Archive for October, 2007

Mottainai: Don’t be Wasteful!

Soon after moving back to the U.S., I found myself sitting in one of those $8.99 all-you-can-eat salad bars. I ordered a cup of hot tea and the waitress handed me a fistful of lemons, creamers and sugar packets; three wedges and five sweeteners, to be exact. Most Americans wouldn’t think much of it, but after living in Japan, the land of “take only what you can eat,” my first thought was “What a waste!” After all, anything unused would inevitably be trashed.

In Japan, people express their disdain for wastefulness by saying, “Mottainai!” It stems from Buddhist philosophy, but grew into the psyche during the country’s wartime days when people literally starved to death. To this day, my father reminds me of how he sliced a single apple every day among his siblings in order to stay alive. “Mottainai!” he’d say when I started flinging my mashed potatoes at the wall.

Young Japanese kids these days are spoiled. That’s why one mother decided to write a children’s book called “Mottainai Grandma” to teach her son the importance of finishing his food. It sold over 400,000 copies.

But compared to the U.S., Japan is a country with conservation on the brain. Most public areas have separate trashcans for recyclables and non-recyclables. Eco-friendly grocery bags are the latest trend. And there’s little in the way of paper towels in restaurants and restrooms. Most people carry handkerchiefs. Though, I must admit, Japanese stores tend to go excessive on the gift-wrap, even when it’s not a gift. I brought that point up to a Japanese friend and she counteracted it with, “Well, why do Americans have a constant supply of paper towels at home?” Touché.

So if you’re thinking of doing business in Japan, think less, not more. It’s a tiny island country over there. The last thing it needs is an extra heap of waste. Well, so as long as they’re not planning to build anymore airports.* (^_<)

*Kansai International Airport was built on a man-made landfill island.

Himawari

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October 29, 2007 at 4:04 pm 2 comments

This videogame teaches you what?!

Most of the time I think it’s great when a male-dominated industry wises up to the marketplace and decides to include women, but I’m not so sure about Nintendo DS’s latest Japanese videogames. The popular, ubiquitous handheld device has cards for every game under the sun: action, sports, first-person shooter, and, in the U.S., it includes classic titles like Metroid, Super Mario and Legend of Zelda.

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Now the Japanese company is branching out into “women’s titles” like “My Happy Manner Book,” and “DS Therapy” (hmmm). These so-called games are actually self-improvement exercises with quizzes and tests on par with questions you see in grocery store magazines, and I doubt they’ll be making their way stateside anytime soon.

I think the best title is (deep breath) “Female Power Emergency Up! DS.” You need to see it to believe it. Brought to us by, yes, a women’s weekly fashion magazine (called Anan), FPEU! (for short) is a videogame that encourages its players to improve themselves in the areas of beauty, romance, exercise and make-up application, and then tests you on your knowledge of diets and even fortune-telling.

These topics (well, maybe not fortune telling) certainly constitute an emergency if you’re competing on America’s Next Top Model, but for the rest of us the game might serve to point out inadequacies we didn’t know we had. Perhaps the target audience skews to junior high or high school age (after all, what 17 year old really reads Seventeen magazine?) with FPEU serving as a pocket-sized big sister giving advice, but this is one life coach I’ll probably skip!

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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October 25, 2007 at 7:34 am 1 comment

Hot Pot and World Peace

This weekend I’m going camping with some friends. We’re bringing a big ceramic pot, a nabe, in which we’ll set over a flame and toss in a heap of meat and vegetables. It’s a tradition this time of the year for nabe ryouri, or “hot pot” cooking, because when the temperature drops and the nights grow cold it’s nice to huddle around a boiling pot of food.

Most people eat their nabe in the comfort of their home. Though in some regions of Japan, they take the pot into the wilderness of their local park. Hardcore enthusiasts push back their sleeves and kindle a fire with two branches, but most just turn on a gas stove. Just like cherry blossom season, friends, family and coworkers gather, crack open a beer and revel in the changing of the fall colors.

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Cooking your own pot of goodness is fairly simple. First you fill the pot with water. Then you add dry fish powder. From there you can experiment with flavors like miso or spicy kimchi. The rest is optional: tofu, carrots, mushrooms, cabbage, green onions, fish cakes, slippery jelly noodles… I’m not a fan of raw fish so I like tossing it into the mix until it’s well-done. (Some people accuse me of not being very Japanese. =/ )

After the pot is filled, put a lid on it and sit back. By now, all your friends have pulled up and are ready to feast. Once the lid is off, let the games begin.

Nabe is the Japanese version of fondue where everyone casually dips their utensils in a communal vat of bacteria-laced liquid. Some people take issue to this, assuming they’ll catch whatever disease their friends carry. That’s why some Japanese will flip their chopsticks around and use the clean end. Wouldn’t want Mono with that fish cake~ !

The best thing about nabe is that everyone is facing each other in a big circle, as opposed to staring down at their plate. This forces people to talk to one another and share what’s on their mind. It can certainly do wonders for feuding families and quarrelsome couples; even warring nations.

Imagine Israel and Palestine hovering over a nabe pot, lovingly jostling for a cube of tofu. It just might do the trick.

 

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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October 23, 2007 at 12:38 pm

Trial By Jury, Japanese Style

In the U.S. we’re used to the image of “12 Angry Men” (and women) serving on a jury. On TV shows like Law & Order, Boston Legal and Shark, the prosecutors and defense attorneys must sway stone-faced jurors with impassioned speeches (and, hopefully, evidence!). In Japan, where conviction rates near 100%, a sole judge decides the fate of the accused in a courtroom. There isn’t much live testimony from witnesses. At least, that’s how it used to be.

Starting in 2009, Japan is overhauling its judicial system, in part to give Japanese citizens more participation in the process. According to The Christian Science Monitor, if the new system takes hold, it will give Japanese people even more involvement than Americans currently enjoy. For example, the six Jurors on each case can ask the defendant direct questions. Also, decisions don’t have to be unanimous: majority rules, even over judges (though it’s more complicated than that, of course).

For the past two years, hundreds of mock trials have been conducted throughout Japan to test out the new concepts. Mock trials include role-playing for kids, but also ask important questions of potential future jury members, known as saibanin.

Argument and debate are not exactly favorite pastimes of most Japanese; respecting authority and contributing to overall harmony is the norm, so the cultural significance of this change is high. The New York Times reported earlier this year that 80% of Japanese dread having to serve on a jury. Both kids and adults reported feeling “stressed” and “overwhelmed” by the prospect of deciding someone else’s fate, not to mention disagreeing with or challenging judges, who are authority figures and usually deferred to.

I will be very interested to see how this turns out. Stay tuned…

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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October 18, 2007 at 2:30 pm

Japan Kicks Butt with Billy Blanks

Fad diets come and go in Japan. From spicy Korean noodles to low-calorie gelatin―there’s always something touting itself as the holy grail of weight loss. Women especially love the Twiggy look, consuming far less calories than most other females around the world. I remember subjecting myself to single-rice ball lunches when I was a student in Tokyo. That and a bottle of unsweetened tea was enough to satisfy most girls… but not me.

I found it funny that so few of my Japanese friends bothered to exercise. Most friends in Los Angeles at least have gym membership and realize that healthy bodies are maintained by both diet and exercise.

All hail Billy Blanks, America’s workout guru. He founded the outrageously popular Tae Bo, and now he’s repackaged the routine for Japanese audiences. “Billy’s Boot Camp” has taken the country by storm, and in the past few months moms and babies alike have been kicking their way to a leaner body:

DVD sales have reportedly skyrocketed ever since promotion began early this year. Billy keeps close ties with his audience, showing up on TV with his perfectly sculpted body just to keep the masses motivated. The spry 51-year-old has become an icon in Japan to the extent that comedians have come up with their own workout parodies.

Though of course, with every successful product comes backlash. Just like with Tae Bo, reports of injury have stifled interest in the intense workout routine. So we’ll see how far Billy’s product goes. Hopefully it won’t get the boot that easily. Otherwise millions of Japanese women will resort to starving themselves again, and we wouldn’t want that.

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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October 17, 2007 at 1:51 pm

He Said, She Said: Men’s Japanese different from Women’s Japanese?

I read a funny essay the other week written by Matthew Rusling, a Western man and journalist who’d been living in Osaka, Japan for two and a half years. To his horror, he realized he’d been speaking a version of Japanese that was considered feminine. He’d inadvertently adopted a higher pitch and intonation, with words and phrases that came across as girlish or cutesy.

The reason? He’d learned how to speak Japanese by listening to his Japanese girlfriend.

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Little did he know that by mimicking her style and tone, his sentences sounded “pretty” and not particularly masculine. Even though he lived in Japan and felt relatively immersed in the Japanese lifestyle, he didn’t have many Japanese male friends and hadn’t been exposed to the cultural variations of the language. Another reason this is a common problem for gaijin men is because most Japanese teachers are women.

According to Matthew’s essay, the subtle (and not so subtle!) differences in men’s and women’s Japanese can’t be taught in a textbook. Japanese women frequently speak in artificially higher pitches, or elongate words (for example, adding wa to the end of a sentence to soften it or make it more pleasing to the listener).

This story reminded me of the Pocky (tasty stick-shaped cookies dipped in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, or almond-chocolate among many other flavors) I saw once in the market in Little Tokyo near downtown L.A. Though Pocky has become pretty conventional and you can find it in places like Ralph’s today, it used to be more difficult to track down, at least where I live.

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Anyway, to my surprise and confusion, the snack boxes were divided not only by flavor, but gender: Pocky and Men’s Pocky! Men’s Pocky is considered more mature, which translates to a bitter, darker chocolate taste.

(My favorite Pocky flavor is sweet milk. Guess I’m a girlie-girl.) Just don’t ask me how to pronounce anything…

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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October 12, 2007 at 1:49 pm 3 comments

Japanese Omiyage

How odd would it be if the face of your country’s leader showed up as a cartoon image atop a cupcake?

Dessert oddities are fairly normal in Japan. That’s why it wasn’t shocking to read about red bean cakes emblazoned with the likeness of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Not only is it on sale, it’s on back-order.

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But of course you’re thinking, “Why would anyone buy this? …Can I get a tax break?” Hardly. It’s more that Japan is a souvenir-giving nation. It’s called omiyage and whether you’re heading to Hawaii or the town next door, coworkers and family expect you to bring back a box of cookies/chocolates/rice cracker omiyage.

You’ll stumble upon them at train stations – rows and rows of cute boxes containing individually-wrapped sweets invariably shaped like famous local land sites. The choices are endless, from a 6-pack of Mt. Fuji mini-cakes to a 24-pack Tokyo Tower cookies. Others look like folding fans, chickens or maple leaves. Yet others are simply round.

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I always loved when a coworker returned from northern Japan where they’re famous for their tasty dairy products. So you knew they’d have a box or two of thin, creamy wafers called “Shiroi Koibito” (literally “white lover”) for the entire office. One coworker never bothered eating the sweets but instead lined them up on his desk as they came in. It was the ultimate epicurean collection.
Though if the coworkers keep going to Tokyo, you’re likely to get a whole lot of Tokyo Towers which could get really boring. That’s why it’s pretty exciting when somebody launches a product like the prime minister mini-cake. It’s cute, it’s tasty and it’s the closest you’ll ever get to the real thing. So eat up!

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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October 9, 2007 at 1:48 pm 1 comment

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