Tofugu » In Japan http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Tue, 31 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Kid’s Anime for Japanese Learners http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/30/kids-anime-japanese-learners/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/30/kids-anime-japanese-learners/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47249 When I started learning Japanese, the inability to pick up on words in anime, movies and music frustrated me. Aside from “Okā-san!”, “Otō-san!” and “Kusou!”, I had trouble catching words and phrases and my listening skills developed at a slow rate. I used to sit back and wonder, “Will I ever be able to understand what they’re […]

The post Kid’s Anime for Japanese Learners appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
When I started learning Japanese, the inability to pick up on words in anime, movies and music frustrated me. Aside from “Okā-san!”, “Otō-san!” and “Kusou!”, I had trouble catching words and phrases and my listening skills developed at a slow rate. I used to sit back and wonder, “Will I ever be able to understand what they’re saying!?”

A trip to the video rental shop answered my question. Instead of the anime, drama or comedy sections, I scoped out family and children’s DVDs. Among them I discovered Chibi Maruko-chanOden-kun, and other shows that served as more suitable learning material for a beginner. Although not easy, these programs featured language closer to my level, particularly when compared to the complicated plots of the anime and movies I had been watching.

At last I could improve my listening skills while being entertained! Some of these cartoons, like Anpanman, are made for toddlers and feature simple stories, simple Japanese and clear pronunciation. Others, like Nintama Rantarou, take aim at older children and feature a slight level-up in Japanese and plot. But all of the following shows can be used as study materials. But don’t take my word for it – give them a try!

Strategizin’

Photo by DGlodowska

When using anime as a learning tool, kicking back with a bag of popcorn won’t lead to major gains (although chewing gum might help.) It’s best to formulate a concrete plan of attack. Koichi offers tips, tricks and strategies on the subject in his excellent article How to Learn Japanese from Anime, and here are some techniques I find useful.

Watch an episode multiple times to challenge your ear. During the first viewing, turn the subtitles off and try to pick out single words or listen for understanding. You can repeat the process as many times as you want and even take some notes. On the final viewing, turn on the subtitles to see how successful you were.

When watching Japanese cartoons, shows or movies, decide whether to listen for overall understanding or for single words or phrases. When I first started learning Japanese I focused on listening for words and phrases I had studied. As my Japanese improved I focused on trying to understand the overall content of statements and conversations and ignored focusing on single words.

A more painstaking method involves listening to the dialogue and trying to write out the Japanese. This method works best when the anime features Japanese subtitles to compare your work with afterwards. You can also use this method with Japanese music and then check the lyrics online. This technique’s advantage lies in its focus on raw Japanese. Since you don’t need to understand what you write, you can invest total focus on listening. Although time consuming, this study method’s big yields means it’s worth investing time in.

As with any studying strategy, it’s best to try a variety of approaches to find what works best for you. But even when you do, changing things up keeps studying fresh and revives motivation.

Get to the List Already!

impatient tv watching cat

Photo by Carbon Arc

This list features cartoons with varying degrees of Japanese. True beginners (one year of study or less) may not be able to use cartoons for a study tool with great results. But thanks to their simple plots and clear Japanese, the series in this list offer a great starting point for listening improvement.

Anpanman (アンパンマン)

One of Japan’s most popular childrens’ characters is based on a familiar snack food. Welcome to the world of Anpanman, an anpan (bread filled with anko, or sweet red bean paste) headed hero. Sure his weakness is water, but when dampness strikes, the kind old baker Uncle Jam saves the day with a fresh head of bread.

What started as a series of picture books by Takashi Yanase in 1973 grew into an industry spawning clothing, toys, video games, snacks and a hit cartoon. Making its debut in 1988, the cartoon continues today with over one thousand episodes and annual movies and tv specials.

Anpanman reigns supreme among children ages 0 to 4, so the dialogue and stories stay simple. Beginners looking to get their feet wet in Japanese should find Anpanman their best bet. And as a bonus you learn about the Japanese diet: from melonpan to currypan, the delicious cast of characters features foods common to bakeries and supermarkets across Japan.

  • Pros: Aimed at young children. Anpanman features simple stories and simple dialogue perfect for Japanese language beginners of any age. Learn about Japan’s unique takes on bread.
  • Cons: Almost too cute and maybe too childish. Also, Anpanman‘s characters might make you hunger for foods unavailable outside of Japan.

Chirubii (チルビー)

Make it past Chirubii‘s cute, dancing rabbit opening and you’re in for a treat. The series features (slightly) animated versions of popular Japanese picture books with enthusiastic narration and colorful background music. Chirubii aims at children without becoming too infantile. By featuring books from various authors, this cartoon’s visual style varies from episode to episode and the stories never get stale. Watch Chirubii and experience some of Japan’s best picture books while leveling up your listening skills!

  • Pros: Chirubii offers Japanese aimed at the youngest native Japanese learners, so it makes for great listening practice! The variety of stories and art keeps Chirubii fresh and interesting.
  • Cons: The minimalist animation may turn off some viewers.

Nihon Mukashibanashi (日本昔話)

If children’s books and anthropomorphic bread don’t interest you, you might enjoy some good old fashioned folktales. Nihon Mukashibanashi offers up classic stories brought to life by various artists in various animation styles. Like the two series mentioned above, Nihon Mukashibanashi‘s Japanese stays simple, although some of rural and old folks’ Japanese might be difficult to pick up on. Overall Nihon Mukashibanashi offers deep cultural roots with a relaxing vibe.

  • Pros: Like Chirubii, Nihon Mukashibanashi’s assorted art styles keep the visuals interesting. The traditional source material offers a distinct Japanese flavor.
  • Cons: Like most fables and fairy tales, the stories get repetitive. How is it that so many old men saved magical sea-life?

Ganbare! Oden-kun (がんばれ!おでんくん)

Welcome to coolsville. Unlike the childish Anpanman and Chirubii and old-fashioned Nihon Mukashi-banashi, Oden-kun offers up a hip, groovy and occasionally psychedelic flavor. Created by actor (All Around Us), writer (Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad) and all-around talent Lily Frank, Oden-kun reflects its author’s unique personality and art style.

The story stars Oden-kun, a small kinchaku or mochi-filled bag of tofu who lives in a big pot of oden (a Japanese stew of sorts). His friends include egg-headed girls, a wise old slice of daikon radish and even a sausage-headed alpha-male. Oden-kun uses the mochi in his head to get him, his friends and his customers out of hairy situations. But don’t worry, after being pulled from the pot and eaten, Oden-kun and his pals eventually reappear for new adventures.

  • Pros: With slow and clear pronunciation, Oden-kun‘s Japanese is easy to pick up on. Unique plots and characters make Oden-kun one of the most fun children’s cartoons to watch.
  • Cons: Some viewers might find the show’s depictions of god (dude chilling on a cloud with a beard and bishop hat) offensive. Another one that might give you cravings for Japanese dishes that you can’t get at home.

Nintama Rantarou (忍たま乱太郎)

If ninjas are more your style, give Nintama Rantarou a try! The show focuses on the titular hero Rantarou and his friends Shinbei and Kirimaru as they train to be ninjas at Ninja Gakuen. Childish jokes (some involving poop) give you the chance to learn childish Japanese words (like poop) and make this show a fun watch.

  • Pros: Did I mention ninjas! And a great sense of humor.
  • Cons: Fast talking makes this one more difficult than the previous series on the list.

Sazae-san (サザエさん)

A long-running classic, Machiko Hasegawa’s Sazae-san depicts the everyday trials and tribulations faced by a Japanese housewife and her family. Although often compared to Chic Young’s Blondie character of the comic-strip of the same name, Patrick Drazen compares Sazae-san to Peanuts‘ Charlie Brown, as a “wishy-washy” character engaged in the balancing act of everyday life (Anime Explosion 143). Watch Sazae-san to tune up your Japanese skills while reflecting on a low-key idealization of family life in Japan.

  • Pros: The long running classic is grounded in reality. Suited for all audiences.
  • Cons: Born from the post-war 1940’s, perhaps Sazae-san’s world is overly romanticized.

Chibi Maruko-chan (ちびまる子ちゃん)

My favorite family show, ,the long running Chibi Maruko-chan has made the jump from analog to HD. While Sazae-san focuses on a Japanese housewife, Chibi Maruko-chan follows elementary school student Sakura-chan and her experiences at school, at home and around her neighborhood. Another show based in reality, Sakura’s reactions and thought-process reflect an authentic innocence that make the series both touching and humorous.

  • Pros: A funny, realistic portrayal of a Japanese child’s world.
  • Cons: The narrator’s sense of humor, which often flatly stating the obvious, may get lost in translation.

Crayon Shin-chan (クレヨンしんちゃん)

If a cheeky (in more ways than one) version of Japanese family life is what you’re looking for, give Crayon Shin-chan a look. Shin-chan and his eccentric family put humanity’s imperfect, but realistic shortcomings on display. Shin-chan is best compared to Bart Simpson of the early 1990s, a young troublemaker with his own colloquialisms. But like the later Simpsons episodes, Shin-chan’s universe is not constrained to reality. Crayon Shin-chan offers a crude but “real” representation of Japanese family life with language to match. As such, it’s one of the more difficult series on the list.

  • Pros: Learn Japanese as cheeky little kids speak it.
  • Cons: One of the most difficult to understand on the list, thanks to Shin-chan’s voice and pronunciation.

 Dragon Ball (ドラゴンボール)

No introduction necessary, but here goes: The world-famous series that grew into the definitive shonen action-battle series started off as an action-comedy. Before Dragon Ball Z popularized fights spanning hundreds of episodes (at least that’s how they felt) and extended episode recaps, Dragon Ball kept things relatively simple and humor-based. Fans of the series know what to listen for and some of the characters’ slow, clear pronunciation make Dragon Ball an apt Japanese learning tool. And given its world-wide popularity, Dragon Ball should be the most accessible series on the list.

  • Pros: As a popular series abroad, it’s easy to obtain. Those who have already watched it in English know the plots and therefore what kind of words to listen for. For example, in the clip above Roshi (the old man) is trying to get Lunch (the girl) into the bathroom to peep on her. Since I know his intent, I know to listen for words like bathroom and bathtub.
  • Cons: When the action gets heavy, useful vocabulary dwindles. Goku’s (the main character) voice can be the most difficult to listen to.

Doraemon (ドラえもん)

The big, blue robot cat from the future debuted on the printed page as a manga in 1969 and on television in 1973. Doraemon has been a mainstay of Japanese television and movie theaters ever since. Sent from the future to help his inventor’s great great grandfather Nobita, Doraemon can pull all sorts of crazy inventions from the “magic pocket” on his tummy (think Felix The Cat’s magic bag of tricks).

Doraemon revolves around Nobita’s school and home life, though it occasionally crosses into the fantasy realm. Thanks to its sense of humor and innocent fun, Doraemon remains a favorite among all ages and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more recognized and beloved character in Japan.

  • Pros: Witness the closest thing Japan has to Mickey Mouse (aside from Kitty-chan?), in a long running, influential cultural mainstay. Even after hundreds of episodes, Doraemon’s unique and silly inventions will keep you guessing.
  • Cons: Although the inventions are interesting, the series’ plots get repetitive. Nobita’s bungling helplessness gets old.

Jarinko Chie (じゃりン子チエ)

Experience family life – Osaka style. Jarinko Chie deals with the eccentricities of Kansai life, the seedier, more in-your-face side of Japan. Experience Chie’s hard-knock life, complete with yakuza encounters and badass cats. Chie offers a refreshing change from the other child characters on this list as she faces the challenges of a broken home head-on and proves more responsible than many of the adults that surround her. But beware, taking on Jarinko Chie means taking on Kansai-ben (Osaka’s local dialect). Jarinko Chie is like a gritty, more capable Chibi Maruko-chan.

  • Pros: Experience Kansai-ben!
  • Cons: Experience Kansai-ben…

SpongeBob Squarepants (スポンジョボブ)

The popular American cartoon series has also seen success in Japan. SpongeBob and his friends speak with loud, clear pronunciation. While stories get crazy, the simple jokes and visuals make the dialogue easy to understand. Since the series is originally in English, it’s easy to find a source to compare the Japanese to. But since the series is originally in English, getting your hands on Japanese episodes might require buying the Japanese DVDs.

  • Pros: American humor (for Americans). Voice actors speak very clearly.
  • Cons: Some jokes don’t translate accurately, so the Japanese dialogue may differ from the English equivalent. Japanese episodes are hard to come by.

Access

video store

Photo by Andy Nystrom

Access to these shows would have been nearly impossible just a decade ago. But thanks to the internet, most are easily accessible. Video sites like Youtube offer episodes that can be viewed for free. There’s even an official Doraemon channel you can subscribe to. Can’t find the series by searching in English? Try searching in Japanese. If Youtube doesn’t give you what you want, try different video hosting sites (like Dailymotion).

Online marketplaces like Amazon.jp, Rakuten, Yesasia, Play-asia, and CDJapan offer many of these series on DVD or Bluray. Both shops have made international ordering easy by offering English versions of their stores and accepting foreign credit cards. Some series can be found at Amazon.com. I found Oden-kun, Chibi Maruko-chan, Anpanman, and even Jarinko Chie there.

But beware of region restrictions that prevent imported disks from playing on domestic DVD players. Luckily region-free DVD players that can play DVDs from any country are inexpensive. Amazon sells units at under $40.

Although I don’t have a region free DVD player, I set my computer’s DVD drive to region 2 so I can play Japanese DVDs. I also play them on my Japanese Playstation 3. Although playing import DVDs can be problematic, there are many easy solutions.

If you want English subtitles, things get a bit trickier. Most Japanese DVDs do not feature English subs. Japanese SpongeBob DVDs feature both Japanese and English options. And most Western-released Dragon Ball DVDs feature both languages. So those are you’re best bets. Funimation’s Western release of Crayon Shin-chan, however, does not feature Japanese language options. So if you buy Crayon Shin-chan DVDs for study purposes, make sure to get the Japanese release.

Doin’ Time

Photo by Unsplash

As Koichi explains, learning Japanese from anime takes work. Passively watching while reading English subtitles results in few gains if any. But by buckling down and deciding on a specific strategy we can dramatically level up our listening levels.

When it comes to listening skills, we all develop at different speeds, but putting in the time and effort can help push things along. But finding the right study material helps. And since many Japanese children’s shows feature simple stories and simple Japanese, they make a great starting point. Most of the series mentioned above feature 15 minute shorts, a length perfect for repeated, focused viewings.

And don’t forget to go back later to check your progress. I love revisiting a series from years ago. Nothing has been more satisfying than cultivating what feels like a sixth sense and understanding dialogue that was once just a bunch of indecipherable sounds.

Bonus Wallpapers!

StudyingJapaneseKidsAnime-1280
[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile]

The post Kid’s Anime for Japanese Learners appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/30/kids-anime-japanese-learners/feed/ 19
Getting Famous in Japan the One Direction Way http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/27/getting-famous-japan-one-direction-way/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/27/getting-famous-japan-one-direction-way/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49772 Japan is a popular target market for pop singers that want to take their fame internationally, particularly, it seems, when it comes to debuting in Asia. Is it because of the infectious fan base? Is it because the fandom of Asian pop music has not gone unnoticed? There are numerous stars who try, working to […]

The post Getting Famous in Japan the One Direction Way appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Japan is a popular target market for pop singers that want to take their fame internationally, particularly, it seems, when it comes to debuting in Asia. Is it because of the infectious fan base? Is it because the fandom of Asian pop music has not gone unnoticed? There are numerous stars who try, working to organize tour dates and scheduling media appearances in Japan, but are met with a relatively low breakout success rate. The ones who succeed are those who understand that while Japan is a big market, it is also a very different one. The most recent and relevant example of this: British boy band sensation, One Direction.

First, let’s characterize J-pop

akb48-has-way-too-many-members-and-its-ridic

Japan is the second largest music market in the world, just behind the United States with a retail value of over 3 billion dollars back in 2013. The Japanese market is dominated by (surprise!) Japanese artists. Japanese pop, or J-pop, is a genre that entered the musical mainstream of Japan in the 1990s, and was coined by the Japanese media in order to distinguish itself from foreign music. Japanese musical idols (or アイドル /aidoru) are a significant part of this music market, with girl groups and boy bands regularly topping charts. Some well known examples are Arashi, SMAP, Morning Musume, and, of course, the wildly popular, AKB48, who currently holds the Guinness World Record for being the “Pop group with the greatest number of members”.

For those unfamiliar with the idol culture in Japan, typically they are are young stars and starlets who are promoted as being particularly cute, manufactured to be a universal role model for everyone. They aim to play a wide range of roles as media personalities, and must have a perfect public image so as to be good examples to young people. As a consequence, a unique characteristic of J-pop is “cutesey” music, and the female artists’ subtle fusion of sexuality and child-like traits.

Another characteristic of J-Pop stars is that they have appearances that span a variety of media. In SMAP for example, group members appeared on at least ten regularly scheduled music and variety shows in the mid-90s. This added to their individual personalities and group persona. At present, they have their own weekly variety program called SMAPxSMAP, which has been airing every Monday since 1996. In addition, individual members also appear in many commercials and television dramas (Any Kimura Takuya fans out there?) Similarly, another aforementioned group, Arashi, also went on to have their own variety show as well, as well as stand out actors such as Matsumoto Jun, well known for his role on Hanayori Dango (Boys over Flowers).

This omnipresence is important for pop stardom in Japan because it creates a sense of intimacy between the artist and the fans. Since J-pop has a focus on marketing effectiveness, the fans are key. Between a curated connection with the fans and the branding of these pop stars as good-looking talents who are also portrayed as emotionally sensitive and caring (as is successfully done through constant media presence), fan-directed marketing is a huge driver for success.

The Stars of the Moment

Japan the One Direction

How, then, does One Direction fit into this world? The British band probably needs no introduction. They are the poster children for boy band pop today, and if the name doesn’t sound familiar, this song probably does:

Or this one:

In a nutshell, they are an English-Irish pop boy band based in London who came to fame from the British Television show The X Factor. They were propelled to success with the help of social media, which we will see is an integral part of their popularity in Japan.

In January 2013, One Direction (1D) touched down in Japan for the first time, donning traditional Japanese red happi coats that had “One Direction” written in katakana on the lapels. What can be assumed as a conscious homage to the Beatles from the 1960s, it was a smart choice for the boy band that was in Tokyo for a short, packed schedule of fan events and media appearances. Harry Styles tends to be the heartthrob of this boy band, but in Japan, it seems as though Niall, from Ireland, is the most popular. In an interview, Harry Styles stated that “In Japan Niall [is the most popular]. Because he’s got the blonde hair they go crazy for him.” Niall’s response was simply that “They’ve never seen people like me before. Little Irish people coming in with dyed hair and dancing,” which probably speaks more to the stereotypical Japanese affinity for things of novelty.

Branding in Japan

Japan the One Direction

The header image from onedirection.jp

The finale of 1D’s Take Me Home Tour had a recorded audience of about 12,000 Japanese fans, which might be considered underwhelming for those who are used to performing for thousands and thousands of shrieking adolescents. But in the eyes of industry veterans, it was quite a showing. For every performer like The Beatles, Lady Gaga, and now One-Direction, there are numerous international acts that gets met in Japan with widespread indifference. Shows being cancelled, as both Kanye West and Selena Gomez have experienced, are not a surprising result.

Instead of letting themselves succumb to that same fate, 1D had a slower launch into Japan, duly noting the market at the time. Their arrival into Japan for media appearances mentioned above, gave Japan just enough to keep buzzing nationwide about this up and coming music group and their newly announced Japan tour.

But what really got the Japanese media’s attention was Sony Music Japan’s branding of the group. This was the start of the official Japanese Facebook and Twitter accounts, which showed translations of the members’ social media. Their first record had a delayed release in Japan but their sophomore album “Take Me Home” was positioned for a simultaneous release. And an even bigger social media innovation was to provide them with what most J-pop acts have: their own fan club.

January 2013 marked the establishment of One Direction Club Japan, which was the group’s only official fan club anywhere at the time. Members would pay approximately 5,000 Yen annually for enrollment which would come with perks such as first choice concert tickets, the opportunity to buy fan-only merchandise, and other special accesses. Even as social media’s influence in Japan grows, official fan clubs like this continue to be integral to J-Pop fandom. It’s the maintaining of that omnipresence that we talked about before. Having a fan club like this becomes smart for international artists since they are only in Japan for a few days out of each year, making it difficult for fans to have a connection with the artists. A Japanese style fan club is paid, it’s exclusive, and perhaps most importantly, it’s something familiar to Japanese people, crafting a perceived intimacy. Having a constant presence is a challenge that overseas artists face with the Japanese market, and it’s an advantage that K-pop (Korean Pop) bands enjoy, because of proximity.

One Direction has bridged that gap with their exclusive online fan club. This fan club not only made 1D’s Japanese fan base comparable in size, but also in breadth. The fact that international pop aimed at teenagers in Japan can find an older audience as well is an idiosyncrasy of the Japanese music market.

In comparison, consider the infamous Justin Bieber, who amassed an impressive fan base of over 40 million on Twitter, and proclaimed his love for Japan. The response from Japan, however, wasn’t quite as reciprocated. It’s all relative, of course, but One Direction’s two 12,000 capacity shows in Japan sold out immediately, while Bieber still had tickets available at the door for his single, 15,000 capacity venue. Even Creativeman’s Yoshinari Hirayama, 1D’s promoter for those Chiba concerts, seemed surprised: “I believe the response was much greater than anyone expected.”

The 1D Café?

Japan the One Direction

Photo by Victor Lee

AKB48 has their café in Akihabara so maybe it’s time for One Direction as well? The rumor mill heard stories of plans for a 1D café to open up worldwide, starting with Shibuya. It was supposed to have opened on Feb 11, 2014. The success of the café in Shibuya would go on to determine whether or not the chain would appear in other cities such as London, New York, Paris, and Berlin. Dissimilar to “pop up” shops, these cafes would stay open year round, selling merchandise of various types for younger fans.

The Story of Their Lives?

Japan the One Direction

It is unclear what the future holds for One Direction in Japan though they are arguably one of the most successful international musical groups that have infiltrated the tough Japanese market. Will One Direction be just another “boom” with a timely end to their popularity? Or will the Japanese fans continue to adore them even when they are old news? Japan can be a great country for an aspiring international artist’s debut, you just have to know how to approach the market and break in. It seems that Japan loves overseas bands, but the bands that make it in Japan are equally as enamored with Japan as well. Harry Styles, for example has taken on the role of incorporating some Japanese to his performances. On a tour stop in the US, Harry led the fans in a chant of “Gambarimasu!”, followed by an exuberant, “Yes! I’ve always wanted to do that!”

Bonus Wallpapers!

onedirection-1280
[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・[Mobile 1 / 2]

Sources

The post Getting Famous in Japan the One Direction Way appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/27/getting-famous-japan-one-direction-way/feed/ 12
Is Japan Really Hardworking? http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/25/japan-really-hardworking/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/25/japan-really-hardworking/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49543 “Hardworking Japanese people” … How many of you have heard that phrase before? How many of you were tripped up by that phrase? And more importantly, for how many of you were the above three words as natural as, for example, “cultured French people”? I too brought that stereotype to Japan. But like other stereotypes, […]

The post Is Japan Really Hardworking? appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
“Hardworking Japanese people”

… How many of you have heard that phrase before? How many of you were tripped up by that phrase? And more importantly, for how many of you were the above three words as natural as, for example, “cultured French people”?

I too brought that stereotype to Japan. But like other stereotypes, well, there’s true bits and false bits to it. You see all the salarymen half-asleep on the last trains departing from Shibuya and imagine what a hard day they must have had. But then you see the same thing in your university classroom and think – ehh, these people could at least drink some coffee before coming to class.

So this article is me trying to make sense of how hardworking the Japanese people are and putting my point of view out there. Perhaps this will be useful for those of you who are planning to work in Japan in the future too!

The Hardworking Side

Otsukaresama-deshita! Photo by Janne Moren

If there’s one thing the Japanese are known for, it’s their long hours at the office. But what do the statistics tell us? Let’s see what the OECD says for the year 2013:

Average Number of Hours Worked per Worker:

  • Japan: 1735 hours per year
  • South Korea: 2163 hours per year (result for 2012)
  • UK: 1669 hours per year
  • USA: 1788 hours per year
  • France: 1489 hours per year
  • OECD Average: 1770 hours per year

So it looks like the Japanese actually don’t work so hard compared to other countries. They work less than the US and even less than the average. That makes them not so hardworking, right?

Not quite. This is an example of misleading statistics because for two reasons:

Higher incidence of part-time work in Japan

Multiple sources suggest that Japan’s workforce has a higher proportion of part-time work compared to other countries. Some of this is because Japanese women tend to quit full-time work when they have a child only to return as part-time labor after a while. Some of this is due to workers only being offered part-time jobs despite wanting a full time job.

This part-time work depresses the average more than in other countries. Full time work in Japan, however, generally involves longer hours than those in other countries.

Inaccurate Reporting

Some of you may have come across the term saabisu zangyo. Basically, this refers to overtime which is kept off the official books with the full consent of the employee.

Officially, the working week in Japan is largely 40 working hours with additional limits for overtime work. But these limits don’t have any effect if a worker doesn’t clock those hours in – which is de facto what happens in many Japanese workplaces. This goes for both full-time and part-time work – an example being being paid as a waiter for a kaiten zushi restaurant but having to do the clean-up after the restaurant closes without pay.

The 1735 hours you see above is therefore a highly distorted number because of the under-reporting of working hours.

Education for Long Hours

Photo by Angie Harms

Before people even get into the workplace, the Japanese education system seems to demand long hours of them as well. This is particularly with reference to the amounts of cramming students have to do in the lead up to their university exam (See the “Exam Hell” section here for some anecdotes). There are even reports of primary school entrance exams at some selective institutions.

However, do note that the fiercest competition is only reserved for those who want to enter schools on the higher end of the education system – The Japan Times reports that with the decrease in the Japanese youth population, the competition found during the 1980s has died down. It is not hard to get into a university in Japan right now (putting quality aside) if one wants to.

The Exceptions?

Photo by Jason Wharam

There are a few possible exceptions to the stereotype of long working hours. As I’ve written about before, the first thing that comes to mind is the university lives of the Japanese students. Since I wrote that, I’ve come across this additional article on Toyokeizai (in Japanese). The writer basically compares American and Japanese universities, and concludes that Japanese students do put fewer hours into studying at the university level than Americans do.

But otherwise I really had to rack my brain to think of exceptions – even the university example has to be qualified by how some people sacrifice their studies not for slacking off but to put time into something else, such as a sports clubs. Perhaps we can talk about the housewives? But they do labour at home. Or maybe parasite singles? But that’s only a small slice of the Japanese population?

So the Japanese are hardworking then! Not so fast…

Hardworking ≠ Being Worked Hard

Which does this count as? Photo by Amir Jina

This is the main point which I think people misunderstand about Japan. When people characterize the Japanese people as hardworking, it usually implies that a Jiro-Dreams-of-Sushi-esque image of the conscientious, motivated, eager-to-serve Japanese worker willing to put his best into his job.

This image is overplayed and exaggerated on two points.

Motivation?

There is a difference in being motivated enough to work twelve hours a day at something and working twelve hours because your boss still hasn’t left the office, or because of the general social pressure to not do so. Rocketnews has an article that looks at how much actual work is getting done in those long hours (the conclusion: not as much as you might think). And let’s look at some statistics that relate to feelings of motivation:

Which in turn can be explained by the following:

  • This article suggests that base pay is a very important factor for Japanese workers – stagnant pay over the past two decades wouldn’t have helped motivation.
  • After the collapse of the bubble economy, job security has decreased and as stated above, many can’t even get full-time jobs in the first place. Job anxiety may make you work hard (or at least make you appear to do so), but that does not equate with being happy or motivated while doing so.
  • Japanese HR practices as listed here that have the effect of decreasing engagement.

Productivity?

Another thing that we can question is, if the Japanese were so hardworking, surely they would be very productive as well! But this again isn’t supported by the data. Here’s what the OECD says about productivity in 2013 (ie. GDP per hour worked in USD terms deflated for purchasing power):

  • Australia: $48.50/hr
  • France: $50.90/hr
  • Japan: $36.10/hr
  • Korea: $29.90/hr
  • Spain: $40.40/hr
  • UK: $44.50/hr
  • US: $56.90/hr
  • OECD Total: $40.50/hr

This means that hour for hour, Japan produces less than the OECD average and at only around 3/5 of the average productivity of the US. Even when doing a per-industry analysis, this report notes that Japan is still behind in terms of productivity when compared to Europe and the US (though not for all industries). And note that these statistics are calculated based on output per hour, so given that hours are likely to be under-reported, actual productivity is likely to be even lower.

There are two ways of interpreting this low productivity: either the Japanese are only pretending to work, or they are actually putting in a lot of effort, but on the wrong things. Both are probably true – this link, and quite a few of the links I’ve included above refer to Japanese offices being full of people rushing around and acting busy, but not actually accomplishing much. There’s also many comments about people sleeping in poorly conducted meetings and people just staying in the office because their boss is there, and so on, with nothing actually getting done.

On the other hand, there are also some examples in which Japanese people are putting in earnest hours but just in rather unproductive ways. Examples include the endless paperwork that the Japanese both produce and process diligently but which could be streamlined with better use of technology. This article also points out another thing – how many people do you really need to direct the traffic in Japan anyway? Sure they’re all very hardworking in giving the traffic signals, but sometimes living in Tokyo you wonder if so many are really needed.

Quantity vs Quality

Photo by Tokyoform

The conclusion seems to be yes, Japanese people put in many hours, but in the end much of this is due to peer pressure and job-security fears and not much actual work gets done. In fact, something I’ve heard while living here in Japan is that, since the people know that they’re going to have to do overtime anyway, why bother to work hard and be efficient? You might as well lounge around and do things slowly since you’ll pretty much be forced to have a 10-12 hour workday anyway.

I have to say the obligatory disclaimer that not all Japanese conform to this – and it’s not just the individual but the sector and company too. Behind the great Japanese customer service lies the hard and earnest work of Japanese service staff. However, a different story applies to big Japanese conservative “dinosaur” corporations.

In short, the Japanese (at least those with full time employment) do tend to put in more hours than the average in many countries. However, don’t expect them to be particularly content nor efficient while doing so. Working long doesn’t necessarily mean working hard. And being worked hard can be different from being hardworking.

Bonus Wallpapers!

Hardworking-1280-animated
[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile / Animated]

The post Is Japan Really Hardworking? appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/25/japan-really-hardworking/feed/ 10
Story in my Hands – GAKUTEN Artist Spotlight http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/23/story-in-my-hands-gakuten-artist-spotlight/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/23/story-in-my-hands-gakuten-artist-spotlight/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49342 Every year in August students from all over Japan and the world gather at Tokyo Big Sight for an event organized by Design Festa called GAKUTEN. This event is for elementary, middle, high school, college, and self taught students of all ages and nationalities to gather, display their art, and meet other artists. One of […]

The post Story in my Hands – GAKUTEN Artist Spotlight appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Every year in August students from all over Japan and the world gather at Tokyo Big Sight for an event organized by Design Festa called GAKUTEN. This event is for elementary, middle, high school, college, and self taught students of all ages and nationalities to gather, display their art, and meet other artists.

One of the many in attendance at last year’s GAKUTEN was Kana, a university student from Tokyo who loves music, art, and Hello Kitty. But more than anything, she loves creating miniatures.

story-in-my-hands-food-and-pie-miniatures

Doll house miniatures have been around for at least four hundred years, but only recently has focus switched from the dolls to the worlds they inhabit. Artists and enthusiasts have begun to see the value in the tiny worlds themselves, and the exceptional skill it takes to craft them is even more fascinating. Kana is one such artisan who, under the name “Story in my Hands,” has been creating miniatures since elementary school. She was able to chat with us about her role as a forger of the mini.

MicroGenesis

story-in-my-hands-apples-miniatures

Q. Where did you get pseudonym, Story in my Hands? What does it mean?

It comes from how the things I make are meant to be stories created by my hands. Through things like doll houses and other arrangements, I try to create complete miniature stories in which people can be absorbed. I don’t have a large body of work yet, but I am pursuing the goal of creating stories with my hands and using it as a guideline for what I create in the future.

Q. When did you first start creating miniatures?

I first started making them at 11 years old. I’d always known about doll houses and miniatures in general, but it wasn’t until I came across a How-to book at a bookstore that I thought about making them myself. I’ve been fascinated ever since.

Q. Most people would read that book and think “that’s neat” and leave it at that. What was it about that book that inspired you to try making miniatures?

I think because it was aimed at beginners and the explanations were particularly easy to understand. Even before I got into miniatures I already enjoyed drawing and making things out of clay. I remember wanting to start on the projects described in the book as soon as I could.

story-in-my-hands-tasty-foods-miniatures

Q. How have your miniature making skills progressed over time?

I made a much larger quantity of things back when I first got started, because I didn’t really pay much attention to how large or realistic they were. From there I gradually began to focus more on detail. It took a lot more time than it used to, but I think that the quality of the resulting products has been improving.

Tiny Worlds

story-in-my-hands-bedroom-minatures

Q. The attention to detail in your work is incredible. What drives this?

I’ve always liked small things, so creating them delights me, and those feelings of happiness serve as my motivation. Because my head is always so full of thoughts and ideas about making miniatures, when I go to a cafe and see the different dishes on display or go to a store and find a cute accessory, all I want to do is see it in miniature–and then I have to make it happen!

Q. The idea of miniature foods, homes, and worlds is found elsewhere in Japan. Is this a uniquely Japanese concept?

The entire doll house culture is originally European and thus not a wholly Japanese concept. But thanks to companies like Sylvanian Families, Re-Ment and anime figurine designers, miniatures are now very common in Japan. The word “kawaii” is commonly expressed in Japan, and I believe a love of small things is included in that general love of cute things.

story-in-my-hands-breakfast-miniatures

Q. Why do you think humans make miniatures of things that already exist? What is our fascination with the small?

That is a very difficult question…I wonder why, too. Personally, when I can touch and place something in the palm of my hand, it sends my heart fluttering, and I fall in love with it.

Q. Do you make up stories to go along with the miniature worlds you create?

I do! When I make a doll house, I’m trying to convey the entire background of a character that exists only in my head. I want people who look at what I make to feel that too.

The Mini Method

story-in-my-hands-pastry-miniatures

Q. What is involved in making an item from start to finish?

I use mainly clay, wood, and paper, often crafting with the aid of toothpicks and dress pins. I have to be constantly aware of size and realism as I work. I try to make everything at 1/12th scale, but since I make objects of varying sizes, being too accurate to that scale can result in a strange collection when a variety of my work is displayed together. So I try to just imagine the real object–and if it’s something like an apple, hold it in my hand–and estimate the size I want as I work.

As for realism, people have to be able to recognize the object at a glance and, if it’s a food, it needs to look good enough to eat, so I plan out my designs and paint with all of that in mind.

Q. What is the biggest challenge in making miniatures?

Molding and coloring really forces me to focus, since everything gets so small.

story-in-my-hands-donuts-miniatures

Q. What kind of music do you listen to while working?

I love rock music, so I listen to it all the time. You probably wouldn’t think so though, considering the nature of my work! Right now my favorite artist is Fall Out Boy.

Q. What is your favorite kind of miniature to make?

Definitely food. While looking at food miniatures, you might think “that’s so cute!”, but at the same time you might also imagine how it tastes. I love that.

Q. Your food miniatures look so delicious! What do you do to create the texture, sheen, and color to make your little foods look so tasty?

I do coloring while looking at reference photographs of the food I’m recreating. I apply different kinds of varnish so that things vary in glossiness according to what type of food it is.

Q. Do you ever make miniatures with moving parts?

I’m not sure if this counts as “moving”, but whenever I make something like a chest of drawers or a window I make sure that they can open and close properly.

Showing the Minis

story-in-my-hands-halloween-miniatures

Q. Who are the people that consume your work and what do they love about it?

At last year’s GAKUTEN I met a lot of people who were also interested in miniatures, and many who had never seen handmade miniatures before. Men were just as interested in my work as women, and a lot of people expressed surprise at just how small they are.

Q. What is the project you’re most proud of?

I don’t really have anything that I can confidently say I am most proud of yet. No matter how many times I make something, there will always be a part that I struggle with. My work is better now than it was before, and I’m always striving to make my next project better than the last.

story-in-my-hands-seafood-lunch-miniatures

Q. Who has had the most influence on your work?

A Japanese doll house artist named Takao Kojima has been a huge inspiration for my work. I want to one day be able to make a lot of doll houses, just like he does.

Small Steps Forward

story-in-my-hands-bread-shop-miniatures

Q. What are you going to do next?

I am going to participate at the International Art Event Design Festa vol.41 at Tokyo Big Sight on May 16th and 17th, and I will participate at GAKUTEN again on August 9th. I’m currently working on a miniature bakery for those exhibitions.

I don’t have a whole lot of time to work on my miniatures since I’m a student, but I would love to be able to make a wide variety of different work and create a portfolio for myself. Since my work is so small and delicate, it’s difficult to carry the pieces around. But if I had a book of my work, people worldwide would be able to see what I make. Nothing would make me happier than knowing there are people all over the world who have a book of my work.

Q. Where do you want miniature making to take you, ultimately?

I’d like to continue making miniatures like I’m doing now, but I don’t know if, in the future, I’ll want a job that’s related to them. I was contemplating whether or not to attend a fine arts university, but I have a feeling that the kinds of worlds I create aren’t going to be granted their own category in any university’s curriculum any time soon, so I decided against it. I’m thinking I want to find a job career will allow me to keep creating something art-related.

Q. What advice do you have for people who want to try making miniatures?

Since you’re recreating actual objects it is important to focus on realism, of course, but you should simply enjoy the act of creating it at first! If you’re able to make something and really enjoy it, whatever it is, it will be great.

—————————

To see more of Kana’s work, visit her booth at Design Festa vol.41 on May 16th and 17th or at GAKUTEN on August 9th.

Or visit her online:

Blog and Gallery

Instagram

For more info on GAKUTEN and Design Festa visit:

GAKUTEN

Design Festa

Bonus Wallpapers!

kana-1280
[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile]

The post Story in my Hands – GAKUTEN Artist Spotlight appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/23/story-in-my-hands-gakuten-artist-spotlight/feed/ 2
Juri and Prostitution in Ryukyu http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/20/juri-and-prostitution-in-ryukyu/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/20/juri-and-prostitution-in-ryukyu/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48664 Prior to 1609, Ryukyu (modern day Okinawa prefecture) was an independent kingdom, but in that year the Shimazu clan of Satsuma (in southern Kyushu) successfully invaded. The Shimazu left the Ryukyuan monarchy in place, letting them remain semi-autonomous so they could get a piece of the Sino-Ryukyuan trade. That remained the state of affairs until […]

The post Juri and Prostitution in Ryukyu appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Prior to 1609, Ryukyu (modern day Okinawa prefecture) was an independent kingdom, but in that year the Shimazu clan of Satsuma (in southern Kyushu) successfully invaded. The Shimazu left the Ryukyuan monarchy in place, letting them remain semi-autonomous so they could get a piece of the Sino-Ryukyuan trade. That remained the state of affairs until Japan officially annexed them in the 1870s.

Everyone has heard that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, so it should be no surprise that it was present in the Ryukyu Kingdom. The general term for prostitutes in Ryukyu was juri, usually written 尾類. Unfortunately, pictures of juri are quite scarce, and I could not find any that would do them any justice, which is a shame because the way prostitution was conducted in this time and place was different than that of Edo. Let’s take a look at the lives of these women and how they fit, or failed to fit, into Ryukyuan society.

Raising the Red Lantern

juri-ryukyu-ladies-of-the-evening-red-lanturns

Photo by: Akira Asakura

Sources on prostitution in the kingdom before the seventeenth century seem scarce. Though women certainly sold themselves prior to the Satsuma invasion of 1609, their numbers increased thereafter. Many were from rural villages which they fled due to a life made harsher by the annual tribute demanded by Satsuma. Most plied their trade in Naha, the kingdom’s chief international port, in the sections most frequented by Chinese visitors. Their favorite haunt appeared to be Tsuji 辻, a section of Naha near the Tenshikan, the official lodging of Chinese envoys. Due to its proximity to the Tenshikan and the port, there were people from Ryukyu, China, and Satsuma of all classes frequently coming and going, making it an ideal location to attract customers. Uncontrolled prostitution came to be such a problem that in 1672 the royal government had the pleasure quarters of Tsuji and Nakajima constructed, the prostitutes scattered about the city were moved to these quarters. There was also a third pleasure quarter, Watanji, the construction date of which is uncertain.

Until the Meiji period there were no inns or restaurants as such in Okinawa, so brothels often functioned in those capacities as well as tending to more intimate needs. One might invite a friend there for a meal, or hold a party or meeting there. Some sources assert that the pleasure quarters were a place where people came and went without caring about class. This is something often claimed in regards to the pleasure quarters of Japan as well. This appears to be based largely on the fact that men of any class would be served, that samurai were required to check their swords at the door, and that though they were at the top of the normal social hierarchy, in the red-light district a wealthy merchant might hold more sway than they would. Still, though its importance may have been reduced, that does not mean Yoshiwara and its ilk were classless havens for the men who visited. Given that prostitution in Ryukyu was being systematized at a time when the government was also attempting to indoctrinate society with Confucian ideas of hierarchy, it would be somewhat surprising if class was completely absent from their pleasure quarters.

Sold into Service

juri-ryukyu-ladies-of-the-evening-sad-woman

Photo by: Yuxuan Wang

It’s important remember that even today sex trafficking remains a problem all over the world. Past or present, though we may not always be able to put names or faces to the women who have been exploited in the sex trade, it makes their situations no less tragic. In Ryukyu girls were usually sold at around the age of ten to anmā (the madams of the brothels), either through intermediaries or by brokers. When anmā told middlemen their terms and wishes regarding a girl’s age, price, etc. when an appropriate girl appeared he would promptly take her to the anmā. There the girl and the person considering taking her on would live together for about a week. During that time the anma would observe her behavior and appearance, investigate her lineage, and receive a doctor’s diagnosis, provide official papers determining the girls price, and before long plans were made to take charge of the girl.

juri-ryukyu-ladies-of-the-evening-sanshin

Photo by: bopo

These girls were known as kōingwa, chikanēngwa, or juri nu kūga. They were taught etiquette and traditional arts such as dancing, playing the koto and the sanshin (the Okinawan predecessor of the shamisen). It is unclear to what extent juri may have been literate. Those that came from peasant backgrounds probably could not read, but those from upper class families may have had the ability. The girls survived on meager fare, boiled barley and rice, pickles, and a thin soup. They generally slept somewhere like the kitchen, until they took their first customer around the age of fourteen or fifteen, at which time they were given their own room. This may sound like a harsh existence, which it was. However, one must keep in mind that it may not have been that different than the living conditions of most Ryukyuan peasants. The girls were then known as anmāsūtē for two or three years, during which time the anmā handled their clients and financial matters. When a girl turned eighteen she received a courtesan’s license, becoming a full-fledged juri. From then on she was expected to earn enough to pay monthly rent for her room and furnishings, and to begin paying off her ransom. Once her ransom was paid, she became free to either return to her home village or continue as a prostitute. Some women went on to acquire the necessary license and become anmā themselves, continuing the cycle.

Some prostitutes became chimijuri, or mistresses to a single patron. In this case she could come and go between her patron’s home and the pleasure quarter. If a husband was having trouble producing an heir, his wife might even encourage such a relationship. In such cases if a son was born he might be adopted into his father’s household (however, as shall be explained shortly, this sort of adoption was perhaps the government’s biggest problem with prostitution). Otherwise, sons of juri would sometimes return to the home village of his mother, while daughters born while the mother’s ransom remained unpaid usually became juri themselves. On the other hand, the children of anmā were free, though some chose to become juri of their own accord.

Not the Norm

juri-ryukyu-ladies-of-the-evening-tomb

Juri occupied an awkward position, and not only because of the disapproval some people had for their occupation. There were two roles held in common by nearly all Ryukyuan women, which therefore represented what it meant to be a woman in that society. The first of these was giving birth to, and raising children. While some juri raised the children born of their liaisons, boys were often treated differently by being sent to be raised by their mother’s family. In either case it was not a family structure that accorded with either Okinawan practice or the Confucian idea of a family (one in which maintenance of the male line was of great importance) that was becoming the norm. The second was that every married Ryukyuan woman would become the spiritual head of her household (if not upon marriage, then when her mother-in-law passed away). This role was also denied to juri. The sources were unclear on how juri participated in religion or whether or not they were buried in their parents’ family tomb. In these ways they did not conform to the norms expected of women in either Ryukyuan practice or Confucian teachings. They also disrupted the class system, either because they themselves had come from upper class families to such low position, or because they were consorting with men of the upper class, and even bearing their children. Their irregularities within the social order did not go unnoticed by those in power. The royal government saw fit to regulate prostitution beyond the official systematization that began with the designation of official pleasure quarters.

Controlling the Chaos

juri-ryukyu-ladies-of-the-evening-Naha-Siseibyo

Photo by: 663highland

The first to address prostitution with policy appeared to be Shō Shōken, a government official who ordered the establishment of official pleasure quarters, as mentioned above. He also issued laws to prohibit the upper class from patronizing prostitutes and to restrict the movements of juri as well. However, neither of these regulations was strictly enforced. In the time of Sai On (1682-1761), another influential government minister, upper class patronage of prostitution continued to be a problem. It was described in 1725 in the following way in the Kyūyō, the official history of the kingdom:

Prostitutes wreak havoc on great ethics, [lying with] countless people in a single night…. A thousand seeds in one womb make it difficult to discern [the father of any children]. Among customers who have taken such children as their own, many have been mistaken. This practice, therefore, has been forbidden. In recent years, the number of violators of this law has grown large. Those [offspring of prostitutes] who have disrupted the legitimate line of succession by having been entered into household registers are to be expunged and made commoners…

Informed by a Confucian worldview of a strict social hierarchy and the importance of maintaining a household’s male line, the Ryukyuans condemned prostitution when the relationship between man and woman transgressed class barriers. The fact that they did not conform to Confucian norms of a woman’s role was part of this as well. The act of selling sex itself was not seen as evil in the way it was in the West, based on the judgment of a disapproving omniscient deity. The muddling of class divisions became such a concern for the royal government that in 1747 the Sanshikan, on which Sai On held a seat, issued the following proclamation:

Memorial

As regards the daughters of the gentry who are sometimes sold into prostitution by their relatives due to poverty, I can hear people’s reasons for making them courtesans, but the loss of the gentry’s fidelity to principle is a very bad thing that in the end will be the undoing of the country’s laws. Hereafter, those daughters of the gentry who are made into courtesans shall adopt the genealogy of their owner and become commoners. The leaders of all communities should go out and firmly pronounce this, so that its principles will be obeyed. That is all.

The Sanshikan

When they are told the above, its intent will be grasped, and should be firmly announced within the group.

Greater Community Seat

Community Leaders

 

These two declarations support the view that the main issue Sai On and other officials of his era had with prostitution was its distorting effects on the lineages of upper class families which distinguished them in the social hierarchy. The government’s attempts to prevent the upper class from patronizing prostitutes were ineffective, and so their solution was to make all prostitutes and their descendants into commoners.

The Genie That Won’t Be Bottled

juri-ryukyu-ladies-of-the-evening-bottle-smaller
Photo by: Fg2

Thus one can see that the Ryukyuan government saw the construction of official pleasure quarters with licensed prostitutes as the appropriate way of handling the sex trade. The Ryukyuan government had a strong concern with the preservation of upper class family lineages. This was why systematization and control were deemed necessary. Subsequently, when unlicensed prostitutes undermined that system the government took action to force them into it. Of course, this was a perfect solution for no one. That still eludes governments today.

Bonus Wallpapers!

juriryukyu-1280
[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile]

Sources

  • Okinawa daihyakka jiten. 4 vols. Edited by Okinawa daihyakka jiten kankō jimukyoku. Naha: Okinawa taimususha, 1983
  • Okinawa kenshi. Vol. 22. Naha: Ryūkyū Seigu, 1965
  • Smits, Gregory. Visions of Ryukyu. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999

The post Juri and Prostitution in Ryukyu appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/20/juri-and-prostitution-in-ryukyu/feed/ 1
Improving Your Japanese Through Exercise?! http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/18/improving-japanese-exercise/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/18/improving-japanese-exercise/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49292 Language learners rejoice! Science has finally discovered a way to improve your mind, body and overall health – all at the same time. But fear not, this isn’t Tofugu brand snake oil. There’s nothing to buy, no dotted line to sign. Just an article to read and a technique to try. Did I mention the technique is as easy […]

The post Improving Your Japanese Through Exercise?! appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Language learners rejoice! Science has finally discovered a way to improve your mind, body and overall health – all at the same time. But fear not, this isn’t Tofugu brand snake oil. There’s nothing to buy, no dotted line to sign. Just an article to read and a technique to try.

Did I mention the technique is as easy as a walk in the park? In fact, it can be a walk in the park – literally.

We have long known that regular exercise helps maintain a healthy body. More recently we have learned that exercising the mind can prevent its degradation. But what happens when you combine the two?

Recent studies seek to answer that question. And for those of us studying a new language, the results look promising; learning while exercising can increase the mind’s efficiency and retention. That’s right, in what may be the ultimate form of multitasking, we can improve our bodies, our minds and our overall health at the same time. How can language learners take advantage of these findings? The sales-pitch is over, read on to find out!

Exercise Your Mind

Photo by Autopilot

Years ago “move it or lose it” applied specifically to the body. The lyrical phrase implies that maintaining advances in muscular strength, endurance or flexibility requires consistent repetition. Stop for an extended period of time and the body atrophies, or regresses to its former weak and less flexible state.

The mind, on the other hand, appeared to be less malleable. In Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain John J. Ratey writes, “For the better part of the twentieth century, scientific dogma held that the brain was hardwired once fully developed in adolescence, meaning we’re born with all the neurons we’re going to get.”

Age, it was thought, resulted in an inevitable loss of cognitive function. Unlike the body, the mind could not be exercised or maintained.

At least that’s how old school thinking went. But recent studies prove the opposite; that challenging the mind can help maintain its level of function. Erin Lynn Link of Illinois State University writes,

The number of cells in the brain can start to decline in our mid-20s, but research has shown that the number of connections between brain cells can continue to grow if we exercise our brains. Using your brain pumps blood to it, which carries oxygen and food to cells. Increasing blood flow to the brain has numerous benefits, including counteracting aging and fighting Alzheimer’s. So the more you exercise your brain in childhood, middle age, and all stages of life, the better off your brain will be at all stages.

By challenging our minds to function in new ways we can stave off deterioration. Activities can be as complex as learning a new instrument or dancing, but simpler actions, like using your non-dominant hand or taking an alternative route to work, also allow us to exercise our minds through small variations of everyday activities. Laid back hobbies like reading, knitting, crossword puzzles and video games also help.

The goal is to stimulate our brains with unfamiliar tasks. Denise Park of the University of Texas at Dallas explains,

It is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially… When you are inside your comfort zone you may be outside of the enhancement zone.

And there’s good news for language learners – the act of learning new languages counts as a mind strengthening activity! Maria Konnikova explains,”Adults who speak multiple languages seem to resist the effects of dementia far better than monolinguals do.”

In two cited studies, bilinguals experienced signs of dementia four years later than monolinguals. So if you needed any more reasons to study a foreign language, like Japanese, throw another motivational log into the fire.

Exercising The Body To Maintain Mind and Memory

Photo by Luc Viatour

But the body and mind don’t function as separate entities. Studies show that a sound body can help protect and facilitate a sound mind. From the prevention of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and stroke, exercising our bodies benefits our minds, keeping them sharp and preventing degeneration.

Norman Doidge of The Wall Street Journal writes,

A randomized, controlled trial by Kirk Erickson of the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues… shows that those without dementia who did aerobic exercise for a year showed significant hippocampal enlargement. The hippocampus is the brain region that turns short-term memories into long-term ones, and it is often the first to degenerate in Alzheimer’s cases and with age in general. Earlier studies showed aerobic exercise increased the brain’s gray and white matter in the frontal lobes, areas involved in planning and goal-directed activity.

But how does exercise help the brain? Doidge continues,

Exercise triggers the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus. It also triggers the release of “neurotrophic growth factors”—a kind of brain fertilizer, helping the brain to grow, maintain new connections and stay healthy.

So if you want to maintain brain function into old age, best start a regular exercise routine if you haven’t already.

But the benefits of exercise don’t stop at maintaining a healthy body and mind. Exercising can jump start the learning process, prepping the brain to absorb new information and create new memories. The compounds released through exercise that promote growth in the brain also aid learning.

John J. Ratey calls the biological cocktail Miracle-Gro for the mind:

When researchers added body produced neurotophic factor onto neurons in a petri dish the cells sprouted new branches, producing the same structural growth required for learning.

Exercise’s benefits haven’t gone unnoticed. The city of Naperville, Illinois has introduced a physical education program aimed at raising its students’ academic performance. The California Department of Education, which closely monitors its students physical fitness via Fitnessgram, showed that fit students outperformed their unfit peers, even when taking income demographics into account.

The good news is that the exercise need not be rigorous. Slow jogging or brisk walking will do the trick. And since we’ve already seen that exercise builds a sound body and sound mind, why not give it a try?

The Ultimate Multitasking?

Photo by BotMultichillT

But why stop there? Some wild and crazy scientists decided to take exercise and learning to the next level when they asked, what happens when one exercises the mind and body at the same time?

Their research shows that people absorb more information and experience better recall when they study WHILE exercising! That’s right – when it comes time to study, we all might be better off skipping the library and hitting the gym instead.

The first positive evidence came through experiments on (you guessed it) mice.

Regular physical exercise (i.e. mainly wheel running) has been shown to stimulate brain vascularization (blood flow), increase levels of brain catecholamines, particularly dopamine and noradrenalin, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (MiracleGro), which in turn increase neuronal survival and neurogenesis… These changes create a basis for better learning, retention and performance, leading to a more efficient, plastic and adaptive brain. (Stroth 365)

But don’t fret, we need not be jealous of our squeaky, four-legged friends; evidence shows similar benefits can be achieve by human beings.

In summary, subsequent to a running training, associated with increased physical fitness, we found improved cognitive flexibility and cognitive control (in humans). Also, working memory was partly influenced by increased physical fitness. (Stroth 371)

Exercise triggers the production of compounds and enzymes that aid learning. The presence of the compounds “stimulate the genes responsible for learning and memory” (Wlassoff). So if you’re learning anything new, like, say, Japanese, you might want to give exercise a try.

Go With “The Flow”

Photo by Kyle Cassidy

Perhaps these findings have connections with states of “flow.” “Flow” describes a state of heightened consciousness where, as Steven Kotler writes in The Rise of Superman, “we both feel our best and perform our best.”

Have you ever become so focused on something, you lost all sense of time? If so, you experienced flow. In sports it’s being in the zone, on the job it’s getting lost in work. In Future Memory, P. M. H. Atwater explains,

People lose a sense of self in this state. One becomes both actor and observer, irrelevant stimuli are shut out, time and space distort, and there comes a knowing… Unlike concentration, which increases cortex action, flow states decrease cortical activity. (68)

Shutting out irrelevant stimuli is the key. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, godfather of flow theory states that while in flow states, unnecessary parts of the brain shut down, leaving us in a more efficient, proficient state. “We get into flow not by exerting more effort,” he theorizes, “but rather by screening out distortions” (Atwater 69).

Light exercise creates low level flow states that block distractions and aid studying. With decreased “cortical activity” or a “quieted mind” we are opened to absorb information more effectively.

Great News For Language Learners

Photo by GaryD144

If the health of one’s body, mind and memory don’t motivate language learners to mount the stationary bike, maybe this study focusing on language learning will.

A study published in PLOS One followed groups of German women learning the Polish language. Subjects listened to recordings of vocabulary words under three circumstances. One group studied while sitting. Another exercised before sitting and studying. The final group studied while exercising. Afterwards the groups were tested on the words they had studied.

Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times reported on the findings,

Everyone could recall some new words. But the women who had gently ridden a bicycle while hearing the new words — who had exercised lightly during the process of creating new memories —performed best. They had the most robust recall of the new information, significantly better than the group that had sat quietly and better than the group that had exercised before learning. Those women performed only slightly better than the women who had not exercised at all.

The study also considered variables that might affect results. For example, participants tested immediately after exercise saw less impressive results. The PLOS One experiment suggests that participants performed better after two day’s rest because “physiological arousal would have dissipated.”

The vigor of exercise also comes into play. According to Dr. Schmidt-Kassow, subjects performed best during light exercise because vigorous exercise over-stimulates the body and results in less retention. Light exercise seems to provide the perfect biological chemical cocktail to block out distractions and increase information absorption.

My Experience

Learning Japanese was something I had long wanted to do, but I feared the commitment. When the teaching program I enrolled in called for a foreign language, I finally found an excuse.

Once class started I found studying at desk a waste of time. Did I lack the focus to study vocabulary, grammar points and the dreaded trinity of hiragana, katakana and kanji? I looked the words over and over again. My mind wandered. My body fidgeted. My brain felt like a dry sponge, Japanese vocabulary an unabsorbable liquid. My courage waned – until I took it to the streets.

Frustrated and tired, I jotted the vocabulary down on an index card and went for a run. Careful to avoid potholes and traffic, I stole peeks at the card while I ran.

“Hajimemashite!” “Ogenki desu ka?”

Something felt right as I repeated the phrases in my head. And when I aced the quiz on the following day, I knew I was onto something. Exercise had primed the sponge and the words had seeped in, ready to be squeezed out when need be.

Since then almost every Japanese word and phrase I learned came through the practice of studying while running. The technique also helped me master presentations for a speech class and memorize the lyrics to Japanese songs.

I shared my discovery with a multilingual professor. He laughed and said he found the same to be true when he studied Spanish while doing the elliptical. I knew I wasn’t alone and The New York Times article only served to bolster my confidence in the combination of study and exercise.

Techniques

exercise vocabulary

Photo by Sancho McCann

Studying while exercising? The idea sounds absurd, even dangerous. But don’t worry, it’s actually not that crazy. Next I’ll provide some tips on getting it done.

Remember, test subjects saw the best results while partaking in light exercise. Gretchen Reynolds writes, “Light-intensity exercise will elicit low but noticeable levels of physiological arousal which, in turn, presumably help to prime the brain for the intake of new information and the encoding of that information into memories.”

I studied at a slow run or while taking a walk. Refreshing, non-taxing speeds worked the best. Don’t lose focus on what you’re studying. And never lose focus of your surroundings.

Choose a safe way to exercise. I took the most dangerous route, studying while running on streets open to traffic. I knew the route well and cars were few and far between, but was still risky.

Gym or home equipment offer safer options. Try a treadmill, exercise bike, or elliptical. They offer a steady pace without the environmental dangers, allowing you to focus on your study material.

If you’re still not comfortable with tackling both activities at once, try studying after a workout. Although the benefits may be less potent, studies show that studying after exercise trumps just studying.

Finally, if you exercise isn’t your thing, give doodling or chewing gun a try! Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal reported, “Recent research… shows that doodling can help people stay focused, grasp new concepts and retain information.” Doodling appears to block out distractions and help the mind focus. Although it might not stimulate the production of mind Miracle-Gro we read about earlier, and certainly won’t provide the physical health benefits of exercise, it’s worth a try.

Michael Erard touts the benefits of chewing gum in Babel No More; The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners, “Chewing gum has been shown to improve a person’s immediate recall of learned words by some 24 percent. Long-term recall improves by a larger 36 percent” (236). However, just moving you jaw doesn’t work. Although he’s unsure why, Erard states you have to chew!

Tools of the Trade

Photo by Rich

As for study tools, PLOS One’s research focused on exercising while listening to recordings. Both Japanese learning podcasts and Japanese news programs provide great study material. Recording apps make custom recording easy, so creating your own custom study materials is also a great option.

Study cards worked best for me. Just fold an index card in half and write the English word on the right side and the Japanese on the left. You can even laminate important cards you want to reuse. The fold down the middle allows the card to fold in half, hiding the English or Japanese version of the word. With a quick peek you can quiz yourself and unfold the card to check your answers.

Perhaps the best method is exercising with a native speaker! In 4 Myths About Learning Japanese Michael Richey mentions that alcohol can unhinge inhibitions and relieve nervousness. For me running has the same effect. I get lost in conversation (can conversation create flow states?) and forget about making mistakes. Best of all, conversation warps my sense of time and the kilometers seem to slip by. So if possible find a fluent workout buddy!

Multitasking That Works

Photo by LocalFitness

The merits of multitasking are constantly under fire. Is the human mind made to bounce around multiple tasks? For whatever reason, when it comes to the tasks of study and exercise the answer seems to be “yes.”

Humans are made to move. Physical stress sparks chemical processes that not only promote muscle growth, but neurological growth well. We simply function best when we are in shape.

And although there are still many questions as to why exercise and learning seem to go hand in hand, does it really matter? I’ve had success combing study and exercise and I know I’m not alone. So enjoy a case of “いっせき に ちょう isseki ni chou” or “(getting) two birds with one stone” by improving your body and mind at the same time. Please give it a try and let us know how it works for you!

Bonus Wallpapers!

learnjapanesethroughexercise-1280
[Desktop ・ 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile]

Sources

The post Improving Your Japanese Through Exercise?! appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/18/improving-japanese-exercise/feed/ 8
“Let’s Play” Gamers In Japanese, With Anijya and Otojya… desu. http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/17/lets-play-game-videos-japanese/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/17/lets-play-game-videos-japanese/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 13:00:36 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49915 Myself (and many others) have always recommended you study Japanese together with the things you enjoy. I enjoy video games, but I also enjoy watching people play video games. A little under a year ago I came across a YouTube channel run by two Japanese brothers and was surprised by it. First of all, they were […]

The post “Let’s Play” Gamers In Japanese, With Anijya and Otojya… desu. appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Myself (and many others) have always recommended you study Japanese together with the things you enjoy. I enjoy video games, but I also enjoy watching people play video games. A little under a year ago I came across a YouTube channel run by two Japanese brothers and was surprised by it. First of all, they were Japanese people doing “Let’s Play” videos, which I hadn’t really seen before. Second, they were playing first person shooters and other “typically Western games.” Combine all this with the fact that they are entertaining to watch and you have yourself a winner. You definitely can’t say that about every YouTube channel, that’s for sure.

At the time of this writing, they have 653,521 subscribers on YouTube. It seems they’re doing something right. I had wanted to interview them for a while, and I finally got the chance. As a primer, here’s a compilation video of some highlights from 2014.

Koichi: Let’s get introductions out of the way. What are your (internet) names?

Brother 1: 兄者 (Anijya) - Editor’s note: This is the kanji for “older brother” and “person.”

Brother 2: 弟者 (Otojya) -Editor’s note: This is the kanji for “younger brother” and “person.”

Koichi: They’re an older and younger brother duo, in case you (the reader) didn’t get that.

When did you start doing “Lets Play” videos?

Otojya: I started in November of 2009. At first, we didn’t include our own commentary. We simply added subtitles and made game video tutorials.

Koichi: Here’s the oldest video I could find on their channel.

Koichi: And why did you originally start doing these videos?

Anijya: I saw a “Let’s Play” video my brother made and I got interested in how people commented on it, so I started doing it too. However, the videos I made initially were things like “how to post a video online without losing its picture quality.”

Otojya: The biggest reason was I just wanted to know how people would react to my “Let’s Play” videos. I still remember one of the comments on one of our first videos that said my voice sounded like a villain character and that made my brother laugh so hard. After a while, I’ve really come to enjoy communicating with a large number of people through our videos.

Koichi: That’s so true. I think it was your voice (Otojya) that originally drew me to your videos. I thought it sounded more like an “announcer” though, which really added a lot of excitement to watching you play games. Okay, maybe an “announcer villain.”

Koichi: So what keeps you doing “Let’s Play” videos now then?

Anijya: I want to enjoy games with other people – Or rather, because I do enjoy playing games with other people.

Koichi: I can definitely see that in your videos. I think some of my favorites are the 4player ones you do. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Left4Dead videos, but that’s because I particularly enjoy that game.

Payday2 was pretty good too.

And Vagante.

Otojya: I like gaming, so I try to convey how fun and interesting games are. I introduce them to people like, “Here is a fascinating game that’s now out there!”

Otojya: I also want people to evaluate the playing styles I come up with for multiplayer games. One thing that has come from posting videos that makes me the happiest is when I am told “I started gaming after watching your videos.” It makes me hold up my fists in triumph.

Your Favorite Games

Koichi: Well, it made me want to start doing “Let’s Play” videos, but then I realized people would get angry at me for not doing my actual work. Speaking of games, what kinds of games do you usually play?

Anijya: I play FPS (first person shooters) and TPS (third person shooters), but I actually try out all the games that interest me. Games are so profound and I’m fascinated with them.

Otojya: I usually play FPS

and I recently started playing horror games

as well as retro games

but I like every kind of game.

Koichi: I think I know this already, but what’s your favorite genre?

Anijya: FPS perspective games. I’ve liked this genre for a long time because it gives you the feeling of being in the game and you can immerse yourself in its world.

Otojya: If you have ever watched our videos, you will probably know, but my favorite genre is FPS! Although I say FPS, there are some other types, like puzzles, adventures, or horror that I really enjoy too but I like all kinds of FPS. My most favorite FPS are those with explosive action.

Koichi: I have to ask. Least favorite game genre?

Anijya: RPG or MMORPG. I get tired of playing games where all the events or missions are offered from the beginning.

Otojya: Well, to be honest, I just mentioned how I like every kind of FPS, but I like horror games the least among them. When I was a kid, my brother and his friend played a zombie horror game called “Biohazard 2″ (many of you likely know Biohazard by another name – Resident Evil) and it scared me to death. I’m afraid of zombies, so I don’t like my brother…oops I mean I don’t like horror games very much. Haha!

Koichi: You two often play games together. What are your strong points and weak points? Are you a good team?

Anijya: A strong point would be that we can communicate without saying very much at all. I’ve played games with him longer than anyone else, so he can help me out without me even asking him. He is very reliable. However, as a weak point, we have really big arguments when our gaming doesn’t go very well. You may think, “it’s just a game, right?”, but we play it so seriously and enthusiastically that sometimes we get a bit too intense. We’re an ideal team rather than just a “good” team…at least in my eyes, the older brother, who likes gaming.

Otojya: The strong point would be our teamwork. I’ve played games with my brother more than anybody else, so that naturally created our ability to work as a team. It’s also easier to play with him. However, we are often too serious about gaming, so if one of us makes a mistake, we get into a serious fight. In terms of enjoying games from the bottom of our hearts, we are the best and strongest team.

Koichi: Aww, that’s 可愛いね.

“Western Gaming” vs. “Japanese Gaming”

Koichi: What do you think is the difference between Western gaming and Japanese gaming?

Anijya: I think the differences have been decreasing, but I’d say “reality.” In Japanese games, there are often anime characters or handsome boys or cute girls that Japanese people like. However, in Western games, there are usually tough guys and women who are more likely to exist in the real world. Thus, in terms of realism, I think Western gaming has the advantage. Conversely, non-realistic fantasy settings might be the Japanese strength.

Otojya: This is my personal opinion, but I think the difference is “whether a cute character appears or not.” There are almost always cute characters in Japanese games. I like movies, so I prefer to play games with cool characters you might see in a movie, but Japanese people tend to prefer playing games with cute characters rather than cool people.

Koichi: Then how do you feel about “Western gaming culture?”

Anijya: Western gaming is very particular about details. There are some very particular things in games that closely mimic reality, but if that were done for Japanese people, none of them would enjoy it. I’m sure there are fans of that style in Japan too, but since we have to get over the language barrier, I suspect it may not be very many.

Otojya: I think that there are many games pursuing reality. Western gaming even diligently pursues reality on silly or seemingly unimportant details, so I feel the scale of Western gaming is vast.

Koichi: On the flip side, how about “Japanese gaming culture?”

Anijya: I think Japanese gaming culture is completely different from that of other countries. The gaming experience that at one time could only be had in an arcade suddenly became available at home with family game consoles, and even people who weren’t interested in gaming that much now play app-games on their smartphones. Now, it’s trendy to create games for smartphones that everyone can enjoy rather than just for game consoles or computers, which have become more complicated and expensive. The gaming industry is still developing, but I think there is still a lot of room for growth.

Otojya: I think Japanese people consider gaming a childish thing. If you play games as an adult, it can give people a bad impression of you, so I think many people hesitate to confess that they like gaming.

Koichi: I was surprised to see you playing so many FPS games. I’ve always thought of FPS as “Western” gaming, but a lot of Japanese people love your videos. Are FPS games getting popular in Japan too?

Anijya: In the 90s, FPS games on computers became popular worldwide, and the number of Japanese fans has slowly increased since then. I was actually one of them. Although there were no games that had the language localized in Japanese, I still ran into Japanese players. FPS players increased a lot more after people learned how to enjoy FPS with game consoles, such as PlayStation or Xbox, and the number of titles in Japanese increased as well. The image of FPS must have changed from that of hardcore computer games to a much more common game. The type of gameplay specific to FPS, much like an action movie, makes people excited, and the scenes also change depending on which character you choose to be, so you won’t get tired of it.

Otojya: My brother first learned about FPS and I started playing because of his influence. I probably never would have known about FPS if he hadn’t known about them. At first, I was just watching my brother play while thinking “I want to play that too!” So I posted “Let’s Play” videos for viewers to enjoy with similar feelings that I had experienced. I think FPS are becoming more and more popular in Japan.

Koichi: I’m surprised! I guess I don’t know anything. As someone who’s on the front lines of Japanese gaming, what do you think about the current state of Japanese gaming?

Anijya: I like obscure games, and I feel Japan doesn’t have many unique ones. The games made for smartphones are mostly not my genre either. My favorite game series Metal Gear Solid is loved all over the world, so I hope Japanese game companies create something that focuses not only on Japan but also the world.

Otojya: [Japan] makes games mostly for children and I think that’s fine, but they should also challenge themselves to make games that adults can enjoy.

Koichi: And how do you think Japanese gaming will change? As in, what will it be like in 5-10 years?

Anijya: I think the main market will change from consumer consoles to peoples’ smartphones. Right now, many games are only enjoyable on game consoles, but I’m pretty sure those will be available on smartphones soon enough. I also think that brainstorming type games might be popular soon. Haha!

Otojya: I think smartphone games will become the mainstream…or web browser games.

Koichi: Well, I hope they get better then. I haven’t seen many other “Let’s Play” videos from Japan, not like in the West. Why do you think that is?

Anijya: I think it’s because it used to be pretty difficult to upload videos of someone playing a game while also talking about it. It costs quite a lot at first, and knowledge of computers is also required. Recently though, computers have changed to PS4s and to Xbox Ones, so everybody can post “Let’s Play” videos. It was impossible not so long ago, but now it’s awesome!

Otojya: For Japanese people, I think gaming is usually something you enjoy by yourself, so it’s not necessary to share videos to enjoy with others.

Wrapping Up

Koichi: But are there any “Let’s Play” people out there that you guys enjoy?

Anijya: I often watch Markiplier despite the language barrier. It’s not related to gaming, but I also watch Freddie Wong.

Otojya: I look on Youtube every once in a while, but I haven’t found one yet.

Koichi: Dang, so no Japanese “Let’s Players” to recommend. I hope more pop up, though I will continue to watch your videos either way. What are your goals for your channel / website?

Anijya: We now have over 600,000 subscribers, but my new hope is to reach 1,000,000. It would be great if everyone could find enjoyment through our gaming videos while watching with their friends.

Otojya: We will post more videos, make new challenges, and increase channel numbers!

Koichi: Sounds about right – so if someone wanted to subscribe to or follow your videos, how can they do it?

Anijya: Homepage

Otojya: YouTube

Koichi: They’re also on Twitter (AnijyaOtojya) and TwitchTV, too. Thank you both so much for doing this interview! I found a bunch of your videos that I haven’t watched yet while doing research for this interview, so I’m going to go watch them now. Everyone who likes gaming and is studying Japanese, be sure to subscribe to their YouTube channel. It’s one of my favorite channels and a lot of fun.

Bonus Wallpapers!

anijyaotojya-1280
[Desktop ・ 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile 1/2]

The post “Let’s Play” Gamers In Japanese, With Anijya and Otojya… desu. appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/17/lets-play-game-videos-japanese/feed/ 6
The Meaning of 国 http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/11/meaning-%e5%9b%bd/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/11/meaning-%e5%9b%bd/#comments Wed, 11 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48300 Kuni can be a troublesome word.  Full of ambiguity, it can be translated as country, nation, state, or kingdom.  For native English speakers, the confusion is compounded by the distinctions between those words in English, which are not always clear.  Some compound words containing kuni (sometimes read koku) also defy clear definition.  Some come loaded with […]

The post The Meaning of 国 appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Kuni can be a troublesome word.  Full of ambiguity, it can be translated as country, nation, state, or kingdom.  For native English speakers, the confusion is compounded by the distinctions between those words in English, which are not always clear.  Some compound words containing kuni (sometimes read koku) also defy clear definition.  Some come loaded with historical or political connotations.  Here, let’s delve into realms etymological, historical, and political in an attempt to better understand a word we may have learned, but not given much thought.

Confounding Kanji

a mess o kanji

Photo by Stuart Rankin

Starting by looking at the kanji for kuni, keep in mind that Chinese characters are somewhat ideographic.  This is the original character for kuni, used in Chinese and in Japanese for many centuries:

 國

The outer square may look like the character for mouth 口, but in fact it is a nearly identical character (no longer in common Japanese usage) meaning “erect,” “proud,” or “upright.”  In print or type they look indistinguishable to me, though when written with a brush there is a subtle difference.

Aside from the character’s standalone definition, it is often used to enclose other radicals, sometimes words whose meanings are connected to a concept of walls, borders, or enclosures: for example, garden 園, arrest 囚, and surround 囲.  Of course if we’re talking about kuni as a country or state, then those things have borders.

Inside the outer square is the character  或.  It can mean: 1. or, either, else; 2. perhaps, maybe; 3. someone, somebody, some people.  I’m not sure how much bearing the first two definitions have on the meaning of kuni, but the third makes sense.  A kuni can be seen as some people enclosed within borders, although of course that would be a pretty broad definition.

However, a different character is used for kuni in modern Japanese:

There’s the same outer enclosure, but inside is the character 玉.  This character’s most explicit meanings are jade, jewel or ball, though it is used in many ways to refer to things that are round, shiny, and/or pretty.  However, in some contexts, it can represent the emperor or king.  The usual character for king, 王, is quite similar, and jade was often symbolic of royalty in China.  One Japanese example that shows their parallels is the traditional chess-like game of shogi, where the king equivalents for each side are labeled 王将 “king general” and 玉将 “jade general,” respectively.  At any rate, it’s easy to see how in pre-modern East Asia a country could be seen as a king and his borders.

English Etymology Excursus

united nations flags

Before delving further into the origins and meanings of kuni I think it best to take a look at the deeper meanings of some of its most common English translations.  The common usage of these words may not always get across the more precise meanings of these (especially the meanings they imply to historians).  I think the most relevant words for us to look at are country, nation, state, and nation-state.

In English, the word country usually refers to a region of land defined by geographical features or political boundaries.  Today “country” is often synonymous with a sovereign state.  A state is the set of governing and supportive institutions that have sovereignty over a definite territory and population.  Still, there are cases, such as those of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, where an area that is not a sovereign state is called a country.  Of course country can also refer to the country(side) or a general sort of native land.

A nation denotes a people who are believed to or deemed to share common customs, religion, language, origins, ancestry or history.  The term nation-state is used when the bounds of a government coincide with the range of the people it governs, who share some of the qualities mentioned above.  Some states could also be labeled multinational, though the distinctions of what constitutes particular nations can be unclear sometimes.  The prevailing scholarly view has been that nations are a product of modernity that began to emerge around late 18th century and have really taken off since.  However, some argue that there are older examples.  Among the various views on the matter, there are some that put forward the idea that China, Korea, and Japan were nations by the time of the European Middle Ages.

Straight to the Sino-Source

china map 5BC

Photo by Yug

Many people have heard China called “the Middle Kingdom,” a translation of the word for China, zhongguo 中國.  However, originally zhongguo referred to multiple “central states,” during the Spring and Autumn period (771-476 BCE) and the aptly named Warring States period (475-221 BCE).  These were originally smaller city-states, but expanded and fought until the leader of the state of Qin finally managed, through conquest, to unify these former states under his rule.  It is from Qin, that we get the English name China.  From China’s history we can see that guo could be just as multifaceted a term for them as kuni was for Japan.

Conflicting Kuni Connotations

map of feudal japan

Photo by maproom.org

Things get even trickier when looking at the Japanese era from 1467 to 1603 known as the Sengoku period (sengoku jidai).  It was a time when both emperor and shogun had lost authority and regional lords vied with one another to defend and expand their territories.  The tricky part is that the term used for these lords’ territories was kuni.  This was a designation that originated from legal system of the Kamakura period (1185-1333).  In that sense, kuni could be thought of as provinces, but by the Sengoku period they were largely operating as sovereign states.  Thus, Japan, which we call a kuni today, was made up of many largely independent kuni.

I did a little informal polling of some of my Japanese friends to see how they interpreted the term “sengoku jidai.” Interestingly, two told me that the image they associated with those words was of a single kuni (Japan) divided by civil war, but two other friends told me that to them it connoted the idea of many smaller kuni fighting one another.  It would seem that the term is vague even for them, but without much consequence for the average person.  As another friend told me, they didn’t cover the Sengoku period much in school, but if pressed the first impression would be an association with the Sengoku Musou video games.

At any rate, I think interpreting the kuni in Sengoku period as referring to the smaller divisions accords better with history.  There was a sense of the traditional authority of the emperor, but during this period that authority was extremely limited.  For the most part, kuni were their own little sovereign states.  There appears to have been some sense of bond from sharing a common language, and many common traditions, but there was also great cultural diversity, and a Japanese nationality would not be fully realized for some time to come.

Dissecting the National Body

japanese constitution ceremony

There are many compound words that include the charater kuni, and kokutai 国体 is another one with ambiguous meanings.  Kokutai literally means “national body,” but depending on the context and the translator can have meanings such as “system of government,” “sovereignty,” “national identity/essence/character,” and “national polity/body politic/national entity.”  The word has its origin in China, where its first known usages are found in two books from the 2nd century BCE and 1st century CE, respectively.  In the former, the word is used as a metaphor meaning the “embodiment of the country,” while the latter tome uses it to mean “laws and governance.”

The word kokutai began to take on importance in Japan during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), due to Neo-Confucian scholars like Aizawa Seishisai (1782-1863), who popularized it in his 1825 book, Shinron.  Seishisai was head of the Mito School, which supported restoring the emperor to power.  Seishisai idealized imperial rule as a perfect unity of religion and government.  In his work, kokutai is vague, but seems to mean something like “national structure.”

During the Meiji period, after the nominal restoration of imperial power, ideas of kokutai developed and diverged.  Kato Hiroyuki (1836-1916), in his Kokutai shinron, drew a distinction between kokutai 国体 and seitai 政体. To him, kokutai was the national essence of Japan, made of eternal elements drawn from tradition and focused on the emperor.  On the other hand, seitai was the form of the government which had changed over time.  Thus, it was okay to adopt a western form of government, as long as the emperor was there the kokutai would remain unchanged.

Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) took a different approach to kokutai, and believed it was not a uniquely Japanese phenomenon.  He thought every nation had its own kokutai, and that Japan’s did not depend on the purported divine descent of the emperor.  When the Meiji Constitution was created in 1889, it accorded more with Kato’s views.

Throughout the subsequent Taisho era Japan grew more nationalistic and militaristic, and the notion of kokutai took on more and more of a mystical aura revolving around the emperor.  This continued into the Showa period, when a committee of professors was appointed to better define kokutai.  In 1937, they issued Kokutai no Hongi (“Cardinal Principles of the National Body”), which taught that everyone was part of the state.  The principles in this pamphlet were spread throughout the education system and society, and both the word kokutai and its spirit were widely featured in propaganda.  Following World War II, the Allied General Headquarters prohibited circulation of Kokutai no Hongi, and the importance of kokutai faded, though some argue that traces of it are still evident in Japanese society.

What’s in a Name?

japan stair

Photo by Ryo Mukae

All of this analysis of a single character may seem a bit esoteric or even pointless.  While a won’t be shutting myself away to meditate upon the mysteries of the word kuni for the rest of my days, I do think it’s beneficial to reflect upon the words we use sometimes.  Particularly for those who study history, the distinction between nation, state, and country can be important in many instances.  When one reads in Japanese, the vagaries of translation and of the Japanese language itself add another step or two on the path to understanding, another chance to misstep.  The better we understand the words we use, the less chance there is of falling.  There’s a lot more nuance to kuni and its English translations than I was able to touch on here, so I encourage you to check it out.

Bonus Wallpapers!

kanjikuni-1280
[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile]

Sources

The post The Meaning of 国 appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/11/meaning-%e5%9b%bd/feed/ 19
Politely Puffing with Japanese Smoking Manners Posters http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/09/politely-puffing-japanese-smoking-manners-posters/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/09/politely-puffing-japanese-smoking-manners-posters/#comments Mon, 09 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49056 One of the biggest adjustments I had to make when I lived in Japan was dealing with smoking. For most of my adult life, a smoking ban in the UK meant that when I went to bars, clubs, or restaurants, I could enjoy myself in a smoke free environment. Almost everyone I knew was a […]

The post Politely Puffing with Japanese Smoking Manners Posters appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
One of the biggest adjustments I had to make when I lived in Japan was dealing with smoking. For most of my adult life, a smoking ban in the UK meant that when I went to bars, clubs, or restaurants, I could enjoy myself in a smoke free environment. Almost everyone I knew was a non-smoker. Since I have asthma, smoking was never something I wanted to take up. My lung capacity is bad enough as it is.

In comparison, it seemed like most of my friends and co-workers in Japan smoked. Even when I went out to eat with friends who didn’t smoke, there would often be other restaurant customers who smoked, filling the air with a grey haze. After every enkai, I always had a shower to wash the smell out of my hair, no matter how late I got home.

I even knew someone who took up smoking in Japan, even though she had quit in her home country. She said that stress, the influence of her Japanese colleagues, and the fact that cigarettes were so much cheaper in Japan thanks to low taxes broke her resolve.

However, despite my personal dislike for cigarettes, even I can recognise that the Japanese tobacco industry has given the world something wonderful. I’m talking about the beautiful, poetic and funny smoking manners posters.

If you have noticed…

Smoking-manners-posters

Photo by speedwaystar

If you visit Japan, your eye will probably be caught by the simple design of the smoking manners posters. Using only two colours, green on white, the posters illustrate situations and moral quandaries. The illustration is accompanied by a line or two of text in Japanese and English. The illustrations are labeled only in English, possibly capitalising on the “cool” image of English in advertising. Reading them feels like reading poetry sometimes. The ads seem to owe something to Japanese styles of poetry like the haiku.

“The fire disappears beneath his shoe. Unfortunately, the butt still remains.”

One of the elements of many classic haiku is a shift in perspective using a line break. Many of the posters employ a similar technique, with two sentences that shift your point of view. Others put smoking in a new perspective.

“I carry a 700°C fire in my hand with people walking all around.”

They don’t state rules, but are designed to make people think about their actions. There is definitely a sense of humour too.

“Don’t smoke in a crowd. Coats are expensive.”

Some pose questions.

“Tossing out cigarette butts because others did? Is that a good reason?”

They don’t tell you the answer, but the implication is clear. The tag line of the adverts is あなたが気づけばマナーは変わる。”If you have noticed, your manners change.” There is a lightness of touch that makes these posters strangely affecting.

…your manners change

smoking-manners-posters-about-smoking

Photo by tokyofortwo

There are some common themes the posters address; throwing away cigarette butts, being aware of secondhand smoke, burning people and things, caring for Japan’s nature, and the usefulness of portable ash trays. Every season a new batch of posters is released. You can view a gallery of all the posters here. My favourites are the winter ones I spotted at the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri.

snow-manners

Photo by Verity Lane

I’ve stuck my face in plenty of snow and was very glad never to see any cigarettes in there with me, so maybe the posters worked. I spotted this poster in the middle of Oodori, the street that famously holds the huge snow sculptures that you’ve probably seen (yes, including that Star Wars one). Specifically, the posters covered the side of a smoking area that had been set up to separate smokers from the rest of the crowds. That raises the question… who is making these posters?

Anti-Smoking or pro-Smoking Posters?

smoking-manners-with-man

Even if you’ve noticed the posters, you probably don’t know who makes them. The only clue is the small JT logo. That JT stands for Japan Tobacco. These posters are not an anti-smoking adverts. Did that blow your mind? I know that many people, including myself, have assumed that the posters are some kind of anti-smoking public health campaign. They are made by one of Japan’s largest cigarette manufacturers and the third most profitable tobacco company in the world.

At first this might seem counterintuitive. However, when you think about it, the motives behind this campaign start to emerge. Public opinion and shame play a huge role in Japanese society. Conforming to the expectations of those around you is very important. As cigarette sales and the number of smokers in Japan decline, it is becoming less of a cultural norm. Therefore, smokers are more at risk of being judged by other non-smokers. It is in Japan Tobacco’s interests both that the tobacco industry and smokers appear to be well mannered so as not to upset others. The more smokers have good manners, the less friction there will be in society, and the less likely that public opinion will turn against smoking leading to things like smoking bans, which would cut further into Japan Tobacco’s profits.

Viewed from this angle, the charming posters seem quite cynical. However, regardless of the poster’s motives, if they are effective then they are doing some good. Though some areas of Japan, like Kanagawa and Hyogo Prefectures are imposing smoking bans, most of the country does not seem to be following yet. In the short term, if the posters improve smokers’ manners and help keep Japan clean, this is a good thing, even if they slow the decline of smoking in the long term, which is not so good.

The posters and TV adverts were made by the ad agency of Kinya Okamoto, Okakin. Okamoto is also responsible for Japan Tobacco’s “Adult Training Course,” with yellow posters and a similar theme to the green and yellow ones. He seemed to have corner the market in “adult” (no, not in that sense) adverts. He is also responsible for the Otona Glico (adult Glico) chocolate campaign. The link between cigarettes and adulthood is a bit easier to understand. The age of majority and the age you can buy cigarettes is 20 in Japan. This is the age when you are expected to take on adult responsibilities.

Beyond Smoking

train-manners

Photo by Jackson Boyle

The ads have been so effective that they’ve been taken on by another industry. Japan Rail (JR) has a collaboration with Japan Tobacco. The JR posters have the same style as the JT posters, but address common travel faux pas. They are displayed in train carriages, often with one half addressing train manners and the other the familiar smoking manners. When I was backpacking around Japan, my eye was certainly caught by the poster about large bags.

train-manners-by-verity

Photo by Verity Lane

It did make me more aware of how I was carrying my bag and I adjusted my behaviour. Many foreign tourists in Japan use public transportation. If you are going on a trip, look out for them. Not only are they interesting, they can also help you mind your manners on the often very packed trains.

Studying Japanese

smoking-manners-shock

Photo by megadem

Beyond teaching manners and providing the occasional chuckle, the posters have another use. They can be used as a Japanese language learning resource in three ways. The first way is that they provide reading practice “in the wild.” Coming across one of these posters is either a chance to test your reading skills by trying to read the Japanese and comparing your translation with the English on the poster, or a chance to study some new kanji. Since most of the sentences are short and only have one verb, it’s easy to pick out the verb and match it to the English meaning. If you are a visual learner, the picture can help reinforce the memorisation. I liked to look at the posters as little learning resources scattered across my journeys through Japan. It was always exciting to find a new one.

smoking-manners-gonne-getcha

Photo by Walter Disney

The second way the posters can help you with your Japanese goes beyond just kanji and grammar. It is fairly rare to see direct translations of Japanese into English. A good translator will keep in mind the idioms and style of the target language. That’s great if you’re just interested in the final translated content. It’s not so great if you’re trying to look behind the scenes and gain a better understanding of the original language. The English on the smoking posters sounds strange in a way that it’s difficult to pin down. It’s not misspelled, grammatically incorrect or “Engrish”. It’s just not quite how a native speaker would express the same sentiment. If you are studying Japanese, this can give you a great insight. I found that by studying these oddly direct translations, I could better understand how these statements were constructed in Japanese.

smoking-manners-posters-wet

Photo by Lee LeFever

The third way they are useful builds on the second way. If we examine not just what the posters are saying, but how they are saying it, we can understand something about constructing an argument in Japanese. Anyone who has tried to teach English essay writing skills will know that an English argument and a Japanese argument are very different creatures. The smoking posters illustrate one of these differences. Rather than trying to convince people through direct command, they evoke contemplation or a emotional response. Trying to convince a Japanese person of something can sometimes be a very frustrating exercise.

When I was trying to convince teachers that students should try writing original sentences in English, it didn’t matter what educational theory or evidence I cited. In the end the thing that convinced them was an anecdote. Take a look at the smoking posters and see if you can see how they make their arguments in a subtle way. What is important goes unspoken, but is implied. Learning Japanese is not just about learning the language, but also how to think in that language. You might learn what to say, but if you don’t learn how to say it, you’ll be missing an important component. The smoking posters can give you an insight into this aspect of Japanese that is often hard to see.

Not only useful as reading practice, the very literal English translations clearly illustrate the differences in English and Japanese go beyond the words themselves to a way of thinking. By reading these translations, we can understand something about the different thought process behind constructing a persuasive argument in Japanese.

Behind the Smokescreen

smoking-bear

Photo by Evan Blaser

For all that I admire about the artistry and the usefulness of the smoking manners posters, we can’t get away from the fact that they are part of a cute cover-up for a big health problem. The problems with smoking that the posters highlight are trivial in comparison with the real problems caused by smoking. Tobacco kills up to half of people who use it. The World Health Organisation estimates that 7,000 people are killed by second hand smoke every year in Japan. However, Japan’s smoking rate is falling, part of a wider trend in developed countries. Despite the lack of a nationwide smoking ban, smoking is becoming a hotter issue in Japan. Lung cancer has overtaken stomach cancer as one of the biggest killers in Japan. The smoking salary man is an image that seems to belong in the past. The tide is turning in Japan, with increasing taxes and decreasing smoking rates, but there is still along way to go before Japan is a pleasant environment for non-smokers, despite the efforts of the smoking manners posters.

Bonus Wallpapers!

SmokingPoster-1280
[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720]

The post Politely Puffing with Japanese Smoking Manners Posters appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/09/politely-puffing-japanese-smoking-manners-posters/feed/ 24
Why the Japanese Countryside Is Emptying http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/06/japanese-countryside-emptying/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/06/japanese-countryside-emptying/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47213 I often tell newcomers to Japan to assume that there’s a giant conspiracy going around. A conspiracy that aims to hide the uglier parts of Japan. While Japan does have its share of problems, it papers over them pretty well. The typical tourist therefore heavily risks mistaking Japan as a wholly prosperous country. There isn’t a conspiracy […]

The post Why the Japanese Countryside Is Emptying appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
I often tell newcomers to Japan to assume that there’s a giant conspiracy going around. A conspiracy that aims to hide the uglier parts of Japan. While Japan does have its share of problems, it papers over them pretty well. The typical tourist therefore heavily risks mistaking Japan as a wholly prosperous country.

There isn’t a conspiracy of course, but skepticism is healthy no? After all, tourists tend to go to the successful tourist spots and forget all of about the unsuccessful ones. How can you know if you haven’t seen it? These are largely spread out, decaying in the declining Japanese countryside. A countryside invisible to the typical tourist. After all, visitors tend to cluster in the main cities, and the rural areas that tourists visit are still tourist spots. They tend to be well kept.

Outside of this veneer, the Japan beyond the main cities has started to drift into population decline. As I traveled around Tohoku researching for two other articles, it was hard to miss. This article wishes to address why the country is emptying and if anything can be done about it.

Population Problems

japan countryside emptying fields
Between Mito, Ibaraki and Iwaki, Fukushima

First, take a look at this interactive map produced by Nikkei News. The map indicates the population growth/loss by percentage in all the municipalities of Japan between 2010 and 2014, sorted by color. The more autumn-like the color, the greater the population loss.

The large swaths of pale green that you see indicate municipalities which have lost 0-10% of their population in the past 4 years, ie. the majority of Japan. Exceptions which show marginal growth are clustered around the main urban areas with few outliers.

This variation of the map will prove more startling. Now you’re looking at the expected percentage change in the young (20-39 years old) female population of Japan by 2040.

There are probably around 20 localities in green. The rest of the country is coated in varying shades of bright autumn. The deepest purples indicate a greater than 80% loss in this key population group. Furthermore, zoom out and you will see that no prefecture is expected to have any growth in this population segment. Rural Japan is expected to fare generally worse.

japan-countryside-emptying-storefront
Urban Decay less than 5 minutes from Iwaki Station

These are dire straits for many localities outside of the main cities. The point is that in addition to national population decline, Japan’s countryside is expected to be hit the hardest. Already there is talk of some localities “vanishing” in the future.

However, the very well known lack of babies is only one part of the problem. In general (as in most parts of the world), fertility in rural Japan beats that of urban Japan hands down. If nothing else were happening it would be urban Japan dying out.

But people, especially young people, are moving from rural to urban areas. This is something they’ve been doing for the past century. The three main causes of this migration are education, the economy, and culture.

Education

japan-countryside-emptying-school-desks-class

Photo by: naosuke ii

Say you are a middle school kid in rural Japan where trains come once every two hours. Or perhaps you don’t have the fortune of having a train line pass through your area at all. Your parents worry about your future but in Japan (and in wider East Asia), having a future means having an education. High school alone usually doesn’t cut it so it’s off to study more – preferably at a university, even better if it’s a famous one.

The best universities are all clustered in major cities. And even if you choose one closer to home it’ll still be in a major city within the prefecture at least. And that means moving.

japan-countryside-emptying-charts
Source: Wikipedia. Left graph: Green denotes national average, Purple the distribution of Nidogawa-cho in particular. The right shows the distribution divided by gender, males in blue females in red.

This is why if you look at population graphs of rural towns in Japan there’s a very big dip in the population between 18-22 years old. The graph above shows the population graph for Nidogawa-cho, Kochi prefecture (picked at random). Note the very obviously disproportionate elderly population and the very clear valley around age 20 explained by the above.

Naturally, once you move out there’s no guarantee that you’ll move back.  In this way many young people drain out into the main urban areas and stay there.

Here is something curious I found on a visit to Iwaki. Below is a photo of the window advertisements of a cram-school.

japan-countryside-emptying-cram-school-schedule

The schools listed here are all located in Tokyo. Okay, well Tokyo has many universities anyway so that’s not surprising. More importantly, mixed in the congratulations are schools which are not exactly famous; a cram school in Tokyo would probably never advertise some of the listed schools here.

There’s lots of ways to interpret it but here’s mine: the advertisements are obviously aimed at parents passing by. Therefore some way or another going to a mid-tier Tokyo university (something which is nothing special to Tokyo dwellers) gives your kid enough future prospects for you to fork out money for extra lessons.

Therefore, with higher education being tied to the big cities it’s no surprise that Japanese youths are leaving, often permanently.

Employment

japan-countryside-emptying-minimum-wage-sign
Shiogama, Miyagi. 800 yen an hour compared to the minimum wage in Tokyo, which is more than 850 yen an hour.

Education explains one third of the problem. Another third is work.

Actually, if you look at unemployment statistics, you’ll find that the prefecture with the lowest unemployment is actually Shimane whereas Osaka has the third highest unemployment rate in the country. So maybe rural Japan isn’t doing so bad after all?

But intuitively speaking, when a rural person can’t find work they tend to move to a city for opportunities. When an urban person can’t find work, they usually don’t think of heading into the countryside. The low unemployment rate of the rural areas may simply be because the young people who would have been unemployed have already moved to the cities in search of work.

Another thing: city-dwellers unambiguously earn more than countryside dwellers. On the other hand, (contrary to expectations) living in rural areas isn’t necessarily cheaper. Consider the following:

  • You save on rent, but you need a car to get around. This means paying for the fuel and maintenance.
  • Food is cheaper, but since other shops are rare there isn’t much competition (not to mention having to transport the goods to rural areas). Goods are generally more expensive outside of big cities.
  • High fees are necessary to send children away for higher education.

In any case, not all rural areas are doing poorly. However, unlike the major cities which are generally doing okay, there is a spread of winners and losers among the rural areas. And the losers often are marked by:

japan-countryside-emptying-scenery-from-a-bridge
Yubari, Hokkaido. Following the closure of it’s coal mine and a city bankruptcy last decade, the town which once boasted a population of around 70,000 had (as of 2010) only around 10,000.
Photo by Glade
  • Mismanagement: Yubari in Hokkaido (documented beautifully here) is a fine example.
  • Sunset industries: Former coal towns (like Yubari) have had their populations decrease since the shutting of their mines. Others have jobs like fishing, agriculture, forestry, etc., which are simply not attractive to younger people.
  • An end to pork-and-barrel politics: Japan’s government spending has been propping up the rural areas (made clear by this graph). However as Japan has been forced to slim down its public works this support will fall – taking down some localities with it.

Culture

japan-countryside-emptying-winter-station-train-girl-on-phone

Photo by Miki Yoshihito

I have to say that in my short trip around Tohoku the youth I saw were pretty much the same as those in the big cities. Guys with lion hair. Girls with very well conditioned hair even though there were no snazzy hair salons in sight. And surprisingly short skirts – so much for inaka conservatism. But then I guess it would be unfair to think otherwise. What else could they be? Unfashionable savages with pock marked faces?

Of course not. But people don’t normally grow lion-hair naturally and so this must come from somewhere. That somewhere probably being the national / internet media which certainly pushes city trends.

So imagine that you are a high-schooler. You are inspired somehow, probably through boy bands or Johnny’s idols on TV, to make your hair defy gravity. Everyday you take a train which comes once every 30 minutes during the morning “rush hour.” Miss that train and you miss one class. On the train ride it’s just rice fields or occasionally some shops with 1970s font.

japan-countryside-emptying-shuttered-shops
Shuttered Streets, Ishinomaki, Miyagi. Probably not the most attractive place to live if you are young.

You’ve probably been to the nearest big city in your region. And unlike where you live there are karaoke chain shops, not dinghy snack bars with a machine that only has enka songs. You are amazed at the lack of shutters in the streets. But above all there’s other young people. Aside from school, meeting someone else around your age is a herculean task.

You get the point here. It’s no wonder why many young people want to live in the cities. So even if the above two problems were solved, the steady stream of young people into the cities probably wouldn’t slow.

What Now?

japan-countryside-emptying-nahari-station
Nahari, Kochi. 1990 population: 4291. 2010 population: 3540. 2030 estimate: 2521. (Sources here and here)
Photo by Rsa

This is a topic that has garnered a lot of attention in Japan and most people know that something must be done. The central government, and especially the various towns and cities in peril, have put some measures in place. In fact the current government has pushed through a set of reforms under the banner of Chiho Sosei (地方創生, literally “Creating Life in the Countryside”).  Some of the many measures by both central and local governments being taken involve:

  • Tax cuts and other incentives for companies to relocate their headquarters out of the main urban areas of Japan.
  • Providing people who are considering moving to the countryside the necessary living/job information to do so.
  • The central government providing funds to localities who have produced concrete and sound plans for their own revivals.
  • Measures to increase the birthrate, including the setting up of sufficient numbers of childcare facilities.
  • Active enticing and development of new industries

And we do see some positive examples. Kawakami-mura in Nagano-prefecture has actually seen a population increase from 2005-2010 while Ama-cho has recently gained media attention for its success at attracting young people and its successful economic revival.

The issue is that these are so far the exceptions and no matter how well Japan as a whole handles the issues, there will be some casualties. This is inevitable at the rate at which Japan’s population is decreasing (it dropped by around 220,000 people from last year to this year). Therefore, Japan not only has to find out how to revive its declining countryside but manage the decline through perhaps merging unsustainable settlements.

I have to add that this isn’t a uniquely Japanese problem. Many countries are also facing gradual declines in rural population. Japan however, is probably the first to experience it on such a scale in a non-wartime scenario.

This means that it doesn’t have any examples to learn from, making managing an emptying countryside an extremely difficult task. As metioned before, given the population decline it’s no longer a question of if Japan’s inaka will empty but to what extent. But, if well managed, perhaps it can be an example for other countries such as neighbours South Korea and China which will follow in its demographic footsteps. Or perhaps even the wider world.

Bonus Wallpapers

japanesecountryside-1280
[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile]

The post Why the Japanese Countryside Is Emptying appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/06/japanese-countryside-emptying/feed/ 11
Choosing the Best Yokai Books for You http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/04/choosing-the-best-yokai-books-for-you/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/04/choosing-the-best-yokai-books-for-you/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48677 Yokai are about to hit America big time with the introduction of the anime Yokai Watch. But as a Tofugu reader, you’re the sort of person who has probably already encountered many of these creatures from Japanese folklore – in the manga you read, in the anime you watch, or if you’ve traveled to Japan […]

The post Choosing the Best Yokai Books for You appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Yokai are about to hit America big time with the introduction of the anime Yokai Watch. But as a Tofugu reader, you’re the sort of person who has probably already encountered many of these creatures from Japanese folklore – in the manga you read, in the anime you watch, or if you’ve traveled to Japan and wondered why there are so many fox statues at shrines you visited.

Until fairly recently there weren’t a lot of references available in English on this fascinating part of Japanese culture, unless you wanted to plow through academic articles. Now there are enough books to choose from that you might want some ideas on where to start. But what are the best yokai books for you and your busy schedule? Read on to get the low down on what each book offers and how it will meet your yokai needs.

Illustrated Field Guides

Best Yokai Books

Images courtesy of Matthew Meyer

The first thing you’ll learn when you begin reading about yokai is that there are a LOT of them. At least since the Edo period, Japanese people have felt the need for books full of descriptions of yokai, kind of like field guides to birds or flowers or fish. We 21st-century English speakers can now enjoy two very nice books along these lines. Both are interesting to sit down and read from cover to cover, and both are also well-organized references. Grab one of these when you want more background on a creature you read about in manga, or when it’s late at night and there’s an uncanny noise coming from you bathroom…

Best Yokai Books

If you’re coming to yokai from an interest in Japanese pop culture, the yokai book with a writing and art style that will likely appeal to you is Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt. The authors specialize in translating and localizing Japanese manga, anime, and games, as faithful Tofugu readers will know from reading my recent interview with Matt Alt.

This is a team that’s steeped in Japanese pop and traditional culture and experienced at conveying both in English, so you can trust them for accuracy and understandability. But more than anything else, this book is the most fun of all of the choices. Come on, it’s a survival guide. How can it not be?

With brightly colored illustrations and cleverly divided categories like “Annoying Neighbors” and “Gruesome Gourmets,” each yokai profile starts with a list of basic characteristics and is written in short sections – useful for when you’re suddenly in front of a strange child offering tofu (do NOT eat it, and especially not if it’s decorated with a maple leaf).

Note that if you bought this book when it first came out, it’s since been reissued by Tuttle. So if you are buying it now, lucky you, you get additional material and more color illustrations.

Best Yokai Books

If you prefer your art in a style that reflects more traditional sensibilities, check out artist Matthew Meyer’s The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, which is where the illustrations at the top of this section come from. His book is also a compendium of illustrated yokai profiles, but whereas Yokai Attack! is a bit frenetic (and I mean that in the nicest possible way), the style here is more serene. Starting with alternate names, habitats, and diets, each profile lays out a straightforward description of the yokai’s behavior. There no defense tips as such in this one, but you’ll be prepared to ID many of the strange Japanese creatures you might encounter.

Night Parade is definitely informative but its real strong point is the art. If you like old ukiyo-e prints, I highly recommend you check out Matthew’s modern take on them. I’m clearly not the only one who feels this way – Meyer raised over $18,000 from his fans on Kickstarter to publish this book and over $27,000 for the forthcoming volume, The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits.

Intro to Yokai Geekery

Best Yokai Books

If you read those books and love them and feel like you need more, you may be a potential yokai geek. If so, the newly published The Book of Yōkai by Michael Dylan Foster is a good next step.

English-speaking yokai aficianados have been looking forward to this book, as the author is well known for a previous book that I’ll discuss below. While meant for a general audience, it’s still a book written by a university professor and published by a university press, so consider that when the back cover copy calls it a “delightful and accessible narrative.” That might well be the reaction of someone who spends most of their time reading academic journals, but probably less so if you’re coming to this from the two books discussed above.

But hey, if you want to move on from fun descriptions of monsters to more depth, it’s not going to be all fun and games. This book delves into the history of yokai, who wrote about them, when, and deep thoughts about how they’re created and the role they play in the culture at various times in history. The downside of this scholarly material is that you’re going to read a fair number of un-delightful sentences along the lines of “there are also positive portrayals of the yamamba in which she is a deific and beneficial presence.”

The upside is that it’s worth working your way through the academic jargon, both for the sake of the information, and because there are observations throughout this book that are enlightening and even a few that are actually fairly delightful. For example, early on when the author discusses how yokai are often personifications that explain strange things that happen, he uses the example of the nurikabe, whose name means “plaster wall,” and whose particular trick is making it impossible for you to walk any farther. He compares it to the marathon runner’s expression “hitting the wall” and then considers the explanations behind the two. The nurikabe gives that feeling a personality, blaming it on a particular character, basically. The scientist would blame it on a chemical process in the body. So, he asks, is the nurikabe just a story made up by people who are ignorant of biology?

We could just as well say that “glycogen depletion” is how people who know nothing about yokai explain the experience of meeting a yokai! In some ways, in fact, this might be the most persuasive explanation – after all, I can draw a picture of a nurikabe, but I have no idea where to begin with glycogen.

That whole discussion is enough to make me forgive him using a lot of 25-dollar words where simpler ones would do.

Whatever the issues of style, if you want to become a real yokai geek, you want this book. You’ll learn all the big names in yokai-ology, and his encyclopedic section describing specific yokai is very different from the two books above. Illustrated with original line drawings and black-and-white art reproductions, it is way less of a visual feast, but what you get instead is more history, more variations on the stories, discussions of different references, and so on.

Bottom line: This is not the book to grab when you encounter a creature licking your ceiling and you’re too frightened care whether Toriyama Seiken created the tenjooname in his 1784 book or it was based in local folklore about the stains on the ceilings of old houses. Once the lights are on, though, and you are ready for some serious study, this is the way to go.

Old School

Best Yokai Books

All the books so far are basically “Modern Authors Explain Yokai To You”, and if you can only read English, you are mostly stuck with that. But if you are heading down the path to yokai geekery, there are at least a few older books you can delve into.

If you want to experience the old folklore with no intermediary between you and the old folk, The Legends of Tono is a classic collection from the early 20th century and recently published in a new English translation. I haven’t read this one yet, but it comes highly recommended by Matt Alt as it contains lots of yokai stories as directly collected by folklorist Kunio Yanagita.

If you have never read this sort of original, unedited folklore, be warned that it doesn’t often have the sort of character and plot development we expect from modern entertainment. Don’t be surprised when sometimes the whole tale is just a description of some weird thing that happened to someone, like that time you swear you put your glasses down on the table and later found them in another room so you’re sure a poltergeist moved them… Still, what you’ll get here are old stories as they were originally told without anyone telling you what to think about them, and that’s pretty cool.

Best Yokai Books

Another classic author you should know about, if you want to go deeper into this subject, is Lafcadio Hearn. One of the first writers to interpret Japan to the outside world when the country opened to foreigners in the late nineteenth century, Hearn never uses the word yokai, but was the first to describe some of them in English.

Books written in Hearn’s time can sometimes be tough going for 21st century readers – we’re used to a style that gets to the point quickly and efficiently. However, I haven’t had this reaction to Hearn’s writing, as I might with other authors of the era. On the contrary, his writing gives me the feeling of being in touch with his time period, but in a quite enjoyable and readable way.

I’m running out of room here, so for examples I’ll point you to the many excerpts from his Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan that I couldn’t resist quoting in my article on kitsune, the Japanese fox yokai.

His work is old enough to be out of copyright, so you can check it out for free or very inexpensively – his books Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, In Ghostly Japan, and Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan can be found on Google Books online and in free or cheap Kindle versions on Amazon. (Be warned that the free Kindle books don’t always have all the navigation possibilities that you are used to.)

Off the Deep End

Best Yokai Books

Michael Dylan Foster’s earlier book, Pandemonium and Parade, should not be anyone’s first reference on the subject, and is tough to get through unless you love to read the sort of academic writing that contains phrases like “discourse is always heteroglossic.” But if you already have some decent background knowledge and want to delve deeper into the cultural role and history of yokai, it’s pretty much required reading.

There are also specialized books about particular categories of yokai. One that is quite accessible is Zack Davisson’s forthcoming Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost (read Tofugu’s interview with him about the book here.)

Most of these are far more academic in nature, which also means they tend to be crazy expensive, so one exception that’s worth noting is Japanese Demon Lore: Oni from Ancient Times to the Present by Noriko T. Reider, which is available legally for free at this link.

By the way, speaking of (nearly) free, for 99 cents on Kindle you can get John Paul Catton’s Unofficial Guide to Japanese Mythology, the only book I have come across that includes (presumably) tongue-in-cheek analyses of whether certain yokai could exist. If you’d be intrigued by an explanation for the tengu’s long nose based on a mathematical calculation of its weight-to-wingspan ratio and resultant oxygen intake needs, this is the book for you.

Still Wanting More?

Best Yokai Books

Yokai are as much about art as they are about stories – many seem to have been born in the minds of artists rather than in the words of folktales. Since you can appreciate the art in a book even if you can’t read the language, there are more options here than I have room to go into, but one excellent one that’s available in English is Yokai Museum: The Art of Japanese Supernatural Beings from YUMOTO Koichi collection. It’s also not crazy expensive for a full color art book.

If you’ve gone as far as reading all these books, you might want to join like-minded people online. There is the obakeforums.com discussion board,  and there is a Yokai Attack! Facebook group, where you will get expert answers to just about any question about yokai (including “hey guys what’s a good yokai book I might not know about?,” so many thanks to everyone there who gave me suggestions.)

A couple of members there have collected bibliographies that are particularly useful if you want to read more of the academic writing about yokai in English (here and here).

Once you start reading about yokai, you’ll start to realize that they are everywhere in Japan, from mascots to traditional art to all forms of storytelling. And while people don’t exactly believe they are real anymore, there are a lot of cases where it seems like people don’t exactly believe that they aren’t real either. As The Book of Yōkai says:

One common Japanese phrase in the discussion of yōkai is hanshin-hangī, which means “half-belief/half doubt.” The appeal of this phrase is that it does not call for a decision one way or the other but combines two halves into a whole… Perhaps the question is not whether people believe in yokai but why we require a yes-or-no answer in the first place.

I don’t know about you, but what I do need a yes-or-no answer for is whether or not I need to memorize those survival tips. Better get reading, just in case…

All the books!

Yokai Attack!: Amazon

The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: Amazon

The Book of Yokai: Amazon

The Legends of Tono: Amazon

Kwaidan: Amazon

In Ghostly Japan: Amazon

Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan: Amazon

Pandemonium and Parade: Amazon

Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost: Amazon

Japanese Demon Lore: Oni from Ancient Times to the Present: FREE!

John Paul Catton’s Unofficial Guide to Japanese Mythology: Amazon

Yokai Museum: The Art of Japanese Supernatural Beings from YUMOTO Koichi collection: Amazon

Bonus Wallpapers!

PickTheYokaiBook-1280
[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile]

The post Choosing the Best Yokai Books for You appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/04/choosing-the-best-yokai-books-for-you/feed/ 5
Japan’s Robot Theater and the Rise of the Android Actor http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/02/japans-robot-theater-rise-android-actor/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/02/japans-robot-theater-rise-android-actor/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48304 ROBOTS CAN ALREADY VACUUM YOUR HOUSE AND DRIVE YOUR CAR. SOON, THEY WILL BE YOUR COMPANION. ~”Friend for Life” By Adam Piore for Popular Science (November 2014) Or so predicts Popular Science magazine in response to a US tour of Osaka University’s Robot-Human Theater Project. Whether you find the premise that your next best friend […]

The post Japan’s Robot Theater and the Rise of the Android Actor appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>

ROBOTS CAN ALREADY VACUUM YOUR HOUSE AND DRIVE YOUR CAR. SOON, THEY WILL BE YOUR COMPANION.
~”Friend for Life” By Adam Piore for Popular Science (November 2014)

Or so predicts Popular Science magazine in response to a US tour of Osaka University’s Robot-Human Theater Project. Whether you find the premise that your next best friend will come with batteries enticing or eerie or some combination thereof, the Robot-Human Theater Project has dedicated itself to making that dream/nightmare come to life—or at least appear as if it’s come to life—on a stage near you.

Just when you finally thought we were safe from a robot takeover, they’re learning how to act even more like us—by acting instead of us. Dr. Ishiguro Hiroshi of android fame is at it again, only this time he’s in cahoots with Seinendan Theater Company and Osaka University. Thanks to these human allies, our robot overlords (or “companions” as their propaganda would like us to believe) inch ever closer. Only now they’ll be trying to woo us with Shakespeare.

Meet the Masterminds

ishiguro and geminoid

Photo by Ars Electronica

Robots don’t make themselves, you know (at least not yet). Thus far the aspiring robot actor’s journey from assembly line to curtain call has relied on the single-minded devotion of their human allies—particularly the aforementioned Ishiguro Hiroshi along with Hirata Oriza and Kuroki Kazunari.

Ishiguro, an international authority on robotics engineering and AI who often sends the android version of himself to lecture abroad, unsurprisingly heads up the engineering end of things. Hirata, a well-known public figure in Japan and playwright/director/founder of the internationally active Seinendan Theater Company, equally unsurprisingly takes charge of all things artistic. And Kuroki, president of Osaka-based robot and computer company Eager Co. Ltd, throws lots of money and resources their way.

But why go to all this trouble in the first place? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to hire a human actor rather than build one from the ground up? Despite their remarkably diverse backgrounds, engineer Ishiguro and theater artist Hirata are remarkably in sync with each other on this point: for them the Robot-Theater Project isn’t just an big-budget spectacle, it’s a way to combine the forces of art and science in order to tackle what makes humans human and what makes a performance a performance—and they’re equally convinced that both of those boundaries are incredibly malleable.

osaka univ robot lab

Photo by Ars Electronica

In Ishiguro’s words, “My goal is…to understand the feeling of a presence. What is that? I want to understand what is a human, and what is a human likeness.” He’s psyched to use this opportunity to come closer and closer to replicating human “presence” and behavior with his electro-mechanical minions. Hirata, for his part, believes that “robots are a means of thinking about human beings.” As far as he’s concerned, robots are just another way for him to learn how to most effectively manipulate an audience. He firmly believes that a performance doesn’t have to be “real” to have a real effect, that human emotional response is more of a mechanical reflex than anything more “mystical.” In other words, these two aren’t just looking to shock and awe their audience with shiny gadgets—they want to break our entire conception of reality.

Robots and Androids and Humans, Oh My!

robot theater serving tea

Photo by Brett Davis

Since the Robot-Human Theater Project opened its factory doors in 2008, Hirata and Ishiguro have sent their creations on tour to 33 cities in 15 countries. Out of the six plays they’ve developed thus far, both eerily lifelike androids and clearly mechanical robots have taken the stage alongside human co-actors. In order of appearance, here they are:

Hataraku Watashi (I, Worker) Debut in 2008

It’s the near future, where Takeo and Momoko, two portly and blindingly yellow service bots, tend the home of the married couple they work for in this short one act play. But Yuji the human husband and Takeo the robot have both become too depressed and existential to work—leaving human wife Yuji and robot Momoko to fret about their hikikomori other halves.

Mori no Oku (The Heart of the Forest) Debut in 2010

Three species collide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a team of scientists and their robot helpers are studying the local bonobo population—the species most closely related to our own. While the scientists industriously gather data for comparison of the primates and the humans, the robots give them more “help” than they bargained for in this one act.

Sayonara (same title in English) Debut in 2010 (since updated in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake)

A young woman facing imminent death seeks solace from her android caregiver, Geminoid F. As the woman struggles with her mortality, the immortal android tries to comfort her as best she can with the immortal words of poets. The updated epilogue to this one act reveals that after the woman’s death, Geminoid F was sent to comfort the victims of irradiated Fukushima, a place where no human is willing to go.

Sannin Shimai (Three Sisters, Android Version) Debut in 2012

A Japanese sci-fi twist on the Russian realist original, this full-length play features human, android, and robot actors on a rural Japanese estate. As the unkempt manor languishes in the current economic crisis, its inhabitants are plagued by malaise and unease. They won’t shut up about moving to Tokyo, but just like in the original no one ever actually gets off their ass.

Ginga Tetsudo No Yoru (Night on the Galactic Railroad) Debut in 2013

This full-length play is the latest adaptation of a Japanese novel with the same name by Miyazawa Kenji, a perennially popular fantastical and philosophical children’s book that some adults ended up obsessed with. A poverty-stricken and socially malnourished young girl boards a magical train one night and zooms through the Milky Way galaxy, only this time with a robot tour-guide in tow.

Henshin (Metamorphosis) Debut in 2014

The skeletal Android Repliee S1 plays the lead role of Gregor Samsa in this full-length play adaptation of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Except this time, instead of waking up as a bug, poor Gregor wakes up as a robot. As the Japanese advertising poster puts it: “Us humans exist in an absurd world where we might become bugs tomorrow. Us humans exist in an absurd world where we can’t even prove that we’re different from androids.” Strap in for an existential crisis or three, ladies and gentlemen.

robot theater

Photo by Brett Davis

While three one-acts and three full-length plays in six years might not seem like much of an accomplishment, each of these six works required a ridiculously long development process along with a ridiculously patient team to execute it. Even for Ishiguro, designing and programming robots capable of speech and movement takes a bit of time and effort. As for director/playwright Hirata, the fact that he’s directing actors that can’t respond to his direction, along with the fact that he’s always directed his human actors as detailed and minutely as if they were robots anyway, means hours and hours of rehearsal and programming changes to get a robot to make JUST the right degree angle turn of his head at JUST the right moment. Is all that worth it? Audiences seem to think so.

Human Responses to Theatrical-Electrical Stimuli

robot theater 2

Photo by Ars Electronica

These giant hunks of metal have proved themselves capable of both emotionally and intellectually stirring audiences. All of the Robot-Human Theater Project’s performances so far have played to almost exclusively full houses and dropped jaws. And if theater critics have not always responded with outright praise, they’ve at least expressed deep fascination with the phenomenon. For example:

…the stage presence of [robots] raise significant questions about theatricality and empathy. Provocatively, this evening demonstrated that perhaps the qualities we typically associate with good or effective acting—presence, responsiveness, emotional availability—may, in fact, prove ancillary. Although the success of these pieces necessitated understated performances from the human actors and particular design choices (such as easily navigable sets and low lighting) to establish the commonality between person and machine, these [robots] excited sympathy to an equivalent, or perhaps even greater, degree than their human counterparts. Their effectiveness in performance suggests that mimetic engagement on the part of the audience may owe less to actorly skill than to our collective instinct to attribute human feeling—even to decidedly nonhuman performers. Whether these two short plays confused the boundaries between human and robot or explicitly marked them, both pieces relied upon the audience’s capacity to create empathic bonds with lifeless objects…engaging dialogue between the human actors and their machine counterparts simultaneously both emphasized the differences between person and automaton and blurred those categories. (From review of “Seinendan Theater Company + Osaka University Robot Theater Project” by Alexis Soloski)

On the emotional end of things, many an audience member has admitted to empathizing with the robots as much if not more so than with the human actors—even to the point of shedding tears. One reviewer notes, “…even as I grieved for the young woman, I also felt myself worrying that the android would feel lonely once she died.” Hirata’s unemotional explanation for the audiences’ emotional outpourings is that “audiences’ brains make up half of a performance’s reality.” In other words, we see what we want to see.

Then there’s the inevitable intellectual migraine that comes from witnessing seemingly autonomous three-dimensional beings participate in an activity once exclusively reserved for humans. Feeling empathy apparently isn’t limited to feeling empathy for living things. And a performer apparently doesn’t have to be emotionally alive or even alive at all to deliver a convincing performance. Hirata has said, “In the case of the android(s), there are audience members who did not realize until close to the end of the play which was the robot and which (was) the human actor.” Where does the human begin and the robot end? Where does the robot begin and the human end? What is a human? What is a performance? Where’s my mommy?

And then once you’re through crying and philosophizing, there’s still the future to consider. A future where our lives more closely resemble these plays than the lives we’re living right now. A future that’s already being pioneered in Japan with the introduction and integration of robots that can cater to not only our practical, but our social, needs. Look no further than Paro, the fluffy robotic seal that has taken up residence in many nursing homes, or Pepper, the customer service automaton now employed by Softbank to converse with their customers. So in a sense, the Robot-Human Theater Project is depicting the logical continuation of our current society, encouraging us to imagine what roles robots can fill, what roles we want them to fill. How will humans and robots co-exist? Will they be our servants and our customer service representatives? Our friends and our lovers? And if so, is that really a bad thing? Film has given us plenty of CGI robot creations, but nothing is quite as convincing as the real thing IRL—with live 3-D actors, live 3-D audiences, and seemingly live 3-D robots in the same room at the same time.

The Future of Robot Theater

robot theater 3

Photo by Ars Electronica

Regardless of the pace at which robotic technology is developed and integrated into our lives, the folks at the Robot-Human Theater Project show no signs of slowing down. Could it be possible that other robot theater companies will soon join them? After all, programming the robot actors might be a giant pain in the fuse box, but once it’s done you can rest assured that they’ll never forget their lines. As Hirata has mused, “Will actors at auditions soon by vying for their roles with robots? And are we entering an era in which robot actors will one day take the leads in ‘Romeo and Juliet’?” How long is it before robots become better at being people than we are?

 

Bonus Wallpapers!

robotshakespeare-1280
[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・[Mobile]

Sources

The post Japan’s Robot Theater and the Rise of the Android Actor appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/02/japans-robot-theater-rise-android-actor/feed/ 3