Tofugu » Culture http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Fri, 27 Mar 2015 16:29:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Getting Famous in Japan the One Direction Way http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/27/getting-famous-japan-one-direction-way/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/27/getting-famous-japan-one-direction-way/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49772 Japan is a popular target market for pop singers that want to take their fame internationally, particularly, it seems, when it comes to debuting in Asia. Is it because of the infectious fan base? Is it because the fandom of Asian pop music has not gone unnoticed? There are numerous stars who try, working to […]

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

First, let’s characterize J-pop

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

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

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

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

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

The Stars of the Moment

Japan the One Direction

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

Or this one:

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

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

Branding in Japan

Japan the One Direction

The header image from onedirection.jp

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1D Café?

Japan the One Direction

Photo by Victor Lee

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

The Story of Their Lives?

Japan the One Direction

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

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

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“Hardworking Japanese people”

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

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

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

The Hardworking Side

Otsukaresama-deshita! Photo by Janne Moren

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

Average Number of Hours Worked per Worker:

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

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

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

Higher incidence of part-time work in Japan

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

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

Inaccurate Reporting

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

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

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

Education for Long Hours

Photo by Angie Harms

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

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

The Exceptions?

Photo by Jason Wharam

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

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

So the Japanese are hardworking then! Not so fast…

Hardworking ≠ Being Worked Hard

Which does this count as? Photo by Amir Jina

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

This image is overplayed and exaggerated on two points.

Motivation?

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

Which in turn can be explained by the following:

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

Productivity?

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

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

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

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

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

Quantity vs Quality

Photo by Tokyoform

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

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

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

Raising the Red Lantern

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

Photo by: Akira Asakura

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

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

Sold into Service

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

Photo by: Yuxuan Wang

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

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

Photo by: bopo

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

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

Not the Norm

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

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

Controlling the Chaos

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

Photo by: 663highland

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

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

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

Memorial

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

The Sanshikan

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

Greater Community Seat

Community Leaders

 

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

The Genie That Won’t Be Bottled

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have noticed…

Smoking-manners-posters

Photo by speedwaystar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some pose questions.

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

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

…your manners change

smoking-manners-posters-about-smoking

Photo by tokyofortwo

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

snow-manners

Photo by Verity Lane

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

Anti-Smoking or pro-Smoking Posters?

smoking-manners-with-man

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

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

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

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

Beyond Smoking

train-manners

Photo by Jackson Boyle

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

train-manners-by-verity

Photo by Verity Lane

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

Studying Japanese

smoking-manners-shock

Photo by megadem

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

smoking-manners-gonne-getcha

Photo by Walter Disney

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

smoking-manners-posters-wet

Photo by Lee LeFever

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

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

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

Behind the Smokescreen

smoking-bear

Photo by Evan Blaser

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720]

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

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

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

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

Population Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education

japan-countryside-emptying-school-desks-class

Photo by: naosuke ii

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

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

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

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

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

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

japan-countryside-emptying-cram-school-schedule

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

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

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

Employment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culture

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

Photo by Miki Yoshihito

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers

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

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

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

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

Illustrated Field Guides

Best Yokai Books

Images courtesy of Matthew Meyer

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

Best Yokai Books

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

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

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

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

Best Yokai Books

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

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

Intro to Yokai Geekery

Best Yokai Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old School

Best Yokai Books

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

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

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

Best Yokai Books

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

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

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

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

Off the Deep End

Best Yokai Books

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

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

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

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

Still Wanting More?

Best Yokai Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the books!

Yokai Attack!: Amazon

The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: Amazon

The Book of Yokai: Amazon

The Legends of Tono: Amazon

Kwaidan: Amazon

In Ghostly Japan: Amazon

Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan: Amazon

Pandemonium and Parade: Amazon

Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost: Amazon

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

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

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

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

Meet the Masterminds

ishiguro and geminoid

Photo by Ars Electronica

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

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

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

osaka univ robot lab

Photo by Ars Electronica

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

Robots and Androids and Humans, Oh My!

robot theater serving tea

Photo by Brett Davis

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

Hataraku Watashi (I, Worker) Debut in 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henshin (Metamorphosis) Debut in 2014

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

robot theater

Photo by Brett Davis

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

Human Responses to Theatrical-Electrical Stimuli

robot theater 2

Photo by Ars Electronica

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of Robot Theater

robot theater 3

Photo by Ars Electronica

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

 

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

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Hideo Nomo, Baseball Rebel With a Cause http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/27/hideo-nomo-baseball-rebel-cause/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/27/hideo-nomo-baseball-rebel-cause/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47950 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of Masanori Murakami’s Major League Baseball debut. Sent to the San Francisco Giants farm system for developmental purposes, Murakami sparkled when he took the mound in the minor leagues. Giants brass took notice and Masanori took the field against The Mets at Shea Stadium in 1964, becoming Major League Baseball’s first Japanese player. […]

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2014 marked the 50th anniversary of Masanori Murakami’s Major League Baseball debut. Sent to the San Francisco Giants farm system for developmental purposes, Murakami sparkled when he took the mound in the minor leagues. Giants brass took notice and Masanori took the field against The Mets at Shea Stadium in 1964, becoming Major League Baseball’s first Japanese player.

But instead of a flourishing career in the majors, Murakami found himself in an ugly tug-of-war between teams and country that would prevent Japanese players from coming to the US for years to come.

That is… until Hideo Nomo stormed into Major League Baseball and changed things forever.

Masanori Murakami Opens The Door

Photo by Dave Glass

It was only intended as a temporary, developmental trip. When the Nankai Hawks lent a handful of players to the San Francisco Giants, no one predicted it would spark an international incident.

And it was all thanks to Murakami’s success on the mound. The pitcher shined in the closing nine games of the 1964 season, posting a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings pitched. Robert Whiting commented, “No Japanese had gotten this much favorable attention in the continental United States since Kyu Sakamoto’s improbable (and misnamed) hit single ‘Sukiyaki‘.”

According to the contract stipulations, the Giants could sign one of the loaned Japanese players by awarding Nankai a fee of $10,000. Murakami signed the contract. The Giants wired Nankai the money and considered it a done deal – Murakami would take the field for the Giants come 1965.

Faced with losing a budding star, Nankai met with Murakami during his winter vacation in Japan. If he joined the Giants, they threatened, he’d never play baseball in Japan again. With additional pressure from his father, Murakami signed on with the Nankai Hawks for the 1965 season.

Murakami now had contractual obligations with two separate teams in two separate countries. Something had to give.

Of Culture and Contracts

Photo by delphinmedia

The root of the Murakami dispute lay in Nankai’s contract with The Giants. The Giants viewed the contract as a literal, binding agreement; every word was chosen with care. The $10,000 stipulation existed in the contract and therefore had to be honored.

Nankai managment, however, took a Japanese view of the contract. Robert Whiting explains,

The Japanese believed more in the spirit of the contract than the letter, that the purpose of a contract was to ensure that both sides benefitted. Since situations changed the parties… should not be locked in by mere words… What was most important was mutual understanding and the cultivation of ningen kankei , or human relationships.

Nankai stated the organization had accepted the $10,000 as a bonus for Murakami’s contribution to the Giant’s season. When the Giants refused to bend, Nankai resorted to other explanations. First they claimed the signature on Murakami’s release was a forgery. Next they flaunted a “home sick” clause that allowed a player to return to Japan due to difficultly to adjusting to American life. But Murakami’s success the previous season and signing of a new contract made that claim hard to swallow.

MLB (Major League Baseball) teams feared that Murakami’s disregard of contract would set dangerous precedent. What if other players followed suit? NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) teams harbored similar fears. Would other players follow Murakami’s example, abandoning the Japanese league for the MLB?

Yushi Uchimura, the Japanese commissioner took control. After mulling over the problem, “(Uchimura) came to the conclusion the (Nankai) Hawks had been careless in their dealings with the American team”.

In a compromise that balanced the spirit of ningen kanei with the expectation of binding contracts, Uchimura decided to allow Murakami to play for the Giants for the 1965 season. At season’s end Murakami would rejoin the Nankai Hawks and remain in Japan for the rest of his career.

At first US commissioner Ford Frick refused. But the sides finally came to an agreement when Murakami was allowed to choose whether to stay with the Giants or return to Japan at season’s end.

Murakami picked up where he left off for the Giants, mounting a successful 1965 campaign. Although he intended to stay in the US, pressure from his father and the Japanese media, who dubbed him a greedy traitor, gave him a change of heart. Murakami returned to Japan where he finished out an unremarkable career with one notable season in 1969 when he posted a 18-4 record with a 2.38 ERA.

The Murakami fiasco would sour US and Japanese baseball relations for decades. “As a result of the trans-Pacific tiff over Murakami, the U.S. and Japan commissioners has signed something called the United States-Japanese [sic] Player Contract Agreement… in which both sides pledged to respect each other’s baseball conventions.”

Free Agency: MLB Players Fight Back

curt flood

Photo by Dman41689

Until 1969, US and Japanese baseball teams enjoyed similar rights over players. Allen Barra of The Atlantic explains,

In 1969, players were still bound to a team for life by the so-called reserve clause. Simply put, a player was a team’s property. Unless the team chose to trade him or release him, his first big-league team would be his only big-league team for his entire career. A player’s only recourse was retirement.

Then the Cardinals attempted to trade Curt Flood against his will. Infuriated by players’ lack of rights, Flood sued hoping to benefit himself as well as future players. Due to a unconstitutional antitrust pardon granted to MLB, Flood would never benefit from his efforts. But his case would eventually see victory, giving birth to free agency.

In 1976, four years after Flood’s initial lawsuit, pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally became baseball’s first free agents. Free to negotiate with other teams, a player could weigh his options and accept the contract offer that best suited his needs. The media and fans vilified Flood, accusing him of destroying baseball. Allen Barra writes,

Prophets of doom and gloom about the future of the game could be seen on every sports page, but in the end, the Players Association worked out things with management, and salaries sky-rocketed—along with profits, it turned out, as fans liked the exciting new era of free agency and the players it brought to their teams.

…Meanwhile Back In Japan

Photo by kamon

Yet in Japan things went on as usual. Teams maintained control over their players, pay remained low and players had little say in their futures. Although players earned the right to strike, it wasn’t a step they were willing to take. Robert Whiting explains,

Indeed, the majority of players in Japan continued to speak not only of team loyalty… but also a feeling of responsibility to the parent company, the stadium food vendors, the parking-lot attendants, the transportation companies and other individuals and businesses dependent on professional baseball who would suffer economically in the event of work stoppage.

Although MLB teams are associated with the cities in which the play, Japanese teams are attached to their sponsoring companies. From the Yomiuri Giants to the Softbank Hawks, Japanese teams exist to advertise their respective sponsors.

In the US, players sought to take their share of their team’s profits. But Japanese teams made less profits (if any) from their clubs and therefore had less to offer players. The Economist reports, “Almost all (Japanese teams) lose money.” Unlike their American counterparts, most Japanese clubs fail to take advantage of “broadcasting rights, merchandising, sponsorship and internet distribution. Accordingly, the average salary for a Japanese player is around $500,000, compared with $3m in America.”

A team built and supported by a cooperate media giant, the Yomiuri Giants are the major exception. And when free agency finally hit NPB, it came at the whim of Giants’ brass who hoped to fill their team with established talent. Unlike in the MLB, the change did little in way of players’ rights.

Robert Whiting explains, “Players could only become free agents after ten full years of service on the parent team… the salaries of free-agent signees would be limited to only 150 percent of their previous season’s pay.” Player agents were banned from the negotiation process.

Despite a culture of loyalty, sooner or later Japanese stars were bound to be attracted to the salaries and challenge MLB offered. It was only a matter of someone standing up to the established system.

Enter the Rabble Rouser

Photo by RichardMcCoy

With his unconventional corkscrew windup, Hideo Nomo always marched to the beat of his own taiko. For example, when one of the nation’s top high school coaches rejected Nomo because of his windup, Nomo joined a relatively unknown team and thrived. And when colleges refused to draft him, Nomo joined Japan’s farm league. Both choices paid dividends, allowing Nomo to perfect his unique throwing style.

A successful 1988 Olympic campaign prompted Nomo’s drafting into the NPB in 1989. The Kintetsu Buffaloes offered him a record contract. “Nomo said yes,” Whiting recalls, “but only on condition that the Buffaloes promise not to change his form.”

It was money well spent as Nomo went on to become the league’s premier pitcher. But Nomo’s rebellious nature continued to show. When Kintestu struck an exclusive deal with the Mizuno sporting goods brand, Nomo donned Nike cleats to the NPN all-star series. Nomo’s refusal to compromise would eventually spell the end of his career in Japan.

In 1994 Kintestu brought in the strict, old-fashioned Keishi Suzuki as manager. Suzuki’s reputation for overworking pitchers proved true and Nomo paid the price with a shoulder injury. The last straw came when Suzuki demanded that Nomo, practice and play through injury. A firm believer in the rest and recovery practices afforded pitchers in the MLB, Nomo set his sights on America.

Enter Don Nomura, an agent waiting for a Japanese player to challenge the system. Nomura uncovered NPB’s voluntary retirement clause, Nomo’s key to leaving Japan. Under the clause, “a voluntarily retired player, under Japanese contract was obligated to return (from retirement) to his former team only as long as he stayed in Japan… A player who went on voluntary retired list in NPB would thus essentially be free to play in the US.”

When Kintestu declined Nomo’s request for an unprecedented three-year, $9 million contract, he announced his retirement from NPB. To the chagrin of Kintetsu, the media, and fans, Nomo signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers and left for the player-friendly pastures of the MLB.

Walk this Way

Nomo became a sensation; he won games, he sold merchandise, he (once again) proved Japanese players could survive and even thrive in the MLB.

A media and society that once criticized him now embraced him as a successful countryman on the world stage. Japanese media outlets paid large sums for interviews, providing the opportunity for Nomo to criticize the Japanese game. He condemned its treatment of players, particularly the managers that cut pitchers’ careers short through overuse and ignoring injuries.

Nomomania hit both the US and Japan. Eric Nusbaum recalls,

He went into his ritual windup, summoning pitches from a place no one else had access to. He walked back from the mound, keeping his eyes on the grass. He disappeared from the public eye between starts. They called him the Tornado, but he was quiet and still, even at the center of a storm of tchochkes and sellout crowds at Dodger Stadium and kids who were mesmerized by his windup, his forkball, and even his name. We said it a lot. Nomo, Nomo, Nomo.

Nomo’s success and the loophole he exploited paved the way for other Japanese players. At home Japanese stars felt like big fish in a little pond, and for many a bigger challenge beckoned. Some, like Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui would find similar success, becoming celebrities at home and abroad. Others, like Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Hideki Irabu, wouldn’t fare so well.

But no matter the degree of success, Japanese players have Hideo Nomo to thank for the opportunity to play overseas. Nomo’s unique windup symbolized his unique spirit. Like Curt Flood, Hideo Nomo was a man willing to break cultural and contractual moulds for the better opportunity of all.

The Ruin of Japanese Baseball?

Photo by ぽこ太郎

Just as US media and fans bemoaned the advent of free agency brought on by Curt Flood, Japan’s baseball pundits and media outlets declared Nomo’s move to the MLB the death-knell of Japanese baseball. With players free to leave NPB, many believed the league would become nothing more than a minor league feeding system for MLB.

These worries inspired the posting system. Under this 1998 arrangement, Japanese teams “post” a player as eligible to play in MLB and declare a “posting fee” or negotiation price. If an MLB team and player reach a contract agreement, that MLB team must pay the posting fee to the NPB team as well as the player’s salary. In other words, NPB team’s receive this posting fee as compensation for the player.

Although the posting system provided relief for NPB, it was also seen as a strike against players’ rights. Teams posted the player and declared the posting fee which added an undesirable expense for MLB teams hoping to sign NPB players.

Only long-time veterans could forgo posting. After nine years in NPB a player was free to negotiate freely.

Continued Success

Photo by ilovemypit

With two World Baseball Classic victories, Japanese baseball looks stronger than ever. The posting system has protected the NPB and the feared exodus of talent never came to fruition. As of 2014 twenty NPB players have used the posting system, yet among those twenty, only fourteen are Japanese, the others being foreigners who came up through Japanese teams’ youth recruitment systems.

Fresh off a magnificent season where he won a record-breaking 25 consecutive games in NPB, Masahiro Tanaka became the latest player to take advantage of the system, signing with MLB’s Yankees for big money in 2013. Only time will tell if Tanaka can reach Nomo’s success, but thanks to the rebel pitcher, Japanese players like Tanaka continue to challenge baseball’s best in MLB.

In 2014, fifty years after Murakami became the first Japanese player to play in MLB, Nomo continued blazing his revolutionary path, becoming the first Japanese player inducted into the leagues’s baseball hall of fame. Today Nomo’s career has come full circle as the retired pitcher “lead(s) an industrial league team in the Osaka region of Japan, called Nomo Baseball Club, which gives non-drafted (semi-professional) players an opportunity to compete” (Gandy).

But it’s unlikely any prospect will impact baseball like the uncharacteristically stubborn Nomo who broke with cultural norms, blazing his own path to success in the United States, a path other Japanese players felt inspired to follow.

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Sources

 

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The Superior Power of Japanese Mathematics http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/25/superior-power-japanese-mathematics/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/25/superior-power-japanese-mathematics/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48142 Maths was never my strong suit at school. The numbers never danced into line for me. So I thought that trying to deal with numbers in a foreign language would be impossible. However, to my great surprise, dealing with numbers in Japanese was easier than I’d expected. This wasn’t due to any genius on my […]

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Maths was never my strong suit at school. The numbers never danced into line for me. So I thought that trying to deal with numbers in a foreign language would be impossible. However, to my great surprise, dealing with numbers in Japanese was easier than I’d expected. This wasn’t due to any genius on my part. It is entirely due to the genius of the Japanese counting system itself.

One, Two, Three, 一、二、三

soba-restaurant-numbers-math

Photo by CeciliaC

At first, it is easy to be daunted by the Japanese counting system. Really, you shouldn’t worry. You’ve already mastered a much more complicated number system. Counting in Japanese is much more logical and systematic than English. If you can get hold of the basics you’ll soon be flying.

Let’s have a look at those basics and what we can do with them.

1: 一 ichi
2: 二 ni
3: 三 san
4: 四 shi/yon
5: 五 go
6: 六 roku
7: 七 nana/shichi
8: 八 hachi
9: 九 ku
10: 十 juu

The first ten numbers. They aren’t too daunting are they. Just ten numbers (twelve if you count the two alternate ways of saying 4 and 7.) It’s worth learning the kanji too, if only so you can read prices in fancy soba restaurants. I don’t know why, but the soba places near me always used the kanji numbers.

Now here is where Japanese has a huge advantage over English. The numbers from 11 to 99 all use the same sounds you’ve just leaned. Unlike English with its bizarre exceptions to its own rules. Eleven! What’s that all about, huh?! Eleven! It doesn’t sound anything like ten or one, or even twelve.

There are are so many exceptions that make the English counting system confusing, especially for young children. But look at the Japanese for 11, 十一 juu-ichi, ten-one. How beautiful! The same pattern continues. 21 is 二十一 ni-juu-ichi, two-ten-one. Once you get to 100, you only have to learn one more word, 百 hyaku. Now you can count from 1 to 999 using the same system. 101 is 百一 hyaku-ichi. 241 is 二百四十一 ni-hyaku-yon-juu-ichi. The only thing you have to watch out for is the hyaku sound turning into byaku. To count from 1 to 9999, all you need is one more word, 千 sen which means thousand. 10,000 is 万 man, and the same rules apply. If you are interested, 100,000,000 is 億 oku, 1,000,000,000,000 is 兆 chō, and 10,000,000,000,000,000 is 京 kei.

If you’re living in Japan, you’ll find it very easy to practice counting all the way up into the thousands because it’s so common when you go shopping. 1000 yen is only about 8 US dollars. As Japan is such a cash based society, you’ll soon be dealing with numbers in the thousands and tens of thousands on a daily basis. When I bought my car in cash, I happily counted out the 万 and 千.

Sensible regular naming systems in Japanese mathematics extend beyond the numbers themselves. Shape names don’t require you to study up on your Ancient Greek, like English ones do. Now, I’m a big nerd for English etymology, but there is something to be said for a simple system like this. To name a polygon in Japanese, all you have to do is count the sides and add that number to 角形 kakkei or kakukei. So a triangle is 三角形 san-kakkei, and an octagon is 八角形 hachi-kakukei. Admittedly, you will have to spend some time learning which pronunciation of 角形 goes with each number.

Do you know what an eleven sided shape is in English? Can you work out what it is in Japanese?

If you said, “hendecagon,” and “十一角形 (juu-ichi-kakukei)” then I salute your knowledge. Which was easier to figure out?

Everybody Do the Kuku

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Photo by Bryan Ochalla

The kuku is not a bird. It’s a tool to learn multiplication tables. I remember struggling through my times tables at school. Even now I dread being asked to multiply numbers on the spot. This is not a fear that many Japanese people have. From the age of seven, children learn their times tables using the kuku chant. This covers the times tables up to 9×9, which is where the kuku gets its name. By learning the kuku by heart, Japanese children get a solid grounding for the rest of their exploration of mathematics. I’ve gone on about how regular the Japanese counting system is, but the kuku breaks from this trend. To fit the rhythm, many numbers are said in a simplified form. For example hachi is sometimes shortened to ha. Also, the kuku won’t help you past 9×9. It surprised some Japanese teachers I know that Western students learn up to 12×12.

Still, if you’d like to try it yourself, there are many videos which use different rhythms or songs to help teach the kuku. I’d recommend downloading a version that you like and listening to it over and over again and try to sing along.

Memorising mathematical concepts comes up again later in Japanese children’s education. In senior high school, they can be expected to memorise trig function tables, something that is unthinkable in the UK. The merits of memorising those can be debated, but without the training the kuku provides, it would be far more difficult. I wish that there was a sing-song equivalent to the kuku in English which I could have learned by heart. Recently, I’ve been trying to memorise the kuku and I have to say it’s far more fun than I expected.

Could You Be a Soroban Master?

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Photo by Joe Haupt

There is another tool that can help you improve your maths skills and this one is literally a tool. Soroban 算盤 is the Japanese abacus. You might be thinking, “Why is she suggesting I use an abacus?” You have a scientific calculator. Abacuses are so five centuries ago. But the soroban has the ability to turn you into a mental arithmetic magician.

The Japanese abacus is divided into two sections. The upper part has one bead and each represents 5 units. The lower part has four beads, each representing 1 unit. To read the abacus you only look at the beads that have been pushed into the middle of the abacus, resting against the dividing bar. It is read left to right. You can try it yourself using this virtual soroban.

Having a physical representation of numbers and actually moving beads makes using an abacus easier and more fun for children than simply working sums out on paper. The aim is to use the abacus combined with muscle memory to mechanise the process of arithmetic. A trained soroban user can complete calculations far faster than someone with an electronic calculator because they don’t even need to think about the calculations. Using the soroban becomes automatic. Soroban schools are popular 塾 juku, where children are trained in abacus skills after school. There is even an examined ranking system, just like in martial arts. I used to watch in amazement as the teacher who sat opposite me calculated huge sums on a soroban. Her fingers flicked across the beads at amazing speed. She also used it for adding up marks on tests. I was slower, clumsier, and less accurate doing the same thing on an electric calculator.

The greatest soroban users don’t even need a soroban in front of them. This is called anzan soroban (暗算そろばん) or mental soroban. People who have mastered anzan soroban have internalised the abacus. They can see it in their mind’s eye. If you watch someone calculating with anzan soroban sometimes you’ll see their fingers flicking as if they were moving beads on their abacus, even with no abacus there. Students retain the mechanised aspect of soroban, so they don’t have to consciously do the calculations to get the right answer. Watch this video of children playing shiritoi (a word game) and doing anzan soroban at the same time.

That’s pretty mind boggling! But the most impressive form of anzan soroban is even more amazing. Flash anzan is an illustration of the extraordinary power of the human brain. Flash anzan was invented by soroban teacher Yoji Miyamoto as a game to stretch his students. In flash anzan 15 numbers between 100 and 999 are flashed on a screen. The challenge is to add them up in your head. OK, that sounds pretty tough, but doable, right? Well, the champions of flash anzan can do it in under 2 seconds. The 2012 champion of the All-Japan Flash Anzan competition, Takeo Sasano added the 15 three digit numbers in 1.70 seconds. Here is a video of the All-Japan National Soroban Championship in 2012 where contestants make the caluclation in 1.85 seconds.

This is the power of the soroban.

Maths Is More Fun in Japan

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There are certainly complexities when dealing with numbers in Japan. Counting things, not just numbers brings you into the complex world of Japanese counters. All throughout this article I’ve been using the on’yomi reading of numbers (ichi, ni, san, etc.) not the kun’yomi reading (hitotsu, futsu, mittsu, etc.) which is a whole other challenge to master.

However, difficult or not, I believe there is something more important when it come to arithmetical success. That is attitude. When I asked my Japanese students what their favourite subject was there was a roughly 60/40 split between PE and maths. Japanese students are typically much more confident in mathematics than they are in English. While my maths teachers back home despaired at me, maths teachers in Japan liked me for some reason. I was often invited to maths class and teachers would try to explain things in English, much to the amusement of the students. In maths class I saw students, who I knew as shy and withdrawn, happily chatting away about mathematical concepts that were far beyond me. The attitude towards maths in Japan is far more positive than it is in the UK. Maths is something to play with in Japan. It’s not surprising that Japan is the source of many of the world’s most popular number games like sudoku.

While you and I might never achieve complete mathematical fluency in Japanese and be able to do massive calculations in under two seconds, we can learn not only maths in Japanese, but also Japan’s positive attitude towards it.

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The Ghibli Dictionary: A Japanese Study Guide Revolution! http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/23/ghibli-dictionary-japanese-study-guide-revolution/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/23/ghibli-dictionary-japanese-study-guide-revolution/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48399 Last year, a new English-Japanese dictionary was released in Japan for Japanese people learning English. This may not seem very special until you hear the title: Star Wars English-Japanese Dictionary for Padawan Learners. Does this sound as awesome or what? I’m totally jealous of Japanese people who get language study tools based on Star Wars! The dictionary is essentially a list […]

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Last year, a new English-Japanese dictionary was released in Japan for Japanese people learning English. This may not seem very special until you hear the title: Star Wars English-Japanese Dictionary for Padawan Learners.

Does this sound as awesome or what? I’m totally jealous of Japanese people who get language study tools based on Star Wars! The dictionary is essentially a list of words that are used in the original Star Wars Trilogy. Readers are given lines of dialogue using target words so they can practice speaking like Star Wars characters.

The problem is that we, English speakers learning Japanese, don’t have anything similar. Why do Japanese people get all of these wonderful study guides while we’re stuck with boring dictionaries and textbooks?

This is why I have constructed a new type of Japanese study guide that helps English speakers study Japanese with the help of movies better than Star Wars: The films of Studio Ghibli! Studying alongside these wonderful films will hopefully bring fun to the learning process and warm your heart with child-like fantasy at the same time.

How It Works

Studio-Ghibli

The Ghibli Dictionary is not like a normal dictionary, simply listing words in alphabetical order. Its purpose is to teach you words that will increase your understanding of the Japanese used in Ghibli films (without subtitles, of course).

The words are organized according to the films they can be found in. For each film, there is a different category of word to focus on while viewing the film. For example, the My Neighbor Totoro section focuses on nouns. In this way, you can concentrate your studies toward learning one specific aspect of the dialogue at a time, instead of trying to learn everything all at once.

There are many ways to use the dictionary according to your level and preference. One way I recommend is to read over the words for the film you choose and try to remember as many as you can. While viewing the film, listen for the words you just learned and see how many you can recognize. Once you recognize them here, you’ll be surprised at how often you encounter the same words in other anime, dramas, or films. Soon, you’ll be speaking, thinking, and even dreaming in Japanese!

Be advised that all the listings in the Ghibli Dictionary are in kanji, hiragana, and katakana. No romaji! Romaji, as helpful as it seems to beginners, its actually detrimental. It can make it hard for you to read real Japanese later on and wastes your study time. So if you don’t yet know hiragana and katakana (you don’t need kanji to get started in the Ghibli Dictionary), I suggest you check out Tofugu’s handy guides for learning hiragana and katakana. It will take less than a day or two to learn both, and you will be studying much more efficiently from then on.

The words in the Ghibli Dictionary are listed (for the most part) in the order they appear in the films, so you can get a general idea of where to find them.

Enough talk. Let’s get started!

NOUNS! in My Neighbor Totoro

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My Neighbor Totoro is a simple story about two young sisters who move with their father to a new house in the countryside. Their mother is ill and staying at a hospital nearby. Soon after moving into the new house, they meet a big fluffy creature called Totoro. With his mysterious kindness, Totoro helps them get used to a new environment and deal with the anxiety of their mother’s illness.

Since the dialogue centers around two children, Satsuki and Mei, the language is quite simple and easy to understand. If you feel ready to graduate from the annoyance of subtitles, this is a great place to start.

Repetition is one of (if not the) most important aspects of language learning. The great thing about My Neighbor Totoro is that many words are used repeatedly, as children are apt to do. So let’s focus on learning the nouns that repeat in My Neighbor Totoro.

People

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Let’s start by learning the nouns and pronouns for people since they are the most repeated words. Sometimes words for family members are said with or without the お, and さん honorifics, and instead are replaced with ちゃん. They mean the same thing, but the お and さん are a bit more formal. The list includes the form that is used most in the film.

お父さん ( おとうさん) = Father, Dad

お母さん (おかあさん) = Mother, Mom

お姉ちゃん (おねえちゃん) = Older Sister

妹 (いもうと) = Younger Sister. Unlike おねえちゃん, this word is not used to call your younger sister, but only to refer to her. In Japan, younger family members are only addressed by their names.

おばあちゃん = Grandmother, Old Lady. This word is generally used for any woman who is elderly, not just your own grandmother.

私 (わたし) = I, Me. Mei refers to herself as Mei instead of I or me. Young girls tend to do this but the older sister Satsuki mostly uses 私, which makes her sound more mature.

私たち (たしたち) = We, Us

みんな = Everyone. The teacher at Satsuki’s school says みなさん, which is a more formal way of saying everyone.

先生 (せんせい) = Teacher, Doctor. You may be used to calling your Japanese teacher 先生, but people of many other occupations are addressed as 先生 as well, such as doctors, lawyers, or politicians.

子供 (こども) = Child

あなた = You. Formal.

おまえ = You. Informal.

バカ = Stupid Person

女の子 (おんなのこ) = Girl

Things and Places

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This is a list of the nouns that are repeated most throughout the film.

お家 (おうち) = House, Home. Satsuki’s teacher uses this word to mean household, which is also a common usage.

家 (いえ) = House, Home. This is the same word as お家 (おうち), even though the pronunciation is quite different.

お化け (おばけ) = Ghost

お化け屋敷 (おばけやしき) = Haunted House

木 (き) = Tree

クスノキ = Camphor Tree. This is the type of tree that Totoro lives in.

どんぐり = Acorn

リス = Squirrel

ネズミ = Mouse, Rat

水 (みず) = Water

道 (みち) = Road

お弁当 (おべんとう) = Boxed Lunch

庭 (にわ) = Garden

傘 (かさ) = Umbrella

バス = Bus

猫 (ねこ) = Cat. The cat bus is called 猫バス (ネコバス).

夢 (ゆめ) = Dream

電報 (でんぽう) = Telegram

病院 (びょういん) = Hospital

風邪 (かぜ) = Cold (as in catch a cold). This has the same pronunciation as 風 (かぜ) meaning wind, so try not to get them confused.

迷子 (まいご) = Lost Child

Mei’s Mispronunciation

totoro-3

Mei, being as young as she is, is prone to mispronouncing words. One of those words is トロル (tororu, meaning “troll”), which she pronounces as トトロ (totoro). The name of the film and the fluffy creature we all love is just Mei’s way of pronouncing troll. The other two words that Mei mispronounces are words that new learners of Japanese may have trouble with as well, so watch out.

おたまじゃくし = Tadpole. When Mei finds tadpoles in a small pond in the garden, she yells out オジャマタクシ!, an understandable mistake.

とうもろこし = Corn. Mei mispronounces this word two different ways トンモコロシ and トンモロコシ. I’m sure there are a lot more ways to say it wrong…

ADJECTIVES! in Spirited Away

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Spirited Away is possibly the best-known Ghibli film. It is the highest grossing Japanese film of all time and even won an Oscar. It is a fascinating story about a ten-year-old girl who, with her parents, enters the world of the gods. Her parents are turned into pigs and she is forced to work at a bathhouse run by a wicked witch.

The colorful environment and wonderfully detailed artwork make this film a joy to watch. So what better words to learn from this film than words that describe things? Adjectives!

There are a number of different adjectival forms in Japanese, but we’ll only focus on the three most common: ones that end in い (i), しい (shii), and な (na).

The い-adjectives

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This is the most common and basic form of Japanese adjective. These can be placed either before or after the thing it is describing.

いい = Good. This word is used in many different ways, just like the word “good” in English. One combination you will hear often is いい子 ( いいこ) meaning “good child.”

悪い ( わるい) = Bad

青い (あおい) = Blue

近い (ちかい) = Close

柔らかい (やわらかい) = Soft

小さい (ちいさい) = Small

どんくさい = Slow, Slow-witted. This word is used for people who are clumsy or slow to learn. Lin calls Chihiro this in the beginning, but Chihiro becomes brave and spirited by the end, so she takes it back.

うるさい = Noisy

汚い (きたない) = Dirty

強い (つよい) = Strong

うまい = Delicious, Skillful. This word can be used to say food is delicious, but it can also be used generally as “good” or “well.” For example, near the end of the film, No-Face is helping make a broom for Zeniba and Zeniba says, “うまいじゃないか” to tell him that he is doing a good job.

早い (はやい) = Early, Fast. This can also be written as 速い.

遅い (おそい) = Late, Slow. Even though there are two different ways to write fast and early, there is only one way to write slow and late.

The しい-adjectives

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These are actually just a form of i-adjectives. They tend to be emotions, personalities, or states of being.

新しい (あたらしい) = New

忙しい (いそがしい) = Busy

おかしい = Weird, Odd. This word has other meanings such as “funny,” but in this film, it is only used to say “That’s weird…(おかしいな…).

美味しい (おいしい) = Delicious. The difference between “ おいしい” and “うまい” is that “おいしい” is a bit more formal while “うまい” is casual and manly.

珍しい (めずらしい) = Rare, Unusual

優しい (やさしい) = Kind, Gentle

苦しい (くるしい) = Painful, Strenuous. Another word with many meanings. It is used for any situation where one is having a hard time, physically or emotionally. In the film, Chihiro uses this word to ask Haku (in his dragon form) if he is in pain.

嬉しい (うれしい) = Happy, Glad

The な-adjectives

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These adjectives can only come before the noun.

きれいな = Pretty, Beautiful, Clean. きれい can be used on its own, but adding -な at the end of きれい makes it able to modify a noun.

うまそうな = Delicious Looking. うまそう is a conjugated form of うまい. It might be useful to know that if you replace the final い or な in most adjectives with そう, it becomes “looks ——.” For example, if you replace the い in つよい and say つよそう, it means “looks strong.”

バカな = Stupid

贅沢な (ぜいたくな) = Extravagant, Luxurious

余計な (よけいな) = Unnecessary, Needless

大切な (たいせつな) = Valuable, Precious

大事な (だいじな) = Important. だいじな and たいせつな have a similar meaning but たいせつな sounds much more important and emotional.

生意気な (なまいきな) = Impertinent

変な (へんな) = Strange, Weird

IMPERATIVES! in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is set in a world where most of the land is covered in toxic forests swarming with giant insects. Nausicaä, the princess of the Valley of the Wind, gets caught up in a struggle with the Tolmekian army who are trying to use an ancient weapon to wipe out the insects.

The story is full of suspenseful events and high-pressure moments, which means that there is a lot of ordering around going on. They just don’t have enough time to ask nicely. If your image of Japanese people is that they are extremely polite and would never tell you anything directly, well…that’s not always the case. The dialogue of this film uses an abundance of imperatives (commands) that are useful to learn for understanding your boss’s orders or picking a fight.

The language of this particular film is a bit archaic, so it could be challenging to try and understand all of the dialogue. Let’s just focus on imperatives for now.

(Technically, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is not a Ghibli film, because it was released before the studio was formed. But since its success led to the founding of Studio Ghibli, I decided that it deserves to be in the Ghibli Dictionary.)

Direct Orders

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These words are in the simple imperative form that could sound very rude in the wrong situations but are very useful in dire circumstances. They are useful to know when watching war movies or detective dramas. Be aware that these words are all verbs translated into forms that make them commands. Since this is a dictionary we won’t go into how these verbs are conjugated (use a textbook for that), but it’s good to know that these words are conjugated forms.

急げ (いそげ) = Hurry Up. This is by far the most used word in the film, since the characters are always in a hurry.

引け (ひけ) = Pull

出ろ (でろ) = Go Out

早くしろ (はやくしろ) = Do It Quickly.  Sometimes the older men say はよせい, which is the exact same word just in a different dialect.

待て (まて) = Wait

来い (こい) = Come

見ろ (みろ) = Look

集まれ (あつまれ) = Gather

動くな (うごくな) = Don’t Move. If a Japanese cop yells this at you, you might be in a bit of trouble.

落ち着け (おちつけ) = Calm Down

やめろ = Stop

聞け (きけ) = Listen

撃て (うて) = Shoot or Fire (as in a gun or a cannon)

着けろ (つけろ) = Pin It On (as in pinning something to your shirt)

捨てろ (すてろ) = Throw It Away

渡せ (わたせ) = Hand It Over

言え (いえ) = Say It

どけ = Get Out Of The Way

離せ (はなせ) = Let Go

放せ (はなせ) = Release Him/Her/It/Them

行け (いけ) = Go

逃げろ (にげろ) = Run Away

Softer Commands

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This form, ending in て (te) or で (de), sounds softer and closer to a request. These are words in the て form, which we won’t go into explaining here, because this is a dictionary. It’s fine to know these て form words as they are, but be sure to learn how the て form is conjugated and utilized by studying a textbook.

急いで (いそいで) = Hurry Up.

燃やして (もやして) = Burn It. Princess Lastelle uses this word to ask Nausicaä to burn the cargo. This is a good example of the difference between the softer commands and direct orders. She does not say 燃やせ, which would have made her seem rude and stuck up.

待って (まって) = Wait

聞いて (きいて) = Listen

どいて = Get Out Of The Way

教えて (おしえて) = Tell Me. おしえて literally means “teach me” but it is often used to say ‘“inform me” or “let me know.” When Nausicaä meets the Pejite soldiers, she says おしえて to say, “tell me what your plan is.”

やめて = Stop It

見て (みて) = Look

The -nasai Form

Some of the commands are given in the -なさい form, which is a softer but condescending form of the imperative. It should only be used for people who are much younger or are of lower social position than you. Parents often use the -なさい form to their children.

見なさい (みなさい) = Look

渡しなさい (わたしなさい) = Hand It Over

捨てなさい (すてなさい) = Throw It Away

To Children or Animals

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Japanese has words that can only be said to children or animals. You can hear Nausicaä saying these words to the ohmu and the fox-squirrel in the beginning of the film.

お帰り (おかえり) = Go Back. Yes, this is the same word to say “Welcome back,” but what the speaker means should be clear from the context.

おいで = Come Here. This can also be used to invite friends to your place, but it must be a very casual context or you may sound rude or condescending.

Nimoji Jukugo in Whisper of the Heart

whisper-title

My personal favorite Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart, is a slice-of-life story based on the manga of the same name by Aoi Hiragi. It was written by Hayao Miyazaki, but actually directed by Yoshifumi Kondō. It is about a 14-year-old girl, Shizuku, who loves to read. She keeps seeing the same boy’s name, Seiji Amasawa, on many of the library checkout cards and begins to daydream about him. One day, she meets a boy who gets on her nerves, who turns out to be Seiji Amasawa.

This is a great film for learning Japanese because the language is realistic and very casual. So let’s focus on a very general type of word that covers a wide range of usages: nimoji jukugo! Nimoji jukugo are words that are made by combining two kanji characters. The meanings of the two characters are combined to make one meaning. I’ve divided the words up into four different categories so maybe you can try to tackle one or two at a time.

The great thing about learning kanji words is that you can mix and match the kanji to make new words, or if you recognize at least one of the kanji, then you might be able to guess the word’s meaning. So if you are an intermediate or advanced level, try to learn the kanji as well. If you know Chinese and already recognize the kanij, well then…you’re just lucky.

Time Words

whisper-1

I probably don’t have to explain how important these words are. You can probably see some patterns in the kanji.

時間 (じかん) = Time

明日 (あした) = Tomorrow

今日 (きょう) = Today

昨日 (きのう) = Yesterday

毎日 (まいにち) = Every Day. Pretty much every word that has to do with “day” has the kanji 日 in it.

午後 (ごご) = Afternoon. The word for before noon is 午前 (ごぜん).

最後 (さいご) = Last

最初 (さいしょ) = First

瞬間 (しゅんかん) = Moment

Actions

whisper-2

These words are nouns when used on their own, but when you add する at the end, they become verbs. For example, 説明 (せつめい) means “explanation,” while 説明する (せつめいする) means “to explain.”

出勤 (しゅっきん) = Going To Work

遅刻 (ちこく) = Being Late

勉強 (べんきょう) = Study, Studies

応援 (おうえん) = Support. This word can also mean “cheer” as in “cheer for a sports team,” but is only used as “support” in the film.

安心 (あんしん) = Relief, Peace of Mind

説明 (せつめい) = Explanation

返事 (へんじ) = Reply

仕事 (しごと) = Work

完成 (かんせい) = Completion

期待 (きたい) = Expectation, Anticipation

約束 (やくそく) = Promise

Things and People

whisper-3

自分 (じぶん) = Oneself. A very useful word that can be used to say myself, yourself, himself, herself, or one’s own. It can also be used in place of a first or second person pronoun, which can be a bit confusing. For example, when Shizuku gets angry at Seiji after finding out his name, she calls him じぶん which means “you” in this context.

物語 (ものがたり) = Story

人形 (にんぎょう) = Doll

時計 (とけい) = Clock, Watch

職人 (しょくにん) = Craftsman

宝物 (たからもの) = Treasure

魔法 (まほう) = Magic

進路 (しんろ) = Course. In this case, the course of one’s future.

才能 (さいのう) = Talent. Often used as 才能がある (さいのうがある) which means “to have talent” or “be talented.”

読者 (どくしゃ) = Reader

Others (Emotions, Adverbs, Adjectives, etc.)

whisper-4

元気 (げんき) = Healthy, Energetic

一緒 (いっしょ) = Together. This words can be use to say “same” as well, but in this film it is only used as “together.”

本当 (ほんとう) = Truth. Adding a に at the end makes it into an adverb, meaning “really” or “truly.”

自信 (じしん) = Confidence. There is another word that is pronounced じしん written as 自身. This word means “oneself,” so try not to get them confused.

素敵 (すてき) = Wonderful, Great

全然 (ぜんぜん) = Not At All, Completely. This word was originally used only for negative phrases but is now commonly used in positive phrases as well. For example, 全然食べれません (ぜんぜんたべれません) means “I can’t eat at all” and 全然食べれます (ぜんぜんたべれます) means “I can definitely eat.” Keep in mind that using this in the positive form is not technically correct and is often used by young people.

全部 (ぜんぶ) = All

平気 (へいき) = Fine, Okay, Indifferent

上手 (じょうず) = Skillful

Have Fun!

my-neighbor-totoro-promo-image

I hope you enjoyed using the Ghibli Dictionary and picked up a few words to add to your vocabulary. By the end of studying these four movies, you will begin to recognize the words and structures of dialogue. Once recognition kicks in, understanding will naturally follow.

Animation, and films in general, are a great resource for learning Japanese. But without a clear goal or method, it can be ineffective and take a very long time. I hope this guide gives you an idea of how to use film as study material.

I would love to hear about your experience of studying with the Ghibli Dictionary. Whether it was helpful or useless, loved it or hated it, want more of it or have suggestions on how to change it, please leave all of your thoughts in the comments below. Your feedback would be invaluable in further developing the Ghibli Dictionary and The Study Guide Revolution!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Don’t Get Sued! Libel, Slander, and Defamation Laws in Japan http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/20/dont-get-sued-libel-slander-defamation-laws-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/20/dont-get-sued-libel-slander-defamation-laws-japan/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48993 Scandal erupted back in 2007 when a Japanese weekly magazine, Shukan Gendai, reported that Asashoryu, a grand champion sumo wrestler, had bought his way to the top, paying off opponents in exchange for winning matches, and that he wasn’t the only sumo wrestler to do so. The Japan Sumo Association conducted its own internal investigation, […]

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Scandal erupted back in 2007 when a Japanese weekly magazine, Shukan Gendai, reported that Asashoryu, a grand champion sumo wrestler, had bought his way to the top, paying off opponents in exchange for winning matches, and that he wasn’t the only sumo wrestler to do so. The Japan Sumo Association conducted its own internal investigation, found no evidence of match fixing, and took Shukan Gendai’s publisher, Kodansha, to court for damaging the JSA’s reputation—and won to the tune of over 40 million yen, the biggest amount ever awarded in a Japanese libel case surrounding a magazine article.

But the thing is, Shukan Gendai’s reporting was sound. Matches were being fixed. (Albeit, to this day it’s unknown if Asahoryu was a part of this bout-fixing, but other sumo wrestlers involved in the case have since come forward.) And if this case happened in the United States or another developed country, things would have probably turned out way differently. But defamation laws and how they’re interpreted shift and change depending on what country you’re standing in and where that country’s society places cultural value.

You don’t need to be a lawyer to appreciate a few slander and libel cases, and in fact, knowing a little bit more about defamation laws in Japan will boost your own cultural understanding and may even save you from seeing the inside of a courtroom. (See? Who needs law school when you have Tofugu?)

First, A Little History

meiji jinja

Japan has some serious literary cred when it comes to its poetry and prose, both of which can be traced back centuries. But Japan’s press didn’t really gain its footing until the Meiji era, when, in an attempt to bring Japan up to speed with the West, the Meiji government started encouraging common Japanese people to become more informed about current events. A knowledgeable citizenry is always a rad idea, but in this case, it also resulted in a press that was basically another arm of the government, and a tool for the government to disseminate whatever information it wanted.

Fast-forward and things changed again for Japan’s press when, in the aftermath of World War II, General MacArthur and his American staff drafted a new constitution for Japan, which is still in use to this day. Reading the Japanese Constitution, it’s pretty obvious that MacArthur and his team drew heavily on the United States Constitution. So it probably comes as no surprise that freedom of speech is pretty open-ended in the Japanese Constitution as well. But with that open-endedness comes a lot of room for interpretation, and that’s where culture can really come into play. For example, Japanese courts are much more inclined to protect and focus on reputation than United States courts. A United States court is going to be concerned about whether the statements in question subject the plaintiff to intense ridicule or public hatred; a Japanese court will tend to focus on whether the statements in question reduce the respect of the plaintiff in his or her community.

Slander vs. Libel

headlines

Photo by emdot

But before I get into more of the nitty-gritty of Japan’s defamation laws, let’s toss up some definitions real quick. Defamation is the act of saying something untrue about someone else in order to harm their reputation and can be divided into two subcategories: slander and libel. Slander is defamation that’s spoken, and libel is defamation that’s printed. (Simple, no? Though as a point of interest, Japanese law doesn’t make a distinction between libel and slander.)

Exactly what can count as defamation and who can sue for it changes depending on which country’s law book you’re using. For example, in the United States, once you’re dead, you can no longer seek legal protection from slander or libel. People can say anything they like about you, true or not, because your reputation and societal standing aren’t worth anything once you’re a corpse. Japanese corpses, however, can still protect their good name and reputation under the law, so long as what’s being said about them is false.

Defamation can also be divided another way: Is the allegedly defamed person in the public or private sphere? Defamation laws act a little differently depending on whether the plaintiff is a private citizen or a public figure, because your expectation of privacy is going to differ depending on where you stand in your community.

So, let’s say you’re David Beckham, soccer star and husband of Posh Spice. And a magazine, let’s say In Touch Weekly, publishes an article about you having an affair with a prostitute. And let’s say you then sue that magazine for libel, because the story is false. As a public figure, David Beckham lost his case, because he couldn’t prove “actual malice.” By malice, I don’t mean that the magazine was twirling its moustache, plotting to destroy David Beckham’s reputation. “Actual malice”, in legalese, is knowing that a statement is false but saying/publishing it anyway, or acting with reckless disregard for the truth. This is very hard for plaintiffs to prove, so most cases in the US turn out the way David Beckham’s did.

But in Japan, David Beckham probably wouldn’t have gotten as raw a deal and he definitely wouldn’t have been required to prove there was “actual malice” behind the published story. Instead, Japan would have put the onus on the publication to prove that their statements about David Beckham were a matter of public interest, were only made with the sole purpose of advancing public interest, and were true. (Remember the Japan Sumo Association suing Kodansha for that story about bout-fixing in sumo? Kodansha was required to prove those same things in court and failed.)

The Truth Won’t Set You Free

lawyer fortune

Photo by slgckgc

But what happens if you’re just a regular person, someone who doesn’t even have more than a hundred followers on Twitter? I’m not a lawyer (or a person who has a lot of Twitter clout), but in my layperson research, a defamation case against a private citizen in the United States mostly boils down to one question: Is what Person A saying about Person B true?

Good to know the truth is always a defense, right? Well, in Japanese libel and slander cases, the truth won’t necessarily help you. Instead, it all comes down to reputation. (The Japanese word for defamation, meiyokison or 名誉毀損, when broken down, literally means “damaged honor”.) Even if a published statement is 100% true, it can still be considered defamatory if it irrevocably hurts the subject’s reputation and oftentimes the question of truth doesn’t really enter the equation. For example, in 2012 a Japanese man discovered that when he put his name into the Google search bar, it autocompleted results that implied he had a criminal record, and this man argued these autocomplete search results were severely damaging his reputation. Some sources strongly implied this man really did have a criminal past, others said that he was innocent. But it didn’t really matter either way—the Japanese court ordered Google to remove the autocomplete terms, which they did.

So You’re Being Sued

lawyer on tv

Okay, so what happens if you’re the one being sued for defamation in Japan? Well, if you’re a weekly magazine, this really isn’t so bad. In fact, this is probably a consequence you’ve already accepted in exchange for printing a really juicy, salacious story that’s going to sell a whole lot of magazine issues. Being sued is all part of publishing life in Japan, because it’s relatively easy for a plaintiff to make a successful case and there usually isn’t a huge amount of money involved anyway. This is in pretty steep contrast to the United States, where defamation cases might be settled for millions of dollars. In Japan, you won’t typically get a lot of yen for your trouble. It’s a question of pride, not money.

Things can get bad, though, if you’re being brought up on a criminal charge, and you could be facing a jail sentence of up to three years. Again, it’s about losing reputation and respect. In the United States, defamation cases are only civil cases, with no jail time for the defendant. (Just a big check to write.) In Japan, defamation can be a civil case or a criminal case, depending on how the plaintiff wants to go about things. (Are they out for cash or are they out for blood?)

Injunction, What’s Your Function?

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But sometimes it’s not enough that there’s a payout or a prison sentence. Japanese publications also face the occasional injunction. An injunction, in this context, is a court order demanding that a publication not print or distribute a particular story or fact. In the United States, injunctions (theoretically) don’t happen: the media can be held responsible after something’s been published, but not before. In Japan, an injunction is fair game if it will irrevocably damage someone’s reputation. (At this point, you may be sensing a theme here.)

For a better sense of how this whole injunction thing works in the name of libel, I present Hoppo Journal Co. v. Japan. In 1979, a Supreme Court allowed an injunction against an article about Kozo Igarashi, a local mayor planning to run for governor of Hokkaido. Igarashi’s lawyers argued that Hoppo Journal had written defamatory statements about Igarashi that, if widely released, would severely damage Igarashi’s reputation. To be fair, I wouldn’t like it if a magazine article said I was a “cockroach” and “an ugly character hiding behind a beautiful mask,” like the Hoppo Journal said of Igarashi, but I would also argue that few of Hoppo Journal’s readers probably took this language literally. Still, the court thought otherwise, and Hoppo Journal had to pull its article about Igarashi, the masked cockroach running for governor of Hokkaido.

Court Is Adjourned

judges gavel statue

Freedom of speech and press is a closely held right and ideal in most countries, and Japan especially has a very liberal ruling on free speech built right into their constitution: “Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.” That’s actually a way broader free speech law than a lot of other developed countries have. (Canada, what’s up with the whole “reasonable limits” on your “rights and freedoms” thing, eh? And England, why the crazy intense libel laws, huh? Though to be fair, the United States has its own dubious free speech baggage. See: WikiLeaks.)

But Japan is also a country with a constitution that’s extremely close to that of the United States. (Hence why I compared Japan law to United States law. Also, I’m American and this is what we do.) Yet, for better or worse, Japan interprets its open-ended free speech laws in ways that a United States court never would. We don’t necessarily think about it, but laws like those for libel and slander interpret culture into action and it’s pretty clear how Japanese courts use defamation law to best meet Japanese culture. Maybe samurai aren’t falling on their swords anymore, but reputation and social standing are still meaningful things in Japan, and their effects are far-reaching, right down to how Google autocorrects your name.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources

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How to View a Japanese Sword Like a Pro http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/18/view-japanese-sword-like-pro/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/18/view-japanese-sword-like-pro/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48998 For most of us who get the chance to handle a finely crafted nihonto (日本刀 Japanese sword,) we couldn’t do much more than hold it cross-eyed and bleat out “nice sword.” Why some consider a Masamune on par with a da Vinci eludes us. Japanese swords are works of art, but to the untrained eye one […]

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For most of us who get the chance to handle a finely crafted nihonto (日本刀 Japanese sword,) we couldn’t do much more than hold it cross-eyed and bleat out “nice sword.” Why some consider a Masamune on par with a da Vinci eludes us. Japanese swords are works of art, but to the untrained eye one isn’t much different from another. While being able to properly appraise a sword can take a lifetime, fortunately, you can see what makes a sword unique just by knowing what to look for.

 Nihonto or Gunto?

how-to-view-a-japanese-sword

Photo by Keith Putnam

Gunto (軍刀, meaning either “saber” or “service sword”) were the swords of Japanese WWII officers. Although some gunto were either handcrafted or partially handcrafted, most were assembled in factories from standard bar stock. Telling a gunto from a high quality blade is usually easy. If you can read Japanese and know how to open the grip, the signature on the tang (the part of the blade inside the handle) will tell you exactly what it is. If you can’t do these things, it’s still not very difficult.

If the sword is in Japan it is definitely a nihonto. Since the mass-produced gunto have no artistic value, the Japanese government classifies them as weapons. Owning one is illegal in Japan. There have been cases of American gunto owners wanting to reunite a Japanese soldier’s sword with his family, but unfortunately the law makes that almost impossible. If you try to bring a gunto into the country, it will be confiscated and you will be deported as if you tried bringing in an AK-47.

If you’re not in Japan, though, one way to tell is the scabbard. Gunto are actually not based on katana, but an older kind of sword called a tachi. Tachi look pretty similar to katana, but were worn horizontally, edge-down behind a samurai’s back. Japanese WWII soldiers hung their swords at their hips, but edge-down from loops on the scabbard. So if the scabbard has hangers, it is probably a gunto. The cheapest gunto also have serial numbers on the blade, which immediately tells you they were mass produced.

Still, some WWII swords were family swords modified for military fittings. You would normally be able to tell them apart from the steel’s grain or the temper line, but unfortunately, most swords that made their way abroad are in such poor condition the metal’s features have faded. The only way to tell is the signature, which most people can’t read. It’s really too bad, because somewhere out there is a Japanese national treasure called the Honjo Masamune, which was taken by a G.I. and never recovered.

The Basics of Shape

a-japanese-sword-blade-on-display

Photo by Marco/Zac

Now that you know if it’s a nihonto or gunto, next is viewing the blade’s personality. Japanese swords have a lot of details that are hard to catch without proper lighting, so you need a good, strong light source.

It’s traditional to bow to a sword before a viewing, though if the occasion is informal it’ll probably look strange. First, hold it edge-up and push the hilt away from the scabbard with your thumb. Do not touch the metal. The acid in your fingerprint will cause rust. Slide the sword out along its back to make sure the scabbard doesn’t scratch the blade.

Once out, hold the sword upright at arm’s length and notice the curvature. For ancient blades, the placement of the curve affected its cutting power and how quickly it could be drawn. The point determined its piercing power, and could vary from long and curved to short and angular. The smith would also choose which kind of back to forge, from flat to three-sided. Appraisers would use all these features to tell which period and school of swordsmithing the sword came from, but if you’re just viewing a blade, it’s enough just to know these features exist.

The Basics of Steel

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Photo by Charles Tilford

Nihonto are usually made from a high-carbon steel called “tamahagane (玉鋼).” Carbon makes steel hard, but it also makes it brittle. Tamahagane has so much carbon that a sword made from the untreated metal would shatter the first time it was used. There’s a common belief that a Japanese sword’s strength comes from folding it, but folding actually makes tamahagane softer, not harder. Each fold brings down the carbon content about .2 percent until it’s soft enough to withstand being used.

Below is a great example of the steel folding process.

The common image of a katana being folded thousands of times depends on what you consider a fold. If you count the actual amount of times the smith folds the steel, folding it a thousand times would drop the carbon content to zero, making the steel unfit for a sword. If you count the number of layers actually created in the metal, though, the number of “folds” grows exponentially. Either way, layering forms a distinctive pattern that appears after polishing. Waves, knots, and even wood-like patterns can be created depending on how the smith folds the billet. To view the grain, place a light above and behind you, then hold the blade horizontally.

Although tamahagane is crucial for making Japanese swords, it was almost lost to modern science. The steel is made in a smelter called a tatara, all of which ceased operations in 1945. Fortunately, in 1975 a society formed to preserve interest in nihonto and managed to revive tatara operations in Shimane prefecture. Smiths occasionally make their own metal, but most of Japan’s tamahagane is still being made by that very same tatara.

The Basics of the Temper Line

japanese-sword-hamon

Photo by Ian Armstrong

In the picture above you can clearly see the wavy line where the side of the steel near the edge is lighter than towards the rear. It’s called the hamon (刃文) or temper line, and it’s a Japanese sword’s most distinct feature. In manufactured swords it’s nothing more than a decoration, but the hamon of crafted swords is part of why katana are some of the best swords in the world. Japanese swords are forged from at least two steels. The rear of the sword is soft steel that acts as a shock absorber, while the edge is made of harder steel for cutting.

Before quenching (when the red hot blade is suddenly submerged in water) smiths coat it with a clay mixture to cool the edge slightly faster than the back. The difference is only a few thousandths of a second, but it turns the edge into an even harder kind of steel called martensite. It also creates the hamon. In ancient times, its main function was to create a powerful blade. Today, it’s an opportunity for the smith to express himself artistically.

Examine the hamon by pointing the sword just below your light source with the edge up. Moving it continuously should reveal a thin white line along the boundary between the steels. If the sword was well-made, you’ll also see any number of hataraki (働き) or special features within it, like cloudy patterns or “feet” that extend towards the edge. A lot of swords on the internet sport fake hamons, which, like gunto, probably won’t have any hataraki or patterns within the grain.

Smiths sometimes gamble with the hamon. At times they don’t use clay, but heat the edge and rear of the blade at different rates to create a natural pattern. A smith using this method has no control over the hamon’s appearance, but the natural quenching could create distinctive and beautiful patterns impossible with clay. While this can create stunning hamon, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Many nihonto admirers prefer to appreciate the smith’s hand in creating a distinctive hamon rather than one at random. Appearance is important, but hard work and effort is appreciated even more. A beautiful hamon made without clay is merely a matter of luck, after all, and not skill.

Bells and Whistles

japanese-sword-scabbard

Photo by Francios Serent

Making a blade takes months, but a sword takes even longer. The smith does a rough grinding and polishing after he finishes a blade, but then it’s sent to a professional sword polisher. The polisher uses a series of increasingly finer stones to bring out the steel’s details. Without a skilled polisher, the blade would just look like a featureless piece of metal.

Many collectors only care about the blade itself, so many new swords are only sheathed in a shirasa, a simple wooden scabbard. However, if the smith wants all the bells and whistles, he will send his creation to a scabbard maker. He might then himself make the tsuba (鐔, or guard,) habaki (ハバキ/ 鎺, or the small metal piece that fits the sword into the scabbard), and any engraving, or he can send it to individual specialists for each. Whether by the smith or another craftsman, each part of a Japanese sword has a lot of effort put into it, so take a moment to examine them in turn before you finish your viewing.

Viewing a Japanese Sword

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Even if you can’t tell a Bizen from a Soshu blade, you can still look at a Japanese sword and understand what you’re seeing. It’s a lot like admiring the brushwork of a Van Gogh. Before you realize it’s there, you can only see the picture. But once you do, you can see the master’s hand at work.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources:

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