Tofugu» Japanese News http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Fri, 22 Aug 2014 22:38:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Japan is Broke – But Maybe Things Aren’t So Bad… http://www.tofugu.com/2014/06/09/japan-is-broke-but-maybe-things-arent-so-bad/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/06/09/japan-is-broke-but-maybe-things-arent-so-bad/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 16:00:37 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=40017 Just last month, the consumption tax (or VAT) in Japan rose from 5% to 8%, much to the horror of our wallets. However, public opinion was split and, while there have been worries about the impact on the economy, the current government’s approval ratings have not suffered.

The reason for this is that the Japanese public knows that the government is broke and national debt has already reached ridiculous levels. Action has to be taken or something will give way in the long term. But then, perhaps things are not as bad as they seem at first glance – Japan has not and probably will not have a public financial meltdown as was seen in Europe a few years back.

The Bad News First

Ministry-of-Finance

Photo by Dick Johnson

Ministry of Finance, Japan

First things first: We have to look at the numbers.

Japan’s gross national debt has reached 214% of GDP as of 2012. This is the largest government debt as a percentage of GDP in the world. The second highest was Zimbabwe with 202.7% in 2012.*

Our Friends the Hondas: Imagine Japan as a family with the last name Honda. The Hondas will have to work for more than 2 years without spending anything (even on food) to clear their debt.**

Japan will borrow 41.2 trillion yen of the 95.9 trillion yen it will spend this year. This makes the bond dependency ratio 43%. This is after the tax increase as of April 2014.

Our Friends the Hondas: This year the Honda family will spend $95,900 this year, but mom and dad only earn $52,800 from their jobs. The other $41,200 they borrow from the bank. This is after a pay increase for dad in April this year.

Japan will spend 23.3 trillion yen of its 95.9 trillion yen this year on debt reservicing.

Our Friends the Hondas: Out of the $95,900 they will spend this year, the Honda family will have to pay $23,300 – or around a quarter – for their outstanding loans.

The amount of government debt per person in Japan is US$100,000 - in America it is $58,000 per person.

In short:

  • Japan has a ton of loans to pay off.
  • At the moment, it’s only earning half of what it spends.
  • The outstanding loans are already impacting government spending.

But Maybe It’s Not so Bad

Rays-of-Hope

Photo by Richard West

Some silver lining perhaps?

Despite these difficulties, Japan has not yet gone into full debt meltdown, at least for the moment. These are the reasons Japan has avoided the fate of Western Europe, courtesy of an economics lecture I attended.

Japanese debt is owned internally

Or, the Japanese government owes money to the investment firms and retirement funds within Japan. This means that:

  1. The owners of the debt, being Japanese, are less likely to pull their money out of Japan and self-destruct their own country. This is in stark contrast to foreign investors pulling money out of Western Europe.
  2. Since the debt has to be repaid in the longterm, the money will still technically be inside Japan. If it’s invested or spent somewhere, and not hiding under someone’s pillow, the money will still be circulating.

You can always raise the taxes more

Japanese taxes are still low compared to European standards. After all, even after the VAT tax raise, it’s still only 8%. Technically, if the government is really short of cash, it can raise the taxes more without reaching “ridiculous” rates.

The Japanese government still has quite a lot of assets

This is especially true in the post office system. The government can sell this and other things if it really goes broke. But this is a “solution” in the same way that Greece selling off historical buildings is a solution.

Low interest rates

A big debt will not crush you when the interest on it is low. Thus Japan, with its extremely low borrowing rates, gets much less pain from borrowing than other countries would get borrowing the same amount. However, as this article in the Japan Times points out, these interest rates are horrendously addictive.***

But in the long run…

Japanese-People

Photo by Azlan Dupree

Something has to give. While the situation isn’t yet at a breaking point, it does not mean that this direction is sustainable.

For one, it’s clear that more debt right now means less spending in the future. Debt reservicing (repayment of current debt + interest) is already more than 20% of the overall budget, as noted above. So no matter how low the interest rates, what Japan spends today will be what it does not spend tomorrow.

Yamabushi

Photo by Chris Gladis

Furthermore, Japan’s population is shrinking and rapidly graying. What this means is that Japan will have less people to pay off the current amount of debt, and fewer of those people will be actively producing. Unless specific retiree-oriented taxes are put in place, income tax receipts are likely to decrease.

In addition, Japan already spends about one third of its budget in social security (or welfare, in other words). With more elderly people, welfare and healthcare costs are expected to increase – meaning the government will have to spend more to maintain the same level of welfare.

Finally, the more debt Japan accumulates, the more likely the chance of a loss in confidence and a future financial crisis will become.

So, What Can Be Done?

Japanese-National-Diet-Building

Photo by Junpei Abe

Japan’s Parliament Building

As many countries in Western Europe have discovered, there really isn’t any easy solution to the situation. Here’s some possible solutions that Japan may employ, all with their own drawbacks:

Public spending is fundamentally the difference between spending and earning. Thus, logically speaking, the Japanese government is probably going to have to solve the problem through increasing earnings and/or decreasing spending.

So, on the spending side:

1.  Austerity

Ie. slashing government spending on public works, officials’ pay, welfare etc.

Drawback: The number of angry people in Western Europe speaks volumes about the dangers of this approach. Money that the government does not spend is money taken out of the economy – recession is a real risk when the government cuts spending.

In short: Angry voters. The economy may tank.

2.  Allowing Inflation

If inflation occurs and the value of money drops, the value of Japan’s existing debt similarly drops too. Thus, in real terms, the government has to pay less.

Drawback: Higher inflation often comes with higher interest rates. Thus, this doesn’t really help if Japan has to continue issuing new bonds (making new debt), which will be at the higher interest rate. Also, the amount of inflation that Japan can allow without causing uncertainty is limited.

In short: Japan would need to stop borrowing first before this has an effect. Plus, it will have a limited effect.

On the income side:

3.  Raise taxes

Drawback: Raise income and consumption tax and people spend less – and get angry. Raise corporation tax and you may make businesses unprofitable – and angry. Again recession becomes a problem.

In short: Angry voters. The economy may tank.

4.  Somehow make the economy grow.

This will automatically lead to the government earning more in tax. The government, through free trade and loosening some regulations, is probably aiming for this right now.

Drawback: This one is no east task. If it was, Japan would not have been in a rut for 20 long years and counting. Some concrete measures, such as deregulation also have their own drawbacks – free trade may, for example, damage the health of Japan’s agriculture – while others are hard to implement, such as having more women enter the workforce.

In short: Probably wishful thinking. Concrete actions also come with their own pain.

No Pain, No Gain

Japanese-Weightlifter

As you can see, Japan is probably in for some pain in the long run. Perhaps by some miracle the pain will be avoided, but for now this looks like more than a “when” than an “if”.

In any case, Japan is unlikely to go into full austerity mode (if ever) until 2020 because of the Tokyo Olympics. In the best scenario envisioned by the government, by the time 2020 rolls by, Japan will have all its growth engines kicked in and blazing forward – this would allow them to withdraw government spending and allow growth to continue.

But of course, that’s the best case scenario, which is not guaranteed. We’ll have to see how Japan advances from now on and dutifully pay our taxes in the meantime.

Extra Reading

Notes

* There are other measures of debt such as Net Government Debt in which Japan still fares very badly, but doesn’t end up at the very bottom.

** To compare, other country’s national debt: Greece – 161.3%, USA – 72.5%

***Comparison for 10 year bonds (the lower it is the cheaper to borrow):
Japan – lowest on list at 0.61%, USA – 2.65%, Greece – 6.46%

Sources

Bonus Wallpapers!

financeikemenselfie-1280
[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/06/09/japan-is-broke-but-maybe-things-arent-so-bad/feed/ 23
Japan’s Solar Revolution – The Sky’s (Not) the Limit http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/29/japans-solar-revolution-the-skys-not-the-limit/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/29/japans-solar-revolution-the-skys-not-the-limit/#comments Thu, 29 May 2014 16:00:47 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=39745 My neighborhood is changing.

When you run everyday, you get to know your surroundings. You learn the locations of the essentials – water fountains, vending machines, and toilets. There are familiar faces and places. You remember which houses have dogs and learn alternate routes for when oncoming trains block your path. And you tend to notice even the smallest of changes- whether it’s the blooming of flowers, a new street sign, the disappearance of a building, or the appearance of a new one.

Years ago I marveled at the number of rice paddies replaced by housing units and convenience stores. Every month another paddy was filled in and construction began. But a new trend has gripped my neighborhood. Instead of buildings, rice paddies are being replaced by new farms – the type that yield energy instead of produce.

The first one appeared next to my apartment building. Next one sprang up by work. They built one by the river too. On a recent run I discovered one in the mountains. It didn’t stop there. They appeared on top of new houses as well. Even older buildings are fitted with them. The black solar panels are popping up everywhere.

Welcome to post-Fukushima Japan.

Wake-up call

Fukushima-Reconstruction-by-Al-Jazeera

The events of March 11th, 2011 forever changed Japan’s perception of nuclear power. Fukushima’s meltdown and the resulting radiation destroyed people’s lives and contaminated the surrounding area, rendering it uninhabitable for years to come.

Fukushima provided a wake up call to the dangers of nuclear power – the worst case scenario became a reality. Suddenly, anti-nuclear groups had a new cause to rally around. Faced with disaster, people on the fence swayed to oppose nuclear power. Those that never gave the topic thought were forced to consider it.

Anti-Nuclear_Power_Plant_Rally_on_19_September_2011_at_Meiji_Shrine_Outer_Garden_03

Photo by 保守

Protests sprang up almost immediately. USA Today reported on one protest that drew an estimated 20,000 people in Tokyo. The article went on to say, “55 percent of Japanese want to reduce the number of nuclear reactors in the country, while 35 percent would like to leave the number about the same.” Popular opinion forced pro-nuclear contingencies to regroup and weather the storm.

Whatever the stance, the dangers of nuclear power became an inescapable issue that forced its way into Japan’s consciousness. Three years later, the issue still weighs heavily on people’s minds and Fukushima continues to shape Japan’s politics and energy policies.

Nuclear Shutdown

ChubuElectricPower_Hekinan_thermal_power_plant

Photo by Jihara19

Fukushima’s meltdown and the resulting outlash against nuclear power led to the shutdown of all of Japan’s nuclear reactors. Kanoko Matsuyama of Bloomberg reported, “Japan, which got about 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear power before the Fukushima disaster, now has all 50 of its operational reactors lying idle.”

With 30 percent of it’s power supply derived from nuclear sources, the shutdown had a significant impact on Japan’s energy production and economy. The country scrambled for alternatives.

Despite it’s large population, Japan is a small, resource poor nation. The Japan Times explains, “Japan has long been characterized as a nation with virtually no natural resources like oil, natural gas, coal, iron and copper.” As a result, Japan depends on foreign imports of raw materials and natural resources.

The nuclear shutdown forced Japan to find energy substitutes. How was the lost power production replaced? A look at an NBR report entitled Energy Mix in Japan Before and After Fukushima shows a renewed reliance on fossil fuels. In fact, according to Reuters, Japan’s imports of fossil fuels reached record highs after the 2011 disaster. But high prices, pollution, and dependence on imports make fossil fuels an unattractive long term solution.

What Alternatives?

Shimizu_LNG_Unloading_Arm_and_Mt_Fuji

Photo by Tnk3a

Aside from nuclear power and fossil fuels, Japan has limited options. Difficulties have prevented alternative power sources like hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass and wind power from making significant impacts.

According to The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, the country has already maxed out its large scale hydroelectric potential. Eric Johnston contends that high costs and environmental limits make small hydroelectric operations an unattractive investment.

Biomass (the incineration of organic materials and wastes) would utilize Japan’s trees, its most abundant resource. But as Sumitomo Corporation and Partnership for Policy Integrity explain, biomass’s energy output is inefficient and leaves a significant carbon footprint.

Geothermal energy faces its own share of problems. Deutshe Welle, a German news site reports that while Japan has enormous geothermal potential, “many in Japan are resisting the deep boring that is required to access geothermal energy.” Most raise concerns with the ecological impact. And since drilling time and steep development costs mean no short term profits, geothermal remains an unattractive investment.

Though supported by government subsidies, technological issues hamper wind power’s growth. The Japan Times explains, “Wind power has barely gotten off the ground… because installation costs for small-scale generators are still too high to be profitable.”

A lack of technology and affordability, and environmental limitations, have prevented alternative energy sources from impacting Japan’s power crisis. The FEPC reports that Japan’s renewable energy power percentage stagnated at about ten percent over the last two decades. But change is in the air, or more appropriately – the sky.

Why Solar Power?

Aikawa_Solar_Power_Plant_04

Photo by Σ64

One of Japan’s remaining solutions leaves a limited environmental footprint, requires little investment, and sees almost immediate turnover in production. Unlike the alternatives, it doesn’t involve drilling or a long development time. Deutshe Welle points out it can return income in as little as 12 months. So it should come as no surprise that solar power is gaining a foothold in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Other countries have already embraced solar power. Cleantechnica explains that Germany became one of the first – thanks to its efforts to ease regulations, offer subsidies, and educate its public. Solar power became understandable and affordable and Germany came to dominate the world in solar installation and production.

Japan’s government followed Germany’s example – enacting tariffs to make solar panel installation financially attractive. The FEPC reports, “Electric power companies are required to purchase excess electricity produced by (solar panels) installed on ordinary houses at about twice the previous purchase price.” Thanks to the tariff, solar produced electricity fetches premium prices and leads to almost immediate profits. Equipment and installation costs pay for themselves making solar panels an attractive investment.

The Fukushima Effect on All Scales

Japanese-workers-install-solar-panels

Photo by CoCreatr

Japan’s policies have spurred grassroots solar power operations. Perhaps that’s why so many houses in my neighborhood are being fitted with solar panels. According to Cisaki Watanabe, even convenience stores are getting in on the act: “Lawson sells electricity generated from solar panels to utilities and plans to use the income for more energy-saving equipment.”

In fact, Japan has become a global leader when it comes to small scale solar installations. Solar Buzz reported, “Japan was the clear leader in the small-scale segment (in 2013) with almost 40 percent of the global demand (for solar equipment).”

The Fukushima disaster and booming global market have sparked Japanese businesses to invest in large scale developments as well. The Economist reports, “Sharp, Kyocera, Sanyo and Mitsubishi Electric are investing billions of dollars to double their (solar equipment) production… over the next three years. They expect an increase in demand owing to growing subsidies for renewable energy in America and Japan.”

Large solar plants are popping up across Japan as well. Asiabiomass.jp accounts for large-sale plants in Nagasaki, Okayama, Aomori, Hokkaido, Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures. “Instead of just lamenting the current situation, we wanted to take action to make Japan a better place,” Houtoku Energy President Takeo Minomiya, whose company supports large and small scale solar projects in Kanagawa prefecture, remarked in a Japan Times interview.

The Sky’s (Not) the Limit

NASA_solar_power_satellite_concept_1976

Photo by NASA

The power crisis has even sparked some ventures that go beyond the ordinary. For example, Smithsonain Magazine reported on the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant, that sits atop artificial islands in the ocean. Solar Internation describes Hydrelio solar panels that seem tailor made for Japan. They float on water, protecting them from earthquake damage while preserving valuable farmland.

Another Japanese solar venture is literally out of this world. In his book, Solar Power Satellites, Don M. Flournoy explains that Japan was the first country to put hard money behind solar plants in space, offering rewards to corporations that can achieve the feat within the next thirty years. With Japan pushing the envelope, solar technology should enjoy significant progress in the decades to come.

Conclusion

setting-sun-in-japan-sea

Photo by mrhayata

Even before the March 11th, 2013 Fukushima disaster, Japanese national policy called for the abandonment of nuclear power by 2030. But The Japan Times reported a recent about-face by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “The (Japanese) government will ‘promote reactivation of nuclear reactors’ if they clear the new safety tests.”

Why would post-Fukushima Japan consider going back to nuclear power? For profit, practicality, and necessity – at this point there just aren’t any realistic alternatives. However, the country is making efforts to change that fact.

Increasing large and small scale solar operations, including those in my neighborhood, are proof. And I’d rather see more solar panels than new convenience stores – how many of those does one town need? Although solar power may only make a small dent in Japan’s carbon and nuclear footprint, it’s a step in the right direction. And with demand spurring new technologies, Japan’s solar power looks to have a bright future.

Bonus Wallpapers!

japansolarrevolution-1280
[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

Sources

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/29/japans-solar-revolution-the-skys-not-the-limit/feed/ 29
The Secret World Of Kisha Clubs And Japanese Newspapers http://www.tofugu.com/2014/02/11/the-secret-world-of-kisha-clubs-and-japanese-newspapers-2/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/02/11/the-secret-world-of-kisha-clubs-and-japanese-newspapers-2/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 17:00:23 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=37694 Other parts of the world might be gloomily declaring that print news is circling the drain, but not in Japan, where newspapers have morning and evening editions and newspaper circulation rates are the highest in the world. (Japan’s top newspaper, the Yomiuri Shinbun has a circulation of about 10 million. Compare that to the 2 million of The Wall Street Journal and you start to get a sense of scope.)

But even though Japan is rocking the Casbah when it comes to the number of newspapers people are reading each day, there’s some serious work to be done with the reporting in those papers. According to Reporters Without Borders, Japan dropped 31 places in the World Press Freedom Index in 2013. Kind of strange for a liberal democracy, right? Welcome to the secret world of “kisha clubs.”

Kisha Clubs: What They Do And How They Do It

reporters

Photo by M M

Kisha (記者) or “reporter” clubs are exclusive groups of reporters from major Japanese newspapers, like the Yomiuri Shinbun and the Asahi Shinbun, who set up camp in government and political party offices. The clubs receive press releases from whatever agency or business they’re assigned to cover. (Usually the agency’s PR offices are right down the hall from the kisha club – so convenient!)

The reporters in the club then edit or paraphrase those press releases to publish in their respective newspapers. Besides reading and revising a whole lot of press releases, kisha clubs also organize press conferences. (The life of a kisha club member: So excite; much report.)

And if you ask the Nihon Shinbun Kyokai (Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association), there are super duper awesome reasons for keeping kisha clubs around. For one thing, they sort through gobs of boring political information, for which everyone is grateful. And although it leads to some pretty homogenous news articles – sometimes quite literally, with identical articles being printed in competing newspapers – kisha clubs receive news incredibly fast. After all, they’re in the same building as their sources.

They’re also a united front: plucky reporters against shifty politicians. Who would dare withhold political information when you have an entire kisha club staring you down? Kisha clubs run on the Wildcats principle…

wildcats

We’re all in this together.

Majorly Bad Business

The problem is, well, journalism doesn’t really work that way. A journalist’s role is to hold feet to the fire, not give foot massages. (Okay, that metaphor got a little weird.) What I’m trying to say is that journalism works best when it works for the people and not for politicians. Kisha clubs, by their very nature, go against journalistic principles of working independently and maintaining an objective distance from news sources – not acting as a mouthpiece for them. And when these ideals get thrown out the window, all sorts of sketchy things start to occur.

We don’t even need to look very far for one particularly glaring example: the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011. (To catch everyone up to speed: A terrible domino effect occurred in March 2011 when the Tohoku earthquake hit Japan, which triggered a tsunami, which resulted in a catastrophic failure at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, releasing all sorts of radiation into the surrounding area.)

There was not much investigative reporting following the disaster and very little transparency from the government about subsequent radiation levels, evacuees, and how this disaster could have been averted.

The company in charge of these Fukushima power plants, TEPCO, has its own kisha club, but funnily enough, those kisha club reporters never quite got around to asking the questions the Japanese public most wanted and needed to know. Independent and foreign journalists also reported on the disaster. But, because they aren’t part of any kisha clubs, they were often barred from press conferences – one of the many kisha club rules – making reporting that much harder. Those independent journalists who did make it into these press conferences were often shouted down by kisha club members if they dared to ask any off-script questions.

Blackboard Agreements

school-of-rock

Whether it’s your 1998 kid detective club devoted to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (cough) or your standard, government lapdog kisha club, clubs gotta have rules. (Insert your own Fight Club joke here.)

Besides not often allowing journalists from independent and foreign newspapers to participate in press conferences (let alone join a kisha club), there are also these things called blackboard agreements. Sometimes literally written on a blackboard, these are news items and topics that the club has agreed not to report on until a specific later date. The kisha club golden rule? You don’t “scoop” your fellow club member, even if he’s from a competing newspaper. (This is completely counter to how journalism normally works, where reporting a news story first is how many news media survive.)

Following blackboard agreements means having to maintain friendly relations with your sources as well as rival journalists. As with any club, you can get kicked out for not heeding club rules. Some kisha club members do break the rules on rare occasions, because sometimes it’s totally worth it. If a story is huge enough to be worth temporary club banishment because of all the papers it would sell, a kisha club member might just break the story anyway. Of course, there are ways to have your mochi and eat it too.

Weekly Magazines

weekly-mags

Japan’s weekly magazines provide an outlet for news stories that may be stuck in blackboard agreement purgatory. A kisha club member will sometimes sell a blackboarded scoop to a weekly magazine, occasionally even writing the magazine article himself. (Club members have been known to sell news stories to foreign presses as well.)

The problem with having your news bombshell break in a weekly magazine as opposed to a newspaper is that Japan’s weeklies aren’t the most respected game in town. Weekly magazines are usually printed on cheap paper and are a whirlwind mix of news, sports, manga, celebrity gossip and porn. Sort of like if The New Yorker and The National Enquirer had a baby.

But, in the most roundabout way ever, once a story breaks in a weekly magazine and gains enough traction, the blackboard agreement becomes null and void and everyone can cover the story in their own newspapers.

But The Internet!

internets

The Internet has decreased some of the power kisha clubs hold, and may yet be a game changer. Independent presses, foreign news sites and citizen journalists have all been part of a movement to provide news outlets that aren’t heavily influenced by government channels.

Independent online news sources like Days Japan and Free Press Association of Japan have started to pop up, but they’ve had some difficulty gaining traction with a Japanese public who are somewhat reluctant to trust online news media over traditional news outlets.

reporters2

Unfortunately, things are probably going to get worse before they get better. In December of 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe enacted a state secrets law, a move many consider a major step backwards for civil liberties in Japan. Under the new law, those who leak classified information will now face 10 years in prison and anyone found guilty of abetting a leak will get five. Kisha clubs also show no signs of going away.

But there have been some victories in all of this, too. For example, in 2001 Nagano Prefecture’s then-governor, Yasuo Tanako, abolished kisha clubs in the prefectural office. Any journalist, whether they were associated with a major newspaper or a small website, were given the same opportunities to gather information, no blackboard agreements required. And even though Yasuo Tanako has moved on from his Nagano roots, the kisha clubs he pwned haven’t come creeping back.

It’s been relatively easy up until now for kisha clubs to party down without anyone noticing. But with the continuing controversy over how the Fukushima catastrophe was reported in the news and the public outcry against Abe’s new state secrets law, the days of the kisha club may be numbered after all.

Bonus Wallpapers!

kishaclub-1280
[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

Sources

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/02/11/the-secret-world-of-kisha-clubs-and-japanese-newspapers-2/feed/ 22
Rent-A-Gaijin For All Your Temporary Gaijin Needs http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/24/rent-a-gaijin-for-all-your-temporary-gaijin-needs/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/24/rent-a-gaijin-for-all-your-temporary-gaijin-needs/#comments Fri, 24 Jan 2014 17:00:24 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=37347 A little while back someone sent me a link to an interesting website. On it, they said you could rent a gaikokujin (foreign person) who will do various things for you, depending on the person. They could speak English with you (seems like the most obvious application), be a model, DJ, write, be a bartender, hang out with you, etc., etc. As long as it is legal and the gaikokujin is willing, your imagination is the limit.

Looking at the website, it was apparent that two gaikokujin were available for rental. One Australian with dark hair and a smirky smile and one American with a beard and blue eyes.

gaikokujin-rental

Turns out they are the co-founders and they have had many clients between them… too many, in fact. If you’re a gaikokujin in Japan get in touch with these guys. They’re looking to add some folks to their roster. You can visit their website at gaikokujin-rental.jp.

Although they are in their early goings over at Gaikokujin Rental, I thought it was an interesting idea. I also had no idea what it was they were doing, so I sent them an email asking if they’d be willing to do an interview. They were very gracious and got back to my questions super quickly. What follows is said interview, and it includes stories, success stories, and information on what the heck all this gaikokujin rental stuff is all about.

#Interview START

1. Who started gaikokujin-rental.jp?

Two guys, one Australian and one American. Both have called Japan home for a handful of years: Six and ten respectively.

2. Why did (you) start it?

“Why has someone not?,” is what we have been asking ourselves for years. Peer to peer business in Japan has always been BIG. Big for both client and contractor. Yet it seems every year the market is not adequately accessed, and unfortunately for many the public space for self-promotion is in, we feel, terminal decline.

For-hire platforms available at present are largely top-down corporate to individual, not peer to peer, and we think peer to peer is important and remarkable. We think it makes for new economy.

Also, we feel Gaikokujin Rental serves as an alternative meeting space to the usual foreigner/Japanese social venues which exist in Japan today.

Author Note: Oh, so it’s like AirBnB but for people and their skills/time. Now I’m starting to get it.

3. How long have you been renting foreigners?

Gaikokujin Rental officially launched on November 29, 2013.

4. It looks like you have two people being rented out. Who are they?

They are the co-founders, Austin and Adams.

5. Are you looking to add more people to rent out?

We are actively looking to add more foreigners as well as increase Japanese readership at our site – We wish to bring as many people together and build as many success stories as possible. To this end, we have invested energy and time into the idea, sustainability and scalability of Gaikokujin Rental.

Author Note: There’s a contact form on their website if you’re interested.

6. What kinds of things have you done? I need a bedtime story.

Austin:

I once had a woman hire me to look after her children and clean her house.

I was hired by a Japanese women to go shopping with her and pick out a birthday present for her husband because he was a foreigner.

I was asked to attend a bonenkai with a group of salary men and speak only English with them.

I was asked by a young Japanese couple to come to Kyoto and take pictures of the two of them.

Author Note: Now Austin tells a story:

Well, it started around 8:00 on a Friday night. I got off from work and was asked to meet my client at Nagoya (Meieki) station. We engaged in small talk for a few minutes, after which she asked me if I could do two things. The first was to check some English paper work which she had been given by her boss. I was asked to explain it and help her with some possible answers.

After that, she wanted me to join her for dinner. My client enjoyed eating spicy food but none of her friends or family enjoyed spicy food. We had exchanged mail previously and found that we both had a liking for spicy food. She had already found one of the spiciest Nabe restaurants in Nagoya and made a reservation.

After making our way to the restaurant we entered, took a seat and decided what we wanted to eat. I then helped my client with the paper work which had been mentioned earlier after that our meals arrived and we chatted while we ate. She asked me some questions about what it was like living abroad ( because she was thinking of doing the same one day).

And also asked me questions about my country. The rental period was for 2 hours. So after the 2 hour period was up we talked about the possibility of meeting again, paid the check and went home.

Adams:

I’ve had clients ranging from housewives to businessmen to ramen chefs to entrepreneurs to bohemian outcasts – a motley cast of characters. Once I was asked to work in a Ramen shop to take orders from Russians, because apparently the Ramen shop Master “couldn’t understand the Russians.” I’ve done interpretation work between Italian businessmen and a Japanese apparel firm, but most of the work involved making reservations at onsens for the Italians.

I’ve been in front of and behind the camera for modeling and photography work, behind a desk as a freelance journalist and webshop master, a private mail courier for digital products, Santa Claus… YES, Santa Claus, an English teacher, a flyer boy, a bar server, and a BIG buyer of Switzerland-made outdoor clothing for a Japanese Trading company.

7. Have you run into any problems while running this service?

Yes, but not the kind one would bemoan about. Actually at present there are simply too many orders to fill for our current line-up of two foreigners. This is the scenario we envisioned, and to ratchet up both the supply and demand we are working in earnest to promote our service via virtual channels, magazines and ultimately word-of-mouth.

8. What’s the best success story of someone using gaikokujin-rental.jp?

It would be difficult to only talk about the best success story and not mention all the really good ones. On the Japanese side of it, students have increased their TOIEC scores, hobbyists have procured parts and various nick-knacks from abroad that otherwise could not have been gotten, local businessmen have been fed detailed information on foreign market trends, party-goers have been entertained, and the list goes on.

On the foreigner side of it, success is in the MAGIC. The magic being that once your profile goes up online at Gaikokujin Rental you can get paying customers who deal with you directly. Furthermore, your new customer is an in-road into their own network – ehem, your new network.

9. What are you hoping to achieve with gaikokujin-rental.jp?

In a word, symbiosis. We want to turn the disconnect between peer-to-peer business into uber-connection! To us growth means lots of little success stories the length of Japan, new networks forged, smiles, and satisfied customers. We plan to make this happen by staying online as a professional go-between for that all-important first connection between Japanese and foreigners.

For Japanese, we hope to attract anyone and everyone, including businesses, who seek to employ foreigners in one way or another.

For foreigners, we hope to attract everyone from young transplants to long timers to even those residing abroad who perhaps offer services via the Internet, and in general anyone here who seeks odd-jobs, freelance stuff, part-time work, one-off arrangements, and basically new money and customers. That’s teachers of all sorts, musicians, caregivers, models, IT people, photographers, artisans, entertainers, self-proclaimed ambassadors and more.

#END interview

So there you have it. At first I thought Gaikokujin Rental was some kind of joke. Something someone put up as a kind of commentary about how “differently” gaikokujin were viewed in Japan. Or, at the very least I thought it was a hobby that a couple of dudes set up because they thought there was an opportunity to make some extra yen.

It turns out, in my opinion, to be a pretty smart business idea. Of course, they have to find new people on both sides (Japanese and gaikokujin), and they are eventually going to have to deal with the problems that come with bad experiences, etc., but in Japan I can see this business model working. Anywhere else? Not so much. Just imagine if there was a “Rent a Norwegian” company in America, where you would get your Norway-related needs filled. There would be a small mob outside the Rent-A-Norwegian office demanding that this racism stops.

In Japan, however, I doubt this is going to be seen as racism. There’s actual need for gaikokujin-related tasks in Japan, as was illustrated in the stories above. A Japanese person needed an opinion from a foreigner about a gift for her foreign husband. Some people needed someone who could speak English. Another person just wanted to eat spicy food with someone (which I can attest to, Japanese people don’t know what “spicy” really means).

I hope they keep on trucking along and start to grow and do okay. Maybe we’ll see if we can meet up with them and see what they’re doing the next time we’re filming in Japan.

Website: http://gaikokujin-rental.jp

[hr]

Bonus Wallpapers!

rentagaijin-blue-1280
[1280x800 - Violet] ∙ [2560x1600 - Violet] ∙ [1280x800 - Blue] ∙ [2560x1600 - Blue] ∙ [1280x800 - Grey] ∙ [2560x1600 - Grey]

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/24/rent-a-gaijin-for-all-your-temporary-gaijin-needs/feed/ 40
Welcome To The MLB, Masahiro Tanaka http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/23/welcome-to-the-mlb-masahiro-tanaka/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/23/welcome-to-the-mlb-masahiro-tanaka/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 17:00:31 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=37361 The new fifth highest-paid pitcher in baseball history has never played Major League Baseball. The Yankees are giving Japanese mega-ace Masahiro Tanaka a seven-year contract worth $155,000,000 (with an opt-out after four years and a measly $88 million). Just who in the world is this guy?

Who Is Masahiro Tanaka

clip1080.gif.opt_

Tanaka is a Kansai-born, Hokkaido-bred pitching machine with what everyone is telling me is the best split-finger fastball in the world. A split-finger or splitter is a pitch that looks like a fastball then breaks sharply downward before it reaches the plate, and it’s thrown while holding the ball with the index finger on one side of the ball and the middle finger on the other end, with a large gap or “split” between your fingers at the top. Japan, for some reason, is really into the splitter. And guess what? Tanaka’s got one of the most deceptive splitters in the world, and that (combined with the Yankees’ dearth of pitching, Tanaka’s monster stats with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, the baseball TV rights money bubble, the outsized merchandising revenue earned for Japanese players, and the relatively recent in historical terms development of an international free market) is why he’s getting $155 million before he’s even shown what he can do in America.

Like most Japanese stars, Tanaka first reached the spotlight in the mega-popular Koshien high school baseball tournament, which he helped Tomakomai High School win in 2004 and 2005. It wasn’t until 2006 however that he really became a celebrity, when he dueled Jitsugyo High School and their ace Yuki Saito, “The Handkerchief Prince” (he wiped his sweat off with a handkerchief during games).

saito14If this doesn’t sound like a baseball anime waiting to happen, I don’t know what does.

Tanaka and Saito faced each other in the Koshien final, with Tanaka coming on in relief in the third inning then going the distance, matching Saito in a 1-1 draw until the 15th inning, when rules called for an almost unheard-of Koshien finals rematch. Incredibly, Tanaka and Saito would pitch again the next day, resulting in a 4-3 victory for Saito and Jitsugyo. These two games made celebrities out of both Tanaka and Saito, and it was a huge event when, five years later, they faced each other in Nippon Professional Baseball. This time, Tanaka was the 4-1 victor, and he even expressed great disappointment that he didn’t manage to shut out Saito’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. The two pitchers would earn parallel nicknames: Ma-kun and Yu-chan.

Unlike Saito, Tanaka would declare himself for the NPB draft to enter the pros, and he very quickly became the ace starter for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, a team based in Miyagi Prefecture in the northeast that got started in 2005. Like all Japanese professional teams, the Eagles are named after and primarily known by their primary sponsor company’s name, in this case the Amazon-like online retailer Rakuten. With Rakuten, Tanaka has been nothing short of spectacular. He started pitching professionally for the team when he was just 18, and his career ERA is a preposterous 2.30 with a career record of 99-35 (oh come on, why didn’t he get one more win?).

People really started to speculate that Tanaka might come to America after his 2013 season, in which he went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, then won six more games in the postseason to give the Eagles their first Japan Series title. What’s funny is 2013 wasn’t even his best season. That would be 2011, when Tanaka again had a 1.27 ERA in 27 starts, threw sixty more strikeouts than in 2013, gave up fewer walks, pitched more innings, and yet only went 19-5. A lot of people would call those “video game numbers,” but I’ve never pitched for stats like that in any video game.

And I’m sure you’re asking “Okay, great, so he can pitch. But can he dance along with a Japanese idol group?” The answer to that is “not really.” But please watch the video below to see Ma-kun say “Pi-pi-pi-pi-pitchingu, ca-ca-ca-ca-catchingu, cha-cha-cha-cha-charmingu.”

Munenori Kawasaki definitely still reigns supreme in terms of dancing.

So, Masahiro Tanaka’s a pretty amazing guy. Let’s see how he got to the MLB (it wasn’t via dancing, I can tell you that).

How He Got Here

masahiro-tanaka

Japanese players who are still under contract for their NPB team are sold to MLB teams through the “posting system,” which has traditionally been designed to get as much money as possible for the team while forcing the player to accept a below market-value contract. With Yu Darvish and every other Japanese player posted before this year, MLB teams entered a blind auction, with the auction winner giving millions to the NPB team and earning the exclusive right to sign their player. That’s why Yu Darvish, despite having nearly the same credentials as Tanaka, signed a contract worth a hundred million dollars less, because once the Rangers had paid their posting fee, he had to either sign with them or stay in Japan.

This year, the posting system became much more player-friendly. The Japanese team names a posting fee (with a max of $20 million), and any MLB team willing to pay that much gets a right to negotiate a contract with the player, with only the player’s eventual team having to actually pay the fee. So Tanaka got to enjoy the attention of virtually every Major League team, as they all squabbled and fought over who could give him the biggest contract. He could even theoretically choose a smaller contract if he wanted to play for a certain team, as many people thought he might when rumors insisted that his wife Mai Satoda wanted to live on the Pacific coast. Early reports suggest that he did however choose the largest contract, as the Yankees outbid the Dodgers, Cubs, White Sox, and Astros to secure Ma-kun.

So, the money, the glory, the city, and the probable playoff games are what called Tanaka to the Yankees. What Japanese person doesn’t want to go to New York, though? The only thing that could be possibly more tempting is the Angels’ proximity to Disney Land.

What Will Tanaka Do In The MLB?

masahiro-tanaka2

Okay, so Tanaka might have lit Japan up with his split-finger fastball, but the NPB is not the MLB. Major League Baseball dropouts Wladimir Balentien and Matt Murton have the single-season home runs and hits records in Japan, so it’s not as strong a league. Every Japanese pitcher has seen their stats drop as they come into the MLB, but how much? Tanaka could afford to drop a half-point of ERA and still be the best pitcher in the American League next year. And Tanaka is, after all, still only 25 years old, and baseball players traditionally peak in their age 27 season. How will he pitch?

One site specializes in projecting Japanese players’ stats for if they joined the MLB, and it lays out the following statline for Masahiro Tanaka: 8.8 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched, 2.9 walks/9, and a 3.59 ERA. This statline would make him ace-quality, but not anywhere near the god-quality he had in Japan, and not as good as fellow Japanese international Yu Darvish has been in the States.

Baseball stat site Fangraphs raises a few more questions about Tanaka: Will his thousands of high-stress pitches in high school wear out his arm too soon? And will his relative lack of strikeouts for a pitcher so dominant hurt him in the MLB, where what used to be ground balls in Japan may now become line drives and home runs? It remains to be seen, and now I’ll be forced to watch Yankees games to find out. Welcome to the MLB, Masahiro Tanaka. Welcome to the MLB…

[hr]

Bonus Wallpapers!

makun-1280
[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

makun-rakuten-1280
[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/23/welcome-to-the-mlb-masahiro-tanaka/feed/ 12
Japanese “Firsts” In Outer Space http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/20/japanese-firsts-in-outer-space/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/20/japanese-firsts-in-outer-space/#comments Mon, 20 Jan 2014 17:00:51 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=37257 There’s been some excitement among Japanese space enthusiasts in regards to Japanese manned space exploration. The spread of excitement and hype could possibly be tied with spike in popularity over a recent manga, Uchuu Kyoudai, or “Space Brothers” (宇宙兄弟). Set in the near future, the manga focuses on two brothers’ struggle to becoming astronauts and fulfilling their dream of going to the moon together.

cRZBeZ6Hibito, on the left, has become the first Japanese to land on the moon, while his older brother, Mutta, chases after to becoming an astronaut himself.

Space Brothers won some notable manga awards, and has recently been turned into a live-action film and an anime series— so it’s definitely increased the attention on Japan’s role in space exploration, which is mainly guided by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

jaxa

Photo by Kirt Cathy.

But a manga alone isn’t the only thing increasing attention over Japan’s role in space exploration— or specifically, Japan’s leadership role in space!

Coming this March, the International Space Station (ISS) will have its first Japanese astronaut as the commander of the ship!

But before we get into this future head honcho, I asked myself, who was the first Japanese man in space? Who was the first Japanese woman? Who was the first Japanese to spacewalk? I thought it’d be interesting to touch upon some of the “firsts” in space for Japanese people and see some of their awesome, out of this world (literally) accomplishments.

First Japanese Man- or Men- in Space?

So I think it’s a given that we should identify who the first Japanese person was to go to space.

Except I have come to the realization that this is kind of hard to determine.

It really depends on how you define “first” and if you consider Japanese ethnicity or citizenship.

If you want to know who the first person of Japanese ethnicity (regardless of citizenship) to fly to space, then it would probably be Great Astronaut Onizuka Ellison Shoji Onizuka, a NASA astronaut and the first Japanese American (and the first Asian American) to reach space.

onizuka-astronaut

Photo by NASA

Onizuka went to space for the first time on space shuttle Discovery’s mission STS-51C in 1985. But most remember him as being part of the crew of space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 that killed Onizuka and six other astronauts shortly after launch.

tribute-onizukaA tribute monument for Onizuka in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. Photo credit Sam Howzit

But if you want to know who the first Japanese person with Japanese citizenship to reach space was, then it would be Akiyama Toyohiro.

BUT HE WASN’T AN ASTRONAUT.

toyohiroPhoto credit famille.sebile

Toyohiro was actually a journalist who was working under Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) when he was chosen in 1989 to train for a commercial flight to the Mir space station, which was maintained by the Soviet Union at the time. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Soviets claim to have received 14 million dollars for his flight, and TBS is expected to have spent about 20 million dollars for Toyohiro to fly and report about life in outer space for 8 days. That’s a really expensive first commercial spaceflight!

I actually had no idea that a journalist was the first person of Japanese citizenship to reach space— but as a space enthusiast myself, it kind of gives me hope that someday, I too, will maybe be able to go to space…

Okay, so Who’s the First Astronaut of Japanese Citizenship to Reach Space?

Growing up in Japan, I remember constantly hearing this guy’s name as the first Japanese astronaut— so I guess it was natural that I didn’t really know who the aforementioned journalist was.

mohri

Photo by McGill Research and International Relations

Mamoru Mohri was a Japanese astronaut selected by Japan’s National Space Development Agency (NASDA, before it was renamed to JAXA) in 1985. He was eventually chosen as the first Japanese national astronaut to board space shuttle Endeavor’s mission in 1992. Growing up, I remember everyone referring to him fondly as Mohri-san, the first to represent Japan in outer space. Because of US and Russia’s clear dominance in space exploration, Mohri-san boarding the Endeavor was considered to be a big honor and a step for Japan to continue building their influence in space exploration.

Mamoru MohriMohri-san influences Hibito and Mutta in their dream to becoming astronauts.

Mohri-san can even be found in the aforementioned anime Space Brothers as a critical role in influencing the two protagonist to become astronauts. Mohri-san continues to be revered to this day by many Japanese, old and young.

First Japanese Woman in Space

So we’ve exhausted our debate on who the first Japanese male in space was. What about female?

mukai

Photo by NASA

Chiaki Mukai, or Dr. Chiaki Mukai, was the first Japanese female to go to space. Before becoming an astronaut, she worked as a cardiovascular surgeon. In 1985 she was selected by NASDA as an astronaut along with Mohri-san, and flew off to space in 1994 on space shuttle Columbia.

Seeing as female astronauts was not as common back then (let alone a Japanese one), Mukai may have inspired many Japanese women to take on the dream of becoming astronauts themselves, or getting involved in science-related fields. Her life as an astronaut has been made into a drama as well, and along with Mohri-san, she continues to be respected by many Japanese.

mukai-drama

First Japanese to Spacewalk

Space walks are the trippiest things ever. I mean, just the thought of being flown to space gives me the chills (in a good way), but, being outside? Exposed to space? Now that must be an experience.

So who was the lucky Japanese guy that got to be the first space walker? His name is Takao Doi, and while he no longer is an active astronaut with JAXA, he continues to work in space-related fields.

doi

Photo by Giving to Rice University

Doi was chosen as an astronaut by NASDA in 1985, along with Mohri-san and Dr. Mukai. I guess 1985 was a big year for NASDA, having chosen some of the earliest Japanese astronauts. Doi flew to space on space shuttle Columbia in 1997 and conducted Extravehicular Activities (EVA), dubbed by many as “space walks”. Through two space walks he logged close to 13 hours in outer space, and became the first Japanese to do so.

Doi space walkDoi-san is all smiles in outer space.

Doi, no longer an active astronaut, began working at his appointment in 2009 at the United Nations’ Office of Outer State Affairs (UNOOSA).

And last but most relevant to current news…

First Japanese Commander of the International Space Station (ISS)

First Japanese man (or men) in space, first women, first space walk… Japanese astronauts have come quite far in manned space exploration, and Japan will finally have their own astronaut, Koichi Wakata, be the first commander of the International Space Station (ISS) this March— and he’s in space right now as I write this!

koichi-wakataAstronaut Wakata as he boarded the Soyuz rocket in November, along with the Sochi Olympic torch.

Wakata, chosen by NASDA in 1992 as an astronaut candidate, flew to space for the first time in 1996 on board space shuttle Endeavor. He’s flown to space quite a lot and has been on four space shuttle missions. He’s quite the veteran, getting the job done up in space, but he’s recently been known to have created some fun light painting photos in zero-gravity, which he tweeted.

koichi-wakata-painting

He’s been hailed by Japanese space enthusiasts as stepping up the leadership role for Japan in space exploration. I suppose you could say he’s going through a bit of celebrity-phase right now— the guy has his own biographical manga now for kids that aspire to become astronauts like himself.

koichi-wakata-manga

There’s Much More…

These astronauts are very famous and well-regarded as paving a way for some of the “firsts” in space for Japan, but they’re certainly not the only ones contributing to space exploration. JAXA recently selected three new astronauts, two of which have already been assigned on a mission in the near future. I’m positive that in the future, we’ll see these currently active astronauts continue to represent Japan and make some remarkable accomplishments of their own!

jaxa-astronautsEverybody wave!

[hr]

Bonus Wallpapers!

firstspace-1280-2

[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

firstspace-1280

[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/20/japanese-firsts-in-outer-space/feed/ 14
The Seven Best Kanji Of 2013 http://www.tofugu.com/2013/12/16/the-seven-best-kanji-of-2013/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/12/16/the-seven-best-kanji-of-2013/#comments Mon, 16 Dec 2013 17:00:55 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=36874 One year ago (that’s 2012), Japan chose their “Kanji Of The Year” and it was 金, aka “gold,” (for the second time since this award has existed). They chose gold for the respectable number of gold medals they got in the London Olympics in 2012, as well as for a solar eclipse, the completion of the Tokyo Sky Tree (I guess it was really expensive?), and a Nobel Prize being won by Shinya Yamanaka who did work with stem cells. Surprisingly, second place in 2012 was actually “ring,” which was this year’s winner. I guess the kanji for “ring” didn’t sit around all year and instead did everything it could to be the best of 2013.

In this post I want to take a look at the kanji that best represented Japan in 2013, starting with #1 and working my way down. There were actually way more than seven “top” kanji, but I thought things started getting a bit shaky so I stopped there. Alright, let’s start with the best. You already know what it is!

#1 輪 (Rin/Wa/Ring)

The kanji 輪 (りん・ring) received 9,518 votes making it this year’s kanji winner. There are a couple of reasons why it was chosen:

  1. The five rings of the Olympic Games. Tokyo won the bid for the 2020 Olympics this year, so there’ll be a lot of rings all over the place for the next six years.
  2. The hope for “circle/ring of support” expansion for those in recovery areas after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

So who chose this kanji to be Japan’s number one kanji of 2013? The award itself is actually put out by the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society every year and has been going on for the last 19 years. Does the name of the society sound familiar? It should. They’re the ones who created the world’s most terrifying and ultimate kanji test: Kanji Kentei.

They don’t really make the decision, though. People send in votes on what they think the best kanji for the year is. That means there are runner-up kanji to look at. To me, this is a great way to look back on the year to see what happened… not only news, but emotions as well. Since one kanji can mean multiple things to different people based on context, it’s a fun way to take a trip through tiiimmmmmeeee~!

#2 楽 (Raku)

rakuten-eagles

Photo from Japan Times

Although this kanji typically refers to concepts such as “ease” or “fun” or “enjoyment,” this time the kanji 楽 is referring to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, the Japanese baseball team that won the Nippon Professional Baseball League Championship, besting the evil Yomiuri Giants. It probably also helped that this was their first championship. If only the Mariners could take note. *sigh*

They also had ace Masahiro Tanaka on their team, who went an incredible 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA. He came in to close the final game of the championship series after pitching 160 pitches in a loss the day before. In case you’re not a baseball fan, I can tell you now… that’s nuts. So, a combination of Tanaka’s exploits along with being winners of the NPB Championship garnered enough votes for 楽 to come in 2nd place.

#3 倍 (Bai/Times)

bai

Photo from pg-forex

If you read our post on the Japanese memes of 2013, you may notice something familiar… Meme #3, “__bai gaeshi da!” This comes from a very popular 2013 TV drama, Hanzawa Naoki. The main character (Hanzawa Naoki) works at the Tokyo Chuo Bank and climbs his way up the corporate ladder. On the way, he meets up with corruption, scandal, and nasty people. People do bad things to him… but, he has a way to deal with it. Anything that someone does to him he returns X amount of times.

yararetara yarikaesu, __baigaeshi da!
If I am wronged, I will return it X times!

This is a tagline all throughout the show. The amount of times he threatens to return the punishment goes up and up. 2x. 5x. 10x. 100x. The guy is nuts, to say the least, though this show did really, really well in Japan, which may explain how the kanji 倍 (which is a multiplier, i.e. 2x, 5x, and 10x) made it to third place.

I can’t imagine what this kanji will do next year for being wronged by only receiving third place.

#4 東 (Tou/Higashi/East)

tokyo2020

Photo from IBTimes

A lot has happened in the “East” part of Japan. Tokyo (京, the Eastern Capital) was chosen to host the 2020 Olympics. Also, the Touhoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (Touhoku means northeast) won the NPB championships. It was all about East Japan this year. None of that west Japan garbage. Eww. Gross.

#5 風 (Fuu/Kaze/Wind)

typhoon

The kanji 風, aka “wind,” was voted into the #5 slot due to the large number of typhoons the country / world experienced. There were 31 total storms, 13 typhoons, and 5 super typhoons this year (worldwide). It was an unusually bad typhoon season, which I guess is why “wind” is on people’s minds this year.

#6 決 (Ketsu/Decision)

mtfuji

Wow, can’t stop thinking about the Olympics, can you people? The kanji 決 (decision) comes from the decision that Tokyo would host the 2020 Olympics. It also comes from making it into the World Cup, Mt. Fuji becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and various other decisions being made in or about Japan. If you ask me, voting for this kanji is a cop out, because seriously, there are always decisions being made.

#7 今 (Ima)

imadeshou

Another kanji that came from 2013′s best Japanese memes, 今 (ima/now) comes from 今でしょう and refers to Osamu Hayashi, a teacher who was in a commercial for Toshin High School, which is a cram school focused on preparing students for university entrance exams. In the commercial, Toshin High School shows actual teachers teaching. Osamu Hayashi struck a cord with all of Japan due to his catchphrase:

itsu yaru ka? Ima deshou!
When will you do it? Right now!

This got turned into all kinds of other things, including a commercial for Toyota.

It’s also a good message for people, I think. The idea is to get people off their lazy butts to go do something they should be doing. It’s a good message for any year’s kanji, I think.

Your Kanji Of 2013?

I feel like everybody has their own special kanji of 2013. Imagine you’re your own kanji-using country and inside of you is an entire Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society with a ton of blood vessels, organs, molecules, cells, and so on who vote for their kanji of the year, based off your own life and experiences. What would your kanji of 2013 be? I’ve made a list of Tofugu’s Kanji of the year.

#1 鰐 (Alligator)

wanikani-veronica

WaniKani‘s 1 year anniversary took place at some point, and we finished the main 50 levels. A lot of new features have come to WaniKani too, including client-side reviews (which means near-instant answer validation), vacation mode, new lessons, custom notes, and so much more has been added. There’s a long way to go, but this was the year of the Crabigator for sure.

#2 蟹 (Crab)

wanikani_kimiaki-yaegashi

Because you can’t have a Crabigator without the crab.

#3 豚 (Pig)

lechon

The Tofugu team went to the Philippines to meet up with another member of the Tofugu team, Aya (our incredible illustrator). We ate a ton of lechon, which is made from pig.

#4 熊 (Bear)

kumaman

2013 introduced the EtoEto Bear, possibly also known as Kumaman, which is the mascot of a product we haven’t quite released yet. There was a crappy little test version of the site where we could get some feedback and try things out, but I think we’ll see 熊 rise in the ranks of Tofugu’s Kanji Of The Year awards in 2014 when he reveals his full form… which could get gross, considering his lack of pants. For now, you see him in a lot of post illustrations.

#5 所 (Place)

tofugu-office

We got a place! Or, an office, but I couldn’t really think of a good kanji for “office.” Moving out of my apartment and into an actual place was one of the nicest things we did this year. Plus, giant whiteboard walls and a mural. Hard to beat that.

There you go, kind of boring but we’ll take what we can get. Now think about your own personal kanji of the year. What kanji best represents your year and why? Post the kanji, its meaning, and an explanation in the comments below.

Bonus Wallpapers!

kanjioftheyear-1280-02

[2560 x 1600] [1280 x 800]

Sources:

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/12/16/the-seven-best-kanji-of-2013/feed/ 28
Kyoto Nagaoka Unsolved Murder Case Itching My Teeth http://www.tofugu.com/2013/10/04/japans-unsolved-murder-case-itching-my-teeth/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/10/04/japans-unsolved-murder-case-itching-my-teeth/#comments Fri, 04 Oct 2013 16:00:45 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=35113 Sadly, the final episode of Attack on Titan was aired on my husband’s birthday, September 28th and the final episode of Breaking Bad followed the very next day. I know this is a lot to digest all at once. Although the latter show ended very sensibly and we could make a clean break from it, it’s still very hard to part ways with such a good series, isn’t it?

And it’s even more difficult when you are told, ‘Just for now, give me some space, OK?’ by someone you love so much, because you still don’t understand a lot of things that have happened. That is the situation between us, the viewers, and the former show, Attack on Titan. Even though we’ve all read some sneak peeks in the actual comic books or on the blog sites filled with ネタバレ (neta-bare), meaning spoilers, there are still so many unanswered questions since the original manga hasn’t finished, yet.

Now imagine, how would you feel if they never resumed the show and you were never actually able to find out what happens? Well, I would quickly bypass the first of the five stages of grief and be so freaking outraged if that happened. I’d probably stay in this stage for a good long while and hope that there are enough people in the production world to do the all the bargaining, for me and every other fan, to get the series back up and running. If all negotiations failed, I don’t think I would ever move on from the depression stage because this scenario is simply unacceptable. I’m pretty sure that many of you would feel the same.

Cold Cases In Japan Itching Our Teeth

4857854663_c411021eb8
However, there are actually so many mysteries in Japan that forever itches our teeth. Sorry if I confused you by saying ‘itches our teeth’. We use a phrase ‘歯がゆい (ha-gayui)’ which means ‘to have itchy teeth’ therein expressing that you are irritated and tantalized. According to a database made by Seesaawiki, the amount of unsolved homicide cases which happened in Japan between December, 1948 and July, 2013 is 537.

Although Japan abolished the statute of limitation for murder in 2010, the 216 incidents which had happened before the law was enacted remain cold as further investigation into those cases have seized, 迷宮入りした (meikyuuiri-shita). As you know, we can’t even tolerate an anime series ending without revealing its secret, so these real cases still bother so many people, as is verifiable with the amount of discussion about these cases on the internet.

This is just a heads up and I’m not going to introduce every incident here, but will introduce one of the creepiest ones that I’ve come across recently. This one is actually still itching my teeth because I somehow feel as if I’m involved in it. Why do I feel this way? Well, keep reading and you’ll see. I’m also hoping to teach you some creepy words in the article.

[box type="alert"]However, if you don’t like horror stories, please close your eyes now![/box]

Kyoto-Nagaokakyo: Women Collecting Bracken Murder

e7fb6538
This murder case, 殺人事件 (satsujin-jiken), happened on May 23, 1979. Following their work shifts and at 10am that day, Mrs. Mieko Mizuno (32 years old) and Mrs. Hideko (or could be Eiko) Akashi (43 years old), two women who worked together at the Izumiya grocery store, went to collect some brackens (ferns) on their bicycles at a small bamboo forested hill called Nohara in Okukaiji, an area of Nagaokakyo city.

This hill was a place that families enjoyed collecting wild edible plants or bamboo shoots and going to for picnics, whereas some rape crimes had happened there before the murder because there were rarely many people around. This was a very familiar place to Akashi as she had collected brackens in this place for many years. On this day, however, she never returned from that hill and neither did her friend Mizuno. Mizuno was supposed to pick her son up at a nursery that day, so when she didn’t show up, her family submitted a 捜索願 (sousaku-negai) to the police, which means ‘a request for the police to search for someone’.

The police found their 死体 (shitai), meaning dead bodies, near the top of the hill two days later. Akashi’s cause of death was being stabbed in the heart by an all-purpose knife and Mizuno’s was strangulation. Their belongings, such as their cash, wristwatches, empty bento boxes and collections of bracken, were still in their backpacks. Due to that, alongside with the results of 検死 (kenshi) meaning an autopsy, the police estimated that their time of death occurred between noon and 2:30pm on May 23.

What Creeps People Out

BUmOYCzCMAE25wy

The memo written by Akashi

What creeps people out is that there was a receipt from the Izumiya grocery store found in the right pocket of Akashi’s jeans. It was crumpled up into a ball and had scribbled writing that said ‘オワレている たすけて下さい この男の人わるい人’ (owareteiru tasukete kudasai kono otoko no hito warui hito) which means ‘Being followed. Please help. This guy is a bad guy.’ The police found the lead tip of the pencil in the earth about 17 meters away from the corpse, but they were never able to find the pencil it came from.

Moreover, both women had bruises, seemingly from a series of punches and kicks, so the police assumed the criminal had some knowledge of karate or some other martial art. As for Akashi, she had 30 bruises along with nine broken ribs and a lacerated liver. Although her shirt showed some rips and tears in it, her jeans were still on properly. However, some semen was detected on her.

As for Mizuno, she had over 50 bruises. The National Research Institute of Police Sciences assessed a hair that was found on Mizuno’s body and determined that the criminal’s blood type was O. When she was found, her pants had been  taken off, her underwear and pantyhose were entangling on her legs and some branches had been inserted into her genitals, but no semen was found. The knife wound which entered through her chest pierced her lung and her heart. There is also a rumor that both of the women also had their achilles’ tendons cut to prevent them from running away, but it’s not confirmed.

Who Did It? -Nobody Knows.

who-did-this-game1

Although the single hair suggested that there was only one man involved, additionally as the murders occurred during the day and there were two adult female victims, police also investigated this case with the possibility that the criminal did not act alone.

The murder weapon, 凶器 (kyouki), was the only 遺留品 (iryuuhin), thing left behind, but there was no 指紋 (shimon), fingerprints, on the knife. It was clear that the knife was one of about 70,000 knives made in Gifu prefecture, but the police couldn’t find out how it had come to the criminal. They ended up putting 25,000 officers on the hill and they found out that the criminal wore short shoes and was a strong guy. On the day of the murder, and since it was the season for collecting wild edible plants, 15 to 16 people were on the hill and 5 to 6 cars were parked at the bottom. Some residential construction was going on that day and about 40 workers from Osaka were there, too.

There were several suspects in this case. The delinquent young men K and M, who worked as construction helpers, were witnessed rushing down the hill shortly after the time of death. K had some experience in karate and often went to the hill on his bicycle. However, they had a perfect alibi on the day.

The other suspects were 25 and 30 year old men who went to the hill roughly 10 minutes after the women had, but the police couldn’t uncover who they were except for that they were wearing white shirts and jeans. There was also one strange man, who was reported one year prior to the incident for asking one of the women, “Hi madam. Have you got some brackens?” while holding a 30 cm long knife at the time. He was 40 to 45 years old, 170 cm tall and was wearing gray work clothes. The police weren’t able to track this man down, either.

There were also some leather shoe prints near the murder scene. There was record of an odd middle aged man who talked to the women 6 days before the murder wearing those shoes and even with a forensic sketch artist putting a face to the man’s description, police were not able to find him.

The Additional Story

119-p4
The incident was already awful enough, but what really made me shudder was the additional story connected to this case. It’s not confirmed but it is purported that the police and the press had an agreement to withhold revealing the existence of another woman in order to prevent her from being harmed. Still, many people do believe that there was a third woman involved, who for some reason came back down the hill before the crime occurred.

However, on May 16th, 1984, 5 years after the murder, the third woman was killed. Her body was found on the main floor of her wooden home following a house fire. This fire was isolated to the first floor because of the quick response of the fire department to a call placed by this woman’s neighbor. She was found face down with a deep gash underneath her left ear and had over ten cuts on her back. Blood splatter residue was found on both floors of her house.

The criminal killed her by putting a bunch of blankets on her back and setting them on fire. The police also found bruising on her neck indicating that she had also been strangled. Once again, the police found DNA samples and were able to determine that the criminal’s blood was type-O, but they were never able to locate this man. This murder happened somewhere within one block of Koutari Nagaokakyo, Kyoto.

What Creeps Me Out More

jar-itchy-teeth-650x572

That last sentence is the reason why I feel as if I’m somehow connected or involved in this. That’s the exact area in which my husband and I used to live. Creepy, isn’t it? Although it is more of an urban legend that both murders were related, it is true that this horrible homicide happened right beside our house or, an even more rattling possibility, that our house could have been the actual house in which it occurred. The statutes of limitations ran out on both of these cases and they remain unsolved to this day. Now my teeth are very itchy!


So, what are your thoughts on the ‘Kyoto-Nagaokakyo: Women Collecting Bracken Murder’?

I personally think that it’s undoubtedly one of the creepiest cases in Japan. Would you want to visit and explore the area, or would it be too scary? Would you be willing to collect wild plants in the bamboo forest if someone dared you? Have you even heard of this place before? Do you know any creepy unsolved murder cases which happened in your country? Are there any eerie or creepy words you would like to know how to say in Japanese? Let us know in the comments below!

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/10/04/japans-unsolved-murder-case-itching-my-teeth/feed/ 66
Thud! Woman Fundoshi Underwear Boom! http://www.tofugu.com/2013/09/27/thud-woman-fundoshi-underwear-boom/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/09/27/thud-woman-fundoshi-underwear-boom/#comments Fri, 27 Sep 2013 16:00:18 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=34684 Fundoshi (褌/ふんどし) is the traditional Japanese loincloth or underwear for males, made from a sizable length of cotton. Have you ever seen a naked Japanese guy with one of these wrapped around his undercarriage and tied up at the sides with a long white strip of cloth? If so, you may have also witnessed his butt cheeks since the rear part of the garb coils up and enters his butt crack like a thong. Anyway, that’s the Fundoshi.

If you still don’t know what it is, just look at the picture to give yourself an idea of what it looks like. Actually, not many people wear them in their daily life these days, but they are often still used as traditional clothing for festivals (祭り/まつり/matsuri) and such. If you want to learn more about festivals guys that wear fundoshi, take a look at this earlier post about the Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Festival)!

[box type="alert"]Be warned – there are a handful of butts to be seen in this post. If you are butt-shy, look away now![/box]

Series of Fundoshi Posters Theft

Hadaka_MatsuriJapanese people are never in short supply of absurd news stories reaching their television sets and an odd piece on the fundoshi was recently reported. Someone in the Shinsekai (新世界) district of Osaka repeatedly stole posters containing the image of a man wearing fundoshi underwear.

The B2 size (approx 20×28 inches) posters are made for a town renewal project for the area. As for the fundoshi part, an actual piece of white cloth was attached to the poster and the phrase, “If you choke it off at its root, then it’ll never grow and develop” (締め付けてちゃ 下は育たない/shimetsuketecha shitawasodatanai) was printed on it.

43f353af

According to MSN-Sankei-West, it was discovered by a police officer that one of the fundoshi posters went missing on April 10th.  Over the next three days it was found that several of the other posters were removed from other areas, as well. The people in the area wondered in their Osaka dialect, “なんでやろ(nandeyaro)?” -Why?

To be honest, I became rather curious as well. Who stole the posters? A man? A woman? A group? And for what reason? Because they look funny? Or, because they were so attractive? I was compelled to look into it online, but unfortunately I couldn’t find any answers. However, I did successfully, and rather unexpectedly, come across a news story regarding the fundoshi and how it is becoming more popular among WOMEN – I wrote that in caps so you would know it wasn’t a typo.

Fundoshi Underwear for Female Boom

share-fun2As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, fundoshi underwear was originally designed for men. However, it seems that fundoshi for women, called ‘SHARE-FUN’, started being sold last December. Share-fun is an abbreviation of osharena-fundoshi, which means fashionable fundoshi. Plus Charming Company’s cute new take on the classic, yet comfortable, fundoshi has caused women to take notice as the company sold every last item (over 800 pieces) during the month of February.

According to Keiji Nakagawa, the head of Japan Fundoshi Association, the secret of its success was not only in its fashionable design but also in its health benefits. Compared to typical underwear, which usually contains an elastic band, a fundoshi can provide a more free and comfortable feeling. It is also said that the lack of tightness encourages better blood and/or lymph circulation and prevents swelling in the legs as well as menstrual irregularity.

share-fun3

On the other hand, conventional underwear that is too tight for you could be very dangerous. Not only could it cause inflammation around your waist or upper legs or other forms of stress, but can also prolong unpleasant candidiasis or colpitis. He suggests that wearing a fundoshi, instead of normal underwear, can make these symptoms milder.

Now, the Sharefun is not only catching on in Japan, but in European countries as well. I found an online review by a woman who tried Sharefun in the UK. The following is an excerpt from a blog called Cherryful.

I have been wearing the Sharefun fundoshi for a week now and I love it! I was apprehensive at first, thinking the linen material would not stretch and therefore feel tight, but due to the way the fundoshi is worn, this is not an issue at all. It is easily and quickly adjustable to fit a variety of shapes and sizes, and it suits me fine. My privates feel very free and natural during walking and sitting for long periods. Linen is also very cool during the summer heat. All in all, an excellent product and something that has made me change the way I look at underwear.

Pandoru Shorts

apron-fundoshiFundoshi are pretty cool, eh? However, obviously some women didn’t like the sound of the name ‘fundoshi’ so they spent some time contemplating what a suitable name for the female version would be. They came upon the French word ‘pendre’ which translates to ‘droop’ in English and now fundoshi for women are also called ‘pandoru shorts’.

They didn’t simply change its name into a cuter one, they also created a more fashionable version graced with an array of pretty designs. There is even a fundoshi fashioned like a frilled apron, which is made with lace and has a little bow tie on it.

According to Tokyo Sports Newspaper, this fundoshi boom among women was triggered by a Sexy Japanese Model, 壇蜜 (Dan Mitsu), who wore fundoshi to her 32nd birthday party at Roboto restaurant. Tight underwear is like a big smile because it makes your cheeks go up! But really, fundoshi is like an even bigger smile, isn’t it?

Mitsu also received an award at the Second Annual Fundoshist Awards, which was held by the Japan Fundoshi Association on January 31st. Although the calendar of Japanese actress Rie Miyazawa wearing fundoshi sold more than 300,000 copies 24 years ago, it never triggered a boom such as this.

Fundoshi Items

kitty-fundoshiUp to now, you have learned that this fun, cool, comfortable, and healthy underwear is rising in popularity throughout Japan, not only for women, of course, but for men as well. So now fundoshi are for anyone who has some consideration for their nether-regions – that basically means everybody. That being said, I’m sure you won’t be surprised that even Hello Kitty has been spotted wearing a fundoshi.

Although these products were banned because they didn’t have permission to use the regional name printed on the products, we can at least say there was one occasion when Hello Kitty had actually shown off her butt. How cool is that? Well, it’s not over yet. Sylvanian Families (シルバニアファミリー, Shirubania famirī) wear the fundoshi as well.

animal-fundoshi

If you want to see more, check out here.

So, more and more people/characters are beginning to like fundoshi. Someone even came up a golf ball set where the golf tees are shaped like men and women wearing fundoshi.

How to Wear Fundoshi Underwear

Do any of you want to try this Japanese underwear? For those of you who do want to try putting it on, I’m going to give you step by step instructions. Just as a side note, I’d like you all to know that it wasn’t my intention to have this article sound like one large advertisement.

First, get your own fundoshi, which is about 6-10” wide and 92-96” in length and made of a lightweight fabric that is usually cotton.

Second, drape one end of the cloth over either shoulder or grip it with your mouth and let the other end drop to the floor. Hold it against your private parts with your other hand.

Third, hold the fundoshi with one hand and pull the other end of it so that it runs underneath and between the buttocks. Next, twist the fundoshi to the point that is resembles a braided rope.

Fourth, wrap it around your waist until the length of fabric is once again resting in front of you. Direct it back underneath your buttocks again. Pull firmly to tighten.

Fifth, wrap the fundoshi all the way around the waist to secure it.

Sixth, release the other end from your shoulder or mouth and pull it between your legs. Pull it firmly between your buttocks to form another covering layer, but not too hard.

Finally, twist and wrap it around the other side of the waist. Loop it under the existing cords making sure that the back view has a ‘T’ shape and not ‘Y’ shape. Then pull it across to the other side and twist it several times under the length around your waist to secure it.

Well, how does it fit? Don’t worry if you need to try it again. Apparently, it’s not uncommon to do it many times before you’re good at it. However, if you find that it is far too difficult for you, there is actually a magic tool that allows you to wear a fundoshi right away.

Fundoshi Camera

iphone-fundoshiFebruary 14th is not only Valentine’s Day, it’s also national Fundoshi Day in Japan when everyone enjoys and celebrates the fundoshi. This day was actually created by the Japan Fundoshi Association. In order to let more people try fundoshi on Fundoshi Day this year, the association planned a secret event one day before Fundoshi Day.

They released a brand new app called ‘Fundoshi Camera’, which lets you superimpose a fundoshi onto whomever you choose without the hassle of actually finding a fundoshi and learning how to put it on.


Are you going to get the app? Go ahead and enjoy your own fundoshi! Me? Well… I want to, but I guess I need to get an iPhone first. Have any interesting fundoshi/underwear related stories? BRIEFly share them in the comments below!

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/09/27/thud-woman-fundoshi-underwear-boom/feed/ 63
The Reason I Don’t Want to Dye My Hair Black Again http://www.tofugu.com/2013/09/20/the-reason-i-dont-want-to-dye-my-hair-black-again/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/09/20/the-reason-i-dont-want-to-dye-my-hair-black-again/#comments Fri, 20 Sep 2013 16:00:40 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=34509 黒髪 (kurokami), or black hair, is globally the most common of all human hair colors. Ordinarily, Japanese people have naturally black hair and so do I. Although many of you guys may still have an image of Japanese women with black hair, there are actually very few women these days who haven’t dyed their hair before.

According to research done by a Manafusa-survey team in June, 2010, 92% of a 36 woman sample group (21-49 years old, average age: 36.5) have dyed their hair on at least one occasion. So if you come to Japan expecting to see girls with black hair, you may be surprised and/or disappointed by the large number of non-black haired women, albeit the color usually isn’t pink, red, or blue like anime characters’ but mostly some shade of brown.

To Dye or Not to Dye

fidol-120713114752-pv2I haven’t dyed my hair for years now, but I used to dye it brown. One reason why I haven’t dyed it for a while is just because I’m too lazy to keep dying it. When my black roots grow back, I always get called プリン頭 (purin-atama), which literally means pudding head.

Purin-atama is a hair color condition that happens a few weeks after dying your hair. When the roots begin to grow back, it gives your head the appearance of a Japanese custard pudding. It’s like ombre-hairstyle, which is where the hair is darker at the top, but fades to a lighter color at the tips. Another reason is because my husband, who is Canadian, really wants me to keep my hair black. Whenever I tell him that I’m thinking about dying my hair, he says, “Please don’t change it, onegai (please)!”

SCANDAL-Wallpaper-HD-Desktop-2

Well, maybe he’s just modish and just following the trend. The current trend in the Japanese beauty industry is good old-fashioned natural black hair. This sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it? You may be wondering how something naturally occurring can become a trend. I’d say that this explains why so many of the Japanese women who had dyed their hair brown in the past are now dyeing it back to black.

Actually, this black hair trend is seemingly neither a fad nor a craze. It seems that the word ‘kurokami’ (meaning black hair) started being a buzzword in Japanese fashion magazines and blogs in the mid 2000s. Meanwhile, a few shampoos were introduced that focused on the beauty of Asian hair, such as Asience, Tsubaki, and Ichikami, and their sales show how popular they’ve become.

Japanese Guys’ Preference

chart01A January, 2013 survey was conducted where the participants were asked which color of women’s hair is considered to be more attractive to men. 63.7% of the 358 women that partook in the survey said that men would be most attracted to light brown hair. Of the 353 men who participated, 49.7% said that they preferred black hair. Please note, more than two hair colors were presented as options.

A rather large discrepancy in opinion, as you can see. Only 27.7% of the women answered that they thought black hair would be preferred by the men. This result was found by Times Current’s research about the correlation between Japanese women’s hair and their モテ度 (mote-do). If you wondered what ‘mote-do’ means, I apologize. Sometimes it is so much easier to use a Japanese word than to explain in English.

Japanese-Girls-Hair-Makeup-09-2009-002

Mote-do is a slang and is a combination of the verb モテる (moteru) and the counter 度 (do). The verb モテる (moteru) means ‘to be popular with’ and is used relatively often when talking about the opposite sex. The counter 度 (do) is usually used for occurrences, number of times, degree of temperatures or angles, or percentage of alcohol. In this case, is used as a comparative scale.

So, モテ度 (mote-do) means one’s level of popularity among the opposite sex in relation to either physical attractiveness, personality, wealth, fame, or any number of other possible attributes – essentially, how one stacks up against others. What this research indicated was that hair is incredibly important, actually a very highly considered factor for Japanese men and how they view females.

51a2853e4f93252542

Now, do you think Asian girls look better with their naturally black, soft, silky, hair – or do you prefer their hair to be dyed? It is clear that Japanese men prefer women to have black hair. So how is that if so many women believe that Japanese men prefer light brown hair, that the trend is turning back to black? Only slightly over one quarter of the women in this survey accurately guessed the preference of men, but it is clear that some Japanese women are fully aware of this fact.

The Reason I Don’t Want to Dye My Hair Black Again

Average+day+in+Japan.+Oh+boy+getting+molested+sure+does_773f97_4344074There is a woman named Airi who keeps her hair brown even though she is aware of guys’ preferences. Actually, knowing that men prefer women to have black hair is the exact reason why she doesn’t want to dye her hair back to black, according to a tweet she made on August 19, 2013. Here is what she tweeted:

私が黒髪に戻したくない(清楚系にしたくない)理由は黒髪清楚系だと、
・男にとにかくなめられる
・痴漢によくあう
・大人しい、従順だと思われる
・大和撫子をイメージされやすい
などの理由がある。髪を染めてばっちり化粧してからは痴漢が激減した。変なおじさんに話しかけられないし、快適。
by Anri @Irispeach

“The reason why I don’t want to dye my hair black again (or don’t want to look tidy and clean) is because a woman who has black hair and looks tidy and clean can tend to have following problems;

-They tend to be looked down on by guys.
-They tend to be molested more often than women with different hair color.
-Black hair tends to give men the impression that they are gentle, quiet, and obedient.
-They tend to give an impression of yamato-nadeshiko*

Ever since I dyed my hair and stopped putting in so much time and effort applying makeup to my face, the number of times I’ve been molested has dramatically decreased. I’m no longer approached by strange men, either. I’m much more at ease now.”

*Note: Yamato-nadeshiko (大和撫子) is a term for the ‘ideal traditional Japanese woman’, who is considered to be feminine while being chaste and devoted to her husband. This is now a somewhat antiquated notion, but is still used as the model for the ideal Japanese women.

img_579845_16919092_8

Sure enough, this tweet echoed around the Twittersphere. Maybe it’s just me, but upon reading these comments you may have thought they strayed a little from popular opinion. I imagined this tweet would have received a lot of contradictory comments, but I was surprised to see that the comments were resoundingly in agreement with hers.  Now, let’s have a look at some responses.

茶髪の方が安全なんですね。私も茶髪にしたい。ただ、悪いのは、下衆な男なんだけどね。生まれつきの黒髪の女の子で変えたくない人は困りますし。
by れい @kids1977

“Brown hair is actually more safe? Now, I wanna dye my hair brown, too. Those low-life men are the root of all evil. Girls who have naturally black hair and don’t want to dye it can’t help it.”

私が「ノーメイク+Tシャツジーンズ」を嫌な理由とまったく同じでございます<黒髪に戻したくない理由 私の地元だけかも知れないけどモサい女は男にめっちゃナメられるしセクハラや暴力も受けやすかったのです。
by NaGiSa_FuJiKI @NaGiSa_FJ

“Your reason why you don’t want to dye your hair black again is exactly the same as the reason why I don’t like ‘T-shirt and jeans style + no make-up’. This might only be said in my area, but unfashionable women tend to be looked down on by guys. They are also more likely to be sexual harassed and/or abused.”

ちょっと前にネットで騒がれた「小学生と××するには」の漫画にも「服装がテキトーな子を狙え、そういう子は親に構われてないからお菓子やゲームですぐ言いなりだ」的な事がバッチリ書かれてて寒気がしました。
by NaGiSa_FuJiKI @NaGiSa_FJ

“I found a manga which became infamous online a little while ago called ‘How to F&#k an Elementary School Girl’, in which it actually gave instructions like, ‘Find one who doesn’t seem to take care of her appearance. Those are the ones who aren’t taken care of very well by their parents, so they tend to be more obedient and easily coerced if you give them candies or a game.’ I was disgusted.”

一時期はやったヤマンバメイクにも予防線の意味があったとか
by omiyamairi @ginbreara

“I heard that yamanba make-up*, which was quite popular for a while, was actually done as a preventative method against those acts.”

miller_fig1

*Note: Yamanba make-up

ヤマンバメイクって不思議でしたが、予防線的意味を聞いてからはすべて合点がいったのを覚えてます。女性が直面している生活世界がいかに男性のそれとかけ離れているのかも同時に。男女差に限らず、立場によって直面する世界が全然違う。
by モン=モジモジ @mojimoji_x

“For a long time I wondered why the yamanba girls wore make-up that way, but I remember finally understanding why they do after learning that it’s used as a prevention from harassment. I also became aware that the difficulties women can encounter in lives can be so much different than those of men. Actually, gender difference is not the only thing that dictates the occurrence of these events because the situations we could face are all very different depending on who we are and what we do.”

似た理由から私は体重も増やしました
by Mrs rinnn @erabliman

“I even gained weight on purpose because of similar reasons.”

綺麗でいて良いことは少ないと感じた人ほど早くから美の追求の速度が緩まると思いますよ、あとは環境もありますよね、たぶん。
by Mrs rinnn @erabliman

“I think that those who feel it’s not good to be beautiful tend to lose interest in maintaining their beauty. It could be different depending on their circumstances, as well, though. Maybe.”

I was actually surprised that there were so many supportive responses. Fortunately, maybe just because I’m not attractive enough, I’ve never been molested before. So, I personally don’t understand feeling the need to dye my hair to prevent myself from being molested. Yet, I can imagine how scared they must have been, and likely still are, by being victims, if they believed they needed to dye their hair.

airi-x-chissa

So whether you have black, brown, blonde, red, or green hair, I’m sure this article will pass through your mind the next time you consider dyeing it a new color. It’s sad that this is a reality that Japanese women need to think about. I’d really like to hear what you think on this topic though. Are there similar issues in your country? What did you think of the sensational tweet about black hair? What’s your favorite hair color and how does it affect appearance? Please share your opinions in the comments below.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/09/20/the-reason-i-dont-want-to-dye-my-hair-black-again/feed/ 180
Hayao Miyazaki’s Farewell to Film http://www.tofugu.com/2013/09/09/hayao-miyazakis-farewell-to-film/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/09/09/hayao-miyazakis-farewell-to-film/#comments Mon, 09 Sep 2013 16:00:22 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=34512 Hayao Miyazaki is retiring. Yes, the beloved creator who brought us Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and My Neighbor Totoro among many others is finally stepping down. His latest film, Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) is his last.

Or is it?

Will Hayao stay retired, or will he make a stunning return to film years later? With the way people have been receiving his son’s films so far (not so great to mixed), your guess is as good as mine. But more importantly, will Hayao’s final film leave us with fond memories of the man? Or will he be leaving us with a sour taste in our mouths?

Retiring? Really??

150657_miyazaki_SAW_01

“Am I retiring? No… Yes I am! Oh ho ho~”

Okay, so Hayao “retired” a handful of times already, actually. Some people say he’s “retired” five times already, others say he just “retires” once every three years. But all of these weren’t actually official and some were just rumor or speculation.

Except for one time.

mononoke

After the international success of Princess Mononoke (a great film to end your legacy on, by the way), Hayao officially left Ghibli and “retired”. Apparently the amount of work he did on Princess Mononoke was insane. He oversaw 144,000 animation cells and personally redrew about 80,000 of them. Holy crap. I can understand someone being worn out after something like that.

Anyway, after he officially left, he created another studio called Butaya/Nibariki. It was located very close to his old studio and was known as his “retirement place”. While there, he created a manga based on the exploits of Otto Carius, held weekly classes to teach young animators, hosted other activities, and made some animated short films.

butaya-1

In my opinion, this is a pretty awesome and respectable thing to do after retiring. Working on little side projects and teaching others all the great animation knowledge and know-how he possessed? Fantastic. However, he returned to film a mere four years later to direct Spirited Away.

Spirited Away was awesome too, so he probably could have re-retired again and it would have been a great bittersweet moment. But Hayao soldiered on and stepped in to take over Howl’s Moving Castle when the original director left the project. This film wasn’t as amazing as the previous two, but it was still pretty solid.

But this latest retirement announcement sounds like it could actually be legitimate. It seems that Hayao has been “training” his son Goro to take over the family business, but his son (in my eyes) is currently having one hell of a struggle to fill his father’s gigantic shoes. From Up On Poppy Hill was painfully boring. Even if Hayao doesn’t make a second return to film, hopefully he’ll be working with his son behind the scenes to improve the quality of his work.

goro

Photo by Stéphane D

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

At 72 years old, Hayao is one of the most celebrated figures in animation. The Wind Rises is his 11th feature length film. Together with Isao Takahata, he founded Studio Ghibli in 1985 which has produced 18 feature films to date, so Hayao’s had a pretty fulfilling career. Studio Ghibli films are loved by many and several of them have topped the Japanese box office. Spirited Away even won an Academy Award for best animated feature over in the good ol’ US of A.

kaze-tachinu-poster

Hayao’s latest film does have the makings of a director’s swan song. The Wind Rises is described as Hayao’s first film made specifically for adults. It’s a very personal film, and it’s also stirring up a bit of debate among the political circles of Japan. Let’s get into that.

The Wind Rises

Hayao’s final film, The Wind Rises, tells the tale of a man named Jiro during World War II. Jiro is a brilliant but naïve engineer, and his character is based on the real designer of Japan’s Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane, Jiro Horikoshi. The story looks to explore love, responsibility, and death.

From what I can tell, it’s certainly not going to be as lighthearted as what we’ve come to expect from Hayao’s films. This one looks to be more akin to the likes of Ghibli’s most famous heart-string puller, Grave of the Fireflies.

Even so, the film still seems to maintain a bit of that classic Ghibli whimsical feel. This should add a nice contrast to all of the terrible sorrowful feelings that look to be so prevalent in this film. The sad things will probably be made even more sad and striking due to the dichotomy between them and the occasional fantastical whimsy.

THE-WIND-RISES

The film takes us along on Jiro’s journey from a child fascinated by planes to a man creating one of the most feared aircrafts of the war. Jiro’s love for planes and flight is depicted as simple and pure. Jiro doesn’t care about the war effort, he just wants to make a great plane that he can be proud of. But by the end of the film, Jiro starts to question everything.

The Reception Thus Far

Kaze_Tachinu__The_Wind_RisesHayao has traditionally been somewhat of a pacifist, so some fans were a bit confused as to why he would choose a film like this to go out on. Some people think that it was strange for Hayao to choose the manufacturer of a vehicle of destruction as the star for his film, but Hayao doesn’t see it that way.

Hayao was drawn to the story because it featured one of Japan’s eccentric geniuses and this appealed to him. Plus Hayao has always been fascinated with planes and flight himself. In an interview, he stated that “It was wrong from the beginning to go to war, but it’s useless to blame Jiro for it.”

shinzo-abe“Pipe down, Hayao.”

The film has also sparked some political debate. Hayao recently published an article saying that he was disgusted by the government’s plans to expand Japan’s army. He was also taken aback by the government’s apparent ignorance of history. Though not mentioned specifically by name, most believe these statements were directed at Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

Japanese conservatives have pretty much told Hayao to keep his opinions to himself and stay out of politics.

stop-that“I’m watching you.”

As for the film itself, some feel that its slow moving style and lack of visual flair make it boring. Overall, though, it’s received favorable reviews and is a box office success. I can understand the slow moving complaints though. I feel that way about a decent amount of Japanese movies, but if Japanese critics are the ones calling this movie slow moving, it must be really slow moving.

I wouldn’t say I’m getting my hopes up too high for this film though. My two favorite films of his were Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, and I don’t think he (or Ghibli for that matter) have come close to matching them since. I do really hope my expectations are exceeded though.

Now I’m not saying that I’m not looking forward to The Wind Rises. I just don’t want to set my expectations too high only to be disappointed. I feel like the film will be a good one, I’m just not sure if it’ll be blowing me out of the water with how good it is. But I really want this film to surprise me and make me glad that it’s the last film he left us with. The trailer makes it seem like the film could be really moving and powerful, and I sincerely hope that it is.

Hayao’s Future

miyazaki2

“Sayo~nara~”

I think it would be absolutely fantastic if Hayao returns to Butaya and does what he was doing the last time he retired. His son could still use a lot of training and improvement and I’m sure many other animators could benefit from his vast pool of animation knowledge too.

And just because he’s retiring from film doesn’t mean that he won’t be creating anything. Last time he made a manga and some animated shorts. Who knows what he’ll come up with this time? I know I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.


So, do you think The Wind Rises will be a good one to end his career on (if he really does retire for good)? What do you think he’ll get into over at Butaya? Think he’ll stay retired for good this time? Either way, Hayao Miyazaki has had a brilliant career and he certainly deserves all the respect in the world.


Bonus Wallpapers!

hayaomiyazaki-1280
[2560x1600] ∙ [1280x800]


Sites Referenced:
The Economist
The Guardian
Kotaku

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/09/09/hayao-miyazakis-farewell-to-film/feed/ 26
The Curse Of Ghibli http://www.tofugu.com/2013/08/30/the-curse-of-ghibli/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/08/30/the-curse-of-ghibli/#comments Fri, 30 Aug 2013 16:00:46 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=33823 Isn’t it weird? Just a couple weeks ago I wrote about the “My Neighbor, Totoro” conspiracy theory. Now I want to tell you about something else that’s both spooky and Ghibli related. There’s a theory out there, especially amongst financial traders, that Ghibli is tied to some kind of curse. Maybe it’s a curse itself! And I’ve experienced myself, first hand.

In Japan, I worked for an investment company as a financial planner and broker. While working there, I shuddered and trembled upon witnessing the so-called “ジブリの呪い” (giburi no noroi), aka “Ghibli’s Curse” aka “The Curse Of Ghibli.”

tumblr_m7ifqmqU241qetdx8o1_500

I had no idea until I started working as a financial planner that this curse even existed, holding itself over the stock and currency market. However, as soon as I joined the financial industry, the curse occurred. After a Ghibli movie was aired on TV one Friday night, bad things happened to the market. Very evil and curse-like things (dun dun dunn).

You see, Nippon Television Network Corp airs a movie every Friday night. That spot is called “金曜ロードショー” (kinyou roadshow/ Friday Roadshow). Occasionally on this show they air a Ghibli movie. When this happens, bad stuff happen to the Japanese stock market or currency market soon after.

Sometimes it’s related to 米国雇用統計 (beikoku koyoutoukei / US jobs numbers), which is also called 米国非農業部門雇用者数 (beikoku hinougyoubumon koyoushasuu / US nonfarm payroll dates). Other times it has to do with bad reports. No matter what the trigger may be, Japanese traders, investors, and other related workers are acutely aware of this eerie “curse” and will pay attention to the TV schedules for just this reason.

Running The Numbers

graph

It’s been a while since I quit my job so I don’t remember exactly, but I feel like I remember how on these days other countries’ currencies would go down or the Nikkei (Japanese stock market) would drop. I wanted to make sure that I could show this to you guys so I ran the numbers and made a diagram from February 22, 2008 until August 2, 2013. Please take a look below. There you can see that with 28 out of 35 of these days, either the US currency went down or the Nikkei went down. Isn’t that insane? I thought so, at least the first time I learned about this.

ghibli-curse-spreadsheet

So, that’s what happened over last four year eight months. You can see that the Ghibli Curse has taken place an eerily and head scratching amount of times. Of course this could be a coincidence that just lines up with the poor economy, but there is a reason why people believe in this curse, so something must be going on, even if it is completely by chance.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL recently picked up Ghibli’s Curse as a topic, as well. They interviewed some traders in Tokyo, so I’m going to introduce some parts of the article.

“Yen watchers expect the worst when a Ghibli flick airs at the same time that nonfarm payroll data is released in the U.S. (That is at 8:30 a.m. in Washington, D.C., and 9:30 at night in Tokyo.) In eight of the past nine such convergences, the data came in weak. In seven of those cases, the dollar tanked versus the yen and Japanese stocks fell.

On July 8, 2011, during a showing of “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” a Ghibli film about a young witch and her cat, the payroll numbers came in 86% below expectations and the dollar fell 1.2%. The following Monday, Japan’s benchmark index fell 0.7%.

“I always factor into my trading that when a Ghibli movie airs on a Friday, the dollar-yen market could get volatile,” says Yukio Nakamura, a senior manager at a French insurance company in Tokyo, who dabbles in foreign exchange on the side.

“I don’t watch Ghibli movies on TV myself, but I’m always checking the broadcast schedule as a kind of risk hedge.”

So it’s not just me! I’m not crazy, right? Now are you getting scared of Ghibli? Apparently some people who support the conspiracy have even thought that NTV is timing the broadcast deliberately to coincide with the bad news. Against this argument, a spokeswoman for NTV didn’t really mention a lot but said, “We decline to comment. Actually these questions do not merit commenting on.”

Do you believe that this Ghibli’s curse is all a setup? Personally, I want to believe it for fun, but there also is some reasoning behind why this might happen. The movies usually start at 9pm Japan time, on Friday where Japan’s market is already closed for the weekdays. The market in Europe still continues during the movie and the New York market opens afterward. Plus, Current Employment Statistics (CES) in the US is revealed at 9:30pm Japan time on the first Friday of every month. So, bad things tend to happen on Friday nights. Hence, I’d believe the curse more if it continued even if the movie spot changed from Friday to another weekday.

A Destructive Coincidence

barusu

This is not directly market related, but there is another mysterious phenomenon on Friday movie night related to Ghibli that I’d like to introduce you guys. It’s actually not for all Ghibli films but for “天空の城ラピュタ (tenkuu-no-shiro-Laputa/Laputa: Castle in the Sky)” and while it’s being aired, Japanese Netizens spam “バルス (barusu/Balus or Balse)!” on either 2-channel or twitter as many times as possible, for some reason.

‘Balus!’ is the magic spell of destruction, which Pazu and Sheeta cast at the climax of the movie. It’s said that spamming ‘Balus’ in sync during Laputa broadcast was started by 2-channelers in 2003.

According to the Twitter Japan official account, the word ‘Balus’ was tweeted 25,088 times-per-second at 11:22pm JST on December 9th, 2011 during the 13th Japanese television broadcast of Laputa. That established a new word record of the number of tweets per second.

However, this record was defeated easily by the 14th airing of Laputa on August 2, 2013. It’s almost like a festival event on the Internet. In order to let more people enjoy this event, ニコニコ動画 (Niko-Niko-Douga) and the Japanese SNS site Mixi launched special web pages for users to spam ‘Balus’ and even Yahoo Japan enabled a ‘Balus’ button on its top page.

barusu-yahoo

And guess what? These all efforts caused 142,199 tweets per second, which is over five times more than the last record and four times more than the existing 2013 record of 33,388 “あけおめ” (akeome -abbreviation of akemashite-omedetou-gozaimasu / A Happy New Year) tweets, according to Twitter JP.

Is it just a coincidence that people tweet the name of the spell for destruction on such a “cursey” day? (Probably). Are you convinced that the Ghibli Curse is real? Me? Well…I am wondering if I am indeed, cursed…because I wrote this entry more slowly (のろい/noroi) than I usually do.

rimshot-o-2

Did anyone get it? Yup, “curse” in Japanese is 呪い and pronounced “noroi” just like the word 鈍い which means “sluggish” or “slow.”

Even if you don’t believe in curses, I hope that you at least enjoyed reading about these Ghibli superstitions! If not, hopefully anyone can enjoy this “Nikkei” Choral Ensemble video doing Ghibli tunes, at the very least (because 日系 sounds like 日経!).

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/08/30/the-curse-of-ghibli/feed/ 33