Archive for May, 2007

Comic Books Aren’t Just for Kids

Visit any Japanese home and you’re likely to find an entire bookshelf dedicated to comic books. In America, they’re the exclusive gems of geeks and prepubescent boys, but in Japan’s case comics are widely accepted reading material by everyone, young and old, male and female alike.

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That’s because it’s not just about monsters and robots. My own shelf includes a series that revolves around a very homely woman who spites her tormentors by turning into a hot babe with the help of a little plastic surgery. Think of it as fantasy follow-up to the reality show “The Swan,” where haughty coworkers are dropping their jaws when the supposed “new girl” walks into the office. And then there’s graphic novels detailing the history of feudal Japan that my dad keeps whenever he’s in the mood for tales of swashbuckling Samurai.

Comic books are in fact so cherished by the Japanese that even a prominent politician has publicly declared his love. Just recently he announced he was establishing an international manga award for foreign authors. That’s right, if you’re a Japanese-style comic book artist born outside of Japan then you qualify.

Aso hopes the award will become a Nobel Prize of sorts, further pushing Japanese pop culture into American society. Though unlike the Swedish award, there isn’t a cash prize. Instead, winners will get a shiny trophy and free trip to Japan.

It’d be really cool to see what comes out of American manga artists. Tales of interracial love? Evangelical crusaders? Model minorities gone wild? The possibilities are truly endless in such a multi-faceted country as the U.S. Maybe soon enough I’ll be clearing out a shelf just for them. (^_<)/

Himawari

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!

JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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May 31, 2007 at 3:48 pm

Konnichiwa and Hello! Learning English in Japan

When my husband and I visited temples or other historical places in Japan, we often saw lines of Japanese school kids on field trips. Each group sported different colored uniforms, and inevitably, one or two students would dart over to us and say, “Hello!” in a loud, cheerful voice. They thought it was absolutely hilarious if we said “Hello!” back.

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At first we were confused by this reaction. What about us was so funny? Of course, there was the possibility they were laughing at our clothes or our hair (in our defense, however, we never, ever wore fanny packs), but it seemed the giggles stemmed directly from our little chat.

As in the U.S., most school kids in Japan don’t start learning a foreign language until they’re 11 or 12 years old. In some private elementary schools, Japanese kids can start earlier, but this isn’t terribly common. Also, according to web-japan.org, “Even after learning English for six years, many students graduating from high school still can’t speak the language very freely, though they may be able to read and write in English.”

In other words, their grammar, reading skills and writing skills may be top notch, but they rarely have the opportunity to speak English, either in class or with a native westerner.

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This accounts for the popularity of “Eikaiwa” or Conversation Schools in Japan. From one-on-one at the local Excelsior Caffe to classes of 20 people or more, lessons with native speakers are a must if one really wants to master English. Programs like Nova, Geos and Aeon recruit American, Canadian, Australian and British people to travel to Japan and teach. There is even a government program, JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching), dedicated to “increasing mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the people of other nations.”

Books like “Make a Mil-Yen: Teaching English in Japan” by Don Best offer advice for westerners going it alone. Next time I’m in Japan and I’m approached by a school kid, I’ll say more than “Hello!”

Sarah S.

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!

JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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May 26, 2007 at 3:46 pm 1 comment

Krispy Kreme is King

It’s official. Krispy Kreme is big in Japan.

Within the first three days of its opening last December, 10,000 people filed in for these deep-fried doughnuts long-rumored to be the sweetest, fluffiest treats to arrive from America. When I read in the newspaper of the hour-long wait, I was hit with a Tokyo-in-the-‘90s flashback when the fever was for Belgium waffles.

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They came out oven-fresh from a kiosk in Shibuya station. The wafting aroma of hot butter and syrup enticed the senses of morning commuters desperate for a quick pick-me-up. But the line only grew longer as word got around, and so one-hour waits became the norm. Women seemed to love it most. The joy of toting a half-dozen waffles around by the handle of a little box trumped any guilty remorse for a missed morning of work.

If Japan is the reigning nation of culinary fads, then American junk food proudly sits on its throne. Cold Stone Creamery, McDonalds, KFC, and now Krispy Kreme. With all the fanfare, some are worried that young Japanese people are heading down the path of over-consumption, much like their American counterparts. Some are worried that a fat, sodium-rich diet will leave a greasy smudge on the country’s healthy reputation. Personally, I think they’ll be fine. Despite current notions in the news, they may be consuming high-calorie foods, but believe me, they eat nowhere near the amount most Americans do. I dropped 10 pounds in Japan simply because I was curbing my intake to Japanese levels.

One thing for sure: Food fads can fade quickly in Japan. I haven’t been back to Shibuya station in a while but I’d bet that waffle shop is long gone. Though, some snacks have luck in finding their way into modern food culture. Fries, pizza, French-style bakeries ― it really depends on how you market yourself.

Start off by fanning out a delicious scent in the air. That should get them running in by the masses.

Himawari

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!

JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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May 24, 2007 at 3:44 pm 2 comments

Get your last supper here! Christon Cafe in Japan embraces Jesus as its mascot

In Southern California, we have plenty of theme restaurants: Rainforest Café, House of Blues, Planet Hollywood… Once upon a time, Universal CityWalk even sported a Marvel Café, dedicated to our favorite comic book heroes, Spiderman and the X-men.

Can you imagine a restaurant dedicated to Jesus?

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Imagine no longer. “Christon Cafe” in Japan has locations in Shinjuku, Shibuya, Osaka, and Fukuoka.

Though it’s part of a chain, each location displays unique, authentic European religious artifacts (kinda like the way Hard Rock Café displays guitars and signed vinyl records). The dark, stained glass, Cathedral-style restaurants seem small on the outside, but inside they’re cavernous, with sweeping staircases and high ceilings.

Check out the medieval-style altars and gargoyles (shipped over from France) while you nosh on Italian/French/Asian food such as spinach pasta, foie gras, Peking duck rolls, and fatty red meat. Candles adorn the large, crucifix-shaped tables. If you want privacy, you can request a curtained booth; those come with cozy, goth-friendly, red velvet curtains to separate you from other diners.

A Jesus Cafe would never fly in the U.S. — the controversy would quickly overpower it — but you have to admit it has a certain ring to it, if you can resist the urge to confess your sins over dinner (sacramental red wine, anyone?)

Sarah S.

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!

JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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May 19, 2007 at 3:42 pm 1 comment

Listen Closely to My Heart

My friend brought an interesting little book back from Japan last week. It’s one of those book-and-toy kits ― this one with a stethoscope. Most people without a medical degree have probably never handled one of these things, but as I found out they’re lots of fun.

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Of course if you put it against your chest you can hear the ba-Dum, ba-Dum of your heart. It helps to be in a quiet place like a bedroom, then you can hear everything inside better. The book shows diagrams of the two heart ventricles and explains exactly what you’re hearing. Depending on where you place the stethoscope, the ba-DUM, ba-DUMs will turn into BA-dum, BA-dum, though for some people it might constantly sound like badum-badum-badum-badum (in which case you should probably consult your doctor).

And if you slide the stethoscope down to your stomach you’ll be able to hear things you’d never figure would come out from there. I’d just eaten a hamburger so I heard things that sounded like a leaky faucet, a purring kitten and maybe even a lawnmower. It makes you realize just how much goes on in there. The book goes on to explain the importance of monitoring your heart rate and keeping your body in check. Exercise regularly, it advises.

Japanese consumers love these sort of “info-tainment” health products which sells for around 3,500 yen (~$29) retail from NIPPON JITSUGYO PUBLISHING. It seems like a steep price to pay, but when I was living in Japan I found that most of my disposable income was going toward stuff like this. Once I bought a book that came with a pair of dark plastic glasses punched in holes. The book advised me to practice looking near and far in order to strengthen my weakening eye muscles. Whether this product was really doctor-approved or not I really don’t know. But just like my Nintendo Wii, products like these get me excited. Becoming health conscious and having fun doing it – what more can one ask for?

Himawari

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!

JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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May 17, 2007 at 3:40 pm

See You at the Polls: What Japan Thinks

The cultural differences between America and Japan, whether subtle or astonishing, can be tough to figure out. What seems normal in one country is frowned upon, laughed at or, altered in the other. Take the “Mac vs. PC” commercials on TV; in America, it’s normal to compare your product to that of your competitor’s, but in Japan, direct reference to the competition is a big no-no.

In the U.S., slurping your soup would get you some sour looks, but in Japan, it’s a compliment proving that the food is delicious. What about bowing, proper chopstick handling, and use of the simple word “Sorry”? How do you figure out what’s rude and what’s not in another culture?

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For starters, visit What Japan Thinks, a blog filled with survey results, pie charts, and graphs that give you societal information at a glance. Discover what Japanese people believe about current etiquette, movies, politics, business, gaming and more. No topic is too big or too small, from the broad (“What Japan Thinks about Foreign Food”) to the specific (“What Japan thinks of ‘An Inconvenient Truth'”) to the humorous (“What Japan Thinks about Mothers-in-Law”).

Sarah S.

—————————————————————————
Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!

JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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May 11, 2007 at 3:38 pm

Looking for a Taco? It’s Right Here…

After about seven months living in Japan, most foreigners get a little homesick – especially for all the good food they used to get back home. For Southern Californians that means tacos, stuffed with juicy ground beef, shredded lettuce, cheddar cheese and spicy salsa. Yum.

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“Spicy” is the operative word here. In a country raised on soy sauce-sensibilities, it’s hard to find something that’ll set your mouth on fire the way a good tub of salsa will. Of course, homegrown garnishes like wasabi and karashi (hot mustard) are no joke, but it’s that certain Latin American kick that tastes oh-so good.

I used to host taco parties for my American friends and invite along a few Japanese for the experience. My city had a gourmet shop where you could find a jar of salsa among imported cheeses and chocolates. Usually there’s only one brand and it’s not very hot; Too much of a shock to the Japanese system, otherwise. If you’re lucky, you can find a pack of tortillas hidden away in the frozen foods section – again, one brand only. Otherwise, roll up those sleeves cause you’ll be kneading them yourself.

Cheddar is hard to come by in Japan, unless you’re a fan of processed cheese. Outside of northern Japan, there aren’t too many cows grazing in the pastures, so real cheese is something foreigners have to live without… unless they’re willing to pay triple the price.

So with everyone huddled around the kotatsu – a short dining table with a foot heater underneath – I start by grilling the tortillas one-by-one with plenty of butter. The ground beef is pre-seasoned and prepared as well as the rest of the ingredients, so it’s a do-it-yourself fest after that.

Americans love it cause it’s a chance to do away with the chopsticks and get their hands dirty. But for Japanese, it’s a different matter. Once they pick up this newfangled food, half the ingredients fall out the other end. I try to look the other way as they meekly gather the filling and spoon it down their mouth. (I wonder what Miss Manners would say?)

I heard that several years ago a famous American personality on Japanese TV tried opening up his own taco chain around the country. It went under quickly. Perhaps it was the awkwardness of eating it. Maybe it was just a bad recipe or the price wasn’t right. Though in my city, there was a “Mexican” restaurant that sold tacos for over ten bucks! Apparently, it was a high-end restaurant and tacos were gourmet eating. Go figure.

Himawari

—————————————————————————
Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!

JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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May 9, 2007 at 3:34 pm

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