Tofugu » In Japan A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:00:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How To Cope When Japan Isn’t Perfect Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:00:54 +0000 Life is life wherever it happens. Even if your dream of living in Japan has come true, you can still be blindsided by awful things sometimes. Bad things happen everywhere, but living in a foreign country can add an extra layer of challenge on top. During my time in Japan on the JET Programme, I […]

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

Culture Shock


Photo by Joel

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

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

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

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

Coping with Culture Shock


Photo by Pank Seleen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Photo by 黃毛 a.k.a. YELLOW

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

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

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

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

Workplace Problems


Photo by ancorena

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

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



Photo by Emran Kassim

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

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

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

Finding Different Perspectives


Photo by Adam Sharron

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

[Phone – 640×1136]

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Rascal’s Secret Plan: the Raccoon Invasion of Japan Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:00:00 +0000 Ah, mother nature. Forests and hills, rivers and oceans, blossoms and bees. Truly, the beauties of the natural world are essential to a happy life. Of course, mother nature has another, harsher side. Storms, droughts, and floods can be deadly. And the world is full of creatures that bite, claw, sting, and poison. Many harmful […]

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Ah, mother nature. Forests and hills, rivers and oceans, blossoms and bees. Truly, the beauties of the natural world are essential to a happy life.

Of course, mother nature has another, harsher side. Storms, droughts, and floods can be deadly. And the world is full of creatures that bite, claw, sting, and poison.

Many harmful natural phenomena can’t be helped; we must simply deal with them as best we can. But then there are problems we humans bring upon ourselves. Messing around with nature has gotten us into big trouble more than once.

Case in point: Raccoons… in Japan.

But they’re so cute!

Japanese Raccoons

Photo by Ingrid Taylar

It’s true, they are… and as we shall see, that’s how they ended up in Japan. But first, a bit of an introduction.

There are three species of raccoon in the genus Procyon, but the most well-known and numerous is Procyon lotor, also called the common Raccoon or North American raccoon. That’s what’s usually meant when “raccoon” is used on its own, and that’s the one we’ll be talking about here. In Japanese, raccoons are known as araiguma. (Note that the raccoon dog, or tanuki, is a completely different and indigenous creature of Japan.)

Raccoons are a short-legged, omnivorous mammal of medium size, typically in the 10-20 pound range. Native to most of North America, raccoons have rough coats (colored in various mixtures of grey, brown, and/or black), erect ears, and pointy muzzles. Most distinctively, the raccoon has a dark “mask” over its eyes, as well as dark rings around its tail.

In short, a raccoon looks like this:

Japanese Raccoons

Photo by jmwests

Pretty darn cute. And the cuteness meter rises even higher when they manipulate things with their dexterous front paws, which feature long, furless “fingers.”  The manual dexterity and overall cleverness of the raccoon helps to explain why people might think they would make good pets.

Japanese Raccoons

Photo by alasam

Raccoons become dormant in cold weather, for periods of days or months, depending on how cold it gets in whatever region they happen to live. Their diet is quite diverse, encompassing worms, insects, nuts, berries, amphibians, fish, and birds eggs. Raccoons are equally open to catching live prey or scavenging – with the latter option including human refuse.

And therein lies a major problem (from the human perspective, at least). Raccoons absolutely thrive in human settlements. Agile, (relatively) small, intelligent, bold, willing to dine on pretty much anything edible… and willing to live alongside human beings. (Apparently they aren’t too picky about the company they keep.)

Raccoons tear open garbage and knock over compost bins. They damage buildings and gardens. They carry diseases, including rabies and distemper. They even, on rare occasions, attack people and their pets.

Japanese Raccoons

Photo by stevehdc

Obviously, none of this is their fault…they’re just being their raccoony selves. But humans often don’t see it that way.

The Invasion


So raccoons are cute, but they can also be troublesome neighbors. That’s just dealing with nature, right? After all, raccoons were around long before human beings.

Well, yes… in North America. But elsewhere? Raccoons are indeed found in a few other places, namely Europe (especially Germany), the Caucasus region, and (you guessed it!)…Japan.

The red area on the above map represents the raccoon’s native range. In the blue areas, raccoons are what is known as an “invasive species”. This term denotes an organism that, due to human activity, inhabits a region to which it is not indigenous. “Invasive” also implies that the species has some kind of harmful effect (or at least a major transformative effect) on local ecology; the term “introduced species” is sometimes used to avoid this implication.

Ever since we humans evolved, we’ve been zipping all over the world, with plenty of critters hitching a ride as we go. Sometimes we even bring them along on purpose, as crops, farm animals, or pets. The vast majority of them don’t become invasive. Most species, when introduced to foreign conditions, simply fail to survive in an environment for which they haven’t evolved. A few, however, manage to hang on and consistently reproduce. Some even find themselves at a sudden advantage, often due to lack of natural predators.

An infamous example is the brown rat, originating in China and carried across the world, primarily by seafaring Europeans. The effect was often devastating, notably on bird populations in regions where land predators were hitherto absent, such as remote islands. Indeed, remote islands seem to have experienced the brunt of invasive-species carnage, given their sheer evolutionary isolation.

brown rat

The most famous victim of species invasion may be Australia, whose vegetation has been ravaged by the introduction of rats and rabbits, while native animals have been gobbled up by wildcats and foxes (the latter having been introduced to control the rabbits). Cane toads, which were introduced to control crop-destroying beetles, ended up slurping down crop-beneficial insects, as well as killing off indigenous predators that are poisoned by their toxic secretions when they eat one.
Pretty much every part of the world has its invasive species issues, though. Many native species of fish in the African Great Lakes have been supplanted by introduced fish. The North American Great Lakes struggle with invasive mussels and eels. The storks and small mammals of Florida are being snapped up by released pythons, which are even out-competing alligators for food.

So what about Japan? To start with, mongooses (or “mongeese”, heehee), introduced to control venomous snakes, have been pummelling non-venomous snakes and various wild and agricultural mammals (even goats!). Meanwhile, native fish struggle to dodge the voracious mouths of introduced bass and bluegill. In a 1984 scientific sampling of fish from the moat of the Imperial Palace, 80% of the catch consisted of native species; fifteen years later, a single invasive species (bluegill) had exploded to 90% of the catch. (Someone protect the emperor!)

Photo by kalleboo

Japan also has issues with animals originally imported as pets. Through a combination of escape and deliberate release, several foreign species have come to form wild populations. Hedgehogs, red-eared turtles, and ferrets are three prominent examples. Another is the raccoon.

How Did It Happen?

Rascal: The Japanese Raccoon

This is one of those rare instances where a major environmental change can be traced back to one individual. And, even rarer, a fictional individual. This is Rascal, star of the 1977 Nippon Animation series Rascal the Raccoon (Araiguma Rasukaru).

The series, set in early twentieth-century rural Wisconsin, follows the adventures of a young boy who rescues a baby raccoon orphaned by a hunter. Rascal, as the boy names his new friend, proves a loving companion. Rascal becomes a crucial source of comfort when, not long after his arrival, the boy loses his mother.

In time, however, Rascal’s position within his human family becomes increasingly strained by his emerging wild animal personality. When Rascal is caught snacking on the crops of neighboring farmers, his outdoor ramblings are suddenly reduced to the confines of a pen. As if that weren’t enough, his unhappiness with domesticated life redoubles when he spots a lady raccoon beyond the walls of his well-intended prison. Ultimately, the boy faces a a very difficult, emotional choice…where does Rascal truly belong?

With the massive success of this anime, suddenly everyone wanted a raccoon for a pet. Over the following years, upwards of two thousand raccoons were imported to Japan annually. Apparently algae balls just weren’t cutting it anymore.

Unfortunately, humans don’t have a great track record when it comes to choosing pets. Wild animals that look cute and cuddly aren’t likely to be that way in human hands, or in human homes, and there’s the house-training issue. There might be some exceptional success stories, but for most families, the fantasy of having their very own “Rascal” didn’t work out. Apparently this caught many fans of the anime by surprise, even though Rascal’s unsuitableness as a pet was a central theme.

And that’s how raccoons came to be released into the Japanese wild. It was a pretty sweet deal for the raccoons, too, given that in Japan they lack any significant natural predators. (Their main predators in North America are wolves and coyotes, which don’t exist in Japan, as well as wildcats, which inhabit only a couple of small Japanese islands.) Over the ensuing decades, the raccoon population soared, and Rascal established himself in nearly every part of the country.

Japanese Raccoons

Photo by kat+sam

What was good for the raccoons was bad for a range of native species, notably birds (whose eggs, as noted earlier, are a staple of the raccoon diet). In human-inhabited areas, raccoons have been scavenging garbage, damaging crops (notably corn and melon fields), and even attacking pets. They’ve also been tearing up buildings, as they scrabble in and out of their adopted homes (typically attics or basements) which the humans so thoughtfully constructed for them.

Which brings us to perhaps the most infamous raccoon issue in Japan: temple damage. It’s estimated that some 80% of Japan’s temple architecture has experienced some kind of damage from these masked bandits.

Architectural wounds are inflicted as the raccoons climb around, leaving gashes in pillars and walls, and punching holes in roofs and ceilings. As they find themselves snug little corners to sleep in, they tear and pry at anything that stands in their way, be it wood, tile, insulation, pipes, or wires. And they naturally leave lots of little raccoon droppings around, which are inappropriate for most buildings, but especially temples.

Japanese Raccoons

Photo by 663highland

The most famous victim of raccoon vandalism may be Byōdō-in, a temple in Kyoto Prefecture, and one of Japan’s most famous and celebrated buildings. Given that Byōdō-in has been standing for over 900 years, you can understand why people were alarmed at the appearance of deep claw marks in the ancient wood. Traps were set, and metal fencing was laid over potential points of entry. It’s a painful irony that the success of one iconic Japanese cultural form (anime) should ultimately lead to the harming of another.

What Can Be Done?

Japanese Raccoons

Photo by Charlie Anzman

How do we handle invasive species? Three basic strategies are:

  • damage mitigation
  • reduction (possibly elimination) of the invasive population
  • prevention of further introduction

The first approach is the most immediate. In Japan, as in other raccoony parts of the world, laborious attempts are made at sealing buildings from entry (particularly in the case of historic properties), while garbage is locked away from those dexterous little hands. Fences can help protect crops. But completely securing fields, buildings, and garbage from thousands of small, clever critters is a truly Herculean (Kintaro-ean?) feat.

In terms of controlling raccoon numbers, local governments across Japan have developed varying policies. Some arrange the killing of thousands of raccoons each year, citing population reduction (or even, incredibly optimistically, eradication) as the goal. Such programs find support among many farmers and urbanites, while taking fire from animal rights advocates.

Naturally, prevention is the best strategy of all against invasive species. Tight regulations on shipping and travelling help to avoid inadvertent arrivals, while pet regulations halt the deliberate import of problematic critters. Not surprisingly, it is now illegal to import raccoons to Japan.

It’s also important to look at the cause of Japan’s raccoon importation specifically: a pet craze. Media-driven pet trends are found across the world, a familiar recent example being spurred by the 101 Dalamatians movie remake (and its sequel), which was followed by a sharp increase in unwanted dalmatian puppies turning up in American dog shelters. Resistance to such crazes, which are patently unfair to the animals involved, must be fostered among the general population of all countries.

Rascal’s Lesson

Japanese Raccoons

Photo by Harlequeen

In the end, we humans are responsible for introducing thousands of Rascal’s cousins to the mountains and cities of Japan. It seems kind of incredible that today, with all our technology, these furry little rascals continue to evade us so effectively. They’ve moved in, and there’s not that much we can do about it.

We need to take this as a learning experience. Think of all the trouble we could avoid, for animals and for us humans, if we can prevent further “species invasions”. If we wise up, Rascal could become a symbol of a great leap forward in human wisdom and responsibility.

Bonus Wallpapers!

[Desktop – 5120×2880] [Phone – 640×1136]


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The Unwritten Rules Of Job-Hunting In Japan Mon, 17 Nov 2014 17:00:56 +0000 Like the Eskimos and their many words for snow, there are quite a few words to describe job-hunting in Japan. 職探し (shokusagashi) and 求職 (kyuushoku) have the same meaning as “job-hunting” in English, referring to the general act of looking for employment. 転職活動 (tenshoku-katsudou) refers to looking for a change of occupation. 就職活動 (shuushoku-katsudo, aka “shuukatsu” for short) […]

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Like the Eskimos and their many words for snow, there are quite a few words to describe job-hunting in Japan. 職探し (shokusagashi) and 求職 (kyuushoku) have the same meaning as “job-hunting” in English, referring to the general act of looking for employment. 転職活動 (tenshoku-katsudou) refers to looking for a change of occupation. 就職活動 (shuushoku-katsudo, aka “shuukatsu” for short) refers to the job-hunting process of fresh high-school and college graduates.

The reason for all of these different “job-hunting” rules is thanks to the unique hiring practices of the Japanese. The biggest and uniquest of these has to be the 新卒一括採用 (shinsotsu-ikkatsu-saiyou), where many companies simultaneously hire students in bulk. Before 1997 there was an official date where companies could start their recruitments. If you started before this date it was called 青田刈り (aotagari), which literally means “harvesting rice while still green.” After 1997 the new guidelines suggested that companies should announce recruitments on December 1 (for third year students) and start screening applicants on April 1 (for fourth year students). Just recently, the Abe Cabinet requested these dates get pushed back further so that students could focus on their studies. 2016 graduates will now wait until March 1 for recruitment to begin and August 1 for the screening to start.

Because companies hire all at once, they compete first for the students of the better schools because they tend to have “better” students. This puts more pressure on high school students, because if you can get into a good university you’re more likely to get a good job, even if you don’t do much studying once you get there. This system also makes university students join companies earlier. If you wait too long, there are fewer of these finite jobs left remaining. To put it bluntly, students really feel like they need to get a job during this shinsotsu-ikkatsu-saiyou period. If they don’t, they’ll find it very difficult to find ideal work. They even lose their advantage for the next year, because companies focus on fresh graduates, not one-year-old meat.

The Unwritten Rules Of Job-Hunting In Japan


Already, you can see there is a lot of pressure on students to get a job, with a lot of rules and order to go along with it. It doesn’t stop there, though. A huge list of “unwritten rules” exists for these students too. If you don’t do these things, it’s more unlikely that you’ll be able to get a job. Just in terms of your looks there’s a huge list you need to follow.


  • Should be short enough for the ears to show and be combed neatly (men).
  • The ears should show and be combed or tied neatly (women).
  • It has to be clean.
  • It shouldn’t be dyed.

Mustache / Beard


  • You should wear a typical dark suit appropriate for a job interview.
  • A single suit with two buttons is better than a double suit.
  • The top button must be fastened.
  • The shirt must be white.
  • The necktie should be simple.
  • There should be a neat crease in the trousers.
  • The color of socks should be a similar color to the suit.


  • They must be simple and the color should be black or brown.
  • They must be polished well.


  • It should be simple and not flashy.
  • It’s better not to use perfume.


  • Nails must be cut nicely.
  • It’s better not to put on nail polish.


  • It’s better not to wear them.


  • Must be simple and not flashy.

Women’s Clothing

  • It should be a typical dark suit appropriate for a job interview.
  • Black, dark blue, or gray is safe.
  • If it’s a skirt, it must not be too short.
  • A white shirt is safe.
  • The pantyhose must not have a run.

Women’s Shoes

  • They must be a simple pair of pumps.
  • Their color should match the color of the suit.
  • The heels shouldn’t be too high.
  • They must be polished well.

Despite being “unwritten rules”, a lot of people think they are very important (and many of these people are on the hiring end of the table). If you don’t do all these things you’re less likely to get hired, and with lifetime employment still “a thing” in Japan, you want to get the best job that you can as early as you can. That or risk living at home in your parent’s shrine playing Pokémon cards for the rest of your life.

The Japanese Job Hunting Suit


I’d like to focus on one part of this list though, and that is suits. Recently there has been some controversy about this and a lot of raging has occurred on the Japanese internets.

It all started with an article in the “Weekly Toyo Keizai” titled “Choose a black suit for shuukatsu job hunting! – Do not try to stand out with clothes”. This was published on October 28, 2014. According to the article, 90% of recruits wear black suits so it suggests that other applicants should follow the majority to be safe. As an example, they compared the reactions of what an interviewer might think if you wore a “unique” striped suit versus a normal black one:

What would an interviewer think if you wore a stripe designed suit for an interview? The reaction of the interviewer will be one of three types.

  1. They’ll evaluate it as a positive, as in “a striped suit is better because it’s different from others.”
  2. They are not interested in a graduate’s clothes, so they don’t take it for a positive or a negative.
  3. They evaluate it as a negative, as in “he/she doesn’t know manners, wearing a striped suit for a job interview is too flashy to make a good impression.”

We don’t know which reaction is likely because we haven’t researched it, but let’s assume that each case has equal possibility – a three in one chance. In that case, if you wear a black simple suit to an interview, the interviewer wouldn’t react in any particular way since most applicants wear a black plain suit anyways. It’s neither positive or negative, but neutral, so it can be said there is no risk if you choose a black suit.

However, if you wear a striped suit to an interview, an interviewer could get a negative impression of you one-third of the time. It’s quite a big difference, isn’t it? You don’t need to take any risks intentionally. Instead of standing out by appearance, you should try standing out by who you are and impress the interviewers with what you say.

In response to this article, Kenichiro Mogi, a Japanese brain scientist who is a senior researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratories and a visiting processor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, brought forward a counterargument. He tweeted:

What’s the point of this article? A country where recruits wear “uniforms”. I deliberately want to say that this is a worthless and pointless article. It’s stupid. Adults who do or say such things are just idiots (regarding “choose black suits for shuukatsu job hunting!”). -@kenichiromogi

Many people agreed with his views and replied to his tweet.

There are a lot of meaningless rules for appearances in Japan -@ys1dream

This article is really stupid, isn’t it? Is it saying not to demonstrate personality? When I was job-hunting, it took me a while to get a job offer. I ended up hating both the look and wear of my suit and went to an interview in jeans and a jacket with a pair of sneakers in the end… then I got an offer. Wearing casual clothes makes you relaxed, so I recommend it.” by @mii_sang3791

I think it’s correct not to join a company which decides who to hire only by the color of their suits. by @mizutamabeat

Shoji Kokami, a Japanese playwright, director, and filmmaker, agreed to Mr. Mogi’s tweet and stated his opinion in three tweets.

For example, imagine if there was a child who doesn’t want to use a satchel and his/her parents persuaded/begged/commanded/encouraged the child to use it. In that case, I respect parents who can tell their child not “you won’t be bullied if you use the satchel” but “this country doesn’t allow diversity, but hopefully it will change when you will become adult.” I never ever want to be a person who confidently tells a child “when you graduate from university, you will have to wear a recruit suit, which is a satchel for adults, or else you won’t be accepted. It’s all for your benefit.” Instead, I want to be someone who can talk about my true feelings about the recruit suit – containing opinions about both those who agree with the black suit and those who are not comfortable with it. That would be a steady step, though it’s a small step, to reduce this country’s stuffiness and light a fire of hope. I think an adult who can do such things is a wonderful adult. -@KOKAMIShoji

Of course, there were counterarguments to the counterarguments. Things are really getting heated! All just for the color of a suit!

Freelance writer Tomohiro Akagi wrote a blog post with his opinion. Aft first he took it for granted that there are people who feel uncomfortable or question if using black suits is the right thing to do after reading Toyo Keizai’s original article. He said that if a recruit asked him what was best to wear for a job interview, he would tell them to choose a black suit because the purpose of job-hunting is not to wear a colorful suit but to obtain a job offer. If there is a risk in wearing a unique colored suit, then the best advice certainly would be to follow the majority. After making these introductory remarks, he took up the main subject, which is “where do Mr. Mogi and the others’ angers come from?”

Akagi assumed that they got upset with the fact that an individual person with their own personality is treated in a uniform manner because they grew up in the period when people made a strong appeal not to wear school uniforms but to wear whatever they like in their school days. He concluded that their opinion comes from believing that accepting a variety of clothes equals accepting a variety of personalities.

Then he pointed out that graduates who were currently job-hunting were very used to wearing school uniforms so they know how to take advantage of it. Especially “high school girls”, who have become a sort of icon, which means they benefit from a consumer society, which equals having their value recognized by society. Because of that, they don’t have any doubts about wearing the same black suit like everybody else. This means that the “worthlessness” or “stuffiness” that Mr. Mogi and the others insist on only exists in their own generation and there is a high possibility that such ideas don’t exist at all among the current recruits.

In that way, it clears up why I doubted their anger. I guess whoever feels worthless or stuffy from the sight of all applicants wearing black suits are only Mr. Mogi or Mr. Kokami. Therefore, I think the truth of their anger is that they are using recruits as chessmen in a proxy war to fulfill their self-respect.

Sick burn, bro.


Photo by k14

In the end, though, why are these people fighting about this? Isn’t the most important thing for recruits to think for themselves? If they want to be safe and do what everyone else does, then they can wear a black suit and follow the unwritten rules list. Plus, a simple black suit can be used in many other situations as well. This is an extreme example, but if someone somehow found a great reason to wear a golden suit that can be explained logically, then I think that’s fine too. The interviewer would probably ask you why you chose that suit, and then hopefully you can explain a reasonable answer, using logic, that impresses him or her.

The worst part is that both sides are making groundless claims against the other. Everything is purely opinion. The recruits and the interviewers had hardly any say at all. Even the original article that sparked all of this controversy said that they wrote their thoughts without doing any proper research. Akagi’s response against the individualist side is just as bad. He’s just speculating about how Mr. Mogi and friends think, which doesn’t help anybody.

It’s too bad that we can’t do a study on job-hunting suits this year. I wonder if these articles and arguments even moved the needle in either direction. How many people will wear simple, black suits? How many will try something a little more wild, like *gasp* pinstripes? I hope that on December 1 you think about all the people in Japan searching for a job. And then, I hope they find an occupation that makes them happy and allows them to wear whatever is comfortable for them.

Bonus Wallpapers!

[Phone – 640×1136]


The post The Unwritten Rules Of Job-Hunting In Japan appeared first on Tofugu.

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Invasion of the Species Thu, 13 Nov 2014 17:00:00 +0000 Dear readers, I don’t mean to alarm you, but we are currently experiencing an alien invasion. Some of these aliens are just arriving, but others have been amongst us for decades. They have contaminated our seas, our wilderness, our gardens, and even our food. But these aliens are not from another world. No, I speak of invasive […]

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Dear readers, I don’t mean to alarm you, but we are currently experiencing an alien invasion. Some of these aliens are just arriving, but others have been amongst us for decades. They have contaminated our seas, our wilderness, our gardens, and even our food. But these aliens are not from another world. No, I speak of invasive species from right here on our own little blue-green marble. These are species that have been introduced to environments to which they are not native, and may cause significant damage. Some of these species are native to Japan, and they are absolutely fascinating.

Japanese Beetles


Photo by: Michael Gil

“Oh what a pretty beetle,” you might be thinking. Its carapace has such lovely iridescent green and copper colors. There’s another one. And another. Now they are everywhere. “What are they doing to my hydrangeas? Have mercy, not the hydrangeas!”

You, like so many suburbanites, have fallen victim to Popillia japonica, the Japanese beetle. In Japan they are known as mamekogane 豆黄金, or “mini-gold.” The mamekogane menace has spread to China, Russia, Portugal, Canada, and the United States. It was first discovered in the U.S. in New Jersey in 1916. It’s thought that they were introduced as larva in a shipment of imported iris bulbs prior to 1912, when inspections for such things began. In the intervening decades they have spread to over thirty states.


A pest through much of its one year life cycle, after hatching the grub eats grass roots, potentially killing lawns in their subterranean assault. They emerge as adults around July to wreak havoc on a new front. Japanese beetles are known to consume the leaves of over 300 different species of plants, chewing around the veins of a leaf, so that only a skeleton remains. On average the beetles live as adults for about 60 days, during which time they feed, mate, and lay their eggs. Over those two months, a single female can lay up to 60 eggs, and thus the cycle begins anew.


Photo by: Lisa Brown

How can we battle the beetle? American homeowners often resort to an arsenal of poisons and traps, but I’ve often wondered what keeps them under control in their homeland. The English sources I’ve seen sometimes state that they have natural predators which are not present in the territories they have invaded, but don’t offer much on what those predators might be. According to Japanese sources, as larva, Japanese beetles are preyed upon by the likes of crows, moles, centipedes, and ants. As adults they are hunted by birds, robber flies, and some wasps of the Scoliidae family. Of course, most of these animals are present in much of the territory the beetle has invaded, so I’m not quite sure where the difference lies and why their reign of terror continues.



It is coming. Inexorably it extends its tendrils, creeping over trees, walls, abandoned cars and homes until it engulfs everything in a leafy sea of green. It is coming.

Kudzu refers to several vines in the genus, Pueraria.  The name comes from the Japanese word for the plant, kuzu.  Kudzu was introduced to the U.S. in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and to the Southeast region in 1883 at the New Orleans Exposition, but it wasn’t clear from my sources if they really knew what they were dealing with. Kudzu’s high growth rate must have soon become apparent, but for decades this quality was seen as an advantage. In the first half of the twentieth century, it was used as both cattle feed and as an erosion-preventing cover plant. It was not until 1953 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture removed kudzu from its list of suggested cover plants, and in 1970 they finally listed it as a weed. It was too little, too late.


Photo by: Katie Ashdown

Kudzu became known as “the vine that ate the South,” where it’s now estimated to cover over 3,000,000 hectares (7,400,000 acres) of land.  Under ideal conditions (like those in the American South) kudzu can grow up to a foot a day!  It can smother other plants, making it a threat to biodiversity.  It’s also incredibly resilient.  It’s even resistant to herbicides.  Physically removing it is like fighting the hydra, as it requires removing the crown of the plant as well as removing and burning all the vines, lest they take root again.


Photo by: shawnson

Various bugs and fungi are being tested as ways of fighting kudzu, but a perfect solution has yet to be found.  The fungal pathogen, myrothecium verrucaria seems like it could be quite effective, but has the unfortunate downside of being highly toxic to mammals.  The best method may actually be to let goats or sheep graze on kudzu, as even a small herd can clear an acre a day.  Of course, that may not be a feasible solution in every situation.


At least Kudzu can be used for some practical purposes.  The stems can be used to weave baskets.  Its fibers can be used to make paper or cloth.  The starchy roots can be used to make a powder used in Japan for making food like kuzumochi, kuzumanju, and kuzukiri, or in hot water as kuzuyu.

Japanese Knotweed


There is another herbaceous horror from Japan that is now plaguing poleis across the U.S., U.K., and New Zealand. Like kudzu, Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is a fast grower, and has a strong root system, allowing it to damage roads, concrete foundations, and other manmade structures.

Despite its English name, Japanese knotweed is also native to China and Korea. In Japan it is most commonly known as itadori, but has other names in various dialects. Japanese knotweed has become so problematic in the U.K. that some banks and mortgage companies have refused mortgage applications due to knotweed having been found on the property, or even the neighboring property.


Controlling Japanese knotweed is quite difficult, because to kill the plant one must eliminate the entire large root network. These roots can grow up to three meters (ten feet) deep, and leaving only a small amount can be enough for it to quickly regrow. Various control methods have been tried, including herbicides, digging up the roots, covering the plants with concrete slabs, and injecting steam into the affected soil, but none of these have been foolproof. In Japan, a certain leafspot fungus is particularly potent against knotweed, and foreign research on it is being carried out. There has also been an experimental attempt to introduce psyllid insects into the wild in the U.K.. Their diet is exclusively knotweed and the attempt showed potential. Let us hope it is not too late.



Photo by: Bing

Look! There! It’s something green and slimy. What’s that lurking in the depths of your miso soup? The algae known as wakame may seem innocent enough, but this sinister seaweed has been carrying out a naval campaign for over thirty years.

Native to the coasts of Japan, Korea, and China, wakame is a species of brown kelp, known to scientists as Undaria pinnatifida. Like other seaweeds, wakame has no roots, drawing its nutrients from the water. However, it does have root-like appendages that allow it to attach itself to rocks, shellfish, pilings, buoys, anchor chains, and other surfaces. Wakame can also survive in a relatively wide range of temperatures and salinities, aiding in its invasion of new territories.


Photo by: edgrimley

It is thought that it was most likely introduced to new areas by attaching itself to ships or finding its way into their ballast water. Once it enters a new environment it can spread quickly, scattered by the currents, clinging to new surfaces, and reproducing via microscopic spores. Wakame’s full impact on an alien environment is not well understood. Full grown wakame forms dense forests which reduces the light and slows the water in their territory.

Wakame has been found in Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Mexico, and Argentina. After being introduced to Brittany as a crop in 1983 it spread to the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain. It is also present on the west coast of the U.S. It has become a bit of a problem in San Francisco Bay, where it was first found in 2000. There have been efforts to keep it under control by people such as Dr. Chela Zabin, a biologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Dr. Zabin recalled her reaction after first encountering wakame in the bay: “Oh God, this is it, it’s here. I was really hoping I was wrong.”

Tsunami Invaders


Photo by: Tyler Batty

The latest front in the struggle against invasive species is on the west coast of North America.  The 2011 tsunami caused much death and devastation in Japan, but its aftereffects are also being felt elsewhere.  The currents have eventually brought both debris and new species across the Pacific to North America.  The aforementioned wakame has been brought to new territories, as have the Northern Pacific seastar, Asian shore crab, Mediterranean blue mussel, and others.  There are estimates that tsunami debris could continue to wash up on North America for up to ten years.  Authorities are largely relying on citizens to report the arrival of debris, so if you are a resident of the West coast remain vigilant.  You never know when a new invasive species may rise from the depths. Stay alert, my friends.

Bonus Wallpapers!

[Phone – 640×1136]



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How Japan Made Halloween Their Own… Then Ruined It For Everybody Tue, 11 Nov 2014 17:00:10 +0000 Halloween is over, but Japan is still cleaning up the mess. It seems like every year the outrage against Halloween in Japan increases. A decade ago Japanese people were complaining about foreigners dressing up and riding trains. Now they’re complaining about a lot more. In what feels like only a couple of years, Halloween has become one […]

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Halloween is over, but Japan is still cleaning up the mess. It seems like every year the outrage against Halloween in Japan increases. A decade ago Japanese people were complaining about foreigners dressing up and riding trains. Now they’re complaining about a lot more. In what feels like only a couple of years, Halloween has become one of the biggest (adult) holidays in Japan.

In Tokyo, you begin to see costumes as early as the first weekend in October. Halloween parties run rampant on the weekends. Clubs, bars, and retail stores cash in and push, push, push Halloween down the throats of every open-mouthed citizen. I imagine this is how other Western holidays, like Valentine’s Day and Christmas came about in Japan. It was merely an opportunity for corporations and companies to make money, so they set their marketing wheels in motion. The Japanese versions of these holidays aren’t the same as their original counterparts (for example, on Christmas couples will go on extremely expensive dates with extremely expensive hotel stays… well played, hotel industry!) but they all have a couple things in common:

  1. There are companies making boatloads of money.
  2. These companies push people to spend more money and do certain actions because “it’s what you do during the holidays!”
  3. Eventually, it becomes a cultural norm, and the CEOs of these companies can sit back and relax in their swimming pools full of gold coins.

Halloween has just reached this point, I think. As far as I can tell, Halloween is being marketed as “an adult holiday where you can behave badly, and it’s totally okay!” Bars, nightclubs, and other industries that involve debauchery say this is the biggest business opportunity of the year. This year was the wildest of them all, and it looks like it’s only getting wilder. There has finally been some outcry against it, but unfortunately, there’s too much money being pumped into this Halloween war machine for it to be stopped.

Halloween: One Giant Cosplay Event?

Last year, we wrote Halloween: Japan’s Most Recent Holiday. This article explored Halloween’s rise in popularity, and talked about how Trick-or-Treating never really caught on in Japan. Instead, Japan has zeroed in on the costumes, which I think fits well with Japanese culture. It has turned into a massive cosplay event for adults. We’re famous for our cosplaying, after all!

2014 saw the biggest Halloween turnout yet (Halloween landing on a Friday didn’t hurt either). Shibuya seemed to be the place to be if you were dressing up. Thousands of people in costumes unexpectedly gathered that night, and 200 police officers were dispatched to keep guard. To put things in perspective, one man interviewed by said that he felt embarrassed and uncomfortable walking around in his “normal clothes.”

They did a good job dressing up, too. When it comes to Halloween, Japan kinda of does it better than everyone else. Sorry Western countries, Japan won Halloween.


Photo by TokyoFashion


Photo by TokyoFashion


Photo by JapanTimes


Photo by @komayo_j_u_r


Photo by mase_1213


Photo by kemekime


Photo by 27ringo


Photo by ryokutya55


Photo by TokyoFashion


Photo by sudokeeeeen

Anyway, go waste some time looking at Kotaku and TokyoStyle for more fantastic Japanese Halloween costumes.



Photo by @A_Lvl7

Sure, costumes are great fun, but unfortunately that’s not the only part of Halloween culture that crept its way into Japan’s version of the holiday. Debauchery and a general attitude of being irresponsible has become a Japanese Halloween staple. Perhaps Japan’s Halloween motto should be “Trick & Costume” instead of “Trick or Treat.”

People in Japan have been calling out for “NO MORE HALLOWEEN IN JAPAN!” and for good reason. In some ways, it has gotten out of hand, and I imagine that people are envisioning a future where each proceeding year just keeps getting worse and worse. I hope this won’t happen, but I understand why people are concerned. Halloween left Tokyo coated in trash. Empty snack bags, drink cans, and used costumes were discarded all over the streets and fake blood was smeared on many walls, windows, and countertops.


Photo by @A_Lvl7

Here’s one story: Twitter user @mitaka_cos found blood in the sink of a public bathroom in Shibuya. He felt disgusted and voluntarily started cleaning it up. Some other people came into the bathroom to find him cleaning up the sink. Unbelievably, they handed him their used blood-soaked costumes and asked him, “can you take care of this too?” He responded with angry words which were followed up with the excuse, “but today is Halloween!” Upon hearing this, he stormed out of the bathroom.

This sort of attitude has been popping up more and more around Halloween in the last few years. It’s a holiday that gives you permission to be bad and some particularly bad apples take advantage of it, even though they’re probably considered good people the rest of the year.

Volunteer Cleaning


Photo by Shibuya_akkun

But it wouldn’t be Japan without people trying to clean up. After all, Japanese people were known for cleaning up stadium seats after a soccer game at the World Cup. Several volunteers posted pictures of themselves cleaning the streets on Twitter, because they wanted to make the mess-makers realize that they had done something wrong. Shame and guilt go a long ways in Japanese culture.


It’s okay to enjoy Halloween, but there are simple guidelines to follow, right? Don’t leave Shibuya in a mess. Put your garbage in a garbage can. Even kindergarten kids know that. Is it okay to do whatever you want for the sake of fun? Young people in Shibuya are now cleaning the leftovers from everyone’s fun night. @shibuya_akkun


We cleaned up the trash in Shibuya ( ´ ▽ ` )ノI never expected people to be so careless in enjoy themselves. It surprises me that they didn’t care about messing up the place. There were still a few people in costumes (walking the streets in the morning). I hope they will feel some sense of shame by watching us clean the streets. We will continue cleaning the streets.

I thought the decision those volunteers made was great, however a few people called them hypocrites. For example @hawk_kaito tweeted:

I assume those people who cleaned the street and tweeted about it think, “I’m cleaning the street! I’m awesome, right? Praise me!

and @takumi_cast said

自分でボランティアしましたとか ゴミ拾いしましたとか ましてや、 ダメな人と比べて 自分は好い人ですよアピールする人は 絶対に偽善者。 偽善者=悪魔ぢゃけぇ、うざい。
The people who say that they volunteered or cleaned up the garbage are definitely hypocrites. It’s needless to say that those are the appeals of people that think they are better than others. Hypocrites = devils, so I’m annoyed.

There were actually a lot more nasty comments left on Twitter, but many of them deleted their tweets soon after. In some extreme cases accounts were deleted because of the backlash. I guess it’s nice that people support cleaning up so strongly.

Halloween Invades The Yakuza

There’s nothing more Japanese than the Yakuza, so if Halloween is penetrating its way into Japan, it’s going to be embraced by the Yakuza as well. While most adults would be too afraid to play the trick or treat game with the Yakuza (does trick = cut off your pinky?), it appears that many children are immune to that fear. The Yamaguchi-gumi (Japan’s biggest crime family) general offices were handing out pink treat bags to any elementary student who wanted one. Yakuza members stood in the compound entrance with open-armed offers of candy (though it seems like they didn’t wear costumes, what party poopers).


Trick or Treating isn’t all that popular in Japan yet, so children were overjoyed to find a place giving away free candy, not to mention so much of it! Look at all those future Yakuza members! How cute!

Of course, the people of the internet reacted:

Even the yakuza are attuned to the trends of the time -2ch

Do you know how many young yakuza members bled in order to hand out those candies? -2ch

It’s understandable if children go by themselves, but I can’t understand the how the mother can push the baby stroller towards them. haha -2ch

This sort of Yakuza generosity isn’t a new thing. Doing generous, public things has always been part of the Yakuza’s strategy. During New Years, they participated in お年玉, a tradition that involves adults giving envelopes of money to children. The Yakuza, being everyone’s adults, went around to their neighbors handing out envelopes with 10,000-30,000 yen inside ($100-300 USD). I remember in Kyoto when they were doing this too (before the police put pressure on them to stop). Even friends of my husband (non-Japanese) went there to receive money, but I told my husband not to accept it because I thought it was a shameless thing to do.

The Yamaguchi-gumi is also known for assisting with the Great Hanshin Earthquake when it hit Kobe in 1995. They distributed meals and relief supplies and really were the first on the scene to help out. Even with the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, which isn’t even their home region, they sent 25 trucks filled with foods and supplies right away, and even provided places for victims to stay. Some praised the Yamaguchi-gumi while others said it was a publicity stunt. I think this one 2ch comment said it best, though:

Those who pass judgment on the people receiving Halloween candy from the Yamaguchi-gumi are also passing judgment on the Kobe citizens who lined up for meals provided by them during the disaster.

Halloween, Here To Stay

I think Halloween will get crazier and crazier over the next few years, but I also think that opponents to Halloween will become more vocal as well. I hope that soon the two groups can reach some kind of compromise, though. I love the costuming that Japan does. I also love that people are having a good time, and are able to have fun and relax. However, it shouldn’t come at the expense of others. There’s a difference between being an inconvenience and being rude, and Japan will have to figure out where that line needs to be drawn.

As for the Yakuza giving out treats… well, as long as the children are happy, I guess. I hope at least one of them was dressed as a Yakuza gang member for Halloween. I’m sure that would have made for a fun scene. Perhaps the attention caused by all this will make the trick or treat side of Halloween more prevalent and popular in Japan too. If more kids get involved with Halloween, then hopefully some of the drunken debauchery will calm down at the same time.

I’m sure we’ll see Halloween in Japan continue to evolve. It’s a relatively new holiday, one that is still malleable to the effects of the masses and the corporations. I’m interested to see which one wins out the most before we hit the holiday plateau. I guess we can only sit back, relax, and watch to see what happens (hopefully from a vantage point free of smeared blood).

Bonus Wallpapers!

[640×1136 – Phone]

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

The post Miyagi 3 Years after 3.11: Slogans Are Cheap appeared first on Tofugu.

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

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

Sendai and Matsushima


Is this what you would call disaster?

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

The recovery is going well here then, I suppose.


New buildings at Tohoku University

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

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


The recovery is going well here too, it seems.

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

Matsushima → Ishinomaki


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

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


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



How can you bring recovery to what was already sick?

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

Ishinomaki → Minami-Sanriku


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

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

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

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

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



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

And there is a lot to rebuild.


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


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

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


Below is what Google Maps led me to.



This used to be the station.


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

[Phone – 640×1136]

The post Miyagi 3 Years after 3.11: Slogans Are Cheap appeared first on Tofugu.

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Who’s that Pokémon? Yōkai Edition! Fri, 31 Oct 2014 16:00:43 +0000 It’s no secret that most Pokémon are based on actual animals found throughout the world. Who could forget gems like Beedrill the giant hornet, Swellow the swallow, and Sunflora the sunflower? How creative! Most Pokémon are pretty easy to figure out (a bird is a bird, a plant is a plant) but there are others that are […]

The post Who’s that Pokémon? Yōkai Edition! appeared first on Tofugu.

It’s no secret that most Pokémon are based on actual animals found throughout the world. Who could forget gems like Beedrill the giant hornet, Swellow the swallow, and Sunflora the sunflower? How creative! Most Pokémon are pretty easy to figure out (a bird is a bird, a plant is a plant) but there are others that are a bit harder to understand for people outside Japan. A considerable number of Pokémon are actually based on myths throughout East Asia, sacred animals of legend, and everyday things. But some of my favorite Pokémon were inspired by yōkai 妖怪, supernatural monsters, ghosts, and phantoms of Japanese folklore.

While Pokémon never delved as deep into the yōkai world as shows like the newer, and almost as popular, Yo-Kai Watch, there are still quite a few Pokémon that were directly influenced by Japanese ghosts and ghouls. Gotta catch ‘em all, Yōkai!

Sazae Oni 栄螺鬼

The sazae oni, or turban shell ogre, is a giant turban shell with a human like body coming out of its shell head. They are created one of two ways: Either a turban snail gets old enough to shape shift, or an overly sexual woman is thrown into the sea, turns into a snail, and lives long enough to become this strange monster.

Sazae oni turn into women and pretend to be drowning as humans pass by on their boats or are walking along the shore. When men try to save or capture a sazae oni, they’re usually eaten alive.

One legend tells of a pirate ship that picked up what looked like a drowning woman. Their intentions were anything but pure and the “woman” slept with them all and then proceeded to take two rather important body parts from each of the pirates. In the end, the pirates had to barter away all of their pirate gold to get their own “gold” back. Their 金玉, that is.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Slowbro and Slowking!

They may seem innocent but the Slow family was inspired by the idea of a turban snail coming to life and causing havoc. Slowking is visually the closest to the sazae oni, but they were all inspired by it. As for the shapeshifting, ever wonder why a Slowpoke becomes water/psychic when it evolves into Slowbro?

Sōgen Bi 叢原火 / 宗源火

This is a specific fireball yōkai , similar to a will o’ wisp, which takes the form of a man’s head surrounded by flames and floats around in the sky at night.

Sōgen was the name of a monk who lived in Kyoto a long, long time ago and he was pretty bad at his job. He was always stealing from the temple and selling things off for money. Those aren’t exactly the actions of a pious monk. Finally he got old and died, but because he was such a jerk he was was reborn in hell. The legend says that Sōgen was forced to wander the earth, and it’s said his floating head, shrouded in flames was seen in hovering around Kyoto after he died.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Gastly!

This one was probably obvious, as there aren’t too many other Pokémon that fit the “floating head covered in fire” description. Though with Gastly it looks more like eerie smoke than fire. Not every Gastly may be the head of Sōgen the terrible monk, but if you notice yours trying to take off with your money and valuables, you may have been (un)lucky enough to find him.

Baku 獏

The baku is pretty scary looking because it’s an amalgamation of a bunch of different animals, kind of like a chimera that eats dreams. But don’t worry, it won’t hurt you.

They originated in China, and in Japan they’re associated with the tapir. They may seem scary but they’re the nice kind of yōkai . Other yōkai are afraid of them and, while they eat dreams, they stick to a diet of bad ones, mostly nightmares. Baku can be seen carved on temples to keep evil spirits and sickness away.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Drowzee, Hypno, Munna, and Musharna!

All four of these Pokémon were inspired by the dream-eating baku. If the tapir-like noses and the fact that they can use the move “Dream Eater” don’t convince you, just read their most recent Pokédex entries:

Drowzee: “Puts enemies to sleep, then eats their dreams. Occasionally gets sick from eating only bad dreams.”

Hypno: “It carries a pendulum-like device. There once was an incident in which it took away a child it hypnotized.”

Munna: “This Pokémon appears before people and Pokémon who are having nightmares and eats those dreams.”

Musharna: “The dream mist coming from its forehead changes into many different colors depending on the dream that was eaten.”

Jinmenju 人面樹

You might mistake this as an ordinary tree if it didn’t have human heads hanging down from its branches. The heads have faces, human faced fruit that is, that smile and laugh at travelers from above.

Legends of these tree yōkai (another one that came to Japan from China), tell that the fruit would laugh when it was ripe and fall to the ground. Apparently, even the seeds of these plants had faces of their own. They say the fruit faces were a mix of sweet and sour and that we don’t see anymore today because humans ate them all.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Exeggutor!

There’s only one Pokémon that could possibly be a tree with face fruit, and that’s Exeggutor. While its heads look more like coconuts than a soft fruit, there is no mistaking this yōkai. Perhaps exeggcute isn’t made up of eggs at all. Maybe they’re the jinmenju’s seeds.

Yamauba 山姥

An old woman who lives alone in a hut in the mountains. She is kind to travelers and lets them rest at her hovel for the night. Then, while her guests are sleeping, she transforms into a decrepit witch and tries to eat them!

Yamauba are created a couple different ways, but all of them end with a woman living a life in isolation, changing with time and becoming evil. They have white hair, wear red-kimono, and have large, disgusting mouths (probably from devouring so many people).

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Jynx!

Though there are some pretty horrible (read: racist) rumors in the United States and other countries about what Jynx is based on, it’s really inspired by the Yamauba. Jynx is an ice/psychic Pokémon and, because these hags lived in snowy mountains and were corrupted by their surroundings, the description fits. The darker skin is a nod to how they look in Nō plays in which actors paint their faces black, wear silvery-blonde wigs, and red kimono.

Nekomata 猫又

A type of bake-neko 化け猫, a cat that is transformed into a yōkai. But unlike its cousin, the nekomata isn’t something you’ll want to bump into in a back alley. They start off as normal cats then, when they get old, run off into the mountains.

There, they transform, their tails splitting in half, creating two identical tails. Suddenly they can walk on their hind legs, speak, manipulate people, and summon fireballs.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Espeon!

Considering there is only one split-tailed cat in the (current) Pokémon universe, this may have been an easy guess. But I’d never think of Espeon as something sinister. In fact, while it may have inherited its tail, intelligence, and psychic powers from the nekomata, it looks like thats where the similarities stop, which is probably a good thing for anyone who wants to raise one.

Nukekubi 抜け首

One of the two types of rokurokubi 轆轤首, or yōkai whose heads come off. The nukekubi is less of a yōkai and more of a woman or girl with a curse. When they fall asleep, instead of snoring, or sleepwalking, their heads come off and terrorize the town.

They’ll chase men, suck their blood, and even rip animals apart. At the end of the night the head comes back to its body and the poor girl has no idea what’s happened. Even worse, this can be passed on through your family. So if a mother is a nukekubi, her daughter could be too.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Misdreavus!

A Pokémon that only appears at night to scare people and apparently absorb their fear? That sounds about right. While there haven’t been any cases of a Misdreavus’ body turning up in the Pokémon universe, it is pretty uncanny that it’s also a lady’s floating head that spooks you out of the darkness.

Kamaitachi 鎌鼬

Weasels that dwell mainly in the mountains of Japan and attack travelers. They have spiky fur and claws like steel that can slice through your skin in a flash.

They ambush humans in threes: One pushes the poor guy down, the second slices him up with its claws, and the third heals (only) the fatal wounds with a salve so that the victim won’t die as they make away with pieces of his flesh. Not very nice, but at least they don’t kill you, right?

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Sneasel and Weavile!

Sneasel and Weavile look just like the descriptions of the kamaitachi. They’re spiky weasels with sharp claws that you can only find in the icy mountains of the Pokémon world. They’re even dark/ice types. How fitting! Weavile’s original Pokédex description is even more convincing:

“They live in cold regions, forming groups of four or five that hunt prey with impressive coordination.”

Futakuchi Onna 二口女

During the day and with other people, they’re ordinary women, but at night and when they’re alone, they let down their hair to reveal a second mouth in the back of their heads. Futakuchi Onna will eat whoever they live with out of house and home, pulling food into their mouth heads with their hair that can act like hands.

There are a few different ways someone can become a Futakuchi Onna. Sometimes they’re curses, brought on by the mistreatment of others (usually by starving someone to death), or they’re a kind of karmic retribution on someone miserly. They have giant lips and sharp teeth hidden behind the dark, thick hair on a woman’s head.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Mawile!

Just from looking at Mawile it should be pretty obvious that its design was inspired by the Futakuchi Onna. It almost looks like a girl from the front (back?) but when you see the giant fanged mouth coming out of the back (front?) of its head it isn’t so cute anymore. At least the Futakuchi Onna didn’t have teeth that could chew through iron beams like Mawile.

Tsukumogami 付喪神

This is a larger category of yōkai, that a certain Pokémon seems to be based on. They’re basically any type of (once) inanimate objects that either spontaneously gain life or have spirits inhabit them.

Some of the most common tsukumonogami include hahakigami 箒神, living brooms that blows leaves around, honekarakasa 骨傘, discarded paper umbrellas that float around in the sky, and of course the jatai 蛇帯, obi that move like snakes and try to strangle you in your sleep.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Banette!

Poor Banette is one of those Pokémon I have a soft spot for. It’s said they start as a Pokédoll that was thrown away. They tend to live near trash and wander around at night, holding a grudge for the child or parent that discarded them. So whatever tsukumonogami that’s in there, it’s similar to the old, tattered umbrella. Coming back, just trying to fulfill its original purpose.

Chōchin Obake 提灯お化け

A specific type of tsukumogami that inhabits a paper lantern. They usually have one eye (but can have two) and a large mouth around their middle, with a long tongue that hangs out.

Luckily they don’t really attack people. They just like to roll their eye and flail their tongue around to scare them in the night.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Dusclops and Dusknoir!

These ghost Pokémon are aren’t quite as harmless as their yōkai counterpart. They’re both hollow on the inside; Dusclops sucks things (including people) into its black hole of a body, and Dusknoir sucks in lost souls to guide them home. So maybe Dusknoir isn’t so bad, but a black hole body isn’t somewhere I want to go.

Yuki Onna 雪女

They appear to be strikingly beautiful women, originally viewed as evil creatures who used their ice breath to freeze travelers solid. They’re associated with blizzards and cold winter winds. They have beautiful, long black hair, pure white skin, and piercing eyes.

However, in more recent years Yuki Onna seem have been portrayed as beautiful spirits, not really harming anyone. In some stories they even fall in love and lead almost normal lives with ordinary human men.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Froslass!

They didn’t even have to change much to make Froslass. She’s pretty much the exact depiction of the newer, less violent Yuki Onna, sans the black hair. But this Pokémon does have a kimono style design and a pair of piercing eyes. She even has the ice breath! Check out its latest Pokédex entry:

“It freezes foes with an icy breath nearly -60 degrees Fahrenheit. What seems to be its body is actually hollow.”

Nurarihyon 滑瓢

This one is a little creepy. They look like old men, but their heads are engorged. To me they look kind of like lumpy gourds, covered in wrinkles and veins. When people are busy, usually around dinnertime, this thing slips into their house and indulges in all the luxuries therein. Soon everyone is convinced it’s the master of the house and treats it as such. Finally, it slips away into the night.

Other legends say that Nurarihyon originated in the ocean, taunting fisherman. Their bulbous heads floating right below the water. When the fishermen try to catch it, it sinks just out of reach, bobbing back up tease them some more. Nurarihyon are said to be the leaders of all yōkai, making their authority over humans understandable.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Jellicent!

While this Pokémon is more loosely based on this yōkai than many of the others, it is said that the lumpy head and strange sea activities of one type of Nurarihyon inspired this Pokémon creation. That would also explain the crown, as Nurarihyon is the ruler of all yōkai, Jellicent’s crown must mean it’s the ruler of.. well, something right?

Hitodama 人魂

These are like will o’wisps (not to be confused with the fireball head that is Sōgen Bi) that appear as colored lights, usually near graveyards or places where someone recently passed away.

They aren’t evil or malicious, just the souls of the dead trying to find their way somewhere. Some of them head toward temples at night, though they have been seen during the day too.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Litwick!

It’s one of the few Pokémon that is more dangerous than the yōkai it’s based on. Litwick, a ghost Pokémon, seems to be leading people places. While it does this, it drains them of their life force:

“While shining a light and pretending to be a guide, it leeches off the life force of any who follow it.”

Instead of just looking like a ball of light, Litwick has a candle body (perhaps a more modern light to follow). But since it’s a ghost, it could just be a clever disguise to help it lead people around in the dark with its purple flame.

Kodama 木霊

You may have heard of these before, as they were made popular by the Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke. They’re tree spirits whose souls can leave their bodies, looking like a ball of light or a misshapen doll.

They’re considered protectors of the forest. You’ll know a kodama inhabits a tree if it bleeds when you try to cut it down. If the spirits themselves appear to someone, they’re supposed to tie a shimenawa around it, because if you cut down a tree with a kodama, the kodama dies too.

Who’s that Pokémon?


It’s Celebi, Phantump, and Trevenant!

First let’s talk about Celebi: If you’ve seen the fourth Pokémon movie, Pokémon 4Ever – Celebi: Voice of the Forest, you already saw this coming. This legendary pretty much sums up the idea of the kodama. While it looks like an onion fairy, it only shows up to people who respect nature and do everything they can to protect its forests.

Phantump and Trevenant are newer, more accurate representations of the kodama yōkai. They’re spirits that possess trees and, if someone threatens the forest, they can get violent. They’re not exactly kodama though. Instead of a spirit that comes from a tree, Phantump in particular, is supposed to be the spirit of a child who got lost and died in the woods, then inhabits a tree stump. So the process is kind of backwards. Trevenant is more of the protector, check out its Pokédex entry:

“It can control trees at will. It will trap people who harm the forest, so they can never leave.”

It’s a Pokémon Halloween


That’s it! There are a few more yōkai inspired Pokémon out there, but they’re amalgamations of more than one, and the connections aren’t as obvious as the list above. Hopefully this puts you in the right mood for a spooky Halloween night. And remember, gotta catch ‘em all – even the scary ones!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be in my room hatching shinies in X until my copy of Alpha Sapphire gets here.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Bonus Wallpapers!

[5120×2880] ∙ [2560×1440] ∙ [1280×720]


The post Who’s that Pokémon? Yōkai Edition! appeared first on Tofugu.

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The Skeletal Structure of Japanese Horror Fiction Thu, 30 Oct 2014 16:00:36 +0000 Mankind has been telling scary stories ever since we decided to start telling stories at all. It only makes sense—a lot of scary crap happens in life. The horror genre was born from folklore and oral tradition that explored death, sadness, and the unexplained, and grew into a contemporary form of entertainment with a host […]

The post The Skeletal Structure of Japanese Horror Fiction appeared first on Tofugu.

Mankind has been telling scary stories ever since we decided to start telling stories at all. It only makes sensea lot of scary crap happens in life. The horror genre was born from folklore and oral tradition that explored death, sadness, and the unexplained, and grew into a contemporary form of entertainment with a host of exemplary graphic novels, literature, games, and film.

Japan ,of course, developed its own tradition of creepy tales entirely independently from the rest of the world. One of the amazing things about Japanese horror is that even with its direct link to traditional folklore and culture, it has proven incredibly popular outside of its country of origin. Japanese horror films, like Ringu and Ju-On: the Grudge, essentially jump-started a love for Asian horror cinema outside of Japan. They prompted Hollywood remakes and they captured the dark imaginations of movie-goers across the globe.

Every last aspect of a classical Japanese horror story’s construction, from structure, to mechanics, to themes and motifs, are integral to the unique sensibilities that have made J-horror so famously eerie. It’s easy to forget how important story structure is to an effective narrative, but the simple details of plot organization and structure determine just about everything that a viewer experiences in a story. In this article, the first of a series about this topic that is so near and dear to my horror-loving heart, I aim to illuminate how plot structure and organization, the blood-soaked backbone of story, contribute to the uniqueness and resonance of Japanese horror.

Visualizing Stories in Japan and the West


The first thing we need to do is look at the differences in storytelling between the Japanese and Western models. This is the sort of thing that is much easier to do visually by using some established narrative diagramming. One of the tools for visualizing how stories are organized is story grammar which is a (sometimes) simple model that displays the ways that a story’s basic structural components interact to further the plot to a resolution. Think of it as a more nuanced version of the model that is taught in primary school.

To understand how Japanese story grammar is different from the Western model, let’s take a look at the story grammar that a typical Western folk tale might follow, as diagrammed by storytelling scholar Utako Matsuyama:

Figure 1

figure by Utako Matsuyama

In a Western story the plot is moved forward by the character’s goals. Bits of story, called episodes, are steered by subgoals that the protagonist needs to accomplish in order to conquer his or her main goal and the successes or failures of that character in meeting those goals determine the outcome. Take “Cinderella” as an example of this Western model of storytelling, she has a clearly defined goal: Go to the ball to hit on the prince. The plot progresses as she encounters opposition to that.

Can a Japanese model of storytelling really be that much more complicated?


figure by Utako Matsuyama

Instead of having goals and subgoals that carry the plot from beginning to end, the classical Japanese story grammar is guided by a series of actions and reactions that lead a character to a thematically significant resolution. Causality, rather than conflict, is the vehicle in this type of storytelling. These stories move based on character actions (or often actions outside of the control of the characters) and the motivations are often irrelevant or not elaborated upon. Matsuyama posits that the lack of a goal structure is due to the traditional Buddhist value of eliminating worldly desires, which is in direct contrast with the very goal-oriented ideas of the West. Japanese protagonists tend to be unmotivated by an initial goal in the interest of making them more classically “good” in a Buddhist sense.

These types of stories tend to follow one of two paths: a simple action-and-reaction structure, or a complex action-and-reaction structure. In a simple-reaction story, the character’s own actions and the universe’s reactions to them drive the story to a conclusion that may or may not have anything to do with character goals. The complex-reaction path is where character goals come into play. Unlike the West, however, it isn’t the protagonist’s goals that drive the story it is the antagonist’s. In these stories, a “bad” character has a goal path that comes into direct conflict with the protagonist, setting events into motion that lead to an ending.

Utako Matsuyama has developed a mock-up of the archetypal Japanese folk tale to illustrate the complex-reaction story structure:

“The typical plot would be as follows: the main character is an honest and kind person who happens to help a trapped animal, helpless jizo [statue], or hungry god.”

Note, that this wasn’t the character’s goal, it just “happens” to occur. This is the initial action that sets the story in motion.

“Following that event, many good things happen to him.”

The reaction.

“Then, a bad person, usually the good person’s neighbor, sees the good person’s fortune and tries to get the same luck.”

Here is the complex reaction, the introduction of another character that has a strong, motivating goal. The end result being that the bad character will get his comeuppance and the good character will continue to blissfully be good and austere.

“The ending at the story level is that honesty and kindness are rewarded virtues.”

This leads us to the second significant difference between Japanese and Western story grammar: the conclusion. The Japanese story grammar ends with “events and/or emphasis,” whereas the more western model ends with a “resolution.” What that effectively means is that some Japanese narratives don’t need to have a resolution, heavily based on plot events and tying up loose ends. A Japanese story can potentially conclude with plot events or it can end with “emphasis” which is to say that it just ends. The resolution in this case is an emphasis of the virtues or ideas displayed in the story. The nearest Western equivalent that comes to mind is an Aesopian fable that ends with pronounced belief-based morals, or something weird like “The Sopranos” series finale (spoiler alert).

The Grammar of Japanese Horror


Now you know more than you ever wanted about the structure of folk tales (unless you’re into that sort of thing). But how does this contribute to horror stories in Japan? Since horror stories originated directly from folklore, much of Japanese horror has a similar structure with a lack of goal paths for protagonists and the use of an action-reaction model for plotting.

The lack of a goal structure works for horror because, to be an effective horror protagonist, the viewers must sympathize and be able to imagine themselves in the plight of that character. Relatability is the reason that so many J-horror protagonists are ‘everyday high school/college students’ that just want to live normal lives. These characters don’t typically have a strong goal that sets events into motion, rather a series of actions and reactions begins to unfold around them that puts these characters in peril.

The action and reaction model of plot also works wonders for horror, because it creates a sense of helplessness in being subjected to an uncaring reality. For a grisly example of this model we can point to movies in the notorious Guinea Pig series of films. Known for having such realistic effects for blood and gore, an FBI investigation was conducted to determine if they weren’t just snuff films. The first two movies in the series have no plot besides the kidnapping, drugging, torture, and dismemberment of innocent females. These short films are purely driven by actions and reactions and end without any form of proper resolution beyond an “emphasis” on the terrifying things just seen by the audience.

Taken together, these two key ingredients of Japanese story structure give you the essential recipe for typical Japanese horror fiction. An initial action starts the character’s journey. It will either be something they do themselves, like watching a cursed video tape, or moving into an apartment with an upstairs leak. Or else it will be an action by someone (or something) else that directly affects them, like being selected for a dark government program. This initial action will cause them to either become subject to the whims of an outside entity that has a goal of causing them harm, like a vengeful ghost or a deranged killer (consider this the complex-reaction model), or else the reactions beyond their control build up and threaten to consume them, like a curse, disease, or delirium (consider this the simple-reaction model).

So much of Japanese horror fiction follows this basic structure that, if you start looking for it, you might begin to see it everywhere.

Kishōtenketsu and Horror Without Conflict


The components that make the recipe for Japanese horror so complex and eerie are the same components that make Japanese scary stories more likely to be told in ways that defy the traditional three-act structure often seen in the West. In the three-act structure, a problem or conflict appears early on, it reaches a tense climax, and is finally resolved. While this style can work for horror stories (and there are some good examples where it does) there is another model of development that is often employed for great effect with horror stories. That style is called kishōtenketsu (起承転結).

In Japan, kishōtenketsu is a very common way of structuring stories, poems, and even arguments (more on that in another article). To summarize, kishōtenketsu is a four-act structure that contains an introduction (起), development (承), twist (転), and resolution (結). Here’s how it plays out: act one introduces the topic, setting, characters etc. Act two elaborates on this information. Act three, the main event when it comes to horror stories, introduces a major twist that changes the way all the information is perceived. Finally, act four concludes by reconciling what you learned from the first two sections with shocking new information in the third.

Since kishōtenketsu revolves around this twist in the third act, it is not well-suited for describing conflict like the Western three-act model. Instead it conveys discovery and a change of perspective that has far reaching consequences. This works for horror especially well, because, if what you discover in the third act is a little scary, it makes everything else scary by association.

The Worldwide Resonance of Japanese Horror


Photo by Mark Willard

One of the reasons that Japanese horror has been able to make such a smooth and influential transition to the West and other parts of Asia, is because of the similarity of the Japanese kishōtenketsu style to how horror stories are told elsewhere. There is something very intuitive about having horror stories that operate on a twist ending. I mean, it may sound obvious, but finding out some scary information tends to make people scared, and even more so when you thought everything was okay just before the reveal.

Scary folk tales and urban legends from around the world have used the kishotenketsu model without calling it that. It’s likely that you have heard urban legends that follow the kishōtenketsu model to a T. Take for instance “The Licked Hand” or “The Vanishing Hitchhiker.” If you haven’t heard these already, and they are pretty popular especially around Halloween. Click the links above and give them a read. When you get back I’ll show you how they fit into the kishōtenketsu mold.

The Licked Hand

Intro (起): A young girl is home alone with only her pet dog for comfort.

Development (承): She hears on the news of an escaped convict and becomes frightened. She is too scared to go to sleep without letting the dog lick her hand from beneath her bed.

Twist (転): When she awakes she discovers that her dog is dead and has been the entire night.

Conclusion (結): She finds the words “HUMANS CAN LICK TOO” written in blood.

 The Vanishing Hitchhiker

Intro (起): A young man is driving home in the rain late one night.

Development (承): He stops for a young, beautiful woman that is motioning for a ride and offers to take her home.

Twist (転): When he arrives at the woman’s house he discovers that the woman has disappeared from his car.

Conclusion (結): He knocks on the door of the woman’s house and is informed by an older gentlemen that the woman was his daughter who died four years ago on this very night, still trying to get home.

In stories like these, the twist changes the paradigm and makes the prior events scary, when before they were innocuous. The conclusion answers the questions raised by the twist in a way that situates the story’s plot. Scary folklore like this permeates many cultures outside of Japan and they form the baseline for how these cultures understand horror. The worldwide popularity of Japanese horror can possibly be explained by the fact that the Japanese approach to horror may have transitioned more easily to other cultures than love stories or action stories would if told in the same style.

Only Clawing at the Surface…


Japanese storytellers are markedly innovative and subversive. New ways to tell stories are constantly popping up in books and in cinema, but even contemporary horror stories often show a deep connection to the folkloric tradition of storytelling in Japan. I hope I’ve been able to show that some of the very basic things about story construction can carry a lot of weight.

Please join me next time as I discuss the mechanics of Japanese horror stories, focusing on the use of atmosphere and emotion. For now, I’ve taken up enough of your timeyou should be watching scary Japanese movies! Happy Halloween!

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Over a Thousand Years of Service: Japan’s Oldest Businesses Reign Supreme(ly Old) Tue, 28 Oct 2014 16:00:30 +0000 Businesses die like anything else. I used to give joke directions to a house where I lived that involved a whole sequence of useless instructions like “turn left where the dry cleaner used to be.” If you’ve lived in the same place long enough, you can probably do the same. I can’t begin to count […]

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Businesses die like anything else. I used to give joke directions to a house where I lived that involved a whole sequence of useless instructions like “turn left where the dry cleaner used to be.” If you’ve lived in the same place long enough, you can probably do the same. I can’t begin to count the number of places where I used to shop that have gone to the great strip mall in the sky, or the number of restaurant dishes I find myself craving that I’ll never be able to have again. No surprise, I guess, when the average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 index of leading US companies today is just 15 years.

But a few businesses in the world have managed to hang in there for a mind-bogglingly long time, and a lot of them are in Japan. In America, we tend to think it’s impressive if a building is two hundred years old; we’d never expect that building to house the same hotel or restaurant that it did when it opened. But in Japan, there are 3,146 companies that are over 200 years old, and  21,000 companies that are over 100 years old. You can stay at a hotel that’s been in business since 705 and buy candy that’s been made at the same shop since the 16th century. There are also companies that have been owned by the same family since the day they opened, and one on that list may be familiar, because you can buy their products even if you don’t live in Japan.

Seriously Traditional Inns


Photo by Namazu-Tron

When you get into researching the history of companies with record lifespans, you find that there are a lot of arguments about how you count what’s oldest and even what counts as being in business. But there’s one fact that seems to be agreed upon: the oldest hotels in the world are in Japan.

The first guest checked in to Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan in Yamanashi in 705. That’s not a typo – the inn was really founded over a thousand years before the United States was even considered a country. It’s recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest hotel. The same family has run the place for 52 generations, and some of the staff also pass their jobs down to their children.

Just like the old claim to fame that “George Washington Slept Here,” the inn mentions some of its most famous customers on its web page, though they predate George by quite a bit. For example, in 752, Kouken, the 46th Emperor, was reputedly cured of an illness by bathing in the local spring water, and Tokugawa Ieyasu slept here twice! (For those of you who aren’t up to speed on your important shoguns, in the late 16th century he was founder of the last line of shoguns to rule before the Meiji restoration.)


Close behind, Houshi Ryokan has been in business since 718, and for 46 generations has been run by the same family, with each proprietor taking the name Zengoro Houshi. Many people dream of starting a business, and that’s how this one started, but probably not in the way you’d think. Not only is this company old, it claims that its origins are divine. In 717, Buddhist priest Taicho hiked up the sacred mountain Hakusan, and the deity of the mountain appeared to him in a dream. The deity instructed him to go to the village of Awasu, where the people didn’t know that they were sitting right on top of a hot spring with wondrous healing powers. Taicho ordered his disciple Garyo Houshi to build an inn while he went off to meditate and achieve satori.

Oddly, although these places have been around for a thousand years, apparently there’s been very recent contention for the title of oldest. Houshi’s website says they were recognized as such in 1994 and you’ll find references indicating that as recently as 2006, they still held the title. It must be pretty shocking to wake up one morning to find that you’re not the oldest hotel anymore. What did the staff at Keiunkan do, go back to the 8th century in a time machine?

Another hotel that’s said to go back to 717 is Kinosaki Onsen Ryokan Senennoyu-koman in Hyogo, Kinki prefecture. Another dream business with a somewhat divine origin, its founder, Gonnokami Hiuke, dreamt about four Gods who told him he needed to live there from that point onward to protect his descendants. He built a shrine to those gods, and those descendants founded Kinosaki Onsen.

Former, Disputed, and Elusive Contenders


Photo by jpellgen

You’ll see some other contenders on lists of the oldest companies, but some of them have issues, including the one that for a long time headed the list.

The saddest story is that of the Kongou Gumi construction company, a builder of Buddhist temples. Founded in 587, for an incredibly long time they were world’s oldest, continuously operating family business. A recent president attributed their longevity partly to their flexibility in passing responsibility down the family line: rather than always choosing the oldest son, leadership would go to the one best suited for the job. Sometimes it wasn’t even a son – they used the common Japanese practice of adopting son-in-laws to keep the family name going, and the 38th leader was actually a woman (Imagine that!).

Unfortunately, age doesn’t always mean wisdom, and in 2006 the management found themselves in excessive debt, including investments made during the 1980s real estate bubble. They were acquired by Takamatsu, a large Japanese construction firm, and while you can still get a temple built by them, they are now a subsidiary, not an independent company.

Then there’s Ikenobo Kadokaia, which has been around since 587. The problem is that not everyone agrees this is a “company,” as the BBC puts it: “However, its stated purpose is the promotion of traditional floral arranging, which is not necessarily commercial in nature.” Basically, the argument is that if you start including organizations and associations and universities, it’s a different list. That makes sense to me, so I’m counting this one out.

And although we can’t tell you much about them because somehow they’ve managed to keep going this long without getting a lot of press, we should probably give a shout-out to Tech Kaihatsu, a machinery firm which started as a smithy in 760, and Genda Shigyo, which has been making paper goods since 771.

All in the Family


Photo by Captain76

Japan is also a country with a strong tradition of handing businesses down in the family.  There’s an international organization, Les Hénokiens, a fraternity of companies that are at least 200 years old and have stayed in the control of one family to the present day. Its oldest current member is the Houshi Ryokan – an honor that passed to them after the sad swallowing-up of the Kongou Gumi construction company. There are some other impressive Japanese members as well.

Akafuku is a tea house and confectionary that’s been serving pilgrims to Ise Grand Shrine since 1707. They make a red bean paste mochi in a wavy shape meant to symbolize the waters of the Isuzu River, “with the three ridges in the sweet bean paste representing the clear water that flows through the river, and the white mochi depicting the pebbles that lie on the riverbed.”


Photo by: ajari

In their version of “George Washington Ate Here,” they tell the story of how in 1911, the Empress Meiji heard of the reputation of their mochi, and wanted to try some. Apparently concerned that the empress was too posh to eat something made with the brown sugar they’d always used, they made it with white sugar for the first time. I guess they knew their customer, because she ordered it repeatedly, and afterwards the owner celebrated May 19th as “Homare-Bi (Day of Honor),” commemorating the day they first sent rice cakes to the Empress.

Another member of Les Hénokiens is Okaya, a trading company that started as a hardware store in Nagoya in 1669. Which I’m sure is very fascinating, but it’s hard for them to compete for the interest of this writer in the company of sweet shops and of the next member on the list, which is also the one most of you have probably heard of: Gekkeikan Sake.


Photo by Christian Kaden

As far as I can tell, this the only company on this list whose product you can buy overseas. I have to confess, in my house, we have long been sake snobs. The only kanji my husband can read are the characters for daiginjo (大吟醸) denoting the highest grade of sake. And since Gekkeikan is the brand you can buy at any crummy liquor store (they have 25% of the US sake market) I’ve never thought much of it. But they’ve been in business since 1637, and they claim to base their corporate philosophy on “Quality, Creativity, and Humanity,” and who can argue with that? So maybe I should reconsider.

Last, but very much not least, is the confectionery Toraya. There’s no record of when they first opened, but they were already doing a booming business in Kyoto in the 1600s. They opened a store in Tokyo’s Asakusa district, where they are now headquartered, in 1869, when the capital also moved there.

This last category is the most interesting one to me, because it taught me a cultural lesson about something I now realize is kind of a recurring theme. You often see dramas and movies where one of the central conflicts is between parents who were planning to hand down a business to their child who wants to go pursue a different dream. In the context of the kind of family business longevity we see in this article, this is surely a much bigger deal than it seemed from my American point of view. And you see the more subtle point in fiction as well – where there’s a child who has gone off to do something instead of taking over the business, and the parent who is okay with it. That’s a bit of character development that will be more meaningful to me now, and hopefully to you too.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Wasei-Eigo: I Can’t Believe It’s Not English! Mon, 27 Oct 2014 16:00:07 +0000 Borrowing words from other languages is a phenomenon as old as language itself. That’s why, even though you probably don’t speak French, Latin, German, Spanish, AND Japanese, you can somehow comprehend the following (however unlikely) sentence: “I decided to carpe diem and go to a fiesta instead of taking a siesta, but the party was […]

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Borrowing words from other languages is a phenomenon as old as language itself. That’s why, even though you probably don’t speak French, Latin, German, Spanish, AND Japanese, you can somehow comprehend the following (however unlikely) sentence:

“I decided to carpe diem and go to a fiesta instead of taking a siesta, but the party was just déjà vu all over again, so I spent most of the time eating sauerkraut and wishing a tsunami would come and sweep me out to sea.”

Linguists love to argue about why and how exactly this word borrowing happens. For pure practicality’s sake? Because the speaker wants to show off with fancy schmancy foreign words? Just because it’s a fun way to spice up conversation? Whatever the reason, the incorporation of foreign loanwords into native languages is pervasive, and Japanese is no exception.

As you might know, modern Japanese is stuffed not only with Chinese-origin loanwords but also a hearty helping of gairaigo (外来語:loanwords from languages other than Chinese, ranging from English to Dutch to French). Koichi’s discussed some English loanwords here (and some of the strange definitions they’ve acquired) and Sarah W. gives a great overview of gairaigo here.

But that’s not all. The widespread diffusion of English throughout the world has been incorporated and integrated into a variety of languages in a variety of ways. In the words of linguist Ishino Hiroshi, “the roman alphabet now belongs to everyone.” And there’s no better example of this phenomenon than wasei eigo (和製英語), literally “made-in-Japan English.”

Wasei eigo is another topic linguists drool over. Unlike English gairaigo loanwords, most linguists classify wasei-eigo vocabulary as “pseudo-loanwords” or “pseudo-English” or “pseudo-Anglicisms.” So what makes these loanwords “pseudo”? Because wasei-eigo refers to words quite literally manufactured in Japan. By splicing together never-before-seen combinations of English words (often dissected parts of English words, and sometimes with a Japanese word welded on for good measure) and then sliding it through a katakana processing unit, wasei-eigo has been coming hot-off-the-presses since at least the Meiji Period (1868). Essentially these are brand-spanking-new morpheme and phoneme combinations that no native English speaker has ever heard or used.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to learn them! Wasei-eigo is a living part of the Japanese language—you can hear it on NHK news and in the street; you can see it on billboards and in magazines. Given that fact, I thought it might be useful to provide a mini dictionary of English for Japanese learners, complete with example sentences shamelessly ripped from real live and recent Japanese sources.

A note of caution! Because of the endless experimentation possible, new wasei-eigo are constantly being cooked up from English ingredients. However, they don’t all catch on and become integrated into the vocabulary at large, and even if they do they’re often fads that fade with time. Keeping that in mind, I tried to choose words with apparently high circulation and staying power so you don’t end up trying to use a phrase that is sooo last year (like that phrase is).

Prefixes and Suffixes

In, out, up, down—such unassuming little syllables that it’s easy to forget they exist. But then wasei-eigo came along to give them a new reason for living, turning them into prefixes and suffixes, daring to put them in places you’ve never seen them before. And then there are the words like “my” and “pink” that have been reinvented as prefixes in their own right. Welcome to the wonderful world of wasei-eigo.

In Key (インキー)


Photo by Herry Lawford

Have you ever accidentally locked yourself out of your own car, tugging desperately at the door handle only to realize with horror that your keys are still safely stashed inside the vehicle? Then, congratulations, you already know what it means to in-key.

What should you do after you’ve in-keyed?

Bed In (ベッドイン)

This one requires a few ellipses to explain. It does mean to get in bed…but with someone else…in order to do engage in decidedly un-family-friendly activities together…

実録! 男が「初めてベッドインする彼女」にギョッとした経験・15選
True Stories! 15 Men’s Startling Experiences With The Girlfriend That They Bed-In For the First Time

Goal In (ゴールイン)

When someone scores the winning goal in a soccer game, wins the final point in a tennis match, or crosses a finish line in a race, they’ve goal in-ed. But this word can also lend the sort of triumphant feeling of victory to non-athletic endeavors as well. Any time you accomplish a goal or achieve something you’ve been struggling for, you’ve goal in-ed. Within the second usage, getting married seems to be a particular popular goal to in.

Bob goal in-ed first.
From:’s Tanaka Corpus

Characteristics of Couples That Goal-In Even Though They Broke Up Once Before

My Pace (マイペース)


Photo by きこう

This word can be a character trait, an adverb, or a verb in the right circumstances. While its origins probably lie in the English phrase “to do something at one’s own pace,” from there it morphed into doing something your own way, i.e. without being influenced by other people. There’s even a song about it:

マイペース (SunSet Swish)

She’s my pace.
From:’s Email例文集

My Boom (マイブーム)

What’s your boom? It helps to know that “boom” is a fairly common suffix in wasei-eigo used to describe a current trend or fad, like a “K-Pop boom.” When it’s YOUR boom as opposed to society’s boom, it’s “my boom”—in other words, it’s used to refer to your current obsession(s).

Everybody please share your my boom.

For some reason suddenly my boom is eggs.

My Bag (マイバッグ)

Not just any old bag will do—you can’t start referring to all bags as my bag willy-nilly. This word is strictly reserved for reusable shopping bags of your preferred style, size, and material. A number of cities and towns across Japan have been campaigning for a “My Bag Movement,” encouraging their citizens to forgo planet-strangling plastic bags at the store and instead use a “my bag.”

Let’s work on reducing disposable shopping bags by using my bag.

I want to somehow set up my cell phone so that I can avoid suddenly realizing “Oh! I forgot a my bag today!” whenever I drop by the supermarket.

Pink Salo(n), Pink Bira/Chirashi, Pink Eiga, etc. (ピンサロ, ピンクビラ, ピンク映画, etc.)


Photo by きこう

Remember the days when pink used to be an innocent color, reserved for flowers and toys and kitten collars? In Japan, at least, those days are over. As a prefix attached to an array of other nouns, pink tells you that whatever the next noun is, it’s probably a sexy version of that noun. This works similarly to how in English “blue” is (or maybe was at this point?) used to signal XXX-rated material, as in “a blue movie.” You can probably guess what a pink eiga (pink movie) is, then. A “pink salon” is a euphemism for a sexual establishment that usually fronts as a bar or nightclub. And a “pink bira” (pink bill) or “pink chirashi” (pink leaflet) is a flyer handed out on streets to advertise any number of other “pink” places or activities.

I’ve seriously fallen for a girl who works at a pink salon.

• 公衆電話ボックス内、公衆便所内又は電柱等の公衆の見やすい屋外の場所等への掲示、配置
• 公共の場所における頒布
• 人の住居等への配付、差入れ
The followings acts are prohibited in regards to pink bira and the like:
•Posting in public telephone booths, public bathrooms, or on telephone poles outdoors that can be easily seen by the general public, etc.
•Distributing in public areas
•Inserting into mailboxes of residential homes

Because I went to a pink eigakan for the first time, I’m writing at length about how to enter one and my own impressions/important points for people who want go at some point.

Cost Down (コストダウン)

Once you get the hang of how “down” works as a wasei-eigo suffix, you’ll be able to figure out most words with it relatively easily. Basically, “down” is wasei-eigo for “to lower” or “to decrease.” So cost down means to lower costs.

We’re seeking to cost down.
From:’s Email例文

Manner Up (マナーアップ)

Here’s another popular wasei-eigo suffix. Similarly to “down,” “up” usually means “to raise,” “to increase,” or “to improve.” So “taste up” means to improve the taste to something. That’s basically the case with manner up, as well—“to increase manners”—but a smoother English translation in this case would be “to improve manners.” Either way, things are moving in an upward direction. Schools, organizations, and city governments LOVE this word, and they particularly love to use it in posters and public service announcements and the like as a rallying cry to improve people’s manners.

A manner up campaign is periodically held at the library.

Image Down/Image Up (イメージアップ/イメージダウン)


Photo by gullevek

Companies, organizations, public figures, and the like all have a certain image to keep up, right? These words come in handy when describing real or attempted shifts in those images. When their public image improves, it’s image up; when their public image is tarnished, ruined, or otherwise destroyed, it’s image down.

If you want to be elected, you’d better plan to image up.
From:’s Tanaka Corpus

Due to this scandal our company has severely imaged down.
From:’s Tanaka Corpus

English/Japanese Hybrids

Here you’ll find the chimeras of wasei-eigo, half-Japanese and half-English hybrids that run wild through the fearsome linguistic plains. While these might seem highly exotic, they’re really not much different from pie a la mode or chicken gratin—examples where useful bits of French were welded onto English words in order to create a new word (and sometimes a new recipe!).

Butter Kusai (バタ臭い)


Photo by Casey Bisson

Literally, “butter stink.” This adjective can be used to describe anything that reeks of the foreign and of Western or Westernized styles in particular (land of butter, apparently).

The brand strategist professional told us to give the new product a butter stink name.
From Weblio英語基本例文集

I’m not a fan of this butter stink Sailor Moon.

Datsu Salaryman (脱サラ)

Literally, “to de-salaryman.” Here’s a juicy cluster of wasei-eigo goodness. First of all, salaryman, itself a wasei-eigo word, became so popular that it was exported internationally. But this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill salaryman, this is a datsu sarariman. One becomes a datsu salaryman by quitting your office job, and striking out on your own, often with the connotation of freeing yourself from the hamster wheel and/or starting your own business.

Convinced to take a leap of faith and plunge into the dark, I datsu salaryman-ed.

Oyaji Gag (オヤジギャグ)

Literally, “an old man gag” or “a dad gag.” Gag is probably an appropriation based off of “gag gifts” and the like, but here the meaning is much closer to joke. Whenever someone tells a real groaner—a cheap joke or a stupid pun that you’d expect your middle-aged uncle or embarrassing father to cook up, –they’ve told an oyaji gag. I’m a dork enough to really enjoy these, so I couldn’t help but include a few examples below.

I’ve collected one hundred usable oyaji gags. If you don’t use them correctly it can be a painful experience to witness, but if you use them with perfect timing and delivery you just might become more popular.

Arumi kan no ue ni aru mikan.
A tangerine with an aluminum can on top.

Atarashii no ga atta rashii
There seems to be a new one.

Gai Talent (外タレ)


Photo by John Koetsier

Literally, “outside talent.” Here “talent” means celebrities of all stripes, regardless of their level of talent. The “outside” bit is shorthand for foreign or foreigner, so when you put the two together you get a foreign celebrity.

A bunch of my favorite gai talent are coming to Japan.

Nomyunication (ノミュニケーション)

This one’s an oldie but goodie. I couldn’t resist including it even though it’s dramatically fallen in popularity over the years and is now regarded as only part of the older generation’s active vocabulary. This is probably due to the circumstances of its creation, circumstances that have now drastically changed. Nomyunication is a mash-up of nomu for “to drink” and the English loanword “communication.” While this can simply mean the (seemingly at least) enhanced ease of communicating while drunk, it was practically a business philosophy in Japan during the 1980s when regularly drinking with clients and within the company was all but required. When the economy took a sharp nose dive, this strategy lost much of its luster and the word went with it. Which is a pity, because it’s so darn clever.

In the first place, nomyunication came into being during the high-growth economic period, as the result of mistaken thinking that sought to conduct harmonious business operations.

Homodachi (ホモ達)

Literally, “homosexual friend.” Homodachi is what happens when homo and tomodachi merge, so if you hear someone say it, you’re not imagining things. It means exactly what its component parts mean, that is, it’s a noun that can be used to refer to your gay friends. However, in other contexts it can also be used to refer to one’s same-sex boyfriend/girlfriend/lover.

@nirvanagi なぎさんホモダチいっぱいいるでしょう
Don’t you have a lot of homodachi, Nagi?

Are Putin and Medvedev homodachi?

Bubble Keizai (バブル経済)


Photo by Jay Morgan

Literally, “bubble economy.” This isn’t a casual word that can be used in a variety of general situations, but it’s so common that it’s worth committing to memory. In the simplest terms, post-World War II the Japanese economy rapidly ballooned and then, like a bubble, it popped. While it might seem like economic jargon, this is actually a general use word at least as widespread and frequently referenced as the “Great Depression” is used as shorthand for a period of American cultural and economic history.

The Japanese side emphasized that Japan’s economy is continuing the longest period of economic recovery since after the bubble keizai collapsed.
From:’s 財務省

Elite Shain (エリート社員)

Literally, “elite worker.” Think Wall Street. To qualify as elite in this context means to be a white collar employee at a large company.

Taguchi was previously a promising elite shain.

U-Turn Gensho (Uターン現象)

Literally, “U-Turn Phenomenon.” No, Japan’s not facing a sudden rash of eccentric driving behavior involving lots of u-turns. The phenomenon in question here actually refers to the growing numbers of people who, after working or studying in cities (primarily Tokyo, but others as well), ditch the neon lights and return to their hometowns to settle down and make a living. U-Turn gensho is used for the socio-cultural trend at large, and U-Turn sha (U-turn people) is used to identify individual people who make up the larger phenomenon.

After getting to know her, the U-turn gensho started happening to my life in a big way.

My Personal Experiences as a U-Turn Sha
The reason I U-turned is that my mother (who is over eighty) came to be repeatedly hospitalized, and there wasn’t a nursing home system like there is now.

Cushion Kotoba (クッション言葉)


Literally, “cushion words.” Delicate situations that require some verbal padding most often take place with the use of these so-called cushion words. Japanese in particular has a built-in lexicon of set phrases and expressions that function as cushion words to soften the blow, create a softer landing, and generally just keep everything as soft and squishy as a sofa cushion. These words are particularly important in business situations.

How to Use Cushion Words to Instantly Increase Good Will
There are myriad advantages to smoothly progressing conversations that depend upon the use of these words. So I’ve collected here tricks to using these cushion words.

Apo Nashi (アポなし)

Literally, “without appointment.” I’ve included this one so that you’ll be aware of the existence of the suffix -nashi, which appears as the caboose on a number of (often unrecognizably abbreviated) English words. In this case, it’s appointment, first shortened to apo and then rounded out with the nashi. You can ask a business office or doctor’s office, beauty parlor or tattoo parlor, if they’ll see you apo nashi. Alternatively, they might come right out and state (or have written on signs) whether or not they’ll see you apo nashi.

Please bear in mind that we will be unable to receive you even if you give us the pleasure of arriving at our company, if you do so apo nashi.
From:’s Email例文集

Kyoiku Mama (教育ママ)

Literally, “Education Mama.” This word has a decidedly negative connotation, so it’s not something you want to start accusing people of, at least to their face. As a stereotypical image, a kyoiku mama is unhealthily obsessed with the education of her children, constantly pushing them to achieve greatness with every shoelace they tie and shape they sort, pushing meals through the doggie door to their children’s rooms (dungeons) where they are forced to spend every waking and maybe even non-waking hour studying. Critics of pushing children to overachieve as well as annoyed children will use this word to describe demanding (although ultimately well-meaning) parents.

That private school has a reputation of there being a particularly large number of kyoiku mama.
From:’s 研究社 新和英中辞典

How to Raise Good Children Without Becoming a Kyoiku Mama?

I definitely don’t want to become a kyoiku mama but of course as a parent I want my child to go to a good college and have a stable job.


In the previous two sections, I tried to tame the wild variety of wasei eigo at least somewhat by placing as many of them as possible in some sort of cohesive category. Alas, not all of them fit, so this is where the rest of them ended up.

Hair Manicure (ヘアマニキュア)


Basically, instead of coloring your fingernails with polish, you’re coloring your hair. But don’t worry, there’s no nail polish or cuticle clippers involved in this procedure. If you’re scheduled for a hair manicure or decide to do-it-yourself at home, all it means is that you’re dying your hair.

The other day I got a hair manicure at a beauty salon for the first time.

Romance Gray (ロマンスグレー)

Just because your hair has gone gray doesn’t mean you can’t bring on the romance. The George Clooney’s and Sakamoto Ryuichi’s of the world earned their titles as romance grays just by being attractive older men with attractive gray hair.



Don: Up to what age would you be willing to date someone?
Sen: Probably about 15 years older than myself.
Nao: I could do up to about 70!
Don: Wow!

Nao: As long as he’s a fantastic romance gray.

One Pattern (ワンパターン)

If all your clothes featured the same pattern, that’d get pretty boring and monotonous, right? One Pattern works like an adjective to describe people, places, things, and activities that are as mind-numbing and repetitive as a single pattern.

Your ideas are one pattern.
From:’s 研究社 新和英中辞典

Probably drinking at a bar and karaoke. We’re one pattern.
From:’s Tanaka Corpus

Going on dates with him (or her) was always one pattern so I lost interest.
From:’s 研究社 新和英中辞典

Ice Candy (アイスキャンディー)


This is nothing more and nothing less than a frozen popsicle.

This combination is also made as shaved ice and ice candy.
From:’s 日英京都関連文書対訳コーパス

Catch Ball (キャッチボール)

In its humblest form, this word merely stands in for “playing catch.” But from that original adoption it evolved to signify the back-and-forth of an engaged and engaging conversation between people. You can visualize it as tossing a conversational ball back and forth—-active, fun, and invigorating yet comfortable. I think the closest English equivalent would be “developing a repartee,” but alas that’s not even English, it’s French.

Let’s catch ball.
From:’s Tanaka Corpus

Techniques for Conversing with the One You Love! Secrets to Romantic Catch-Ball-ing!
It becomes impossible to communicate if only one side is doing all of the talking. It’s precisely when conversations catch ball that the relationship between two people can deepen.

Last Heavy (ラストヘビー)

Essentially this means the final push, the last burst of effort before a task is completed or a goal is achieved.

I expect that the All-Nation Kendo Association will go on to make the last heavy.

Pocket Bell (ポケベル)


Photo by Hades2k

Remember those ancient devices we called “pagers” in English? The Japanese called them “pocket bell.” The word may become as obsolete as the technology, but I at least would vastly prefer to have a pocket bell over a cell phone.

If it’s an emergency I can call her with the pocket bell but…
From:’s Tanaka Corpus

Soft Skills (ソフトスキル)

If someone has soft skills, it means they’re good with people. This is as opposed to “hard skills” like computer engineering.

However, as your career advances, soft skills become more important.

Body Con(scious) (ボディコン)

At first glance, you might assume that this refers to someone who is overly conscious about their appearance. What this adjective actually refers to is clothing that causes OTHER people to become overly conscious of your, ahem, appearance. In other words, it’s used to describe sexually attractive and/or tight-fitting clothing.

I want a body conscious dress like something Mariah Carey wears…but I can’t find one. Please let me know if you know some store website where I can find that sort of thing.

Paper Driver (ペーパードライバー)


A driver, but on paper only. In other words, this noun can be used to refer to someone (including yourself) who does in fact possess a driver’s license but drives so rarely and/or so poorly that the license is little more than a scrap piece of paper.

Since I’m a paper driver, I don’t have confidence in my driving. So let’s go somewhere by train.

Bed Town (ベッドタウン)

A town where a commuting student or worker basically does nothing but sleep for the night, so it’s the town where their bed is but not much else. These areas tend to cluster around big cities like Tokyo and Osaka and such—and it’s not just slang, the other day I heard NHK news even refer to a Tokyo suburb as a bed town.

It’s a typical bed town; even in the middle of the day there’s not much pedestrian traffic.
From:’s Tanaka Corpus

Skinship (スキンシップ)

Physical contact in an intimate relationship.

You need to value skinship with children.
From:’s Tanaka Corpus

Pair Look (ペアルック)


Photo by Eric Parker

This happens when a pair of people look identical because they’re wearing matching outfits (usually a couple).

Did you see those two just now? That pair look is in pretty bad taste, don’t you think?
From:’s Tanaka Corpus

Virgin Road (バージンロード)

Nope, this doesn’t mean a highway that’s never been driven on before. It’s a colloquialism for the aisle of a church that the bride and groom walk down towards the altar.

As for church weddings, it’s said that brides choose them for the virgin road, but not even 1% of couples go to pray at the church afterwards.
From:’s Wikipedia日英京都関連文書対訳コーパス

Guts Pose (ガッツポーズ)

This is the triumphant stance that a victorious person assumes after winning a match, vanquishing all of his foes in a battle, or FINALLY beating a video game.

That guy must have been extremely happy to strike a guts pose like that.
From:’s Tanaka Corpus

Shutter Chance (シャッターチャンス)


Photo by Paul Reynolds

You already know exactly what this is. It’s a way to describe an opportune moment to take a photograph, otherwise known in English as a photo opportunity.

Thanks to your shouting I missed out on a rare shutter chance.
From:’s Tanaka Corpus

Over Doctor (オーバードクター)

While this can refer to over-educated people generally, it particularly connotes a currently unemployed person who also holds a Phd.

From the perspective of Japanese companies, an over-doctor of literature is not at all the sort of person they want.

The over-doctor issue became a social problem in this country thirty years ago.

Doctor Stop (ドクターストップ)

This is what happens when a doctor orders you to stop doing something for your general health or for recovery purposes.

The sports that I had been playing were doctor stopped.

Handle Keeper (ハンドルキーパー)


Photo by Bridget Coila

Being a handle keeper means being the person who keeps the handle of the car door out of reach of drunken peoples. Otherwise known as a designated driver.

After the drinking party I had forgotten that it was me who was the handle keeper.

Live House (ライブハウス)

These are locations or venues where live performances, acts, or concerts happen.

I’ve collected all of the live houses that appear to be famous in all of the prefectures of the country!

Baby Hotel (ベビーホテル)

This is not an outlet of the Hilton catering to newborns—it refers to an unlicensed child care facility, which is not nearly as life-threatening as it sounds. The very particular regulations on child care in Japan mean that many sane parents choose to send their children to a baby hotel for a variety of reasonable reasons.

The number of baby hotels suddenly and radically increased.

Silver Seat (シルバーシート)


Photo by hitoshi koda

These refer to seats on public transportation that are reserved for the silver-haired (i.e. elderly) population.

I do it on purpose so that it’s visible right in front of the healthy young people playing around on their cell phones in the silver seats.

Charm Point (チャームポイント)

Your charm point is your most charming or attractive feature.

The result is that the greatest number of women believe that their charm point is their eyes.

X-Day (Xデー)

An X-Day is a euphemism for a day in the near future when you’re anticipating or expecting a major event to occur.

Having taken in that information, a view is surfacing that the X Day when the real estate bubble will burst will soon arrive.

Match Pump (マッチポンプ)


I can’t even begin to explain how this one came into being. All I can tell you is that it’s a noun used to describe someone who likes to stir up trouble just so that they can be the one to fix it and thereby look like a hero.

He’s a match pump.
From:’s 研究社 新和英中辞典

Parasite Single (パラサイトシングル)

If an adult after graduating from college could make a living on his own but would rather not, and so returns to his parents house in order to live rent and board-free, then he or she is a parasite single. As far as I can tell the US is witnessing a similar phenomenon that it’s calling the “boomerang generation.”

My low-income self is jealous of parasite singles.

Pipe Cut (パイプカット)

A vasectomy. ‘Nuff said.

A Record of My Experience With Pipe Cut Surgery
There’s a scraping sound as they prepare the tools used for the pipe cut operation (a sound like they’re placing a scalpel and pincers on a stainless steel plate).

Why Wasei Eigo?


Hopefully the unorthodox glossary I’ve cobbled together here has given you a taste of the many flavors of wasei eigo. A number of linguistic “purists” (both native English-speaking and Japanese) have lodged complaints against wasei eigo as an unsavory corruption of both languages involved. Others reject linguistic “purity” as a myth and further argue that wasei eigo is actually a vitally creative force rather than a destructive one, one that enhances expressive abilities rather than degrades them. From this point of view, wasei eigo gives Japanese speakers a sort of verbal playground where they can experiment with words in order to more fully reveal something or to euphemistically obscure something, to refer to a specific socio-cultural phenomenon or just to make someone laugh. But regardless of whether you think wasei eigo is a blight on or a boon to the Japanese language, by all accounts it is here to stay so we might as well enjoy it.

Did I forget to include your favorite wasei eigo word? Let me know what it is in the comments!

Bonus Wallpapers!

[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]


  • “Wasei eigo: English ‘loanwords’ coined in Japan” by Laura Miller
  • “Japanese Communication: Language and Thought in Context” By Senko K. Maynard
  • “Japanese English: The use of English by the Japanese today” By Morito Yoshisa
  • Weblio 英和・和英辞典 (

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Are You Kelping Me? There is More Than One Seaweed on the Menu? Fri, 24 Oct 2014 16:00:46 +0000 Wrapping your sushi, topping your okonomiyaki, or floating in your miso soup: there’s a lot of seaweed in Japanese cuisine.  Seaweed consumption has a long history in Japan.  In the Taiho Code of 701, one of Japan’s earliest legal codes, some seaweeds (including kombu, nori, and wakame) were an acceptable form of tax payment.  Though […]

The post Are You Kelping Me? There is More Than One Seaweed on the Menu? appeared first on Tofugu.

Wrapping your sushi, topping your okonomiyaki, or floating in your miso soup: there’s a lot of seaweed in Japanese cuisine.  Seaweed consumption has a long history in Japan.  In the Taiho Code of 701, one of Japan’s earliest legal codes, some seaweeds (including kombu, nori, and wakame) were an acceptable form of tax payment.  Though foreigners have become more familiar with their flavors over the past few decades, seaweed and the full extent of its culinary applications remain a bit mysterious to many (at least in America).  Let’s have a look at these delicacies of the deep, their history, production, and a recipe you can try at home.


Seaweed is a word applied to a wide variety  of species.  They are divided into three different Phylum: Rhodophyta (red), Ochrophyta (brown), Chlorophyta (green).  Unlike terrestrial plants seaweeds don’t have roots.  They do have parts for anchoring themselves which may appear root-like, but they draw their nutrients straight from the water around them.  Like other plants, they do photosynthesize, so most seaweed grows in shallow water where the light can reach them.

Kombu 昆布


Photo by: Benjyamin

Kombu refers mainly to Saccharina japonica, but sometimes to other kelp species.  There is some evidence of earlier kombu consumption, but it was definitely being eaten by the eighth century.  It grows mainly around Hokkaido and northern Honshu, but during the Muromachi period (1336-1573), new drying techniques were developed which let kombu be transported further.  By the Edo period it had become widely used in Japanese cooking.  It even became a mainstay in the cuisine of the Ryukyu kingdom (modern day Okinawa Prefecture), roughly 1600 km away!  Even today, Okinawan households consume more kombu per year than those of any other prefecture.


Photo by: iris

Kombucha, but no kombu.

You may be wondering, as I once did, if the kombucha that is so currently popular amongst the health conscious is made with kombu.  The answer is no.  In Japan there are teas made from dried, powdered kombu, but that is not what Americans are buying at Whole Foods these days.  The popular kombucha is black or green tea that is fermented with a colony of bacteria or yeast.  It’s probably from northeast China or Manchuria and spread to Russia sometime before 1910.  The name kombucha (referring to this drink) first appeared in 1995, but the reasons remain uncertain.  People may have thought the film left by the fermenting culture looked like seaweed.  In Japan this drink is called koucha kinoko literally “red tea mushroom,” though “red tea” is how Japanese labels what is called black tea in English.  Does your head hurt now too?  Maybe you should have a cup of tea.  Let’s return to the basics.

marine menu Kombu-on-tempura

Photo by: star5112

Kombu’s most essential role in Japanese cooking is in providing umami flavor to most dashi (stock), and dashi is used in a whole lot of recipes.  Kombu does have many other uses though, like wrapping appetizers or in pickle making.

Wakame わかめ


Photo by: Javier Lastras

Undaria pinnatifida is a large brown seaweed, usually found in shallow waters.  It can grow in dense stands, making a thick seaweedy forest.  It’s also tough, and can deal with a range of temperatures and salinity levels.  It’s native to coastlines around Japan, Korea, and China, but has become an invasive species as well (more on this in an upcoming article).  What is believed to be wakame residue has been found on Jomon period (14,000-300 BCE) pottery, showing that people in Japan have been munching on it for a long time.  You probably know it best from its use in miso soup.


Photo by: zenjiro

Nori 海苔


Photo by: Kattebelletje

Nori, which now wraps your sushi, originally referred to number of seaweeds, but came to be applied to a couple species of red algae of the genus Porphyra.  It has been eaten in Japan since at least the eighth century.  Nori was collected from the rocks, shells, wood, etc. that it grew upon in shallow waters.


Photo by: Mr Hicks46

Around the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1868) it was discovered that the nori growing in Edo Bay, near Asakusa was especially delicious.  As the capital grew and reclaimed a lot of shoreline people began cultivating nori on poles stuck in the shallows, then on nets attached to poles, then on large floating nets.  Over time Edo Bay became Tokyo Bay and the waters became too warm and polluted for nori to thrive as it once did.  There are still a few closely guarded locations in Tokyo Bay where nori is grown, and you can still buy the famous Asakusa nori if you don’t mind throwing down $300 for 72 sheets.


Photo by: Koji Horaguchi

For hundreds of years it was eaten in a wet, paste-like form.  The dry, sheet form was invented in the early 18th century based on the paper making process.  After being rinsed, strained and chopped into fine pieces the nori is put into a wooden frame on a bamboo mat in a bucket of water to make a sheet.  Everything is then removed from the water and the bamboo mat with the nori sheet is set out on a rack to dry in the sun.  After drying, sheets of nori are usually roasted.


Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker

In 1949, British scientist Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker discovered that nori has three distinct stages in its life cycle.  She found that during one of these stages nori grows on oyster shells and similar surfaces.  This discovery led to the practice of collecting oyster shells and using them to ‘seed,’ an innovation which led to an upscale in nori production.  There is a monument to Kathleen Drew-Baker at Sumiyoshi Shrine in Uto City, Kumamoto Prefecture, where she is honored as the “mother of the sea” every April 14th.

In 2010 another nori-related scientific discovery was made.  Scientists found evidence that Japanese people have a genetic advantage in getting nutrients from nori.  Exclusively in people of Japanese ancestry, the scientists found gut bacteria which produce an enzyme for breaking down algal carbohydrates such as those found in nori.  There are certain marine bacteria that produce similar enzymes, and they hypothesized that in the past such a marine bacteria was ingested and transferred the genes for making the algae-eating enzyme to the human gut bacteria.  They speculate that this is only found in Japanese people because such gene transfer events would be rare, and due to the volume of seaweed eaten by the Japanese, it would have been far more useful to them than most other people.

Aonori 青のり


Photo by: Norio NAKAYAMA

It’s not just the name; aonori and nori are from different families.  Aonori can refer to algae of a couple different genera in the Ulvaceae family.  It makes a great topping for dishes like yakisoba, takoyaki, and okonomiyaki, adding a little extra umami.

Hijiki 鹿尾菜 / 羊栖菜


Photo by: Janne Moren

Sargassum fusiforme grows attached to the rocky bottoms of coastlines, but is sometimes ripped free by waves or weather and continues to live in a more free floating manner.  Some hijiki is cultivated, but when harvested from the wild divers cut it with sickles during low tide in springtime.  In the store you can find just the little leaves or leaves and stems together.  Just make sure to thouroughly rehydrate or you’ll be in for a long chew.


Photo by: Kattebelletje

Hijiki contains all sorts of mineral goodness, being high in calcium, iodine, and magnesium.  However studies have found that hijiki also contains potentially harmful levels of inorganic arsenic, and currently the food safety agencies of the U.S., U.K., and Canada advise against eating it.  The Japanese government responded with a report that conceded that eating more than 4.7 grams of hijiki a day could exceed tolerable levels of inorganic arsenic, but pointed out that the average daily consumption in Japan is only 0.9 grams.  So far, no known illnesses have been linked to hijiki consumption.

Arame あらめ / 荒布


Photo by: Rakuten

Eisenia bicyclis is a small species of kelp native (seemingly exclusively) to Japan.  It is a stiff, woody stem with two feathery fronds growing from the top.  It has a mild flavor, so it’s used in a wide variety of side dishes, soups and salads.

Umi budo 海ぶどう


The name means “sea grapes,” and you can see why.  Not unlike grapes they, pop pleasantly in your mouth, though umi budo are slightly salty, not sweet like their vine-dangling counterparts.  Known to the scientific community as caulerpa lentillifera, vertical stems of tightly packed spheres rise from long horizontal stems that spread across the ocean floor.  Umi budo are a popular dish in Okinawa, usually fresh with a side of soy sauce, or as part of a salad.

Allez Cuisine!


Photo by: jamesjustin

I’ve only touched the surface of the many tasty sea veggies used in Japanese cuisine.  What’s your favorite seaweed?  Hopefully you’ll be inspired to go cook.  I know writing this made me start to crave some umami filled goodness.  One way to experience a lot of that great seaweed flavor is by making tsukudani, seaweed simmered in soy sauce and mirin.  You can eat it with rice or put it in the center of onigiri, but be careful.  It’s potent.  I’ll leave you with this simple delicious recipe.  It’s for kombu, but you can try it with other seaweeds too.

Bonus Wallpapers!

[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]



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

The post Dealing with Disaster: Three Years After Fukushima appeared first on Tofugu.

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

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

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

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

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

Iwaki, Fukushima


View of the city from the station.

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

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


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

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

Social Friction


Photo by Daisuke TSUDA

Example of temporary housing for disaster victims.

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Disaster Victims get Lost!”

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

Fates of the Survivors


Photo by Steve Herman

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

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

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

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


Photo by Roger Jolly

Photo of decontamination works in Kawashima, 2012

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

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

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

Problems with Nuclear Energy


Photo by Energy.Gov

Mihama Nuclear Reactor

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

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

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


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

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

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

Moving Forward


Photo by Steve Herman

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

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

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

Please do take a look!

Further Reading:

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

The post Dealing with Disaster: Three Years After Fukushima appeared first on Tofugu.

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