Tofugu» People A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Fri, 22 Aug 2014 22:38:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Peace and Japan Part 2 – Japan’s Current Military Fri, 22 Aug 2014 16:00:28 +0000 In the first article “Peace and Japan: How The Militarization Of Modern Japan Keeps Marching On“, I explained the constitution, the history behind Japan’s current situation with and how the Japanese Self Defense Forces (JSDF) have developed after creation, after the Second World War. This includes their most recent and controversial change, which gives them the right to a collective defense.

But, there is one important thing that we haven’t discussed yet: the Japanese military itself. And, given how the current debate has been framed in the context of regional security fears, it is important to take a closer look at the Japanese military, the capabilities that it has, and what the public thinks about all of these things.

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In terms of my own personal views? I’d say that saying Japan is “militarizing” is highly inaccurate – but for two very contradictory reasons.

First, the word militarizing makes it sound as if Japan is building up stockpiles of weaponry and conscripting people. It is not. Plus, its forces remain constrained in many ways.

Second, the word “militarizing” makes it sound as if Japan is currently a country with a weak military, and that Japan is now ditching its “unarmed ways.” This too is false. Unlike what many people think, Japan already has a very capable military force, thus it is already militarized.

It’s Not Militarizing: The GDP Argument

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Japanese fighters in flight at Nyutabaru Airbase Aviation Festival

As I mentioned in the previous article, this move towards a “collective self-defense” has not come with a visible increase in the Japanese Defense expenditures. This has been kept at 1% of the GDP, just like it has been for a long, long time. What does 1% mean? Of course, it depends on several variables. Let’s take a look.

1% of a country’s GDP for military is actually really low when compared to other countries. Most spend much more. The CIA puts Japan’s military expenditure as a percentage of GDP at 103 in the world, at least in 2012.

Furthermore, this website states that the total number of active military personnel in Japan is around 247,000 people which is number 22 in the world. That still seems rather high, but when you consider it as a proportion of the total population (2.5 persons active in the military per 1000) the number is exceedingly low in the world.

Furthermore, one also has to take into account the type of military Japan possesses. The constitution prohibits the possession of force for purposes of attacking another country. So for example, Japan has a lot of fighter jets but no strategic bombers, etc.

It’s Not Militarizing: The “It Already Is Militarized” Argument

The other side of the coin is that people tend to underestimate the Japanese military and tend to think of Japan as not having a military presence. This is false for a few reasons.


Photo by dragoner_JP

The JS Izumo, which caused controversy after its launch in 2013 due to its alleged resemblance and convertibility to an aircraft carrier

While I did say that Japan does not have a strong offensive capability, a gun is a gun is a gun is a gun. And, to defend oneself militarily, one must shoot at someone else. The point is, while Japan may not have equipment that is explicitly offensive, there is quite a bit of crossover in terms of what is defensive and what is offensive. That is to say, it’s hard to pretend that Japan has zero offensive capability. A lot of what they have for defense can easily become offensive as well.

Secondly, while it is clear that Japan does not spend much and has way fewer people in the military for a country of its size, this does not mean that in absolute terms the Japanese military is not sizable. As noted above, it is, in terms of active personnel, #22 in the entire world. Sizable, but nothing that big and certainly smaller than its neighbors China, North Korea, and South Korea, which are first, fifth, and sixth in the world respectively.

However, 1.0% of the third largest economic power in the world is very clearly a sizable amount. Japan, as of 2013, spends around $50 billion USD on its military each year – roughly 50% more than what South Korea spends. In addition, Japan has the 7th or 8th largest military budget in the world depending on the source. With the above, it is clear that Japan has a sizable, modern and professional military.


Picture of a portion of the US 7th Fleet, based in and stationed in Yokosuka Naval Base

Thirdly, one must also note the sizable number of American forces (38,000 according to the United Forces Japan website) stationed in Japan which certainly hold sizable offensive capabilities. Most of the time, these are stationed in out-of-sight, out-of-mind locations (unless you’re living in Okinawa). However, just one hour from Shinjuku, and entirely within Tokyo prefecture, is Yokota airbase in Fussa city. Similarly, an hour from Yokohama is Yokosuka naval base.

This also means that even if they are not Japanese, Japan has signficant forces stationed on its soil which can use Japan as a staging area in the case of a military conflict. And while Prime Minister Abe says that the US needs Japanese consent for any deployment, the US has already historically used Japan as a basing ground in the Korean war and the Vietnam war.

So What do the Japanese think of their own Military anyway?


Newly selected Japanese officers at a ceremony

Now let’s take a look at public perception? I’ll be addressing the arguments about the constitution etc. in the next part but I’m going to focus on the perceptions of the military here now.

1) The Japanese public has gradually come to accept the defense forces as a being normal.

As you can imagine, Japan after World War II was heavily traumatized, and many blamed the military for the mess that Japan found itself in. This is why especially in the immediate decades after the war, the military was treated with heavy suspicion. In contrast to that, a survey by the Japanese government released in 2012 states that 91.7% of the Japanese population have a positive impression of the JSDF.

That has changed gradually as fears that of Japan being dragged into another conflict were realized. Up until now, no Japanese self-defense forces had been involved in any armed fighting – at most it was involved in back-end support (see previous article) and/or peace keeping operations overseas.


Photo by ChiefHira

Ishinomaki, Miyagi. JSDF forces doing disaster relief in the wake of the 2011 Earthquake/Tsunami disaster.

In addition to this, the Self-Defense Forces also play an important role internally in terms of disaster management. The Self-Defense Forces were deployed to Tohoku after the earthquake / tsunami disaster of 2011 and in that sense, they clearly do play at least some positive role within Japan. It is because of all this that the JSDF has become a gradually accepted part of the nation of Japan.

2) The Japanese public heavily underestimates the strength of their own forces.

This article provides a very good explanation of this – most of the Japanese population (actually I think it’s fair to say most of the world population) views Japan as without a “true” standing army with minimal defenses.

To the typical Japanese person, the JSDF is not an “army” – it is a “self-defence force” and nothing more. And as the article above notes, this underestimation may be a reason for why the Japanese are sometimes bewildered by their neighbours’ complaints about its military power.

3) The self defense forces are not exactly prestigious

As a reflection of the above, the JSDF isn’t exactly prestigious – Japan does not make movies like Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan. And while being in the Marines in the US is highly respected and military service considered to be “service to the nation”, there is no equivalent that I know of in Japan.

Wikipedia has a nice write-up about this. Basically, according to the article, the JSDF gets its recruits from poorer rural areas and top university graduates tend to stay the hell away. No doubt the Japanese do thank the JSDF members for their service – it just isn’t as venerated as in some other countries.

All that being said…


Photo by the United States Army

Japanese Self Defence Forces during a visit by an American General

So I’ve taken a look at Japan’s military strength and this idea of “Militarization” that’s floating around. The point is that, in my view, there’s a lot of overestimation going on. This includes current changes (see previous article) and Japan’s actual military strength, which is nothing to scoff at.

Now that you know about the Japanese military and what it has, we will be looking at “who is saying what” about militarization, Article 9, the arguments for and against the Japanese military, as well as some deeper analysis around what people are actually saying about the current changes instituted by the Abe cabinet.

So stay tuned for next week when we wrap things up and learn what’s really going on with Japan’s army and where they will go, perhaps, in the future.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Gaki no Tsukai And The Living Legends Of Japanese Comedy Wed, 20 Aug 2014 16:00:00 +0000 When I took my first shot at learning Japanese, nothing stuck. I would learn new kanji or grammar, then it would fly out of my head in a week. It took me three months to realize I had to escape my bubble of textbooks and memorization and experience some Japanese in the wild. Unfortunately, I lived across from a cow pasture in South Carolina, so I couldn’t just find some place where people spoke Japanese. Instead, I decided to watch a comedy show called Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende.

In my home office, on the wall, you can find the Hall of Fame for the Best Decisions I Have Ever Made. I keep track of all my best decisions there, on fake plaques printed on A4 paper. Near the very top, just below “Decided Not to Go to Grad School,” you can find “Decided to Watch the Best Comedy Show of All Time and Learned Japanese While Doing It.”

I bet you can guess what show I’m talking about?

What is Gaki no Tsukai?

Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! is a Japanese comedy and variety show which has been running since 1989, producing over a thousand episodes. It has been a massively influential show in Japanese comedy, to the point that the main duo’s Kansai accent and dialect are the unofficial sound of comedy in the country. If you want to become a Japanese comedian, you better learn to talk like you’re from Osaka.

The show’s influence has even creeped just across the Pacific Ocean, with one fantastic Gaki no Tsukai segment called Silent Library being adapted into a full show on MTV. Virtually everyone will tell you that the original was better, but don’t let that stop you from watching Justin Bieber smell a durian. The original product is embedded below:

You can find all sorts of comedy under the Gaki no Tsukai umbrella: from old-fashioned “Who’s on First”-style manzai dialogues to sketches, game shows, cooking segments, public stunts, and the physical comedy that Japan is famous for. Gaki no Tsukai is especially famous for its batsu games: devilish and sometimes intricate scenarios in which one or more of the performers are comically punished for losing a competition, a bet, or just because it’s New Year’s Day. Gaki‘s New Year’s 24 Hours No Laughing specials are hours-long batsu games in which the comedians are forced to endure increasingly bizarre and hilarious scenarios with the caveat that they will be beaten if they laugh out loud.

Here’s a famous segment from one of the 24 Hours No Laughing shows in which returning character Jimmy Onishi does his very best to teach an English lesson. You can see the Gaki no Tsukai cast being constantly pulled away and hit when they laugh.

Just watching the video, I can tell you that I wouldn’t come out of it alive if I were in any one of their shoes.

Studying Japanese With Gaki No Tsukai


Gaki no Tsukai is worth watching for anyone with an interest in comedy, but it’s especially useful for students in the early stages of learning Japanese. There is a vast library of Gaki clips, episodes, and specials online which have been subtitled by fans, allowing anyone to watch and start to absorb the language in-between study periods. And thanks to the habit of the show (and all Japanese television, really) to put a lot of the spoken words on screen in text to highlight punch lines, you can almost match spoken words with Japanese text with English text all at once, which was helpful to me very early on in learning the language.

And because Gaki no Tsukai is largely a physical comedy show, you can make do without subtitles altogether without being afraid that you won’t have any idea what’s going on. Once you get much stronger with your language ability, there is a large and friendly fansubbing community that can help you practice the language as you subtitle clips and episodes on your own (and trust me, you can’t do much worse than some of the translations that are already out there). As you improve in ability, there is a very natural progression of Gaki no Tsukai clips that can help reinforce what you learn when you study, and even start to get your feet wet in the translation world if you are so inclined.

It makes for a step-by-step process:

1. If you’re a complete beginner like I was, watch the show with subtitles between study sessions. Usually, punch lines will be written out in big Japanese text on the screen, so you can practice reading katakana and hiragana, and test your kanji if any simple ones happen to come up. It’s useful to have Japanese spoken words, Japanese text, and English text on screen all at once when you’re just a beginner. If you’re doing it right, your brain should hurt after you’ve watched an episode or two. That means you’re getting some value out of your leisure time.

2. If you know a little bit of the language, be brave and watch the show without English subtitles. Especially if you’ve already seen an episode or two, missing a sentence here or there won’t hurt your enjoyment of this physical comedy-heavy show. I’ve found it important to immerse myself as much as possible as my language skill got better, and this is an easy place to start.

3. And if you’re really starting to know your stuff, Gaki no Tsukai is a friendly place to dip your toes into the world of translation. There is a huge community of people who watch subtitled Gaki no Tsukai content online, and in a show with 1,213 episodes, there is always more material to translate. By either learning to subtitle video yourself or working with another fan who wants to be a timer, you can start to subtitle Gaki clips and publish them online, trying out all the joys and pains of translation before turning it into a paying gig.

Introducing The Comedians

The core cast of Gaki no Tsukai is comprised of two separate comedy duos and… another guy. “Downtown” are the senior duo who introduce the show and have been with it from the start. “Cocorico” are a duo who joined in 1997, and Yamasaki Hosei (who recently changed his name to Tsukitei Hosei) is the solo act.


hamada-masatoshiHamada Masatoshi

Hamada is what is known in the Japanese comedy world as the tsukkomi. In the Anglo-American comedy world, this is what’s known as the “straight man.” Not the full-on no-jokes straight man a la Zeppo Marx, but the dominant, smart member of the comedy duo with Matsumoto.

It’s all based around the core interaction of Japanese comedy that you might recognize from any other video game, comic, or movie with elements of comic relief: Matsumoto is the funny man, so he acts like an idiot. Hamada is the straight man, so he yells at Matsumoto and hits him for being so stupid. Hamada plays a sadistic, mean, and almost evil character that is perfectly matched to Matsumoto’s goofier nature.

Among Hamada’s running gags: He always gets stuck wearing women’s clothes, and the other members of the group take every opportunity they can to compare him to a gorilla. He’s also… not a great artist.

matsumoto-hitoshiMatsumoto Hitoshi

Matsumoto is the elder statesman of Japanese comedy and the boke to Hamada’s tsukkomi. He’s taller than Hamada, he’s balder, and while he has the same temper, he doesn’t have the mean streak to back it up. He’s the funny man, and in the few times that the comedy isn’t physical, he tends to land the punch lines. Recently, Matsumoto has started a career in directing and writing movies, including two that made it Stateside in limited release: Big Man Japan and R100.


tanaka-naokiTanaka Naoki

Cocorico (sometimes spelled “Coq au rico”) are a much younger duo, and while their characters within Gaki no Tsukai aren’t so fleshed out as Downtown, they still play huge roles throughout the show. Tanaka is the boke and he’s a tall, thin, gentle-hearted guy who is perhaps best known for dropping immediately to the ground whenever he’s even remotely startled.

endo-shozoEndo Shozo – Endo is the tsukkomi, but despite being the more serious member of the duo, most of his running gags on Gaki no Tsukai revolve around his being kind of an airhead. Sometimes the team will make him read something full of slightly obscure kanji just to watch him try to figure them out.

He’s also punished on the show for his semi-scandalous private life, and his ex-wife (the singer Chiaki) is often brought on to the show to create awkward situations for him.

Some other guy named Hosei

hoseiYamasaki or Tsukitei Hosei

Yamasaki recently changed his name to Tsukitei just to make things difficult for someone trying to write a Gaki no Tsukai intro piece, but more importantly he’s the chubby underdog of the group. His punch lines never land and he seems to always take more physical abuse than anyone else, but he’s visibly trying his hardest to live up to the comedy standards of the others around him.

Yamasaki isn’t actually an unfunny comedian by any means, but he plays one on TV, and his character is supposed to be bad at his comedy job. In the last seven or so of Gaki no Tsukai’s New Year’s specials, some sort of unfortunate mix-up or other gets Yamasaki viciously slapped by the pro wrestler Masahiro Chono, one of the most popular running gags in the show for the way that Yamasaki tries desperately to escape his punishment.

Now Go Watch It!

Now you should be ready to dive into the hundreds of online clips of Gaki no Tsukai and start to love Japanese comedy. And if you’re like me, you’ll move on to Lincoln, and Million Kazokuand on and on, looking for that next comedy fix until you’re desperately walking into another DVD store, looking for a rakugo scene you’ve never watched before while knowing you won’t find it. You’ll be living in a batsu game of your own creation, and there’s no escape.

Until that happens to you, though, I’d like to provide you with some of my favorite Gaki No Tsukai clips to watch.

Matsumoto’s Pie Hell” is one of my favorite moments from the show. After losing a bet on the Japan Series, Hamada and the rest of the team subject Matsumoto to a full simulated day of pie attacks. Matsumoto must do everything the narrator tells him to do and pretend this is just a normal day, without reacting to the constant barrage of pies.

The “5 Rangers” clip below is a positively ancient Gaki sketch about a Super Sentai or Power Rangers team who fail to coordinate their outfits for the day. It’s a simple premise that has led to maybe a few dozen segments on the show, but I laugh every single time. This segment predates Cocorico and Yamasaki, but you should start with the original before you fast forward a decade or two.

The “Kiki” series is one of my favorite segments from the show, in which the cast taste something blindfolded, then try to pick it out from a table of alternate brands of the same thing. You can see them taste-test curry, instant miso soup, and even cigarettes and beer, but you should start with the first Kiki game: canned coffee.

And Gaki no Tsukai has another fantastic food segment called “Absolutely Tasty,” in which the cast cook some, uh, inventive food items along a common theme then try them out together. The finished products can range anywhere from delicious recipes you’ll want to try at home to horrifying, borderline inedible creations.

Before Gaki did 24 Hour No Laughing games every year, they had a different endurance challenge: A 24 hour game of tag. While the cast were trying to sleep, men would occasionally burst into the room and start chasing them down, with whoever is caught being subjected to some kind of punishment. In this clip, it’s a Scorpion Death Lock wrestling move, but Tanaka has a special strategy for avoiding it.

I couldn’t get away without including what I will politely call “The Butt Game.” This used to show up on those “weird Japan” shows and websites, and you’ll see why shortly. Matsumoto and Yamasaki work together to answer trivia questions. If they get one wrong, the producers’ three quarters-naked butts get moved inches closer to their face. The highest of stakes.

In this clip, the team try to order Napolitan, the Japanese pasta dish, using similar-sounding words, starting with “Napoleon” and working all the way down to “Tamori-san.” If they receive what they ordered, they win.

This clip introduces you to Heipo, a popular side character who is afraid of absolutely everything. The comedians take turns scaring him with increasingly simple techniques.

I couldn’t possibly link enough videos to show you the depth and breadth of Gaki laughs out there, but this is a start. So do what I did years ago: Pull up a chair and a laptop to watch the show, and maybe some headphones so you don’t bother the people around you, and a second, smaller laptop with open on it, and a bag of kettle corn, and some kind of wipe to get the kettle corn off your hands before you touch your keyboard, and enjoy Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende. And maybe you’ll learn something while you do.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Peace and Japan Part 1: How Japan Got Militarized. Again. Fri, 15 Aug 2014 16:00:37 +0000 Some of you who have an interest in Japanese current affairs may know about what the current Liberal Democratic Party has put in place regarding Japan’s armed forces, which allows the right for a collective self defense (more on that later). These have attracted controversy from both within and outside of Japan. There have been large protests and even one person set himself on fire in Shinjuku to show his resolve against the changes. Worldwide media has also picked this up, with some people describing Prime Minister Abe’s “nationalism” (which I find accurate) and Japan’s “militarization” (which I don’t find accurate).

In short, I feel as though Japan is heading in a nationalist direction. But, it must be laid clear what this change means and what it does not. This idea of “militarization” also strikes me as very strange because it makes it sound as if Japan is Costa Rica without a professional army, which it already has. This article is going to try to explain the whole history, background and development of Japan’s military – and clarify some things about the current changes (or mess depending on your point of view) in Japan.

The Constitution


Original Copy of the Constitution of Japan with original signatories
Image from the National Archives of Japan

Firstly, all of the problems and controversies regarding the armed forces in Japan need to be taken in light of Article 9 of the Japanese postwar constitution (established 1947) – which states:

“ARTICLE 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Nationalist groups say that the constitution is fundamentally not valid given how the constitution was “forced” on the Japanese people by the occupying/American forces but that’s an entirely different debate and mess. As you can see from the above, there is a problem with ambiguity.

Does the constitution prohibit all forms of armed forces and “war potential”? Or does it prohibit “war potential” only when it is used “as a means of settling international disputes”? And if so, where does one draw the lines between what conforms with such a condition and what does not?

These are ambiguities which have surfaced and resurfaced every time there’s a debate about the military in Japan. But the fact is that from the defeat of Japan things have changed massively. Aside from the legal debate which is perfectly open to interpretation, one has to look at how it has been interpreted and how that interpretation has changed.

History Timeline

I’ll make things easy and do a timeline-ish thing detailing the major events concerning the history of Japan.

1947 – Post-war (Showa) Constitution Adapted

  • At this point Japan has no army and the constitution is interpreted as prohibiting one.

1950 – Start of Korean War


Transport ship leaves Yokohama for America, carrying the first Korean War dead
Image originally taken by C.K. Rose and can be accessed here.

  • Japan and the US start to get jittery on how Japan is virtually defenseless. Not only are there allied forces in Korea, but there was also the possibility of a communist victory on the Korean peninsula.
  • Creation of the lightly armed National Police Reserve.

1954 – Promulgation of the Law of the Self Defense Forces

  • National Police Reserve reorganized into the Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF) with the Land Self-Defense Forces, Naval Self-Defense Forces and Air Self-Defense Forces clearly demarcated.
  • Interpretation of Constitution: That self-defense actions and having a minimum force for this are legal but that, for example, the “right to join a war (交戦権) involving attacking an enemy is not”.

1959 – Sunakawa Incident

  • Tokyo regional court rules that American forces on Japanese soil was illegal.
  • Supreme Court of Japan overturns the decision saying that the 9th article of the constitution is applicable to Japanese forces but not to foreign (American) forces in Japan which have offensive capabilities.

1960 – Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan


Anti-US-Japan Security Treaty Protesters in 1960
Photo in commons here

  • Basically, an amending of a treaty first signed in 1952. Both parties agree to help each other however Japan is not allowed to send forces to the US in the case of an attack due to article 9.
  • Also allowed the US to place bases in Japan.
  • Massive student and left-wing protests with more than 100 thousand surrounding parliament.
  • Cabinet resigns to “take responsibility” but the treaty goes through.

1960s-1980s - The above set the tone for the next few decades as Japan and the Japanese government avoids contentious military issues and focuses on the economy. Some points to take note on:

  • Japan has kept, with few exceptions, a cap on military spending at 1% of GDP per year.
  • The principle adopted is the pretty much holding the minimum amount of power and using it at the lowest possible level to ensure Japan’s defense – It has also created and followed its set of “Three Non-Nuclear Principles” – Not making any, not having any, and not importing any. (American troops on Japanese soil are a different issue)
  • As WWII draws even further away, the JSDF become more and more accepted.

1992 – Peacekeeping Operation Cooperation Law passed


Ground JSDF in Indonesia, 2006
Image by Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces

  • Law passed allowing the dispatch of the JSDF to peacekeeping / humanitarian operations after increasing questions about Japan’s contribution to the international community – JSDF dispatched to Cambodia in same year.
  • Marks a clear departure from the only-in-Japan policy of the JSDF.

2001 – Invasion and Occupation of Afghanistan

  • Naval JSDF dispatched to Indian Ocean to assist supply operations – the first deployment of the JSDF at a time of war (even though it was not directly involved in it).

2014 – Further change of Interpretation of Constitution

  • Abe Cabinet changes interpretation to such that a “collective self defense” is allowed (explained later).

What Can We Say From This

A few clear and obvious patterns can be seen here:

1) In the beginning there were legal challenges regarding the very existence of the armed forces and the military was viewed extremely suspiciously by the public.

2) As time went on the status quo became more and more accepted. Firstly because memories of the war were dimming, but also perhaps because the JSDF was helping society through disaster relief, etc.

3) Legally, the boundaries of what the JSDF can do has been widened gradually, culminating in the current controversy.

What does the current change mean?

So what does this “collective self defense” mean then?

Video on the protests against the changes to the interpretation

Before the current change, Japan considered coming to the aid of an ally an act which Japan had the right to do, but which would exceed the definition of “minimal use of force necessary for Japan’s defense”. In a more concrete fashion, if Japan were to be attacked by X country, America would have every right (and obligation) to come to Japan’s aid militarily. However, if America were to be attacked by X country, Japan would not be able to intervene militarily to aid America because that would be using Japan’s military force in an excessive way and not for the benefit of Japan’s defense.

The Abe cabinet has changed this interpretation to say that yes, it is within the “minimal use of force necessary for Japan’s defense” to send military forces in aid to an ally which has been attacked. In explanation, this is what the prime minister said in Parliament: (my translation)

“A condition for the use of the right to collective defense is that Japan, or a close ally of Japan, is attacked militarily. Furthermore, this must pose a danger to the Japanese people. The right to collective defense is a last resort, and shall be used with the minimum amount of force necessary [...] The right to collective defense is, in the end, a means to protect the Japanese people and thus, it cannot be used to protect the citizenry of other countries even if our countries have close relations. Furthermore, we maintain our stance of exclusive defense (senshu boei) – pre-emptive strikes are not permitted.”

So if we are to believe his word (whether he is believable or not depends on the person) there are these criteria (which are certainly subjective and up to interpretation) which must be fulfilled before the right can be used.

So what does it not mean then?


Ministry of Defense, Japan

What it does not mean, however, is that Japan would be able to attack a sovereign country by itself or launch an attack on another country in the name of self defense. Nor does it mean that Japan will be able to join another country in a preemptive strike, nor an invasion or another country. Supply support assisting other countries (as can be seen in the case of Afghanistan in 2001) seems to be perfectly fine though. But it does not mean a “rearming” of Japan because there haven’t been any clear reports of an increase in military spending – the limit of 1.0% of GDP seems to have been kept steady, so far.

Article 9 of the constitution still remains in effect and has not been repealed, even though the current prime minister would probably have done so if he could. Unfortunately for him, a change in the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in both the lower house of parliament (which he has), the upper house of parliament (which he does not), and a national referendum. And according to surveys, the public is both opposed to the current move toward allowing the right to collective defense, and certainly even more to the revision of article 9 as a whole.

So until that is changed, Japan’s military policy is legally restricted by the constitution even though, as we can see, that is liable to reinterpretation.

Regarding the next part

There are lots of things which this article hasn’t covered – the stuff I’ve covered here are pretty much more of the logistics and the history behind the JSDF. There is much more to the subject, but I’ll be continuing that in another article (coming out next week). This one will look directly at the JSDF, what the public thinks about it, and whether or not Japan really is “militarizing” or not.

Stay tuned.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Ryan Vandendyck: What It’s Like To Localize Games To And From Japan Fri, 08 Aug 2014 16:00:47 +0000 Like many of you, I’ve enjoyed some great JRPGs. In fact, they’re one of the reasons I started getting into the Japanese culture in the first place. That being said, when someone says they’re making a modern JRPG, especially one inspired by a personal favorite series, I become suspicious. Maybe, in all honesty, I should say I get upset. Sure, other people have played it to. But some of these games mean a lot to me. It’s rare to find others who I feel “get it,” especially amongs game developers who may be dropping a name to attract an audience.

Ryan Vandendyck is not one of these developers. Ryan and his company, Eden Industries, slowly earned my trust, enough for them to be the first Kickstarter I ever funded. Even after his Kickstarter had failed, Ryan kept pushing. I kept in contact with him to see what his game, Citizens of Earth, was about for another website. While talking about some of the games he’d worked on, I learned something: The difference between the localization of western games and Japanese games had changed in areas that were unexpected. I’m no stranger to playing the Japanese version of a game, but I had assumed my knowledge was fairly complete. This was not the case, so I hunted Ryan down at his booth at a recent gaming even to ask him some questions.

Who is Ryan Vandendyck?


Ryan is the founder and CEO of Eden Industries, an indie game development company. He has worked with several game companies, including Ubisoft, Activision, Sega of America, THQ, and Next Level Games. Through Next Level, Ryan was able to work with Nintendo of Japan on games like Super Mario Strikers and, more recently, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon.

After striking out on his own and having his first Kickstarter fail, he was still able to make his game Waveform and have it localized in Japan through PLAYISM and their parent company Active Gaming Media. This is why I felt confident backing his second game, Citizens of Earth, which also went to Kickstarter and failed, but was picked up by Atlus of America after Eden Industries kept working on it, getting the game OKed by Steam and being set to release on the Wii U before Atlus was able to lend them a hand.

As you might suspect, Ryan isn’t one to give up. While he’s not as famous as Shigeru Miyamoto (yet), he has been interviewed by several popular gaming websites, most notably Destructoid on two occasions. A quick google search will also reveal a few of this other interviews on various topics. However, I wanted to focus a bit more on his more recent experience working with a well known Japanese company like Nintendo, compare it to some of the American game companies he’s worked for, and also see what it was like moving a western game to Japan.

The Game Making Game: East vs. West

Waveform: Moving from West to East

So this wouldn’t be much of an article if there wasn’t always some preconceived notions set in place. I’m sure enough people are familiar with some of the ideas that Japanese businesses do things differently, but also that Japanese, heck, Asian games in general, are different from western games. The often cited example of localization changes made between the two areas is that of Super Mario Bros 2 in Japan, which was The Lost Levels in America. The Japanese game was mostly a remake of the original, but made more difficult, which Nintendo of America feared would put-off too many western gamers. I had assumed that, out of all the localization issues in mostly action games, like Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, difficulty would surly be one thing that changed. Only, it didn’t. Ryan said he was never approached about changing the game’s AI for a different region. In fact, he was never approached about any localization needs at all. He said:

“Nothing was ever mentioned to me about it, no. Personally I think such an attempt would have been very misguided (which is why I think it wasn’t done). The AI was very finely tuned in the game, and included intensely finely detailed things like movement speed, animation speeds, transitions between animations, turn radai for characters, etc. Re-tuning that all would’ve been very difficult, and I think would’ve resulted in a worse game since the way it was tuned was meant to be the best! And thus any deviation from that would’ve probably just made it worse.”


Now, this isn’t to say that localization of gameplay in games in dead. I know that in massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), Asian games still are known for having a grind, or a large amount of rather simple but repetitive actions needs to progress. It wasn’t always that way, and is changing, but from personal experience, I’m still noticing that asian games often ask me to gain more experience or kill more monsters to, say, gain a level, than western MMOs do, and that this is changed when the game is westernized, such as with a certain Korean MMO that is still being localized. However, for actual difficulty, this difference may be fading out. Ryan’s experience with getting his first game, Waveform, localized was fairly easy. At no time was Ryan asked to make his game more difficult for Japanese players, and PLAYISM never requested permission to do so on their own. In fact, the only change they were interested in concerned fonts, since kanji is just a wee-bit more complex than our English characters. Because of that, multiple fonts are needed for playing the game on different devices that use different resolutions so that the font can be, well, read!

Much like with gameplay, changes with business interactions aren’t what they used to be. From Ryan’s experience, they still occur, but the severity of the situations isn’t as bad as some people in previous generations may have mentioned. At least to Ryan, the relationship between Next Level Games and Nintendo was a “pretty close relationship by the time Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon was in development since they had worked on many titles together in the past.” He didn’t notice any major moments of culture shock for either party, but still there were differences:

“For me the prevailing surprise/difference was the way people would state their opinion about various things in the game. So a North American developer might go,”Hey this feature really sucks, have you tried x instead?”

And a Japanese one would go, “We notice this feature is exhibiting some strange behavior. We’d appreciate if it functioned more in line with the previously stated specification.” Which is somehow both more polite and more forceful at the same time! So trying to interpret the cross-cultural way of expressing ideas is always a challenge.”

The usual business about certain procedures and protocols, however, seems to be unchanged. Ryan said:

“I think with western companies, everything is a bit more open, and sort of approachable, and you can chat a bit more, but with the Japanese, it goes through a lot of layers of protocol, and bureaucracy, and things like that, so definitely, sometimes it feels like you’re jumping through a lot of hoops, but again, to their credit, they have a really good attention to detail, so sometimes in the end, if that makes a really good product, even if there’s trouble along the way.”

Now that attention to detail might sound a bit forced to some, but let me put in some context. The very first thing Ryan mentioned when I asked about the difference between working with Nintendo versus western companies was their “laser like focus” and wanting to make their game better. It isn’t that western games didn’t want to make a good game, but there was more pressure to make a deadline for, say, movie ties-ins. Even if he wanted more time, he’d be told the game just had to ship as is with some western companies. This could just be a Nintendo thing, since from feedback, Ryan was never made aware of anything his game might have lacked. From gamers, players would say anything from “this game is too hard” to the usual “I love playing this with my kids” type of thing. From the Japanese, though, was just compliments, like “Thank you for making this game.” Granted, this could be due to the language barrier, but online, one would think if someone were very upset, they could at least run their sentence through a translation website and dump that into a review for the game in order to get Ryan’s attention.

Sadly, those curious about more personal sides of the business will have to look for different voices, as Ryan’s Japanese co-workers generally had little interaction with him or were dealt with through a different company.

East Meets West, Then Wants to Re-Meet East: Citizens of Earth For Japan?

As mentioned, Ryan’s current project, Citizens of Earth, is essentially a JRPG made in the west, currently looking at an October 14 release date. Ryan’s unsure what, if anything, might be changed in the localization process. But with such a diverse cast of characters in both genders and ethnicities, one would hope that there would be little done to change the game. In fact, there was a recent contest to allow fans to make their own addition to the roster, which had some interesting results. The winning citizen was the “bee-keeper girl,” but there was also an astronaut, LARP wizard, puppeteer, and a stuntman. Ryan mentioned ,“There were some pretty bizarre ones. We had a whale trainer, there was a guy… I don’t know, he wore a paper bag on his head, there were a lot of people who were just video game fans, video game testers, but we felt those final five[…] would be a good fit.” While I would have loved the LARP wizard, that one certainly might have been hard to localize, though I feel the Whale Trainer could have been a good fit and a strong nod to the Pokemon fans.

Ryan says that the gameplay should remind people of games like Dragon Quest and Pokemon, but from what little I’m allowed to share (due to my alpha non-disclosure agreement), it will naturally remind players of Earthbound as well. The combat certainly feels like something I’d expect from a JRPG, and that isn’t bad, especially when it has a modern feel, largely thanks to rolling hit points instead of straight subtracting of damage from health totals. However, you can’t just copy what’s already been done, and the game overall had a western touch I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Ryan helped me out by saying:

We took inspiration from games like Skyrim where you’re never at a loss for side-quests and exploration while you weave in and out of the main story. In Citizens of Earth, most of the side-quests involve recruiting new Citizens to your team, though of course there are plenty of other things to do and see as well!


Now, most JRPGs do have sidequests, especially these days, but one thing I felt that stood out (that you could experience from the game’s demo) were world objects that grant you experience for exploring. For example, examining a trophy in a traditional JRPG when I was a kid usually had some funny reference to something in the real world, or might give me some in game currency or item. Many modern western games, however, will often grant experience for this exploration. I think it’s a small addition, but one I’ve really enjoyed in, say, Bioware games.

The game also utilizes different kinds of mini-games to change things up. For example, to recruit a used care salesman, your character becomes a car and you do laps around a track. If you touch another car, your RPG battle begins, but you use the car instead of your own character in the fight. Other mini-games include battle casinos, a Dance Dance Revolution inspired mini-game, and a soda drinking contest, among others you’ll have to find yourself. Personally, with respect to my NDA, what I saw in the demo alone seems like it wouldn’t need too much localization outside of translation. According to Ryan, Atlus of Japan representatives visited his booth at E3, but were in and out before he was made aware of them. With the game being released on PS3, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U, and Steam, it should be easy to market, especially since the team’s hard work on making each system’s port feel natural, not to mention exclusive content for each version.

If the game does indeed get localized for Japan (which is what Ryan is hoping for), I’d love to ask Ryan what the changes were and why they were made. Perhaps it’ll be a future topic I’ll cover.

If you would like to read the full interview, you can do so here.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Five Ways To Experience Japan Without Leaving Home Thu, 07 Aug 2014 16:00:49 +0000 I’m sure for a lot of us, visiting or living in Japan is high on our list of things to do. But when you can’t make the trip overseas, there are lots of ways to experience Japan without getting on a plane. In fact, some of these you can try without even leaving home! Of course, I’ve left some basic suggestions off – like learning Japanese, reading blogs about Japan, and eating Japanese food – because you have probably already thought of those. But here are some things that might be new to you!

Community Service


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

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

Communication is Key


Photo by liz west

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

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

Abandoned Places


Photo by Kenta Mabuchi

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

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

Hobby Time


Photo by halfrain

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

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

Analog Sources


Photo by Samantha Marx

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

Do It All for the Experience


Photo by moominsean

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Lords of Kumamoto: Kato Kiyomasa and the Hosokawa Wed, 06 Aug 2014 16:00:15 +0000 Last fall I visited Kumamoto Castle. Though mostly a reconstruction, it’s impressive nonetheless. There is currently a regular live show on the castle grounds, in which actors dressed as famous samurai stage mock fights and deliver stirring speeches to dramatic music. Chief among them was Kato Kiyomasa, lord of Kumamoto Castle. Entertaining though it was, I couldn’t help but think, “If the real Kato Kiyomasa were here, he would despise this.”

Kato Kiyomasa was an uncompromising military man. However, his family’s reign in Kumamoto only lasted two generations. They were replaced by the Hosokawa family, who ruled there throughout the remainder of the Edo period. Kato Kiyomasa and the Hosokawa lords had vastly different views on how a warrior should live, one uncompromisingly militaristic and the other a balance of war and art.

The Demon General


Let’s look at our first representative in this debate, the uber-aggressive and finely-bearded Kato Kiyomasa (1561-1611). He was the son of a blacksmith, born near Nagoya. Kiyomasa first rose to prominence thanks to his accomplishments fighting for Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Battle of Shizugatake (1583), and became known as one of the “Seven Spears of Shizugatake.”


Kiyomasa fought in Hideyoshi’s 1586 conquest of Kyushu. Two years later, Hideyoshi awarded half of Higo Domain (including Kumamoto) to Kato Kiyomasa, and the other half to Konishi Yukinaga (1555-1600). Yukinaga was a Christian convert, while Kiyomasa was a staunch follower of Nichiren Buddhism. The two hated each other.


Kiyomasa also played a large role in Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea (1592-1598), commanding one of two vanguard divisions. The other division of the initial invasion was led by none other than his least favorite neighbor, Konishi Yukinaga. Despite their antagonism, the invasion was quite successful at first.

The invasion later stagnated due to Korean naval campaigns and Chinese intervention. The Japanese settled in and built many forts and castles to solidify their position. Kiyomasa designed and oversaw the construction of several, skills he would later use to greatly expand Kumamoto Castle to the form we know now.


Oh, and in his down time, he hunted tigers. Yeah. Tigers.


After Hideyoshi’s death in 1598 the invasion ended, and conflict between Toyotomi and Tokugawa supporters began. Kiyomasa did not participate in the decisive Battle of Sekigahara (1600), but sided with the Tokugawa and fought Toyotomi allies in Kyushu. For his support, the victorious Tokugawa awarded him the remaining half of Higo, which Kiyomasa governed until he died of illness in 1611.

The Hosokawa


In 1632, Kato Kiyomasa’s heir Tadahiro was arrested for conspiring against the shogun and Higo was confiscated from the Kato family. It was given to Hosokawa Tadatoshi (1586-1641). In contrast to the humble beginnings of the Kato, the Hosokawa were a family with a long history of status, influence, and culture. Descended from the Minamoto, through the Ashikaga, the Hosokawa could claim the blood of two shogun families in their veins. They held many prominent positions and, over time, governed in Shikoku, Kinai, Kokura, and lastly, Kumamoto. This clan reigned in a vastly different way than Kiyomasa.

Hosokawa Tadaoki (1563-1646), fought his first battle at age fifteen and in in many campaigns thereafter, including Hideyoshi’s conquest of Kyushu. His heir, Hosokawa Tadatoshi participated in the suppression of the Shimabara Revolt (1637-38).

Way of the Warrior


Photo by Tranletuhan

Let’s broach the subject of bushido 武士道. Usually translated as the “way of the warrior,” people today generally think of it as a code of ethics followed by the samurai, kind of like chivalry among European knights. The term is hundreds of years old, but appears only rarely until the modern era. It is, for the most part, a term that people of the modern age have projected back on the past.

However, that’s not to say that some samurai didn’t have strong opinions about how a warrior should live his life. Kato Kiyomasa was one such samurai, and he wrote a set of precepts outlining his thoughts on the ideal warrior lifestyle. Since it’s a short document, I have quoted it in full. You may notice that the word bushido does appear, but since I was unable to find the original text, I am relying on William Scott Wilson’s translation. I don’t know if the word bushido actually appears in the original.

“The Precepts of Kato Kiyomasa”


Photo by Dreamcat115


One should not be negligent in the way of the retainer. One should rise at four in the morning, practice sword technique, eat one’s meal, and train with the bow, the gun, and the horse. For a well developed retainer, he should become even more so.
If one should want diversions, he should make them such outdoor pastimes such as falconing, deer hunting and wrestling.

For clothing, anything between cotton and natural silk will do. A man who squanders money for clothing and brings his household finances into disorder is fit for punishment. Generally one should further himself with armor that is appropriate for his social position, sustain his retainers, and use his money for martial affairs.

When associating with one’s ordinary companions, one should limit the meeting to one guest and one host, and the meal should consist of plain brown rice. When practicing the martial arts, however, one may meet with many people.

As for the decorum at the time of a campaign, one must be mindful that he is a samurai. A person who loves beautification where it is unnecessary is fit for punishment.

The practice of Noh Drama is absolutely forbidden. When one unsheathes his sword, he has cutting a person down on his mind. Thus, as all things are born from being placed in one’s heart, a samurai who practices dancing, which is outside of the martial arts, should be ordered to commit seppuku.

One should put forth great effort in matters of learning. One should read books concerning military matters, and direct his attention exclusively to the virtues of loyalty and filial piety. Reading Chinese poetry, linked verse, and waka is forbidden. One will surely become womanized if he gives his heart knowledge of such elegant and delicate refinements. Having been born into the house of a warrior, one’s intentions should be to grasp the long and the short swords and to die

If a man does not investigate into the matter of Bushido daily, it will be difficult for him to die a brave and manly death. Thus, it is essential to engrave this business of the warrior into one’s mind well.

The above conditions should be adhered to night and day. If there is anyone who finds these conditions difficult to fulfill, he should be dismissed, an investigation should be quickly carried out, it should be signed and sealed that he was unable to mature in the Way of Manhood, and he should be driven out. To this, there is no doubt


Kato Kazuenokami Kiyomasa

Hosokawa, Rennaisance Clan


In an approach nearly the absolute opposite of Kato Kiyomasa, Hosokawa Tadaoki was accomplished not only in matters of war, but also of peace. He was a seasoned warrior, with plenty of experience on the front lines. He was well versed in the designing of castles, and responsible for some innovations in armor.


Sword mountings made by Tadaoki

He was one of the closest students of Sen no Rikyu, developer of the tea ceremony, and a tea master in his own right. He was also a poet, a painter, and a master of lacquer ware.

An eggplant shaped sake flask created by Tadaoki

After his son was given Higo Domain, Tadaoki retired there, at Yatsushiro Castle. During his retirement he commissioned the creation of the Kouda-yaki style of ceramics.

Modern kouda-yaki cup

Hosokawa Tadatoshi continued the family tradition of balancing martial and peaceful pursuits. He was an avid swordsman, proficient in the Yagyu Shinkage style. He also became well acquainted with the legendary swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, a friendship that highlighted his balanced approached to samuraihood. The two initially met at a poetry circle in Kyoto. Musashi’s prowess in dueling and the arts interested Tadatoshi. Eventually, Musashi entered his service, and wrote The Thirty-Five Articles of the Martial Arts at his behest.


Tadatoshi also designed the Suizenji Jojū-en, a garden in Kumamoto. It was originally a tea retreat, the location chosen for its clean spring water. Much of the garden was designed to replicate the fifty-three post stations of the Tokaido, the road from Kyoto to Edo. The easiest example to spot is the mini Mt. Fuji, seen above.

The Sword? The Brush? Both?


Kato Kiyomasa and his opinions could be seen as a reflection of his time. The chaos of constant war allowed lowborn men such as him to rise in status, and his obsession with martial pursuits served him well. However, as the wars drew to an end, it was the attitudes exemplified by the Hosokawa that took hold with the warrior class during the peace of the Tokugawa era. With little fighting to be done, bureaucrats were needed more than soldiers. At the same time, samurai continued to train for battle, and dojo culture flourished. Two attitudes indicative of the Sengoku Period and Edo Period, respectively. And both housed within the mighty walls of Kumamoto Castle.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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  • Cobbing, Andrew. Kyushu, Gateway to Japan.
  • Kent: Global Oriental Ltd., 2009
  • Matsumoto, Sumio; Itakasu, Kazuko; Kudo, Kei’ichi; Ikai, Takaaki. Kumamoto-ken no rekishi.
  • Tokyo: Yamakawa Shuppansha, 1999.
  • Swope, Kenneth M. A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War.
  • Norman: University of Oklahoma, 2009.
  • Wilson, William Scott. Ideals of the Samurai.
  • Ohara Publications, 1982.
  • Wilson, William Scott. The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi.
  • Shambhala Publications, 2013.
  • “Hosoakawa Tadaoki.”
  • “Hosokawa Tadatoshi.”
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A Crash Course in Japanese Poetry Tue, 05 Aug 2014 16:00:12 +0000 I remember reading Japanese poetry for the first time in the second grade. Don’t ask why it stuck with me; I just remember reading a haiku by Matsuo Bashō and thinking it was awesome. I remembered it well enough that I sought out Bashō’s poetry as I grew older. Along with video games, I attribute Bashō with fomenting an early interest in Japan for me.

Here’s the lesson: if a seven-year-old can read and enjoy Japanese poetry, so can you. I consider the appreciation of Japanese poetry to be like an onion: there are many, many layers to it. The outmost layer is simply reading Japanese poetry in translation and enjoying it as it is. At its deepest core, enjoyment is reading it in the original Japanese, with deep knowledge of the range and breadth of both Japanese and Chinese poetry (Japanese poetry is full of references to Chinese poetry and other Japanese poetry).

My goal here is to give you a very broad overview of the history of Japanese poetry and a crash course in its terminology. I’ll leave plenty of space for the poetry itself, which I believe is the best way to show you how great it is. In fact, if you’re not interested in learning what the types of poetry are called (“Terminology” below) and when they were written (“History” below), just skip on down to the poetry section. Enjoy!



Traditional Japanese poetry comes in many highly technical forms. You’ve probably all heard of haiku, but there are many more types of Japanese poetry. The most significant are the chōka, tanka, renga, haikai, renku, hokku, and haiku.

The chōka and tanka are both forms of waka. In a nutshell, the chōka is a long waka, and the tanka is a short waka. Over time, the tanka became much more popular; as a result, waka and tanka are sometimes used interchangably.

According to the amazing Princeton Companion to Japanese Literature: the renga is made up of linked stanzas of tanka, “joined in sequence so that each made an integral poetic unit with its predecessor . . . but without semantic connection with any other stanza in the sequence made of such alterations.” It probably won’t surprise you to learn that there were crazy complex rules as to what kinds of stanzas went in what order, and a single renga might be written by as many as three different poets.

The haikai is a relaxed form of renga (originally with light-hearted themes as well), and renku is the modern name for haikai. The hokku is the opening stanza of a renga or haikai with three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. If you’re familiar with haiku, that structure will sound mighty familiar. In fact, the haiku developed out of the hokku – but the concept of the haiku as a freestanding form wasn’t developed until the late 1800s. Yes, this means that Bashō, who is generally thought of as the greatest haiku poet, didn’t technically write any haiku, since they didn’t exist when he was around. Bashō wrote a lot of hokku though!

There’s a lot more depth, meaning, and technical differences between all of these terms – and plenty of terms that I left out. But having some idea about these is a good place to start.



There seems to be little consensus among scholars as to how Japanese poetry should be historically divided and classified, except that there is old poetry and modern poetry. So, even if I wanted to give you a detailed, blow-by-blow diatribe on the eras of Japanese poetry, I’d be hard-pressed to do so without parsing a lot of sources. Instead, I’ve touched here on some of the more important works and players and tried to provide some broad context in the process.

The earliest Japanese poetry was part of an oral tradition and is almost entirely lost. And even once the Japanese started writing stuff down, a lot of the early emphasis was on poetry in Chinese (“kanshi”). The first major written collection of Japanese poetry (in Japanese) is found in the Kojiki, dated 712 C.E. The bulk of the Kojiki is devoted to stories about the gods and Japanese rulers. Eight years later, the Nihon Shoki was produced; it too focused on gods and rulers. These early compositions also recorded some poems and songs that had been passed down orally.

And then, less than fifty years later, came the Man’yōshū, the book of “Ten Thousand Leaves”, whose last datable poem was penned around 759. It is the oldest extant collection of Japanese poetry. The Man’yōshū is huge (20 volumes) and its poems span almost two centuries (sometime around 600 C.E. to 759 C.E.). Unlike later collections, the Man’yōshū wasn’t organized very rigidly and, although we think of it as a Japanese collection, it contained some Chinese-language poetry and prose as well. Many of its poems were anonymous, ostensibly written by frontier guards and other normal folk. But the poems that were written by non-scholars were generally rewritten by the formal scholars and poets whose work makes up much of the Man’yōshū. The Man’yōshū was hugely influential on subsequent generations of Japanese writers and poets, and it remains one of the most important works of Japanese literature.

In the early 10th century, the Kokinshū, a collection of waka, was commissioned and completed. Like the Man’yōshū, the Kokinshū included poems spanning several centuries. Unlike the Man’yōshū, the Kokinshū was rigidly organized by topic, a theme that would have a huge impact on subsequent poetry in Japan. Organization was taken seriously at all levels; for example, the love poems were ordered in such a way “to show the presumed process of a courtly love affair.” (Princeton Companion)

Around the same time as the Kokinshū, a number of female writers rose to prominence in Japan. Fujiwara Michitsuna’s mother (“The Gossamer Years”), Murasaki Shikibu (“The Tale of Genji”), Sei Shōnagon (“The Pillow Book”), Izumi Shikibu, and Sugawara Takasue no Musume (“The Sarashina Diary”) were among the many prominent female writers of the time. Although these women primarily wrote prose, poetry was an integral part of most of their works. Poetry compilations of the time include many of their poems.

A bit later, in the 12th century, the Buddhist monk Saigyō wrote waka that would have an enormous impact on Bashō and other subsequent Japanese writers. In the early 13th century, the Shinkokinshū was compiled and published. Like the Kokinshū, it has twenty books and almost two thousand poems. Its poems span hundreds of years, some dating back to the time of the Man’yōshū. The renga, which had existed for hundreds of years, evolved into its own distinct style around this time.

The next major event in Japanese poetry came in the 17th century, when the haikai became extremely popular, in large part due to the work of Matsuo Bashō. Bashō was a prolific writer and traveler who wrote hokku, haibun (a style that combines prose and poetry), and other forms of poetry and prose. I believe the Princeton Companion’s entry on Bashō says it better than I can:

In an age of political rigidity and control, [Bashō’s] sense of time, suffering, and death led him to combine – with a skill no other lyric poet has shown – the high and the low, the objective with the subjective, the commonplace with the tragic. . . . Much of our knowledge of our world and ourselves may be derived from his writing.

After Japan opened to the West in the 19th century, Japanese poetry underwent a transformation as a result of the influence of Western poetry. More freeform styles of poetry began appearing, and the more traditional styles underwent their own transformations. Many Japanese poets who wrote after World War II are labeled as “post-war”, although newer poetry is frequently labeled as simply “modern.”

The Good Stuff


And now for the actual poetry! The original Japanese is provided when possible and poems are ordered chronologically by birth date of author.

On the Death of the Emperor Temmu by Empress Jitō (645-702), from Women Poets of Japan

Even flaming fire
can be snatched up, smothered
and carried in a bag.
Why then can’t I
meet my dead lord again?

Untitled by Kakinomoto Hitomaro (d. 708-715), from One Hundred Poems from the Japanese

Kamo yama no
My girl is waiting for me

Iwane shi makeru
And does not know

Ware wo kamo
That my body will stay here

Shira ni to imo ga Machitsutsu aramu
On the rocks of Mount Kamo.

Man’yōshū, XIX: 4290 by Ōtomo Yakamochi (718-785), from Japanese Court Poetry

Haru no no ni
Now it is spring –

Kasumi tanabiki
And across the moors the haze

Stretches heavily –

Kono yūkage ni
And within these rays at sunset,

Uguisu naku mo.
A warbler fills the radiant mist with song.

Man’yōshū, XIV: 3570 by Anonymous, from Japanese Court Poetry

Ashi no ha ni
I shall miss you most

Yūgiri tachite
When twilight brings the rising mists

Kamo ga ne no
To hang upon the reeds

Samuki yūbe shi
And as the evening darkens cold

Na oba shinuban.
With mallards’ cries across the marsh.

Kokinshū, XVII: 879 by Ariwara Narihira (818-893), from Japanese Court Poetry

Ōkata wa
Lovely as it is,

Tsuki o mo medeji
The moon will never win my praise –

Kore zo kono
No, not such a thing,

Tsumoreba hito no
Whose accumulated splendors heap

Oi to naru mono.
The burden of old age on man.

Untitled by Ono no Komachi (833-857), from Women Poets of Japan

He does not come.
Tonight in the dark of the moon
I wake wanting him.
My breasts heave and blaze.
My heart chars.

Untitled by Murasaki Shikibu (974-1031), from Women Poets of Japan

This life of ours would not cause you sorrow
if you thought of it as like
the mountain cherry blossoms
which bloom and fade in a day.

Untitled by Saigyō (1118-1190), from A Reader’s Guide to Japanese Literature

Gazing at them,
these blossoms have grown
so much a part of me,
to part with them when they fall
seems bitter indeed!

Shinkokinshū, IV: 361 by Jakuren (d. 1202), from Japanese Court Poetry

Sabishisa wa
Loneliness –

Sono iro to shi mo
The essential color of a beauty

Not to be defined:

Maki tatsu yama no
Over the dark evergreens, the dusk

Aki no yūgure.
That gathers on far autumn hills.

Untitled by Bashō (1644-1694), from Basho: The Complete Haiku

nozarashi o
weather beaten

kokoro ni kaze no
wind pierces my body

shimu mi kana
to my heart

Untitled by Bashō (1644-1694), from Basho: The Complete Haiku

yagate shinu
soon to die

keshiki wa miezu
yet showing no sign

semi no koe
the cicada’s voice

Untitled by Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), from A Reader’s Guide to Japanese Literature

Beneath the bright
Cherry blossoms
None are indeed
Utter strangers.

Untitled by Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), from The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature

mihotoko mo
Buddha too –

tobira o akete
he’s opened his altar doors,

suzumi kana
cooling off

The Oyster Shell by Kambara Ariake (1876-1952), from The Poetry of Living Japan

An oyster in his shell
Lives in a boundless sea,
Alone, precarious, limited,
How miserable his thoughts . . .

Unseeing and unhelped,
He sleeps behind a sheltering rock.
But in his wakeful moments he must sense
The ebb and flow of the infinite deep.

Though the turning tide at dawn
May flood in to its height,
The oyster’s being, destined to decay,
Is tied to a narrow shell.

The evening star, so luminous,
Turns the waves to crests of corn:
Us it reminds of a distant dove –
Of what avail to him?

How sad a fate! Profound, unbearable,
The music of the ocean
Still confounds him day and night.
He closes tight his narrow home.

But on that day of storm
When woods along the sea are shattered,
How shall it survive – the oyster shell,
His shelter, left to die a destined death?

Late Autumn by Hagiwara Sakutaro (1886-1942), from The Poetry of Living Japan

The train was passing overhead,
And my thoughts meandered into the shade.
Looking back, I was surprised to find
How my heart was at rest!
Streets were strewn with the autumn sun’s last rays,
Traffic crowded the highway.
Does my life exist at all?
Yet in the window of a humble house,
Along a back street where the smoke still hung,
Purple hollyhocks were blooming.

Untitled by Katsura Nobuko (1914-2004), from A Long Rainy Season

My mother’s soul
viewing the plum blossoms,
returning at night.

Untitled by Itami Kimiko (b. 1925), from A Long Rainy Season

What lives in the lake
filled with a blue
that has no name?

Concerning Obscenity by Shuntarō Tanikawa (b. 1931), from The Selected Poems of Shuntarō Tanikawa

No matter how pornographic a movie
it can’t be as obscene
as a couple in love.
If love is something human
obscenity too is something human.
Lawrence, Miller, Rodin,
Picasso, Utamaro, the Manyō poets:
were they ever afraid of obscenity?
It is not a movie that is obscene
we are the ones basically obscene
warmly, gently, vigorously,
and with such ugliness and shame –
we are obscene
days and nights obscene
with nothing else, obscene.

Final Thoughts


I suspect most of us have felt the sting of unrequited love. From reading her poem above, I know that Ono no Komachi once felt the same pain: “My heart chars.” Like the other poems I chose, these words speak to me in a profound way, despite being written well over a thousand years ago by a woman from a culture very, very different from my own. This to me is the true beauty of poetry: its ability to reach across time and space to touch those who read it. Likewise, I hope you enjoyed the poetry here, and that some of it spoke to you as well. If you are interested in learning more, seek out some of the books from the bibliography – they’re all great.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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  • Miner, Earl; Odagiri, Hiroko; and Morrell, Robert E. The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.
  • Rimer, J. Thomas. A Reader’s Guide to Japanese Literature. New York: Kodansha International, 1988.
  • Rexroth, Kenneth and Atsumi, Ikuko. Women Poets of Japan. New York: New Directions Books, 1977.
  • Rexroth, Kenneth. One Hundred Poems from the Japanese. New York: New Directions Books, 1964.
  • Brower, Robert and Miner, Earl. Japanese Court Poetry. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1961.
  • Reichhold, Jane. Basho: The Complete Haiku. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2008.
  • Rimer, J. Thomas and Gessel, Van C. The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
  • Ninomiya, Takamichi and Enright, D.J. The Poetry of Living Japan. New York: Grove Press, 1957.
  • Lowitz, Leza; Aoyama, Miyuki; and Tomioka, Akemi. A Long Rainy Season. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1994.
  • Wright, Harold. The Selected Poems of Shuntarō Tanikawa. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1983.
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Takahiro Hotta: The Samurai Actor That Has Killed 10,000 People Wed, 30 Jul 2014 16:00:22 +0000 The samurai is one of the most significant symbols of Japan. Japanese people, and even non-Japanese people, are fascinated by this class of warriors. Because of this high interest I wanted to conduct an interview with a samurai, however, no real samurai exist anymore. Then I tried to think about the next best thing: a samurai actor! Luckily, by chance I know a real samurai actor, though the way I met him is such an embarrassing story. However, I’ll reveal it to you right now, if only to show you his incredibly thoughtful samurai spirit.

I was rather intoxicated one winter night in Kyoto, Japan. To be honest, I have no memory of that night, and I passed out in the Sanjo arcade while on the way to my friend’s house. Believe it or not, the person who found me and took care of me was a “samurai.” He wasn’t dressed as a samurai at the time, but the next day I learned that he was a samurai actor when I visited Toei Movie Village to thank him and return his tenugui, which he lent me when I threw up in a bush next to a park, cut the skin on my nose on a branch, and got a nosebleed. Again, I don’t remember the story so everything I do know came from what he told me of it later. I regretted all of this a lot, yet it gave me the great opportunity to meet this samurai actor, Mr. Takahiro Hotta. He was as kind as he was back then when he accepted my interview request for this article and volunteered his time to answer my questions and his samurai modeling skills for a photo shoot. So I’d like to send a very special thanks to Hotta-san!

Now let’s find out more about him and what he does for a living.

Name: Takahiro Hotta. Occupation: Samurai.


Name: 堀田貴裕 (Takahiro Hotta)
Age: 32
Birthday: December 27, 1981
Occupation: Actor (Mainly Jidaigeki)
Company: TOEI KYOTO STUDIO Co., Ltd. (the same from the MOVIE VILLAGE!)

1. How long have you been samurai?

I started at the age of 18, right after graduating from high school. So it’s been 15 years.

2. How many films/plays have you been in?

Countless, espeically if you count all the shows in the movie village as well. I do the show 6 times a day, about 10 days every month, and I have done that for 15 years. So…how many have there been? When I play in a musical, it often runs for over a month with shows every day. If I count every single play, I wouldn’t be pushing it if I said 10,000 or more. I’m not sure how many because our company does various films, dramas and plays and I’m called to so many places. Sorry.

3. What kinds of films/plays have you been in?

Some of the samurai films/plays I’ve been in include Mito Kōmon (水戸黄門), The Inner Chambers (大奥, Ōoku), The Hatchōbori Seven (八丁堀ノ七人 Hatchobori no Shichinin), Abarenbō Shōgun (暴れん坊将軍), etc…
Actually, I often play more than one role in a film. In one film, for example, I once played the role of a lord watching a samurai match in the presence of the Emperor and later appeared as a retainer prostrating myself before another lord and then later appeared as a samurai in a fight sequence. It doesn’t typically happen if I have even one line in a film, but if I do a nonspeaking and unrecognizable part, it’s pretty common to play many roles. I once played a lord and a farmer in the same film and in another I played five separate roles in one day of shooting. I do various roles, though the most common role is as a samurai, good guy or bad. Maybe I play bad ones more than good ones though – the ones who get killed at the end. A much larger portion of my work these days is found in plays, ever since the decline of the samurai film and drama industry. Yet, 80% of my job is still reserved for samurai films and dramas. Contemporary plays make up the other 20%.

4. What is your favorite film that you have been in and why?

Ummm…that’s tough to decide, but if I had to choose one, I’d go with Mito Kōmon (水戸黄門) because the entire film staff worked well with each other and were united in the same goal. Additionally, all the actors and actresses got along so well with each other. It was so great to shoot in an environment where people so readily communicate and understand each other because it made the work that much easier. There were also a lot of professional and skilled people there and I found a lot of inspiration while working on that film. I’m not sure if viewers felt it while sitting in front of the TV, but the atmosphere while shooting Mito Kōmon was very serious and tense, and I really liked it. It was one of the most memorable films I have been in.

5. Why did you want to become a samurai actor?


I grew up in Uzumasa where the TOEI KYOTO STUDIO is located so I had familiarized myself with samurai plays since I was little. For example, I was able to see a samurai with a topknot (the bun on his head) and wearing straw sandals in the shopping arcade near my house. I also saw one of the main cast members of Mito Kōmon, who was playing the role of an elderly nobleman, drinking coffee at a café. Although I wasn’t dreaming of being an actor when I was little (I rather wanted to be a childcare worker since my parents were running a nursery), I became a teenager and started watching TV dramas and plays, and I really enjoyed the samurai films, dramas, and plays. I then got interested in doing a job where I could make people feel moved or energetic, so being an actor became my dream while in junior high school.

Then, when I was in high school, we went to see the musical “The Lion King” by the Shiki Theatrical Company on a school trip. I was shocked at how the actors/actress and the audience can be united by the experience of a musical. It totally changed the way I thought of the play. I originally thought the play was confined to the stage, but then all the animals showed up in and among the audience and that was all completely new to me. That experience is what made me want to act on both screen and stage. Toei does not just samurai films/dramas and samurai plays, but also contemporary plays as well, so I decided to sign with them so that I could act in various forms. With this being said, the biggest reason I chose to be a samurai actor at TOEI was that it was very close to my parents’ house. I was just 5 minutes away from the studio, so it was super convenient. (Hotta-san chuckles)

6. How does one become a samurai actor?

The center of samurai acting in Japan is Kyoto and there are two companies for it – Shochiku Company Limited and TOEI KYOTO STUDIO Co., Ltd. So, if you want to become a samurai actor, contact Shochiku or Toei, or both. Each has auditions and training schools, so it may lead you on your way to being a samurai actor. Tokyo is mainly for contemporary acting, so if you want to be a samurai actor, you have to come to Kyoto.

7. What’s the difference between Shochiku and Toei?

When samurai films were more popular, there were actually more movie companies out there. The five biggest companies were Toei, Shochiku, Daiei, Toho, and Nikkatsu. At the time, Shochiku and Toei were rivals, but we are friendly now. Each company has its own color. Simply put, Toei tends to perform exaggerated, showy samurai sword fighting (i.e. 1 samurai vs. many bad guys), whereas Shochiku tends to pursue more realistic sword fighting (i.e. 1 samurai vs. 1 or 2 bad guys). Now we both want to liven up samurai films/plays/dramas together, so we even exchange actors/actresses sometimes. Our studios are only a 5-minute walk apart, after all.

8. What kind of training do you have to do to be a good samurai actor?

Certainly, learning samurai etiquette and manners is one part of it. If you have no sense of samurai propriety, you can’t be a good samurai actor. You play a role in a samurai society with very strict discipline. Even when performing hara-kiri, you have to conform to the rules of etiquette. You can’t just randomly stab your stomach and die. It’s surprising that there is even etiquette on how to die properly, right? So there is a lot of etiquette for every movement in everyday life – from the way you move to the way your act. The samurai learned all the rules of etiquette in those times, so if you play a samurai role in a sloppy and careless way, you won’t look like a samurai but like an ordinary person walking with a katana sword. It might be a little difficult to understand, but you have to train such etiquette into yourself in order to look like a real samurai. There are many teachers who can teach those points of etiquette in TOEI. One of them has taught it for about 60 years. We often learn from them directly and the other times they come to the site where we are shooting and lecture us on the spot.

9. What is the daily life of a samurai actor?

For example, if I get a job starting at 9 a.m., I usually go arrive around 2 hours early…so around 7 a.m. Then I put some make-up up on, dress up, of course with the samurai wig, and then wait for my time.


Sometimes shooting can begin earlier than scheduled, so everyone is usually there a little earlier to get ready. Then we often ride on a microbus called roke-basu (shortened from location bus) to go to a mountain shooting or a castle shooting until sunset. There are also night scenes to shoot, so we can literally spend an entire day shooting. It really depends on the shooting schedule. There is no fixed set time like a normal office worker’s 9 to 5. It’s a day-by-day schedule. Sometimes shooting lasts until midnight and other times it finishes within 30 minutes. In those cases, preparation time is way longer than the actual shooting. If it is a TV drama series, it usually takes about 3 weeks to shoot one episode, but we don’t spend the whole 3 weeks on just one episode, so it normally takes 3 months to shoot 10 episodes.

10. What is the best thing about being a samurai actor?

There are more than likely numerous answers for this, depending on the person, but to me, it’s to gain opportunities to know about Japanese history and other historical things such as temples, shrines, traditional architectures, Buddhist statues, and etc. We are sometimes permitted entrance to places that are not opened for the public, like shrines and temples, too. Throughout those experiences, I learned a lot of things and I could once again feel the greatness of Japanese culture. For example, I realized how important the sense of season is for the Japanese people once again. There are obviously four seasons, but I hadn’t really been aware of it, at least in the way I am now, before starting as a samurai actor. However, when I go to various shooting spots, I see the difference in trees and plants in each season and find a sense of season in every location each time.

Another great thing about being a samurai actor is to know that people are people. I mean, to know that we are all the same human beings after all. Since actors and actresses in classic film speak a different language from contemporary film, I used to think it was too polite and that it felt a little stuffy. In other words, the samurai speaks really politely to follow the rules of etiquette and the yakuza speak a very rough language. Before I began acting, to me, they seemed as though they were for a completely different type of person. However, once I played various roles, I realized people are just people after all and they feel the same way as we do now, no matter what kind of people they are, or which era they belong to.

Of course, they think differently, but I’m referring to our basic feelings as humans. When they eat delicious food, they find it “delicious” and when they look upon beautiful things, they see beauty. It may sound very obvious and I knew that in my head, but I think I had some stereotype formed in my mind about how the samurai or yakuza would feel since they spoke and speak very differently. And now I realized I was wrong. I learned we are all radically the same as human beings, as we feel the same way no matter how we speak, what we wear, or the times we live in.

Speaking of language differences, it is also great that I can see the roots of our language nowadays. I learned how samurai changed the end of a sentence as a consideration to the person to whom they are talking. It leads to the keigo we use now.

11. What is the worst thing about being a samurai actor?

There are not many bad things about being a samurai actor, so I can’t choose the worst. I’ll just sound off the random bad things instead.

First, the preparation time takes soooo long. It’s also difficult to get used to samurai etiquette and manners because it requires exclusive knowledge. Fighting with swords requires special skills too. Oh, and we are very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. I don’t wear anything underneath the samurai clothes, even in the winter, because it could be shown in the film and ruin the scene, though some people cut up their sweaters and wear them underneath their kimonos. So I am absolutely freezing while acting in the winter.

When it comes to the summer, I sweat a lot because of the samurai wig. Oh, and if the wig doesn’t fit your head, it can give you a headache. It’s said that being an actress/actor requires patience, and that is true because the amount of time spent waiting can be really long. For example, after one hour of shooting, sometimes you have to wait for three hours until the next shooting. You can set the studio up to make it seem as though it is night time even though it is morning and vice versa, so I also tend to lose track of time. Another bad thing is having to go to the bathroom because I have to take all of my clothes off every time. A real samurai probably didn’t suffer from that because there is an easier way, but we have to keep our clothes clean for shooting, so it is a bit troublesome for us. I could be scolded if I wrinkled it up. Once you get used to all of the above though, there there really isn’t anything big, but until you get used to them, they may bother you.

12. What is the most interesting moment you’ve had as a samurai actor?

There are many things, but here’s an example. While reading a script I once found a line like this, “That guy says he is a farmer, but his left waist is a little lower than the right, so he must have been a samurai before.” I thought this line really made sense because all samurai wore their katana sword on their left side. I’m interested in small details like that and get impressed when I come across them.

I like acting but reading such script descriptions is a lot of fun too. If I wasn’t a samurai actor, I would have never been able to read such descriptions and make such connections, so I really appreciate it and think it is very interesting. However, those details are fading in recent samurai films. For example, samurai were all trained to be right handed in those days, but you may find someone acting in a really important role, but they’re left handed. The samurai films for young people focus on trying to be easy-to-understand so they are not really picky about small details like this, at least compared to traditional samurai films. You can pick out such differences in the scripts too. The traditional ones definitely use much more difficult Japanese, albeit still understandable. I do lectures at a voice actor school since samurai actors are often required to dub in their own voices to the film as background noise is recorded while shooting. When I showed both kinds of scripts to my students, they couldn’t read many of the kanji in the traditional samurai film script, whereas they had no problem reading all of the kanji in a recent samurai film scripts. It’s changing to adopt the new generation and it is good, but also a little sad.

13.What’s the funniest moment you’ve had as a samurai actor?

While dressed like a samurai for a shoot and having a break, an elderly woman began walking towards me. I expected to be asked to take a picture with her, but she just stopped in front of me, gazed at me, pressed her palms together, bowed, and worshipped me while murmuring “o-samurai-sama, o-samurai-sama”, and then left. It happened in this very movie village. And it was the funniest moment I’ve had as a samurai actor.

14.How many times have you been killed?

Well, I’ve been killed at least 1.5 times more often than I have killed people, so I’d say more than 16,200 times. Rehearsals for fighting scenes are very serious and elaborate. Even for a 15 seconds scene, we do at least three rehearsals. That means I get killed three times on top of the official version. Some actors want to do the rehearsal 5 or 6 times. And even during the actual shooting, we often take more than one take for one fighting scene. You see me being killed just one time on the screen, but prior to that I had to be killed 10 times to get it just right. (Laugh)

15.How many times have you killed?


Countless, again. I sometimes kill 10 or more people in one show too, though I was killed today. The same math as the first question, but even if I count only the number of people I’ve killed in the shows in the movie village, it will be approximately 6 times a day × 10 days a month × 12 months × 15 years = 10,800. So I’ve definitely killed more than 10,800 people. (Lol)

16.In the past, our readers have been interested in how the samurai speak. What are your top three tips for speaking Japanese like a samurai?

  1. Speak politely while being respectful to other people.
  2. Memorizing famous expressions. One of the famous expressions of the samurai is “ござる (gozaru)” meaning “to be”, but it’s not commonly used in films. We actually use some of the same expressions as modern ones, such as “です (desu), ます (masu), or である (dearu).” Yet, we often use “~仕り候 (tsukamatsuri sourou)” which is used to tell a person of higher status what you have done, or something like that. I think it’s because if we use all samurai era expressions, it would not be easy to understand for viewers. In other words, you can learn famous expressions from samurai films while still understanding the story. So, watching samurai films or dramas is an easy way to pick up famous expressions and practice them. It’ll actually be very good practice for learning modern Japanese too because nowadays people often don’t pronounce the ending of the sentence properly, or they change it into a very rough version of the expression. Yet, in samurai films (especially the traditional samurai films), people speak Japanese very clearly and properly, from the beginning to the end of a sentence. So it will definitely be great way to learn and practice beautiful and polite Japanese.
  3. With the consideration of the above two pieces of advice, you can learn the structure of the words and word choice. For example, samurai often say “~で候 (~de sourou)” at the end of a sentence and that can be translated as “ある(aru)” or “いる(iru)” in modern Japanese and “to be” in English. It sounds like a difficult word, but it’s just a word to show your respect to someone else. Samurai language is all about respecting and being considerate of the other people. So as long as you keep that in mind and you come to learn specific samurai words and ways of saying them, you will naturally learn when to use it.

17. Do you ever find yourself speaking like a samurai in your real life?

I usually speak Kansai-ben, but when I play a samurai role, of course I use the standard and polite samurai-ben. It’s okay to talk to the director in kansai-ben, but I just adapt my manner of speaking to suit the occasion. While I am acting, I may speak kansai-samurai-ben if it was required. For example, visitors to the movie village are usually not from Kyoto. They are usually people sightseeing in the Kansai area and, to entertain them, I use Kansai-samurai-ben so that they feel, “Oh I am in Kyoto now!”. I don’t do this when I explain or describe something because they might not be able to understand it if I use that dialect to do so.

In my real day-to-day life, it’s extremely rare to find myself speaking like a samurai, but it does happen from time to time… perhaps when I get drunk. I like drinking and sometimes reading the script while I am drunk. It helps me to see the story from a different (drunken) perspective. At such times, I can mix up the language. (Laughs)

Actually, I happen to act like a samurai in my real life rather than speaking like a samurai. For example, let’s say there is a cup on the table and I am going to grab it. If I’m wearing a tshirt, I don’t need to worry about my tamoto, which is the sleeved pouch of the kimono, but I still will move my other hand as if to grab the pouch. Then I get rather surprised to only catch air and think “why is there nothing here?”.


Or when you bend your knees, if you just bend over as you do in jeans, your hakama (pleated Japanese traditional pants) can get messed up. So you have to keep them beautifully parted beautifully. I sometimes will do this action even when not wearing the hakama.


So people sometimes stare at me as if to say, “what did you do that weird action for?”

18. If there are readers shooting samurai films and want to ask you to act in the film, what should they do?

If they get in touch with TOEI and if I am available, I would be happy to take the offer. You can get TOEI’s contact information here. Or send a message to Mami and she will be able to reach to me.

19. Now that we’re nearing the end of the interview, do you have any messages or other interesting stories for our readers?

I want to tell them that the traditional films might seem a little difficult at first, but they are actually not difficult at all. The feelings that people have and experience are the same no matter which era they live in. The culture and life settings are different from what I live in now, so we can be quick to feel it’s too difficult or too stuffy. If you think that way, just try to focus purely on the human aspect of the drama, apart from all the historical stuff.

It should be a very easy to understand and an enjoyable story with Japanese emotions and inner beauty. Or if you like soap operas, sometimes such a lurid relationship is described in a traditional film as well, since it was a very common thing for a lord to have many wives to produce an heir. Well, that doesn’t sound stuffy at all, right? So if you have a preconception that samurai films are difficult, please toss it out of your mind and try out the films. I’m sure you will enjoy it!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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How The Ainu Do Mythology: A Primer Mon, 21 Jul 2014 16:00:17 +0000 I have kind of an interest in the Ainu, one of Japan’s original inhabitants. As someone who is mixed (like many modern Ainu) but looks just different enough to stand out, I have a vague idea of what it’s like to be seen as an outsider in my home country. I’m not a Native American though, so it’s not nearly as bad, but like the Ainu, my father’s culture is largely viewed by my home country for how it was centuries ago, not what it’s like today. However, I also understand the power of that attraction. I find that mythology is, at the very least, a good way to introduce some of the bare basics of a different culture and its beliefs. Like the gaming displays in your favorite electronics store, I hope that sharing just a little mythology with fellow Tofugu readers will awaken a thirst for greater knowledge and investment in other cultures (but without charging you for it!).

A Quick Overview of the Ainu


Photo by seriykotik

So for those who aren’t sure who the Ainu are, I’d like to quote Nick’s article on Traveling to Hokkaido:

In a quick history overview, the Ainu are an indigenous group of people in Japan with rather mysterious origins. While they initially inhabited a large part of northern Japan, they were gradually pushed north by the Japanese, eventually limited exclusively to Hokkaido. After the Meiji Restoration (1867), Hokkaido was annexed by the Japanese and the Ainu were forcefully assimilated and their language and culture was largely destroyed. Only very recently, beginning in the early 1990s, have the remaining descendants of the Ainu gained significant ground in the revival of their language and culture.

Odd as it may sound, I actually originally found Tofugu, not because of its focus on Japanese culture, but to cross check another article I read. I was looking for Japanese words with Ainu origins, and Tofugu didn’t disappoint. I was surprised that, at the time, the article was fairly new, and that there were other articles about the Ainu as well. Finding information on the Ainu isn’t all that easy, especially in English. In fact, there’s a certain museum in Japan that focuses on different ethnicities from around the world, and one of the very few displays that is only in Japanese is the Ainu display. Apparently, even though displays on African, Australian, and Mezzo-American tribes were bilingually displayed, the curators said that they wouldn’t display other materials in English because it would show linguistic favoritism.

The Ainu in Japan are rarely talked about, to the point where if I mention them in Japanese, I have to also talk about Hokkaido, beards, and bears before people realize that, yes, some foreigners know about the people who inhabited these lands before the Wajin (term for Japanese people usually used to differentiate between them and other ethnicities living in Japan). Textbooks make very little mention of them, and my students seem to know more about the hardships of black people in America than… well, anything that has to do with Ainu culture. In fact, I’ve had schools that take students on their class trips to Hokkaido but don’t bother to visit anything Ainu related.

This is one of the reasons I really started to read Tofugu. There is a decent collection of related Ainu articles. There is an overview on who the Ainu are and a good article on reviving the Ainu spirit, while other articles, like about Japan and bears, will often include references to the traditionally bearded northerners. There’s nothing in our Tofugu handbooks that require this, we’ve just got some wise writers that I’ll simply piggy back off of while I try to add a little something more.

Part of this is because, well, a lot of western information about the Ainu is based off of very old texts, mostly by John Batchelor, a missionary who wrote a whole lot about the Ainu (though there are some ethnocentric ideas present in texts one has to wrestle with as well). If it’s not Batchelor, it’s Kyousuke Kindaichi, a Japanese linguist who made some foreign friends and trained or worked with other influential Ainu researchers. The best place I’ve personally visited to find information on the Ainu is the Ainu Culture Center in Tokyo which has a rather full library of English texts for those who want to continue doing research on the Ainu but can’t find any authentic informants. What you’ll quickly find, though, is that many books reference texts made around the early 1900s, of which the culture center has copies of for your reading and researching pleasure (and yes, Batchelor and Kindaichi’s names will come up in those texts unless you’re reading something written by them). However, it is because these texts are so old that I have a bit more interest in Ainu mythology and wish to share what I’ve learned.

Ainu Mythology 101


Photo by davidooms

Unlike a lot of the raw culture books, Ainu mythology personally feels more alive and aware of itself. I must admit that I’ve gotten some help from Verity Lane who actually is lucky enough to live in Hokkaido and talk to Ainu people. Perhaps if enough people beg her, we’ll be fortunate enough to have an advanced Ainu mythology article sometime in the future!

Now, because the Ainu language had no system of writing prior to contact with the Japanese, myths were handed down orally. Recent projects, such as Project Okikirmui and Project Uepeker, are trying to keep the Ainu spirit alive and international. If you like video games, there’s a little game that has a lot of Ainu mythology in it. I’d like to think that for those interested in a modern use of Ainu mythology, Ms. Byrne’s article will provide some insight and use of things I’ll be discussing.

However, my best friend for this article is Donald L. Philippi’s 1979 book “Songs of Gods, Songs of Humans.” Not only is it one of the bigger collections of English Ainu mythology that I’ve been able to find (sadly not available at the Tokyo Ainu Culture Center), but it contains a wonderful introduction that explains some of the themes, structures, and linguistics details used in Ainu mythology, building on both research done by the above mentioned researchers as well as their students. If this is starting to sound like your English Literature classes, good. We need some context first, because diving right into some myths will certainly reveal patterns and habits, but hopefully some explanations will allow you to appreciate them more.

First is first person. While this isn’t always true (at least, when I’ve read some of the more modern translations that don’t give the original Ainu language glossary for me to research), most Ainu myths are told in first person. While men tell stories too, it’s often a female shaman speaking for the dead or the gods, uttering their tale as she is possessed by them. When the tale is in first person, we often can’t tell who the speaker is, or even their gender. It is revealed through the story, and at times, may even shift to another speaker, causing the listener to once again figure out who exactly is speaking. Luckily, the last line or two are spoken as the shamaness, naming who the spirit or god was who told the tale.

It’s important to note genders here because Ainu women had their own culture and practices that were kept apart, even secret, from men, such as stitching family patterns on the inside of girdles. Because these were shamanesses, and because many early researchers were males, we’ve lost some information to the ages, so female informants and translators such as Chiri Yukie have been invaluable.

It is important to know about this idea of the possessed narrator because these tales aren’t just for humans, but sometimes meant for gods or animals. For example, while humans don’t have claws or fur, we have words (well, and the ability to make art and wine). If a human wants or needs something, they can’t just take it, especially not by force, but must ask for it. While other spirits and animals can sometimes use human speech, it’s not as powerful as our own. In fact, human speech for the Ainu can literally cause pain or change the mind of the gods. If an animal or god needs help, it is through a human, like the shamaness, that they can gain access to our power. Gods do have their own abilities (I mean, what’s a godess good for if she can’t act on her own?), but our words have a different kind of strength that the gods fear at times, envy at others. It’s our unique powers that attract the gods and spirits to the human world. When our words fail, there are inau, a kind of carved prayer stick, and… well, millet wine. The gods love that stuff. Combining words with wine and sticks may sound like a bad idea, but it seems to work everytime in Ainu mythology.

Kamui moshir, which means “land of the gods,” will come up from time to time, especially when compared to ainu moshir, or “land of the humans.” Don’t think of this so much as heaven and earth but the same place, accessible to different beings. The gods very much walk among humans, but we can’t always see them. However, they are very human-ish. That is, the gods have their own homes, clothes, taste in food, and even prayers. Just the same, because humans apparently smell bad, they do travel in disguise and don’t want to be discovered.

One thing that many people know about the Ainu is that there’s a sort of bear worship. However, much like the Native Americans, there were various groups of Ainu, and the bear wasn’t the main god for everyone. A group by the sea might worship the orca, or another might worship the owl. Bear worship is simply known the best because its followers are the majority now. In some ways, I feel one could argue that Kamui Fuchi, the hearth goddess, is one of the main gods in Ainu mythology. Prayers to the gods are often delivered at the hearth in an Ainu home because the hearth goddess transmits messages between the world of humans and the world of spirits. Want to send a little wine to the gods? Give it to Kamui Fuchi. Thanking a deer for providing your family with meat and fur? Again, talk to Kamui Fuchi. There’s a reason why the bear sacrifice ceremony, iyomante, involves visiting the hearth a few times. How can you send a little god home without telling his friends to start a party and then later sending a thank you offering?


Ainu myths aren’t purely myth though. The Okhotsk culture wasn’t really something discussed or researched until the 1930s, but had been present as other people separate from the Ainu in various myths. Tales that bring up the making of pottery in very old myths hint at the Ainu’s possible connection to the Jomon, ignored for awhile in favor of outlandish theories that the Ainu were a lost tribe of caucasians. It’s important to remember this, since these myths really do show what Ainu society was like, which can be difficult to do in a society that didn’t keep written records.

One such way we can see this is through formulaic expressions. While kamui (meaning “god/ess” or “divine”) comes up often in these expressions, such as kamui katkemat (divine lady) or kamui ranke tam (god given sword), there’s a lot of kane, meaning metal. Those studying Japanese might be a little surprised by that one, but the word isn’t Ainu in origin. Because the Ainu were hunter-gatherers, they never mastered metal working, so they often traded for iron made goods. For this reason, kane kosonte doesn’t literally mean “metal robes” but is meant to express that the robes are strong, sturdy, and made of the best materials. Literally translating that from Ainu would certainly be confusing if you didn’t take the culture into account!

We can also gain insight from the role of women in these myths. While men fight physically, women will also participate in battles, often as a shamaness with her own powers, but she is often as brave as the men in her stories. In fact, you will sometimes have a woman doing battle in the sky while a man is in a different battle on the ground, both taking place at the same time and showing how the woman is matching the man in her battle prowess. This is just one example of how the Ainu use parallelisms in their myths, not just for artistic purposes, but to illustrate important comparisons.


Sadly, part of this emphasis on formulaic expressions carried over to the Ainu themselves. The stories had their own sort of grammar not used in everyday life, and there were certain phrases that the narrators themselves could no longer explain but had simply memorized from their teachers.

Finally, remember that Ainu myths were songs. Literally, songs, with their own melodies and burdens with improvised lyrics. These songs were so intense that the speaker would sometimes lay down while performing. Reading these myths removes them from their context in a big way, similar to adapting an improv-comedy routine into a written joke. It can be done, but to various degrees of success. Add to it that there’s few people who speak the language, and it becomes a bit more difficult to convey just how out of place a written myth is for the Ainu, but due to historical circumstances and cultural differences, this is the situation we find ourselves in.

The Ainu and the Fox: A Modern-English Retelling of an Ainu Myth


Photo by mushimizu

So one of the great parts of mythology is that, as the stories are passed down, they change. They’re adapted for a new audience, a new time, a new people. It’s why comic book heroes’ backgrounds change every other decade and why we’ve got a Spider-Man reboot (ignoring that whole thing about the director and cast not wanting to come back for a fourth movie). There are some Ainu myths you can find online, but to make things a little easier, we’re going to retell the myth of “The Ainu and the Fox” based on the version by Shigeru Kayano, translated into English by Deborah Davidson and Noriyoshi Owaki, which was originally recorded in 1973 and told by Nepki Nabesawa in Biratori, Saruba, Hokkaido. There are other adaptions you can find, but this one is the Tofugu version. While it doesn’t have all the elements discussed in our primer, it hopefully has enough to give you a small idea of what you might expect should you ever go out and read other Ainu myths:

I am an Ainu who once lived in South West Hokkaido, in Usakumai near Lake Shikotsu. In my day, there were plenty of wild deer and bears roaming the mountains. Whenever I wanted meat, I had to go hunting in the mountains with my bow and arrows. After each hunt I shared the meat with the other villagers. We lived as a family, and smoked a lot of meat to eat later.

When fall came, the river filled with salmon heading upriver to spawn. Many fellow Ainu came to the river then. Not just our neighbors, but Ainu even from distant villages like Piratori, which you now call Biratori, came to catch salmon and preserve them for winter food. We humans were not the only ones to come for the salmon, but also bears and foxes. We all lived peacefully together, and my father would also leave fish for the crows. Their share was one fish for every ten we caught, and my father lay them out with the skin cut for the crows to eat, and so we did not get in each other’s way.

Life with my family was good. As time went on, people began to call me “grandpa.” My strength left me, so I no longer went into the mountains to hunt. I stayed at home and made tools and wood carvings for my family and village. It was a good life

One night, after carving late into the night as I usually had done, I wrapped myself in soft fur blankets and slowly fell asleep. However, at once, I heard a voice coming froma distance. At once, I heard a voice coming from nearby. I wondered who would be up at such an hour. I listened hard, but the voice was silent. Again I put my head on my pillow and wrapped myself in soft fur blankets. Again I heard the distant voice. Again I heard the nearby voice.

How was it far but close? My curiosity got the best of me, so I quietly got up, trying not to wake my family, and went outside. The moon was bright and lit the land for quite a ways. Slowly and softly I moved towards the voice. It was always nearby, and always so far away, as if from another world.

Eventually I saw was a fox. A normal fox, I thought, but this fox could speak our language, the human language. I listened carefully and discovered that it was making a charanke, a passionate argument we use to persuade), but his was a claim against the Ainu people!

“Ainu people! Listen up! The Ainu didn’t make the salmon! The foxes didn’t either, but it was the gods who made the salmon, and the god and goddess of this river, the Ishikari river, Pipirinnoekuru and Pipirinoemat, are the ones who decide how many salmon should swim up the river, so that the Ainu, the bears, and the foxes can all have their share to eat. However, this afternoon, I took one, just one salmon from the myriad salmon you Ainu had caught from our shared river. You know that gods won’t let us starve but will provide us all what we need! Still, one of you became so angry at me that he shouted at me, using the cruelest words there are in your language. The pain was so great that I felt like I was being attacked by horrible black flames.”

“And that’s not all! That man then prayed to the god of water and the god of the mountains, asking them both to banish us foxes from the land we share with you Ainu. He asked the gods to send us foxes far away to a place of barren hills, where there are no trees, nor grass or birds.”

With tears in his eyes, the fox called out, “I can’t stay silent. If the gods only hear his side of the story, they will think he is right, and we foxes won’t be able to live here any more. If something isn’t done, we foxes are doomed! Listen you gods! Listen you Ainu! Hear my story! Help us!”

The fox’s words touched me. He was right about what he had said. The salmon aren’t food only for the Ainu. The gods provide them for other creatures too, so when morning came, I gathered the villagers together and told them about the fox’s charanke. I called out the man who had insulted the fox and sternly lectured him. We carved many inau to help make our apology stronger, offered much millet wine to show our sincerity, and solemnly apologized to the fox god.

The other gods also heard our apology and decided not to banish the foxes, but to let them stay with us in Ainu Moshir, the Land of the Ainu.

Remember this, modern Ainu, modern men. The fish of the sea, fruit on the trees, and water of the river are not just for you and me. They should be shared with all the other animals. We must live together.

These were the final words of an Ainu elder before he died.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Takarazuka’s Crossdressing Starlets: Better Than Real Men? Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:00:57 +0000 The Takarazuka Revue is a unique Japanese all-female theater company that has gained incredible popularity since it was founded nearly one hundred years ago. With over one thousand performances each year and an audience of two and a half million, including people who come from all over the world, The Takarazuka Revue is one of the largest theater companies in the world. A single-gendered troupe of such incredible popularity is a unique phenomenon, though Japan is no stranger to gender bending in theater performance. The traditional theater Kabuki has been restricted to men only since 1629, with males playing female roles.


The revue is not only unique because of its fame, which is on the same level as Broadway musicals in the United States, but also because of its unique stylistic elements. The women in the troupe are split into two categories, otokoyaku, who play men’s roles, and musumeyaku, who play women’s roles. Once these roles are decided, the actresses specialize in that role and almost never switch from one to the other.

Becoming Takarazuka


The goal is not to trick the audience into believing that the otokoyaku are men, but to present an idealized male character through a woman’s body. The productions are almost always romantic, glamorous musicals, and thus attract a mostly female audience. They are generally Western-style musicals, with costumes and music very similar to American Broadway musicals. Although they often stage adaptations of Western plays such as Romeo and Juliet and Gone with the Wind, they are even more glitzy and extravagant than their Western counterparts. It is as if they took the idea and exaggerated it. For an American like me, it is a strange sight to see the actresses with their blonde hair and eye-exaggerating makeup.

The Takarazuka Revue was founded in 1914, in the small Takarazuka City near Osaka, for which the group was named. The founder, Kobayashi Ichizou was a railway tycoon, and his original intent was to increase the use of his new railway by attracting people to Takarazuka City and making it a leisure location. Kobayashi created the revue’s motto, which still endures today: Kiyoku, Tadashiku, Utsukushiku (Purity, Integrity, Grace). The company currently has five troupes with about eighty performers each: The Flower, Moon, Snow, Star, and Cosmos Troupes, which all perform both in the Takarazuka Grand Theatre located in Takarazuka City and the Tokyo Takarazuka Theatre, as well as going on tour both in Japan and abroad. The company has in-house playwrights, costume designers, stage art directors, music composers, and orchestras.

The audition to be accepted into Takarazuka is extremely competitive, with fewer than one in twenty girls passing each year. Originally they accepted girls in their early teens, but now only girls aged fifteen to eighteen may apply. After passing the audition, the girls attend the Takarazuka Music School for two years where they receive rigorous instruction not only in performing arts, but also in how to become disciplined in everyday life. The school is renowned for its strictness; for example, first year students must get up in the early hours of the morning and clean the school from top to bottom in complete silence. Furthermore, there is an even more controlling aspect of Takarazuka: the actresses must remain unmarried until they retire from the group, and in fact are not permitted to date or even have interaction with outside men.

The “Dream Factory”


The characters that the otokoyaku try to create are heroic figures, masculine enough to seem strong and supportive, but gentle enough to be romantic and loving. This is not meant to seem realistic by any means, but to portray an ideal, impossible man that will delight the hearts of the audience. As a foil to the otokoyaku, the musumeyaku portray exaggeratedly feminine women, who therefore make the male characters seem more masculine by comparison. The otokoyaku train their voices to reach low octaves, attempting for a husky tone, while the musumeyaku practice an unnaturally high tone. Beyond that, the Japanese language also provides a way to set them apart from each other, as they can use gendered language to an extreme that most Japanese people don’t use in their day-to-day speech.

Before I went for my year abroad in Tokyo, I had heard about Takarazuka and was intrigued. During my time there, I saw two shows at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theatre and I found myself enraptured by their performances. There was a Disneyland-esque feeling of a fantasy land being brought into the real world. Indeed, Takarazuka is sometimes called a “Dream Factory.” The otokoyaku held a particular mesmerizing appeal.

One Takarazuka show I saw while I was in Tokyo was The Rose of Versailles, the company’s most famous play. Based on a classic manga series of the same name, it follows the story of Oscar, a female who is raised as a male because her father needed a son. This show adds another delightful layer of gender confusion, and throughout the years there has been discussion about what kind of actress should play Oscar; the actresses who play females, the musumeyaku, or the actresses who play males, the otokoyaku? Generally they choose an otokoyaku, who then ironically plays a more feminine character than usual, a woman pretending to be a man rather than a pure male character. This is further complicated by her romantic relationship with her male friend and companion, Andre. This is my favorite scene, in which a young Andre is introduced to Oscar, who immediately challenges him to a sword fight. You then get to see them grow up together in a few flashes of theater magic:

The advance tickets were sold out for this show within hours of becoming available, but there were also limited same-day at the door tickets. I stood in line with some hardcore fans from 6:00 am to 10:00 am in the freezing winter cold in order to secure these tickets.


Luckily my friends and I could take turns to run to the local convenience store to buy hand warmer packets. During that time I was bemused to observe fan club members, dressed in identical scarves and shirts, standing in a line outside the theater and waiting patiently for hours until their favorite actress arrived so that they could hand her gifts and letters. The clubs will perform this ritual both before shows and after, simply to have that moment of contact with their favorite star.

The Takarazuka Fanclub


Almost all of the star actresses have one or more specialized fan clubs, where dedicated fans take on almost a cult-like tendency as they support their favorite actress. The Takarazuka official fan club, Takarazuka Tomonokai (Takarazuka Friends’ Society), was founded in 1934 and is a general club for any Takarazuka fan. But almost all of the stars have their own personal fan clubs. The top stars often have more than a thousand loyal fan club members. Although the group was originally intended to appeal to families and to young girls, the typical fans today are usually middle aged married women.

Club activities include writing letters together, discussing theater, and staging their own plays. Letters to the actresses typically contain compliments, requests for advice on personal problems, gentle criticism of the star’s latest performance, or may sometimes even contain love confessions or sexual content. While the newer fans can only have contact with their favorite actress through those letters and fleeting moments outside the theater, long time fans will perform duties such as chauffeuring her to and from the theater, preparing meals for her, and in some cases even providing financial support.

When attending a Kabuki performance, I saw two otokoyaku accompanied by two fans sitting in the most expensive seats, no doubt purchased as a gift by the fans. How did I know they were otokoyaku? Even outside the theater, they dress in a particular style that is fashionable and sleek and androgynous. They also have a particular aura, such that one could practically feel their presence in the room. The rest of the audience also seemed keenly aware of their presence, but they were guarded the entire time by their adoring fans. My friends and I noticed them immediately, and since we were up in the balcony we spent the entire intermission peering down at them with our binoculars.

How Do You Categorize Them?


Quote from a fan of Takarazuka:

Japanese men are boring, so of course women love Takarazuka. The husbands work so hard that they have no time for their wives, and Takarazuka is a place for wives to go that doesn’t threaten their husbands. At Takarazuka, women can express the emotion they can’t show their coldhearted husbands. Takarazuka never disappoints them. (Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan).

Because Takarazuka fans seem so passionate about their favorite actresses, Western scholars who study Takarazuka often describe it as a “lesbian” phenomenon, while Japanese scholars, fans, and actresses alike insist that there is no romantic attraction at work. Instead they explain the bond as a sisterly bond, with younger fans and actresses acting as the adoring imouto(younger sister) and the older ones acting as the wise, protecting oneesama (older sister). In fact they often use these words to describe each other. But as many fans of anime and manga have no doubt noticed, this kind of relationship can seem very romantic to an outside eye. And in some ways, it is romantic.

Even so, there is no way to call Takarazuka fans lesbians. They do not fit into Western ideas of romance and sexuality, where one must fall into one of several neat categories. They exist somewhere in between, and while Americans might try to figure out the exact nature of the relationship, Japanese Takarazuka fans are perfectly content to leave that question unasked, and to enjoy their hobby with no shame.

When an answer can’t be nailed down, sometimes we have to let that question go and enjoy the uncertainty.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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More Than Gaijin: Specific Ethnic Groups Living in Japan Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:00:03 +0000 When you hear that Japan is a homogenous country, know that it’s a lie. There’s certainly less diversity here than other places, but there are tons of foreigners. Some are harder to spot than others, partially because there is pressure to conform and blend in, but diversity is here. We have preconceived notions of many ethnicities in our own countries, so Japan isn’t alone in its treatment of foreigners. But their treatment is a bit different (again, partially because of that emphasis to fit into the group). There are so many other foreigners out here that I feel some comments should be made about some of these stereotypes. That way, hopefully, people have a starting point for in-depth discussions about, not only being a gaijin in Japan, but something more specific. Being Nepalese, being half Korean, half Japanese, Vietnamese American. In Japan! Something more than just gaijin.

She’s Not Foreign!


Photo by Dylan Raife

I know people forget this often but, sometimes, just because someone looks foreign, doesn’t mean they are. Some of us are born to parents who look a little different from other native people and end up kind of in between two or more cultures. I know a bit about how this feels, but Japan isn’t my home country. I have been mistaken for half in Japan, but it’s more funny than insulting to me. I know I’m foreign here, but for the kids born here that look foreign, I know it can be rough.

As a teacher, the first day of the first semester generally means I have to do a self introduction. While for normal people this should take less than a minute, for some reason, Japanese teachers want to make it much, much longer. I’ve turned mine into something more akin to “people and places in my life before Japan” because, well, talking about yourself for up to an hour seems really narcissistic. Anyway, while I’m doing my presentation, I notice there’s a little commotion centered around one student. The room’s a bit dark at this time, so I can’t tell why. I keep looking to the teacher, and he just smiles. I’m still not sure if it was because he knew why it was happening and wanted to surprise me, or because it was normal and he didn’t think much of it. When the lights come up and I ask if anyone has any questions, I see the students staring at the kid: she’s half white, half Japanese. I’ve been in similar situations myself but, as a kid, I didn’t really share my ethnicity and people could never guess it. I knew the girl didn’t want to be singled out, so I just taught class as I usually do. She never spoke and never raised her hand. She didn’t try to come talk to me after class or school. Instead, on her introduction card, which only I see, she says the obvious, like any other normal Japanese kid would. It turns out her mother is from the same state as me, but she spells it the way Japanese people would.

I rarely interact with her but, when I do, she’s fully Japanese. Some students get very interested when I randomly call on her or in the very rare cases she’s brave enough to ask for help in class, but she’s very much a normal Japanese girl. Her English isn’t great. There are many students better at English than her, even in her own class. We have no special bond, no chats after class, nothing like that. I know she’s Japanese but mixed, and she knows it too. She knows kids are staring and expect her to do something different, to suddenly turn super foreign and, I don’t know, speak perfect English and suddenly know all about America. But it doesn’t happen. It’s not that much different from the states except that here, it stands out much more.

If anything, I probably end up connecting more with the kids who are mixed asian. Students secretly (or sometimes openly) tell me they’re also mixed or born to foreign (asian) parents after my self introduction, if my mixed heritage comes up. I’ll talk about it a bit more later, but sometimes it’s the teachers who tell me someone is mixed, like it’s a secret, and those are the kids that, like the girl I described above, might distance themselves from me a bit. Moreso than her, though, there’s kind of some unspoken tension because we both know what being mixed and “not foreign” is like, and calling any attention to it is just not needed most of the time except when the kid gets teased.

It’s not just something that happens in class though. I had a kid somehow mistake me for her dad in the super market and grab my leg. Maybe it’s because we both were wearing black jeans and, being a small child, she didn’t look high enough before latching onto my leg. I heard perfect Japanese, no accent, and looked down to see a little black girl. Mom (Japanese) and dad (African) had a good laugh as the kid noticed her mistake and found them a few aisles down.

Asian Foreigners or “Oh, So You’re Not a Japanese Girl?”


Photo by camknows

I hope that Tofugu faithfuls recall Austin hitting on this topic, but will hopefully allow me to make a few broad additions and add new voice to the discussion.

As Austin mentioned, the Japanese often can’t tell the difference between their country’s men (or women) and non-Japanese Asians until they hear an accent, and sometimes even then they seem to have trouble. For example, I went to a Chinese restaurant with some Japanese friends and I noticed the waitress’ accent. I mentioned that I thought she was Chinese, but my friends didn’t believe me, so we asked her in the politest way possible (“Can you speak Chinese? Oh, where did you learn it?”) and yes, she said she was Chinese and had moved to Japan. Now, I’m not saying everyone can do this, but let’s compare this to my trip to Korea where my Japanese friend, who always approached people in English, always had Korean people greeting him in Japanese. As much as he thought he’d be able to blend in, he somehow stood out like I normally do in the Japanese countryside.

From what I’ve gathered, in Japanese eyes, Koreans seem “preferable” to Chinese. I’ve never heard complaints about the accent or personalities from Japanese people about Koreans, only sometimes that Koreans can be a bit “outgoing.” When I’ve brought up the idea of studying a foreign language, a fair number of students I’ve had in Kanto said they wanted to study Korean. It’s seen as “cool” by the younger generation. Korean dramas and bands are really popular here, and the “Korean Towns” I’ve visited aren’t just filled with Koreans.

However, even being Korean-Japanese still gets you treated as a foreigner. Teachers will sometimes “out” a student to me. I will say that the Korean students do stand out a bit most of the time, and seem to be popular. But for the most part, I would have never guessed they were foreign born unless I had been told. In some ways, it almost feels like the reverse of the American perspective of Canadians, in that they’re seen as friendly neighbors, but Japanese kids at least seem to think Koreans are cool, or at least when there’s no political misalignment (though a lot of the kids don’t seem to understand why Koreans are sometimes angry at Japan).

The Chinese, though, get a lot of complaints, both from Japanese men and women. I had a student everyone called “China” even though his dad was Japanese. He had a Chinese accent and was tall, so it was hard for him to blend in. The person he seemed closest to (and got teased by the most) was a yankiI think they meshed together because they were both outsiders. Unlike other kids, when he learned I was mixed, he was pretty happy. I could get him to work a little harder just by giving him a little extra attention, or he might hang back in the hall to talk a bit if I saw him between classes or after school, which isn’t totally uncommon for Japanese students, but it’s usually the sign you’ve won them over.

Like in English, Chinese accents (and thereby the people) are often accused of “sounding angry” in Japanese, which is something part of my culture is accused of (I prefer see it as “passionate”). Chinese are often seen as selfish and loud, more so than rude Americans, except that no one here understands Chinese (even though Mandarin is honestly spoken in my city more than English). The typical idea of Chinese here seems to be that they always want to be first in line and always speak loudly and don’t care who’s around. I’m sure white foreigners are a bit familiar with this idea, except Japanese really don’t understand Mandarin or Cantonese, so whatever’s being said is just a mystery to the locals. With Western English speakers, however, they usually understand quite a bit about when you’re complaining about Japanese culture.

What’s funny though, I’ve heard many Chinese people here say the Japanese are too quiet and polite, and that the food here “has no taste”. Of all the foreigners though, I feel like I get along with the Chinese best in that we try to blend in a bit, but also understand that we have our own culture and want to share it. One thing to note, though: If you’re dating Chinese and Japanese out here, be ready for a bit of a rant if you tell one that you’ve dated the other!

My Vietnamese friend and her mother who visited kind of blended in, until they spoke. My friend would get dirty looks because, truthfully, she’s more endowed than your average Japanese girl and showed a little skin, but once she started speaking to her mom in Vietnamese, people apparently got a little confused. I was recently talking to her and figured it might be nice to get some exact quotes from a female, non-Japanese Vietnamese, American-born perspective:

“It was oddly comfortable in Japan compared to say when I was visiting Canada or France. Maybe it was because everyone was Asian, so non-Asian foreigners stood out a lot more. However, in Tokyo, it was clear that my mom and I were foreigners in some sense because of the way we dressed. Tokyo’s very…stylish and the women there dress very feminine, while my mom and I were more comfortable in jeans. I really think that I was the only girl my age wearing jeans…and I got even strange looks when I finally took out my flip flops. Of course, the “low cut” shirts were also a very odd experience since that’s what would be considered mildly “conservative” where I’m from. My sister-in-law mentioned that when she went to Japan during May two years back, when she wore shorts, and got a lot of stares. And she doesn’t wear Daisy duke short shorts; they’re typical shorts that stop just above the knee.”

“I would get strange looks from Japanese people when I was speaking in Vietnamese to my mom – and when I couldn’t think of the word – switch to English. Or a full-on English sentence.”

“My mom wasn’t really into all the bowing. She felt uncomfortable when we went to the hotel and the staff members bowed at us. For me, I understand that it’s a cultural thing, but for my mom, who really takes pride in women standing up for themselves and all that, felt uncomfortable and sorry for the staff.”

European and Not “White”


Photo by camknows

During the last Cherry Blossom festival, I met an older German woman selling bratwurst. I can’t tell every nationality apart, but from both the look and sound of her, I knew she was German when she stood up: heavy accent, fading blond hair, blue eyes, and tall. Very tall. We had a short chat, and one thing that was kind of interesting popped up: Japanese people apparently thought she was from England!

That’s important because in Japan, many people (Japanese and traveling foreigners alike) see white Europeans and seem to think they’re American, English, Australian, or Canadian. If you’re Irish, they might ask why your accent’s so different. French? “Your English is amazing!”

Often on trains, I’ll see “white” people who are French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The travelers are always happy to ask me questions since my English is (naturally) better than the locals’ and they have questions. Those who teach here though are sometimes a bit miffed. Sometimes they’re accused of “not speaking real English” because it’s also their second language though. At the same time, they’re seen as experts. It can be a frustrating situation from what I’ve seen and heard, but I hear most of it second hand. Just know that if you’re from Europe but not England, Japanese might ask you about your hometown, what foods you like, and might even ask for some recipes. How do I know ? To be honest, after a bunch of drunk Americans walked by a little ramen shop I was having lunch at, the store owner turned to me and asked where my parents came from. I claimed the French part. And I taught them about French toast. Not my proudest moment, but now you fellow Americans who know your background, maybe a little of the language and food can pull that off if your colleagues get horribly embarrassing and you are tired of playing ambassador (sorry America!).

Quick aside to those who are mixed in America and are asked about their heritage by European people: If your grandparent came from Europe, but not your parent, you might be told you’re not European, just American. It’s happened a few times when trying to explain my various ethnicities (more on that later). Simply note which exact family member came from which European country in order to possibly avoid the long debate on when Americans stop being foreigners and become Americans (personal opinion: when people stop questioning your nationality).

“What are you?”- The Rest of Us


Some cultures here are rarer than others, and while I have maybe a single, strong experience with a group or many small run-ins with the same people, I’m kind of lumping them together because I have experience (or a great link to share) and have done the “cross culture” chat with them a few times so I don’t look like a total boob. That being said, remember these are just my experiences, and everyone will have a different one.

Now, I really hate saying this, especially with the current political climate, but in Japan, Muslim people stand out in Japan, and in a horrible way. I don’t really mean it in the “terrorist” way, but there’s that too. I used to have a long beard and long hair I kept under a beanie, and my brother was often described as either “That guy that looks like Jesus” or “the terrorist.” And that was in English. In Japan, he got stopped pretty often and attracted a lot of attention, good and bad.

No, it’s not quite the “terrorist” thing. The religion is seen as extreme, and the dietary restrictions are starting to become well known even in the inaka.” I had a co-worker who was Muslim and she had a very difficult time with food, which is one of the things Japanese really try to share. The easiest way to bond with most people is through food in my opinion, and when you can’t do that, things become difficult. Japanese people don’t realize that almost everything they eat is haram, or “not allowed.” They know about the “no pork” thing, and some know about “no alcohol”, but they don’t know quite how far Muslims take this. For example, I was told that a lot of baked goods (even the bread!) from convenience stores comes from factories that use pork-based grease on their pans. That’s not allowed. Mirin? It’s a kind of rice wine. Not allowed. Even things with soy sauce are dicey because natural soy sauce is fermented. Fermentation is how you make alcohol, which is very much haram. How the new Muslim Egyptian sumo is able to keep his weight here is a mystery to me.

Black people in Japan is something I don’t want to talk a lot about, not because it makes me uncomfortable, but because it’s a whole other article. Dark skin in asian countries is usually not viewed well, but Nigerians in Tokyo have particularly stood out and are associated with crime. Obviously not every Nigerian is like that, but the stereotype is hard to avoid, even out in the inaka where the rare black people I see are often working in a hip-hop store if they aren’t teachers. For those who want a really good, slice-of-life black-in-Japan look, I suggest reading Gaijin Chronicles. The blog hasn’t been updated in a few years, but it covers the topic so well, and in so much detail for everyday life, that I really can’t even try to do it any justice. Just give it a read.

Next time you to got an Indian place, ask yourself this: are they Indian or Nepalese? I won’t lie, I can’t tell the difference, which is why I ask. My favorite “Indian” restaurant here is actually run by a guy from Nepal, and he actually had another place in Tokyo before. Japanese people who lament not being able to practice English in the inaka always forget that Indian and Nepalese people speak English. They say it’s “not real English” but let’s be honest: there are so many dialects of English, you might as well use what you’ve learned and talk to someone else who can understand you. Honestly, any Japanese people reading this: go talk to foreign staff at your favorite curry house! They’re always friendly, to the point where the half Indian kid who barely speaks English (born in Japan) still goes out of his way to greet me if we bump into each other, even though I only ate at his parents’ place one time. Same goes for the Indian guys from another place. The Nepalese guys… I only go to their place twice a year, but they seem to know I love their food, or are just happy to have someone to practice English with. Anywhere I see them they give me a head nod at the very least.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m mixed. If I say I’m part Ainu, people are actually willing to believe it, even though it’s a joke. If a co-worker introduces me as half Japanese, people will believe it. Sometimes, if the conversation is right, Japanese people will think I’m half too. That’s only the ones that are more culturally aware though. Most Japanese just see my beard and think I’m American, English, or German (got a bit of all of that in me though, so that’s fair). However, I do get asked where my parents are from, and “America” isn’t good enough because, like many Americans, some Japanese can tell I’m “not quite white.”

Other foreign people seem to pick up on it too though. Spanish people have approached me in Spanish first. I’ve gotten a “guten tag” while I was in Kyoto before my terrible German quickly revealed to them that I was not a native speaker, and just last month, I had an Indian or Nepalese ask for directions yet insist that I was from a Middle Eastern country (I have Persian friends who would have been a bit upset with that).

Some people say I should be mad, or I should call them out on their racism, but let’s be honest: if you’re not a little bit racist, you’re probably terribly innocent. Americans people love cheese and bacon, Germans love beer, Asians can use chopsticks. You can actually offend people by questioning them about these things, even though there are honestly people out there that these stereotypes don’t apply to. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve been the guy that didn’t fit the stereotype and the one that was shocked I was asked about it. It’s just how our world works.

In general, foreigners stand out a lot, even in Japan, unless you’re a quiet Asian. Much like the “Are you Chinese?” question many Asians report encountering, Japan has only the faintest idea of where people come from. And sometimes it’s really, really far off. Just smile, laugh, and try to educate people a little.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Interview About Lang-8′s New Service: HiNative Mon, 07 Jul 2014 16:00:44 +0000 Most everyone who reads Tofugu knows about the language learning site Lang-8 (and if you don’t you should check it out). Lang-8′s creator, YangYang, has recently released a new service which has seemingly spawned from something that comes up a lot in Lang-8: People want to ask questions about languages. There is a saying in Japanese: 餅は餅屋 (Mochi wa Mochiya), which literally means “you should ask a rice cake shop about rice cakes” and figuratively means “leave it to a specialist”. We wanted to know more about this new service so I talked to the CEO of Lang-8, YangYang Xi. He will answer all our questions about HiNative in this article so we can learn more about it and why they created it.

Name: YangYang Xi. Occupation: Lang-8 CEO


Q. What’s your story?

I was born in China, moved to Japan at the age of four and grew up in Japan, so I was never really good at speaking Chinese when I was younger. So when I was a university student I went to Shanghai to study the Chinese language for one year. During that time, I did a language exchange and my Chinese skills rapidly improved. I then thought it would be a great service. After coming back to Japan, I developed lang-8 with my friend and made it into company after my graduation.

Thanks to everyone, it grew in to a worldwide service with about 870,000 users from 190 countries (4 more countries to conquer the world). Then, this year, we launched a new service (still need to improve a lot of things though) called HiNative which enables you to ask native speakers any questions at any time. I can’t wait to introduce this awesome new service to you all!

Q.Really quickly for the people who don’t know, what is Lang-8?

Lang-8 is a language exchange platform, which is an SNS language learning service that native speakers utilize to teach their languages to each other.

Q. How did Lang-8 go from your bedroom to the company it is today?

I just wanted to make Lang-8 bigger, so I set up a company.

Q. Why should people use Lang-8?

I think learning from native speakers is the shortest way to improving language skills. That’s how I improved my Chinese and Lang-8 enables everyone to do so without actually going abroad.

Q. So you now have a new service called HiNative. What is that?


It’s a service where you can be frank about asking native speakers about absolutely anything, including language-related things, as if you were saying “Hi!” to them.

It’s aimed to be used on the Smartphone or tablet, though we are still in the middle of developing the app, so literally you can ask questions from anywhere you are with a simple press of a button.

Q. Why should people use HiNative?


In my experience, I often come up with random questions about the language I am learning and/or some cultural things of other countries. I could ask my friends to find the answer out, but I don’t want to bother them too much. I think many people have similar experiences. In such situations, if you have “HiNative” on your phone or tablet, you can freely ask questions without imposing on your friends.

We also set up some question forms that people can make a question sentence just by tapping the screen because we want HiNative to be very user friendly for everyone. We received a lot of Lang-8 user’s voice messages saying that they don’t even know how to ask questions, though they have many things to ask in their minds. So we hope this format option will be helpful to such people.


You can choose the language level you believe yourself to be at, so if you choose beginner, it is often that you will you be replied back to in your native language.

Q. Can you give me some examples of how somebody might use HiNative in real life?

You may think you can just Google the meaning of a word, but if you are a serious language learner, you’ll probably know that the dictionary is not always right. Even if it is right, the word you searched may be too formal for the situation you’re in. So when you want to find the true and natural usage of a word or a sentence, HiNative will be a perfect tool for it.

As I said above, you can ask any questions such as “What is the current most popular thing in the country?” Furthermore, if you are at a restaurant and you don’t understand what the menu says, you can take a photo, upload it, and ask native speakers what it is. In the future, we will make it an option to upload sound or video and a native speaker will be able to answer whether or not your pronunciation is right. There are a lot of uses.

As a real life example, I thought this one is quite unique. The Chinese person named bebe found the word 泡盛り(Awamori) on a face washing soap. Awamori is actually a type of alcohol and that’s the only meaning that she/he found on her/his dictionary. So she/he was wondering why it was written on the soap. Japanese people answered it is not a common usage and only used to emphasize that there are a lot (盛) of bubbles (泡) that the soap can make as a pun of the famous alcohol 泡盛. I’m pretty sure that bebe would not be able to find out the answer without asking native speakers.

Q. Do you have plans for an app in the future?

We are currently making the app. HiNative is intended to be used with smooth operation on smart phones and tablets just tapping the screen.

Q.What do you think about the language learning industry right now (in general?)

There are so many language-learning sites right now, but most of them are “contents-type”, which offer you a set material. On the other hand, the “SNS-type” such as Lang-8 and HiNative aren’t that numerous yet. In that sense, I think our services still have great potential.

Q. How could language learning be improved more (in general)?

I believe that you can improve language by actually using the language that you have learned and by making a lot of mistakes, then ask native speakers to fix it or adjust your requests.

Q.How are you trying to fix those problems with Lang-8 / HiNative?

Even though you are in an environment without native speakers around you, you can get the language you are learning fixed by native speakers on Lang-8 and ask questions to them via HiNative without any wait time. If you study with non-native speakers, you may not learn natural expressions, but you can learn natural phrases from native speakers on Lang-8 and HiNative.

Q. What do you think language learning will look like 10 years from now?

I’m not sure about 10 years from now, but in the near future the technology will be incredibly increased by machines making the perfect translation. If such time does come, HiNative will be used not only for language questions but for things more related to cultural differences and opinions.

Q.What are some upcoming features or updates for Lang-8?

We are focusing on HiNative from now on, so we will maintain the current state of Lang-8 for a while.

Q. What are some upcoming features or updates for HiNative?

We will make an app and an option to upload sounds and videos. We will also make some small improvements as well. Oh, and we haven’t decided the mascot character’s name yet, so we will get that done.

Q. Why is your mascot character Momonga (Flying Squirrel)?


I’m not sure, so I’ll let our designer answer that.

(The Design of Lang-8 Nutti~ answers)

I wanted to use a unique character and I’ve never seen a flying squirrel used as a mascot for anything else. They also fly quite fast from branch to branch, and it reminds me of a scene of people chatting with and questioning each other. That is why I chose the flying squirrel for the HiNative mascot.

The name hasn’t been decided, but I call it “Monga-sama” with myself. The name of the Ai file that I drew the illustration in is too. We would appreciate it if you could let us know if you like the name Monga-sama, or if you have come up with what you think is a better name and why you believe it is so.

Q. Do you have any other messages about HiNative to share with the Tofugu readers?

HiNative is an incredibly useful and cool website, so please try it out if you’re interested in learning a new language.


We at Tofugu are interested in seeing how HiNative grows and evolves. I mean, anything made by the creator of Lang-8 is worth keeping an eye on, I think. At the very least, perhaps you can direct some of your Japanese-related questions to HiNative instead of our support emails :p

But, being able to ask a native speaker a question and get an answer fairly quickly is quite a nice thing to have. In the past, you would have to search for an answer or ask the question on a forum, and you’re never sure if anyone will answer it. Now there’s an actual place for it, and if this works as well as Lang-8 does, you’ll be getting answers soon after posting them. Plus, being a community environment you add the “give and take” equation in there. You help out people and they help you out. Everyone’s warm and fuzzy.

If you’d like to try out HiNative for yourself you can visit the HiNative website on your smartphone or tablet.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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