remain for women only.

"I still haven't heard of men who say they want 'Oto-hime' in men's rooms," said Goto.



Article: October 27, 2004

Japanese Women Fly into Seoul to Find Their Mr. Right

Guess who's topping Japan's list of favorite Asian actors? A Korean actor takes the number one spot, followed by four other Korean actors, who seem to be riding the Korean Wave that has swept across Japan. The most loved is Bae Yong-joon, the star of the hit drama "Winter Sonata." When Bae took a trip to Japan in April, he was greeted by 5,000 fans at the airport. Bae also placed second after the DVD player on a list of the hottest marketable items in Japan.
"The increasing popularity of Korean actors in Japan has boosted Japanese women's interest in Korean men as a whole. Many have expressed their desire to marry Korean men, so dozens of Japanese have been invited to this unique event in Seoul to see whether they can find their Mr. Right here in Korea," said one event organizer.

After being introduced, participants had a chance to get to know one another. The speed dating event involved participants having five-minute conversations in a rotating sequence. Unfortunately, the unique event ended without the expected results. Not even one couple could be seen by the end of the night. Maybe it was the communication problems since most of the participants needed interpreters. Or maybe it was that people couldn't find suitable matches.

"Although it's sad that I didn't meet someone special today, it was a good experience to have met many Japanese women. I hope I meet someone next time," said one male participant. "I couldn't find my type among the participants. Actually I have a crush on a staff member here."

But the host of the event, Rakuen Korea, an international matchmaker agency, says the disappointing outcome of the night doesn't reflect the reality. In fact, the number of Japanese women marrying Korean men jumped by 30 percent last year compared to 2002. Organizers say this is due to the rise in popularity of Korean men since the Korean wave hit Japan. They add the more the Japanese show interest in Korean people, the more it could contribute to bringing the two countries closer.

Arirang TV

kimurafan - November 12, 2004 10:08 AM (GMT)
TV Restrictions, Taste Differences Hinder Popularity of Japanese Pop Culture in Korea

From October 1998 to September 2003, Korea opened its market to Japanese culture through four graduated stages. The after-effects from the unbarring of the crossbar on "curiosity about taboos," were minor, unlike initial concerns. No "Japanese Wave" is afoot in Korea now. Why? Restrictions on some Japanese dramas and show programs have yet to be lifted for broadcasting on terrestial TV. Japanese record circles cite the terrestial TV restriction as the main cause.
Japan's passive marketing activities from the outset based on Korea's psychological closure is also attributed to the phenomenon. "Spectator numbers have yet to skyrocket because Japanese performers lack in star power," said Cho Sung-gyu, representative of film importer firm Sponge. "Japan is aware of this, but they are not in a hurry to remedy it."

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At a magazine stand in Japan, Korean actors like Bae Yong-jun and Won Bin grace the most magazine covers.

No "Japan complex" is found among those in their 20s, main consumers of mass culture. The most important yardstick accordingly is 'taste," and differences in taste are responsible for sluggish Japanese culture in the country, some specialists noted. Film critique Chun Chan-il said, "Korean films are exceptional and exciting in subject matters and embrace world universality. But Japanese films are much stronger in idiosyncrasy, which does not appeal to Korean viewers."

Records of such popular Japanese singers as L'arc-en-Ciel, Hikaru Utada and Glay (phonetic) sell more than a million sheets in Japan. In Korea, however, 15,000 sheets of their records are sold at the most. In their public performances here, too, many seats are empty. "We did not expect much in the Korean market from the beginning because of the vast differences in the record industry environments of the two countries," said Akira Tanaka, Sony Japan's deputy international marketing chief. The viewing rate of Japanese dramas aired on cable television runs around 1 percent, below that of Korean dramas running for a second or third time.

But Japan's reaction is changing slowly. The Japanese government, along with local autonomous bodies, poured over W7 billion into the 17th Tokyo Film Festival, which closed on Oct. 31, showing an ambition to take back the reputation of the "top Asian film festival" from the Busan Film Festival.

(Pak Eun-ju, )

kimurafan - November 12, 2004 10:15 AM (GMT)
Japanese Women Drawn to Korean Dramas, Language

The "Korean Wave" that followed the broadcast of “Winter Sonata” is now becoming a larger phenomenon sweeping Japan. Korean language learning materials published by NHK are sold out and Japanese women are flocking to Korean language classes.
Mainichi Shimbun reported Friday that the materials for Korean language lectures broadcast on NHK educational television were selling out and plans were being made to republish them. Besides English lecture materials, the Chinese language was the most popular of NHK's foreign language lectures, at 150,000 copies.

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However, 200,000 copies of the Korean lecture materials are due to run out. Mainichi Shimbun reported that NHK assumes this tremendous popularity is due to the section within the book with lines from “Winter Sonata.”
Korean language schools also are enjoying a growth in popularity with women in their late twenties to forties. Mainichi Shimbun said that some language schools in Tokyo have even opened Korean film and drama listening classes.

Nevertheless some point out that the recent “Hanryu Boom” is superficial. They say it is a personality cult rather than something connected to an understanding of Korea itself. The Japanese daily wrote, “Bookstores that introduce Korean dramas are packed with women holding photos of popular Korean actors in their hands. Not one of them turns an eye to an autobiography of a Korean poet who is renowned in Japan.”

(Choi Heup, )

April 2, 2004

kimurafan - November 16, 2004 05:43 AM (GMT)
Japanese princess turns a commoner by marriage
Updated: 2004-11-15 09:29

Imperial Couple's daughter will be a commoner.

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Japan's Princess Nori ® smiles after attending a student speech contest in Tokyo, November 14, 2004. [AP]
Princess Nori, 35-year-old, the only daughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, will marry Yoshiki Kuroda, an official in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, a senior Imperial Household Agency official said Sunday.

An official announcement will be made in late December in line with the wishes of the 35-year-old princess, whose other formal name is Sayako, and the 39-year-old Kuroda, said Shingo Haketa, vice grand steward of the Imperial Household.

The Emperor and Empress have approved the marriage, he said, adding that the wedding will be held as early as this spring. With the marriage, Princess Nori will become a commoner.

The agency planned to announce the engagement earlier this month, but the Emperor and Empress as well as the young couple wanted a postponement out of consideration for the victims of the recent deadly typhoons and earthquakes.

The princess, who Sunday attended a youth speech contest in Tokyo, smiled to reporters when they called out their congratulations.

Kuroda refused to discuss details of the matter with reporters outside his home in Shibuya Ward.

"I'd like to refrain from talking about it before the official announcement," he said. "I hope you understand the circumstances."

Asked whether he had spoken with the princess, he replied: "Today being such a day (with the Imperial Household Agency announcing the upcoming engagement), it was impossible."

He added that he has relatives in Niigata affected by the quakes.

"I would like to spend the days until the official announcement quietly," Kuroda said.

Both Princess Nori and Kuroda are graduates of Gakushuin University in Tokyo.

While at Gakushuin, Kuroda belonged to the nature and culture study club headed by classmate Prince Akishino, Princess Nori's brother and the Emperor and Empress' second son. His wife, Princess Kiko, was also a club member.

Kuroda has been a close friend of Prince Akishino since childhood. He first met the princess through her brother, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

After a long interval, the two were reunited last year at an annual dinner that Prince Akishino holds at his residence for his old schoolmates, after which they became close, sources said. In recent months, Kuroda frequently attended monthly tennis parties also hosted by the prince.

The pair decided to get married in summer, they added.

The last member of the Imperial family to become a commoner by marriage was the Emperor's cousin, Princess Masako, Prince Mikasa's second daughter, who left the family when she got married in October 1983.

Princess Takako, the late Emperor Showa's fifth daughter, was the last member of an emperor's immediate family to leave the Imperial family via marriage. Her wedding was in 1960.

When an Imperial family member becomes a commoner by marriage, he or she gets a lump sum of up to about 150 million yen by law. Princess Takako received 15 million yen at her marriage.

Born April 18, 1969, Princess Nori graduated from the private university in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in Japanese language and literature.

Apart from her official functions, the princess works at the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology in Abiko, Chiba Prefecture, where she has been involved in kingfisher research.

She has also been active in welfare issues, including the training of guide dogs, and classical Japanese dance.

She visited Brazil in 1995, Eastern Europe in 1996, France in 1997, Peru and Bolivia in 1999, and Uruguay and Honduras in 2003 to promote relations between Japan and those countries.

After graduating from the university's law school in 1988, Kuroda joined Mitsui Bank, one of the predecessors of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.

In April 1997, he left for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government out of his desire to serve the public, and now works in its construction department.

Kuroda lives with his mother, Sumiko, 69. His father worked for Toyota Motor Corp. before his death in 1986. He has a younger brother who is married.

"Although he keeps low profile, he has a quick mind and does thankless jobs in the background," said a friend of Kuroda's. "He is very gentle and we see him as our big brother."

Masami Suzuki, Kuroda's superior at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, expressed surprise at reports of the marriage.

"I knew nothing about it because he did not say anything," Suzuki said. "If the reports are true, I'd like to offer my sincere congratulations."

kimurafan - November 23, 2004 07:21 PM (GMT)
Japan's Women Defy Pressure To Wed

TOKYO, Nov. 22, 2004

kimurafan - December 9, 2004 07:24 AM (GMT)
Should English be compulsory in elementary school?

Takahiko Nagoya

After visiting an English class at an elementary school in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward this past January, then education minister Takeo Kawamura told the school's principal, "In the near future, I think there should be English classes in all of Japan's elementary schools."

Kawamura had been cautious in statements about the issue previously. He visited the No. 3 Nippori Elementary School because it took the initiative to make English part of the curriculum for students from the first grade after the central government designated the ward a special educational zone.

His action was quick. In a meeting of the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives in March, he said, "China and South Korea have already done it. I will face the compulsory problem head-on."

He then asked the Central Education Council, a group that advises him, to study whether to introduce compulsory English education at elementary schools.

But the reaction of education ministry bureaucrats was cold. A high-ranking bureaucrat said, "Is there any time for English education?"

The past recommendations from the council were negative to compulsory English education at elementary school, saying, "The priority at the elementary school stage is the fostering of Japanese language skills."

At a meeting of the council's foreign language special division, which opened in April, promoters insisted that compulsory English education should be introduced at an early date if the fostering of teachers and other conditions are in place and that if things are left unattended, Japan will lag behind other Asian countries.

On the other hand, those taking a cautious stance on the matter insisted that priority should be given to improving lessons at junior high schools and higher educational institutions, and that the compulsory curriculum may increase the number of pupils who dislike English.

The division is scheduled to make public by March next year whether English education should be compulsory at elementary school in Japan.

Prior to the adoption of a compulsory English curriculum, many elementary schools are taking up English, and in fiscal 2003, pupils at 88 percent of them studied the language in a general study course.

But hours of English studies vary from one hour a year to two to three hours a week. A junior high school teacher said, "There is already a gap in the level of English proficiency at the time of school entrance. Uniform compulsory education is fair."

Education ministry bureaucrats who had been skeptical about such education are slowly changing their minds.

One said, "The acquisition of correct pronunciation is better done by elementary school pupils."

A nationwide survey by the Japan Public Opinions Survey Society in September about whether English should be made a compulsory subject at elementary school found that 82% of respondents replied in the affirmative, and the percentage among parents having children was 88%.

"Although public opinion gave the green light, the effect from the introduction will not appear until several years later," said a high-ranking education ministry official. "We wonder whether guardians can be patient." (Kyodo News)

December 9, 2004

kimurafan - December 9, 2004 08:16 AM (GMT)
Is this really the end of Godzilla?

Steve Trautlein

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Godzilla appears in his 28th and reportedly final film, "Godzilla: Final wars" PHOTO BY TOHO

TOKYO — For the legions of Godzilla fans around the world, 2004 dawned with a sense of optimism. The monster's latest three films combined an old-school sense of fun with whiz-bang computer effects, restored the franchise's luster following the disastrous American version of 1998.

A well-received Godzilla-themed exhibition at the Taro Okamoto Museum of Art in Kawasaki, as well as an academic conference in October at the University of Kansas, signaled that the monster had won a place in the cultural mainstream. And to top it all off, 2004 would celebrate the star's 50th birthday.

A 1985 New York Times survey asked 1,500 readers to name a famous Japanese person, and they came up with Emperor Hirohito (then 84), Bruce Lee (American) and Godzilla.

But then, on March 2, the president of Toho Films managed to do what no three-headed monster or gigantic flying moth had done for half a century: He killed Godzilla. "Until there is completely new technology and know-how," Shogo Tomiyama said at a Tokyo press conference that had the air of a funeral, "we won't be making another Godzilla movie."

If "Godzilla: Final Wars," which opens at theaters nationwide on Saturday, is in fact the last film in the series, it will mark the end of one of the most recognizable characters of world cinema — a celebrity who's served as an emblem of Japanese-American relations and who's provided a sometimes shaky bridge between Japan and the West.

Too profitable to abandon

There are several compelling reasons to doubt that "Godzilla: Final Wars" will, in fact, be the monster's swan song. First and foremost is the bottom line; for Toho to abandon its most bankable star strikes many observers as unthinkable.

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"I feel that this was a marketing decision, pure and simple," says William Tsutsui, a history professor at the University of Kansas and author of "Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters." "Killing off Godzilla — again — should deliver solid ticket sales in Japan and kindle the interest of distributors around the world."

The decision appears to have already paid off. This week's Tokyo opening was overshadowed by a splashy premiere on Nov 29 at fabled Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, where, preceding the film, Godzilla received his own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. These and other ceremonies led the LA County Board of Supervisors to, in all seriousness, declare November "Godzilla Month."

By comparison, the previous two films in the series ("Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla"(2002) and Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), which were released without the buzz surrounding Godzilla's imminent demise, failed to even attract a U.S. distributor.

Another reason for fans to be hopeful about the monster's eventual resurrection is the fact that Toho has in the past found it difficult to kick the Godzilla habit. The original film, 1954's "Gojira" (the Japanese name comes from mixing the words for whale — "kujira" — and gorilla), ends with the dinosaur being killed by an oxygen-eating machine in his undersea lair, but that movie's stunning popularity led to a sequel the following year, "Gojira no Gyakushu" (The Return of Godzilla).

Similarly, the success of 1968's "Kaiju soshingeki" (Destroy All Monsters), which featured a climactic battle among 11 giant creatures, led Toho to rethink its decision to abandon the franchise. And while it's unlikely that "Godzilla: Final Wars" will be such a surprise hit that Toho pushes through a successor in like fashion, fans can take heart in the similarities between those previous eras and what's happening now.

Godzilla ran out of steam in mid-1970s

"By the mid-1970s, the Godzilla films had clearly run their course in many different ways," Tsutsui says, referring to the 13 movies released from 1962-75, which included such bellwether efforts as "Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster" (1964) and "Monster Zero" (1965).

"Box office receipts were weak and no combination of gimmicks seemed able to revive them. The target demographic (young boys) were increasingly being enticed out of movie theaters by television, animation and new entertainment forms."

Toho certainly wasn't shy about using any publicity stunt it could think of to drum up interest. Sensing early on that the U.S. would be a key market, the studio pitted Godzilla against the movie monster that started it all. "Kingukongu tai Gojira" (King Kong vs Godzilla, 1962), the biggest-grossing entry of this period, ushered in many of the franchise's familiar tropes: the film was shot in color; Godzilla fights an enemy his own size; and the big green monster not only threatens Japan, but is enlisted to protect it from an even greater menace.

The next several movies would try variations on that formula while introducing such familiar characters as Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah. But by 1967's "Gojira no Musuko" (Son of Godzilla), the strain was obvious. The title character of that film, a dwarfish yellow pipsqueak with doe-like eyes who blows fire rings instead of jets of flame like his dad, was created in a bid to attract preteens. But as the emblem of a cherished film franchise reduced to pandering to the kiddy market, the son of Godzilla became his generation's Jar Jar Binks. "Destroy all Monsters" briefly revived hopes about the series the following year, but at the end of 1975's poorly received "The Terror of Mechagodzilla," when Godzilla walks out to sea after fighting a scorched earth battle against his metallic clone, he effectively takes the franchise with him.

Today, the series is suffering from a similar malaise. "We have done all we can to showcase Godzilla, including using computer-graphics technology," Toho's Tomiyama said. "And yet we haven't attracted new fans."

Tomiyama doesn't discount a return at some point, and fans can hope that history repeats itself. After a break of nine years, Toho revived its franchise for "Gojira 1985," bringing the monster back for another seven moderately successful films before 1995's "Godzilla vs Destroyer."

That movie, too, was seen as the end of the line, this time to pave way for the big-budget American version starring Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno — one that threatened to steal Japan's most beloved film character. "The possibility that Godzilla might become an American franchise seemed very real back then," Tsutsui says. "Fans took this ?edeath of Godzilla' very seriously at the time and many were said to have left movie theaters in tears."

Godzilla's distinguished pedigree

Such a reaction might seem strange for a film that's often held up as the embodiment of kitsch, but in fact Godzilla has a surprisingly distinguished pedigree. Sharing the Toho stable with the big green monster was famed director Akira Kurosawa, who at the time was producing some of his most acclaimed films. Toho's other big release of 1954 was "Shichinin no samurai" (Seven Samurai), and the studio regularly rotated actors and crew among its projects.

The director of the original Godzilla, Ishiro Honda, was a lifelong Kurosawa collaborator, and the film's haunting martial theme was scored by the eminent composer Akira Ifukube.

"This is the period of the great Japanese film," says Mark Schilling, film critic and the author of "The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture."

It was also the golden age of grade-B science fiction movies. Schilling points out that a re-release of "King Kong" in 1952 sparked an interest in the genre, which Hollywood capitalized on by releasing such monster-on-the-loose films as "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" and "It Came from Beneath the Sea." "

Godzilla," with the tagline "It makes King Kong look like a midget," distinguished itself by having a man in a costume instead of the tiny models that the Americans used for their beasts. Known as "suitmation," this innovation resulted in significantly reduced production costs and changed the face of sci-fi films. The movies also appealed to an audience longing for a lighter alternative to the ponderous postwar films. "There was this whole entire other market of people who didn't want to bare their souls," Schilling says.

In other ways, too, the original film is emblematic of its time and place. Gojira's scenes of a ravaged Japan played on the emotions of a war-weary audience that had lived through the fire bombings of Tokyo and that had seen Hiroshima and Nagasaki reduced to atomic rubble. "The scenes are virtually identical to photos taken of Japan's firebombed and A-bombed cities at the end of the war," Tsutsui says of the destruction Godzilla leaves in his wake. The movie also alludes to the numerous natural disasters visited on Japan. Schilling points out that Godzilla's approach is often announced by his rumbling footsteps, which resemble the onset of an earthquake.

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Godzila captured postwar Japan's mood

"In the 1950s, Japan was a weak and vulnerable place," Tsutsui says. "The nation was just beginning to recover economically, the Cold War was raging, and the Japanese people felt little confidence about their future. The 1954 'Gojira' captured these fears and this insecurity perfectly."

Indeed, the first film, when viewed today after decades of lighter monster-movie fare, is shockingly brutal and unafraid to heap scorn on the Americans. The blame for Godzilla awakening from his ancient slumber is laid squarely on U.S. nuclear weapons testing. Scientists investigating a Godzilla attack visit a hospital and take a Geiger counter reading of a healthy-looking girl in pigtails, and a grim knowledge passes between them — she's doomed to a slow death by radiation poisoning. Another scene shows a mother clutching three young children as Godzilla approaches and buildings crumble around her. "We'll be joining father soon," she tells them, a not-so-veiled reference, says Schilling, to the preponderance of war widows in the country.

But perhaps the most explicit dig at the U.S. — and the one that would have the most immediate resonance among contemporary Japanese audiences — occurs in the film's opening scene. The crew of a fishing boat is relaxing during a calm night on the high seas. Suddenly the waters churn off the starboard stern, and as the men look on, they're stunned by a blinding flash of light and their ship is engulfed by flames. The few surviving crew members are later seen to be suffering from radiation illness.

This scene alludes to the events of March 1, 1954, when Americans tested the first hydrogen bomb in the Bikini Atoll — without alerting the Japanese. A fishing trawler named the Fukuryu Maru, or Lucky Dragon, found itself squarely in the fallout's path, and the crew of 23 became seriously ill; one man would later die of kidney failure. The incident aroused widespread anger in Japan.

It's perhaps unsurprising, then, that when the American production company Embassy Pictures released the film in the U.S. as "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!" in 1956, they discarded most of the references to war and nuclear weapons and instead concentrated on the film's more adventuresome aspects.

In the Japanese version, the monster appears fully only half-way through the film, but the U.S. movie begins with the destruction of Tokyo. An American narrator is added, the dialogue is dubbed, and scenes are reordered. And according to David Kalat's "A Critical History & Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series" (McFarland and Co, 1997), some of the edits have more sinister overtones. In the American version, the narrator implies that a shipwrecked Godzilla victim has died, but in the Japanese film he's only wounded — and appears in later scenes. Embassy Pictures, claims Kalat, did "not expect American viewers to be able to recognize Japanese faces with ease, a racist assumption that justifies the sloppy editing."

Low point was 1998 Hollywood version

But in the history of the two countries' filmic misunderstandings of each other, the low point was certainly the shockingly bad American-made "Godzilla" of 1998. Riding sky-high expectations thanks to an unprecedented marketing campaign and the success of the producer-director team's previous hit, "Independence Day" (1994), the film was a critical, commercial, and artistic catastrophe.

Many reasons have been given for its failure, but Toho's Tomiyama offers one that speaks to differing cultural sensibilities. "In the American version, Godzilla wasn't the leading character," he says. The American monster was also so different physically that he shows up to fight his Japanese counterpart in "Godzilla: Final Wars."

That's not the only surprise that Godzilla's curtain call will offer. "We're cramming all the attractions of 50 years of Godzilla into this movie," Tomiyama says in an interview at the company's Shinbashi office, which resembles countless others around Tokyo save for the walls and shelves full of posters, models and other artifacts of a half-century of monster films.

Among the cities on Godzilla's hit list are Sydney, Paris, Shanghai and New York, and with location shoots at each, the film's budget soared to more than $9 million, the highest of any Japanese entry in the series. The movie is directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, who also helmed the Japanese cult favorite "Azumi" (2003), and whom Toho calls "the hottest Japanese director working in Hollywood." For once, that PR proclamation rings of the truth: Kitamura's "Versus" was a bigger hit on the international circuit than in his homeland.

It would be difficult, too, to overstate Godzilla's importance both in and outside of cinema. Almost single-handedly establishing the look and feel of "kaiju eiga," or monster movies, the beast has had an impact on everything from Japan's international image to the workings of the English language.

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Tsutsui points to a 1985 New York Times survey of 1,500 Americans who, when asked to name a famous Japanese person, came up with Emperor Hirohito (then 84 and rarely seen in public), Bruce Lee (American) and Godzilla. Respondents today may well cite Hideki Matsui, whose nickname is of course "Godzilla" and who had a cameo in 2002's "Gojira tai Mekagojira." The suffix "zilla," Tsutsui points out, is "universally understood as meaning something big, mean and fearsome."

Although Toho's Tomiyama has the dubious distinction of being the man who put an end to Godzilla, he is well aware of the big green monster's legacy. "Godzilla is the brightest dream and at the same time is the most horrific nightmare of the Japanese cinema," he writes on the film's website.

Indeed, it's hard to imagine a world without Godzilla. For now, the monster's fans are left to hope that "Final Wars" is good-bye, not sayonara. "A few years without new films might actually stir fan enthusiasm and drive feelings of nostalgia for Godzilla among the movie-going public," Tsutsui says. "Godzilla has died before, and he's always come roaring back."

December 3, 2004

kimurafan - December 9, 2004 09:23 PM (GMT)
Japan extends troops mission in Iraq 2004-12-09 15:24:57

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File photo dated on June, 25, 2004 shows a troop of Japan's Self-Defense Forces' was leaving Japan. Japan's cabinet decided Thursday to extend the Self-Defense Forces' (SDF) humanitarian assistance operation in Iraq by one year until Dec. 14, 2005. (Xinhua file photo)

TOKYO, Dec. 9 (Xinhuanet) -- Japan's cabinet decided Thursday to extend the Self-Defense Forces' (SDF) humanitarian assistance operation in Iraq by one year until Dec. 14, 2005.

More than 500 SDF's ground troops are stationed in Iraq's southern city of Samawah, backed up by air and maritime forces in Kuwait. The current one-year mission will expire on Tuesday.

The revised plan left unchanged the cap of 600 ground troops and eight aircraft in the mission.

Also in the new plan, the government showed flexibility in pullout timetable, saying it will pay attention to the progress of reconstruction activities and Iraq's political process, security conditions, activities of the multinational forces and other issues and respond with appropriate measures when necessary.

The added clause apparently was meant to address concerns that deteriorating local security situation could inflict SDF casualties.

Defense Agency Director Yoshinori Ono paid a five-hour visit tothe SDF's camp on Sunday and reported to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Tuesday, saying the situation was stable enough for a prolonged stay.
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"I have concluded that it is appropriate to extend the deployment for one year, as the next year will be an important onefor Iraq," Koizumi told a press conference after the endorsement, citing Iraq's election scheduled for late January and the expected completion of the multinational forces' mission in December next year.

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"I have concluded that it is appropriate to extend the deployment for one year, as the next year will be an important onefor Iraq," Koizumi told a press conference after the endorsement, citing Iraq's election scheduled for late January and the expected completion of the multinational forces' mission in December next year. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)

Japan's cabinet decided Thursday to extend the Self-Defense Forces' (SDF) humanitarian assistance operation in Iraq by one year until Dec. 14, 2005. Japanese media polls have shown that the majority of Japanese opposed the prolonged mission out of safety concern. (Xinhua/Reuters photo)

He said that Samawah's security situation was "unpredictable," yet still "relatively stable," stressing the place had not yet become a combat area.

Japanese media polls have shown that the majority of Japanese opposed the prolonged mission out of safety concern. The worry was aggravated after the Dutch government announced it would withdraw troops in charge of local security next March.

The opposition parties voiced their objection to the extension,demanding an immediate withdrawal.

The SDF camp has come under shell attacks and six Japanese were abducted by militants who demanded a pullout. One was killed. The Japanese territory also could become a target.

"What Koizumi should do now is to accept the actual conditions on the ground in Iraq and completely pull out the troops by March when the Dutch troops are to leave after the Iraqi parliamentary election is held. The prime minister should think afresh what Japan can do to help the Iraqis stand on their own feet," the Asahi Shimbun said in an editorial when the extension was poised to be adopted.

Still, any trade of fire, even if for self-defense, would be highly controversial given Japan's pacifist constitution. The opposition parties are arguing that the unrest in Iraq has made ithard to call Samawah a non-combat place, a legal prerequisite for the SDF's presence.

As one of the staunchest allies of the United States, Japan hasthrown strong backing to a series of US military operations. They are in talks on US troops realignment and teamed up in developing ballistic missile defense systems. The United States also plays a vital role in bailing out Japan's decade-long sluggish economy.

The bitter opposition from Germany and France over the invasionand sudden pullout of Spanish troops raged the United States and made relations soured between Washington and its traditional allies.

Tokyo does not want to risk losing a hand from the United States in dealing with what it claims threat from the neighboring Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Moreover, South Korea -- another firm partner of the United States in Asia -- is still keeping its about 3,600 troops in Iraq and is likely to extend the mission by an additional year until the end of 2005.

The extension was "necessary for Japan's peace and stability tobuild up trust as an ally at a time when the United States is struggling," the premier told the press conference.

"This decision of mine is to realize Japan's policy of pursuingboth the Japan-US alliance and international coordination," he said.

"Providing humanitarian relief and helping the Iraqi people reconstruct their war-torn nation was not the primary purpose of the Japanese government's dispatch of the SDF to Iraq. Its main aim was to toe the line of US Iraq policy," said Takahito Tanaka, a professor of international political history at Hitotsubashi University, in an article to Asahi Shimbun.

He also pointed out that Koizumi administration capitalized on the dispatch to "lift restrictions on the use of military force."

The mission in Iraq is the largest overseas dispatch of the SDFsince it first sent troops abroad in the early 1900s after the World War II. It is also the first time the SDF went to a place where conflicts are going on. The move has heavily rocked the constitutional taboo and paved way for further similar missions.

Japan's war-renouncing constitution denies the right of belligerency of the state.

kimurafan - December 11, 2004 09:13 PM (GMT)
Japanese animation catching on in US
Updated: 2004-12-10 11:15

Animation in America once meant Mickey Mouse, Snow White and Winnie the Pooh. These days, it's just as likely to mean Japanese fighting cyborgs, doe-eyed schoolgirls and sinister monsters — thanks in large part to people like John Ledford.

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This illustration distributed in Tokyo Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2004, by A.D. Vision Inc., a Houston, Texas-based distributor of Japanese 'manga' comics and animation, shows characters of 'Full Metal Panic!.' The elite soldier Sosuke Sagara, center, and high schoolgirl Chidori Kaname, right with a smiling face, are the main characters. [AP]

The 36-year-old American is one of the top foreign distributors of Japanese "manga" comics and animation, known as "anime," building his fortune on a genre that is rapidly changing from a niche market to a mass phenomenon.

Ledford, who's so busy his dubbing studio in Houston runs 24 hours a day, says the key to the success of Japanese manga and anime in the United States is their widely varied, cutting-edge subject matter.

"We're kind of like the anti-Disney," Ledford, a bespectacled, fast-talking man with a friendly smile, said during a recent visit to Tokyo. "Disney is very family type. We are appealing to the video-game, PlayStation, Generation X, Generation Y kind of crowd in America."

Although American animation releases, such as "Toy Story," "Shrek" and "The Incredibles," continue to wow audiences, they are largely aimed at children.

Japanese anime and manga spans a wide range of topics, including science fiction, horror-thrillers and soap-operatic melodrama. At American video-rental shops, whole shelves are taken up by titles like "Ninja Resurrection," "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and "Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040."

One animation, "Ghost in the Shell" takes place in a futuristic world, where memories become individual identities that jump like spirits from one mechanical body to another, a dark science fiction that raises questions about death and the metaphysical threat from technology.

Another, "Apocalpyse Meow," chronicles the adventures of three brave rabbits fighting as American soldiers in the Vietnam War. The rabbits tromp through jungles dressed in camouflage and wielding machine guns, taking part in nightmarish battles amid smoking explosions and hovering helicopters.

Kathie Borders, who runs Wizzywig Collectibles, a store devoted to manga and anime in Ann Arbor, Mich., which carries Ledford's videos and books, says the popularity of Pokemon and YuGiOh! — perhaps the best-known characters — has propelled a boom in anime that's not only for the usually male, 20-something video-game-loving crowd. It's now drawing fans of all ages, and increasingly, women.

"They're fascinated by the difference in the culture," Borders said in a telephone interview, giving as an example stories starring Japanese schoolgirls. "They like reading something that's not the normal, run-of-the-mill story that they might have been used to."

The heroines may wear uniforms and go to schools that have strict rules compared to American schools, but universal themes, such as falling in love and growing up, transcend cultural boundaries, she said.

Ledford, who speaks a little Japanese, started out by bringing video games from Japan to the United States after dropping out of college. He later expanded into manga and anime.

His first anime deal was in 1992 for the cartoon version of his best-selling video-game "Devil Hunter Yoko," about a teenager who defeats goblins — an investment returned in full in just three months. More recently, Ledford's A.D. Vision Inc. has been taking part in funding for Japanese animation. His film unit now records $150 million in annual sales.

Ledford also has 1,000 manga books under license and publishes Newtype USA, the English-language version of a top manga and animation monthly magazine. His Anime Network moved from video-on-demand to a national cable network in July.

Manga and anime may not be for everyone with their heavy dosage of corny romanticism, blood-splattering violence and pubescent sense of erotica. But both are clearly no longer just for Japanese geeks as their counterparts in the United States, Europe and other parts of Asia simply can't get enough.

Shoji Udagawa, vice president at Kadokawa Pictures Inc., a major Japanese film studio, said Ledford understands anime and can help create works that will appeal to Americans as well as to Japanese. Americans tend to like anime with a darker ambiance such as those with robots, he said.

"He fits in well with Japanese but he has something that Japanese don't have," Udagawa said.

Bandai Co. Ltd., a major Japanese toymaker, and electronics and entertainment giant Sony Corp. also distribute anime in the United States, such as "Gundam," "Astro Boy" and "Cowboy Bebop." But the established companies tend to look for sure winners, Ledford says, while he offers a broader lineup.

Pokemon alone earned about $29 billion around the world since 1997, and the U.S. anime business, including licensed character goods and box-office revenue, is estimated at $4 billion a year, according to the Japanese government.

Works like "Spirited Away" by Hayao Miyazaki, which won an Oscar and the Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival, are helping raise anime's reputation.

Kelly Lamb, a 14-year-old Ann Arbor high school student, has never been to Japan but is an avid anime fan and sometimes makes her own anime-inspired costumes.

"It's so funny and so hysterical," she said of "Excel Saga," one of her favorites. "If you're really feeling down, it's so funny it cheers you up."

Since we are on the topic of anime, here are a couple of photos to go with it.

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Chinese models dress up as cartoon characters at the Shanghai International Animation & Cartoon Fair 2003, which opened in Shanghai's Oriental Pearl TV Tower August 2, 2003. A number of well-known cartoon and animation masters in China and Japan, such as Ao Youxiang, Sun Jiayu, Bai Xiaoding, Xu Peiyu, and Yosime attend the fair. Thousands of children, who are now on summer vocation, are expected to visit the event. []

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A Chinese teenager post for pictures with cartoon characters at the Shanghai International Animation & Cartoon Fair 2003 August 2, 2003.

kimurafan - January 22, 2005 06:51 PM (GMT)
An old article but nevertheless interesting.

Japanese makeup artist dazzles behind the Hollywood scene

By Keiko Uesugi
Mainichi Shimbun

March 19, 2002

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Kaori Nara Turner (left) was born in Tokyo in 1933. She began to train in traditional Japanese dance and tap dancing at the age of six and became a professional dancer at 14.
After some years as a top star of Asakusa's "Shinsekai," she moved to the United States.
After her marriage, a torn ligament forced her into retirement. She began to help her husband with his work, and eventually became a makeup artist in her own right.
In 1978, she became an official member of Hollywood's Makeup Artists' Union (1600 members), which was a first for a Japanese national.
Today, she is the only Japanese listed among the union's 300 "top artists."

It was a fairytale wedding aboard a ship anchored in Hong Kong Harbor. The groom was Bill Turner, an Academy Award-winning makeup artist.
The year was 1965, and the bride, Kaori Nara, felt like a heroine in a Hollywood film. In fact, the ship happened to be the one on which "The Sand Pebbles," a film starring Steve McQueen, was being shot, so the wedding was virtually a scene from a Hollywood movie.

Kaori was a dancer in those days, and she was part of a show presented at a Hong Kong hotel. The "The Sand Pebbles" film crew were staying at that particular hotel, and they looked in on the show one night.

A few days later, Bill asked Kaori out to dinner; two weeks later, he proposed. She said no, but then Steve McQueen, whose makeup man Bill happened to be, dropped in to tell her what a wonderful guy Bill was.

Soon afterwards, when police stopped Kaori one night for violating the late-night curfew, it was Bill who rescued her. That was when she decided to say yes. A month and a half after meeting Bill, Kaori became Kaori Nara Turner.

"I was 31 and he was 40. Bill was looked upon as one of Hollywood's most handsome and eligible bachelors, so both the Hollywood and Hong Kong papers made a great fuss about the wedding," eminisces Kaori. Bill died ten years ago, and the newspaper clippings are some of Kaori's most precious souvenirs of that happy time.

After their marriage, the Turners set up housekeeping in Los Angeles. Kaori became a makeup artist like her husband, and after working on several hit movies and TV dramas, she had a reputation to rival her husband's. "Star Trek," "Cannonball 2," "American Beauty," "Charlie's Angels," "Ali McBeal," and "ER" are some of the shows she has worked on. It was especially after the 1983 film "Flash Dance," where she did body makeup work on four stand-in dancers to make them look like the same person, that she won a reputation for first-rate work.

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Kaori Nara Turner (right) and Bruce Willis (center)

"Some people think I've led a charmed life, but it was just a matter of taking life step by step. I never let an ordeal or a setback go by without learning something from it, " she says.

The "secrets" of Kaori's rise to the top are, in addition to her technique, the bright smile that has earned her the nickname of "Miss Sunshine," and her "magic hands." Every morning, she smiles brightly at grumpy stars and massages them into relaxation before transforming them into stars with her makeup techniques. Julie Andrews, Kim Basinger and many others stars would often ask for her by name, saying that Kaori's massages were the best way to relax.

Kaori deplores the coolness of the Japanese government towards expatriates, but at least one local government did not miss the opportunity to applaud her hard work. Over four days starting on February 14, the city of Yubari in Hokkaido hosted an event called the "Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival 2002" and awarded her the "Max Factor Beauty Spirit Award" -- given to women who excel in the film industry.

Kaori's bright smile and magic hands charmed people in Hokkaido too. "I did a free makeup show at a local beauty shop. When a woman who had never worn makeup in her life declared that she was so pleased that she wouldn't wash her face that night, it brought tears to my eyes."

In November 2001, Kaori published a book from Kadokawa Shoten called "Makeup Hollywood." The proceeds from the book will be donated to a retirement home for Japanese expatriates living in the United States. "I want to help the people who came before me to this foreign country and worked hard to get by, and I also want to learn more about the goodness of people. I still have a lot to learn."

kimurafan - January 22, 2005 06:53 PM (GMT)
Harry Potter casts magic spell on Japanese translator's life

By Kinya Tsubu
Mainichi Shimbun

January 16, 2002

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Yuko Matsuoka, Japanese translator of the Harry Potter books and head of Sayzansha, publishing. Matsuoka hails from Fukushima Prefecture and is a graduate of International Christian University. She became head of Sayzansha after its first president, her husband, passed away in 1998. She is 58 years old.

Yuko Matsuoka spent a magical New Year's Eve that was like no other she had ever experienced -- as an honorary judge for NHK's annual Kohaku Song Contest. "It's part of the spell cast by Harry Potter," she says.
Matsuoka is the Japanese translator of the Harry Potter books, which so far have sold nine and a half million copies in this country.

Matsuoka encountered Harry for the first time in October 1998, when she stopped in London to visit friends on the way home from a job as a simultaneous interpreter at an international conference. The friend handed her his copy of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" and said that if she could win the Japanese rights to the book, she would make enough money to build a mansion. Matsuoka found the book so absorbing that she lost a night's sleep reading it. And she also decided that she wanted to be the one to translate and publish it.

Matsuoka called the author's agent at once. Her enthusiasm for the project led to her offer being accepted over three others, from larger and more established publishing firms. It was less than a year since she had taken over Sayzansha, the tiny publisher she inherited from her husband. The firm had exactly one employee at the time. Matsuoka knew little of the ins and outs of publishing, but she decided that this was the time to be reckless.

"When the first book sold well, I thought, well now I can afford to publish the second one. And I can pay the people who helped me do the first one." She says it was her happiest moment as a business chief.

"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" have been published in Japanese and all are best sellers. As the books sell more and more, Matsuoka gets busier and busier. Recently, she has been getting most of her sleep in cars and planes as she moves from one place to another.

"What would I do if I could use magic?" she asks herself.
"Instantaneous travel would be a handy trick."

Matsuoka is still active as a simultaneous conference interpreter, which she regards as her main occupation, while she also works at translating, publishing and giving lectures. This attractive lady is at the prime of her busy life, chasing three and even four rabbits across the horizon of the 21st century.

kimurafan - January 22, 2005 07:00 PM (GMT)
Cleaning the top of the world

By Sei Ishihara
Staff Writer

July 10, 2001

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Noguchi, center, and companions sift through rubbish collected from the top of the world.

When you've become the youngest climber to reach the top of the world, further challenges must be difficult for a peak-scaler to dream up.
But mountain climber Ken Noguchi, of Koganei-shi, Tokyo, kept his sights on Mt. Everest, which he conquered at the age of 25. Noguchi is helping clean up the world's highest mountain (8,850).
Now 27, he has also taken part in cleanup climbs of Japan's Mt. Fuji (3,776 meters) and continues to work actively to conserve mountain environments.

The Mainichi Shimbun interviewed him about the importance of keeping mountains clean.

Mainichi: What got you involved in cleaning up Mt. Everest?

Noguchi: When I climbed Mt. Everest for the first time in 1997 as part of an international team, I saw an unbelievable amount of garbage on the way up.
I decided that once I'd climbed Mt. Everest and completed my ... (other attempts) on seven continents, I'd work to clean up the mountain. I began to participate in actual cleanups in 2000.

M: What are your impressions now, after working last year and this year?

N: One thing that can be said for Japanese teams is that they've been leaving behind a lot less trash since the 1990s. On the other hand, we also picked up a lot of stuff that was probably left behind by climbers who went up about the same time as us. On Mt. Everest, there are two types of climbers: those who litter and those who don't. Westerners seem to have an aversion to littering, but the Japanese, Chinese and Koreans don't. I think this has more to do with national ideas about the environment rather than with personal morals.

M: You mean that littering is a matter of national character?

N: Yes. But the one exception is human bodily waste. No national group seems to be aware what a problem human waste can be. Mt. Everest is mostly ice, so there are no bacteria -- and human excrement just stays there forever. The camp at 6,400 meters was really foul. Tibetan villagers 20 kilometers downstream live on water that melts off the glaciers, and one of these days, they're going to suffer the consequences.

M: People say that Mt. Fuji, the so-called symbol of Japan, is also badly littered with trash left behind by climbers.

N: I've climbed mountains all over the world, and Fuji is the only mountain in the world with vending machines on the summit. Not just that -- the toilets empty onto the mountainside. There's no soil on top of Mt. Fuji, so human waste is never broken down and it stays there to harm the environment. Reinhold Messner, the famous climber, once said that the Himalayas must not be permitted to become like Mt. Fuji. Fuji is world famous as a filthy mountain.

M: There's a public phone and even a post office on top of Mr. Fuji.

N: Fuji is part of a national park, but there are so many man-made things there. Especially garbage. Maybe people think that someone is going to clean up after them. Lots of people have some very basic misconceptions about climbing Fuji. Someone at the Environment Ministry told me that a travel agency once called to inquire if there is a convenience store on the summit. It's really unbelievable.
I climbed Mt. McKinley (in Alaska) in 1993 and 1996, and there was no litter there. People who climb McKinley are required to watch a video beforehand that instructs them not to leave behind any trash or bodily waste. And there are rangers who climb as far as the 5,000-meter camp to keep an eye on things. Rule-breakers are fined. They have very solid rules there.

M: And the Japanese don't?

N: I think that national parks that attract a lot people -- places like Fuji and Kamikochi -- should require visitors to pay entrance fees. No matter how careful they try to be, people always damage the environment. The money can be used to fight the damage.
In August, I'm going to make a tour of 10 or so national parks in America, and I'm thinking of interviewing people who have actually paid entrance fees to visit such parks. I want to know if they're paying unwillingly or if they accept it as something they have to do. I have the feeling that there are very few unwilling payers.
In Japan, people tend to become very suspicious when you talk about collecting money for conservation, but it really does cost money to protect things. There used to be a lot of opposition to paying entrance fees, but times changed, and I think people will accept it now.

kimurafan - January 24, 2005 05:12 AM (GMT)
'Failure is Not Just an Individual Matter'
A professor of sports philosophy explains why Japanese athletes have become expert in saying sorry

The Agony of Defeat: The enormous expectations Japan places on its athletes mean no one is having much fun

September 27, 2000
Web posted at 3:00 p.m. Hong Kong time, 3:00 a.m. EDT

On the roster of career choices, "sports philosopher" sounds like a fairly inventive one. But that's exactly what 39-year-old Mitsunori Urushibara, a professor at Japan's Shikoku Gakuin University, is. Really. TIME Tokyo Bureau Chief Tim Larimer talked to Urushibara recently as some of Japan's Olympians in Sydney cracked under intense pressure to bring home gold medals.

TIME: Why does Japan put so much pressure on its athletes?
Urushibara: Japanese athletes are placed in sports circles, which are just a miniature version of Japanese society, where each individual knows where he or she is [placed] in terms of the community. Each person knows exactly what is expected of him or her. The role of the group, not individualism, is very important.

TIME: The group mentality affects just about everything in Japan, no?
Urushibara: It works positively in team sports, like volleyball. That's why Japan was really good at volleyball back in the 1960s. And that's why they're good at soccer now. Sometimes, when it works in a positive way, this kind of pressure works. But in individual sports, when there is extremely strong pressure on an athlete to win, and he cannot, then he is put in very weak position, and his position in the community is questioned.

TIME: That sounds like what happened to Suzu Chiba, the swimmer who lost at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and was left off of this year's team.
Urushibara: In her case it wasn't an individual issue, but a matter for the team. When we talk about 'the team,' it is different from the concept of 'the team' in the West. In the Japanese athletes' mentality, the team means village, a very old-fashioned village where a mayor lords over the other villagers. A very hierarchical relationship exists. In this case, the mayor is the head of the swimming federation. He's like the Emperor. Chiba therefore has to act like one of the village members. She should have known what to do for the community-- and feel responsibility. Because of the village mentality, failure is not just an individual matter. Athletes are also terrified of being excommunicated from the group.

TIME: That sounds horrible! It's bad enough to lose, but then to think you'll be shunned after you lose.
Urushibara: That's the characteristic of Japanese sports. It's pretty much an authoritarian system that rules.

TIME: Doesn't this kind of pressure hinder Japanese athletes?
Urushibara: I think you are probably right. On the other hand, it sometimes helps.

TIME: Do you feel sorry for the athletes?
Urushibara: Well, yes, and it was really a relief that Ryoko Tamura [the 48-kg judoka] got the gold medal. If she didn't win, it would have been a terrible thing. Japanese people really pressure the athletes. The Japanese media also play a role in this. Everybody experiences this culture of pressure: bosses do it to workers, the media does it to athletes... They make it so the sports are not just to enjoy. In the process they make the athletes agonize over their events. It's often said the difference between the U.S. Major Leagues and Japan's professional baseball league is that the Japanese players don't enjoy the game.

TIME: Before the Olympics started, I interviewed baseball pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. He started to talk about having fun at the Olympics, how he was looking forward to meeting players from other countries. Then he stopped himself and said, "I shouldn't say that. Of course I am going to pitch well and win."
Urushibara: That's very characteristic of Japan. You know, many Japanese people came to Australia and went straight from the airport to watch the Japanese soccer team play. They didn't even go to their hotel--the next day they were back at work. That is typical: They came to Australia not just to enjoy themselves, but to cheer for Japan. My Australian friends asked me, "Why don't they go sightseeing?" I told them they just came to see the soccer game, but the Australians couldn't understand that.

TIME: Do these fans ever have fun?
Urushibara: Young people came wearing samurai wigs. Older people cheered and waved flags. They cheered in the right way--the way you are supposed to. It was very Japanese. They aren't just enjoying themselves; they have a sense that it is compulsory, that they have to behave in the correct way as a Japanese. I lived in Australia for a long time, so I was kind of neutral. I wasn't cheering wholeheartedly. The other Japanese looked at me and were wondering, "What nationality is this guy?" Japanese fans are very polite, on the other hand. Europeans use slanderous words at soccer games. Japanese don't do that. Another typical thing: While I was there, a Japanese girl was calling a friend back in Japan, from a telephone booth. She said, "I came to Australia to cheer." I thought that was very Japanese. She didn't come to watch the game. She came to cheer for the athletes.

TIME: The baseball fans in Japan are famous for their robot-like, monotonous cheering. It can really give someone a headache!
Urushibara: Especially the cheerleaders. They are not even looking at the game. They are there to cheer the team, not to watch the game. It's like a job.

TIME: We laugh about this, but of course there have been examples where this kind of pressure has had tragic results. Like the marathon bronze medallist in 1964, Kokichi Tsuburaya, who committed suicide when injury forced him to miss the Games four years later.
Urushibara: I hope the Japanese athletes today won't be cornered to that extreme. That's why I think we need to remove this kind of pressure.

TIME: Are things becoming any more relaxed?
Urushibara: I think nowadays it's becoming more accepted that athletes enjoy the sports. They don't have the mentality that they have to win for country, by any means, as it was during the war and after the war.

TIME: The great Australian swimmer, Ian Thorpe, finished second in one of his races. He didn't apologize. He just said something like, "Well you can't win everyday." Would a Japanese athlete ever say that?
Urushibara: Of course not! They would say, "I am sorry, I couldn't do it." Behind the words is the attitude that "people above me have done so much for me." It's this vertical arrangement of groups in society that I have been talking about. And the people above the athletes, like the coaches or the officials or the sports federation, would say, "I have done so much for you, so go for it."

TIME: I'm reminded again of what a difficult burden it must be to be Japanese!
Urushibara: It's not as simple as many foreigners think. It's more complex. There's a rule that lower people obey upper people. And you cannot rebel. People in the upper level have to tuck the lower people under their wings and look after them. The system exists in Japanese corporations as well. Upper level people feel comfortable being at the top. People under them are comfortable being protected. They know where they are in terms of the group. There's a certain sense of security and comfort in that.

kimurafan - January 31, 2005 12:59 AM (GMT)
Sussing out Sushi

Arun Batra’s guide to Japani kachhi machhi

Posted online: Sunday, January 30, 2005 at 0000 hours IST

“Raw fish! Ugh!” was the most likely response to sushi (pronounced sooshee) just a few years ago. But today? Forget Japan, London and the US are where sushi bars abound in hundreds and at the last count, there were over 200 sushi bars in Moscow of all places.

Guess it had to happen here as well, after our jaded diners had their fill of the Thai, Lebanese and Italian food waves that swept Indian metros. Leading hotel chains have now begun cautious sushi forays.

Sushi originated in the orient as a method of preserving fish. This recipe evolved from the traditional Japanese practice of marinating fish in salt and keeping it pressed with a flat stone for a few weeks, after which the fish was served with vinegared rice. That’s why the term ‘sushi’ translates as ‘seasoned rice’ in Japanese. Today’s sushi comes in many forms and can be eaten with chopsticks or with the hands. It’s usually found in three basic forms.

Nigiri Sushi : This most popular sushi style features raw, marinated or cooked fish laid topside on a pad of vinegared rice. Most types of nigiri-sushi are meant to be dipped in soy sauce and must be eaten in one bite. Common to nigiri are: maguro (tuna), ebi (boiled shrimp), ika (squid), tamago (omelet) and shake (salmon).

Makisushi: Maki means “rolled”. This kind of sushi consists of different types of fish and or vegetables rolled in a sheet of nori (roasted seaweed) and rice and served sliced into bite-size portions. Some restaurants lisi it as norimaki (seaweed roll). I’d say makisushi is an excellent choice for first-timers. The choice is huge for both fish-lovers and vegetarians. The most common makisushi are the tekkamaki (tuna, rice, seaweed sheet, from the inside, out); kappamaki (fresh cucumber, rice, seaweed sheet) and the California roll where the seaweed sheet comes INSIDE the fish and the rice speckled with sesame seed is on the outside.

Gunkan sushi is even more exotic. Seafood is wrapped in seaweed and shaped like a boat to rest on a little pile of rice. Then the boat is loaded with a ‘cargo’ of sea urchin or ikura (fish eggs, usually salmon roe).

Sushi is often confused with sashimi, the sliced raw fish also available at all sushi bars. Sashimi is prepared with the freshest of fish, refrigerated but never frozen. Here the key is the slicing of the fish and this forms one of the most rigorous skills a sushi chef (known as an ‘itamae’) has to learn during his training. Specific cutting techniques are used for each type of fish, as too thick or too thin a cut can make a different impression on the taste buds.

Sushi Rice
The white rice used for making sushi is different our daily grain. Sushi rice is made from short grained rice and flavoured with rice vinegar, sugar, salt, konbu (a form of kelp) and sometimes a drop of sake. The result is a delicate sweet flavour which offsets the salty taste of the pressed seaweed sheets in the sushi rolls.

Condiments form a key part of the Sushi experience. Little saucers for the soy dipping sauce will placed alongside your sushi platter. Garnishes of papery thin slices of marinated ginger (gari) and shredded white radish (daikon ) are provided to cleanse the palate and wake up the tongue to new flavours. Wasabi is the little green chunk of horseradish paste that is often mixed with the soy sauce (shoyu) as a sauce for dipping sushi. If you aren’t used to eating wasabi, be forewarned: when eaten full strength, it can make a grown man weep. So go easy! Sushi style

The Japanese, like in most things they do, make a sort of ceremonial ritual out of sushi eating with a lot of do’s and don’ts. To start off, you will be offered a hot, wet towel from a basket. Use it to wipe your hands and then place it folded onto the counter or back in the basket. Then you pick up your chopsticks which is actually the best implement for sushi-eating. Use chopsticks to ferry sushi pieces from your platter to the dipping sauce bowl and then to your mouth.

Picking up the sushi, taking a bite, and then placing the remainder of the piece back on the plate is a no- no. I’ve seen people eating sushi with their hands at sushi bars around the world, so I guess it really depends on what you are comfortable with. But please don’t try eating sushi with a fork and knife or youll spend the rest of your dinner chasing little bits of rice from disintegrated sushi pieces around on your plate remember: it’s considered especially rude if you leave rice on your plate uneaten.

How you dip your sushi into the soy dipping sauce is also a matter for discussion. The purists would have you dip the fish side of the sushi in the soy sauce, turn the piece whilst in transit to your mouth so that the fish side is in direct contact with the tongue. Lots of other people dip the rice side which can be a tad dicey as rice tends to fall apart when it gets wet and there is nothing worse than a trail of sushi rice on the table from the dipping saucer to your plate. Try it both ways and see if you can taste any difference.

Sushi is in many ways suited to the Indian palate - fish and rice are so familiar to so many of us. Plus, two generations of Indians have now grown up with generous helpings of soy sauce in their ‘Chinese’ food. And the sharp taste of wasabi will definitely appeal to the ‘theeka’ Indian palate. So. it’s just a different way of preparing and presenting food. Unfortunately, we will have to make do for now with sushi dinners at a minimum of Rs 1500 a head at places like the Wasabi at the Taj Mumbai or Delhi’s 360 at the Oberoi and Sakura at the Nikko.

Sake is a clear Japanese rice wine which goes well with all types of Japanese cuisine be it teppenyaki (takatak), yakitori (kabab), tempura (pakora) or sushi. Sake is made from rice and water. Just the way it takes a special kind of grape to produce a good wine, making excellent sake requires the use of a special type of rice called Shinpaku-mai. By polishing a grain of this starch rice down to less than half of the original covering, the protein and fat is removed from outside the white core, resulting eventually in a fermented rice wine with fewer fatty acids (that cause a hangover). Sakes range from dry to sweet, this being a function of the sugar and acid contents. I like the drier sakes as they have more flavour and are more full-bodied. Sake is served in a ceramic flask called tokkuri. You pour sake into a small cup called o-choko and drink from it. Sake can be served hot or cold. Personally I like my sake served warm and on a cold winter day, like north India is reeling under right now, you can feel the warmth spreading like a glow in your stomach after a slug of sake. But watch how you go sake has a an alcohol content of 15-18% which makes it a pretty potent partner for your meal !!

kimurafan - February 10, 2005 08:22 AM (GMT)
Learning how to make the most of middle age


It's widely acknowledged that the Japanese not only tend to look younger than people in the West, some think and behave that way too. After all, this is a nation fostered on kodomo bunka (kiddie culture), visible in everything from fashion to architecture.
For many years, kodomorashisa (childlike-ness) was considered a very good thing, and the highest praise for a man (regardless of age) was shonen-poi (like a little boy) and mujyaki (guileless). For women of course, itsumademo shojyo no yo (forever like a girl) was a virtue that far exceeded mere beauty or intelligence, and the yonareta onna (woman familiar with the ways of the world) was shunned as having lost her mukuna kanji (air of innocence). Maturity was for ok for wine, antiques and jeans -- but the full-fledged Japanese adult was often made to feel taikutsu (boring), fukou (unhappy) and debu (fat).

In the past couple of years however, otona (adult) has become a sweeping marketing concept, especially among women. Otonappoi (adult-like), that once disdained phrase now heads the list of otokokara kikitai kotoba (words we want to hear from men) and the in-trend make-up technique has shifted from shojyogao (little girl face) to otonagao (adult face).

Females over 50, once described with the blanket term obachan (grandmas) are now referred to as sutekina otona (attractive adults) and increasingly, women say they value maturity in their male partners above all other traits. It looks like Japanese society is gearing up to face the oncoming koureika shakai (aged society) with an atypically pojitibu (positive) and otonappoi attitude. Good for us.

Personally, I welcome the whole trend, not just because I've reached the point where my mother calls me ii otona (old enough to know better) but also because Japanese society has never provided the kind of rosy childhood and youth so avidly depicted in popular culture: Anyone who has ever experienced their early teens in a public chuugaku (middle school) has experienced the suffocating sense of heisokukan (claustrophobia) that defines those three long years.

In high school, the imminent dark cloud of college entrance exams hangs in the air, and, though college can be raku (easy or fun), there's always the threat of shuushoku ronin (being unable to find a job immediately after graduation), as well as the fear that one will have to spend the rest of one's youth working the register in the neighborhood conbini (convenience store).

Many of us are secretly, hugely relieved that those years are over, that we made it over the hill and have now become free to reap the fruits of hard-earned adulthood. As my friend Tamami always likes to say: "Toshi totteru kara-tte naniyo. Wakai koro yoriwa iiyo! (So what if we're old? It's better than being young!)"

Indeed, there are many instances where the phrase otonani natte yokatta (I'm glad I'm grown up) seems highly appropriate. One of the greatest pleasures for the over-30 crowd is the practice of otona-gai (grown-up shopping). This can mean luxury brand shopping, buying a whole collection of something (like an entire set of Ryotaro Shiba historical novels, in limited edition hardcover) or that most otona of actions: making a purchase without inspecting the price tag.

There's also the otona no koi (grown-up love), including furin (extra-marital affairs) or relationships that don't set marriage as a goal, between adults who like to play it cool. Otona no deeto (grown-up dating) includes dining on low-calorie (a top priority for otona), high-priced fare in kakurega (hideaway) restaurants followed by romantic conversation over drinks in a hoteru no baa (hotel bar). All such experiences are tinged with otona no aji (grown-up flavor), the vaguely defined but enormously popular phrase which indicates sensations like nigasa (bitterness), honwakasa (subtle warmth) and osaeta amasa (restrained sweetness).

Interestingly, amid all this talk about what it means to be otona, the more burdensome aspects of adulthood such as sekinin (responsibility) and karada no otoroe (physical deterioration), never really come up. Perhaps the Japanese have a found a way to be adult with all the kinks out, or as one fashion magazine put it: "otona no oishii toko dake torou (let's just take the delicious parts of adulthood)!" Is it true? Can we have achieved Otona Niravana? Or is such optimism just an immature delusion?

The Japan Times: Feb. 10, 2005

kimurafan - February 22, 2005 05:49 AM (GMT)
Japan makes paper disks

2005-02-21 00:24:16 XinhuaEnglish

BEIJING, Feb. 21-- Japanese researchers have created eco-friendly paper disks that can hold 25 gigabytes of data, almost five times more than a normal DVD.

Happily for environmentalists, paper disks could save some 1,200 trees, the amount needed to print out the data they contain.

You can print any label directly on the disk and dispose of the information by cutting up the paper with a pair of scissors.

These disks will be on the market within a few years.


kimurafan - March 11, 2005 07:25 AM (GMT)
Wearing kimono gets you Kyoto rides, for free
Updated: 2005-03-10 14:06

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Japan's ancient capital Kyoto will give free transport and museum entry to anyone who wears a kimono in a bid to support the traditional but infrequently worn garment, a city official said.

"We will offer free tickets for subways, buses and 20 sites in the city for 11 days from Friday to anyone wearing a kimono," said Ami Tsujii, Kyoto official in charge of promoting traditional industries.

Foreign tourists were eligible and could rent a kimono for 3,000 yen (US$28) a day, she said.

Kyoto, home to hundreds of temples and shrines, served as Japan's main seat of government from the 8th to 17th centuries and remains one of the few places where people in kimonos are a common sight.

It is also a major center of the textile industry that makes kimonos, which in 21st-century Japan are primarily worn for special occasions such as official holidays and are usually more expensive than modern clothing.

Tsujii said Kyoto was concerned that "people have fewer opportunities to see or wear kimonos."

kimurafan - March 22, 2005 05:04 AM (GMT)
Japanese princess engaged to civil servant
Updated: 2005-03-20 09:00

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With a grand traditional betrothal ceremony on Saturday, Japanese Princess Sayako is formally engaged to a common civil servant. [Xinhua/AFP]
With a grand traditional betrothal ceremony on Saturday, Japanese Princess Sayako was formally engaged to a common civil servant.

The 35-year-old princess is the only daughter of Japan's emperor, and will lose his royal identity after her marriage according Japan's law.

Her 35-year-old fiance, Yoshiki Kuroda, is an employee with the Tokyo metropolitan government.

They are expected to marry sometime after the summer, the Imperial Household Agency said earlier.

In the privately held ceremony that lasted about 15 minutes at the Imperial Residence, a messenger from Kuroda formally conveyed Kuroda's proposal to marry Princess Sayako to Grand Steward ToshioYuasa of the Imperial Household, Kyodo News reported.

The messenger also offered traditional engagement gifts of two fresh sea breams, three bottles of sake and two sets of silk, the agency said. Sea breams are given as gifts in Japan to mark auspicious events.

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Japan's Princess Nori (L) and her fiance Yoshiki Kuroda enjoy bird-watching on the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in this March 13, 2005 photo released by the Imperial Household Agency on March 18, 2005. With a grand traditional betrothal ceremony on Saturday, Japanese Princess Sayako was formally engaged to a common civil servant. [Reuters]
The grand steward then reported to the emperor and empress in adifferent room, also attended by the princess, about the proposal and the imperial couple granted approval.

The couple became formally engaged when the grand steward returned to the messenger and said that the princess and her parents accepted the offer of marriage.

Wearing a white long dress, Princess Sayako bowed to a flock ofreporters and photographers, and responded to their congratulations earlier in the morning before entering the Imperial Residence.

The couple reportedly has known each other since their childhood, as Kurado is a close friend of the princess' elder brother Prince Akishino, and decided to marry last summer.

They are looking for an apartment in Tokyo for their new residence while considering security and other points, Kyodo said.

kimurafan - March 26, 2005 10:44 PM (GMT)
Disneyland takes the Mickey
out of grumpy workers

By Ryann Connell
Staff Writer
March 26, 2005

After having dominated Japan's leisure business for decades, things at Tokyo Disneyland now look to be going a bit, well, goofy, according to Cyzo (April).

Tokyo Disney Resort, the name the powerful Oriental Land Co. gives to the Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disneysea theme parks, has been plagued with problems in recent years and the parent company seems certain to post its first-ever loss this year, the monthly says.

"Behind the popularity, the clouds are starting to appear at that theme park," a leisure business insider tells Cyzo.

Tokyo Disney Resort has been caught up in a couple of unsightly scandals, leaking the intimate details of 140,000 annual passport holders in January for reasons still unknown and being forced to recall over 1,500 boxes of confectionary from the park after it was found to be moldy.

And while Tokyo may not have jubbly juggling Tiggers like there have been at other Disney parks, there are apparently other problems with staff members.

"I'd say motivation among cast members is declining," another leisure business source says.

Nearly 90 percent of Tokyo Disney Resort employees are part-time or contract workers. The part-timers are paid only about 800 yen an hour - less than the average convenience store checkout clerk.

"For a piddling 800 yen an hour, the amount of work you're given is enormous and there are so many different rules," a resort insider tells Cyzo. "That's caused a drop in the morale of employees, which has led to lower standards of service and caused a drop in the number of patrons."

Tokyo Disney Resort is also being affected by vicious rumors that are entirely out of its hands. For years, there have been whispers of a child having been abducted at Tokyo Disneyland. They gained credence in January this year when a police officer giving a speech on security to 150 parents at a Tokyo kindergarten told them another cop's kid had been whisked away while at the Kingdom of Magic and Dreams.

That turned out to be a bit of a dreamy statement in itself, because there is no record of any child having ever been abducted at the park and the cop was merely perpetuating an urban legend prevalent for a decade.

What's not a myth for Tokyo Disney Resort is the growing competition it's facing from neighboring countries. After having had a monopoly on the Mickey magic in Asia since Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983, Hong Kong's Disneyland will open later this year, Seoul will get its own version a few years down the track and Shanghai is also reportedly interested in its own park. Hong Kong will offer weekday passports for the equivalent of just 3,920 yen, more than a whopping 1,500 yen cheaper than the 5,500 yen they cost in Tokyo. With that much to save, the monthly says, it will be hard to resist the temptation of going to the popular park and getting a trip overseas to go with it.

"We've already taken loads of customers looking for package tours to Hong Kong that include a trip to Disneyland," a travel agent tells Cyzo. "There's no doubt the new park will eat into visitor numbers at Tokyo Disney Resort."

kimurafan - May 6, 2005 03:27 AM (GMT)
Turning back clock on gender equality
Proposed LDP changes to the Constitution could limit individual freedom and weaken women's rights


As the government emphasizes patriotism as part of the national school curriculum and discussion continues apace over revising Article 9, some LDP lawmakers are now calling for changes to the Constitution that may put equal rights and individual freedom at risk.
The ongoing discussion on revising the Constitution has grown to include calls for amendments to Article 24 -- the clause protecting equality of the sexes in postwar Japan -- in a bid to lock family values into Japan's legal and social framework at the expense of individual freedom.

Last June, an LDP Constitution revision panel introduced a model plan to revise Article 24, which took effect in May 1947, "from the viewpoint of stressing the value of family and community."

However, this has sparked a storm of protest, mainly among women and defenders of human rights, who argue the panel's suggestions are aimed at assigning fixed gender roles in society in a bid to return to a pre-war social model and force women to stay in the home.

Article 24 states that "laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes."

But the LDP panel has argued in a report on the topic that " 'individualism' has been come to mean 'egoism' in postwar Japan, leading to the collapse of family and community."

The panel has also said that the Constitution should maintain Japanese traditional values and morals that they believe were forgotten when the Constitution was drafted by occupation forces after the war.

However, the panel has implicitly laid the blame for postwar 'egoism' at the feet of Japanese women who have chosen careers and independence over early family life and child-rearing.

The panel's appreciation for Japanese traditional values is itself rooted in an admiration for the traditional Japanese self-sacrificing attitude.

"It's a matter of course that mother had a primal responsibility for her child," says LDP panel member Kyoko Nishikawa, herself a mother of two.

"Complaining about fixed gender roles is so nonsensical," she says.

"It's a simple fact that men and women have essential roles based on their sex. Only women can bear a child. Criticizing sex-roles is weakening women's minds. Mothers should naturally appreciate their responsibilities toward their own children."

She believes that this feeling has been lost by some Japanese mothers.

"But this responsibility is not shared by all of today's mothers. It's very irresponsible that today's mothers just have a child and don't fully take care of it. Expressing the value of family in the Constitution is my message for those mothers."

However, the concept of "essential gender roles" was long the basis for justifying gender-inequality, confining women to the home and denying them public roles.

By the same token, when individuals are defined primarily as one member of a family, women's rights and freedoms will always be at risk under the pretext that women have roles that only women can play.

University of Tokyo Professor Tetsuya Takahashi believes that recent moves within government to alter the Constitution represent a worrying development for Japanese society.

"While women are expected to maintain the family and take care of children and the elderly, men are expected to support the country," he says. "Today's discussion on Article 24 is closely connected to the discussion on Article 9, the war-renouncing provision.

As the LDP panel suggested in its report, since the constitutional provisions under discussion now specify people's responsibility to defend the country, they need people for the front. This is viewed as the man's role."

The panel's efforts are not simply designed to undermine equal rights, rather to help produce individuals suited to the government's needs, he believes.

"In this sense," he says, "individual dignity, which is stipulated in Article 24, would be distorted by assigning fixed sex-roles. The government is trying to change the national character by sacrificing the individual's rights for the family and, by extension, the family for the country."

It was precisely this form of pre-war social model -- that is, the devoted mother serving her husband, who in turn unquestioningly served the emperor -- that prompted the inclusion of Article 24 in the postwar Constitution in the first place, however.

Beate Sirota Gordon, who drew up Article 24 as a civilian member of the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces in 1946, says the clause was essential in postwar Japan.

"I saw that Japanese women -- my friends and acquaintances -- had no rights, so I tried to include as many women's rights as possible in the Constitution," she said during a visit to Tokyo last week.

Beate remembers that the Japanese government was fiercely opposed to Article 24 in discussions with the GHQ.

"There was a harsh objection to the gender-equality provision from the Japanese side, just as they were opposed to the emperor's status change," she says.

Interestingly, however, Beate's original draft of Article 24 did include a reference to family values -- "The family is the basis of human society and its traditions for good or evil permeate the nation" -- though this was removed from the final version.

Dismayed at efforts to alter articles 24 and 9, Beate says: "Both Article 9 and 24 are needed for world peace. There are many oppressed women in the world. Japan should be proud of its Constitution, and other countries should follow the Japanese model."

Indeed, Article 24 of today's Constitution, has helped postwar Japanese women gradually achieve important status and social protections in several areas.

The by-products of the provision include the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (1986), the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society (1999) and a Law for the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims (2001).

Despite these developments, however, Japanese lawmakers themselves have come under attack recently for failing to adequately promote awareness of equal rights.

In a report issued by the U.N.'s Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women of the United Nations two years ago, the committee "stressed the importance of sensitizing and training public officials and members of the judiciary to eliminate gender-biased stereotypes."

masquerade - May 9, 2005 04:18 PM (GMT)
Here is an interesting site about Japan with lots of cool info:


kimurafan - May 17, 2005 07:54 PM (GMT)
Japan's brainpower

The Advantages of Using Both Sides of Your Brain

By Boye Lafayette De Mente

It has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that the two sides of the human brain perform different functions, ranging from speech, emotional reactions, sexual pleasure, fear, and analytical thinking to the appreciation of beauty.

There is also growing evidence that the left side of the brain is dominant in most people. This is of vital importance because left-brain oriented people think and behave differently from people who are right-brain oriented.

One noted authority on the function of the brain, Japan's Dr Tadanobu Tsunoda (author of "The Japanese Brain" and numerous other works), claims that the language one first learns as a child is the deciding factor in which side of the brain is dominant for the rest of the person's life.

Dr Tsunoda has spent several decades studying the influence of languages on brain function, using electronic devices he developed to test thousands of people in his Tokyo laboratory — both Japanese and non-Japanese — with some amazing results.

He found that people whose native tongue is Japanese (or Polynesian!) are primarily right-brain oriented, while all other people are primarily left-brain oriented. (It's the preponderance of vowels in these two languages.)

It seems that right-brain oriented people are primarily motivated by their emotions and a holistic approach to life, while left-brain oriented people are programmed to be logical and practical-minded, and to take a short-term approach to things.

Boye Lafayette De Mente, internationally known for his numerous books on the role of language on the cultures of China, Japan, Korea and Mexico, has used Dr Tsunoda's theory as the basis for evaluating the differences between the mind-set and behavior of the right-brained oriented Japanese and the left-brain oriented rest of the world.

De Mente calls his "brain book" "The Advantages of Using Both Sides of Your Brain," and says the right-brain orientation of the Japanese was one of the primary factors that made it possible for them to recover from the destruction of World War II and turn tiny Japan into the world's second largest economy in less than 30 years.

Among other provocative points De Mente makes in the book is that all women in left-brain oriented cultures are forced to use right-brain thinking and behavior to survive in their male-dominated societies, and that Japanese women, whose culture is primarily right-brain oriented, are forced to use left-brain thinking to cope with their male-dominated society, making them superior in many ways to the male side of the population.

De Mente also says that the French and Italians and all Spanish and Portuguese speaking people are more right-brain oriented than Americans, Chinese, Germans, British and other people around the globe.

He claims that many of the problems that plague Western countries are caused by too much left-brain thinking and not enough right-brain thinking, and pinpoints many areas where business managers and people in general could benefit greatly from learning how and when to use the right side of their brains.

May 9, 2005

kimurafan - October 7, 2005 05:32 PM (GMT)
Perhaps for those who are enamoured with looking for a good looking man and marrying into Japan should read this article. :lol:

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

That's the question Spa! (Oct. 11) puts to 100 young company men aged 28-34 (why the survey excludes women is not explained). The most remarkable finding is that 76% have at least mild expectations of being happier than they are now. Why is that remarkable? Because when it comes to particulars, pessimism, anxiety and downright fear rule the emotional landscape. But a general optimism triumphs in the end — the perennial human conviction that after all, things can't really be that bad.

A generation ago, notes Spa!, a survey like this would have been pointless. Life ran on the rails then; people knew what was in store for them. If you were entry-level in 1975, by 1985 you'd be a "kacho" or section head, making so-much a year, married, living in a house you could visualize as clearly as you could the company dorm you'd be going home to that night — and so on. The predictability was dull but secure. Almost no one would have said, as 30% do now, that they expect to be unemployed in 10 years, surviving on occasional jobs. Still less would anyone have foreseen — as 6% do today — homelessness.

Other findings: 57% of Spa!'s respondents expect, despite the extinction of the lifetime employment system, to be working for the same company in 2015. Forty-two percent see a possibility their employers will have gone bankrupt by then. Sixty-nine percent fear their health will deteriorate. Fifty-two percent are braced for a sexless future; 36% for a solitary one.

Spa! is surprised at how pedestrian many people's imaginations are in these generally flighty times. A 30-year-old car maker employee is introduced as typical. He's married, has one child and makes 6 million yen a year. What does he expect? More of the same: "An ordinary family life. I hope so, anyway." At best, he says, "My salary will have gone up a bit, so that I can spend 50,000 yen a month instead of 15,000 yen." And at worst? "I'll be divorced and alone and my juniors will have gotten ahead of me at work."

"I'm busy now and I'll be busy then," snaps a 34-year-old in the IT field, putting an end to the discussion. "For sure," says a single 33-year-old making 3.5 million yen a year in the pet service business, "my health will end up shot. How can it not, with my eating habits and the filthy air we breathe? When I think of the employment situation and the pension problems, the best thing would be to die young. That way, at least I won't cause anyone any trouble."

That degree of "bottomless despair," Spa! says, is shared by 15% of respondents. Optimists are represented by a 34-year-old systems engineer, single and making 8 million yen a year. "I'll have my own company in 10 years," he says, "and be making 20 million yen a year." Spa! doesn't provide a percentage of people thinking along those happy lines, but we are assured that, with livedoor entrepreneur and headline-maker "Horiemon" serving as inspiration, they are "not few in number."

May they prevail. But do they have a chance? Looking at Japan in general, all respondents see crime on the rise, 54% fear being engulfed in war or terrorism, and 80% doubt they'll ever collect a pension. Step gingerly into this future, Spa! seems to warn; there's simply no telling what it contains.

October 7, 2005

kimurafan - October 7, 2005 05:41 PM (GMT)
Samurai-type training can help American students succeed

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Samurai Principles & Practices That Will Help Preteens & Teens in School, Sports, Social Activities & Choosing Careers
By Boye Lafayette De Mente

Japanologist and author Boye Lafayette De Mente says that samurai-type training should be introduced into the American educational system, and has published a "samurai training manual" to help achieve that goal.

Internationally known for his books on Japanese culture and a recognized authority on the way of the samurai, the Paradise Valley, Arizona-based author has identified the principles and practices that made up the educational and training process of samurai youths and published them in a book entitled: "Samurai Principles & Practices That Will Help Preteens & Teens in School, Sports, Social Activities & Choosing Careers."

The book covers all of the basics of the samurai training — setting goals, discipline, diligence, perseverance, respect for others and one's self, personal appearance, keeping things in order, living frugally, using intuitive and emotional intelligence, and tapping into cosmic power.

Japan's famous samurai warriors ruled the country from 1192 until 1868. De Mente says that during the latter centuries of their reign their training went beyond martial arts to include such cultural pursuits as poetry, painting, calligraphy, history, philosophy and social behavior, making them one of the most remarkable groups of people the world has ever seen.

Schooling in the skills and knowledge necessary to produce a samurai began in early childhood, and was a lifelong effort.

De Mente says that training in karate, kendo ("the way of the sword") and meditation are paths to learning the skills, morality and motivation that made the samurai so successful, and recommends that this training be incorporated into the educational system of Western countries.

"The present-day systems of parenting and educating in the U.S. and elsewhere obviously fail to provide the physical, intellectual and emotional framework that youths need to even approach their full potential — and that now includes Japan," he says.

"The introduction of American culture into Japan following the end of World War II in 1945 resulted in the virtual demise of samurai-type training of the young within a single generation," he writes.

"The negative effects of this cultural shift were painfully conspicuous by the 1980s, prompting a growing number of Japanese to individually take up training in karate and kendo and the practice of meditation to reintroduce a sense of order and spiritual power into their lives.

"It was the spirit of the samurai," De Mente continues, "that made it possible for tiny resource-poor Japan to become the world's second largest economy in less than 30 years. Without that spirit, Japan will soon be just another kid on the block," he says.

De Mente makes the obvious point that parents and teachers must take the lead in creating the environment necessary to build positive samurai-like qualities into the mindset and behavior of students.

The book will probably appeal to the millions of students who are into Japanese-made manga (comics), video games, super secret agent ninjas, and samurai films.

October 4, 2005

smappie123 - November 15, 2005 08:26 AM (GMT)
user posted imageNihon(no) meishin (Japanese superstitions)

In ancient times, snakes were considered as one of the sacred animals, and people believed that snakes had their lives renewed each time they sloughed off their skin and that their lives were eternal. It was also said that snake skin had power not only to enhance life force but also to increase the amount of things.

Such being the case, people began to put a piece of snake skin into their wallet hoping that it could multiply their money and last forever. This is how the superstition started.
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masquerade - December 2, 2005 02:18 PM (GMT)
TV shows confront decline of Japanese language

Special to The Japan Times

Beginning this fall, four of the major commercial television networks began broadcasting variety programs aimed at rehabilitating Japanese television viewers' inability to correctly utilize their native language. Why the sudden flood of kokugo (national language) programs?
Some observers trace the decline of the Japanese language to recent government education reforms. In 2002, the Japanese government revamped the school system. Its pet name for the project? "Relaxed education." Ever since, many parents have been shocked to note that their offspring have difficulty in writing kanji at grade level. A number of these same moms and dads, increasingly reliant on Japanese word processing software, admit they are hard-pressed to handwrite the same kanji they expect their children to master.

Cries of alarm are also being raised about the state of the spoken language. Last February, an advisory panel to the Cultural Affairs Agency on kokugo reported that keigo (honorific, self-effacing, and polite language) is being widely misused by the Japanese populace. Sales of kokugo self-help books like Yasuo Kitahara's million-seller "Mondai na Nihongo (Problematic Japanese)" are booming, and it was only a matter of time before the networks jumped on the kokugo rehabilitation bandwagon.

I took a look at four of these new offerings to see what sort of educational and/or entertainment value they might have for Japanese learners and, indeed, native speakers.

TBS managed to sign kokugo guru Kitahara himself to appear as a regular on its "Quiz! Nihongo-O!" (Thursdays, 6:55 p.m.), hosted by popular comedy duo Uchan-Nanchan, in which 30 celebrities compete for the title of "King of Japanese." Kitahara expounds on answers to questions dealing with kanji compound words, kanji stroke order, place-name kanji, vocabulary, the meanings of frequently misused phrases, and so on. Based on the wide range of difficulty in the questions this program dishes up, Japanese learners at all levels, but particularly from the intermediate level up, could find it useful.

Another program Japanese learners at all levels may want to check out is TV Tokyo's "O-Miyake-shiki (Miyake-style) Kokugo Drill" hosted by veteran emcee Yuji Miyake and his comic sidekick, Nigerian Bobby Orogon (Tuesdays, 8:00 p.m.). Most of the questions on this show deal with kanji, and the level (ranging from grade one of elementary school to kanji master) is provided for each. Five celebrity contestants play various games as they grapple with kanji compounds, pronunciations, homonyms, and kanji radicals.

"Anata Setsumei Dekimasu ka (Can You Explain It?)" on TBS (Wednesdays, 7:25 p.m.) asks hapless celebrity contestants to try to explain the difference between frequently confused words or phrases in Japanese. In one recent episode, for example, viewers learned the difference between sake (salmon, the fish itself) and shake (salmon after it has been prepared for human consumption). Long-term foreign residents may enjoy having those nagging questions about the differences in easily confused words answered by this show.

"Tamori no Japonica Rogosu" (Fuji TV, Tuesdays, 11 p.m.) gets my vote as the most entertaining of the lot. TV comic Tamori (he of the dark sunglasses) keeps his legendary cool humor on track while focusing on misused honorific language, vocabulary and grammar. Some weeks, he scours the nation to find actual examples of offending Japanese on signs, packaging and advertising, and four generally stumped celebrity contestants are required to figure out where the error is. At the end of the program, Tamori calls the person responsible for one of the misusages for a good-natured scolding. So far, none of the culprits has promised to correct their error, seemingly content to continue using "problematic Japanese."

One thing these programs demonstrate is that "kokugo panic" may be well-founded. On one episode of "Quiz! Nihongo-O!" only 17 of 30 contestants could produce the kanji for nose, a character learned by third-grade elementary school students, and a mere four were able to write the second character in their national sport, sumo.

Come on, Japanese learners! With a little effort, even we can do better than that. Watching these new programs may actually be a fun way to get an edge on our native-speaking cohorts.

Times and days may vary by region, so check local listings. Mary Sisk Noguchi's column Kanji Clinic appears every third Tuesday. Visit Mary's Web site

The Japan Times: Nov. 22, 2005

kimurafan - December 14, 2005 12:33 AM (GMT)
Honda's latest robot can serve tea, push mail carts and run at twice its previous pace

Honda Motor's new Asimo humanoid robot runs during a debut demonstration at Honda headquarters in Tokyo on Tuesday. The running capability is dramatically improved, with Asimo now capable of running at a speed of 6 km/hour, Honda said. (REUTERS/Toshiyuki Aizawa)The walking childlike robot from Honda Motor Co. can now serve tea, push a mail cart and gallop along at twice its previous pace -- the latest in the Japanese automaker's quest to replicate human movement.

Honda's latest robot can serve tea, push mail carts and run at twice its previous pace.

user posted image

The 130-centimeter-tall, bubble-headed robot named Asimo has already shown it can jog, walk up stairs, wave, avoid obstacles and carry on simple conversations. But in a demonstration Monday at Honda's Tokyo head office, a new version of the robot showed off new skills its maker hopes will make the robot more handy around the office.

Honda illustrated how Asimo might serve as a receptionist of the future. Equipped with a sensor that can read microchips in identification cards, the robot recognized a woman approaching from behind, and turned to greet her by name.

It then demonstrated further potential as a host by taking a tray of coffee cups from the woman with its own hands and carrying it to a nearby table where it set the tray down for imaginary guests. It also pushed a four-wheeled cart around on stage.

Later, Asimo -- whose name is a play on the Japanese word for "leg" or "ashi" -- sprinted back and forth for reporters at 6 kilometers an hour, double its previous gait of 3 kilometers an hours. The new technique demonstrates improved balancing technology because both the robot's feet are airborne at the same time in mid-stride, Honda said.

Honda began dabbling with humanoid robots in 1987 and now has 40 Asimos worldwide.

The company plans to start using Asimo's new receptionist functions at Honda offices early next year. The new robot is also available for lease. The current version can be leased for 20 million yen (US$170,000) a year.

President Takeo Fukui told reporters the technologies developed for Asimo can be applied to Honda's more traditional businesses by improving auto safety and navigation features. The next phase in advancing Asimo will focus on artificial intelligence and beefing up the robot's ability to make judgments depending on the circumstances, Honda said.

Japan leads the world in robotics. Various Japanese companies, including electronics makers Hitachi Ltd. and Sony Corp., and Honda rival Toyota Motor Corp. have developed entertainment robots.

Robots that look less human are used extensively in manufacturing plants. (AP)

December 13, 2005

You know, if they make the robot in the likeness of Takeshi Kaneshiro or Kimura Takuya, I think a lot of people will buy it. :lol: :lol:

kimurafan - December 19, 2005 05:13 AM (GMT)
Anti-Korean Japanese Comic Upsets Patriots

A comic book in Japan is at the center of controversy with its reinterpretation of Japan's colonial rule over Korea. Korea owes everything to Japan, claims the "Anti-Korean Wave" or Ken Kanryu. It bashes Korea, Koreans and the Korean language and goes so far as to say Koreans have stolen Japanese culture. In its nationalistic appeal, it also takes on history and territorial disputes between the two countries.
Publishers had refused to consider Ken Kanryu as inflammatory for two years, until July. Now Sharin Yamano has become a bestselling author, having sold more than 300,000 copies. His comic, catching a new conservative wave in Japanese politics, is meanwhile meeting a strong emotional response from Koreans and Chinese who suffered from Japan's wartime aggression.

"When I was young, I liked Japanese pop music, drama, and manga, but these days, because of issues surrounding politics and history, many Chinese youngsters dislike Japan even more so than the older generation," a Chinese citizen said. "I think Japan feels threatened because its influence in the region and in the world is diminishing, while China's economy is growing rapidly and Korean culture is spreading throughout Asia."

Those who closely follow relations between Korea and Japan urge a moderate response to provocations such as the comic book. "We should not react rashly to such moves, because that will only incite Japan's conservative, right-wing groups. We have to remember, there are many intellectuals in Japan with good judgment, who are a lot more concerned about bilateral issues than we are."

A high-ranking Tokyo official agreed, taking the view that any anti-Korea sentiment comes only from a tiny minority. "I don't think there is a kind of resentment or hatred or ill-feeling toward Korea mounting in Japan, not at all. There are some groups of people who entertain those sentiment, the so-called conservatives. This is not a prevailing trend, I would say."

Despite such calm appraisals, the book is a runaway success. Because of the high demand, Amazon-Japan says delivery can take up to six weeks. Nonetheless, there's a growing appetite. A sequel -- called simply “Anti-Korean Wave 2” -- is coming out by the end of the year.

Arirang News

masquerade - January 1, 2006 07:33 PM (GMT)
Getting the message across

By Stephen Mansfield

TOKYO — The visual onslaught of the Tokyo street can be overwhelming: the soaring facades of Shinjuku, the commercial chasms of Kabukicho and the giant video screens of Shibuya. It can take a long time for the senses to adjust to the ever-changing messages and images that assault first-timers to the city.

It's no wonder these commercial displays are the fodder of films and books. The opening sequence of "Lost in Translation" has Bill Murray transfixed by neon as he is driven down Yasukuni Dori, which is strikingly similar to the arrival of the female protagonist in William Gibson's novel "Pattern Recognition" — "Suddenly, in the crepuscular calm of a Tokyo taxi. She looks out the window, reluctantly admitting more of alien but half-familiar marketing culture, the countless cues and clues proving too much for her now. She closes her eyes."

The habits of materialism and the logistic realities of the crowded Japanese city are not a good match. The inhabitants of small city apartments must requisition every inch of floor and wall space for effective storage and display. Hardly a bare patch of floor can be seen, while walls are hung with all manner of things — calendars, posters, art and clothes.

And if residents have trouble storing their trophies of consumerism at home, businesses face similar problems advertising them on the street. At times it seems as if the main function of buildings is to serve as pegboards for commercials — advertising props that turn urban centers into surfaces of running commercial text and scroll.

In contemporary, space-depleted Tokyo, pedestrians usually only see one side of a building: the one overlooking the street. Views are flattened into two-dimensional planes, and utility demands those planes are put to multiple uses. The result is buildings that are both workplaces and merchandise hoardings. In Kabukicho, for example, the "work" inside and the message outside is sex — sometimes tame, sometimes sinister, but always commercial.

Empty space used to be positive concept

Japan's old master painters had a very different idea of the value of space. They believed that emptiness did not occur until the first well-conceived stroke was put to paper. Empty space was a positive concept, harnessed through the subtle mastery of the artist to achieve meaningful presence. This effect, they believed, was lost if the emptiness was too richly furnished, if its simplicity was replaced with opulence and clutter. This former age delighted in the texture and tone of wall space — something that is still evident in more traditional areas of cultural cities like Kyoto and Kanazawa, or in country areas where you can still sense the appreciation in the stucco and clay walls. In Tokyo, however, utility is the key.

As long ago as 1894, Lafcadio Hearn was writing in "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan" that "to the Japanese brain an ideograph is a vivid picture — the whole space of a Japanese street is full of such living characters — decorating everything, even surfaces of doorposts and paper screens."

Boards, vertical banners at right angles to buildings and even square rooftop signs were a common feature of 18th-century Edo. Old postcards from the later Meiji and Taisho periods show streets in the Asakusa district strewn with entertainment boards and banners, the wall already a lively vector for information and advertising. It didn't take much for the commercial expropriation of walls and buildings to reach new giddy heights in the postwar era, when rapid economic development became Japan's new defining goal. Today, signage in Japanese cities has developed to such an extent that, in some instances, the entire building may be obscured by hanging objects and other structures.

Electronic screens take over

Increasingly these structures are liquid constructions, facade-scale TV screens so carefully aligned and affixed that they appear as a seamless part of the building itself. If billboards and hanging banners fix the message in an eye-catching static form, electronic screens embody the flow of time.

As architecture critic Vladimir Krstic has put it, these screens create "a gate and a field within whose false depth a new, antithetical dimension of space and time opens up."

The job of the advertiser is to break down our visual defenses. One method is through entrapment. Unlike television, radio, or newspapers — things we can switch off or set aside — the street is a more perfect snare, a pre-eminently commercial environment. We can't avoid walking down the street, and it's certainly not advisable to do so with our eyes closed.

One of the best snares is Shibuya, where the lights at the famously busy intersection trap thousands of potential consumers in front of three television screens for minutes at a time. For best effect, the screens can be coordinated to play the same message concurrently, bombarding the pedestrians from three sides.

With one set of commercials trying to scramble the signals of the next, competition is fierce. In this ambience of intense consumer propaganda, ever-greater ingenuity is demanded from advertisers. They must come up with bolder, more original and arresting commercials, without allowing style to subsume substance. Competing for the attention of the potential buyer has resulted in a situation in which architecture, buried under a morass of scrambled text messages and images, runs the risk of becoming secondary.

Urban geographer Paul Waley wrote that "space in the Japanese city is conceived only in the context of the immediate visual field. This gives it an episodic quality." If each field is visualized as an episode, it is one in a narrative that is set on constant replay — or rewrite, the text as fresh, shallow and urgently produced as a daily soap opera script.

The text of Tokyo, from daylight advertising to nighttime electro-graphics, permits urban space to be scanned and read. This script can only be digested piecemeal, in lines of haiku length or even just a few syllables. But text is not confined to walls. Utility poles are plastered with colorful commercials so that they begin to look like totem poles. Strings of image and text wiggle from street level down steps and corridors into the tunnels of the subway, reappearing inside the train itself as concave strips along the upper walls of carriages and as flyers hanging in panels like festive bunting from the ceiling. In a stroke of commercial brilliance, a literal example of the city as narrative, author Banana Yoshimoto serialized "Newlywed," a ghost story set on a train, on posters displayed aboard JR East commuter trains.

Trains are ultimate ad snare

Trains are the ultimate advertising snare in Tokyo, where so many consumers rely on public transport, often enduring long commutes bundled inside the carriages, unable to move or do anything other than look at commercials.

In recent years, advertisers have looked for new ways to get the attention of passengers long used to regular paper ads on the carriage walls around them. There is the blanket approach of sponsoring whole carriages, or the outside strategy of covering the train's exterior rather than its interior. Some have added a third dimension, such as a protruding nose to advertise cold medication, or a fourth with small television screens above the doors, or with flashing panels that create the effect of moving images on the walls of tunnels as trains speed past.

On the street, breaking down a consumer's defenses also takes unusual forms. It's no longer enough to have the biggest and brightest advertisement on the block. You need something more to get the attention of the throngs of consumers. Interaction between human and billboard has been made possible through technology, with companies such as Northwest Airlines using QR codes (squares of black and white pixels that can be "scanned" with a snapshot from a mobile phone) to link people who view the ad directly to the carrier's website.

Apple launched its iPod nano with boards covered in cutouts of the music players at train stations. Commuters could pull the ersatz nanos off the wall and carry them home. (Another QR code let them quickly access the Apple website for more nano information on their way.) Less technological but certainly no less daring was a campaign for German sportswear maker Adidas, which brought the streets to a standstill when it suspended two soccer-playing stuntmen and a ball from an advertising billboard high above Shibuya.

A previous Adidas campaign involved a parked car with a giant soccer ball embedded in its roof. The authorities took Adidas' advertising agency to task for parking violations as a result of this latter stunt, although they haven't been concerned about the use of noise to get a commercial across.

Audio advertising has moved far beyond tape decks listing specials outside fast food restaurants, or aggressive salesmen screaming out deals in front of electronics retailers. These days, limousines adorned with Eminem logos and mega-trucks covered with photos of Ayumi Hamasaki play the artists' latest singles at top volume as they cruise around the streets making sure that passersby hear the news — the same advertising tactic favored by the right-wingers and their noisy trucks.

Humans, too, have become tools of the trade, and you don't have to be a celebrity to have a commercial use. A more innovative and undoubtedly cheaper technique is to hire groups of youngsters wearing matching clothes to walk the streets in packs, physically surrounding passersby with the advertiser's message. In Tokyo, it's not only the walls, buildings and infrastructure that are requisitioned for commercial use — it's also the people.

December 27, 2005

kimurafan - January 6, 2006 04:12 AM (GMT)
Tokyo Teacher Embattled over War History
City Official Say Japan Never Invaded Korea

By Robert Marquand
Staff Writer

Yasukuni Shrine (靖國神社: literally "peaceful nation shrine") is a Shinto shrine in Tokyo, dedicated for millions of soldiers who died fighting for the Japanese emperor. Also honored here are 14 Japanese Class A war criminals, which incurs protests from Korea and China for Tokyo's failure to atone for its military past.

TOKYO — Miyako Masuda is a 23-year veteran of public schools here. Like many Japanese history teachers of her generation, she dislikes new textbooks that frame Japan as the victim in World War II. It bothers her that books claiming America caused the war are now adopted by an entire city ward. In fact, Masuda disapproves of the whole nationalist direction of Tokyo public schools.

Yet until last year, Masuda, who calls herself "pretty ordinary," rarely went out of her way to disagree. Few teachers do.

But when a Tokyo city councilman in an official meeting said "Japan never invaded Korea," her history class sent an apology to Korean President Roh Moo-hyan — an action that sparked her removal from her classroom.

The war history dispute in Asia is now so front-and-center that appears it was cited by South Korea as a reason to avoid an upcoming December visit to Japan by Mr. Roh. Alongside the diplomatic row, the Masuda case shows how nationalist policies are creeping into the minutiae of daily life in Japan's capital city.

Masuda, who says her two sons have Korean friends, got censured after her class did a study group on Japan's occupation of Korea. Her social studies class wrote a letter of apology to Roh, and sent it to the Korean Embassy in Toyko. In a cover letter, Masuda said that councilman Koga Toshiaki's remarks were "a disgrace" by objective historical standards, but "regrettably [they] can be presented proudly as a triumph in the assembly of Tokyo, the capital of this country."

The class never heard from the Korean consul. But Masuda did hear from the Tokyo Board of Education. Her letter was discovered by a Yasukuni shrine support group and they complained to city officials. Masuda was told that while Mr. Koga did speak in public, it was "inappropriate" for Masuda to repeat his name in a letter that was not private, and a violation of city employee codes.

Masuda is now ordered to spend her days in a small room studying public servant regulations, a serious humiliation she says. She in turn is trying to fight in court.

Masuda's experience shows the growing power of Japanese nationalists, and their grass-roots influence in Tokyo, analysts say.

For example, last month Japanese leader Junichiro Koizumi positioned his ultranationalist protégé Shinzo Abe to be his successor, after Mr. Koizumi steps down in September. Mr. Abe, like Tokyo's hugely popular Mayor Ishihara, is a fan of the Tsukuru-Kai history textbooks that seek to restore a proud Japan by rewriting the past. Mr. Ishihara, for his part, directly appoints all six Tokyo school board members.

Tokyo schools reflect nationalist views: children pledging allegiance to the emperor as in the 1930s, school board members supporting Yasukuni Shrine visits, and curriculums failing to mention Japan's invasion of Korea or China.

Masuda, for her part, insists it is wrong to teach untruths to students, for any reason.

"I feel it is my job to tell the truth, it is what I spend my life doing," she told the Monitor. "When something looks crooked I don't like it. I feel I want to make it straight. If you are straight it is better for everyone.

"I explain and teach the past. But I am now suspended as a history teacher for doing that, even though they say it is for administrative discipline."

In an interview, Masuda reads out the words of the Tokyo city council member from the official transcript: "It is not proper to describe a war of aggression by Japan. Where and when in the world did Japan ever invade? I'd like to ask, once and for all, when where and which country ... "

At the APEC summit in South Korea last week, it was unclear whether Koizumi and Roh would even meet on the sidelines. The Korean president told Mr. Koizumi outright that his visits to the Yasakuni shrine, and the Tsukuru-Kai texts, were "provocative." Koizumi tried to say his visits to the shrine, where the remains of Class A war criminals are housed, symbolized the idea of never going to war again. Roh, according to Asahi Shimbun, told Koizumi, "No matter how positively we interpret your feelings, the people of South Korea will never accept it."

Masuda says some fellow teachers supported her at first in her current ordeal, but have since stopped. They fear of their own status in the school. Masuda now must report to the Tokyo Metropolitan School Personnel In-service Training Center, a place she describes in Kafkaesque terms.

Masuda seems a little stubborn, a little leftist, but a stickler for details in the way of junior high teachers around the world. She brightens immediately when the subject turns to teaching. She is proud her classes are not rote memory exercises typical in Japanese public schools. She requires "Discussion Papers" where students have to show how they arrive at conclusions. Papers deal with topics like Hiroshima and Iraq. Last year she showed her class a television documentary put out by Japanese national TV on Korean comfort women- how the Japanese government in the war had sent orders for brothels to be built in China with women dragooned to work there from all over Asia.

Currently, teachers that stress Japan's responsibility for wartime aggression are increasingly framed in Tokyo as "Marxists" living in the past.

Masuda's case has been picked up as a case of simple slander by the Tokyo media. A Japanese journalist with extensive experience points out that the Tokyo Asahi ran an item saying that Masuda was suspended for slandering the government officials and the publisher of the textbook.

The Asahi reporter sourced the story to the Tokyo Board of Education. Masuda's friends and fellow teachers protested to the Asahi reporter. They said the story was inaccurate, and that Masuda should have been talked to for balance.

So the Asahi reporter went back to the Board of Education and asked if his story was correct. They told him yes, his story was correct.

This article is from The Christian Science Monitor.

kimurafan - January 6, 2006 04:19 AM (GMT)

Asia Rivals' Ugly Images Best Sellers in Japan

By Norimitsu Onishi
user posted image

In "Hating the Korean Wave," a young Japanese woman says, "It's not an exaggeration to say that Japan built the South Korea of today!" Photo Courtesy Sharin Yamano/Shinyusha

TOKYO, Nov. 19 — A young Japanese woman in the comic book "Hating the Korean Wave" exclaims, "It's not an exaggeration to say that Japan built the South Korea of today!" In another passage the book states that "there is nothing at all in Korean culture to be proud of."

In another comic book, "Introduction to China," which portrays the Chinese as a depraved people obsessed with cannibalism, a woman of Japanese origin says: "Take the China of today, its principles, thought, literature, art, science, institutions. There's nothing attractive."

The two comic books, portraying Chinese and Koreans as base peoples and advocating confrontation with them, have become runaway best sellers in Japan in the last four months.

In their graphic and unflattering drawings of Japan's fellow Asians and in the unapologetic, often offensive contents of their speech bubbles, the books reveal some of the sentiments underlying Japan's worsening relations with the rest of Asia.

They also point to Japan's longstanding unease with the rest of Asia and its own sense of identity, which is akin to Britain's apartness from the Continent. Much of Japan's history in the last century and a half has been guided by the goal of becoming more like the West and less like Asia. Today, China and South Korea's rise to challenge Japan's position as Asia's economic, diplomatic and cultural leader is inspiring renewed xenophobia against them here.

Kanji Nishio, a scholar of German literature, is honorary chairman of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, the nationalist organization that has pushed to have references to the country's wartime atrocities eliminated from junior high school textbooks.

Mr. Nishio is blunt about how Japan should deal with its neighbors, saying nothing has changed since 1885, when one of modern Japan's most influential intellectuals, Yukichi Fukuzawa, said Japan should emulate the advanced nations of the West and leave Asia by dissociating itself from its backward neighbors, especially China and Korea.

"I wonder why they haven't grown up at all," Mr. Nishio said. "They don't change. I wonder why China and Korea haven't learned anything."

Mr. Nishio, who wrote a chapter in the comic book about South Korea, said Japan should try to cut itself off from China and South Korea, as Fukuzawa advocated. "Currently we cannot ignore South Korea and China," Mr. Nishio said. "Economically, it's difficult. But in our hearts, psychologically, we should remain composed and keep that attitude."

The reality that South Korea had emerged as a rival hit many Japanese with full force in 2002, when the countries were co-hosts of soccer's World Cup and South Korea advanced further than Japan. At the same time, the so-called Korean Wave - television dramas, movies and music from South Korea - swept Japan and the rest of Asia, often displacing Japanese pop cultural exports.

The wave, though popular among Japanese women, gave rise to a countermovement, especially on the Internet. Sharin Yamano, the young cartoonist behind "Hating the Korean Wave," began his strip on his own Web site then.

"The 'Hate Korea' feelings have spread explosively since the World Cup," said Akihide Tange, an editor at Shinyusha, the publisher of the comic book. Still, the number of sales, 360,000 so far, surprised the book's editors, suggesting that the Hate Korea movement was far larger than they had believed.

"We weren't expecting there'd be so many," said Susumu Yamanaka, another editor at Shinyusha. "But when the lid was actually taken off, we found a tremendous number of people feeling this way."

So far the two books, each running about 300 pages and costing around $10, have drawn little criticism from public officials, intellectuals or the mainstream news media. For example, Japan's most conservative national daily, Sankei Shimbun, said the Korea book described issues between the countries "extremely rationally, without losing its balance."

As nationalists and revisionists have come to dominate the public debate in Japan, figures advocating an honest view of history are being silenced, said Yutaka Yoshida, a historian at Hitotsubashi University here. Mr. Yoshida said the growing movement to deny history, like the Rape of Nanjing, was a sort of "religion" for an increasingly insecure nation.

"Lacking confidence, they need a story of healing," Mr. Yoshida said. "Even if we say that story is different from facts, it doesn't mean anything to them."

The Korea book's cartoonist, who is working on a sequel, has turned down interview requests. The book centers on a Japanese teenager, Kaname, who attains a "correct" understanding of Korea. It begins with a chapter on how South Korea's soccer team supposedly cheated to advance in the 2002 Word Cup; later chapters show how Kaname realizes that South Korea owes its current success to Japanese colonialism.

"It is Japan who made it possible for Koreans to join the ranks of major nations, not themselves," Mr. Nishio said of colonial Korea.

But the comic book, perhaps inadvertently, also betrays Japan's conflicted identity, its longstanding feelings of superiority toward Asia and of inferiority toward the West. The Japanese characters in the book are drawn with big eyes, blond hair and Caucasian features; the Koreans are drawn with black hair, narrow eyes and very Asian features.

That peculiar aesthetic, so entrenched in pop culture that most Japanese are unaware of it, has its roots in the Meiji Restoration of the late 19th century, when Japanese leaders decided that the best way to stop Western imperialists from reaching here was to emulate them.

In 1885, Fukuzawa - who is revered to this day as the intellectual father of modern Japan and adorns the 10,000 yen bill (the rough equivalent of a $100 bill) - wrote "Leaving Asia," the essay that many scholars believe provided the intellectual underpinning of Japan's subsequent invasion and colonization of Asian nations.

Fukuzawa bemoaned the fact that Japan's neighbors were hopelessly backward.

Writing that "those with bad companions cannot avoid bad reputations," Fukuzawa said Japan should depart from Asia and "cast our lot with the civilized countries of the West." He wrote of Japan's Asian neighbors, "We should deal with them exactly as the Westerners do."

As those sentiments took root, the Japanese began acquiring Caucasian features in popular drawing. The biggest change occurred during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905, when drawings of the war showed Japanese standing taller than Russians, with straight noses and other features that made them look more European than their European enemies.

"The Japanese had to look more handsome than the enemy," said Mr. Nagayama.

Many of the same influences are at work in the other new comic book, "An Introduction to China," which depicts the Chinese as obsessed with cannibalism and prostitution, and has sold 180,000 copies.

The book describes China as the "world's prostitution superpower" and says, without offering evidence, that prostitution accounts for 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product. It describes China as a source of disease and depicts Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi saying, "I hear that most of the epidemics that broke out in Japan on a large scale are from China."

The book waves away Japan's worst wartime atrocities in China. It dismisses the Rape of Nanjing, in which historians say 100,000 to 300,000 Chinese were killed by Japanese soldiers in 1937-38, as a fabrication of the Chinese government devised to spread anti-Japanese sentiment.

The book also says the Japanese Imperial Army's Unit 731 - which researched biological warfare and conducted vivisections, amputations and other experiments on thousands of Chinese and other prisoners - was actually formed to defend Japanese soldiers against the Chinese.

"The only attractive thing that China has to offer is Chinese food," said Ko Bunyu, a Taiwan-born writer who provided the script for the comic book. Mr. Ko, 66, has written more than 50 books on China, some on cannibalism and others arguing that Japanese were the real victims of their wartime atrocities in China. The book's main author and cartoonist, a Japanese named George Akiyama, declined to be interviewed.

Like many in Taiwan who are virulently anti-China, Mr. Ko is fiercely pro-Japanese and has lived here for four decades. A longtime favorite of the Japanese right, Mr. Ko said anti-Japan demonstrations in China early this year had earned him a wider audience. Sales of his books surged this year, to one million.

"I have to thank China, really," Mr. Ko said. "But I'm disappointed that the sales of my books could have been more than one or two million if they had continued the demonstrations."

The above article is from The New York Times.

kimurafan - January 7, 2006 08:51 PM (GMT)
'Peaceful baby' dolls becoming a hit in Japan

user posted image

The puppet doll "Yasuraka Akachan."OSAKA -- A new type of puppet doll made to resemble a sleeping baby dressed in baby clothes is becoming a hit in Japan.

The dolls, named "Yasuraka Akachan" (peaceful baby), are sold by Osaka-based cosmetics firm Suhada Biyo Kenkyusho. They are priced at 12,600 yen each.

Between August last year and the end of 2005, 800 of the dolls had reportedly been sold.

Company officials reportedly decided to market the puppet dolls on the premise that "beauty starts with a peaceful heart."

While the dolls are popular at homes for the elderly and nurseries, middle-aged and elderly people working on solo assignment have also taken a liking to them, with one admirer reportedly saying, "It's cuter than my daughter." (Mainichi)

hahaha.. well you know I have heard that in the States, they use crying baby dolls at some schools to take home to simulate how to look after an infant so as to discourage youth pregnancy because the kids would realize how hard it is. :laughing5: :laughing5:

Perhaps I should get one of these when I'm old...and then, like in Tsuyoshi's dubbed Robotix, change to bigger models every few weeks...until it is a larger version...

LOLA - January 20, 2006 01:39 AM (GMT)
[Sorry I don't know the source of the article; I just came across it on the web. Good article.]

The last geisha
From: By David McNeill
January 19, 2006

WITH Rob Marshall's film Memoirs of a Geisha laying bare the secretive,
sexual world of the traditional Japanese geisha, DAVID McNEILL visits
tourist traps, fleshpots and invitation only teahouses in search of the
true exponents of this mysterious art.

FRESH snow dusts the narrow streets of Gion in Japan's ancient capital,
Kyoto, on a wintry December night, but inside the Harutomi ochaya tearoom
all is warm, feminine cheer. The small room in the city's old geisha
district is a comforting fug of sake fumes, rustling silk and the
mellifluous sing song voices of three women who flit around the handful of
male customers. Wrapped in lustrous patterned kimonos, black eyes framed in
chalk white faces under gaudy ornamental wigs, the two older geisha are
mesmerising confections, moving with the graceful ease of dancers.
Their attentions don't come cheap. The bill for an evening in an ochaya
into hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars, and star struck men have
known to bankrupt themselves in places like this.

The youngest of the three, 17 year old Miehinna, is a maiko, or apprentice,
still three years from being a full geisha. Beneath the make up is a
sprinkling of adolescent pimples and when she smiles her teeth are
endearingly crooked. She is looking for a danna literally, a master or male
patron who financially supports a geisha who will pay to have her teeth
fixed, ultimately look after her and, perhaps, take her virginity.

Gion, the setting for the new film Memoirs of a Geisha, has always had its
own rules. In its heyday, this was a pleasure quarter of squat wooden bars
and teahouses run almost entirely by women in a male dominated world.
social agreements such as marriage and even family ties had little meaning
here and it was one of the few places in Japan where female babies many
outside marriage were treasured.

Today, the number of geisha and maiko in Gion has fallen from more than
in the 1920s to perhaps as few as 200, reflecting their decline nationwide,
but the area is still a closed world to most ordinary Japanese. Entry into
teahouse is by introduction only and secrecy is prized. And although the
system of patronage by rich men who seek out geisha as status symbols or
concubines has faded, it survives.

"Ideally, we want a prosperous older man who will not want to sleep with
her," says Noriko Wakabayashi, Miehinna's "mother" who is responsible
schooling her in the geisha arts. "It's not a question of sex but of who
will be able to look after her."
Like most geisha in Japan, Wakabayashi has read the Arthur Golden book,
Memoirs of a Geisha, on which the film is based, and takes exception to its
depiction of a maiko's sexual initiation, known as mizuage.

"We don't auction the girl's virginity," she says contemptuously, but
that Miehinna cannot choose whom to sleep with. "That will be decided by me
and the patron. Of course, it is not like the old days where she had
absolutely no choice in this. If she does not like the man, she can

What if she were to fall in love with a boy her own age? "That cannot
happen," says Wakabayashi firmly. "She is not a schoolgirl. She lives
and knows the responsibility of being a maiko, and the traditions of this

In Memoirs, the young heroine Sayuri played by Chinese star Ziyi Zhang is
sold by her poor family into an okiya, or geisha house, a common practice
until Japan began its climb to postwar prosperity.

Today, Miehinna is one of hundreds of young Japanese women who freely
to become a maiko. She did so once she finished school at 15.
"I have the chance to meet so many interesting people and to learn and
study," she says. She claims she has not told her friends about her job,
have they asked. "They would not understand this world."Still, confusion
reigns about what a "real" geisha is. This is particularly true in Atami,
faded hot springs resort town southwest of Tokyo, and home to about 300
geisha. This is the geisha second division, often contemptuously referred
as the centre of "onsen hot springs geisha", a euphemism for prostitution.

Today, about a dozen women are preparing for a busload of tourists who will
come to see them perform the "clumsy butterfly" and other traditional
dances. The women range in age from early 20s to almost 70, and underneath
the geisha war paint their faces are tough and worn. Some have been up
the early hours drinking with clients.

Thirty year old Chizuho says the boozing is the hardest part of the job. "I
was once ferried to hospital after downing a bottle of whisky." Like the
rest of her colleagues, she sits perfectly straight with her kimono hanging
low at the nape of the neck, considered one of the most erotic parts of the
body in geisha culture.

"You have to protect your health," she says, dragging on a cigarette,
bloodshot eyes standing out cruelly.

While not lucrative, geisha work in Atami pays much better than office
drudgery. A good geisha can earn $70,000 or more a year, although they must
pay a percentage to a local union and fork out for their own kimono, wigs,
obi belts and make up, an ensemble that typically costs more than $12,000.
Some have found other ways to supplement their income.
Hotaru became a geisha 17 years ago after falling into debt in her teens
says sex with clients is an option. "It depends on the person," she says.
"With other forms of prostitution you can't refuse a client, but in this
business you might meet someone that you like as a person and take it from
there. It goes on in any world where men and women meet. The woman can, of
course, refuse, but if they like each other they might negotiate a price,
and she'll be his wife for a night."

The accusation that geisha is the flesh trade dressed up in silk finery
enrages traditionalists and many of the older women, who vehemently deny

"Absolutely nothing like that exists," spits 56 year old Komami, who is
third generation geisha and has been married for more than 30 years. "In
past those things happened but no longer.

"There are plenty of young women wanting to join, but they have to know how
to work hard. It takes 10 years or more to learn."

Komami adds that women are more interested these days in being a geisha
because they find the work interesting rather than financially rewarding, a
point supported by her sisters in Tokyo, where pockets of geisha survive in
downtown areas.

"I certainly don't do it for the money," says 26 year old Seiko who,
being the top geisha in Tokyo's downtown Asakusa district, earns $165 for
two hours work, minus 25 per cent to her union.

"I was attracted to the life because of its allure and glamour and because
it's different to ordinary work. You never know who you're going to meet.
could be someone famous from the television."

Like any good geisha, Seiko keeps mum about her clientele. Bachelor Prime
Minister Junichiro Koizumi is rumoured to frequent ochayas and, in one of
the most infamous modern political scandals, Sosuke Uno was forced to
from the country's top political job in 1989 after a geisha revealed their
affair. The fact that she went public with her story at all proved for many
that she was another fake.

Does Seiko have a danna? She titters behind a tiny white hand. "There are
people who like geisha and want to help them become more skilled and who
will sponsor them, but I don't live in an expensive apartment provided for
by a man or anything like that."

Keiji Chiba, the manager of the Asakusa geisha union, explains: "Dannas
still exist but they are not common. It's expensive to sponsor a geisha and
since the economy crashed few men have that sort of money."

Can geisha survive without the rich patrons? In many places outside Kyoto,
they are already like apparitions from a lost age, their brand of measured
eroticism today hopelessly mannered in a country that is teeming with
commoditised sex.

"The geisha world is finished unless they change," says Mushiake, the
historian. "Who knows what they will have to do to survive."

kimurafan - January 27, 2006 07:47 AM (GMT)
Men retreat from 'hassle' of loving relationships


We're told that the nation's economy is in its best shape in a decade. While this is "roho (good news)," other things are happening in this country that are not so hot. Literally.
According to sources, many eligible Japanese men are in the throes of what's become known as "Renai Ken-o Sho (Dislike of Love Relationships)" and, consequently, the number of loving couples has plummeted to probably the lowest in the last decade. Single women are complaining that the dating scene has never been so barren, and those fortunate enough to have boyfriends live in fear of the extremely high turnover rate: "Kyo no kanojyo wa ashita no moto-kano. (Today's girlfriend is tomorrow's ex-girlfriend)."

Yes, there is less relationship-security now than ever before, and it's all the result of the Japanese male's seeming reluctance to get close, get committed and become that most coveted of conditions: "jyounetsuteki (passionate)."

Out-of-love epidemic
"Korewa mohaya byokidane (this has officially become an epidemic)" says editor Michiyo on this out-of-love trend. This is her story: After three whole years of nurturing warm, friendly relations with a "doryo (colleague)," Michiyo confessed her love one morning after an all-night, "futarikiri (just-the-two-of-us) drinking stint. Instead of taking her in his arms and declaring likewise (as she had envisioned) he looked acutely embarrassed, turned away and muttered: "Sou yuno, nashini shiyoyo (Let's not go there)."
Shocked, Michiyo's professional antenna went up: This colleague had to be part of a bigger disease eating away at the hearts and minds of the nation's men. It should be noted that Michiyo is smart, attractive and sexy -- she owns eight pairs of skin-tight, pin-heel boots that, when combined with her collection of skin-tight Earl jeans, makes her look like a "wasei Kyameron (the Japanese Cameron Diaz)," the kind of look that, it might be assumed, would attract suitors.

Let's not go there? What was the guy thinking?

And this would seem to be the collective Japanese female wail. They just don't know what men are thinking, or want anymore. Before, it had been so simple. Men wanted women and that was all there was to it. It was the guy's job to deduce the workings of the female mind.

Now, the tables have turned. Men are constantly shying away and looking embarrassed while women lay bare their hearts and fling them at their reluctant, shuffling feet. "I sense a nation-wide wave of 'don-biki (a great, pulling away)' on the part of men" analyzes Michiyo. "They actually act affronted when women confess. They act like little girls, they act like 'otome (virgins)!' "

It's true. The widespread "ren'ai ken-o" goes hand in hand with the widespread otome-ization of the Japanese male. Ten years ago the media gasped when young men were discovered to shave their legs and buy skin-care products. Today the focus is on young men who see sexual relationships as something "kimoi (disgusting)" and who seem to have little interest in venting their physical desires with actual partners. They live for "shigoto (jobs)" and "shumi (hobbies)." Above all, they value their privacy.

Heavy burden
Behind the "shoshika (low birth rate)" phenomenon (which has mostly been palmed off as the fault of the nation's women), is this to consider: Japanese men are less interested in love, let alone such an "omoni (heavy burden)" as marriage and "kosodate (child-rearing)."
Michiyo did an informal survey among the single men in her department, and reports that six out of eight replied that the reason they choose to avoid ren'ai altogether is because they cannot see any merit in being with women. "Onnanoko wa mendoudashi, renraku shinakya-naranaishi, purezento toka okane kakarushi . . . (Girls are a hassle, they expect me to call, I have to buy them gifts and that would cost money)" was one 34-year-old male's sum-up. He would rather deploy his funds and time in other ways, ways that would be infinitely more rewarding than in a "kocchini nanno tokuni naranai (There's no profit to be gained)" love relationship.

Girls of Nippon, we live in glacial times.

The Japan Times: Jan. 10, 2006

kimurafan - January 28, 2006 06:01 AM (GMT)
Forget cars and consumer goods, Japan's latest great export is lazy young bums
Japan has become known around the world for its sturdy exports ... cars, electronics, gadgets and even its raunchy manga.

But now, according to Spa! (1/31), the Land of the Rising Sun is sending out what it calls sotokomori -- lazy, young bums who travel overseas and congregate only with other like-minded Japanese who draw on the almost national trait of being hikikomori, or withdrawing from the world.

Sotokomori are almost exclusively in their 20s or 30s, making quick cash through high-paying jobs, then head off to live in cheap haunts overseas. But instead of broadening their horizons and learning more about other lands, these Japanese only hang out with their fellow countrymen, almost always at Japanese-owned businesses and spend their time talking about their homeland.

"In Japan, you can pick up a quick 1 million yen working part-time and then using that money to fund a long-term stay in a country like Thailand, Cambodia, India or Nepal, where the prices are cheap," travel writer Yuji Shimokawa, who coined the sotokomori tag and has followed the trend for a while, tells Spa! "These people who go overseas and then become hikikomori are the sotokomori tribe. They have no interest in traveling, or the towns or country that they're living in. There're loads of these people who don't even leave the rooms they're staying in for days at a time."

Sotokomori numbers, particularly the 20- and 30-somethings are skyrocketing.

"Sotokomori have virtually turned Bangkok into their own 'hallowed ground.' They can stay in cheap joints, eat at streetside stalls and generally lead a fairly decent lifestyle for 300 Baht (around 900 yen) a day," Shimokawa says. "All they do, though, is hang out with other Japanese in front of convenience stores or laze around in fast food joints, Internet cafes or manga libraries."

One of the main reasons blamed for the development of the sotokomori are the so-called "Japanese lodgings" that are basically backpackers' hotels which have popped up throughout the Khao San district of Bangkok.

"There are about 10 Japanese backpacker places in Khao San, with women making up around 30 percent of the customers. As customers, sotokomori are fantastic -- they normally pay their room charges and, because they're introverted, don't cause too many problems with other guests," Eiichiro Arahata, operator of a "Japanese lodging" in Khao San, tells Spa!

There seems to be specific types who become susceptible to the lures of becoming sotokomori.

"Most of the women do temp work, or had been in some sort of specialized profession. The guys are more likely to be the types who've suddenly quit their jobs and fled to get away from everything. A common trait is that once you've become sotokomori, it's hard to get out of the habit," travel writer Shimokawa says. "They sit around drinking beer, talking about their friends who've gone back to Japan and found work and bad-mouthing all the people they used to work with back in Japan."

An official from the Japanese Embassy in Thailand points out that 80 percent of trouble involving Japanese in the Land of Smiles emanates from the Khao San district, making the backpacker district a risk. But Shimokawa argues that the very nature of the sotokomori sees them unlikely to fall prey to the unscrupulous.

"Sotokomori have almost nothing to do with the people from the country where they're staying. They only associate with other Japanese," Shimokawa tells Spa! "And because they only have shallow relationships with the people they do come into contact with, the likelihood of them getting caught up in some kind of trouble is fairly low. (By Ryann Connell)

January 26, 2006

masquerade - February 14, 2006 06:53 PM (GMT)
This is kind of funny... :P

Japanese women bitter at Valentine chocolate duty
By Elaine Lies
Tue Feb 14, 1:51 AM ET

Japanese women are fed up with a longstanding Valentine's Day custom requiring them to give chocolates to men without getting any in return.

According to an Internet survey, 70 percent of working women said they would be happy if there was no tradition of giving "obligatory chocolates" to their boyfriends or colleagues.

Nearly 60 percent said they felt unhappy as Valentine's Day approached, citing the cost and time it takes to shop for the gifts, which are finely calculated to express just the right emotions toward a boss, a colleague or a true boyfriend.

The custom has grown into a sweet 50 billion yen ($424.6 million) market for Japan's chocolate makers, some of whom rake in 20 to 30 percent of annual profits in a few short weeks.

Confectionary maker Morozoff Ltd. is widely credited with having introduced Valentine's Day to Japan with a 1936 advertisement for chocolates, but it wasn't until two decades later that Mary Chocolate Co. Ltd. used the day to promote chocolate sales.

"Our then-president admired how American women could express their feelings to men, and thought it would be good if Japanese women could do the same," said Yoko Usami, a spokeswoman for Mary Chocolate.

A month later, on what is known as "White Day," men are supposed to return the favor, usually by giving sweets -- a task that they too are far from happy with, the survey found.

Fifty percent of men said shopping for a return present was bothersome, and they don't like to be compared with others.

"Certainly things have now changed so women can freely express their affection, so the Valentine's Day custom isn't essential," Usami said.

"But it allows people to acknowledge their own feelings, so I think it's still nice to have."

In a reflection of the changing times, perhaps, retailers say that women are now becoming much more likely to buy pricey chocolates costing up to $200 a box as a special treat -- for themselves.

($1=117.76 Yen)

kimurafan - February 16, 2006 07:19 PM (GMT)
Japanese women bitter at Valentine chocolate duty
Updated: 2006-02-15 08:53

Japanese women are fed up with a longstanding Valentine's Day custom requiring them to give chocolates to men without getting any in return.

A salesperson displays a box of Chocolatier Antwerpen's chocolates at a department store ahead of Valentine's Day in Tokyo in this February 8, 2006 photo. According to an Internet survey, 70 percent of working Japanese women said they would be happy if there was no tradition of giving 'obligatory chocolates' to their boyfriends or colleagues. [Reuters]

According to an Internet survey, 70 percent of working women said they would be happy if there was no tradition of giving "obligatory chocolates" to their boyfriends or colleagues.

Nearly 60 percent said they felt unhappy as Valentine's Day approached, citing the cost and time it takes to shop for the gifts, which are finely calculated to express just the right emotions toward a boss, a colleague or a true boyfriend.

The custom has grown into a sweet 50 billion yen ($424.6 million) market for Japan's chocolate makers, some of whom rake in 20 to 30 percent of annual profits in a few short weeks.

Confectionary maker Morozoff Ltd. is widely credited with having introduced Valentine's Day to Japan with a 1936 advertisement for chocolates, but it wasn't until two decades later that Mary Chocolate Co. Ltd. used the day to promote chocolate sales.

"Our then-president admired how American women could express their feelings to men, and thought it would be good if Japanese women could do the same," said Yoko Usami, a spokeswoman for Mary Chocolate.

A month later, on what is known as "White Day," men are supposed to return the favor, usually by giving sweets -- a task that they too are far from happy with, the survey found.

Fifty percent of men said shopping for a return present was bothersome, and they don't like to be compared with others.

"Certainly things have now changed so women can freely express their affection, so the Valentine's Day custom isn't essential," Usami said.

"But it allows people to acknowledge their own feelings, so I think it's still nice to have."

In a reflection of the changing times, perhaps, retailers say that women are now becoming much more likely to buy pricey chocolates costing up to $200 a box as a special treat -- for themselves.

($1=117.76 Yen)

kimurafan - February 19, 2006 10:50 PM (GMT)
Japan battles rising obesity, frets disease may cut world-class longevity
Sayaka Oyama, 10, grimaces as she clings to a rope, assisted by instructor Junko Sano during a sports program for overweight kids in Tokyo. (AP)For those who think Japan is all fish and tofu, consider Sayaka Oyama's former diet: spaghetti and meat sauce for lunch, chocolates and cookies for snack and a dinner of rice balls and sandwiches at nighttime classes.

Late at night, the 10-year-old slurped down some quick noodles before going to bed.

That diet had a predictable outcome -- one that doctors are seeing more in Japan as the country leaves behind traditional food habits. At 9 years old, Sayaka stood 126 centimeters, and weighed 49 kilograms, about 23 kilograms over her ideal weight.

"I just love eating noodles. I get home tired from cram school, so I used to eat it all the time at night," explained the girl, who, like many Japanese children, takes evening classes to prepare for junior high entrance exams.

Now 10, Sayaka is trying to slim down in a sports program for overweight kids. She reflects a rise in obesity that is being blamed for diabetes and other health problems.

Some fear the trend could one day jeopardize Japan's status as the home of the world's longest-living population. Life expectancy for Japanese is 86 for women, 79 for men.

"I don't know for how long Japan can maintain the world's highest longevity," says Yukio Yamori, director of the International Center for Research on Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases. "If eating habits change, life expectancy will shorten and this has already been made clear."

Still, the Japanese are a long way from being as fat as Americans. Only 24 percent of Japanese aged 15 and older are believed to be overweight, compared to about 65 percent of adults in the United States.

But concern is growing over eating patterns like Sayaka's. Instead of the fish, rice and miso soup of their grandparents' generation, younger Japanese are increasingly wolfing down fast food like burgers, fried chicken and instant noodles.

Bad diet and less exercise create what psychologists say is a vicious cycle: Fat kids are increasingly picked on at school, get depressed and find solace in eating even more.

"Children these days shoulder a lot of concerns and stresses," says Yuriko Ota, a nutritionist who runs the program that Sayaka enrolled in last year. "I feel there are more obese kids that are gloomy and dark. It wasn't like this before."

Depressed or not, there certainly are more fat people in Japan these days.

Men in all age groups have grown heavier in the past two decades. The highest rate is among men in their 40s: 34 percent were overweight in 2003, up from 23 percent in 1980, according to the National Health and Nutrition Survey. While older women are growing fatter, younger fashion-conscious women tend to be underweight.

Among children, 8 percent were obese or at risk of obesity in 2004, compared with fewer than 6 percent in 1980. In the United States, experts believe about 30 percent of kids are overweight.

Diabetes is a leading concern. While the number of deaths from the disease has fallen in the past decade, more than 2 million people are being treated for it -- an increase of about 53 percent from 15 years ago.

The number treated for high blood pressure has also grown about 9 percent in the past 10 years, the Health Ministry says.

Alarmed by the trend, the government released a new nutrition chart recently that encourages eating more carbohydrates -- such as rice -- and vegetables as main sources of energy, while cutting down on meat to reduce the intake of fat.

The chart specifically targets overweight men, singles, and those raising children.

The government has set aside about 72 million yen in the 2006-2007 budget to tackle child heft. The Health Ministry also plans to research the link between parents' lifestyle and overweight children, and support selected towns to promote healthier eating habits.

Japanese boys and girls dash during a sports program for overweight kids in Tokyo. (AP)Heavy kids are also flocking to programs like Sayaka's in central Tokyo. Opened in 1985, the Health and Sports Class' one-year curriculum is split between sports and nutrition and health lessons for children and parents.

They are given specific instructions on how to improve their eating and living habits. Many continue on with the program even after their year ends.

Twenty years ago, it was hard to recruit 20 kids per class. Now, overweight children are waiting in line to get into the program, said Ota, the director.

For Sayaka, the hard work is paying off. She's grown 6 centimeters taller since starting a year ago, but has kept her weight steady. Though she's still over her ideal weight, she's proud of her progress.

"I stopped eating noodles every night, and now I only eat it once a week, just Saturday and only for lunch," she said. "I didn't like veggies before, but now I try to put them in everyday meals." (By Kana Inagaki, Associated Press Writer)

February 15, 2006

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