Tofugu » Editorial http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Tue, 27 Jan 2015 18:04:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Why Quantity, Not Quality, Makes You Fluent In Japanese http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/26/quantity-not-quality-makes-fluent-japanese/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/26/quantity-not-quality-makes-fluent-japanese/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47897 I’d like the start this article with a quote from “Art & Fear”, a book written by David Bayles and Ted Orland. The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the […]

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I’d like the start this article with a quote from “Art & Fear”, a book written by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

These two paragraphs are what inspired Tofugu’s 500 Japanese Sentences (which later became 4500 Japanese Sentences, available now btw), a workbook that gives you a lot of Japanese sentences to translate, based off of words that are ordered by frequency of use. The focus, of course, is all on quantity, not quality. If you don’t know how to translate something and can’t figure it out quickly, move on. If you’re confused, move on. If you’re stuck, move on. Do what’s at your ability level and what’s slightly above it and skip the rest. It’ll be there waiting for you on your second run through.

This goes against what most people are taught in school. In fact, there’s a popular saying you’ve probably heard a lot: “Quality over quantity.” It turns out, though, that quantity creates quality, and this can be applied to pretty much any skill you’re trying to develop, Japanese included.

Let’s Make Some Assumptions First

pottery-pile

Photo by Graham Watson

To understand why quantity trumps quality, we first have to come to a belief about how one acquires language. Today we’re going to look at one particular hypothesis known as the “Input Hypothesis” by Stephen Krashen. That being said, it is just a hypothesis (not a thesis or a law!). But much of my support for it does come from personal experience, the experience of others, and a few poor souls that I’ve experimented on.

There are five parts to this hypothesis, but we’re only going to look at one. It is:

Input Hypothesis: A learner’s progress in their knowledge of the language when they comprehend language input that is slightly more advanced than their current level. Krashen called this level of input “i+1″, where “i” is the language input and “+1″ is the next stage of language acquisition.

I’ll admit, there are some parts to this set of hypothesis that I don’t like, but there are other ideas that I love. This will probably change tomorrow, but for now let’s roll with it and take a look at what this has to do with quantity over quality.

+1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1

quantitynotquality-1

The Input Hypothesis says that progression in the language that you’re learning comes from when you can comprehend language input that is slightly above your current level. Comprehending something that is +1 above your current ability level isn’t all that hard. It’s only +1, after all. Comprehending something that is more than +1 is, according to this hypothesis, not a good use of your time. Trying to comprehend a sentence that is, for example, +10 above your current level likely won’t teach you anything new. Mostly it’ll befuddle you and make you frustrated.

While I don’t think this is true in every situation, I do see where he’s coming from. I follow a very similar philosophy with the lessons I write. Everything is +1 +1 +1 +1. Many small steps that build on each other. But, this is true when you look at the bigger picture too. Cut out some of the outliers and exceptions to the rule hypothesis, and you see a lot of real-life examples pop up. Are any of these you?

Kanji Learning:

Quality: To learn a single kanji, you learn every single meaning and reading, and you also learn how to write the damn thing. With your precious hands. Arguably, these are all important things, and I do think that it’s important to learn them all eventually. The “quality” group will learn kanji like this, one by one by one, and it will probably take a while.

Quantity: Instead of learning everything, you learn the bare minimum so that you can hurry up and learn the next kanji. In extreme cases, that just involves you learning the meaning of the kanji and that’s it (Heisig’s). In our corner (WaniKani), usually we have people learn just one meaning and one reading.

You skip a lot of information while studying with the quantity over quality method. But, there’s a funny thing with kanji study that I see in student after student after student: the more kanji they know, the easier it is for them to learn the next kanji. There’s a few reasons for this and I won’t go into too much detail, but experience does beget experience. By cutting the fluff (removing less important readings, meanings, and handwriting) you end up with way more kanji “done” in the same amount of time.

This is important because you need a lot of kanji to be able to read real Japanese. Think of it this way. Say you’re reading Japanese text (a blog, cooking site, book, manga, etc). You come across a compound jukugo word. If you don’t know the meanings of the kanji already, you have to look that up, the readings, and then the meaning/reading of the word. Certainly not +1 (more like +4). That means it is too high above your level for you to naturally comprehend it. But, say you run across the same word and you know the meanings and readings of the kanji that make up the word. All you need is to look up the meaning of the word because you can read it already. Also, the meaning of the word is related to the meanings of the kanji. Something like that is +1. Or better yet, you guess the meaning of the word based off the meanings of the kanji. Without having to look anything up you know the meaning of that word. That’s an easy +1.

Sure, you can do this in the quality camp as well. But, the opportunities for this to happen go down dramatically. Reading Japanese only to have to look up 75% of the kanji/words on the page is a very frustrating experience. But if you go the quantity route with kanji, you’re setting yourself up to do a lot less of that. With quantity comes quality.

Sentence Studying:

Now let’s look at sentence studying. The idea here is that you’re using sentences to study / improve your Japanese. You read them and you translate them. Let’s assume you’re at an intermediate-ish level or above, or at the very least the sentences are tailored to your level. That being said, there are way fewer beginner-level sentences out there to study (compared to the plethora of real Japanese sentences that exist).

Quality: You spend a lot of time on each sentence. You try to learn and memorize every single word. You make sure every bit of grammar is absolutely perfect before moving on to the next one.

Quantity: You don’t spend much time on each sentence. You’ll look up grammar the best you can. You look up words too. But, if you get stuck you don’t worry about it. You’re trying to stay at or slightly above your ability level. Any part that’s not, you just skip.

The important thing here is that you’re moving on quickly. You don’t worry about memorizing every word. If it comes up enough you’ll start to remember it, after all. If you’re at the right level, studying with sentences is an excellent way to get a lot of +1 feedback loops. The hard part is embracing the idea that “It’s okay to move on. Quickly.”

The great thing with this is that you’ll start to see patterns, which is only possible when you focus on quantity. Seeing 500 sentences over the course of a month (quantity) is much different from seeing 500 sentences over the course of a year (quality). Patterns get too spread out to see when you take too long to move on to the next sentence.

Also, while we’re buying into the Input Hypothesis, think of sentence studying in this way:

In a single sentence there might be one or two things that are a +1 to your current skill level (if you’re lucky). There will also be things that are +5 and +10. If we’re assuming that these things don’t really help you to get better, then spending all that extra time on a sentence to figure out the +5 and +10 stuff isn’t going to help you as much. If you brute force through a lot of sentences, you’ll see a higher number of +1 improvements. In the long run, you’re coming out way, way ahead. Then, when you finish, come back to the stuff you didn’t understand. I think you’ll find that the things that were +5 before are more like +1.

Kanji and sentences are just a couple of examples. If you think about your Japanese in this way, you’ll see that it’s true everywhere else you look too. If you want to get good at speaking… well, you should probably speak. A lot. Then do it some more. Don’t get hung up on being perfect because it will slow you down (and make you scared to speak). This goes for reading, writing, listening, and every other aspect of Japanese learning. Think about what you’re having trouble with right now. Does the cause have anything to do with your focus on quality instead of quantity?

Oh, That Immersion Thing?

japanese-immersion

At this point you might be thinking about how to add quantity to your Japanese studying routine. What about immersion?

Well, immersion is just quantity over quality pushed to the extreme. You get so much friggin’ input that you can’t help but learn something. This is simply because you’re getting a lot more +1 opportunities. It is the brute force of brute force strategies, and it works. There’s a reason why most people say immersion is the best and easiest way to learn a new language.

But, immersion isn’t realistic for many people. Whether that means creating an immersive environment for yourself or going to Japan to live there, that’s usually not an option.

So we have to come up with a compromise… one that favors your Japanese progress. To do that, you must…

Find A Good Teacher

teacher

I’m not necessarily talking about someone who stands up at the front of a classroom or sits across a table from you, though sometimes that will be true. I’m also including “you” in this list. And textbooks. And the raving posts of Japanese learners on various message boards. Teachers comes in many different shapes, sizes, and bytes.

But, there is a good way to figure out which ones are good and which ones aren’t. It comes down to quantity over quality and how they go about applying this to your studies.

A good teacher won’t make you perfect. They’ll know what is out of reach and instead focus on the things that will incrementally make you better (+1).

A bad teacher will focus on perfectionism. This will make you neurotic. It will make you too worried to make a mistake. You’ll slowly focus on trying to figure out how to not screw up, which will usually result in you speaking and using Japanese less and less. You’ll try to make a few things perfect but everything else will be nonexistent.

A good teacher will let you make mistakes, and lots of them. As Michael Jordan once said: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Mistakes are an important part of learning, and if you don’t make enough of them you can’t get better. Actually, many studies show that mistakes in grammar are actually just a part of the learning process. They’re a step on a set of stairs. Without them you can’t move up.

A good teacher will be smart about the quantity they give you. It should be the thing you need to level up, not just a bunch of stuff for the sake of being a bunch of stuff. Quantity is good, but it stops being useful when there are very few +1 opportunities inside.

A bad teacher will tell you to learn something “because that’s how it’s always been done.” This will often be +10 above your ability level. You’ll hear things like “Just learn it!” but there won’t be any reason behind it. It won’t be broken down into +1 pieces. As a beginner, it’s really hard to break something up into +1 sized chunks. That’s the teacher’s job, at least until you get a little better at this whole “learning Japanese” thing. When this happens, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out this +10 task when you could have been spending the same amount of time making 100x +1 progress.

A good teacher makes you comfortable to use your Japanese more. To do this, they have to make you feel less bad about messing up. If they can do this, you’ll use your Japanese a lot more, get better, and be fluent in Japanese faster. This is the biggest difference between a quantity and quality focused teacher.

The list goes on and on, I’m sure. Being able to know when and how much quantity you should apply to your studies is difficult. To figure it out, you have to try a lot of different things sometimes. A good way is to ask the pros what they wish they did more of when they were first starting out. With Japanese, I think a lot of people might say something like “I wish I knew more kanji”. In this way it’s easy to identify what you should get a lot of.

How do you apply quantity to your Japanese studies? Or better yet, where can you do a better job applying quantity instead of obsessing on quality? I’m sure many other people will completely disagree with all of this as well, so get your words in the comments.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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How To Survive Japan’s Medical System http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/21/survive-japans-medical-system/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/21/survive-japans-medical-system/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47179 While I was living in Japan, the scariest thing for me was the thought of getting sick. Having to deal with medical issues in a language I didn’t fully understand and in a system I wasn’t familiar with sent chills through me. I tried to live healthily and for two years and successfully avoided the […]

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While I was living in Japan, the scariest thing for me was the thought of getting sick. Having to deal with medical issues in a language I didn’t fully understand and in a system I wasn’t familiar with sent chills through me. I tried to live healthily and for two years and successfully avoided the hospital. But eventually my fears became reality, first with a bout of norovirus and then with a bus accident. Though a harrowing experience, it left me with a wealth of information on the Japanese medical system. Hopefully, by sharing my experience of the Japanese medical system as well as those of other people I know, it will help you understand and overcome a very difficult situation.

Clinics for This, Clinics for That

How-to-survive-the-Japanese-medical-system-operating-room

Photo by Roger Walch

If you get sick in Japan you need to get yourself to a hospital or clinic. These are two main types of medical facility in Japan: hospitals and clinics. There is not really a system of GPs or family doctors like there is in the UK or elsewhere. Usually the first port of call is a hospital. If it’s an emergency, you aren’t sure where to go, or all of you hurts, you go to hospital. This is the place to go, whether you’ve been injured or just have a really, really bad cold. You might then be referred to a more specialised clinic. Alternatively, you can just find a clinic yourself if you know what kind you need. Japanese hospitals are much like those in the west, with emergency rooms as well as facilities for operations. It felt odd going to a hospital for a minor problem that I would have usually gone to my GP for back home.

Clinics are the other kind of medical institution. They tend to be highly specialised. You go to a eye clinic for eye problems, a heart clinic for heart problems, a maternity clinic for pregnancy. In rural areas, hospitals tend to take care of a broader range of problems as there aren’t as many specialised clinics as in the cities. However, if you need long term treatment, you will probably end up in a clinic. Clinics are owned and run by doctors. Although they get their money mostly from the public insurance system, they are run as private businesses. Each one will have a different atmosphere and rules. One thing that is the same wherever you go: you’re going to have to pay for it.

Welcome to the Japanese Insurance System(s)

Japanese-hospital

Photo by Nemo’s great uncle

Luckily, all Japanese citizens, permanent residents, and non-Japanese people living in Japan with more than a year-long visa are required to be enrolled in either National Health Insurance or Employees’ Health Insurance. Between these two plans, everyone living or working in Japan has access to healthcare with insurance that covers 70% of the bill and a cap on how much you have to pay on the other 30%.

If you move to Japan and are required to enroll in a health insurance plan, you must do so within two weeks. Signing up for National Health Insurance (国民健康保険, Kokumin-Kenkō-Hoken) is a case of visiting your local ward or city office. There you will be given your Health Insurance card. Once you get that card, don’t let it go. If you don’t have it with you when you go to a hospital, you’ll have to pay 100% of the cost upfront. You can claim it back later, but that will take some time.

Employees Health Insurance (健康保険 Kenkō-Hoken) is all taken care of by your employer. The cost is shared between you and your employer. For many foreigners working in Japan, this is the insurance system you will be using. I didn’t have to do anything to sign up for it as it was all set up by my employer. However, there are some exceptions, such as people employed by companies like Interac. This English Teacher supply company keeps its employees’ logged working hours (29.5 hours a week) just below the level they would need to get Employees’ Health Insurance (30 hours a week). In reality most work longer, up to 40 hours a week. These employees are responsible for joining the National Health Insurance plan by themselves and Interac makes no contribution. This is one of the ways private ALT companies cut costs, and it is important to be aware of this if you are thinking about teaching in Japan.

Whether you are covered under either plan, the benefits are the same. 70% of your health care costs are taken care of as soon as they arise. All you have to do is hand over your insurance card in a hospital or clinic. There are a range of options to cover the missing 30%. There is private health insurance, as well as insurance schemes run by employers directly. When I was in Japan I was covered by the JET insurance plan which took care of 30% of any medical costs.

Around the world, Japan’s healthcare system is admired for providing good service for a low price. The Japanese spend half of what Americans do on health care and have longer life expectancy. Still, the idea of it being provided for a price at all was a bit confusing to me. When I had to go to the hospital because of norovirus, I had to pay for the 30% of my treatment that wasn’t covered by my Employee’s Insurance. There was an ATM right there in the hospital lobby so people could pay in cash. I was given a receipt and was able to claim back the final 30% from my JET insurance later. It felt very strange handing over cash in exchange for medical treatment, even if I knew I was going to get it back later. Britain’s NHS spoiled me, I guess.

Alternatively, if you are simply visiting Japan, all you have to do is get travel insurance. It is usually pretty affordable. With it you can enjoy your trip without worrying about what will happen if you fall down some shrine steps or have a bad plate of fugu.

The doctor is in… control

japanese-medical-system-poster

Photo by Angelina Earley

The power dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship are different in Japan than in many Western countries. These days in the UK, there is a lot of focus on patients having choices on how and where they are treated. Doctors have authority, but are expected to work with the patient to help heal them, not dictate from on high.

In Japan, doctors, especially in hospitals, have a lot more say over your treatment than you do. This can extend from the medicine you are given to the food you are allowed to eat. One friend of mine who had broken her elbow, ended up checking out of the hospital early because of the discomfort she experienced with this power balance. She wasn’t allowed to take a shower. Her food was weighed before and after she ate and she was criticised for each gram she didn’t finish. She wasn’t informed about her own condition or what they planned to do with her. The final straw came when she was expected to stay in the hospital for two weeks, a far longer stay than she felt was necessary for a broken bone. Once she was plastered up, she checked herself out and went home where she could be comfortable.

The hospital likely wanted her to stay partly because it would bring in more money for them. The longer a patient stays, the more money the insurance pays. If you find yourself in a Japanese hospital, you have two options: 1.) Either get the treatment and get out against doctor’s orders, like my friend did, or 2.) surrender yourself to the medical system and endure its oddities and indignities. Be prepared to have your preconceptions challenged though.

As many clinics are owned and run by doctors, the sense of authority doctors feel can become inflated. You can see this in cases such as Japan’s maternity advice to expectant mothers. Japanese doctors tell pregnant women to “save their weight” meaning they shouldn’t gain more than 10 pounds during their pregnancy. Clinics will even refuse to treat expectant mothers who gain more than their guidelines. For many years, this orthodoxy in Japan has made it the only developed country where maternal weight is going down. The bad news is that low maternal weight contributes to low birth weight and low birth rate is associated with many health problems in adulthood including diabetes, obesity, and poor cardiac health. Japanese doctors have been informed about these problems in study after study, but most refuse to change their policies. Some Japanese doctors operate in an environment where everything they say goes. Changing the mind of someone used to that level of authority is no easy task.

Communication Is Only Half the Battle

japanese-medical-system-mameshiba

Photo by Nina Helmer

For me, the biggest cause of my fear of the Japanese medical system was my lack of understanding of medical Japanese. Daily life Japanese and medical Japanese are completely different challenges. If you aren’t confident that you’ll be able to understand everything, having a friend or coworker with you to help translate will make the experience far better. Most doctors in Japan speak some English, however it can often be very limited. When I had to have a set of X-rays for my whiplash, the technician and I communicated in a mix of broken English and Japanese. It was not the most relaxing way to spend a day.

However, language isn’t the only barrier you can face when you seek medical care in Japan. Even if you are super ペラペラ (fluent) in Japanese, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll understand the things that happen to you in a Japanese clinic. A friend of mine who speaks excellent Japanese went to a gynaecologist. She was led to a room where one wall was just a curtain. A disembodied voice told her to take the clothes off her bottom half and sit in a chair. Since her feet were cold she kept her socks on. They were cute socks with mameshiba’s face on them. Mameshiba is a half dog, half bean who loves trivia. My friend sat down in the chair stripped to the waist apart from her cute socks and waited. The voice asked her if she was ready. She said yes, but she certainly wasn’t ready for what happened next. The voice said, “動きます!” (ugokimasu) which is usually said when buses depart. Suddenly the chair lifted up, spread her legs apart and swivelled round. Her feet swept the lower portion of the curtain aside, but the upper curtain still hung down, separating her from the doctors and nurses on the other side. One of the nurses exclaimed, “Ah! Mameshiba!” in great surprise, when she saw my friend’s socks.

When my friend told me all this I laughed, but behind the humour, it’s also terrifying. My friend sat on a piece of medical equipment that was not explained to her. You can see an illustration of the chair here. She was subjected to an invasive medical examination without even seeing who was performing it on her. Coming from a culture where we expect to be able to see our doctors, it can be quite shocking, even more shocking than her socks were to the nurse!

There are also problems that hospitals face when treating non-Japanese patients. Before my fiancé had an operation on his foot he had to tell the hospital where his family was registered, just in case anything went wrong. The problem was that being Canadian, he didn’t have a family register. All Japanese people are required to be registered on their household’s koseki (戸籍) or family registry. The hospital administrators couldn’t understand that there was no equivalent system in Canada. They explained it to him over and over again, while he explained that he couldn’t give them information that didn’t exist. In the end his whole surgery ended up being delayed by a day while the hospital tried to work out a solution. Trying to get these sorts of things straightened out while you’re dosed up on pain meds isn’t easy. Even people with good Japanese can struggle when they simply can’t tell the hospital what it needs to hear.

No Bad News Can Be Bad News

Japanese-Medical-System-brochures

Photo by Yuya Tamai

Another aspect of communication that disturbed me about the Japanese medical system when I first learned about it, was the attitude toward the patients’ right to know.

I had a student who was applying to medical school. He had to write an essay about whether he would inform a terminally ill patient that they were terminally ill. I checked through his English, but what shocked me was his opinion. He said that he would not tell the terminally ill patient that they were going to die. His reasoning was that it would only upset them. To me this was horrifying. The idea of going to a doctor, someone I trusted, and not being told the truth about my own body, my own life, filled me with dread. We debated it for a while and were joined by another Japanese English teacher. She sided with the student and told me that it was perfectly normal in Japan not to tell patients they only have a short time to live. The thinking is that it is better to just continue living and working as before right up until the moment you die. In some cases, the family of the patient will be told, but not the patient themselves.

While I don’t imagine this is a problem that most foreigners living in Japan will face, it does illustrate that while many of the techniques and medicines may be the same, attitudes can be very different. Personally I think those attitudes are very important when it comes to something as fundamental as health. The Japanese Journal of Clinical Oncology laid out guidelines on the importance of telling patients the truth, but admits that change has been slow, as it is in many aspects of the Japanese medical system.

Navigating Japan’s Medical System like a Pro

Japanese-Medical-System-Superman-Poster-Sign

Photo by strikeael

Maybe I’ve freaked you out a little with these horror stories, but don’t worry too much. The Japanese health care system, for all its quirks, is actually very good. If you are working in Japan, you are guaranteed to be treated for a very reasonable cost. It may be stressful, but getting sick always is. Also, there are many resources to help you navigate your way through Japan’s medical system and back to health.

Japan Health Care Info provides a service finding English speaking doctors and booking appointments for you if you need it. This can be a great help when you’re faced with the huge array of clinics and aren’t sure which one to choose. Their website also has lots of useful information about health care in Japan.

This website, hospitalclinic.com has a list of clinics where English or other foreign languages are spoken. You can browse by type of clinic and see if there are any in your area. Of course, the closer you live to a major population centre, the more likely there will be an English speaking clinic nearby.

The Institute of Mental Healthcare Professionals is an organisation that provides mental health support to people of different nationalities living in Japan. Their website has a search function that can help you find a therapist to meet your needs.

This guide to purchasing over the counter medications is quite useful. Learning the kanji for dosage and frequency is a very good idea. I had a lot of success going to the pharmacy in my local supermarket for medicine. At first I always asked the pharmacist by pointing at whatever body part hurt and looking up the word for my problem, and I always walked away with the right kind of medication. Later, the technique I used was looking at the pictures on the packets. If it had a picture of a giant mosquito and a mosquito bite being soothed, I guessed that it would help with my painful mosquito bites. I wouldn’t recommend this technique for more serious problems though, and especially not for drugs like painkillers. If in doubt, ask. Mime and a dictionary can get you a long way.

There are some prescription drugs that you will find very difficult to come by in Japan. Many antidepressants and more modern hormonal contraceptions are not easily available. If you know that you will need medication for more than a month while you are in Japan, you’ll have to fill out a Yakkan Shoumei Certificate. This will allow you to import a year’s supply of your prescription medication. However, there are some drugs that you cannot bring to Japan at all. Many ADD and ADHD medications are completely illegal in Japan, as well as narcotics and even some nasal congestion relief drugs. If you are planning a trip or move, check that all of your medications are not controlled substances in Japan. If they are, consult with your doctor at home to see if there are any alternatives.

Finally, in case of a medical emergency, dial 119. This is Japan’s emergency number, equivalent to the USA’s 911 or the UK’s 999. If you need an ambulance say, “Kyukyusha onegai-shimasu.” Then give your name and location.

I hope that most of you will never need any of this information. But if you do, I’d urge you to keep in mind that your health should be your priority. Looking back, I probably let my fear of the health system keep me out of the hospital several times when I should have gone (like the time I ate Hell Ramen, but that’s a story for another day.) In the end, when I did end up in hospital, it wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated, even if I wasn’t as comfortable as I would have been at home. Stay healthy and happy, in Japan or wherever you are!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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How To Cope When Japan Isn’t Perfect http://www.tofugu.com/2014/11/24/crisis-in-japan-how-to-cope-when-things-go-wrong/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/11/24/crisis-in-japan-how-to-cope-when-things-go-wrong/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:00:54 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=45939 Life is life wherever it happens. Even if your dream of living in Japan has come true, you can still be blindsided by awful things sometimes. Bad things happen everywhere, but living in a foreign country can add an extra layer of challenge on top. During my time in Japan on the JET Programme, I […]

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Life is life wherever it happens. Even if your dream of living in Japan has come true, you can still be blindsided by awful things sometimes. Bad things happen everywhere, but living in a foreign country can add an extra layer of challenge on top. During my time in Japan on the JET Programme, I faced plenty of troubles, the worst of which was a bus accident during my commute which caused severe injury to my face (I’ll just say that the name “safety bar” is deeply ironic.) The accident was ugly and tangled me up in medical, insurance, workplace exploitation, compensation, and legal issues. This, on top of the everyday stresses of living in Japan, certainly took a toll on my mental well-being. Though my physical injury is not yet completely healed, I’ve been able to deal with the practical, mental, and emotional aspects of the accident thanks to the support I received. So it feels only right to share what I learned while dealing with these troubles. A few of my solutions will only apply to JETs, but others will help anyone who lives in Japan. But no matter your situation, I hope my experiences can do something to help you cope with crises in Japan.

Culture Shock

jizou-statue

Photo by Joel

Culture shock is the disorienting, overwhelming feeling that often affects people living in foreign countries. It’s the most common problem faced by foreigners moving to Japan. I don’t think I know anyone who didn’t get a touch of it. Culture shock has many causes including, language barriers, information overload, social stress, and change in diet. There are four stages, sometimes called 1) Honeymoon, 2) Frustration, 3) Adjustment, and 4) Mastery.

One of the main causes of culture shock in Japan is people’s expectations before they arrive. As Buckaroo Banzai once said, “No matter where you go, there you are.” Going to Japan might change your life, but it’s not going to change you. For some people this can be hard to accept. You’ll be taking your strengths and weaknesses with you. Keep this in mind when comparing your life in Japan with life back home. Other people have difficulties caused by excess expectations of Japan itself. If you arrive in Japan thinking you’re going to be living in an anime, you’re going to have a difficult time and miss out on the good things about the real Japan. Tempering your expectations and approaching Japan with a fresh mind can help.

However, even the best preparations won’t prevent culture shock completely. I knew a guy who proved that culture shock can happen to anyone. He had studied in Japan, was fluent in Japanese, and had Japanese heritage. Yet even he got stuck in the dreaded stage 2 of Culture shock. In some ways it was worse for him because he didn’t recognise what it was for a long time.

Recognising culture shock is the first step to dealing with it. If you’ve been feeling down, angry, sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or too little, unmotivated to study Japanese, or found yourself frustrated at Japan you might have culture shock. Even if you’ve been living in Japan for a long while, you can still experience it. Unfortunately going though culture shock once is no guarantee that you won’t go through it again. It is a cycle. I went through the cycle several times in three years, and had to learn to keep an eye on myself.

Coping with Culture Shock

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Photo by Pank Seleen

Thankfully, once you’ve recognised that you’re being culture shocked, there are some practical things you can do to help you feel better. Compare your eating, drinking and socialising habits with how they were back home. Then try to reclaim the things which made you happy in your home country. If you drank less at home, try to drink less in Japan. If you got more sleep, try to get more sleep. Do and eat things that remind you of home. But, as with all of this advice, don’t go to extremes. I knew someone who moved into an apartment that their JET predecessor had been living in. The new JET found a room full of American drinks and candy. Every time his predecessor had seen a bottle of Coca-cola or a snickers, he’d bought it because it reminded him of home. He hadn’t eaten them though, just kept them as a shrine to America. So snacks from home are good, but don’t take it too far. In fact, when dealing with culture shock, moderation should be your watch word.

Exercise can seem like the last thing you want to do when suffering culture shock, but it really helps. Even just going for a walk can be good for you. Get out of your house and connect with people. They will be your lifelines when things are roughest. You might feel watched if you go out for a jog, but don’t let this get you down. People are going to comment on the things you do. The sooner you can come to terms with it, the better you’ll feel. Just put in some headphones and get in the zone.

Try to eat well too. Fruit can be expensive in Japan, but indulge yourself sometimes, or try tinned fruit, which is cheaper but still healthy. Don’t live entirely on kombini meals. Yes, they are convenient, but they are also loaded with stuff that will ruin your energy. Getting to grips with Japanese cooking is not only healthier, but learning about Japanese food will also make you feel more confident when you walk into the supermarket, which will help in making Japan a home for you. When I first arrived I felt overwhelmed by all the unknown packets and bottles. For my first three months I only bought food which had pictures of what it was on the package. Going shopping was a big frustration for me. I tackled this by researching more about Japanese food. Cookpad is a great Japanese home-cooking recipe site in both English and Japanese.

Learning more Japanese is another good way to battle culture shock. If you are having frustrations in an area of your life, focus your studies on that area to overcome them. I used to dread going to the post office. It stressed me out until I sat down and crammed some vocabulary. This wasn’t an instant cure for my culture shock, but being able to regain some control helped bring me out of my stage 2 slump.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, talk to someone. This can be hard for some people, but remember talking to people is a sign of strength and decisive action. Luckily we live in the future, so even long distance video calls are possible and cheap or free! Talk to people back home. Getting a perspective from outside Japan can help, as well as reminding yourself that there is a place beyond Japan.

However, don’t get trapped only talking to friends and family outside of Japan, some of whom might want you to come home sooner than you’d like. Sometimes this means talking to other foreigners in Japan who might have gone through similar things. Be wary of “stage 2 parties” though. This is where lots of expats get together and moan about Japan. It’s fine to let off steam, but don’t let that sort of thing suck you down further. Try to get a wide range of perspectives, foreign and Japanese.

However, there may be some times when you feel as if you have no one to talk to at all.

Lifelines

woman-on-telephone

Fear not! There is always someone for you to talk to! If you are a JET you can call the AJET Peer Support Group (PSG.) This is a telephone service that runs from 8pm to 7am every night of the year. If you call 050-5534-5566 or Skype AJETPSG (for free!) you will get through to a member of PSG. They are trained listeners who also point you in the direction of all sorts of resources; medical, legal, counseling and more. All of the members are drawn from the JET community, so they will understand the sorts of problems you are going through. You don’t have to tell them your name and they have a strict confidentiality policy so they will never tell your employer or anyone else anything you say to them. The only exception to this is if they feel you are in danger of hurting yourself. Then they will take any steps necessary to ensure your safety.

Don’t think that you have to be in a really serious situation to call them though. While they are trained to deal with severe problems, you can also call them for any reason at all. If you are undecided about recontracting, it can be very useful to bounce ideas off someone. If you’re having difficult times at work, they can help you think of ways to improve your situation. If you want to talk about personal issues, they will give you a non-judgmental space to express yourself. They don’t work for the JET Programme, they work for JETs. You’re not going to hear the usual official lines from them and they won’t just say, “Every Situation is Different.”

If you do need to hear the official lines though, then calling the JET Line, which lets you speak to one of the Programme coordinators at CLAIR in Tokyo, is the way to go. The line operates Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 17:45. You can reach it on 03-5213-1729. I had a mixed experience calling the JET Line.The first response I got from the JET line was the basic “Every Situation is Different,” which didn’t address my problems. My Prefectural Advisor, who was herself a fantastic source of support and an angel in human form, encouraged me to call again after the problems got worse. The second time I called, the JET Line was much more effective. The JET Line spoke with my Contracting Organisation on my behalf. After that my Board of Education slowly began to change the situation. You should keep in mind though, that as a JET, you are employed by your Contracting Organisation, not CLAIR. The JET Programme can’t do more than put pressure on your employer to improve your situation. JET acts as an agency, placing you with employers, but does not directly employ you.

There is often a feeling in the JET community that we should put up with a lot because we are lucky to be here. While I agree that JETs should try their best to adapt to cultural differences, foods and so on, that doesn’t mean we should let ourselves be exploited. JET is a large programme, and there are going to be problems in it. Things like the JET Line and the Prefectural Advisers system are mechanisms to fix those problems. Take advantage of them when necessary. It’s not failure to ask for help.

Workplace Problems

gundam-battle

Photo by ancorena

The English teaching market outside of JET has its own problems. There are a lot of dodgy businesses out there. Even respectable businesses can turn nasty if you get sick. I had a friend who was fired but not fired because she got a lung infection. Her doctor told her she needed rest to recover fully. Her employer just told her not to come back, but that she wasn’t being fired, so they wouldn’t pay her severance. Of course, this is illegal under Japanese law. If you find yourself in a situation like this, call your local Labour Standards Bureau. They will provide a free mediation service between you and your employer. Some offices have English speaking staff. This option is not open to you if you are a JET or other kind of public servant, only if you are employed by a private company. There are also unions which defend the rights of foreign workers and language teachers in Japan and may be able to offer you advice and legal counsel.

Wherever you work, take some time to read through Japan’s Labour Standards laws. They are surprisingly generous to workers in some cases. Of course, this won’t be much comfort if you’re working for a black company, but it’s still good to know the ground you are fighting on.

Support

support-groups

Photo by Emran Kassim

If you aren’t a JET, there are also people for you to call. TELL (Tokyo English Life Line – www.telljp.com) operates a phone service across Japan. The number is 03-5774-0992 and the line is open from 9am to 11pm daily. They offer support to anyone going through a hard time in Japan, as well as dealing with emergency calls and providing information. Their directory (www.bluejava.com/tell/index.html) is also a great place to look for contacts to other services that could help you with a specific problem, covering everything from counseling services to housing disputes. TELL also offers a face to face counseling service, based in Tokyo and Yokohama (www.telljp.com/index.php?/en/counseling) .

Living in Japan, particularly taking part in workplace drinking culture can cause problems for some people. There are some familiar support organisations that also operate in Japan. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous (www.aatokyo.org), Al-Anon (www.al-anontokyo.org) for friends and family of alcoholic, and Over-eaters Anonymous (www.oaintokyo.org). There is also JHelp which offers emergency assistance across Japan. If you live in Tokyo, you can get help from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Foreign Residents’ Advisory Center. These organisations can provide you with support in English.

Don’t forget that you can also contact your Embassy. After I was unable to get the forms I needed to claim an accident insurance payment from my employer, I called the British Embassy in Tokyo. The staff was incredibly helpful. They contacted my employer and were able to get me the forms. Of all the people I called following my accident, the British Embassy were the most compassionate and helpful. The US Embassy also provides a useful list of sources of help in Japan.

Finding Different Perspectives

fuji-in-the-bg

Photo by Adam Sharron

Life in Japan can be stressful. It is easy to fall into the trap of blaming Japan for all your problems. Take a moment to consider which of your problems are really caused by Japan specifically and which could happen to you anywhere.

Personally, after the traffic accident that left me severely injured, I was very angry at Japan. It took me time to realise that accidents happen all over the world. It wasn’t Japan as a whole I needed to be angry with.

We can never know what would have happened if we’d made the choice not to come to Japan. All we can do is face reality as best we can. That doesn’t mean rolling over and accepting our fate though. While I came to terms with the accident, I still fought to get the compensation I was entitled to and for change in my commuting situation so that the same sort of accident wouldn’t happen again.

Dealing with problems in Japan requires a fine understanding of what you need to adapt to and what you need to fight to change. It’s tough, so don’t beat yourself up if you fail sometimes. Just take a breath and get the help you need.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[Phone – 640×1136]

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Miyagi 3 Years after 3.11: Slogans Are Cheap http://www.tofugu.com/2014/11/05/miyagi-3-years-after-3-11-slogan-are-cheap/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/11/05/miyagi-3-years-after-3-11-slogan-are-cheap/#comments Wed, 05 Nov 2014 17:00:06 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=44646 It’s been three and a half years since the disaster struck Japan. After writing about the situation in Fukushima prefecture, I was able to visit the tsunami disaster areas in Miyagi prefecture. Three and a half years after the tsunami, I have to wonder: how smooth has the “recovery” has been? How is it going now? How […]

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It’s been three and a half years since the disaster struck Japan. After writing about the situation in Fukushima prefecture, I was able to visit the tsunami disaster areas in Miyagi prefecture.

Three and a half years after the tsunami, I have to wonder: how smooth has the “recovery” has been? How is it going now? How it will be in the future? The rubble may have been cleared, but there is still a lot to do.

Sendai and Matsushima

downtown-sendai

Is this what you would call disaster?

I first set off on a Monday morning on my trip from Sendai, the largest city and population hub for everything in the Tohoku region. Sendai, as you can imagine, shows virtually no signs of the disaster at present. At most there may be temporary housing for refugees but even those aren’t obvious.

The recovery is going well here then, I suppose.

tohoku-university

New buildings at Tohoku University

My friends living in the city have told me that “recovery” has been pumping Sendai full of money. Aside from the reconstruction of damaged buildings, Tohoku University has been getting brand spanking new buildings and central funding. The city is finally going to have a new subway line next year. The Sendai which I arrived to on a Saturday evening was positively bustling. People shopping, young couples hand in hand – not very different from what you might find in Shibuya.

I first headed off to Matsushima, one of Japan’s “Three Views“. Nothing really seems off at all, but it wasn’t that heavily damaged by the Tsunami in the first place. On top of that, as a tourist location, it had to be cleaned up quickly.

park-in-sendai

The recovery is going well here too, it seems.

I boarded the train from Matsushima station towards Ishinomaki, the first major disaster spots I visited.

Matsushima → Ishinomaki

matsushima-field

There is a reality of Japan that most tourists, zipping around with JR Japan passes do not see. Many think that Japan is all convenience with punctual and reliable public transport. That is true! However, forget “convenient” once you’re out of the big cities.

When you get to the more rural parts of Japan, the trains come once every hour or two and often only have one or two carriages. Train stations may often be just an elevated concrete platform. This is the Japan where a car is a must. The majority of people on the trains I saw were students too young to drive and the elderly too old to do so.

ishinomaki-field

The rural landscape in late September Tohoku can be summarized by golden field after golden field. Beautiful, but the crisp chill in the air heralds the coming winter. The rice has just been harvested – you see the hanging bushels strung up on poles. These fields are broken only by the occasional settlement or wooded area.

Ishinomaki

storefronts-in-ishinomaki

How can you bring recovery to what was already sick?

Ishinomaki was one of the worst affected cities by the earthquake. It was – and is – a port city. Aside from the port being entirely destroyed, 3,533 people lost their lives and another 434 are still missing.

In the southern part of the city there is a ridge. If you look at 3.11 disaster pictures, pretty much everything south of it was flattened.

ishinomaki-city-ridge-view

This doesn’t look like a city that was flooded by a tsunami.

A sense of normalcy has been restored to the city. There were no obvious signs of the tsunami aside from the “Ganbarou Ishinomaki” signs near the station. Looking around you can see some buildings which look very new, newer perhaps than what would have been without the disaster. There is some building damage here and there, but you can’t be sure that those aren’t relics of three years ago.

The question is: if the earthquake didn’t damage this city, then what did?

Ishinomaki-empty-stores

Walking around, you notice rows upon rows of closed shutters in the shopping district, and entire streets of unused shop space. On some streets the number of open shops, outnumbered the shoppers. And while I would like to chalk it up as a symptom of Monday afternoon, the Monday afternoons I’ve seen in other places certainly haven’t been half as dead.

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Ishinomaki was already losing residents long before the earthquake. Its population peaked in the 1985 census, after which it began to decline. Between 2005 and 2010, it lost around 6500 residents, or around 4% of its population. Latest statistics indicate a further decline with a loss of more than 10,000 residents between 2010 and 2014.

Look at official statistics and you’ll see that the largest age group in the city are those between 60 and 64 years of age. At the moment, they’re still considered part of the “labor force”, but a few years from now they’ll be part of the heavy inverse population pyramid driving the city into the ground.

ishinomaki-empty-city-streets

Exploring Ishinomaki city center left me with a few questions. Was the decay I saw really due to the disaster or a part of the slow decline that would have happened anyway?

There are two disasters here: the tsunami and the crumbling population. Ishinomaki may have “recovered” from the first, but with second unaddressed, it has transitioned from a free fall to a slow downward glide.

Understand that the Japanese word for recovery is 復興 – a return (復) to prosperity (興). But fundamentally, how can you bring back to prosperity that which has not been prosperous for twenty years?

Ishinomaki → Minami-Sanriku

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Yanaizu BRT station – the train platform can be seen in the background.

The trip to Minami-Sanriku involved more small trains that come once every hour or so. I had to switch at Yanaizu to a “Bus Rapid Transport” system which has replaced the destroyed portion of the Kesennuma Line.

JR East has not announced any plans to rebuild the train track. It doesn’t take a genius to see why. It’s not worth it.

Railways, trains and stations are expensive to build and buy and, even if they did rebuild the train line, would there be anyone to use it? Or would it be one of those lines causing huge losses like those that JR Hokkaido operates?

The buses are comfortable enough. A train ride would have been smoother and probably faster, but beggars and tsunami victims outside big cities can’t be choosers.

Minami-Sanriku

minami-sanriku-empty-parking-lot

If Ishinomaki’s city center felt only whispers of the disaster, Minami-Sanriku was screaming Tsunami all over. The answer to the disaster seems simple. Rebuild what was destroyed.

And there is a lot to rebuild.

lonely-building-in-minami-sanriku

There’s nothing but wild grass and a few skyscrapers in the majority of the area. The shops that do exist are operating out of angular temporary buildings. Among the flat land there’s the building pictured above though. Am I the only one who sees the parallel between this and the Nuclear Dome in Hiroshima?

slow-reconstruction-in-minami-sanriku

Aside from this, there is grass and grass and grass and construction vehicles rushing around doing reconstruction work which I couldn’t see anywhere. In some sense, it seems like they’ve tried to wipe away any reminders of the disaster by clearing the rubble. To me that just made the scene even more poignant. The debris would make the scene that of what was, now the lack of it smells of what had been.

You can see things in the area, some not very obvious, that have not been cleared yet. For one, they’ve entirely cleared any traces of the former train tracks and what used to be the main train station of Minami Sanriku, Shizukawa station. But they haven’t been able to clear it off Google Maps.

minami-sanriku-google-maps

Below is what Google Maps led me to.

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the-lonely-building-in-minami-sanriku

This used to be the station.

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And this, perhaps is the most symbolic thing I saw in Minami Sanriku. Interpret it as you wish.

The population left in Minami-Sanriku is still trying to live their lives and have the same Japanese hospitality as everywhere else. Living and working in housing which resembles containers, there was a clear sense of perseverance and the Japanese sense of enduring with dignity.

Maybe it was the encroaching twilight, but there were wisps of despair all around. Three years after the earthquake and the future is still up in the air, tossed between the very tall grass, waving in the wind.

Recovery?

ishinomaki-high-school

“A step towards the future, Ishinomaki; The breath of hope, Ishinomaki” – Ishinomaki High School.

After March 11, 2011, a few slogans became prevalent in Japan: がんばろう日本! (Work Hard Japan!), it’s sister slogans of がんばろう 東北!(Work hard Tohoku!), 絆 (kizuna, human bonds) because the disaster jolted Japan into (re)appreciating their loved ones and lastly, the aforementioned 復興 or recovery.

No doubt the Japanese have endured the crisis well with minimal chaos. But whether they’re actually working hard, or more importantly, effectively, to recover from the disaster is a different question. “Recovery” remains heavily uneven and, for some places, there may be no going back.

Because it isn’t as simple as recovery and ganbarou. It isn’t as simple as kizuna. To the disaster victims getting bashed online and Minami-Sanriku citizens visiting sparkling Sendai, the aforementioned slogans probably sound cheap.

But there are realities to deal with and loud unspoken questions: how much longer until things return to normal? How “normal” can “normal” possibly get? And more cynically, is returning to normal even worth it?

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[Phone – 640×1136]

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Dealing with Disaster: Three Years After Fukushima http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/22/dealing-with-disaster-three-years-after-fukushima/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/22/dealing-with-disaster-three-years-after-fukushima/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:00:59 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=44543 Living in Tokyo, I don’t hear much about Fukushima’s disaster recovery. Three years after the disaster, Tohoku’s recovery only directly affects me through little donation boxes supermarkets and drug stores. The actual situation in Tohoku however is rocky. To find out more, I took a little trip last month to the area to get a firsthand […]

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Living in Tokyo, I don’t hear much about Fukushima’s disaster recovery. Three years after the disaster, Tohoku’s recovery only directly affects me through little donation boxes supermarkets and drug stores.

The actual situation in Tohoku however is rocky. To find out more, I took a little trip last month to the area to get a firsthand view of the so-called “recovery”.

Bear in mind that the 2011 disaster is actually a collection of two disasters affecting different parts of Tohoku. The first is the earthquake and tsunami which has caused damage particularly to the coastal areas of Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima. The second is the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, which had the greatest effect within Fukushima prefecture, resulting in forced evacuation areas due to nuclear radiation.

The first will be addressed in a different post. This article will deal with the second.

During my trip, I stopped over at a city in southeast Fukushima prefecture, Iwaki city, and through it I hope to raise the question: How much has Japan really recovered from the nuclear crisis in Fukushima?

Iwaki, Fukushima

view-from-iwaki-station-fukushima

View of the city from the station.

I myself arrived in Iwaki on a bright Saturday. I was expecting a lively mid-sized city. After all, Iwaki is the largest city in Fukushima prefecture in terms of population. It turns out it’s the largest in size as well and thus the population is spread thin.

Iwaki itself suffered from the earthquake. After Sendai, it had the second largest number of destroyed homes (40,000) and about 400 dead from landslides and the tsunami. While it originally had a direct link to Sendai through the Joban line of JR East, the nuclear radiation exclusion zone cut it in half. Train commuters now must take a long detour through the west using infrequent trains (about once every two hours) through central Fukushima prefecture to head northward.

train-signs-in-iwaki-station-fukushima

Signboard at Mito-station, south of Iwaki. The blanked out part probably says “Sendai”.

You wouldn’t know any of this if you just stumbled into the city by mistake. The area around Iwaki station is tranquil and pristine with many 5 story buildings. Walk 10 minutes away from the station and you’ll arrive at rows of houses with 2 stories with only small signs of urban decay.

Social Friction

temporary-housing-in-iwaki-fukushima

Photo by Daisuke TSUDA

Example of temporary housing for disaster victims.

Iwaki is one of the cities with the highest number of disaster evacuees in the nation. There is temporary housing within 20 minutes’ walk from the station. As of last year, the city was sheltering around 24,000 refugees from the disaster areas. These refugees mainly come from the evacuated area north of Iwaki, which is within the vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactor.

Three years after the disaster, some Iwaki residents feel the refugees have overstayed their welcome. Below I have translated a number of comments from Iwaki netizens on Twitter:

“The people living in the temporary housing are living in luxury. They’re getting money. They’re getting money if they don’t work so some go on overseas holidays or even buy expensive cars. They get rebates at convenience stores so they shop there. The convenience stores are crowded and with the population increasing, traffic congestion is getting worse. Iwaki citizens have no such privileges.”

“Like, the refugee-samas ride and crash expensive cars which they have never tried before and that is why there’s always traffic jams. I just wish they’d stop it! “

“This I can say this without any hesitation. There are some people suffering in the temporary housing but a majority are getting money without working; their children who see the adults not working become dysfunctional hikikomoris living through the internet and become useless people spending their time on Niconico douga”.

This has been reported on by NHK, Huffington Post Japan and Japan Times in English. The major complaints are that the influx of refugees has caused a shortage of doctors, an increase in rent prices, and traffic. Actually it seems that, at least on the internet, all sorts of stuff is being blamed on the disaster survivors.

refugees-go-home-graffiti-iwaki-fukushima

“Disaster Victims get Lost!”

 Things have gotten so bad, that there has even been anti-refugee graffiti, as seen above. This photo was taken in 2012 so you can be sure that the problem has been around for at least two years already. With a large portion of the evacuated municipalities still under quarantine and the slow recovery for those which evacuation orders have been rescinded, tensions are likely to continue mounting.

Fates of the Survivors

abandoned-namie-town-fukushima

Photo by Steve Herman

Namie Town, deserted immediately after the disaster. Even now, staying overnight is forbidden in all areas of the town.

A large number of refugees still can’t go home. A further number can only go back home on day trips. In these areas, staying overnight has been forbidden due to elevated levels of radiation. For some lucky ones, the evacuation orders have been rescinded. But the choice to return home isn’t as obvious or easy as you may think.

Let’s take the example of Kawauchi village, to the immediate north of Iwaki. The eastern part of the village is within 20 km of the Fukushima nuclear reactors. But as of the 25th last month, the majority of the evacuation orders have been rescinded and only a small part of the village is still under quarantine.

Nonetheless, the population has not returned. NHK reported that out of 2758 people registered with the village, only 1476 have returned. The returnees have been mostly elderly – the young have not been returning as willingly.

disaster-worker-clean-up-fukushima

Photo by Roger Jolly

Photo of decontamination works in Kawashima, 2012

NHK explains that there are three main reasons for the lack of young returnees. Firstly, fears about the radiation certainly remain. Secondly, education is a concern. Kawauchi’s high school students tended to commute to high schools in the towns to the east. Those are now ghost towns due to the radioactivity exclusion zone. The alternative has children take one hour bus rides to schools in the west – not very practical for anyone involved.

The third reason is financial. Many people in the area formerly worked in other towns to the East. NHK reports that 500 villagers lost their jobs due to the quarantine. The village is trying to attract new companies to provide jobs. However, it has so far only been able to attract 100 new job, many among these being low-paying, barely above minimum-wage positions. The NHK gives the example of a position in an agricultural factory which only pays 700 yen.

If you found yourself in their position, and had been living somewhere else for perhaps a year, would you choose to return?

Problems with Nuclear Energy

nuclear-reactor-japan-fukushima

Photo by Energy.Gov

Mihama Nuclear Reactor

The debate about Fukushima in the English media revolves around the pro vs. anti nuclear power debate. In Japan, however, where domestic power sources are scarce, another question is being asked: can the
country survive without nuclear power?

You can imagine how this looks. On one hand, energy prices have been sky high since the reactors were shut down and the business world is unhappy. On the other hand, Fukushima stands as a constant reminder of the dangers of nuclear energy. But there is another dimension here: Who exactly is for and against restarting the reactors?

You would think that the residents of towns and villages which host nuclear reactors who oppose the restarting the most. After all, it is them who have the most to lose. However, they also have the most to gain. The construction of nuclear power plants has often been linked with generous aid from electrical companies, and the nuclear power plants themselves do provide something highly in demand to rural Japan – jobs.

fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-reactor

Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant in 1999, 12 years before the accident.

This is why, instead of opposing the restart of the nuclear reactors, cities hosting them actually support it. The opposition comes from neighboring cities and towns who don’t gain as much from the economics of nuclear power but still have much to lose. NHK reports that the percentage supporting the restarting of power plants is above 50% for municipalities with nuclear plants and is clearly weaker in surrounding towns.

At the moment it is only the reactor’s hosting municipality which has to give permission for restart once they are certified “safe” by the authorities. With the government wanting to restart ASAP, Japan’s success in balancing the economic livelihood of people, responsibility, and safety remains to be seen.

Moving Forward

family-in-namie-returning-home

Photo by Steve Herman

Namie Town village returning to their shop in the day, April 2011.

Clearly, Fukushima prefecture has a long way to go. Decontamination is still in progress at a speed which many criticize as unsatisfactory. There is even a question as to whether the areas closest to the reactors will become the Japanese Chernobyl.

Next, we will be looking at the situation in the tsunami disaster areas – which offers a different set of problems. Things are going to be more personal in the next article. Unlike Fukushima, I’ve been able to visit some of the directly affected areas. And it is a very different situation on the ground.

Please do take a look!

Further Reading:

  • Link to synopsis of NHK Mito report.
  • Explanation about the compensation given to municipalities which host nuclear plants.
  • Transcript of NHK online report on the differences in support and opposition towards the restarting of the reactors

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Japanese Legal Loopholes: How Japan Looks Innocent While Breaking the Law http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/16/japanese-legal-loopholes-how-japan-looks-innocent-while-breaking-the-law/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/16/japanese-legal-loopholes-how-japan-looks-innocent-while-breaking-the-law/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 16:00:37 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42849 One of the big questions I asked myself while in Japan was “why?” Just “why.” Not the usual, little “why’s” that accompany a trip to a foreign nation like, “why are squatty potties so hard to use?” Rather, I couldn’t help being bombarded by bigger, more legalistic “why’s.” Why in a country where prostitution was […]

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One of the big questions I asked myself while in Japan was “why?” Just “why.” Not the usual, little “why’s” that accompany a trip to a foreign nation like, “why are squatty potties so hard to use?” Rather, I couldn’t help being bombarded by bigger, more legalistic “why’s.” Why in a country where prostitution was illegal did I see signs and brochures for places like the “Love Action Club,” with catalogs of girls to choose from and a probably-quite-sketchy number you could call? Why, in a country where underage drinking is outlawed, are you almost never asked to verify your age?

It seemed to me that several laws in Japan are only very loosely enforced. I started to think that maybe Japan was posturingshowing the world that these laws existed and meeting the standards expected of them on the world stagebut to the native (and sometimes foreigners) there are pretty obvious areas where these laws are simply not enforced. Many governments, and Japan in particular, have a system in place for following their rules to the letter of the law, but will abuse specific wording or create exceptions to allow certain behaviors to slip through the cracks unchallenged. These loopholes seem to inform quite a few areas of Japanese life, so I wanted to dive into a few of the different types of loopholes and attempt to analyze the “why” of it all.

Types of Loopholes

uzumaki-manga

It’s probably too ambitious to attempt to look at all the myriad ways any one government may attempt to skirt laws, so I’m just going to point out some of the major ones in some of the most widely noticeable categories. If any of you fine, upstanding, Tofugu-loving folks would post other observed loopholes or personal anecdotes in the comments, that would be a great way to increase our understanding. That said, this is what I found:

Alcohol Loopholes

japanese-beer-case1

To understand that a double-standard exists with Japan’s enforcement of alcohol, one must compare it to their handling of another controlled substance, firearms. Gun control is so heavily monitored and enforced in Japan that it is almost baffling to a Westerner, especially when compared to the culturally more lax attitude to alcohol and tobacco. We can see that these cultural differences really do inform regulation: So in the United States, whose Constitution contains a “Right to Bear Arms,” firearm control is deemphasized. In Japanese culture, which stresses the importance of drinking between coworkers to seal business deals and foster bonds, it follows naturally that drinking laws would be similarly deemphasized. In Japan, where herds of salarymen stumble home each night, a law that penalizes people for being drunk in public would simply not work as it may in other societies. These are not yet loopholes, however. These are cultural differences in the creation of laws. The loopholes arise when dealing with a consequence of these cultural differences: underage drinking.

To quote a very relevant 2013 article by Koichi (go read it!), “the Japanese underage drinking law came into effect in 1922. It has been ignored ever since.” In 1922, when faced with the evidence that underage drinking was hazardous and being newly opened up to a global stage that had already made that behavior illegal (and, shoot, the U.S. was even in the middle of an outright alcohol prohibition), Japan caved to the pressure and implemented a similar law of their own. However, it wasn’t long before the Japanese underage drinking law became so unenforced that it really only existed on paper and not in practice. The Japanese law as written did not put any restrictions or penalties in place for vendors, machine or otherwise, that sold to underage persons. Nothing really changed.

Whaling Loopholes

whale-meat-poster

Japan’s loophole with whaling is the only loophole on this list that circumvents international law and as such has been heavily criticized by the global community. To understand why, we need to discuss the history of the law that Japan is evading: the International Whaling Commission’s 1982 moratorium on commercial whaling. Around the late 1970s, the anti-whaling movement was beginning to pick up steam around the world. Eventually these pressures bubbled into an international treaty that set out to ban all whaling, only allowing two exemptions: scientific whaling done for research, and aboriginal-subsistence whaling (for Inuits or other native groups that wouldn’t be able to adequately meet their food needs without the traditional food source). With whaling being an important part of native food and culture in Japan, there was a desire domestically to fight this legislation. Japan, along with Norway, Peru, and Russia (other countries with a significant degree of commercial whaling) launched formal objections to the moratorium. It wasn’t until the US threatened to reduce the Japanese fishing quota within American waters that Japan accepted the moratorium. In 1988, when the US reduced the Japanese fishing quota anyway (sort of a dick move), the Japanese were left to decide what to do in response. It was around this time they opted to employ something they had begun to get very good at usingloopholes.

The Japanese government started issuing ‘Scientific Whaling Permits’ left and right to allow their whaling to be carried out under the guise of lethal scientific research so that they could still meet the provisions of the moratorium. However, the way the whaling was handled did not significantly differentiate it from earlier commercial whaling practices; the meat is still sold to certain fishmongers and finds itself in classy Japanese restaurants after the “research” is conducted. Even in the cases where actual research is carried out, it is not often published in reputable scientific journals and would usually be a more feasible experiment if tagging and catch-and-release strategies were conducted instead of lethal harvesting. Not only that, but the research results typically revolve around how to increase the efficiency of whaling or to convince the global community to remove the moratorium. Seems legit.

Gambling Loopholes

japanese-pachinko-parlor

Betting on casino games, slot machines, mobile games, sports, and any other form of gambling with direct cash winnings is outlawed by chapter 23 of Japan’s criminal code. However, the law specifically builds in a handful of exceptions in order for some money to be made in the ridiculously lucrative gambling industry. For example, betting on horse races and certain motor sports is specifically exempted by the law. Additionally, prefectures and big cities can still sell lottery tickets and hold a variety of lottery events with direct cash payments without violating the law. However, for the most part this law is upheld to the letter. Yeah, that’s right, gambling is actually illegal in Japan. I guess that explains the absence of traditional casinos (for now). But still you wouldn’t think of gambling as illegal when looking at the prevalence of pachinko parlors. Surely, pachinko counts as a form of gambling, right? Not according to Japanese law, and trust me it has taken a fair amount of time and finagling for pachinko to reach the loophole-filled status that it currently enjoys.

Owning and operating a pachinko parlor isn’t illegal. Like the aforementioned horse racing, it has been specifically exempted by the law for significant cultural and historical purposes. The only thing that would make it illegal would be if there were direct cash payouts on site, and that’s exactly how pachinko proprietors skirt this law. At the parlors themselves, people will pay to sit down and play pachinko and their winnings are given to them in the form of gold tokens, metal balls, or something else innocuous. At the parlors, there are prize counters that contain all kinds of kitschy prizes like rice cookers, jewelry, handbags, chocolates, cigarettes, TVs, DVD players, etc. At first glance, the whole system just looks like a glorified version Chuck E. Cheese. The appeal is that you can simply exchange your winnings for a receipt at the prize counter instead of an awkward prize. You can then take that receipt to a winnings desk outside of the premises and turn it in for cash. These exchange stations are usually right next door and owned and operated by the same people as the pachinko parlor. Yet, because they didn’t give you a direct cash payout on site, and you actually had to walk a couple feet, there is zero infraction in the eyes of the law. Everyone involved in pachinko, including law enforcement, parlor employees, and most players are aware of exactly how this system works and how it skirts the laws. But they acknowledge that it’s basically just a legal way to gamble while following Japanese penal code.

Prostitution Loopholes

japanese-prostitution

Considering the tradition of mizuage among geisha, sexuality has played a major role in Japanese society. Prostitution in Japan was even a state-sponsored activity, with the government licensing and monitoring brothels until 1946 when this practice was banned. After the ban, prostitutes were no longer given guaranteed national contracts, but prostitution was still legal and widely practiced. Many brothels would use cafes or other legitimate businesses as fronts. Pressures from the domestic lobbying group, “The National Federation of the Brothel Trade,” which offered money and free brothel trips to politicians, made it very difficult for reform to reach the Japanese sex trade. It wasn’t until twelve years later in 1958 that the Anti-Prostitution Law was passed and actively enforced. With prostitution outlawed, it took many creative loopholes to keep brothels in operation.

The specific language of the Anti-Prostitution Law only forbids “vaginal sex in exchange for money”, which renders other sex acts permissible. Two of the most common modern variations on Japan’s brothels are fashion health (ファッションヘルス) facilities and soaplands (ソープランド). Fashion Health centers are typically advertised as massage parlors, but they offer much more than just massages. As a matter of fact, the only thing they can’t offer is vaginal sexual intercourse. In this case, the letter of the law is upheld.

Soaplands are merely advertised as locations where patrons will be bathed by partners of their choice. However, they offer much of the same services as brothels. In fact, they can often go a bit further and circumvent the prostitution law for their clients. This is where the most elaborate exploitation of a loophole can be seen. The specific wording of the law forbids only, “intercourse with an unspecified person in exchange for payment.” The key word here being: “unspecified.” Many soaplands, and a handful of other sexual services, have been able to operate legally in Japan by making the claim that the sexual act is being exchanged between people who have become acquainted and are no longer “unspecified”.

“Is it nonsense to deem that the couple fell in love while massaging at a soapland? Yes. But that is how things have operated inside the Japanese legal framework for over five decades,” says Kansai University professor Yoshikazu Nagai, who has extensively studied the modern Japanese sex industry.

These industries are well-regulated in Japan, they must report to police to register as one of the following designations: soaplands, fashion health massage parlors, call-girl businesses, strip clubs, love hotels, and adult shops, and are legally bound to only operate in the capacity of the category they choose. However, that doesn’t stop many of these industries from abusing the wording of the legislation which makes it impossible to criminalize these forms of prostitution. The semantic arguments have become so institutionalized that prostitution in many cases is essentially legal.

Child Pornography Loopholes

downstairs-into-a-dangerous-place

Okay, here it is: we’re going to get a little heavy here. There’s no doubt that Japan really values the aesthetic of cuteness and that this naturally translates to the aesthetic of youth (It’s also a bit of a chicken/egg situation). In Japan, youth is beauty. This is why foreign models chosen to represent Japanese companies often need to fit a certain standard of youthful beauty that requires them to be between the ages of 13 to 16. It’s the reason yaeba teeth are popular, and it is the reason that the lolicon genre and fandom exist. For the unaware, lolicon is typically defined as “discourse or media in Japan focusing on the attraction to young or prepubescent girls.” We’ll add that this type of media is typically in the form of drawn or animated depictions of sexualized prepubescent girls as real-life depictions may violate Article 7 of the Japanese constitution that criminalizes the production of child pornography that was ratified in 1999 (They dragged their feet on that one). In Japan, possession and production of explicitly sexual cartoon lolicon is legal, although still contentious. It’s legal in Japan. No loopholes there. However, it gets a little blurrier when discussing non-simulated child pornography.

After 1999 child pornography was outlawed, but only on the following grounds, “production, transport, import and export, as well as possession of child pornography for the aforementioned purposes.” It became illegal to make and sell child pornography internationally. However, there were absolutely no consequences to those that owned it. None. They had simply to prove that they owned it for personal reasons and had no intention to produce, transport, import, or export it, and the law couldn’t touch them. It wasn’t until Wednesday, June 18th, of the year 2014 (I’m not even kidding) that Japanese lawmakers bowed to international pressures and passed a law making the mere possession of child pornography a crime that could result in a year in jail or an up to $10,000 fine. This, of course, left lolicon depictions untouched as they are considered important both economically and for freedom of expression. Has Japan finally moved closer to the international standard for regulating child pornography? The law provides Japanese citizens a year to dispose of any child pornography they possess before risking any prosecution. In this age of technological mass communication and information duplication, that is a pretty lenient loophole. It’s as if Japan doesn’t really want to prosecute child pornographers, instead providing a gentle slap on the wrist and saying, “Hey, you might want to get rid of that.”

Another blatant loophole that continues to blur enforcement of this law is media featuring Japanese junior idols, child models that usually start between the ages of 13 and 15. While the above types of child pornography are largely distributed in hushed tones and on the dark corners of the internet, junior idol magazines, photo books, and videos, can be purchased in legitimate storefronts across Japan. When I was in Osaka, I saw a shelf full of junior idol DVDs, mostly suggestive swimsuit modeling, that was literally across the aisle from shelves of hardcore hentai and sex toys. It’s extremely hard to imagine that those DVDs were being sold for an artistic purpose and not a pornographic one. There have been prosecutions of production companies whose junior models have crossed the vaguely defined line between child modeling and child pornography, resulting in several videos being removed from Amazon.jp’s online store. This is a start, but it hasn’t even slowed down the multimillion dollar junior idol industry.

About That “Why” Question

kill-me-baby-anime-question-mark-confused

Now that I’ve brought up this diverse list of loopholes in the Japanese government, you, dear reader, should have a few “why’s” in your mind as well. Many of the questions raised by this pattern of loophole flouting in Japanese politics do not have easy answers. Some have argued that the loopholes are exploited by the Japanese public and it is the ineffectiveness of the Japanese government’s enforcement of laws that allows loopholes to thrive. However, Japanese law enforcement seems to institutionalize and actively allow many of these loopholes, so I think differently. I speculate that one of the main reasons for this abundance of loopholes isn’t ineffective enforcement or even political corruption (though parts of it can certainly seem symptomatic). It seems to me that what Japan is really after is preservation of the status quo.

From whaling, to prostitution , to a lax drinking culture, to pachinko parlors, to retaining the legality of lolicon, the exceptions are typically made simply to maintain things as they have always been. In fact, it is my belief that many of the laws that these loopholes circumvent would not have been ratified if it weren’t for the intense pressure from the global community. Japan wants to appear as if it is matching expectations of behavior and etiquette with the Western world, while still enjoying certain behaviors that, while deemed inappropriate elsewhere, are considered core to the Japanese way of life.

These loopholes in laws serve a very similar role domestically. Instead of appeasing the moral sensibilities of those overseas, these laws can also appease Japanese citizens by assuring them that legislation has been passed that will protect them from problems like prostitution and underage drinking, when in reality nothing is truly being enforced. For instance, take this short anecdote from fellow Tofugu writer, Verity Lane:

“the prefecture knew that teachers were working too many hours, and they were being criticized. So they shortened the day by 10 minutes. The previous start time was 8:00. Now it’s 8:10. However, the schools didn’t change the time of the morning meeting (at 8:10) so teachers have to be in school by 8:00 anyway. Nothing changed, but there’s some proof that the prefecture ‘did something’ if anyone criticizes them about working hours again.”

This is a simple example, but it is very telling because it supports this observable pattern of many Japanese regulations making changes on paper, but not truly enforcing them, or else building in exemptions that render the law meaningless. It isn’t my purpose to deem whether these actions are ethical or unethical, but merely to bring this interesting idea to the forefront. I really look foreword to hearing the discussions and comments that this article will elicit. Have you observed these patterns in Japanese society? Where do you see other loopholes? And, let us not forget, why?

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources:

  • http://www.icap.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=tMW8of1JAgU%3D&tabid=199
  • http://www.cgeorgemuller.com/summary.htm
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whaling_in_Japan
  • http://www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20120815-the-big-business-of-japans-pachinko-parlours
  • http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gaming/the-secret-life-of-pachinko
  • http://neojaponisme.com/2008/11/17/why-japan-needed-prostitution/
  • http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2008/05/27/reference/law-bends-over-backward-to-allow-fuzoku/#.VCmnn8uM2Ul
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akasen
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_Japan
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junior_idol
  • http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/17/world/asia/japan-child-porn-law/index.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_pornography_laws_in_Japan

 

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The 3 Arrows of Abenomics Explained! http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/19/the-3-arrows-of-abenomics-explained/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/19/the-3-arrows-of-abenomics-explained/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 16:00:13 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43416 If you’ve been paying attention to recent Japanese news you may have come across this term called “Abenomics”. The term’s origins come from Ronald Reagan’s economic policies, “Reaganomics”. Thus Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economics are “Abenomics”. The key parts of Abenomics can be summarized in three arrows. But before analyze the three arrows, we have see why Abenomics is needed. Why “Abenomics”? […]

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If you’ve been paying attention to recent Japanese news you may have come across this term called “Abenomics”. The term’s origins come from Ronald Reagan’s economic policies, “Reaganomics”. Thus Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economics are “Abenomics”.

The key parts of Abenomics can be summarized in three arrows. But before analyze the three arrows, we have see why Abenomics is needed.

Why “Abenomics”?

Shinzo Abe Abenomics

The first thing to note: Abenomics is packaged, and meant as a dramatic break from the prior situation. And the prior situation entailed:

Spending:

  •  Near zero growth for the past twenty years.
  • Consumer spending stagnating, in part due to deflation.
  • Depressed sentiment due to the 2011 Earthquake disaster and consequences resulting in a recession in 2012.
  •  Huge government debt due to inflagrate spending from the 1990s.

Monetary Situation

  •  Long term deflation.
  • An overly strong yen, damaging exports.

Employment

  • (Relatively) low unemployment BUT!
  • Long-term concerns about labor availability as Japan’s population is declining.
  • Increasingly clear shortages of labor in some areas (eg. construction).
  • Low female labor participation rate.
  • A large portion of the labor force trapped in non-formal employment with lower incomes and benefits.

Abenomics is certainly meant to be a dramatic break from the above-mentioned “lost generation”, especially after the damage from the 2011 Earthquake disaster.

The major reason why Abenomics has been gaining so much attention is the fact that it’s a great contrast to what is happening in the rest of the world – especially in Europe. But to describe this we need to go into the details. So let’s start on the first arrow.

1st Arrow: Dramatic Monetary Easing

japanese-stock-market-tikcer

Photo by Ivan Walsh

“Monetary Easing” is a bit hard to explain without using economic jargon. Basically, the Japanese government is putting pressure on the Central Bank to flood the market with cash.

The government has done this by nominating Haruhiko Kuroda to the helm of Japan’s national bank. He is much more open to monetary easing than previous leaders. If you compare the amount of money (money supply) in Japan’s economy from 2012-2014 (the present regime came into power in Dec ’12), you can see a clear increase over the past 2 years.

To use a weird example, let’s say¥1000 is allocated to buy 20 Fuji apples. To boost the economy, the government is making the central bank release more money into the market so that ¥1500 is allocated to buy the same 20 Fuji apples.

Theoretically the (intended) effects of this are:

1) Since you have more money chasing the same apples, the price of apples is likely to increase.
In the real world, this is meant to stoke a general increase in prices. This may sound bad but when prices decrease, consumers tend to save money to spend later, thus hampering growth.

In other words, increasing price levels by creating more money may break the deflationary cycle and spur consumers to stop saving and start spending.

2) There is ¥1500 floating around compared to say, US$ 100. The comparative value of the yen goes down.
In the real world, because the yen becomes weaker compared to other currencies, Japan’s exports therefore become cheaper, thus probably boosting the amount that will be exported.

2nd Arrow: A “Robust” Fiscal Policy

Japan-Ministry-of-Finance-Building

Photo by Rs1421

The actual word “robust” in Japanese is 機動的 (きどうてき, kidouteki) which is otherwise translated as “nimble, agile,” etc. But no matter the translation, the wording in Japanese (and therefore in English) is intentionally vague.

The point is that the Japanese government is spending more, to boost the Japanese economy. Statistics from the Japanese government show that government spending has been clearly increasing over the past two years, each of which is setting new records in absolute government spending.

Looking at this year’s budget we can also see that the main places this increase in spending is going toward is:

1.) welfare
2.) servicing the debt
3.) public works

The first is explained by Japan’s aging population, the second because Japan’s debt is already astronomical (albeit at a low interest rate) and the third is largely linked with infrastructure investment, particularly in relation to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

At the same time however, the Japanese government simply cannot continue throwing money at its economy without finding new sources of income. Thus there was a move to increase the consumption tax to 8% this past April and a planned further increase to 10% by next year.

In short, while trying to increase growth through government spending, the Japanese government is at the same time trying to rebuild their finances, or at least reduce their reliance on debt.

3rd Arrow: Policies for Growth to Spur Private Investment

tokyo-japan-bay

Photo by Herry Lawford

This one’s a mouthful, but that’s what the Japanese title originally means. Actually – at least to me – this is more of a shotgun blast than an arrow. After all, as The Economist says here, “Part of its strength is its breadth: it is less a single arrow than a 1,000-strong bundle of acupuncture needles.”

So how is the Japanese government trying to spur growth? Below is a list of 5 of such needles that the Abe administration has launched:

1) Lowering corporation tax

  • Corporation Tax has been lowered in April in this year by 2.4%.
  • This is in the hope that it makes business easier to do in Japan.

2) Increasing the labor participation of women

  • Japan’s population and labor force is already declining.
  • Japan’s female labor participation rate is one of the lowest among the developed world.
  • Bringing women into the work force is a way to plug the labor shortage.
  • Policies for this include providing for more childcare workers and childcare facilities.

3) More openness to foreigners in society

  • Fast-tracked permanent residency for “highly-skilled” foreigners.
  • Bringing more foreigners into Japanese universities through the G30 program (actually dates back to before Abenomics but is clearly aligned with it).
  • Push to send more Japanese students overseas with scholarships etc.

4) Cool Japan

  • Push to export Japanese foods and other cultural products to the world and support for such corporations.
  • Measures to increase inbound tourism. Lowering of visa restrictions and introduction of duty-free shopping.

5) Lowering of regulation / barriers

  • Free trade: Ongoing (and probably eventual participation) in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
  • Lowering of barriers to foriegn direct investment in Japan.
  • Deregulation in many industries such as healthcare, agriculture etc.

Some of these have been implemented already and some are still in the pipeline. Anyway if the previous two arrows are meant to prop up the Japanese economy in the short run, this “arrow” of a thousand needles is meant to secure Japan’s long term growth and economic health, and therefore needs time to take effect.

This is, by the way, what a lot of the commentary has been focused on. The first two arrows have their detractors from the academic and news worlds, but the third however runs up against vested interest groups such as Japan Agriculture and the doctor’s union. In addition, it’s not going to be easy to change cultural norms regarding the status of women. The success or failure of the third arrow will largely depend on how much the government bows to these groups’ interests and successfully causes societal change.

Will Abenomics Succeed?

Yokohama-from-sky

Photo by takashi

As I noted at the beginning, Abenomics is quite famous worldwide, so I thought to finish with a bit of an explanation as to why.

The main reason is that no other country is doing what Japan is doing to jump start its economy. While Japan and America do have similarities in that their central banks are trying to flood the markets with cash, Japan is unique in that its government is blatantly trying to spend its way into growth, especially considering their already existent heap of debt. In contrast, Europe is stewing under austerity and the US has similarly had its deficit levels fall significantly. Japan’s economic policy is getting positive attention right now, as people wonder if it will succeed.

Also there’s the fact that it’s got a catchy name. The Prime Minister owes some of his attention to his short family name.

Our analysis isn’t over yet! In the next article I’ll be looking at whether this group of policies is working or not. Stay tuned!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Becoming a Child in Japan: Learning Through Curiosity and Humility http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/05/becoming-a-child-in-japan-learning-through-curiosity-and-humility/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/05/becoming-a-child-in-japan-learning-through-curiosity-and-humility/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 16:00:01 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42543 If you’re an adult in your home country, you have an idea of who you are, how others see you, and how to act in a way that reflects how you want to be treated. However, when living abroad in a country whose language and culture is foreign to you, you almost become a child […]

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If you’re an adult in your home country, you have an idea of who you are, how others see you, and how to act in a way that reflects how you want to be treated.

However, when living abroad in a country whose language and culture is foreign to you, you almost become a child again. Things you could do on your own become difficult. Actions that once might give subtle hints at your personality can be interpreted in vastly different ways. It’s difficult to express yourself in a way that reflects how you want to be seen. Even people who master the language may lack cultural knowledge to make that language work for them. And that’s just the start. Sometimes, your own body may not act the way you’re used to due to the climate or new diet.

In short, you become a child again.

While some people cling to their old culture and reject the thought of starting anew, others embrace it and foster their foreign-self, cultivating their foreign identity. You can get mad and throw fits like a real child, which works in getting your way sometimes. We all want to be more mature than that though and to become mature in Japan, you have to become a child.

Accepting You’re a Cultural Child

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I hinted at this article before, but let me be up front again: I hate asking for help or explanations. In my home culture, I may still ask for advice, but in general, people tend to come to me. I can interpret complex legalese, offer help with editing, do simple home repairs or know someone who can (thanks Dad!).

In Japan? I struggle with getting people to believe I only need one bag for the souvenirs I’m buying. I’m asked to participate in cultural events and practices I don’t understand. I have to play games to get co-workers to cooperate. It feels like everyone has to teach me or explain things to me so I can function in this society.

And that’s the key to building up your foreign-self: admitting that you’re a child that needs to learn.

In Japan, I know I come off as a child because I’m always asking why. Why do we celebrate this holiday? Why doesn’t anyone look at the person who is speaking? Why is the whole meeting being read off a sheet we can read ourselves? Often, people just say, “That’s how it’s done,” or, if I’m lucky, “Oh, I never thought about that.” Clearly, I’m asking things that most people see as natural at this point in their life. In this sense, my foreign-self is a child, and I’m usually comfortable with that. However, there was a point that this wasn’t the case, and it took some major puking to get me comfortable with my childlike foreign self.

When I first moved here, I thought I was a healthy adult and could adapt to anything that happened. I could find a way to be me all on my own. I didn’t need help, especially with something as basic as dealing with a new climate.

I was horribly, horribly wrong. Over the New Year holiday break, my health situation came to a head.  I’d been sick in Japan before, but luckily it was just something on the weekend, or during an extended break. I usually bounced back. In the states, getting sick was easy for me to cope with, and usually something minor I could even go to work with. However, this time, I was in a foreign country with severe vomiting (from both ends) in a busy train station, with no toilet paper or tissues.

It’s embarrassing to not have full control over your body when you’re an adult, and the idea of having issues I usually associated with children was deeply shameful. I had a very real need to grow up, but that deep sense of shame had been preventing me from addressing it.

Letting Go of Your Shame

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Photo by Steve Hunt

At some point, you’ll be faced with a decision: embrace your foreign self, admit that part of it needs help developing, and begin working on it. OR! Hate the country you’re in, scream that the culture is weird, and ignore the fact that you are perceived in a different way due to your foreignness and surrender that identity to the masses trying to come to grips with who this foreign person is and what they think they’re doing.

I was faced with this decision in Osaka station on December 30. My Japanese had failed me several times that day, or people had gotten suddenly shy on me. I was having an off day, and then the sickness happened. I didn’t call home or tell anyone though. I just popped some American medicine and thought I could last the rest of the day on my own.

There I was, alone in Osaka with what I thought was just a stomachache. Again, I’m very private, I hate attention, and I hate feeling vulnerable, but my situation quickly developed in a very obvious manner. What took me 10 minutes walking when I was healthy suddenly took an hour going from bathroom to bathroom down the street, trying to empty out all I could in order to hopefully just “be normal” for a train ride home. I got on the first train, took some medicine, and got off at Osaka station. I thought I was fine. I was going to make it. I’d just go home and sleep it off and no one would know what happened. They’d just think I was tired. And that’s when it all hit me at once. 

I felt “the urge,” the need to be in the bathroom right then and there. I was lucky enough to be a few feet from one, but not lucky enough to choose the right stall. Despite how busy it was, the sound of me emptying my body from the top and bottom was morbidly obvious. The terrible echo of my body’s cries for help (or so it seemed) began to drown out the formerly bustling restroom, making things comparably dead silent for a busy station. I felt a little relieved at first, and thought my ordeal was at an end. That’s when I realized my error: the stall had no toilet paper.

Bathrooms in Japan usually have a second roll right next to the first one, just in case something happens. That roll was empty. In Tokyo, people are always giving you free samples of tissues, but I’d used the ones I’d amassed before coming to Osaka when I’d cleaned my face from a few earlier “incidents.” I was paper-free, but in dire need.

This was my moment, and I pray that, when yours comes, it’s not nearly as embarrassing. After spending a day severely questioning my Japanese skills, I realized I’d have to shout for toilet paper in the crappy Japanese that was either failing me or causing Japanese people to fear me. I had seriously thought about just waiting until “stuff” dried so I could limp back to my family friends in shame, but wasn’t sure I wanted to do that in quite so pathetic a manner.

There are other times you may experience something similar. Moments where your adult self is challenged by the way people view your underdeveloped foreign-self. I’d had students openly disobey me in the classroom, staff ignore me and panic in Japanese while I was speaking Japanese to them, or, as I’ve said, had people question my perfectly understandable Japanese because it was at odds with their cultural knowledge of what people usually do. Heck, I found out that lying could be the best (and most appropriate) way out of certain situations.

Now, I could have gotten angry every time this happened, including when I had to shout for toilet paper and hope that “shy” Japanese people would understand my pain. It might have even worked for some occasions. However, for the most part, what worked was reminding myself that I was the different one. I was the foreigner, the cultural child, and I had to learn the right way to do or say something. That meant I had to ask for help, and while I could do it for some situations, it was still one thing that I really hated doing, particularly for such a personal topic.

Embracing Your Foreign-Child Status and Learning to Adapt

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Photo by David

So you let it happen. You do what’s super embarrassing. You ask how to say, “condom” in Japanese. You ask how to get students to listen to you in class. You yell and ask for toilet paper in a super busy train station until you either said things in a way correct enough to get help or shouted when the right person was nearby. It doesn’t matter. What matters is you ask for help. You show you are vulnerable and, especially in Japan, you get help.

In Japan, being a foreigner, even a foreigner who knows the language and culture, you’re afforded the right to ask for help. The Japanese do the same with their “onegaishimasu.” People debate about the Japanese being child like, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that, in my experience, even when it may seem overbearing or racist, Japanese people want to help.

When you’re ashamed or embarrassed, ask a question you know is rude but need answered. The lesson will stick. “Toire peipaa onegaishimasu” will get you TP. I won’t forget that. Tattling on a rude student will get that kid chewed out. And, well, “sukin” (skin) can certainly have a different meaning in Japanese I won’t be forgetting.

A Curious Kid

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Photo by philHendley

Not all the situations I learned from were terrible. Several of the articles I’ve written here have come from my extremely rude questions about how and why things work in Japan. I can ask these questions because, like a curious kid, Japanese people want to educate me. Even though I get some conflicting information, it’s okay. Like the adult I am in my own culture, I know I have to sift through my experiences and use what seems to be the most common, most effective, and most trustworthy.

This article isn’t a hard and fast set of rules but a guide, a plea to listen and ask questions before you judge or react. Doing that, and applying it to my daily life certainly helps make me not only seem like less of a man-child, but helps me build my adult persona in Japanese society. 

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Gaming To Learn Japanese http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/19/gaming-to-learn-japanese/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/19/gaming-to-learn-japanese/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 16:00:47 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=41746 Teaching yourself Japanese isn’t easy, and let’s face it, it takes a large amount of time, effort, and dedication to make noticeable progress. After coming home from a long day of school or work, sometimes the last thing you want to do is sit down at a desk with another textbook. Wouldn’t it be more […]

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Teaching yourself Japanese isn’t easy, and let’s face it, it takes a large amount of time, effort, and dedication to make noticeable progress. After coming home from a long day of school or work, sometimes the last thing you want to do is sit down at a desk with another textbook. Wouldn’t it be more relaxing to just play some video games?

There are games out there designed to teach you Japanese. Most of those games only offer the basics of grammar and vocabulary, but they certainly aren’t the only games out there that can supplement your studying. Some of your favorite video games may hold within them the ability to become a teaching tool and can become a legitimately fun way to study.

Back in 2011 we made a list of the Top 5 Nintendo DS Games for Learning Japanese. A lot has changed since then, and some great new games have come out that you can use to your advantage. Most of these games are available in the US!

Games Made to Teach You

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First, I’d like to mention My Japanese Coach, a Japanese learning game released for the Nintendo DS in 2008. If you’re not familiar with the My Coach series, they are a bunch of self-learning and self-help games that range from learning languages to losing weight. There is even one that’s supposed to help you quit smoking.

The game starts off with a placement test, but don’t be fooled, this is definitely a game for beginners. It will teach you the basics: hiragana, kana, starting grammar, etc, but it only has about 100 lessons total and hasn’t really been updated since it’s release.

One of the major problems with this game is that some of the kanji require you to use the wrong stroke order to pass them. When the lead programmer’s response to this was, “With thousands of characters in the dictionary, there were bound to be some incorrect strokes that would get overlooked,” instead of suggesting a patch correcting the problem, they’ve chosen to ignore it. So, I can’t recommend it for advanced, or even intermediate members. And while stroke order mistakes may seem like a trivial matter, using correct stroke order is extremely important if you’re serious about learning Japanese. (You’ll have a horrible time using a traditional or electronic dictionary if you get them wrong.)

Otherwise, if you’re willing to double check the information you’re getting, this can be a decent way to start out. If you like word searches, matching, and multiple choice games, this may be a fun way to get you into Japanese, but can you really call this a game?

My Japanese Coach may call itself a game, but what I listed above can’t really be considered gameplay. Instead of more examples like this, the following are real games that you can play to learn but ALSO enjoy for the games that they are.

Listen While You Play

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Change the language settings! You may not know this but a lot of the games you’re already playing may have Japanese language options. Depending on the game, players can change the spoken language into Japanese with English subtitles, or even better, Japanese with Japanese subtitles. This is possible for quite a few modern JRPGs (for the non-game savvy: Japanese Role Playing Games).

One of the best examples of this is Ni No Kuni, which came out in the US in 2013 for the Playstation 3, and was developed by Studio Ghibli. You may know them from such classics as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and any of the other awesome movies they’ve been churning out since the 1980s.

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This whimsical and highly entertaining game offers English and Japanese voice tracks as well as English subtitles. (The only downside being the English subtitles are for the English version – but you can take advantage of that.) So while you’re enjoying this epic and colorful adventure with Oliver, Drippy the Lord of the Fairies, and all of their friends, you can also be brushing up on your Japanese skills. One of the best things about using this game in particular for study is that it is absolutely bursting with puns. Character, town, and creature names, not to mention good old jokes, are all chock-full of these eye-roll worthy play on words. They can really help you learn what’s malleable in the Japanese language. Not to mention there are fairy-tale references all over the place.

This may sound daunting, but don’t worry, these aren’t cryptic Japanese idioms like 猿も木から落ちる / Even monkeys fall from trees. No, it’s actually much easier than that. In the first area of the new world that Oliver is thrust into, the town is called Ding Dong Dell (ゴロネール王国) and the king is a giant cat names King Tom Tildrum XIV (ニャンダール), otherwise known as His Meowjesty, who speaks to himself in the third person.

Just reading the English names should give you an idea, but when you listen to the Japanese voice track you can hear what the Japanese equivalent to these puns are. It makes you think, helps you put things together, and really makes you laugh. Instead of just reading literal translations, you are able to see the connections the localization team was able to make. The game is seriously dialogue heavy too, meaning there is plenty of material available to you. This kind of studying is pretty hard to find in a book or in a classroom, but it can really open up your mind, so take the plunge!

Just don’t blame me when the game breaks your heart.

Similar Games: Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster (2014), Xenoblade Chronicles (2012). The Japanese Version of Persona 4 (2008) is also a great game for learning more natural Japanese but requires a Japanese game and a Japanese console.

Reading With The Nintendo 3DS

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Games that are not all about listening, but more about reading and doing things, can have the written language changed to Japanese as well. After all, we all have our favorite silent protagonists. One of these games that is still fairly new is Animal Crossing: New Leaf / とびだせ どうぶつの森, which came out in Japan in 2012 and America in 2013.

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This is a cute, and honestly, terribly addictive game that, if you buy the Japanese version for the Japanese Nintendo 3DS, can be a really great study tool. This is a laid back type of game in which you are suddenly tasked into being the mayor of a town. You interact with the animals that inhabit it, catch fish, bugs, and sea creatures, and do your best to improve the town until it’s the best it can be! (Which is really whatever you want it to be.) For those familiar with previous versions of the game, this latest installment has everything you love and more!

The great thing about using this game to learn Japanese is that it isn’t difficult. You play when you want, learn at your own pace, and take away from it what you put in. All of the bugs and fish you can catch are real creatures, this means you’ll be learning the actual Japanese names for them. You can also bring them to the museum where you can read a short description of each creature you catch.

The real benefit to playing this game in Japanese is the conversations you have with the animals in your town. Different animals have different personality types ranging from cranky, to snooty, to lazy, to uchi. That’s right, uchi, which is commonly translated as “big sister-type” in English, because that’s how they treat you, like they’re you’re older sister.

Like Ni No Kuni, ACNL has puns. These can be a bit more difficult because you don’t have any English subtitles, but they are still fairly simple.

For example, when you catch a nibble fish, you read this:

ドクターフィッシュを釣り上げた!
川のエステティシャン!

In Japanese a nibble fish is known as a “doctor fish” so this reads:

I caught a doctor fish!
A river esthetician!

This isn’t the same joke that’s made in English because, well, it just wouldn’t make any sense. In fact most of the jokes are different based on which language you’re playing in. So even if you’re familiar with the English version of the game, you’ll be able to have a fairly new experience in Japanese, and you’ll have to figure out the puns for yourself.

Similar games: Pokemon X & Y (2013), Bravely Default (2014). *These two games have Japanese language options in the NA versions, so you won’t need to worry about a Japanese game or 3DS for them.

PC Games Exist Too

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Photo by Webhamster

If you don’t have any new consoles, or you simply don’t feel like spending money, you can always hop on your computer and play Slime Forest Adventure. There are three different versions of this JRPG style game available and the demo version is absolutely free.

First, let me warn you, the art is pretty abysmal and there is no sound. However, this game does lend itself to the simple RPG style of fight monsters > save princess. You won’t be playing a variation on flash cards and calling it a game.

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In the game you fight through different areas, defeating slime monsters by typing in the readings of the hiragana, katakana, or kanji on the slimes. It’s simple, useful, and did I mention free? Of course you can choose to pay for an upgrade to the Gradeschool Kanji version or the Common Use Kanji version. Both of these offer sidequests and more vocabulary and kanji.

For those of you who aren’t fooled by the games that use matching and word searches (those aren’t real games!), this could be something to try.

Dating Sims for Your iPhone

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No modern game list would be complete without mentioning at least one phone app. Moe Academy is a dating sim-type gaming app available for free in the itunes app store. Though, a quick word of warning, this is very much a dating sim, so if you aren’t already a fan of those, you probably won’t like this game. It’s pretty directly targeting straight male players, and doesn’t really offer much for anyone else, unless you’re playing it ironically.

However, the game does give you lessons for vocabulary words and time based mini games that differ based on which girl you’re playing them with. While the lessons aren’t much more than a list of words with the Japanese and English equivalents, the games are pretty entertaining. Picking the right meaning for a word will let you shoot ghosts with arrows or enjoy festivals with girls, and if you get a high score you could get a love confession from the girl you played with. The higher lessons do cost money to unlock, so if you really like this style of game, there are currently twenty different courses with levels ranging from beginner to what they call advanced plus.

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The game also offers both Japanese and English text for all of the conversations you have with the characters, including your own thoughts. Sometimes the sentences in both languages can be a bit strange, the translations into English aren’t always the greatest, but they are there for people who want to use them as a study guide as well. The conversations are also skippable, so if they’re too corny for your liking, you can go straight to the lessons/reviews instead.

If you are going into this game without any prior Japanese knowledge you may be out of luck. It teaches you hiragana and katakana but uses kanji and no furigana (kana readings above the kanji) in all of the conversations, and the lessons/reviews seem to be more of a refresher than a real teaching tool, but that doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have merit. The art and the music in the game is actually really well done, and it does feel like a real dating sim. But again, this game isn’t for everyone.

Learn Japanese with Koe (声)

Okay, so this game isn’t out yet, but bear with me on this one. Koe (声) is a game that was just recently backed on Kickstarter in March of this year. It is set up as a JRPG and is all about learning Japanese. They’re calling it communicative language learning and it looks really interesting. This means you’ll be hearing and reading Japanese, something that Slime Forest Adventure certainly doesn’t do.

One important aspect of this game is that they say they’re putting a focus on actual gameplay. That means it will be more than flashcards and multiple choice, unlike My Japanese Coach. Koe promises to contain all the traditional JRPG elements we know and love, like a story, random encounters, weapons, and a turn-based battle system. That’s more than any Japanese language focused game has been able to brag about before.

Koe looks promising and they’re aiming for a summer 2015 release. While the game does seem to be focused on completely new Japanese learners, there really isn’t any news about the learning level they go up to by the end game. There is talk of an editor, allowing the player to add new vocabulary to their in-game kit, but unfortunately, it’s too new to tell at this point. Hopefully this will be a great addition to the few Japanese learning games currently offered in the US.

To learn more about Koe, check out their Kickstarter page.

“Let’s Play” In Japanese

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For those of you who prefer to watch games being played for you, there is something out there for you too! While online streaming of games has been growing in popularity over the last few years, especially on sites like twitch.tv and youtube, more and more Let’s Plays have been coming out of Japan.

For those who don’t know, a Let’s Play or 実況プレイ in Japanese, is a video in which someone plays through a game with commentary. It’s not the same as a walkthrough, because the point of watching isn’t to help you get through the same game yourself, but to enjoy it and the personality of the person making and hosting the video. There are quite a few Japanese Let’s Players and watching them can give you both the joy of playing numerous video games and help you study and learn Japanese.

Watching Let’s Plays can be beneficial in a lot of ways. First, you can hear Japanese that isn’t scripted. This isn’t textbook Japanese, it’s how real people talk, and that’s an important thing to learn how to understand and do if you want to be able to use more than just polite and bland Japanese. If you don’t have a way to get to Japan to experience this type of banter for yourself, Let’s Plays are probably the closest thing you can get to a real, colorful conversation with friends. This is also a great alternative for people who aren’t fans of Japanese talk shows.

The next awesome thing is that you can pause, rewind, and relisten to the things you hear. Some Let’s Players even edit their videos to add in subtitles like you’d see in talk shows, which can help you be sure of what you just heard. While watching these videos you can pause when you hear something you don’t know, use an online dictionary to look it up, and then easily return to the video and completely get what’s going on.

There are literally hundreds of games to choose from! If you only like first person shooters, there is a Let’s Player for you. If you love hardcore action role playing games, there is a Let’s Player for you. What about games with friends like Mario Kart and Minecraft? Yup, they exit. There are so many different types of people, games, and experiences out there to help you with your Japanese.

Here are some great Let’s Players on youtube. Feel free to check them out!

Language Options Are Getting Better

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Over the last few years there have been some pretty great improvements to learning Japanese from games. With international editions of games coming out, like Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, players outside of Japan are finally able to change their language settings to be in Japanese. Even some games not coined “international” like the new Pokemon games are having simultaneous release dates, and suddenly languages are an option, not a preset or region-locked to your console.

Hopefully with games like Koe coming out in the next year or so, more advanced games will follow their lead. If Koe does well, we might even see a sequel aimed at advanced language learners. Our future could see more interaction, more options, and better resources. Maybe in the near future we will see an MMORPG where you focus on speaking Japanese with other people to finish quests. Instead of killing spiders in caves, you have to talk your way through. You never know where the future of games will take us!

(If there are any game developers reading this, make me that MMO!)

Tips and Suggestions

  • Keep a notebook handy while you game. If you hear a new word or expression you don’t understand, pause, jot it down, and look it up when you’re done. Then you can add those words to the list of things you’re already studying.
  • Don’t just rely on subtitles. Paying attention to English subtitles while listening to a Japanese voice track can be really helpful, but try to wean yourself off of them. Subtitles should be a reference and if you catch yourself reading and thinking in English while you play a game, then it doesn’t really matter that the voice track is in Japanese.
  • Try to recognize the speech patterns and dialects different characters use while they speak to one another. You can do this whether you’re listening or reading in a game. Being able to recognize emotions and personality types from the way someone speaks is a great skill to have.
  • Repeat what the characters are saying aloud, or if you’re playing a game without sound, try to speak as you read. A major problem of self-taught language learners is in practicing verbal communication skills, and even students in a classroom may not be getting the enough time to practice speaking. Copy the inflection and tone of the characters you’re playing. Don’t worry about who can hear. They’ll be impressed by your mad Japanese skills!
  • Don’t make playing games too much of a chore! Remember, this is supposed to be a fun way to learn. An exercise for your brain. If you go at it too hard, you can tire yourself out quickly. Pace yourself. If you’re the kind of person who likes to marathon games, you may get overloaded and end up forgetting quite a bit of what you learn. Learning a language is going to take time, the more you cram, the more likely it is you’ll forget.

Above all, remember to have fun! And be sure to let us know if there are any other games you’ve used to study recently.

Bonus Wallpapers!


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Let’s All Get NAKED! Onsen and Body Image http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/14/lets-all-get-naked-onsen-and-body-image/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/14/lets-all-get-naked-onsen-and-body-image/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 16:00:58 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=41972 There’s nothing better than slipping into a hot bath. You feel your muscles relax. The cares of the day float away on a cloud of steam. A butt-naked Oba-chan (old woman) is staring at you… wait! What?! Does that seem like one of those dreams that turns into a nightmare where you’ve forgotten your clothes? […]

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There’s nothing better than slipping into a hot bath. You feel your muscles relax. The cares of the day float away on a cloud of steam. A butt-naked Oba-chan (old woman) is staring at you… wait! What?!

Does that seem like one of those dreams that turns into a nightmare where you’ve forgotten your clothes? Well, you could see onsen, Japanese communal baths, that way, but you’d be missing out. Not only missing out on a relaxing experience, but also missing out on something that could profoundly change how you view yourself.

Before we plunge into the onsen, let me come clean about this article. What I’ve written here is based entirely on my own personal experience in onsen and of my own body. I’m not claiming any authority beyond that of personal experience. I recognize that who and what I am has influenced this. I’m a woman. From talking to guys, it seems that women can sometimes have more positive experiences in onsen than foreign men, who sometimes come under close scrutiny in one particular area.

This Towel Isn’t Big Enough For The One Of Me!

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The first time I went to an onsen I was terrified. A Japanese friend had suggested we go to an onsen hotel in the next town over. I agreed, but all the way there I was tense with fear. Would I disgust the other people in the baths with my terrible foreignness and cultural faux pas? I was also carrying all the baggage of my own culture’s attitude to nakedness. Like a lot of people, I had a lot of hang ups about getting naked in front of other people. These were twofold. First was a sort of general feeling that nakedness was wrong. This came from my primary school days, a time when all the girls herded into a changing room before swimming lessons and I perfected the “knicker-twist”. (This is a method of putting on a swimsuit over one’s underwear and then removing said underwear in one complicated twisty movement.) The aim was always to avoid having anyone, even our peers, see us naked for even a moment.

The second hang up was a sense that my own body was unacceptable. I was intimately familiar with my own body’s flaws; the orange peel cellulite, the width of my hips, the wobble of my upper arms, the way my hair either made me look like a member of a 90s boy band or a wet cat. That first time in the onsen, when I was handed a narrow towel, I thought, “There’s no way I can cover all my flaws up with this little thing.”

My friend was so excited though. She’d been looking forward to this trip for weeks. I didn’t want to let her down by refusing to go to the onsen. I gritted my teeth and undressed, putting my clothes in the basket provided. I tried to cover up as much of my front as I could. Through the door I found a steam filled room with set of individual showers. I followed my friend’s lead and settled myself on the short stool in front of one of the showers. With great reluctance I put my towel on the small shelf in front of me and began to wash myself. I kept my head down, not wanting to see anyone else’s nakedness or their reactions to mine.

Washed, I grabbed my towel again. I tried to shield myself with it as we headed to the onsen pools. Again, I had to let go of my precious modesty covering as I slipped into the water. I was so conscious of myself. I tried to angle my body so that nothing showed. My friend didn’t seem to notice. She floated with a peaceful expression. I tried to relax too, but it was difficult. Even the gloriously warm water and the beautiful view of stars overhead couldn’t free me from my own self consciousness.

Now contrast that description of visiting an onsen with this one, three years later. A couple of weeks ago I visited an onsen with a two of my friends. I stripped off and put my clothes into the basket, chatting as I did so. At the showers I grabbed soap and shampoo from my own little onsen basket, lathered myself up and rinsed myself clean. We headed for the pools. I had already used my towel to tie up my hair, making no effort to hide myself. In the rotemburo (outside bath) we chatted and laughed. It was a hot bath and at one point I sat on the edge, with just my legs in the water. I felt the cool night air on my skin. I felt happy.

What took me from a nervous, self-conscious girl to a relaxed, happy woman?
Oba-chan butts. Seeing so many Oba-chan butts.

OK, it’s a little more complicated than that. But after that first nerve wracking onsen experience I didn’t stop going to onsen. At first, there were times when visiting onsen was unavoidable, when it was the only bathing option at English camp, or to wash off sweat after snowboarding. But soon I actually started seeking out onsen. Each time I visited, I became more comfortable with my own and others’ nudity. Once I let my preconceptions about nakedness go, I realized what a rare and wonderful space the onsen is.

The Naked Truth

onsen-sign

We are constantly exposed to women’s bodies. But almost all of these bodies are ones that have been chosen by some arbiters of what is hot and what is not and then often retouched, creating impossible standards of beauty. At the opposite end of the spectrum, candid pictures of celebrities in magazines have every flaw ringed and pointed out. It’s not surprising that this affects women’s views of themselves.

Onsen were the first places where I saw actual women’s bodies without photoshopping or judgment. These were bodies that weren’t being displayed to sell me something or to titillate. They were just being people, relaxing and chatting as usual, except they were naked. All of the bodies had “flaws,” but only compared to the impossible perfection that exists in the media. There were broad women, skinny women, women whose bodies had cesarean scars, women who didn’t shave, women who did shave, women with large breasts, women with small breasts, women whose breasts showed the signs of nursing children, all kinds of women. But what they looked like didn’t matter. They weren’t there to be looked at or to look. They were there to enjoy the onsen. Once I realized that, I found that I could enjoy the onsen too.

I carried this positive thought out of the onsen and into my daily life. I began to think of my body in terms of “doing” things, not how it appeared. My body is my tool for doing what I want to do, from climbing a mountain to writing this article. My fingers are moving across the keyboard because I have a body that lets me type. I feel more connected and thankful for the body I have.

Only Oba-chans Know The Secret

onsen-outdoor

I was talking about this with a friend of mine the other day. Actually we were at the onsen. (After three years it doesn’t seem strange to have a chat while relaxing naked in a bath in the open air.) She is gorgeous in a totally unjapanese way, with many of the features that Japanese people associate with foreigners, blonde hair, blue eyes and curves. She was the one who made me realize about the “grass is always greener” aspect of onsen for both Japanese and Non-Japanese women. Japanese women told her how she was their ideal; while for many non-Japanese women Japanese women’s slenderness and elegance can seem like an ideal. We all want what we can’t have. Living in Japan as a non-Japanese woman sometimes made me feel like Godzilla lumbering through my city. This always hit me worst when I went shopping for clothes. Skirts that would be reasonable on a Japanese girl are scandalous on me. Someone once asked me if I’d ever bought a bra in Japan and I just laughed. But we have to recognize that the flipside exists too. Just the other day a female student said to me, “Sensei, give me your oppai (breasts).” If you take the lesson of the onsen in the wrong way, envying the way others look, it could make this “grass is always greener” thinking worse.

Because for all that I’ve found onsen liberating, they don’t seem to have solved the problems of body image in Japan for Japanese women. 29% of Japanese women in their 20s are underweight. This statistic is being blamed on Japanese media, with celebrities and models having increasingly slender frames. Women diet and skip meals to try to attain similar weights.

Perhaps this has something to do with the demographics that enjoy onsen. In my experience it’s rare to see young women in the onsen. The main groups who seem to visit are ladies of retirement age and mothers with young children. Young women most at risk of body image problems likely don’t have the time to spend at onsen as they are working the hours expected of Japanese workers. The young people who would, according to society’s expectations, have the least reason to worry about their bodies are too busy to enjoy the onsen, while the oba-chans have plenty of time to learn the secret that there’s nothing to worry about, no matter how wrinkly you get.

Let’s All Get Naked!

outdoor-onsen2

Photo by Ben Beikse

I have a friend who lived in Japan for over a year, but never went to the onsen. Sometimes she would come with us, but she’d just sit in the changing room, fully clothed, while the rest of us enjoyed the hot water. She didn’t feel comfortable enough in herself to enter the onsen. It seemed like a tragic irony that going in the onsen would probably have helped her overcome the anxieties that kept her from going in the onsen in the first place. Don’t let yourself be kept from something so good for you!

There are so many wonderful onsen in Japan, from Dogo Onsen that the baths in Spirited Away are based on, to free onsen deep in the mountains, to the kitschy fun of Oodeo Onsen in Odaiba, Tokyo. I’d really recommend trying an onsen if you are visiting Japan. If you are lucky enough to be here for a long time, you can visit lots! Don’t let embarrassment hold you back from something wonderful that’s not only good for your skin, but good for your mind too!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

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10 of Hello Kitty’s Most DISTANT Relatives http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/12/10-of-hello-kittys-most-distant-relatives/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/12/10-of-hello-kittys-most-distant-relatives/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 16:00:40 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=41918 There was a time when I hated Hello Kitty. But once I understood her complexity and accepted her into my life, a whole world opened up. Sanrio, not unlike Marvel or DC, is an entire universe of characters, and exploring a universe is half the fun of discovering nerdy things like this. When you first get […]

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There was a time when I hated Hello Kitty. But once I understood her complexity and accepted her into my life, a whole world opened up. Sanrio, not unlike Marvel or DC, is an entire universe of characters, and exploring a universe is half the fun of discovering nerdy things like this. When you first get into comics, you learn about your Spider-men, Wonder Women, and Wolverinis. After awhile though, you dig deep enough to find hilariously bizarre or mind-blowingly boring superheroes like “Matter Eater Lad” and “Captain Planet”.

The same is true with the Sanrio universe. Sanrio may push the puppies, kitties, and lambies to the forefront, but underneath there’s a lot of fun to be had with the outliers. Who created them? Why? I wouldn’t say any of them are necessarily “bad”, but some can be incredibly unimaginative while others are so imaginative as to be downright bizarre. It’s these characters that I’ll be extricating for this list: Hello Kitty’s distant relatives. When these dogs, elephants, and hamburgers roll up to the Sanrio family reunion, the other characters avoid eye contact.

These oddballs defy Sanrio’s image of polished cuteness and stand out as wonderfully strange or uncharacteristically dull. Fill up your plate with mash potatoes, because I’m sending you to sit and talk politely with the side of the family Hello Kitty tries to forget.

10. Peter Davis

peterdavis

It’s a white dog named Peter Davis. This character at least gets points for being one of my favorite things: a dog with a bland first and last name. But the goodness stop there. Peter Davis was born in England and, what ho! Pip pip, old chap! According to his bio on sanrio.co.jp, he’s very proper, noble, fashionable, and clean. Well, well Peter Davis. You’re boring and stereotypical!

9. Dokidoki Yummychums

dokidokiyummychums

Dokidoki Yummychums is almost Sanrio’s answer to Aqua Teen Hunger Force as they a group consisting of meat, fries and shakes. Though that’s not what makes them bizarre. It’s the idea of cute food. Linda touched on this a few months back, but what strikes me as odd about this concept is the way cuteness is tied to protection. Things that we find cute or adorable are often the things we naturally want to protect (small animals, babies, email passwords). Mixing that protection concept with food is incongruent. And hilarious.

It’s a small, but extant, mind-bender. “Me am want eat food. But me am want also protect food. Me not know what me want!”

This food-cuteness hits me in a different way as well. I love hamburgers. Definitely in my top three of favorite foods. But I never realized I wanted to hug a hamburger, until I saw Dokidoki Yummychums. And why not? Hamburgers have brought me so much joy! I can finally release my subconscious urge to hug an enbunned meat patty now that it has eyes and a face and looks like it wants a hug! And with that invitation, of course I would reciprocate. Thank you hamburger. Thank you for everything.

8. Zoujitensha

zoujitensya

Zoujitensha, or Elephant Bicycle, is an elephant riding a bicycle. According to his bio, he is an “urbanite with good taste”. At least his design matches his personality. Both are flat and unappealing.

7. Hangyodon

hangyodon1

Hangyodon (literally, “Mr. Half-fish”) is another example that showcases Sanrio’s ability to make anything cute. He is a monster, something traditionally created to scare and repulse us. So is he that weird? Not in and of himself. What’s weird is how popular he is.

Hangyodon has a large number of goods attributed to him. He’s high up on the second tier of the Sanrio roster, like the Aquaman of the Sanrio Justice League (pun intended?). But with such a long list of cute animal characters behind him, you would think he would get bumped farther down the popularity rankings.

Hangyodon is a smart character design because it plays on our pity for monsters. Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Shrek are all stories which exemplify this. These stories resonate because we all feel unattractive or clumsy or even monstrous at one time or another and we all hope someone will love us despite our unattractive qualities. We all want to be understood.

His official Sanrio bio says he is “a lonely romantic who wants to be a hero someday” but we don’t need words to tell us that. That’s the power of Hangyodon.

6. Country Fresh Veggies

countryfreshveggies

Country Fresh Veggies. Their name describes them, giving me literally nothing to write about. It’s a basket of damn vegetables. They have eyes and appendages, so they are slightly less boring than others on this list, but not by much. Even their bio on sanrio.co.jp merely says, “Today, the fields are full of just-harvested, fresh vegetables.” Nuff said, I guess.

5. Gudetamago

gudetama1

Gudetama is a lazy egg. His name comes from the words gudegude (lethargic) and tamago (egg). While most Sanrio characters have several hobbies and goals, Gudetama has none. He knows he’s going to be cooked and eaten and wants to get it over with.

As far as sub-characters go, Gudetama is given more attention than most. There are pictures, goods, and YouTube videos showing him sleeping…

sanrio-gudetama

Stretching…

gudetama-stretch

Whining…

gudetama-whine

And generally lazing about.

gudetama-lazy

This goes beyond relaxation. Gudetama is dead to the world. Is there any social commentary to be found in this? Does Gudetama reflect the attitude of Japanese young people reluctant to enter Japan’s notoriously stressful workforce? Probably not any more than Garfield reflected America’s love for lasagna in 1987. Either way, the egg laziness idea is a truly genius design choice.

Rilakkuma is a very popular lazy bear character, from Sanrio competitor San-X. But do you know what else can be lazy? A cat, a mouse, a badger, a panda, a shoe, anything! It’s easy to think of a noun and assign it the adjective “lazy” (Note to self: copyright “Cecil the Lazy Shoe”). But an egg yolk actually looks lazy! Someone at Sanrio looked deep into their breakfast and imbibed it with a personality that fit its shape. And that’s creativity- looking at something from an angle that everyone else is missing.

4. Geetown Special

geetownspecial

Geetown Special is a group of three alligators. Let’s go to the sanrio.co.jp bio for more insight:

“A group of three alligators.”

Was there any thought put into these three? They have no story, they’re nearly identical, and not even in color. I understand that some Sanrio characters are merely designs for cards and tote bags, but those that are should be categorized as such. Leave the charactering to anthropomorphic things with some appealing connection to offer the recipient. Later, gator.

3. Shiri Rappers

shirirapper

Hula-hooping, rapping butt vegetables.

I just wanted to make it clear from the outset what we’re dealing with. Shiri Rappers comes from the Japanese oshiri (butt) and the English “rappers” (rappers). According to sanrio.co.jp, the Shiri Rappers are human-friendly butt fairies who, upon hearing a human’s cry, will rush to their aid and begin hula hooping/rapping with all their might, thus dispelling the human’s sadness.

As delightfully bizarre as this sounds on its own, I’m afraid it refers to a smartphone game.

In the game, the Shiri Rappers pop out of the ground, doing their gyration dance until you tap them. And you get points. I don’t see this as helpful to mankind, unless they are serving the particular pocket of mankind that needs to poke butt vegetables in order to live.

So, my initial joy at discovering the absurdity of the Shiri Rappers was diminished slightly upon finding that their story was created to explain their actions in a smartphone game. But dammit, the Shiri Rappers are hula-hooping butt vegetables and no one can take that away from me. Thanks Sanrio!

2. Boy and Girl

boyandgirl

Welcome to the bottom of the boringness barrel. Boy and Girl. I used to think Patty and Jimmy were unimaginative, but Boy and Girl make Patty and Jimmy look like Ren and Stimpy. These two are like Hello Kitty clones turned human and sapped of all charm and style. The salt in the unimaginative wound is their name: Boy and Girl.

Let’s say you work for a creative company and your job is to creatively use your creativity to create creative characters. If your boss asks you, “What should we name this boy and girl?” and you answer, “Boy and Girl!”, you should be fired.

1. Heysuke

heesuke

Heysuke. Yes, it is an angry, naked baby, but what makes it stranger than the Shiri Rappers? Heysuke’s story on sanrio.co.jp:

“Who? What the heck? It’s a kind of a suspicious, mysterious baby. For some reason, it’s laughing in the nude. Where it came from is a mystery. Is it a boy? A girl? Heysuke doesn’t even know for sure. The place where it lives is right next to you. One thing is for sure, he loves to be naked. It’s birthday is January 1st.”

Heysuke is a suspicious, ever-laughing, genderless naked baby who lives right next to you! The reason Heysuke gets the number one slot is its ambiguity. Most Sanrio characters’ designs have a specific vibe and their story bios expound upon that vibe, adding detail. But not Heysuke.

It’s cute as a baby, but its angry face makes you wonder what the hell is wrong. Then Heysuke’s story bio confuses us more by explaining that it’s laughing, suspicious, and lives right next to you. Suddenly this baby feels threatening, which is a tough concept to digest because it’s a baby. Everything about Heysuke is perplexing and strange.

Oh, and Mami pointed out that it’s wearing muscle-relaxing patches on its shoulders. WTF, Heysuke?

Heysuke was introduced on January 1, 2000, so maybe it was meant to be some kind of Baby New Year. But it never caught on anywhere ever. All the other characters on this list, weird as they are, have enjoyed some kind of success, appearing on various goods and being drawn in various poses.

Heysuke was only drawn once and, as far as I can tell, no goods bear its likeness. And so it remains: laughing, naked, and staring at you.

Explore the Chara-verse!

sanrio-group

Okay, you’re done. You did your time at the table with the weirdos. Now you can go back to your Hello Kitty and your rap music. But hopefully you’ve learned a valuable lesson. There’s a whole world of Japanese characters to explore, within Sanrio and beyond. You may find more wacky treats when you search through them for yourself. Japanese mascot characters are a universe not often explored even by die-hard Hello Kitty fans. But if you dig design, animals, colors, or fun things in general, I encourage you to delve into this multiverse. You may just find yourself voluntarily sitting at the table of outcasts at the next Sanrio family reunion!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Five Ways To Experience Japan Without Leaving Home http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/07/five-ways-to-experience-japan-without-leaving-home/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/07/five-ways-to-experience-japan-without-leaving-home/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 16:00:49 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=41838 I’m sure for a lot of us, visiting or living in Japan is high on our list of things to do. But when you can’t make the trip overseas, there are lots of ways to experience Japan without getting on a plane. In fact, some of these you can try without even leaving home! Of course, […]

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I’m sure for a lot of us, visiting or living in Japan is high on our list of things to do. But when you can’t make the trip overseas, there are lots of ways to experience Japan without getting on a plane. In fact, some of these you can try without even leaving home! Of course, I’ve left some basic suggestions off – like learning Japanese, reading blogs about Japan, and eating Japanese food – because you have probably already thought of those. But here are some things that might be new to you!

Community Service

japan-america-society

Japanese communities and Japanese-American friendship groups are both great ways to experience Japan at home. There may not be much of one if you’re away from a major city, but it never hurts to check or ask around. Start on the internet – search for (nearby large city) Japanese Society. Or (nearby large city) Japan America Society. For example, I live in Seattle. When I Google “Seattle Japan Society”, the Japan America Society for the State of Washington immediately comes up. If you’re in college, there may be a Japanese Students Association or an Asian Students Association. If you don’t have any luck searching online, don’t be afraid to ask around at a local Japanese restaurant or Asian grocery store before broadening your search. The Japanese consulate closest to you might also have an idea of what sort of communities or societies are active in your area.

The benefits of seeking out the local Japanese community are numerous, as Japan America societies tend to do a variety of activities. I’ve been involved with these sorts of groups in several different states. Through them, I have chaperoned Japanese exchange students, worked at Japanese New Year celebrations, gone to Japanese festivals, and attended a bunraku play – just to name a few. If you can’t find a Japan America society near you or want even more involvement, try to find the nearest Asian art museum, as it will likely have regular events of interest. Over time, investing in these groups more and more will help you foster connections in the local Japanese community, providing even more opportunities.

Communication is Key

letters

Photo by liz west

Out of all my suggestions, this one may take the most effort, but it can yield some great results over time. There are a lot of Japanese people online who want to make friends overseas and practice their English. Several sites offer penpal ads, so do some searches and find which one you like best. I’ve had the most luck with Japan Guide and the Penpals Subreddit. Ideally, if you can write and read Japanese, include some Japanese in your letters. Try to keep your English simple, practice internet safety/common sense, and talk about your hometown and what makes your life awesome. After all, these are probably the sorts of things you would want to know about the Japanese people you talk to. For several years, I maintained a penpal in Japan – we eventually even sent each other packages.

If you get to know your penpal and want to exchange snail mail or packages, but you’re not entirely comfortable sharing your home address, consider investing in a PO box. Be prepared to download Skype, Line, or whatever other messaging system is most popular at the time (right now, I see a lot of penpals looking for friends who use Line). Most ads you see will be very general, and it may take some effort to understand what the person is trying to say. Practice patience. I recommend writing an intro paragraph about yourself – say where you’re from (to whatever degree of specificity you are comfortable giving out on the internet), include your age, indicate your gender, describe a few of your interests, what you do for a living, what your favorite food is, and your Japanese language proficiency. If you can translate it into Japanese or get a friend to do so, include both the Japanese and the English. Keep the paragraph in a file and copy/paste it to new potential penpals, rather than reinventing the wheel each time you want to respond to an ad. When you get replies, respond to them in a timely fashion, take notes about each penpal so you don’t repeat conversations, and have fun!

Abandoned Places

haikyo

Photo by Kenta Mabuchi

Haikyo (廃墟) is the Japanese word for “ruin” or “abandoned place”; it’s used to refer to the exploration of abandoned sites and sometimes urban exploration in general. As stated before, blogs about Japan are great, and if you need suggestions for those, sources like Tofugu can provide you with lots of J-blogs to read. Here, we’re looking for a specific type of blog or site – those about haikyo. Gakuranman is a great place to start. If you can read some Japanese or don’t mind picking your way through Japanese sites, try searching for 廃墟 on google.jp.

I recommend haikyo sites for several reasons. First of all, haikyo enthusiasts visit a variety of locations – love hotels, amusement parks, houses, museums, hospitals, schools, factories – you get the idea. Second, haikyo frequently involves a dip into the history behind a site; I find that it gives a taste of Japan in a unique, engaging way. I once spent hours picking my way through Japanese company crests to try to solve the mystery behind this haikyo. Although I was unsuccessful, I learned about company crests and insignia and had a lot of fun. That haikyo sums up what I love best about good haikyo, which are beautiful, creepy, and fascinating – sometimes all at once.

Hobby Time

ikebana

Photo by halfrain

Take up a traditional Japanese hobby. Some of these hobbies are probably already well known to you (at least in theory), like karate, haiku, and origami. Your local YMCA or gym may offer karate classes, and there are numerous resources, both printed and online, if you’re interested in origami or haiku. There are also less well known Japanese arts that may intrigue you more.

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging; it’s quite different from Western flower arranging and may appeal to you even if you’ve never had any interest in becoming a florist. A search online for your hometown, home state, or home country plus “ikebana” may give you a good idea of where to start. Kendo is a sword-based martial art; it may especially appeal to you if you are interested in both martial arts and Japanese swords. One of my favorite Japanese arts to practice is shodo, or Japanese calligraphy. If you cannot find a shodo society near you, try contacting nearby Japanese language professors; some form of shodo is frequently included in Japanese classes, so a professor may know someone who can instruct you. Any of these pastimes may have a local group in your area, but if you can’t find someone who’s already interested, look into making a group of your own – every organization has to start somewhere!

Analog Sources

stockholm-library

Photo by Samantha Marx

A recent trip to my local public library yielded more books about Japan than I expected – add the fact that many libraries these days will allow you to request books from other branches online, and you will definitely find a multitude of books on Japan. My suggestion is to look online, then write down the call numbers and head to the library itself. Once you locate your book on the shelf, you’ll likely find more books that interest you. The call number system means that other books on the same subject are likely to be on the same shelf. In my library, I found not only a large selection of Japanese history books, but a second section on the other side of the library with books that had more of a travel-guide theme. I didn’t expect to find much there, but was happy to be proven wrong. Looking for foreign-language books is always worthwhile as well as there will likely be a Japanese language section. Some of these may be of interest to you, even if you can’t read Japanese yet. By browsing this section, I once found a beautiful Japanese-language travelogue about my hometown that had been written by a Japanese expat by browsing the foreign-language section. Whether you find books in English or Japanese, reading is a great way to learn about Japan, and the library not only collects books for you by subject, but is also free – win-win!

Do It All for the Experience

images-of-shibuya

Photo by moominsean

No matter which of these suggestions most appeals to you, I urge you to look most closely at the options that are furthest from your current experiences. The further out of your comfort zone you wander, the more likely you are to have totally new experiences and find something awesome and shiny to be passionate about. I took a class in college that had us practice ikebana, shodo, and haiku. Those experiences have stuck with me, long after I forgot many of the other things I learned for exams. There are many ways to experience Japan without boarding a plane, and I hope you give some of these a try!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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