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EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
6/11/11 8:03 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

If you've watched more than a few anime series, you'll know that clubs are an important part of life in Japanese schools. Clubs are more than just a fun thing for students to do, they're tools of society building, and in junior high school (also known as "a machine for turning open-minded, creative kids into straitlaced Japanese adults who conform to everyone else") it's required that students join a club to build character. Since Japanese students study only with students of their same grade, clubs are the only setting in which students will interact with their senpai and kohai, or upperclassmen and underclassmen, in social settings. In high school (which is not part of compulsory education, and is usually more flexible than junior high), clubs are not required, and students can opt to join the kikaku-bu, or the "going home after school club" if they want. I recently visited my son's high school, and the posters advertising the various clubs (light music club, etc.) made me smile.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
6/5/11 5:31 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Yesterday I went to my local DMV to renew my Japanese driver's license. Back in the "good old days" there was a loophole that allowed foreigners living in Japan to drive with an international driver's license indefinitely as long as they returned to their home country to get a new one each year. This basically meant that whenever a police officer pulled me over for some infraction in Japan they'd let me go with a warning, as I wasn't registered in their computer system and held a (legal) document that required them to read English, which is always mendokusai (a pain in the butt) for them. Then around 2005 the government changed the law, essentially requiring everyone who lives in Japan for a year or longer to get a proper Japanese license. Some foreigners including those from the U.K., France, Canada and Australia can change over to a Japanese license automatically, but most, including anyone from the U.S., has to take the dreaded Japanese driving ability test.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
5/31/11 1:32 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

The Japanese love dividing themselves into groups using the word ha, which means "faction," as in, say, different factions of a certain political party. Men might have a discussion about which of them is buriifu-ha and which are torankusu-ha, debating the benefits of membership in the "briefs faction" vs. the "trunks faction" with respect to underwear. Japanese will have these discussions online, too, asking docchi-ha? ("which faction do you belong to?") about such pressing issues as which is better, instant ramen or udon noodles or Asahi vs. Kirin beer. Another hot point of contention involves people who like soy sauce dolloped over their fried eggs, and those who prefer the Bull-Dog sauce that's usually known as "sauce" in Japanese. While I'm usually a card-carrying member of the "sauce-ha" faction, enjoying Bull-Dog sauce on just about any food (especially fried croquettes), I do find myself reaching for soy sauce when it comes to fried eggs. Which "faction" are you?



~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
5/29/11 3:47 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Japan is a unique language in that so many of its words come from English or (depending on the era) from other European languages. Sometimes it's simple words like "glass" or "camera" or "chance" that have been imported as-is, and sometimes things get more complex, like the way the Portuguese word confeito (meaning confection or candy) morphed into the awesome Japanese star-shaped candy from Spirited Away. The Japanese language has changed rapidly over the last few decades, and it's not uncommon for previous generations to have no idea what all these new katakana words are -- referring to the writing system used for foreign loan words -- and there are actually "katakana dictionaries" for older Japanese to look up foreign words in. There's a certain kind of Japanese person who loves peppering their speech with English phrases, in part to show how smart they are. The Democratic Party of Japan is famous for this, using words like "manifesto" "populism" "innovation" or "new millennium frontier" despite a significant number of voters being unfamiliar with these English terms. In the anime Hanasaku Iroha, there's an annoying consultant who shows up, spewing English slogans like "there's no time like the present!" or "nothing venture, nothing win!" [sic].

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
5/26/11 1:14 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Japan certainly has the power to confuse us with strange and wonderful things, and Japanese popular culture can be very perplexing. One of the best examples of this is Touhou, a complex world of subculture centered around a series of indie shooting games first released in 1998 by a guy named ZUN. It's hard to explain why Touhou -- no relation to the Toho Movie company, though it's fun seeing people try to figure where Godzilla comes in -- went from being a mild-mannered "bullet hell" style scrolling shooter to one of the primary engines for creative doujin culture today, but I'll try my best. First of all, the Touhou shooting games are of outstanding quality, with great music and graphics, and this got people's attention early on. There's a huge cast of characters who appear in the games as prot agonists or level bosses, and no matter how hard you try, a few will start to appeal to you for different reasons -- I fell in love with Patchouli Knowledge because smart girls who read a lot are hot. Many of the inhabitants of Gensokyo (as the Touhou world is called) are youkai, a kind of Japanese folk spirit/ghost/monster, and the Touhouverse benefited from the general "youkai boom" Japan has experienced over the past decade or so. Another theory about how Touhou became so popular: "It's the hats." Most characters feature extremely cute headgear that becomes hard for fans to resist, try as they might.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
5/22/11 3:42 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

There are some things I like about Japan. Drinking a can of hot "corn soup" on the train platform during winter. Going for a drive in the mountains to my favorite onsen hot spring with Initial D music playing. Turning a corner in Tokyo and seeing a really gorgeous Goth-Loli girl walk by. Or the time an OL ("office lady," or a female employee of a company) fell asleep with her head on my shoulder on the train -- that was pretty cool. Then there are some things I just don't like about Japan. Maps where "up" is a direction other than north, or Japanese -style public toilets that are a challenge to use. Also, fish sausages, pressed fish that tastes basically like spam that was made with fish instead of...whatever spam is made from -- I just don't like that stuff. Kids, however, love them, and anime-branded fish sausages are popular items in stores. The most infamous brand of homogenized fish sausages in Japan goes by the apparently un-ironic name of...wait for it..."Homo Sausage."

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
4/15/11 12:34 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

While Japan has always had a reputation for taking ideas from the West and improving on them (sometimes beyond recognition), the reverse is often true, too, and Japan has long served as a well of inspiration for various creators from the West. I read a lot of science fiction books, and it often seems I can't pick one up that doesn't have Japanese themes in it somewhere, with the best example being William Gibson, who built his career by weaving ideas he got from Japan into his books. Star Wars is filled with Japanese cultural and visual elements culled from Japan's films and history, from Jedi Knights to the Force to the design of Darth Vader, whose helmet and "first name" come from famous warlord Date Masamune. (I remember my son once asking me why Obi Wan Kenobi was wearing a kimono and bowing like a Japanese person.) When the new iPad was announced, people here observed that the fancy magnetic "Smart Cover" looked exactly like the covers used to keep the bath water warm in between use.

It's funny how words are perceived by people in different ways. My wife asked me how to say the word meinichi in English, and I told her, "That's 'the anniversary of a person's death.'" She was shocked. "How can you use the word 'anniversary' for that? Anniversaries are happy times, not solemn occasions for family to remember loved ones." When words are borrowed from one language to another, their meanings change slightly to fit the needs of the new group, and in this case only the happy, celebratory meaning of "anniversary" was brought over. In the new anime Hanasaku Iroha, the main character is told she must go live with her grandmother, and she says, "To live in a Japanese inn, that's very dramatic!" However, this word doesn't mean the same thing to the Japanese as it does to you and me: doramachikku is closer in meaning to "just like a story in a TV drama." Words meaning different things isn't limited to English. I've heard that Chinese are often surprised at the Japanese use of the kanji matsuri, which means festival in Japan, but is used for funerals in China.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
3/24/11 10:35 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Japan's crisis continues, though things are slowly coming under control. As calm returns and companies work hard to normalize the situation, food distribution is getting better, and the convenience store I checked had shelves overflowing with bread, which had been in short supply a few days before. In the more heavily damaged northern regions, of course, the sadness continues to unfold, as the damage is assessed and body counts are totaled. A huge amount of help continues to pour in, with large donations announced by famous businessmen (Uniqlo founder Tadashi Yanai, Johnny's Talent Agency), JPOP and KPOP performers (Ayumi Hamasaki, AKB48, KARA, Bae Yong Joon), sports figures (Ichiro) and more, but Japan will need more help to recover. Many famous artists and anime companies have picked up on the meme of creating earthquake-related art and posting it to their websites and Pixiv to console those affected by the disaster.

There's been a lot of discussion about the reporting of the disaster by foreign news sources, which sometimes over-dramatize the situation with sensationalist language to make it more exciting and increase their page views, or (as various Japanese have pointed out) view the situation through Hollywood-colored spectacles. While the disaster has been unprecedented, I have yet to see Japanese news reports using overly-excited language, anointing the brave workers at the Fukushima plant with titles like "the Fukushima Fifty" to add to the drama (in reality, there are more than fifty engineers in the Fukushima power plants and they're constantly being rotated out in shifts). It's got to be a challenge for foreign Western news reporters to come up with angles for their stories, since the Japanese don't behave as the reporters expect, acting calm with very little panicking -- heck, the only case of looting was me, raiding the J-List stock of instant ramen when I forgot to bring my lunch the other day.

Yes, the Japanese news reports have been much calmer, reporting the facts and telling people what they should be doing without getting them too excited. As the eternal wisdom "you've been in Japan too long when NHK warnings about landslides, heavy rains, and other disasters make you feel reassured that someone is benevolently watching over you" shows, this is part of the role of NHK, Japan's public broadcasting system, essentially a great clone of the BBC. NHK has been the best source of information for people inside Japan during the crisis, and during the blackouts there's been little else to do than listen to NHK news programs on AM radio. During one broadcast, there was a "radio essay" by a commentator who pointed out some of the good things coming from the current mess. Because of the gasoline shortage, he had walked to work instead of driving, and he found himself having the most interesting conversations with people in his neighborhood while waiting at the train crossing. He found that he'd rediscovered the lost art of having conversations with his family, while everyone huddled in a candlelit room in the dark, no Playstation to distract the kids. Another small good thing about the current crisis is that it gives young people a small taste of what their grandparents endured during World War II.

There have been reports of an exodus of foreigners from Japan, as gaijin employees of foreign companies evacuate their staff, and other foreigners working in Japan decide to head to safer locations, either inside Japan away from the Kanto (Tokyo) area or back to their home countries. I certainly understand the fear they feel, but I'm betting that Japan will right itself soon and bounce back better than ever, even with the release of limited amounts of radiation (which has been approximately 1/333,333 the radiation released from Chernobyl). In the end I look at the Japanese themselves, and know things will be okay. If Tsutomu Yamaguchi -- the man who was present in Hiroshima during the bombing then returned to his home in Nagasaki only have that city bombed three days later -- could live to the ripe age of 93, most of us will come through this fine.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
3/14/11 1:00 P

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[Courtesy of the J-List newsletter]

We interrupt this J-List update to bring you...a giant Earthquake! The 8.8 magnitude quake that hit around Sendai shook the J-List office 400 km to the south, and has made for a rather harrying day, as you can probably imagine. I've lived in Japan for nearly two decades and have generally been calm when it comes to having the ground shake moderately 1-2 times a week -- it's alarming at first, but you come to accept it, and the fact that Japanese construction standards are among the best in the world helps a lot psychologically. This was different: the ground started moving from side to side and cabinets started rattling, and it didn't stop for several minutes -- you should have seen my Star Wars figures dance as they fell to the bottom their cabinet. A long cement block wall outside J-List rose and fell like it was built on geletin. Overall, actual damage was light (one bottle of sake crashed to the floor at the liquor shop we run), and all J-List staff and their families are safe, but it was not something we want to live through again.


~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
3/10/11 1:14 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Japan can be a very stylish place, especially in the cities, and whenever I take a trip down to Tokyo I'm amazed at the exotic styles I see there. Not only do all manner of females exhibit an incredible sense of fashion in clothing as well as "hair & make" (as they say here), but it's common for men to also be quite up on the latest trends, checking men's fashion magazines to learn how to sculpt their hair just so with that awesome Gatsby hair wax. (My personal idea of men's fashion is owning a comb.) The other day I was in Tokyo riding the train, and suddenly a very stylish girl got on the train, pushing a "baby car" (a baby stroller) which contained an extremely cute baby girl, dolled up just like her mother. This was a gyaru mama (gal mama), a member of the fashionable generation that used to be called kogals, and Amullers before that (the whole trend was started by Okinawan singer Amuro Namie) who had gotten pregnant at some point yet doesn't want to let go of her love of fashion just because she's a mother now. I've always though that the phenomenon of gal/kogal/gal mama was not unlike the boso zoku biker gang culture, in that both groups seem desperately looking for a way to rebel against society at large and be part of something original and unique.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
2/28/11 1:35 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Recently, I wrote about the concept of "bottle keep," which is when you pre-purchase a bottle of liquor for your own use at a restaurant or bar. It's just one of a large number of "foreign" words used in Japan that might confuse you. Japanese always wonder why we look puzzled when they use some "English" words, like anketto (which is actually French, enquête, meaning "questionnaire") or arubaito (from the German arbeit, which the Japanese use to mean "part time job"), and these wasei eigo ("made-in-Japan English") words which make perfect sense...to the Japanese. How many of these can you guess the meaning of? (Answer below.)

American dog
fancy shop
morning service
shutter chance
baton touch
soft cream
guts pose
handle keeper
link free
coordinate snap
oneman bus
virgin road


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(Answers to the above words: American dog = a corn dog; a fancy shop is a shop that sells Hello Kitty and other character goods; morning service is breakfast served at a coffee shop; a "shutter chance" is an opportunity to take an excellent picture; "baton touch" is a relay racing term, but any time you hand off responsibility to someone you can use it; soft cream is soft-serve ice cream; a "guts pose" is posing with an exaggeratedly strong pose; handle keeper = designated driver; link free means "it's okay to link to this website"; coordinate snap is coordinating fashions and photographing them; a "one man" bus is a bus with only the driver, and no second employee whose job it is to take your ticket; and while we might say "walk the aisle" to discuss a woman getting married, the Japanese would use the phrase "walk the virgin road.")


~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
2/24/11 12:01 A

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Do you have a cat's tongue? If so, it means that you can't eat hot food or drink hot drinks, just like a cat. The Japanese say that anyone who avoids hot food has a cat's tongue (neko jita), and whenever my wife makes hot food for dinner she gives a few ice cubes to our son in a cup, since he doesn't like hot things. There are other interesting observations the Japanese make about things. If you have a bit of a lazy eye problem the Japanese might say you are ron-pari which is Japanese for "London, Paris" -- i.e. one eye is looking at London and the other is looking at Paris. And men with only a little hair on the tops of their heads have what the Japanese call "bar code hair." I love the creative expressions of the Japanese.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
2/20/11 2:35 P

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[Quoted from the J-List news letter]

You learn certain things about the Japanese when you live here. For example, you discover that 5'8" (172 cm) is actually quite tall, and that when your boss says so desu ne ("yes, that's so") in response to the suggestion you've just made, he really means, "no, that is not so." You also learn that Japanese often get really red in the face when they start drinking, a phenomenon known as the Asian Flush Response, which has to do with some Japanese (and many other East Asian people) lacking a liver enzyme that breaks down chemicals in alcohol. It's hilarious to see -- my wife can have one highball and suddenly she turns as red as a lobster, although she's not drunk at all. You occasionally see this phenomenon represented as a slight reddening of the face in anime characters when they drink too much, but don't be fooled: the real thing is much more brilliant to behold. A similar phenomenon unique to Asians is the "Mongolian Spot," a blue bruise-like spot visible on the rear ends of Japanese babies until the age of 2.

[It's a little late, but...] Valentine's Day is an important day in Japan, a time for couples to show their affection through the medium of chocolate. As is probably well-known by now, in Japan it's common for women to give chocolate to the special men in their lives, and in the days leading up to February 14 millions of fathers, husbands, boyfriends and would-be-boyfriends look forward to scoring some chocolatey goodness. There are two kinds of chocolate, honmei-choco or "real heart" chocolate, given to someone you actually care about, and giri-choco or "obligation chocolate," the kind female office workers feel obliged to give to the male employees at work, and their bosses. Chocolate companies are always trying to create new chocolate-giving trends, like the year they promoted gyaku-choco or "reverse chocolate," trying to get males to give chocolate to females as they do in the West, or this year's new buzzword of tomo-choco, chocolate given between friends. Of course, you never get a gift in Japan without giving one back in return (called o-kaeshi, a return gift), and March 14 has been designated as White Day, a day when men who received chocolate from women the month before should give something back, usually white chocolate or sometimes lingerie. South Korea also observes Japanese-style Valentine's Day and White Day, and has added a new tradition: Black Day on March 14, a day when single men who received no chocolate bitterly eat a kind of noodles in a black sauce.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
2/9/11 1:23 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

One unexpected aspect of expat life in Japan is making friends with gaijin -- the word the Japanese use for "foreign-looking" foreigners -- from various countries. (Incidentally, Koreans and Chinese are usually not referred to with this term, instead being called by their nationality, e.g. kankoku-jin or chugoku-jin.) It's also interesting learning the various "Japanese" accents foreigners speak, which are as varied as the accents of English that exist around the world, though no one thinks about this much. The other day I was watching a cooking show with my waifu which featured a foreign chef whose nationality I wondered about. "That's Mario Frittoli, the famous chef in Tokyo. He's obviously Italian, can't you tell by his accent?" But I had no idea.

In the Mazda MPV we use as a family car we've got a navi (er, GPS car navigation thing, whatever they're called in English) which greets me every morning and tells me what day today is. For example, on November 22 it informed that today is "Happy Married Couple's Day" since 11/25 can be pronounced ii fuufu (lit. "close married couple"), while February 22 is "Cat Day" since 2/22 sounds like nyan nyan nyan (a cat's meow) to Japanese ears. Recently my car announced it was nikuman-no-hi or Steamed Meat Bun Day, so I curtailed my driving activities, sallied forth, and infiltrated my local 7-11 to negotiate the vending of some meaty comestibles. Nikuman are basically steamed rolls of white bread with flavored meat inside, which are said to have been imported from China in 1349, and they're sold in convenience stores to anyone who needs a quick bite. There are alternate versions, too, including butaman (pork), anman (sweet beans) and another favorite of mine, pizza-man, with pizza sauce and cheese inside. One of the highlights of going sightseeing in Yokohama is visiting Chinatown and enjoying the largest, most delicious steamed nikuman you can buy in Japan.

~ Pam
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2/3/11 5:33 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Tomorrow is Setsubun, a fun day for anyone with small kids in Japan. Originally falling on New Year's Eve of the old Lunar Calendar that Japan used until 1873, it's a day when oni (devils) will be symbolically chased out of the house so that happiness can reign during the New Year. The father of the house will assume the role of a devil, wearing a paper mask that makes him look scary. When the devil attacks, the children pelt him with baked soybeans and chase him off, shouting Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi! ("Out with devils, in with happiness!"). When the devils are sufficiently vanquished, everyone eats their age in soybeans to help guarantee good health in the coming year. I'm happy that Setsubun is finally here, because it also marks the official end of my yakudoshi or Year of Great Calamity, which is the age of 42 for a man or 33 or a woman. During this year a person will experience bad luck (unless they counter the bad luck with a special omamori good luck charm), and it's forbidden to buy a new car or start construction on a new house during the unlucky year.


~ Pam
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2/2/11 1:50 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Yesterday I experienced that Great Democratizer, the full body health checkup, called ningen dock or "human dock" in Japanese. (The idea is that you're docking yourself like a ship in drydock to be refitted.) While reasons for Japan's famous longevity include a healthier diet high in fish, a safe society and human-to-human social networks that provide ikigai (literally "reason for living") late in life, another big part is a well-organized health care system built around this formal ningen dock system. On the day of your check-up, you arrive at the dedicated hospital facility, which does nothing but these standardized procedures, and all morning you're poked and prodded and measured in every way possible, with blood drawn, an EKG recorded, ultrasonic images of internal organs checked, and so on. Since stomach cancer is such a big problem in Japan, there are many well-developed options for checking for stomach problems, too. Part of the effectiveness of the ningen dock system is the unspoken implication that if you don't get your check-up done regularly, you don't love your family, which can be a strong motivator for those who might not bother. The standardized check-ups also provide a huge body of regularly collected data which allows the medical community to identify trends that can improve health.



~ Pam
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1/30/11 8:24 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

I write a lot about how Japanese is a vague, nuanced language that can create some challenges for Westerners trying to learn it. Subjects are usually left off of sentences, and passive voice is used more than in English, especially in formal business settings since "it has been decided" sounds better than "my boss decided this, it's all his fault." ... The Japanese are fond of euphemisms, too, like seiri ("biology") for a girl's menstrual cycle or ecchi (the letter H, pronounced with a Japanese accent) for anything related to sex. There are four demonstrative pronouns in English (this, that, these, those), but three in Japanese, which are kore (koh-reh, meaning this, near me), sore (soh-reh, meaning that, near you), and are (ah-reh, or "that over there , far from both you and me"). The word are also functions as a stand-in for any word you can't remember or don't want to specifically mention. Thus it's not difficult to hear conversations like, "Do you remember that thing? Oh yes, I remember it well. Who could forget it?" with the thing in question never being overtly stated.

A new report released by the Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has found an increasing number of Japanese young people as well as married couples report themselves as being "uninterested" in sex, with fewer people getting physical with other human beings compared to 2004. It's difficult to know what to think of these results. On the one hand, the Japanese media loves to identify and define new trends in society, sometimes creating them to a certain degree, and you could debate whether social trends such as bento danshi ("bento boys" who bring their own bento lunches to work), "parasite singles" (people who live off of their parents into their 20s and 30s, never getting serious about life) or the current trends towards "herbivore men" (men who are less ambitious and don't care about sex) are valid social movements or are merely temporary fashions. On the other hand, people pulling back from healthy, intimate human relationships is a serious problem, as Japan's hypercharged society progresses into the 21st century. Some of this can be attributed to stress, an over-abundance of communication and twitter feeds and the Internet. According to my wife, her married friends who've become "sexless" report a loss of interest in the subject by both parties once children are born, almost like a switch has been flipped. What can be done to keep the Japanese race from dying out?

~ Pam
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1/24/11 9:11 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Japan is a culture obsessed with benkyo (studying) as a tool for creating a fair, merit-based society that encourages had work and industriousness, and they have some interesting customs when it comes to instilling children with good study skills. The school year starts in April, and right now families with children who'll be entering the first grade are buying special study desks where kids will sit and do their homework. Families also buy standard leather school backpacks called randoseru (from the Dutch ransel) which are designed to be sturdy enough to last through all six years of elementary school. These study aids are expensive, and not everyone has money to buy them. In a heartwarming story, an anonymous donor gave ten brand new school backpacks to a facility caring for orphaned children last Christmas, signing his name Naoto Date, the alter ago of the famous Tiger Mask from the 1970s pro wrestling anime. This opened the floodgates to many more anonymous donations being made to underprivileged orphans in Japan, so they might study hard and be successful in life.

One aspect of the Japanese is that they don't show their emotions as freely or in the same ways that Westerners do, usually hiding their external feelings depending on the "TPO," a Japanese abbreviation meaning "time, place and occasion." To the Japanese, it's almost a given that foreigners will show emotions openly, for example wildly praising food they like as the most delicious thing in the universe, and letting their excitement influence their speech when speaking Japanese. The other day there was a fly buzzing around the J-List office which I was trying to kill [with] a fly-swatter, and Yasu said, "I wonder if Peter will shout 'yee-haw!' after he kills the fly." (Apparently I did this once, to the eternal amusement of the J-staff.)

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
1/24/11 12:26 A

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

You can learn a lot about Japan through its language, including such simple things as first and second person pronouns, which work differently in Japanese depending on whether you're male or female, and what kind of person you are. For the pronoun "I" you could choose from watashi (formal, used more often by women), boku (semi-polite, usually used by younger males), and ore (OH-reh, mainly used by "manly" men); and words for "you" include anata (formal, used by women more often than men); kimi (familiar, used mostly by guys to their girlfriends or by anyone talking to a younger person); and omae (oh-MAH-eh, again, a "macho" sounding word generally used by guys). This last word is especially interesting since it basically asserts the superiority of the speaker over the person he's speaking to, a concept that doesn't exist in English, at least openly. When a man uses the word omae to a female he's in a relationship with, the implication is that the girl "belongs to" him in a romantic sense. This generally will make some girls swoon with affection, while others -- those who speak more English and have lived outside Japan, I am told -- may be offended by being thought of as an object to be possessed. I once got in quite a bit of trouble when I accidentally used this word with a friend's girlfriend soon after arriving in Japan. Who would have thought that words like "I" or "you" could be this complex?

~ Pam
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1/23/11 11:45 P

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Although most Japanese study English for six years, or up to ten if they take it in university, they're not widely known for their linguistic skills. There are many reasons for this, including Japan's approach to English as a tool for university entrance exams and not for actual communication, and the reality that Japan is an island nation where 98% of the people speak the same language. Japanese people can also be overly concerned about making mistakes, which is the kiss of death to open and free communication. Happily, I'm the type of language learner who never cared much about making errors when speaking, which is a good thing overall, although I have had my share of embarrassing slip-ups. Like the time I confused the word hinan (to evacuate) with hinin (to use a contraceptive) in mixed company, the time I tried to say "the Battle of Sekigahara" and accidentally substituted sekuhara (sexual harassment), or multiple instances of flubbing when ordering mango juice from a pretty waitress. (Mango is close to manko, a word which refers to female reproductive parts.)

~ Pam
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1/8/11 8:07 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Japan is a very different country from the United States, with its own unique culture and traditions, and one thing I like about the country is that there are more artists than lawyers here. The fact that there's one lawyer for every 320 people in the U.S, and one for every 8195 in Japan should give you an indication of how little lawyers and the law come to play in daily life here. (I have yet to meet a single Japanese lawyer.) Oh, the law works the same in Japan as it does in other countries, and there are even lawsuits, but to a certain degree Japanese watch the litigious culture in the U.S. and take conscious steps to avoid emulating it themselves. (The character Kaede Kimura in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei parodies this deliciously.) Still, there are times when a cadre of smart lawyers would come in handy. In the U.S. when a new law is passed that people disagree with, you know there will be legal challenges and appeals and a likely reversal of said law, as the judicial arm works its important role as a check and balance on the legislative side. Sadly, U.S. style legal challenges aren't the norm here, and the newly passed bill allowing the Tokyo government to butt into what kind of themes are put into anime, manga and video games -- but not, say, novels or movies -- has some of us wishing there were more a few more lawyers in Japan.

"I hate it when someone smorks in my face." For whatever reason, the English word "smoke" is often rendered as "smork" in Japan. Because Japanese is a syllable-based language in which you can express sounds like ka, ki, ku, ke or ko, but not the consonant "k" by itself, English words like "hello" "goodbye" or "beer, please" must be forced through an alien phonetic system, with some rather odd results. The very first fast food I ate in Japan was a McDonald's clone called First Kitchen ("the City Convenience Restaurant" whose hilarious nickname is Fa-kin), and I remember confusion as to whether the restaurant was First Kitchen or Fast Kitchen. Eventually I learned the strange system of remapping English sounds to Japanese, but it took a while. And I still hate it when someone smorks in my face.

~ Pam
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12/28/10 1:47 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Although rice is the staple food of Japan, eaten with almost every meal, the Japanese are no slouches when it comes to bread. Called pan in Japanese (from the Portuguese), Japan's bread culture is quite interesting. Of course the "basic" type of bread is the normal sliced variety, called shoku-pan or "eating bread," and I love how you have the option of buying a loaf with eight, six or four slices, depending on how thick you want your sandwiches or French toast to be. (Hope you like white bread, however, as other varieties are hard to come by.) Often what the Japanese call "bread" would qualify as a doughnut to Westerners, such as the famous Anpan, round bread with different types of sweet beans inside, or Melon Pan, essentially a large piece of sweetened bread that looks like a honeydew melon cut in half -- or like a brain. One of my favorite types of Japanese pan is Curry Pan, fried bread with spicy curry inside, which is a great snack when you're hungry between meals. The other day I went into a bakery and saw what I consider to be the pinnacle of food culture in the world: fresh-baked "Bacon Cheese France" which is French bread with bacon and Camembert cheese baked right inside it -- oishii!

~ Pam
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12/27/10 1:56 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

There's more to communication than just words, especially in a country like Japan. Often a negative opinion is expressed indirectly, with a subtle word like "chotto..." (literally "just a little" but meaning so much more that was omitted), and learning Japanese ultimately involves picking up on what isn't being said. The Japanese have perfected the art of communicating through silence, too, and you know you've really screwed something up when you're greeted with a terrible, deafening silence from those around you. Gestures are another interesting form of communication, and since Japanese gestures are so different from what we're generally used to in the West, understanding them can be a challenge. The most famous Japanese gesture is the odd waving that Lucky Cat is doing, which can look like "get away from me" although it really means "come here" (or in the case of a shop, "come in and buy something"). There are obscure gestures for, "I have to get home, or my wife will be angry with me" (devil horns), "I am going out with my girlfriend tonight" (an upstretched thumb gesture by women indicates their boyfriends), "watch out, that scary guy looks like a yakuza gangster" and a gesture meaning "I don't have enough money." And anyone who's watched much anime is familiar with the childish-yet-cute sticking-the-tongue-out-while-pulling-down
-the-eye insult, called ah-kam-beh! in Japanese.

Every once in a while I'm reminded suddenly that...I live in Japan. It could be a sudden earthquake causing my Star Wars figures to fall over, all too common in this volcanically active country, or seeing a woman in a traditional kimono expertly punching out out a text message on her high-tech cell phone. The other evening I was putting my dishes away in my mother-in-law's kitchen and saw something you don't normally encounter: a freshly severed octopus tentacle, waiting to be served for dinner as sashimi. Octopus -- called tako in Japanese, no relation to the Mexican food which is incidentally referred to as tacos, using the plural to separate them from the cephalopod version -- is a fairly common food in Japan, and I enjoy a good tako salad as much as a taco salad. But I usually take my octopus cut up into slices, sitting on sushi or inside delicious takoyaki balls, and don't see fresh, wet tentacles all that often.

Fire is unfortunately all too common in Japan, a country that has historically built homes out of wood and paper which only started requiring smoke detectors a few years ago. Instead of modern central heating, it's all too common for rooms to be heated with a standalone kerosene heater, and it seems every week you see an article of a terrible fire somewhere in the country. At noon every day we hear a blast from the air-raid siren (well that's what it sounds like to me) at a nearby elementary school announcing that it's lunch time, and whenever the siren goes off at a time other than noon it means that there's a fire somewhere nearby. Japan's tradition of organizing itself against fires has a long history, since the Edo Period.


~ Pam
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12/25/10 11:10 A

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

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The first recorded Christmas in Japan took place in 1552, when missionaries who had accompanied Francis Xavier held mass in a newly constructed church in what is now Yamaguchi Prefecture. After Japan banned Christianity after a particularly bad uprising in 1612, the only Christmas spirit you could find here were the Dutch traders celebrating the fictional holiday of "Dutch Winter Solstice" (wink-wink), plus the famous kakure Kirish*tan ("hidden Christians") of Kyushu who practiced their faith in secret, often keeping statues of the Virgin Mary that had been disguised to look like Buddhist kannon instead. Christmas as a cultural event started to enter Japan at the beginning of the 20th century, with the first commercial Christmas display in a department store in 1904, and the famous confectionery company Fujiya selling Japan's first Christmas cake in 1910. Just as our modern image of Santa Claus has been influenced by mass market advertising of products like Coca-Cola, marketing played a role with in Christmas here, too. The opening of the wildly popular Tokyo Disneyland in 1983 and its annual Christmas celebrations is said to be a watershed for the cultural awareness of the holiday in Japan.

One of the major differences between Japan and the West is the way Christmas here is seen as a fun event, a time for gathering in a Christmas party with hats, fire crackers and maybe a karaoke machine, while the most solemn and holy day of the year is New Year's Day. This is contrast to the U.S., at least, where Christmas is more likely to be a quiet time spent with family and friends and New Year's is reserved for loud merry-making. For a gaijin expat living in Japan, nothing says "Christmas" like being asked to play Santa Claus and hand out presents to children (since everyone knows Santa is from America and speaks English), and I've donned the red suit and fake beard many times. At one visit to a preschool operated by a friend of ours, the kids got to ask me questions like, "Where do you live?""What is your favorite color?" and so on. One kid asked me, " Santa-san, what's your favorite food?" and I kind of freaked them out by answering "reindeer hamburger steak." Tonight, though, I'll forgo reindeer meat and eat the special Christmas Eve dinner Mrs. J-List is making, then enjoy the Christmas Cake my daughter baked. All of us at J-List sincerely wish you and your loved ones a wonderful and warm Christmas holiday this year!

NOTE: "*" replaces "i" in the reference to hidden Christians in the first paragraph to accommodate SparkPeople's overly zealous automatic censor.

Edited by: EX-WIMPIE at: 12/25/2010 (11:11)
~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
12/19/10 4:39 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

One thing about Japan: they love vending machines. There are more of them here than any other country on Earth -- one for every 23 people -- selling everything from hot canned coffee to microwaved meals to beer. The other day I drove into Tokyo on business with Yasu, and we stopped at a "parking area" (one of the rest stops along Japanese freeways, which are like little oases of convenience to weary travelers) to grab some lunch. The place we stopped at had recently been renovated and looked quite similar to one of the "food courts" you can find in American shopping malls, with many different small restaurants selling pizza, udon noodles, Panda Express-style Chinese food and so on. There was one big difference though: all the purchases were made via a vending machine located in the front of each shop, allowing customers to browse color pictures of the meals before purchasing a meal ticket, which they gave to the shop employee. It's all very efficient, since all the money is stored inside the secure vending machine, and it frees up the employee who would have to man the cash register to cook your food instead. The only downside might be that foreigners who don't read the language might have more difficulty choosing what to eat.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
12/6/10 1:32 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Things I love about Japan: buying a hot can of coffee or corn pottage and drinking it on the train platform. The way the water-filled rice paddies reflect the sky like sheets of silver glass during rice-planting season. Connecting to the Internet via a high-speed wireless network as the old man selling stone-baked sweet potatoes drives by in his truck. I also love the steaming hot towels which are given to customers when they sit down in most restaurants, called oshibori in Japanese. They're especially nice when it's cold out, and you can warm yourself with the hot towel before taking it out of its wrapper and cleaning your hands. It's kind of bad manners, especially for young guys who don't want to look like ojisan (middle-aged men) in front of their friends, but a hot towel also feels great on the face. The Japanese are among the most creative people I've ever encountered, and many are adept at making oshibori art, sculptures made out of folded hot towels similar to origami. It's a time-honored practice when trying to nampa (pick up) a girl in a bar to start a conversation by showing off the objects you can make out of your hot towel, including some suggestive ones...


~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
12/3/10 12:40 A

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Cell phones have been a big part of life in Japan ever since they went mainstream in the mid 1990s, and for years the newest features such as phone cameras got their start here. Now cell phone usage is nearly 100%, and many Japanese find their keitai so convenient in their daily lives they don't bother owning a computer. When the iPhone was released here it got off to a slow start, since Japanese consumers really love their stylish clamshell phones with hard numeric keypads. (A quirk of the Japanese language is that it's very easy to enter text using a numeric keypad, unlike in English.) The iPhone's popularity grew as people saw the amazing things you could do with them thanks to new apps. One of the more unique ideas Japanese developers have come up with are applications to assist with konkatsu, a word for any activity busy people undertake to help find someone to marry (it translates as "marriage activities" though "spouse hunting" might be more accurate). You can download apps like Konkatsu Pia which asks your interests then tracks where you are by GPS. When someone their algorithm thinks you'd be compatible with is nearby [sic], the iPhone will beep to get your attention. If you approach the person, the uplifting theme from Love Story plays out of your phone.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
12/1/10 10:35 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

I recently wrote about things that gaijin focus on when they visit Japan, like wacky vending machines or maid cafes or love hotels. One of my Twitter followers asked me to write about the reverse, what Japanese people pay attention to when they go to the U.S., so I thought I'd write about that today. Seen from Japan, America is very hiroi (wide and spacious), and Japanese are always oo-ing and ah-ing at how big everything is. Items sold in stores are also much larger than Japanese are used to back home, and giant watermelons or the "buckets" of Coca-Cola (32-oz Big Gulps) stand out to them. Often Japanese will not see the real America for all the preconceptions they have in their minds, which is why every woman in the U.S. is perceived as "blonde" and every man is "tall," even if they're not. Except for hunting in rural areas, there are no guns in Japan, and Japanese often obsess over them, asking people how many guns they keep in their house or visiting the many shooting ranges that cater to Japanese tourists. There are very few curse words used in Japanese -- most insults are variations of baka, meaning stupid -- and sometimes Japanese people develop an affinity for the rather picturesque anatomical swearing that English is so good at.

One interesting area of life in Japan is weddings, and Japanese really take the subject of getting married seriously. One of my first instances of culture shock in Japan happened when I was riding my mountain bike (foreigners always ride mountain bikes in Japan) and came across a sprawling palace that looked like it had fallen out of a time warp from Czarist Russia. Turns out it was a wedding hall, a giant facility created solely for marriage ceremonies and receptions, which are quite common in all corners of Japan. In our prefecture, various companies compete ferociously to capture the largest share of the local wedding market, coming up with interesting themes such as Georgia House, which recreates an Antebellum plantation house from the American South; Lockhart Castle, an authentic castle that was imported from Scotland; and Sharon Gospel Church, a U.S. style Southern Baptist church in the heart of Japan.

~ Pam
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11/28/10 9:39 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

The newest addition to J-List is little Motoharu, the son recently born to Tomo, a J-List staff member. As a new father in Japan, Tomo has a lot to look forward to, including making the official visit to a Shinto shrine a month after the baby is born (the equivalent of a Baby Christening) and spending the next ten years taking baths with his son, since it's usual for fathers to bathe with their kids until they reach late elementary school or so. (The awesome word for this is "skinship.") He'll likely celebrate his son's first birthday the traditional way, by tying 2 kg of mochi rice cakes to the child's back then placing an abacus, a writing brush and money on the floor. Whatever object the baby grabs first supposedly determines his future job (e.g. a merchant if he grabs the abacus, an artist or writer if he goes for the writing brush, a wealthy man if he takes the money). One of my favorite customs related to raising kids in Japan is called Shichi-go-san, literally "seven-five-three." At age three and seven (for girls) and five (for boys), parents take their kids down to the local photo studio and get them dressed up in beautiful kimono and have their picture taken, then visit the family Shinto shrine to pray for their continued health and good luck.

The other day I was at the local hot springs bath, washing myself after getting a haircut. (Barber shops located on the premises of hot springs public baths, allowing you to get clean immediately after cutting your hair, are one of the greatest advancements of human civilization so far.) I was washing my hair with the little showerhead wedged under my knee while I grabbed items from my expertly-packed furo basket, which caused the man washing next to me to turn in surprise and say, "You seem quite experienced at using Japanese baths. You are a real tsuu." A tsuu (note the long vowel) is a word that means connoisseur or expert in a certain field, and yes, I am a bit of an onsen-tsuu after going to hot springs for so many years. The word can be used for just about any field, and if you fancy yourself a serious fan of sushi you might be a sushi-tsuu, while someone who really knows baseball is a yakyu-tsuu. In Kabuki and Takarazuka, traditional Japanese theatre performed by men and women respectively, there is a class of fan who really knows the ins and outs of each performance well, and they have special seats available for them. So, what are you a tsuu of?

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
11/27/10 2:43 P

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[QUOTED from the J-List newsletter]

When foreigners visit Japan, they naturally focus on certain areas that stand out to them as unique, like maid cafes in Akihabara, Japan's sprawling pachinko parlors, or toilets that wash your butt for you. The bank Seven-Eleven operates through its convenience stores might be seen as odd, as well as vending machines that sell all manner of strange items from bags of rice to eggs to Hello Kitty, er, shoulder massagers. Then there are Japan's famous love hotels. out-of-the-way places where couples can go for a little privacy, which cost around $40 for a "rest" (a two-hour period) or $80 for "stay" (all night). The phenomenon of love hotels supposedly grew out of tsurekomi-yado, Japanese inns that sprouted around the U .S. military headquarters, and they're a huge industry now. Modern love hotels have a lot to offer couples: rooms with flamboyant interiors like the Alcatraz-themed hotel or the replica of the Queen Mary located near J-List, exotic baths and in-room pools, karaoke machines, plus the promise of total privacy since you can pay without meeting anyone. I've got an odd theory that love hotels are actually important at helping Japanese society maintain its strong family bonds. In the U.S., it's not uncommon for couples of a certain age to move in together, since there's no other way for them to spend time without parents or others around. Besides various potential complications, living together informally is said to lead to a higher divorce rate later. Since Japanese always have access to privacy regardless of whatever their situation at home might be, couples living together for that reason (at least) is less prevalent here.

I love Japanese public baths (sento) and hot springs (onsen, pronounced "own-sen"), and have gone with my kids for years. Public baths hail back from the Edo era when people didn't have private baths in their homes and had to go to community facilities to get clean. Once, when my son was younger and we were in an onsen together, he took me aside and asked me why a little boy playing in one of the baths had a blue bruise on his rear end. This is the famous Mongolian Spot (mokohan in Japanese, meaning "the Old Spot of Mongol"), a blue bruise-like spot which is found on Chinese, Japanese and Mongolian children until the age of five or so. My kids are haafu, half Japanese and half American (well, a quarter American and a quarter British, since my father was born in Chipping Camden in the U.K.), and they were born without this blue spot, which was the subject of much conversation with other mothers when my wife would take the kids in for their regular medical checkups.


~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
11/25/10 2:03 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

On the weekends I like to go on trips with my family, most often to an onsen (volcanic hot springs) somewhere in the mountains around us. When I ask my wife where she'd like to have lunch, more often than not she'll say, "Let's just eat at a Parking Area." Japanese freeways are a little different from what you might be used to in your home country: they're far from "free," costing $25 each way for us to drive 100 km into Tokyo, or around $10 for a day trip somewhere nearby. Inside the freeway system are convenient rest stops known as "Parking Areas" (P.A.) where you can get cheap udon noodles, buy some souvenirs for your family and enjoy a complimentary cup of green tea from a vending machine. Some Parking Areas are quite famous, and true to form, there are "parking area otaku" in Japan to take joy in visiting that special highway rest stop in an obscure corner of the country. The "king" of Parking Areas in Japan -- the Par-KING, if you'll allow me to make a small dajare pun -- is Daikoku Parking Area in Yokohama, a sprawling rest stop that's become the place to go to show off your tricked out sports car or itasha.

I still remember my first day of Japanese class back at SDSU, when our teacher taught us one of the most commonly used expressions: yoroshiku onegai shimasu, pronounced "yoh-roh-sh'koo oh-neh-guy shi-mahs." It's a useful phrase that can be used whenever you meet someone for the first time, meaning "nice to meet you," although as with most aspects of the Japanese language, it's rather more subtle than that. At its core, the phrase means something like, "let's treat each other favorably" or "I'm counting on you to do what's expected of you." A new member of a school club or a company might use the phrase as a humble request that the current group members take him under their wing and aid him in the future, and the phrase is also used quite often in business settings as well as greetings for the New Year. When my Japanese mother-in-law met my mother for the first time, she lowered her head to the ground -- the most polite form of bowing there is, known as dogeza -- and used this phrase, essentially saying "Please take care of my daughter from now on."

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
11/23/10 1:39 P

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Like many Japanese families, my wife's parents live with us in one big house, occupying the lower floor while we live upstairs. The idea of a child growing up and "leaving the nest" when they finish school doesn't always work the same here as it does in the U.S., and it's common for the oldest son or daughter to stay at home permanently, essentially taking responsibility for the family home (and business, if there is one) as well as taking care of the parents as they get older. This custom affects the dynamics of families somewhat, since a son or daughter who will live at home must find a spouse who doesn't mind joining that family. My wife happens to be an only child, which has actually been a bit of a chain around her neck all her life, making it impossible to pursue certain dreams as they would carry her away from her parents. Still, I don't mind it at all, and like having a proper Japanese family to be a part of. Yesterday was my father-in-law's 73rd birthday, we all went out for delicious Korean BBQ.

~ Pam
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11/20/10 9:53 P

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One of the themes I write about often is the Japanese idea of joshiki, translatable as the knowledge that every (Japanese) person possesses by default, also known as "common sense." Joshiki is all around you in Japan, the list of knowledge and behaviors and attitudes that everyone possesses except us poor gaijin. Despite my best efforts, I still find myself violating these rules of common sense daily: trying to go to a restaurant on the one day during the week that it's closed; thinking it's okay to put a pair of clean socks on the dining room table for a moment (it's not, they're considered "dirty" even though they were freshly laundered); and sometimes sleeping with my socks on, which the Japanese never do. My daughter is currently sick, and I suggested she take a bath and go to bed, but this was breaking a "common sense" rule too: in Japan, someone with any cold symptoms is forbidden from bathing, and must get to bed instead. "Why don't you know this?" my wife asked, sure that there could only be one opinion on the subject possible. "What planet are you from that you think a person with a fever can take a bath?"

~ Pam
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11/11/10 11:37 P

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My son continues his juken studies, preparing for the difficult high school entrance exams he'll be taking early next year. Watching my fifteen-year-old son study in his room for hours then attend evening classes at a juku school until 10 pm fills me with pride as a father, and I wonder if the Japan-obsessed teenagers I meet at anime conventions would want to live here if they had to study like that. (Of course he doesn't have to work so hard, as there are easy-to-enter municipal and private high schools available to him -- he's just pushing himself to get into a high school with an excellent science program since that's what he's interested in.) As an outsider to Japanese culture, it's been interesting for me to observe the year-long process of high school entrance-exam preparation, which is a scaled down version of the "test hell" that high school students wanting to attend university must pass through. One aspect of the process that was strange to me was hensachi, a number determined through a complex calculation of students' test scores that gives their standard deviation value, essentially is a number indicating their absolute academic ranking. If a student wants to go to Waseda University he'll need a hensachi number of 72, while a junior high school student looking to attend the famous Ochanomizu University Attached Girl's High School would need a number of 67. It's amazing that a person's life can be determined by a simple number.

~ Pam
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11/1/10 11:55 P

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emoticon facts...thanks!

LIFE IS WHAT IT IS! MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT

EVERY DAY, EVERY HOUR, EVERY MINUTE, EVERY SECOND!


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EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
11/1/10 1:53 P

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The Japanese language is very expressive, and there are some interesting phrases one encounters from time to time. When discussing something that's very small in amount such as money, the phrase suzume no namida (su-zu-meh no nah-mi-da) is often used, literally meaning "the tear of a sparrow" which is probably very small indeed. Similarly, if you have a small house you might apologize to guests for living in a "house that's as small as the forehead of a cat" (neko no hitai). The way to express flattery in Japan is goma-suri, lit. to grind up someone's sesame seeds for someone, and if you laugh at your boss's jokes too loudly he might tell you to "stop grinding up my sesame seeds!" The word Adam's Apple comes from the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, but the name in Japanese is nodo-botoke (no-doh boh-toh-keh), or "Buddha of the Throat."

~ Pam
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10/30/10 2:27 P

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[QUOTED from the J-List newsletter]

[Earlier this month] my Japanese wife's uncle finally succumbed to his illness and passed away at the age of 86, after an amazing life which included serving his country on the Battleship Ise during World War II and unexpected getting an American for a family member. Japan can be a very death-oriented place when it wants to be, and there are many customs related to sending loved ones off to the next world properly. Men wear reifuku, a standardized black suit that can be worn both to weddings and funerals (just don't get the necktie colors mixed up), while women women wear black dresses, being sure to remove all shiny jewelry. As with most ceremonies in Japan, money is involved, and my wife readied our $500 "condolence envelope" to give to the reception desk, making sure the bills were old and worn, as it's rude to give crisp, new bills. (It implies you were eagerly waiting for the person to die.) During the ceremony, the Buddhist priest -- called bozu in Japanese, just like the Bose speaker company -- chants namu ami dabutsu and offers a bowl of rice for the dead with chopsticks sticking straight up, which is only okay to do when offering rice to the dead. When the ceremony is done, the body is taken away to be cremated, and the well-wishers go home, making sure to sprinkle salt over their bodies before crossing the threshold into their homes to keep the dead spirits out.

Since I'm family, I was expected to attend events that the average person normally wouldn't, including otsuya, the "transmission night" ceremony similar in practice to an Irish wake in which close family gathers to help the spirit of the deceased prepare for his journey from this world to the next. Afterwards there was a little dinner gathering where family members could eat and talk and pour beer for each other. The Buddhist priest was also at the party, and he was very interested in what I thought of Japanese funerals. I told him that it was an excellent example of kata, a word which means mold, form, or in martial arts, standard body postures, in this case a highly developed system in which everyone clicks into place, knowing exactly what they're supposed to do (except me, of course). Funerals in the U.S. aren't nearly as ordered.

Later we went out to have drinks with my wife's cousin, whose name is Akira (no relation to the esper who destroyed Tokyo twice), who had come up from Osaka to be with the family. After a couple bottles of excellent wine -- which we were surprised to see were imported by the Kikkoman soy sauce company -- my wife and I realized we were a little too tipsy to drive, so she called a daiko ("replacement driver") taxi service. This is a great invention that I think should be adopted worldwide. Basically it's a normal taxi but with a second driver in the car, who drives your car home with you in it, making it easy and convenient to get home safely and have your car with you in the morning. It seems like a great business opportunity to me!

~ Pam
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10/26/10 1:59 P

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[QUOTED from the J-List newsletter]

(1) Over the weekend I went to my daughter's bunka-sai or school culture festival. Anyone who's watched more than a few episodes of anime will have quite a bit of knowledge about the kinds of activities seen at these school events, with each class or school club operating coffee shops, selling yakitori chicken on a stick, or doing something related to their club, like the shop my daughter's English club ran selling American candy to the other students. I had fun roaming the halls, stopping at the "Haundet Mansion" (very scary stuff in there) and the school's M.A.C. or Manga and Anime Club, which published a doujinshi made by all the members. (It wasn't very good, but I bought a copy to show my support to the kids.) While I was at the culture festival, I made a point of pretending not to speak Japanese, to see what kind of reaction I'd get from the students. Most were flustered at idea that they would ever have to use the English they'd learned for nearly six years, but a few blazed ahead, speaking broken English with me and not caring if they made mistakes (which is the correct attitude to have, believe me).

(2) It's time for the Japanese National Census, when the government sends out forms asking every head-of-household to report on their family, including number of dependents, what education level each has attained, and what kind of household it is (for example, a so-called two-household residence, for people who live with their elderly parents). Although it seems similar to the U.S. census, there are a lot of differences. There are no questions about ancestry in this country where 98% of people believe themselves to be of the same genetic stock -- even if that's only a convenient social fantasy -- and questions about religion are similarly absent, as that's considered a private matter. It's not only Japanese who are asked to fill in their census forms: gaijin get them too, and the foreign staff of J-List all filled theirs in dutifully. While the U.S. census changes from decade-to-decade based on the social trends of the day, Japan's seems to be pretty much the same every time.

(3) If you ever read a news article about an accident fatality that occurred in Japan, you'll read words like "the victim was taken to a hospital but died shortly after arriving." It's not that 100% of injured people wait until reaching the hospital to expire -- in Japan, medical attention begins at the hospital, rather than in the ambulance. Although Japan has a well-run healthcare system which adequately cares for the nation's 127 million citizens to the point that Japanese are the longest-lived people in the world, hospitals aren't always the most modern, a fact I was reminded of the other day when I went to doctor for an eye problem and heard a dot matrix printer churning away in the background somewhere. To Japan's embarrassment, ambulances are essentially only for transportation of the sick and injured, and little if any medical care is given to patients as they ride to the hospital. As the country ages, this is one area that certainly needs to be addressed urgently.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
10/21/10 1:30 P

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This is a liitle old.... Sorry...

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[QUOTED from the J-List newletter]

October 1st was the day for koromo-gae (lit. "clothes changing"), when millions of Japanese high school students switch from their summer to their winter uniforms. I have to admit, having so many people doing the exact same thing on the same morning without being told to always kind of freaked my "individualistic" American sensibilities out a little. For smokers in Japan, October 1 was also the day the price of cigarettes went up due to a tax increase passed by the Democratic Party of Japan. For the past few weeks, smokers had been buying cartons to stock up ahead of the tax, which pushes the price of a pack of Mild Seven's all the way up to $4.90, still considerably cheaper than the $10+ price for cigarettes in New York. (My father-in-law made out like a bandit, selling several months worth of cigarettes in a few weeks in our rural liquor store.) The rising cost of tobacco coupled with the recent increase in smoking bans in Japanese cities has caused the number of smokers here to decline in recent decades. When I got here in 1991, 60% of men smoked and there was nowhere a person could go to get away from it, but now the smoking rates have been cut in half and are still dropping.

~ Pam
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10/10/10 6:57 P

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[QUOTED from the J-List newsletter]

Autumn is here, and that means the return of nikuman (niku-mahn), those delicious Chinese steamed buns that they sell in convenience stores. When it's cold outside, there's nothing better than munching on one of these hot meat-filled buns, which are so soft and tasty and warm, you don't feel the cold at all. If you should ever tire of the standard flavor, there are variations, too: an-man with Japanese sweet beans inside, curry-man made with spicy curry, or another favorite of mine, pizza-man, featuring pizza sauce and cheese. Autumn is also the season of School Sports Day, when parents go to their children's school to watch them run relays and try to be the fastest in the school. It's a great time to show how proud you are of your kids -- which is called oya-baka or "parent-fool" -- and jockey for the best position so you can capture video of your son or daughter crossing the finish line with your brand-new Panasonic video camera.

Sometimes Japan seems to be a terribly dysfunctional place. Changing leaders every few months and building the Panama Canal worth of public works projects each year aren't the hallmarks of most effective of countries. At other times, however, Japan can be surprisingly competent. The other day I caught an interesting TV show called Takeshi's TV Tackle: 50 Citizens vs. Japan Diet Members Anger Battle! In the show, internationally famous comedian and director "Beat" Takeshi brought in a panel of distinguished Japanese politicians and sat them down in a studio with different groups of average Japanese who talked about the problems they were facing today. In one segment farmers detailed the challenges they faced turning a profit from their crops in Japan's overly structured agricultural market, while a group of hostesses from Ginza's famous drinking establishments detailed how deflation was impacting their businesses, followed by truck drivers who expressed anger over politicians' failure to make good on their promises to make Japanese freeways truly "free." In each segment, each group listened and told their side of things, and there was real discussion happening back and forth, so that each group ended up with a better understanding of the opinions held by the other side. Sadly, there's a lot more one-sided demagoguery and emotional button-pushing and a lot less open communication on similar shows in the U.S., and I'd love to see reasonable programs like Takeshi's TV Tackle imitated more.

Japan is unique among industrialized nations in that the concept of tipping never caught on, and is in fact about as alien to people here as taking your shoes off before entering a house would be in the States. You can expect service with a smile wherever you eat (as a wise gaijin once observed, "in Japan, you know no one is horking in your food"), and if you were to leave a tip on the table you can be pretty sure the staff would run after you to return the money to you. While it's certainly nice to not have to tip when eating out, there are times and I receive exceptionally good service and want to show my appreciation, but the lack of a custom of tipping makes this impossible -- it would actually be quite rude to even try in most cases.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
10/9/10 12:15 P

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[QUOTED from the J-List newsletter]

I had the sad job of paying a final visit to my wife's uncle Kumakichi, who's in the hospital with advanced pneumonia. He's the one who fought in World War II, serving as a gunner on the Battleship Ise. Many's the time my family and I would go over to his house for a Japanese-style Oshogatsu (New Year's Day), eating mikan oranges with our legs in the kotatsu while playing traditional Japanese card games. Having a family member who fought in World War II was a very interesting thing, and I got to hear many tales, like how Japanese sailors always wore extra long fundoshi (traditional underwear) so that if they ended up in the water they could unwrap the cloth and trail it behind them, which made sharks think they were too large to attack. Since my kids are of both the U.S. and Japan, I wanted to expose them to these stories as much as possible, and I know Kumakichi was happy to have someone show an interest in his reminiscings. Truth be told, no one else in the family wanted to hear about the war, but I was always happy to listen (though I would sometimes overlay Space Battleship Yamato BGM in my mind as I did so).

My wife's uncle joined the Japanese navy in 1943, after the Battle of Midway robbed Japan of many of its aircraft carriers. As a result, the Ise was retrofitted into a half-battleship, half-carrier, able to fire great volleys from the front and launch 11 fighters off the back -- pretty bad-ass if you ask me. By any account, Kumakichi was a very lucky man. First, he had a horizontal scar across his cheek where an American bullet had barely missed him, and if his head had been a centimeter to the right he would have been killed. His ship was to have been sent out with the Yamato on her final mission, but there was no fuel so they had to stay docked at the shipyards at Kure. Finally, after the atomic bombing of nearby Hiroshima, the captain picked eight crew members out of a line to go to the city and see what had happened, eight men who never returned. My wife's uncle had been the tenth man in that line. Anyway, thanks very much Uncle Kumakichi for all the awesome stories!

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
10/3/10 8:54 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

There are certain skills the Japanese people possess, which we poor gaijin usually lack. Like the ability to sit for hours on their knees in proper seiza (lit. "correct sitting") style without their legs falling asleep, communicate how to write a kanji character to someone by making strokes in the air, talk for five minutes without getting to the point, and sleep while standing up on a crowded train. Another mysterious skill the Japanese possess is the ability so squat comfortably with their feet flat on the ground, which is known as yankii-zuwari or "sitting yankee style." This odd name came about when delinquent young men started hanging out in the "America-mura" (America Village) area of Osaka back in the 1970s, and since they liked to squat in this way in groups, the nickname "yankee" became associated with this style of sitting. I've lived in Japan for nearly 20 years, but I can't manage to squat like that without falling over like a daruma doll (remember, to do it correctly the feet are supposed to be flat on the ground). The reason the Japanese are able to squat in this way for hours is that Japanese-style toilets lack seats to sit on, and children learn from a young age how to use the toilets, which makes them more flexible.

As with Europe, Japan has had a long history which has left its mark on cities today. Most of Japan's cities started out as castle towns, built up around the castle of the local samurai lord during Japan's feudal period, which ended only 142 years ago. Virtually all the cities around J-List -- Gunma prefectural capital Maebashi, commercialized Takasaki with its sleek Bullet Train line, and our own Isesaki -- originated as castle towns, and have curvy, narrow, inconvenient roads to prove it. Most of the beautiful castles in Japan are long gone, some lost to floods or general disuse and others destroyed during World War II, and their ruins are usually transformed into parks or other open spaces where people can come have a picnic. It is nice to have a bit of history around you. When you visit the Suzuran department story in Takasaki, you drive along the moat that guarded Taka saki Castle for 413 years.

~ Pam
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9/26/10 9:31 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Japan's Case of the Mysteriously Vanishing Elderly continues, and now it seems there are an amazing 234,354 centenarians listed as "missing," including nearly a thousand who, according to the official numbers, are more than 150 years old. While this all started when a family declined to report the death of their grandfather in order to fraudulently receive his pension benefits, the real problem comes from limitations of the family registry system. Japan tracks its citizens in a national registry called the koseki, which dates back to the Meiji Period and is based on ancient Chinese systems. Any birth, marriage, divorce, name change or death is supposed to be recorded in the registry when they happen, but it obviously doesn't always go as planned, judging by the "missing" elderly Japanese citizens. It's a very conservative system, and one reason Japanese women are still not allowed to keep their maiden names when they get married is, it would mess up the neat symmetry of this venerable registry system. Since foreigners are not Japanese citizens, we're excluded from being listed on the koseki, and when my children were born the city would occasionally send out social workers to check up on how my "single mother" wife was getting along, which we got a big laugh out of.

One of the first great mysteries foreigners encounter in Japan are toilets with a handles that turn in two different directions, with the kanji for "small" and "big" written on either side. After a while you learn that one handle turn will let out just a little water, for when you have made shoben or "small convenience," while the other is a full toilet flush for daiben or "big convenience" (respectively, no. 1 and no. 2).

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
9/19/10 2:11 A

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[Quoted from the J-Letter newsletter]

One aspect of Japan that appears odd to us free-thinking foreigners is how strict the educational system can be, especially elementary and junior high school, which is the extent of compulsory education. (High school is "optional" although nearly everyone goes.) It was quite interesting, witnessing the education of my half-Japanese, half-American children as they passed through the Japanese school system. I remember on one of the many parents' days that were held -- parents in Japan are a lot more involved with school than has been my experience in the U.S., at least in my own case -- I saw a poster on the wall that taught children "the correct way to sit in a chair while studying." I can't remember back far enough to recall if they had similar posters in my own elementary school, but I'm pretty sure they didn't. There can be drawbacks to trying to get every child to do things the same way. I don't think it's done any more, but in decades past left-handed children certainly felt subtle pressure to use their right hands, like everyone else in the class.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
9/14/10 2:19 A

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Japan is an expensive place, and traveling inside the country can be costly, although there are some good ways to keep travel costs affordable. I recently suggested that anyone traveling inside Japan consider minshuku, a kind of local version of a youth hostel or a bed-and-breakfast that might offer a more authentically Japanese experience than lodgings picked from a guidebook for foreigners. There are some other inexpensive ways to stay in Japanese cities, too. Like the 24-hour saunas found near the train stations of most major urban areas, where you can take a really excellent bath and get hot in the sauna, then pull up a corner of floor and sleep in the "relaxation room" with a hundred or so other yukata-clad men. (Hope you don't mind snoring.) Or try Japan's famous capsule hotels, which give you a cozy space with everything you need except room to stand up in. Each will set you back around $35 a night, unbelievably cheap considering you're in the middle of a big city like Tokyo. One note, the sauna establishments will be for men only, and 90% of the capsule hotels I've seen have also been male only, although a few do have a floor for women to stay on.

The subject of Japan's shrinking birth rate -- called shoshika in Japanese -- is something I write about a lot, since it's talked about often in Japan. While most modern democracies have low birth rates, Japan's is among the lowest with just 1.22 children per couple, which compares with 2.05, 1.66, and 1.89 for the U.S., U.K. and France. But why are so few babies being born in Japan? Well, there are many different trends at work, including the hyper-urbanized world where most Japanese live today, the changing roles of women in society, and the ongoing effects of Japan's long economic crisis. People definitely get married and start having children later than they used to, too--back when I arrived in Japan in 1991, it was common for girls to worry about being "Christmas Cakes" if they didn't get married by the age of 25, since no one wants to buy a Christmas Cake after December 25th. With so many options available to Japanese people these days, this kind of thinking is unheard of now. Japan's stressed-out society doesn't help the situation either, and I know of several women who are undergoing fertility treatment to get pregnant.
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~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
9/12/10 1:04 A

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It IS sad. My son theorizes the high suicide rate stems from a cultural tolerance of suicide stemming from the history of seppuku. I suppose that would be a factor.

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

If you ever visit Japan, it's good manners to bring gifts called omiyage (oh-mee-YAH-gay) to Japanese you will be visiting or who you might encounter. Some items, like boxes of chocolates, beef jerky, and macadamia nuts from Hawaii are so famous that they're almost cliched, but will still be appreciated by anyone who receives them from you. Yasu recommends you bring some items that Americans take for granted but which Japanese might find quite unique, like A-1 Steak Sauce or rare flavors of bubble gum. I think anything from your part of the world would make a good gift, and if your city or state is famous for something, a gift representing that is a good idea. One word of warning: giving gifts can expose you to a "gift war" in which you end up getting many more gifts than you can use, as Japanese are very serious about o-kaeshi, or giving a return gift when they receive one.
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~ Pam
LAFFLOTS57's Photo LAFFLOTS57 Posts: 1,524
9/11/10 10:24 P

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Sad to know of the high suicide rate in Japan...I guess they keep their feelings hidden pretty much

LIFE IS WHAT IT IS! MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT

EVERY DAY, EVERY HOUR, EVERY MINUTE, EVERY SECOND!


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EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
9/9/10 3:05 A

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

The other day my wife took the train down to Tokyo to get a document notarized at the U.S. Embassy. Japan's laws on how important documents are signed differ quite a bit from the U.S. -- rather than a signature witnessed by a Notary Public, you use a kanji name stamp called a hanko that's been officially registered with your city -- so we often have to go to Tokyo to get documents notarized. Anyway, when she got to the subway platform she noticed that all the trains had stopped. It was what's politely referred to as a jinshin jiko or "bodily injury accident," which is when someone decides to shuffle off this mortal coil by jumping in front of an oncoming train, which causes several hours of delays to frustrated commuters while the poor employees clean everything up. No one is sure why Japan's suicide rate is so high--reasons including the stress of living in a hyper-urbanized country coupled with the lack of support for people suffering from depression, with many of the more useful drugs available in the U.S. totally unknown. I hope Japan can find an answer to this terrible social problem quickly.

As an American living in Japan, I've always been interested in the experiences of Japanese in my (adopted) home prefecture of Gunma during World War II, and during my career as my city's "Facilitator of Internationalization" (whatever that means), I took the time to look up some local history of the war years. The end of the war, of course, saw bombing of many Japanese cities, and J-List's home prefecture of Gunma (located in the exact center of Japan) was no different. In nearby Ota there's a really long, straight road that's famous because it was the former runway for a major airbase during the war before it was bombed flat, an interesting bit of local trivia. My wife's father was just five when he heard the sound of the B-29's coming to bomb the Fuji Heavy Industries factory in our city--it was wiped out but rebuilt, and they make Subaru cars there now. Our prefectural capital of Maebashi was bombed on August 5, just ten days before the end of the war, although the city's lone Catholic church miraculously emerged unscathed. Japanese men who fought in the war and survived are considered lucky, and people hammer off chips from the family grave of J-List's Yasu, whose grandfather came back from the war safely, to share in that good luck. Of course, not every Japanese was effused with bushido fighting spirit back then: my wife's grandfather faked an injury by jumping off the roof of his house to avoid serving in the army.

~ Pam
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9/7/10 2:18 A

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Personally, I'm superstitious about using the expression "knock on wood" and knocking on the nearest wood (or my head). I don't want to tempt fate; I've had enough bad things happen already!

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

For the past fifteen years, Japan has been fighting against the spectre of defure or deflation, in which prices decline in real terms rather than rise slightly year-to-year. While having things get cheaper sounds pretty cool, in reality deflation is bad because it can smother economic growth, cause factories to sit idle and cause the economy to shrink despite the fact that everyone is working hard. Since I visit the U.S. once or twice a year, I often notice when things get more expensive than they were the last time, but this certainly isn't the norm for Japan, where prices pretty rise rarely. Actually, I can only remember a few things that actually got more expensive in the nearly two decades I've lived in Japan: Coca-Cola went from 100 to 120 yen, the train fares got raised once, and the shop I've bought fried croquettes at for years raised the price from 50 to 60 yen. (The lady was very apologetic to me.)


~ Pam
LAFFLOTS57's Photo LAFFLOTS57 Posts: 1,524
9/6/10 10:52 P

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The superstitions that exist are simply amazing!
I know I could fall into those kinds of beliefs if i let myself emoticon
Enjoy your day and keep those interesting facts coming emoticon

Edited by: LAFFLOTS57 at: 9/6/2010 (22:53)
LIFE IS WHAT IT IS! MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT

EVERY DAY, EVERY HOUR, EVERY MINUTE, EVERY SECOND!


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EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
9/5/10 2:57 A

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

The other day I happened to see my nephew's bare foot, and I noticed that his middle toe was longer than his big toe, and I told him, "Well, it looks like you're going to go farther in life than your parents did." The Japanese superstition that you'll surpass your parents if you have a long middle toe has no basis in fact, but coming from the West it's one more wacky things to discover about the place. There are other foot-related superstitions in Japan, for example, if you cut your toenails at night, you won't be able to be with your parents when they die. Also, if you want to know the weather tomorrow, do what Japanese kids do and throw your shoe as hard as you can. If it lands upright, it will be sunny tomorrow; if on its side, it will be cloudy; and if upside-down, it will rain.
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~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
9/4/10 2:57 A

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Needing a few strong leaders...AMEN! I suspect we actually have them, but they never get elected because they can't afford the PR and they actually have ideas. Ideas: ooooh, scary!
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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

Every country is going to adapt the English language to their own local needs. In Japan, people generally learn six years of English in junior high and high school, yet because no one really needs it once they've taken their college entrance exams, it often becomes more of a decoration for society. One pattern I've noticed is that English gets shortened or simplified in ways that might seem strange to us. For example, a student of mine wanted to tell me that she'd found out she was pregnant but didn't know how to say it in English, so she pointed at her abdomen and exclaimed, "Baby in!" Hair conditioner in Japanese is called "rinse" (shortened from "cream rinse"), so it makes perfect sense to Japanese people that "rinse in shampoo" would be what conditioning shampoo would be called. In Japanese a convertible like my Miata is known as an "open car," a name which gets the job done without adding any unnecessary complexity, while an RV your family can sleep in is referred to as a "camp car." One of my favorite Japanese word simplifications are Phillips and regular screwdrivers -- the Japanese just call them "plus" and "minus."

Japan is absolutely one of the most pro-American countries in the world, with most people possessing a positive view of the U.S., a trait that's used by advertisers to sell various products. Japanese generally have the impression that America is kakko ii -- meaning "good style" or cool -- and are often open to owning items like Zippo lighters, a set of Coleman outdoor cooking gear and clothes from L.L. Bean. Branding your product as American can often bring a boost in sales, which is why companies like Jack Daniels or KFC wrap themselves in images of old Tennessee or Kentucky. Levi Strauss struggled to build a name for themselves in Japan during the 1970s, until they hit on the idea of using iconic Hollywood stars like James Dean, John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe to advertise their jeans (they came cheap, since they were dead), which has to have been one of the most successful advertising decisions ever. And of course Harley Davidson sells a huge number of bikes in Japan, and has many dedicated fans.

~ Pam
LAFFLOTS57's Photo LAFFLOTS57 Posts: 1,524
9/3/10 11:14 P

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Japan's not the only one who needs strong leaders...
We could use a few new ones ourselves

LIFE IS WHAT IT IS! MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT

EVERY DAY, EVERY HOUR, EVERY MINUTE, EVERY SECOND!


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9/3/10 9:46 P

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[Courtesy of the J-List newsletter]

Japan is trying to reform its national pension system, but recent political turmoil -- the fall of Yukio Hatoyama's government over his wishy-washiness on U.S. base issues and subsequent poor showing in Prime Minister Naoto Kan's first election -- has made that a difficult goal to achieve. In Japan there are two different Social Security-like systems, Employees Pension Insurance for anyone working for a large company with 20 or more employees, and National Pension Insurance for workers in smaller companies and anyone who is self-employed. Like Social Security in the U.S., enrollment in a pension system is mandatory, but there's no mechanism to force people to make their payments into the National system, making it easy for younger Japanese to essentially opt out entirely. (Several politicians including the current Prime Minister got in trouble for not making their payments a few years ago.) Considering the challenges Japan faces, they really need strong leaders who will work together to find the best answers for the country.

~ Pam
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8/31/10 2:57 A

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[Courtesy of J-List newsletter]

If you were to plan a picnic, you might pack a basket containing things like sandwiches, potato salad or maybe some pickles, but a Japanese person would almost certainly bring along onigiri, those delicious rice balls. Formed using the honorific "o" prefix that can be seen on many Japanese words and nigiri, meaning "to squeeze," onigiri are a popular way to grab a quick snack on the go. Although they can be as simple as a hunk of salted rice pressed into a triangle shape, there's usually a bit of fish, konbu seaweed or ume plum inside, and nori covering the outside. Onigiri are a major product category for convenience stores in Japan, and even before a new gaijin learns to start reading the language around him he often memorizes the all-important onigiri color code at Seven Eleven -- red for salmon, blue for "sea chicken" and so on. Onigiri are a staple of bento culture, and Japanese housewives get up extra early to press rice balls to include in lunches for their kids or husbands, just as my own mother made peanut butter and honey sandwiches for me all those years (thanks, Mom).

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/30/10 4:02 A

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In Japanese (nihongo), the language used by women and men is quite different. The best example is the first and second person pronouns used by each group. For example, males will usually use the neural boku or the more manly-sounding ore (oh-reh) to refer to themselves, while females use the more formal watashi or cute-sounding atashi.

~ Pam
LAFFLOTS57's Photo LAFFLOTS57 Posts: 1,524
8/27/10 11:45 P

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Just read the "zipper in the pants" bit...hmmmmm emoticon

LIFE IS WHAT IT IS! MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT

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EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/27/10 4:35 P

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Thanks! I really appreciate knowing that SOMEONE reads them. That means a lot to me.
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Personally, I'm still giggling over the Japanese euphemism for the zipper in pants: the "window of society."

Edited by: EX-WIMPIE at: 8/27/2010 (16:37)
~ Pam
LAFFLOTS57's Photo LAFFLOTS57 Posts: 1,524
8/24/10 9:56 P

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emoticon As always, I enjoy reading the interesting facts emoticon

LIFE IS WHAT IT IS! MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT

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EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/23/10 1:47 A

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

(1) In contrast to the U.S., Japan's [school] summer break is much shorter, from mid-July through the end of August. Teachers work to ensure the nation's children won't become baka (stupid) by giving them homework to do, which helps them stay at least a little focused o n school even while they get sand-between-the-toes at the beach.

(2) Some general advice for finding accommodations inside Japan:
The first time I went to Kyoto I took my trusty Lonely Planet travel guide with me, which was loaded with information on places to stay. But one thing was odd: in every ryokan inn or youth hostel I stayed in, nearly all the guests were gaijin (foreigners) like me, with nary a nihonjin (Japanese) in sight. I eventually realized the other guests were all using the same travel book I was, and since then I've made it a point to use Japanese-language travel information sources when I can. Another tip: considering exploring Japan through minshuku, which are awesome budget versions of Japanese inns, rather than full-service hotels. The down-to-earth feel of these family-owned lodgings is great, and the people you'll meet there are fascinating, too. For a slightly more Western feel, search out pension inns, a kind of Japanese/European bed & breakfast that's also fun to stay in.

(3) Last time I talked about the concept of filial piety, or oya koko, which is the respect you pay to your parents because without them you wouldn't be here. This formalized tradition of respecting your parents is part of Confucian teachings which exerted influence on Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1868). In the U.S. the top universities are private schools like Harvard, Princeton and MIT, while inexpensive state-funded schools are lower in the rankings, but in Japan this is reversed: the public universities are where everyone wants to go, in large part because they're much cheaper than their private counterparts like Waseda or Keio. One way kids show oya koko to their parents is by studying extra-hard so they can get a cheap education at Tokyo or Kyoto University, which are around $6000 per year.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/21/10 5:07 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

(1) I'm having fun spending time in my American house with my Japanese daughter. The other day she announced she was going to make "Hamburg" steak for me, which is a hugely popular dish from Japan, essentially a Salsbury steak made with ground beef and topped with various sauces. (To the Japanese, a "Hamburg" is a hamburger steak without bread, while a "hamburger" is the same thing with the bun part included; similarly, a "Frankfurt" is a frankfurter by itself, with no bun around it.) She got all the ingredients together -- ground beef, bread crumbs, browned onions and an egg -- and cooked me some good "Hamburg" steaks, complete with a demi-glace sauce made from that amazing Bull-Dog Sauce mixed with ketchup, and we ate it all over steamed white rice. It was delicious, though it wasn't quite the same as we'd had back in Japan so many times. Eventually we realized what was wrong: the ground beef in America is 100% beef, but most of the time when you buy it in Japan you're getting a 50% beef and 50% pork blend called aibiki, which is why the taste was slightly different.

(2) [Although in a recent news report Tokyo's taxis were ranked 5th best in the world,] I've always found taxi drivers in Japan to be the most polite and professional in the world. Not only are Japanese taxis spotless, with their drivers diligently polishing every surface whenever the driver waits for a fare, they make visitors feel welcome thanks to the passenger door that opens automatically for you. Of course not every taxi ride in Tokyo is going to be a smooth one for foreign visitors. There may be language problems, since drivers' English skills may vary, or confusion about what is near what in sprawling Tokyo, which is not actually a city but a prefecture with 23 cities inside it. There are also plenty of potential problems due to the chaotic way Japanese city blocks are laid out, and unless you have a map to where you're trying to go, it's possible even your driver won't be able to find your destination.

(3) One new paradigm I encountered [in Japan] was the idea of "filial piety" (in Japanese, oya koko, pronounced oh-yah koh-koh), or the respect and honor you pay your parents just because of who they are. I had a friend who'd just become a teacher, and like most Japanese young people she lived with her parents. "But I'm not making much money yet," my friend told me, "so I'm only able to give my parents $300 each month for the household." I don't know about you, but when I was 22 I was still figuring out what I was going to do with my life, not kicking money to my mother to help her with her household finances, and I was impressed that my friend was able to think so selflessly of her parents like that.

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/19/10 2:45 A

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[From the J-List newsletter]

In Japan, the zipper in your pants is known as the "window of society" (shakai no mado). What a great euphemism!

This has been a difficult summer for Japan. First, the heat has been incredible, contributing to more than 100 deaths and sending thousands to the hospital, including comedian George Tokoro, who plays the voice of Ponyo's father. Japan has also started finding that some of its oldest citizens are in fact dead or missing. It all started when municipal authorities decided to check up on an 111 year old man, only to find a mummified corpse that had been there for thirty years. This may have been part of the man's personal choice to self-mumify himself in a Buddhist custom of purification, but his family is going to have some 'splaining to do about why they kept his pension money for themselves all these years. Another 50 centenarians are said to be missing, including a 113-year-old woman born in 1897, Tokyo's oldest citizen.

Yes, this summer has been a hot one, with temperatures as high as 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), of course with very high humidity. It's the perfect weather for enjoying some Japanese mugi cha or refreshing barley tea, which is the most popular drink in Japan when it's hot out. In Japan there's a nice custom called shochuu omimai or a mid-summer greeting card. Individuals and businesses exchange these cards in July and August.


~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/16/10 9:12 P

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[Quoted from the J-List newsletter]

One interesting aspect of the Japanese is how superstitious they can be, at least as seen from my contemporary American point of view. Whether it's getting one's future told through tarot cards or a palm reading or the famous beliefs about people's personalities being determined by their blood type, most Japanese have some ways of thinking that might be thought of as unique. There's a complex system of old wives' tales that people follow -- don't cut your fingernails at night or you won't be able to be with your parents when they die, don't ever write a person's name in red ink or they'll die, don't whistle at night or snakes will come and bite you, don't sleep with your head pointing to the north -- which I've learned to respect, or at least work around in my daily life.

Ghosts are another popular area of Japanese supernatural culture, so much that there are TV variety shows made on the subject quite often. Some people are said to be reikan no aru hito, that is, people who have a greater than average sense of ghosts and apparitions, and my Japanese wife and daughter are definitely in this group. Once after my father passed away, my daughter (who was about five at the time) turned to empty air and shouted, "Stop watching me!" My wife thought I'd gotten out of bed and was standing there looking at my daughter eating her breakfast, but I was still asleep, and the general consensus was that she was "sensing" the spirit of my father who had come to visit us. Recently my wife and daughter were having a fight, and they both thought they saw my mother's face reflected in the window at the same moment. That stopped their fight in a hurry, I can tell you.
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~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/16/10 1:34 A

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Aw, crud! We just missed Obon! I thought it started on the 16th, but Obon was August 13-15.

Obon (Festival of Souls): although this is not an official national holiday, many offices are closed. Most of the country celebrates in August; however, Tokyo celebrated July 13-15.
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~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/15/10 4:57 A

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I didn't know about Japan and tipping either! Or other countries for that matter...

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[Quoted from J-List newsletter]

(1) You know you've been in Japan too long when your mother sends you a bottle of nutmeg spice for Christmas, and a Japanese person asks what it is, upon which you immediately answer, without having ever heard what the spice is called in Japanese, "This is nutsmeg, which is great in warm milk." For some inexplicable reason of phonetics, some English words are imported into Japanese in their plural forms. Words like shirt, suit, swimsuit, peanut, and sport always appear with the 's' sound on the end, even if you're discussing the word in its singular form. In Japanese, one refers to a suitcase as a suitscase, and it takes the brain a few months to get over the weirdness of this -- ditto for learning to ask for peanuts butter or watching the Fruits Basket anime. There seem to be three reasons for some English words being mapped to their plural versions i n Japanese. First is the rather convenient lack of singular/plural in Japanese grammar -- saying hana ga kirei means either "the flower is pretty" or "the flowers are pretty" depending on how many flowers you happen to discussing. Also, the softer 'tsu' ending on the plural forms is easier for Japanese to pronounce than a hard 't' consonant sound. Finally, converting some words to their plural forms also avoids the dreaded L/R confusion that can be a problem in the language. Because "fruit" and "flute" would have the exact same pronunciation when rendered in katakana, the writing system used for expressing foreign loan words, the musical instrument became furu-to and the edible stuff became furu-tsu.

(2) I saw a news report about a new Japanese law governing the harvesting of living organs from brain-dead donors which had just gone into effect. You might be thinking that I'd accidentally picked up a newspaper from 25 years ago, but no -- Japan is only just catching up to the rest of the world in this important area. Previously organs from individuals who had signed a donor card could be harvested for transplants, but there was a catch -- only persons aged 15 or older were eligible to sign the donor cards, which was essentially a death sentences to anyone under that age who needed a new heart or liver but lacked the resources to travel outside of Japan to obtain one. One of the themes of Japan as a nation is that it is "behind" the U.S. and Europe in terms of its social structures, who are generally seen as as more "advanced" by the Japanese in general. It's nice to see this aspect of Japanese society being updated.

~ Pam
LAFFLOTS57's Photo LAFFLOTS57 Posts: 1,524
8/12/10 10:45 P

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Never knew about the tipping! I wonder if alot of other countries are that way?

Like the sound of Obon--the whole country shuts down

WOW

LIFE IS WHAT IT IS! MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT

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EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/11/10 3:00 A

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[Quoted from J-List newletter]

(1) There is no tipping in Japan, and so Japanese who go abroad read travel books about this exotic custom to make sure they're doing it just right.

(2) Japan is a Buddhist country, and this manifests itself in some interesting ways. Several national holidays are Buddhist for example, such as Obon in August when the entire country shuts down for three days so people can return to their parents' homes to greet the spirits of dead family members who return home for a visit. One concept I've encountered quite often is rin-ne (REEN-neh), the endless cycle of death and rebirth, which basically says that a person's children will lead pretty much the same life as their parents, a pattern that can be hard to break out of. One good example of the cycle of rin-ne being broken is acclaimed comedian/director "Beat" Takeshi Kitano. His father was Kikujiro, a poor house painter who drank all the time, and it was expected that Takeshi would follow in his father's footsteps. Takeshi's mother Saki, however, was adamant that her son would break away from their family's cycle of poverty, so she did part-time jobs secretly to save money to buy study books so her son could attend university one day. I'd say it worked out pretty well.

(3) Each language is structured in different ways, and it's fun to learn a little bit about how they work. In English, we have four demonstrative pronouns -- this, that, these and those -- but in Japanese there are three, kore (koh-ray) meaning "this" associated with something close to me, the speaker, sore (soh-ray) or "that" for something near you, the person I'm speaking to, and are (ah-ray), "that over there" for something far from both of us. (You nearly always ignore plurals in Japanese.) Often meanings are imported wholesale from Chinese, like a group of kanji-based words that use the character sai, meaning "most," which is how you can express ideas like biggest (saidai ), smallest (saishou), highest (saikou, which also carries the slang meaning of "awesome"), or lowest (saitei, which is also a pretty potent insult).

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/10/10 2:45 A

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[Quoted from J-List newsletter]

Suki desu ka? One of the first useful words a student of Japanese learns is how to say "like" (suki), which is pronounced quickly so that it sounds rather like the English word "ski," leading all students to immediately make the joke sukii ga suki desu ka? (Do you like skiing?), since the words sound similar. The word suki is often a student's introduction to the concept that a word or idea in one language might have many possible meanings in another language, depending on the situation. Right off the bat, suki can mean "like" (in the context of your favorite food or hobby) or "love" (when said in reference to another person). Like all Japanese words there's some ambiguity involved, which is the subject of more than a few melodramatic misunderstandings in anime and manga. For example, if a girl was looking at a cake and said suki desu, she could theoretically be expressing her love of cake, or else she could be confessing her feelings for a boy who was also in the room. Once I saw a variety show in which former JAV actress Ai Iijima walked around New York, asking Americans kyonyu suki? which sounds like "Can you ski?" in English, but is really asking if they prefer women with large oppai. It was funny to see the Americans on the show nodding their heads for the camera at her question. Try it on your friends!

~ Pam
EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/9/10 1:39 A

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emoticon I am a master of disguise... emoticon

~ Pam
LAFFLOTS57's Photo LAFFLOTS57 Posts: 1,524
8/8/10 12:24 A

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Thank you very much for that clarification...I was wondering cuz your photo did not look like you were of the male gender
emoticon Silly me

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EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/4/10 3:49 P

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PAM COMMENTS: I think I should clarify my postings that state "According to J-List." J-List is a company that sells fun and interesting Japanese items. It is owned/headed by an American man who moved to Japan, taught English and married a Japanese woman. When I subscribed to the J-List newsletter, I started receiving emails 2-3 times a week that describe new items and also describe life in Japan through the eyes of a gaijin. Currently the owner has been visiting America for the anime convention season.

Whenever an "interesting fact" is credited to J-List, it is a DIRECT QUOTE from a J-List newsletter. That is why I make sure I credit my source, but also why there is usage of "I" and "my" in those "interesting facts."
I, Pam, am not male and have never been to Japan.
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J-List has many, many cool and fun items for sale--some of them are for adults, so you have to choose your type of access when you enter the website. If you've never been to the website, you can check it out here:
www.jlist.com/
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~ Pam
LAFFLOTS57's Photo LAFFLOTS57 Posts: 1,524
8/4/10 7:16 A

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I respect your wife's idea of wanting to dress up to go out...I dislike going out & seeing people wearing their sweat pants as "common" wear of the day emoticon

LIFE IS WHAT IT IS! MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT

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EX-WIMPIE's Photo EX-WIMPIE Posts: 4,572
8/2/10 2:48 A

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[QUOTED from J-List]

"Although I try to avoid going to Wal-Mart, sometimes I find myself needing something that's convenient to buy there. Last night at 10 pm or so I asked my Japanese wife if she wanted to with me so she could pick up American make-up, soap and other items she likes to stock up on when in the U.S. Her response was amusing to me: "I can't go. I don't have time to put on make-up and dress nicely." I explained that if she dressed up in special clothes to go to Wal-Mart at 10 pm she'd be in the only person in America doing so, and she decided that a T-shirt was okay to go out in after all. The episode illustrates the Japanese view of kakko (kah-koh), literally style or fashion, and how they often place a lot more importance on how they look than we might in the U.S. It's also common to find skiers, golfers or surfers in Japan with exquisitely chosen outfits and equipment, before they've even begun to learn the sport in question.

"One of the challenges in learning Japanese is tackling kanji, which is not easy for Westerners, as it's a very different paradigm from anything we've ever used. The usual way to learn kanji is to start at the beginning, with ichi, ni and san and all the other characters covered in the first grade, and going from there. Some kanji you encounter early on include jin, or person, which is added to the end of countries to make that nationality (e.g. America-jin is an American, nihon-jin is Japanese), and ko, a word that means "child," or in some situations, "girl." I remember learning that adding the -ya kanji for " roof" to nouns made a word meaning a shop that sold that item, e.g. hana (flower) + ya = hanaya (a flower shop). When I learned the word for car (kuruma), I haltingly asked my teacher if I could say kuruma-ya to mean a shop that sells cars, and the answer was correct. In making the mental leap myself, I'd taken my first step into a larger world."


~ Pam
LAFFLOTS57's Photo LAFFLOTS57 Posts: 1,524
8/1/10 10:35 P

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good to know about the chrsanthemums!
I'll have to go exploring some of these beautiful sites you mentioned. Thanks! emoticon

LIFE IS WHAT IT IS! MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT

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