Archive for July, 2007

Get out the Vote! Japanese Election Primer

While we here in the States are technically waiting until 2008 to cast our votes (though you wouldn’t know it from the amount of coverage the possible presidential candidates are already getting!), in Japan, their House of Councilors Election, or Upper House election, is mere days away.

Held every three years, and originally scheduled for July 22, the election was moved back a week to the 29th, a decision that faced some criticism for the short notice that was given.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe‘s ruling LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) and its strongest opposition, the Ichiro Ozawa-led DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan), are difficult for Americans to distinguish at first, because their names sound so similar. Or maybe it’s just me…

The LDP has been in power almost exclusively since 1955, but recent pension plan scandals, and accusations of bribery, have caused trouble.

Check out this poster, below, that condemns bribery:

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There is evidence that this year, the DPJ will gain ground; as of July 20, DPJ was leading in the polls.

Japan is ruled by a parliamentary representative democratic monarchy (try saying that three times fast), headed by a Prime Minister. Though sovereignty is in the hands of the people, Japan keeps an Emporer as a powerful symbol of the state. This is similar to Great Britain, whose Royals perform important functions that are practical, diplomatic, and symbolic.

Anyway, much like America’s checks and balances from the Senate and the House of Representatives, Japan has a legislative and an executive branch. Regardless of July 29th’s election, Shinzo Abe’s Lower House will retain a 2/3 majority.

For up-to-the minute news on Japanese politics, check out the reports from Trans-Pacific Radio.

Sarah S.

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July 28, 2007 at 5:51 pm 1 comment

American TV, Big in Japan

“Baywatch” isn’t the only show with a worldwide following. While living in Japan a few years ago, “Beverly Hills 90210” was the country’s most popular import. Yes, snuggled up with my futon blanket I tuned in weekly to the lives and loves of Brandon, Brenda, Kelly and Dylan. The syndicated show was already a decade old but felt like a completely new program, seeing the characters brood over premarital sex and peer pressure in dubbed anime-like voices.

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I used to watch the show in high school. It served well as mindless entertainment after expending all my brain power on final exams. Growing up 10 minutes from the infamous zip code, it was hard not to be cynical of their so-called Los Angeles lives. I mean, talk about ethnic cleansing – how can you walk into a restaurant and not find an immigrant clearing the tables?

“Beverly Hills 90210” was indeed a fantasy world. But it was a world that, after living in Japan for a while, even this Los Angelino started buying into. It’s what happens when you’re situated too long in a country full of black-hair, brown-eyed people who drink tea and bow excessively. The banality of Japan’s homogeneity made me susceptible to unreal life on the other side of the Pacific. And before I knew it, I was daydreaming of mall-hopping with blond pal Kelly, bitch-slapping Brenda, and sipping milkshakes at the Peach Pit with the rest of the gang.

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It’s fantasies like these that keep the good people of Japan glued to American TV imports of which have included “Dharma and Greg,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Ally McBeal.” They’ve also had a taste of our recent batch of must-see TV like “Prison Break.” On top of being an action-packed drama, I think most Japanese women would agree it’s the show’s handsome hero, Wentworth Miller, who keeps their hearts pounding.

Right now, I’m imagining millions of Japanese women sitting in their office cubicles, daydreaming about running through a prison maze with Miller hand-in-hand. Sure it’s a silly fantasy about life in America. Sure it’ll never come true. But television is such a powerful medium, and sometimes it can all feel so beautifully real.

Himawari

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July 25, 2007 at 5:49 pm

Japanese Muggles Love Harry Potter!

Last week we suggested picking up some books by Haruki Murakami for your summer reading pleasure. But the biggest publishing event this year belongs, of course, to The Boy Who Lived: Harry Potter.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the 7th and final book in J.K. Rowling’s immensely popular teen wizard series, hits bookshelves at midnight this Friday, and anticipation is very high throughout the U.S. You may not be surprised to hear excitement is equally high in Japan. In fact, the film version of the 5th book (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) chose to hold its world premiere in Japan on June 28th this year – nearly two full weeks before it opened in Great Britain or the U.S.

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According to the Associated Press, it was the right decision: “Hundreds of young Japanese fans, wearing witch costumes and holding magic wands, screamed as Daniel Radcliffe, who played the teenage Harry, appeared as white smoke spewed on the stage.”

That was nothing compared to the reception Daniel Radcliffe received at a Japanese High School, where he was treated like one of the Beatles and presented with gifts!

So what will fans of the series do after this weekend, when no further written adventures await them?

First, they can take heart in the fact that J.K. Rowling plans to release a Harry Potter Encyclopedia in the future; all proceeds from the book will go to charity.

Second, fans of Japanese artwork and fan-fiction can find homemade Harry Potter material here. Known as doujinshi, or self-published manga, some of them are absolutely gorgeous and definitely worth a look!

Sarah S.

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July 21, 2007 at 5:48 pm 1 comment

Chop-sticking it to the Man

After sitting down for dinner with a few friends the other night, one girl held up a pair of shiny, plastic chopsticks she’d taken out from her purse. “I bring them wherever I go. It’s far more sanitary than using the restaurant’s utensils,” she said smugly. She’s the type to always lug a heavy load around her shoulder. Even if she’s jogging to the corner mailbox she’s got a bag with her. And so after dinner she wiped off her chopsticks, placed it back in a plastic case and returned it to her purse. It was an odd sight, but somehow made me want to carry a pair of my own.

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That’s what hundreds of Japanese girls are also doing now that it’s been publicly declared cool to do so. Back in May, over 110 hair-bleached and bronze-faced girls (otherwise known as gyaru, after the English word “gal.”) stormed the streets of Tokyo in a spirited rally to encourage others to use their own chopsticks when dining out. Each girl waved their chopsticks around like cheerleaders with brand-new batons. This comes after China declared a tax on wooden disposable chopsticks, an effort to show its environmental philanthropy by curbing deforestation.

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If you’ve ever been to Japan you know just how much the country relies on wooden chopsticks. At convenience stores and fast food bento chains, stock is overflowing with sticks as an offering to customers to come back soon. Even in Japanese homes, you’re sure to find a drawer-full for those just-in-case moments.

I never thought twice about wasting a pair. After all, they’re biodegradable and weigh no more than a couple ounces. (Sometimes I’d break apart a pair and if they split unevenly I’d scrap them and try again.) So what’s the shtick? How bad can the environment really be?

Well, apparently enough to get some worried about a chopstick scarcity. Enough to have someone hire a bunch of airy young girls to romp around town brandishing a polished pair like it was their new boyfriend. So it seems we have an environmental movement going on. In the next few years I expect Japanese companies to very receptive toward new trends, which also happen to help Mother Earth. Personally, I’ll probably tote my own pair of chopsticks … though only if they’re decorated with pink glitter and cute little animals… or maybe Hello Kitty. (^_<)/

Himawari

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July 19, 2007 at 5:45 pm

Summer Reading with Haruki Murakami

Looking for some good books to take to the beach this summer?

Kafka on the Shore, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman or After Dark, all by Haruki Murakami, an award-winning Japanese author, should hit the spot (assuming you’re already bikini-ready from Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother’s Tokyo Kitchen, of course).

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Known for his surreal style, which combines elements of pop culture, nostalgia, and fantasy, Murakami wrote his first novel at age 29, and later became a translator, translating works from Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffanys, In Cold Blood) and John Irving (The World According to Garp, Cider House Rules) among other authors, into Japanese. Murakami caught the attention of the mainstream western world in the late ’90s, with his novel Wind-up Bird Chronicle. Two excerpts from the novel were published in The New Yorker, and many of his short fiction pieces have debuted there as well.

Kafka on the Shore (2005, now in paperback, and #1 on the New York Times Top Ten list of the same year) depicts two parallel adventures: that of Kafka, a runaway 15-year-old boy searching for his lost sister and mother, and that of Nakata, an old man who has the ability to talk to cats. Each chapter alternates between the two stories as the dual protagonists race closer and closer toward each other, to an extraordinary and suspenseful conclusion.

After Dark, which came out in the States this May, takes place in one night and starts its story at the Denny’s restaurant in Tokyo, where we meet a young female student, a jazz musician, a businessman, a prostitute, and a hotel manager, each harboring a dark secret.

Because of his references to modern life, especially American music and film, Murakami’s stories work equally well in Japanese and English.

If you’re pressed for time, pick up Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (August 2006), a short story collection that includes Murakami’s earlier work. It’s easy to get lost in the dream-like quality of the writing; you may not want to come back to reality!

Happy reading.

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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July 14, 2007 at 5:44 pm 2 comments

Maid in Heaven

As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, geeks can be found roaming all over Tokyo’s Akihabara district. It’s their own shopping mecca for games, electronics, comics … and even cute girls. (^-^*)

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Welcome to maid café central where one can enjoy a cup of tea in the company of a chick in a frilly black dress. If you want, she’ll challenge you to a game of checkers or lend an ear to your weary soul. In the guise of your typical coffee shop, maid cafes can be found in every nook of Akihabara. Taking shape around four years ago, on the eve of Akiba-kei mania, cafes have become a refuge for anyone in need of a little tender loving care.

Now I know what you’re thinking, so please get your mind out of the gutter! Service-oriented as these businesses are, they are not meant to be brothels for the sexually flustered. Most cafes state explicitly in their rules that customers are not to touch or fondle the maids in any way. Yes, please keep your hands out of the cookie jar. Thank you.

Of course, throw in a little more money and you can get into a makeshift studio with some of the maids to take their picture. They’ll primp themselves and flash peace signs if you so desire … fully-clothed, of course. Over the past few years, cafes have evolved into other services like beauty salons and massage parlors. There are places which will allow guests to lay side by side in a bed with a maid of your choice. Though once again, no funny business allowed.

So what’s this phenomenon say about modern Japanese society? No one can really say for sure. Not long after the legend of the Densha Otoko spread through Japan – he and his friends were known to be loyal patrons – maid cafes started filling up not only with geeky young men but curious women as well. So maybe novelty is key.

Next time I’m in Tokyo I’m definitely planning to stop by Akihabara to hang with the maids. I might not want a massage from them, but a couple of pictures would be fun. Just for bragging rights, you know? (キタ━━━━━━(゚∀゚)━━━━━━ !!!!!)

Himawari

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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 mor
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July 12, 2007 at 5:41 pm 1 comment

So you think you can draw?

Believe you’ve got what it takes to become a Manga artist?

You’re not alone.

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The first annual “Cartoon Performance Test” was held in Japan on June 17th, at 40 locations nationwide, and approximately 600 people showed up! The proficiency exam was designed for beginners as well as experienced cartoonists.

According to Comipress, the test consisted of four levels for general ability, three levels each for character, story, and drawing technique, and two levels for the potential job of Manga Assistant.

Would-be artists and artist assistants were given three hours to complete the exam, which included drawing a self-portrait.

At the Kyushu Designer Institute in Hakata Ku (a city in Fukuoka) alone, 63 contenders, including kids, signed up for critiques from professional artists. The full results will be announced mid-July, and the lucky ones chosen to become Manga Assistants can embark on their new lives in August.

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Not quite ready for your work to be seen? Consider formal study at Yoyogi Animation Gakuin, a school for anime and manga. (Hey, it beats a degree in astrophysics. Uh, I think.)
Perhaps you’re more of a critic. If so, you can comment on other people’s manga drawings here.

Happy viewing!

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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July 10, 2007 at 5:39 pm

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