Tofugu » Just For Fun http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Thu, 13 Nov 2014 01:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 10 of Hello Kitty’s Most DISTANT Relatives http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/12/10-of-hello-kittys-most-distant-relatives/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/12/10-of-hello-kittys-most-distant-relatives/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 16:00:40 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=41918 There was a time when I hated Hello Kitty. But once I understood her complexity and accepted her into my life, a whole world opened up. Sanrio, not unlike Marvel or DC, is an entire universe of characters, and exploring a universe is half the fun of discovering nerdy things like this. When you first get […]

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There was a time when I hated Hello Kitty. But once I understood her complexity and accepted her into my life, a whole world opened up. Sanrio, not unlike Marvel or DC, is an entire universe of characters, and exploring a universe is half the fun of discovering nerdy things like this. When you first get into comics, you learn about your Spider-men, Wonder Women, and Wolverinis. After awhile though, you dig deep enough to find hilariously bizarre or mind-blowingly boring superheroes like “Matter Eater Lad” and “Captain Planet”.

The same is true with the Sanrio universe. Sanrio may push the puppies, kitties, and lambies to the forefront, but underneath there’s a lot of fun to be had with the outliers. Who created them? Why? I wouldn’t say any of them are necessarily “bad”, but some can be incredibly unimaginative while others are so imaginative as to be downright bizarre. It’s these characters that I’ll be extricating for this list: Hello Kitty’s distant relatives. When these dogs, elephants, and hamburgers roll up to the Sanrio family reunion, the other characters avoid eye contact.

These oddballs defy Sanrio’s image of polished cuteness and stand out as wonderfully strange or uncharacteristically dull. Fill up your plate with mash potatoes, because I’m sending you to sit and talk politely with the side of the family Hello Kitty tries to forget.

10. Peter Davis

peterdavis

It’s a white dog named Peter Davis. This character at least gets points for being one of my favorite things: a dog with a bland first and last name. But the goodness stop there. Peter Davis was born in England and, what ho! Pip pip, old chap! According to his bio on sanrio.co.jp, he’s very proper, noble, fashionable, and clean. Well, well Peter Davis. You’re boring and stereotypical!

9. Dokidoki Yummychums

dokidokiyummychums

Dokidoki Yummychums is almost Sanrio’s answer to Aqua Teen Hunger Force as they a group consisting of meat, fries and shakes. Though that’s not what makes them bizarre. It’s the idea of cute food. Linda touched on this a few months back, but what strikes me as odd about this concept is the way cuteness is tied to protection. Things that we find cute or adorable are often the things we naturally want to protect (small animals, babies, email passwords). Mixing that protection concept with food is incongruent. And hilarious.

It’s a small, but extant, mind-bender. “Me am want eat food. But me am want also protect food. Me not know what me want!”

This food-cuteness hits me in a different way as well. I love hamburgers. Definitely in my top three of favorite foods. But I never realized I wanted to hug a hamburger, until I saw Dokidoki Yummychums. And why not? Hamburgers have brought me so much joy! I can finally release my subconscious urge to hug an enbunned meat patty now that it has eyes and a face and looks like it wants a hug! And with that invitation, of course I would reciprocate. Thank you hamburger. Thank you for everything.

8. Zoujitensha

zoujitensya

Zoujitensha, or Elephant Bicycle, is an elephant riding a bicycle. According to his bio, he is an “urbanite with good taste”. At least his design matches his personality. Both are flat and unappealing.

7. Hangyodon

hangyodon1

Hangyodon (literally, “Mr. Half-fish”) is another example that showcases Sanrio’s ability to make anything cute. He is a monster, something traditionally created to scare and repulse us. So is he that weird? Not in and of himself. What’s weird is how popular he is.

Hangyodon has a large number of goods attributed to him. He’s high up on the second tier of the Sanrio roster, like the Aquaman of the Sanrio Justice League (pun intended?). But with such a long list of cute animal characters behind him, you would think he would get bumped farther down the popularity rankings.

Hangyodon is a smart character design because it plays on our pity for monsters. Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Shrek are all stories which exemplify this. These stories resonate because we all feel unattractive or clumsy or even monstrous at one time or another and we all hope someone will love us despite our unattractive qualities. We all want to be understood.

His official Sanrio bio says he is “a lonely romantic who wants to be a hero someday” but we don’t need words to tell us that. That’s the power of Hangyodon.

6. Country Fresh Veggies

countryfreshveggies

Country Fresh Veggies. Their name describes them, giving me literally nothing to write about. It’s a basket of damn vegetables. They have eyes and appendages, so they are slightly less boring than others on this list, but not by much. Even their bio on sanrio.co.jp merely says, “Today, the fields are full of just-harvested, fresh vegetables.” Nuff said, I guess.

5. Gudetamago

gudetama1

Gudetama is a lazy egg. His name comes from the words gudegude (lethargic) and tamago (egg). While most Sanrio characters have several hobbies and goals, Gudetama has none. He knows he’s going to be cooked and eaten and wants to get it over with.

As far as sub-characters go, Gudetama is given more attention than most. There are pictures, goods, and YouTube videos showing him sleeping…

sanrio-gudetama

Stretching…

gudetama-stretch

Whining…

gudetama-whine

And generally lazing about.

gudetama-lazy

This goes beyond relaxation. Gudetama is dead to the world. Is there any social commentary to be found in this? Does Gudetama reflect the attitude of Japanese young people reluctant to enter Japan’s notoriously stressful workforce? Probably not any more than Garfield reflected America’s love for lasagna in 1987. Either way, the egg laziness idea is a truly genius design choice.

Rilakkuma is a very popular lazy bear character, from Sanrio competitor San-X. But do you know what else can be lazy? A cat, a mouse, a badger, a panda, a shoe, anything! It’s easy to think of a noun and assign it the adjective “lazy” (Note to self: copyright “Cecil the Lazy Shoe”). But an egg yolk actually looks lazy! Someone at Sanrio looked deep into their breakfast and imbibed it with a personality that fit its shape. And that’s creativity- looking at something from an angle that everyone else is missing.

4. Geetown Special

geetownspecial

Geetown Special is a group of three alligators. Let’s go to the sanrio.co.jp bio for more insight:

“A group of three alligators.”

Was there any thought put into these three? They have no story, they’re nearly identical, and not even in color. I understand that some Sanrio characters are merely designs for cards and tote bags, but those that are should be categorized as such. Leave the charactering to anthropomorphic things with some appealing connection to offer the recipient. Later, gator.

3. Shiri Rappers

shirirapper

Hula-hooping, rapping butt vegetables.

I just wanted to make it clear from the outset what we’re dealing with. Shiri Rappers comes from the Japanese oshiri (butt) and the English “rappers” (rappers). According to sanrio.co.jp, the Shiri Rappers are human-friendly butt fairies who, upon hearing a human’s cry, will rush to their aid and begin hula hooping/rapping with all their might, thus dispelling the human’s sadness.

As delightfully bizarre as this sounds on its own, I’m afraid it refers to a smartphone game.

In the game, the Shiri Rappers pop out of the ground, doing their gyration dance until you tap them. And you get points. I don’t see this as helpful to mankind, unless they are serving the particular pocket of mankind that needs to poke butt vegetables in order to live.

So, my initial joy at discovering the absurdity of the Shiri Rappers was diminished slightly upon finding that their story was created to explain their actions in a smartphone game. But dammit, the Shiri Rappers are hula-hooping butt vegetables and no one can take that away from me. Thanks Sanrio!

2. Boy and Girl

boyandgirl

Welcome to the bottom of the boringness barrel. Boy and Girl. I used to think Patty and Jimmy were unimaginative, but Boy and Girl make Patty and Jimmy look like Ren and Stimpy. These two are like Hello Kitty clones turned human and sapped of all charm and style. The salt in the unimaginative wound is their name: Boy and Girl.

Let’s say you work for a creative company and your job is to creatively use your creativity to create creative characters. If your boss asks you, “What should we name this boy and girl?” and you answer, “Boy and Girl!”, you should be fired.

1. Heysuke

heesuke

Heysuke. Yes, it is an angry, naked baby, but what makes it stranger than the Shiri Rappers? Heysuke’s story on sanrio.co.jp:

“Who? What the heck? It’s a kind of a suspicious, mysterious baby. For some reason, it’s laughing in the nude. Where it came from is a mystery. Is it a boy? A girl? Heysuke doesn’t even know for sure. The place where it lives is right next to you. One thing is for sure, he loves to be naked. It’s birthday is January 1st.”

Heysuke is a suspicious, ever-laughing, genderless naked baby who lives right next to you! The reason Heysuke gets the number one slot is its ambiguity. Most Sanrio characters’ designs have a specific vibe and their story bios expound upon that vibe, adding detail. But not Heysuke.

It’s cute as a baby, but its angry face makes you wonder what the hell is wrong. Then Heysuke’s story bio confuses us more by explaining that it’s laughing, suspicious, and lives right next to you. Suddenly this baby feels threatening, which is a tough concept to digest because it’s a baby. Everything about Heysuke is perplexing and strange.

Oh, and Mami pointed out that it’s wearing muscle-relaxing patches on its shoulders. WTF, Heysuke?

Heysuke was introduced on January 1, 2000, so maybe it was meant to be some kind of Baby New Year. But it never caught on anywhere ever. All the other characters on this list, weird as they are, have enjoyed some kind of success, appearing on various goods and being drawn in various poses.

Heysuke was only drawn once and, as far as I can tell, no goods bear its likeness. And so it remains: laughing, naked, and staring at you.

Explore the Chara-verse!

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Okay, you’re done. You did your time at the table with the weirdos. Now you can go back to your Hello Kitty and your rap music. But hopefully you’ve learned a valuable lesson. There’s a whole world of Japanese characters to explore, within Sanrio and beyond. You may find more wacky treats when you search through them for yourself. Japanese mascot characters are a universe not often explored even by die-hard Hello Kitty fans. But if you dig design, animals, colors, or fun things in general, I encourage you to delve into this multiverse. You may just find yourself voluntarily sitting at the table of outcasts at the next Sanrio family reunion!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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How To Shoot A Samurai Film http://www.tofugu.com/2014/07/29/how-to-shoot-a-samurai-film/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/07/29/how-to-shoot-a-samurai-film/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 16:00:22 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=40626 A couple of months ago I went to TOEI UZUMASA EIGAMURA, which is both a theme park and an active movie set. The studio has been around since about 1955. But, with the decline in popularity of traditional samurai films the studios had to make up for some of that lost yen. In 1975 they built the […]

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A couple of months ago I went to TOEI UZUMASA EIGAMURA, which is both a theme park and an active movie set. The studio has been around since about 1955. But, with the decline in popularity of traditional samurai films the studios had to make up for some of that lost yen. In 1975 they built the theme park portion: A traditional samurai village, with actors who play the parts of samurai, ninja, villagers, etc. You can go there and see how samurai films are made, take pictures with samurai, and participate in/see various attractions. I wrote about most of it here in a travel article about TOEI UZUMASA EIGAMURA.

Now, I don’t want to ruin the experience of going there for you. You should go yourself if you are able to (it’s a lot of fun!). But, I do want to give you some “pre-information” about this place so you can further enjoy the studio set. If you want to go there without knowing anything beforehand though, you can stop reading right now. But, if you want to live vicariously through my time travel experience, read on. Ready? Light. Camera. Action!

A Small Town From The Edo period… Or The Showa Period… Or Modern Times…

edo-01

The most common time period used in the main town is the Edo period. The street set of the Edo period is used for a vast log of films since the periodical setting is changeable. Recently a TV movie film called 宮本武蔵 (Musashi Miyamoto), starring Takuya Kimura from SMAP, was shot here. This is despite the fact that the story’s era was a little earlier than the Edo period, when roofing tiles didn’t exist yet. So, they put some woven mats and wood on top to hide them.

edo-02

Sometimes they need to shoot in a period that’s later than the Edo period. One example is a scene from one of NHK’s morning drama series: “Carnation”. This series takes place in the Showa period. They didn’t need to change the tiles for this, but they did need to change the sliding paper doors (shoji) to glass doors. They also needed to change some of the vertically written signs to horizontal ones. This set even comes with the capability to erect poles for power lines and once the cables are thrown up the set instantly looks more modern.

Since the time period of this set is changeable, a very modern film could be filmed here as well. I heard that Kamen Rider and the samurai drama “Abarenbō Shōgun” were shot on the street at the same time (separate parts of the street though). On one side was Kamen Rider on his motorcycle and on the other was a samurai on his spectacular horse.

Anyways, my point is: this set is very flexible! Perhaps that has to do with how even in modern Japanese society we keep a lot of the traditional things as well. To shoot in modern times, or to shoot in times before the Edo era… all it requires is a few small changes and it feels like a couple hundred years have gone past. If you go to a rural area of Japan, you’ll see exactly what I mean.

A Lot Of Contrivances

house-with-wheels

Since they have to make full use of the movie set, they have a lot of tricky modifications on each building and other things on the street. Do you see something odd about the image above? It’s slightly off the ground. In order to easily alter the set, some buildings have wheels on them, this one included. it requires just five or six adults to move.

additional-front

Or take this for example: You can attach a new front wall to a building to make it look like a different building. If you look carefully, you will find some buildings that have double walls on the front, like the image above. The picture of the woman’s face on the wall inside (called otafuku) can be changed out if need be too.

nagaya-2

This here is a part of the Nagaya set, which are row houses from the Edo period and are now what might be called “apartments.” Because the walls between the two residences were so thin, you could easily hear an argument between the couple next door. As you can probably expect, the well in front of the nagaya is empty, so an actor/actress has to rely on their acting skills to convincingly collect water. It is also moveable so they can expand the washing area depending on the film.

People living in nagaya usually shared one well and nagaya mothers tended to be in close proximity to the well since many of their responsibilities, such as cooking, laundry, and cleaning dishes, all required water. I know it is a stereotype, but many of them apparently liked chatting about rumors and often gossiped beside the well. This is how the phrase “井戸端会議” (Ido-bata-kaigi), which literally means “meeting beside a well” and figuratively means “housewives gossip circle” or “water-cooler chat”, came about.

edo-03

Many buildings are set up to only be used for outside shops and don’t have an interior. This one, however, has a nice inside including fresh (plastic) fish and vegetables. Looks tasty!

The Only Half Bridge

bridge

This bridge is called Nihon-bashi (Japan bridge), but if you put a different name-sign in front, it can be a different bridge too.

My photo may not really show it, but it’s actually very short and steep. (Maybe slightly over 10 degrees). It’s a little trick used back in the time when CG didn’t exist. If it was shot from a lower angle, it appears very big and long on the screen. The other side is not actually a bridge, either. It’s just steps for actors / actresses to wait their turn. Because of that, there is an absolute rule that they only shoot from this side and the actors / actresses only come from the other.

Oh, and there is no water flowing underneath. If they shoot someone jumping off the bridge, they take a shot of that person going into a river in a different place. Sometimes they go on a little trip to Saga Prefecture to take such a scene. I also heard about one time when they used a pond here in the park and combined it with a moat scene shot in a different place.

A Pond With A Dinosaur

pool

The pond I just mentioned above happens to have a dinosaur in the middle for some reason. The dinosaur has been there since the theme park started, although now it is the third generation dinosaur. Two dinosaurs were placed there at first – a mother dinosaur with her baby. Perhaps due to wear from the elements, they were later replaced with this guy. I asked the workers his name, but sadly nobody knew it.

In spite of having the dangerous dinosaur, this pond is apparently used for a lot of scenes. The depth is different between the left side and the right side to diversify the scenes. A drowned body floating is usually shot in the shallower side, whereas someone who is killed by a samurai and drops into the water is done in the deeper side. There is usually only one set of samurai actor / actress costumes and wigs made (especially for those who will be killed or drown), so only the people who are most experienced and reliable in terms of falling into the water get these scenes.

For the big stars, the water is completely cleaned and warmed up. Needless to say, the dinosaur is forced to go hunt some sheep or something when shooting needs to be done.

Red-district Yoshiwara Street

yoshiwara

Yoshiwara was a famous licensed brothel district in the Edo period. There are two gates granting access to this street. The front gate is called “Oomon” and the back gate is called “Uramon”.

yoshiwara-2

If you go in there, you’ll find the street to be very short. Yet when they shoot there, they change the signs and curtains of each house and combine them together when they edit, so that the street appears as if it is very long in a film.

yoshiwara-3

The size of some of the doorways can also be altered and is done to change the appearance of the houses.

dosoku-genkin

The upstairs of these buildings are only used for shooting, but you can go into the first floor of some places. However, make sure to take your shoes off if you see this sign, 土足厳禁 (dosoku-genkin).

Modern Architectures

bunka-kan

Just as a quick side note, they don’t only shoot traditional films but contemporary films as well! So, you’ll see some modern buildings that can be used as film sets.

bunka-kan3

This big staircase inside the modern building pictured above is often used for scenes that often include some big-shot politician with confidential information getting surrounded by a bunch of press. You may see this staircase while watching a Japanese drama or film.

shizukani

There is actually a pretty good chance of encountering an actual shooting while visiting, too. While I was there, they were shooting 大岡越前 (Ōoka Echizen), though photos were not allowed. While shooting, there are a lot of people standing with a fan with writing on it that says “おしずかに(Oshizukani)” which means “Quiet, please.” However, JR trains operate nearby the studio and they can’t read what the fans say. So, the assistant director always has a train schedule in hand and it is his/her job to scream, “Hey, we’ve got only 5 minutes for next train! Hurry up!”

studio-13

As I mentioned above, the exteriors of the buildings in the theme park are primarily what is used for shooting. Indoor shots, on the other hand, are done inside actual studios, which are located right next to the studio park. Sadly, this area is off limits to us normal people.

As you can tell from this article, I was truly interested in the film set. I hope you enjoyed this article and it encourages you to visit as well. There are a lot more than movies in this park too, including TOEI actors and actresses dressed up in historic costume, and many other touches that add to the atmosphere of a historical town. Actually, I even was able to conduct an interview one of the samurai actors, and his interview will be coming out tomorrow! Now that you know what the set and park is like, I hope you look forward to hearing more from someone who is often on the inside. If anything, you can find out how many people he has killed.

See you tomorrow!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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What is Godzilla Doing When He’s Not Knocking Buildings Down? http://www.tofugu.com/2014/06/03/what-is-godzilla-doing-when-hes-not-knocking-buildings-down/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/06/03/what-is-godzilla-doing-when-hes-not-knocking-buildings-down/#comments Tue, 03 Jun 2014 16:00:19 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=39893 Because the new Godzilla film (see our review) recently came out, and because we basically just love all things Godzilla, I thought I’d treat you to something that makes Godzilla about a hundred times better. Sadly, you’ll never see any of this in the new Godzilla movies, but at least now it’s confirmed that giant […]

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Because the new Godzilla film (see our review) recently came out, and because we basically just love all things Godzilla, I thought I’d treat you to something that makes Godzilla about a hundred times better. Sadly, you’ll never see any of this in the new Godzilla movies, but at least now it’s confirmed that giant rubber suits > CGI Godzilla every day of the week. Let’s take a look at some old-timey behind the scenes Godzilla photos that I came across on i09. It really makes you appreciate how much work went into each film, if anything.

get-a-drink

The first Godzilla suit ever made was 220 pounds and the first Godzilla suit performer, Haruo Nakajima was said to have drained a cup of sweat after a day of acting.

godzillakid-and-kid

Son of Godzilla feels a lot like those Ewok Star Wars movies to me, but you gotta love the suit and the child acting.

godzilla-lobster

The Godzilla VS The Sea Monster set looks amazing. A giant pool, some wires, and a lot of tall boots.

godzilla-vs-kingkong

An ape, a giant lizard, and a Shinto priest walk into a bar…

godzilla-drunk

This particular Godzilla apparently had a drinking problem.

shopping-godzilla

Nothing says Christmas more than Godzilla with a ton of shopping bags.

godzilla-kisses

This makes me the most jealous man in the world right now.

too-much-work

Little Godzilla is all tuckered out after a day of smushing buildings.

godzilla-dance

Godzilla, the greatest power forward this world has ever seen.

godzilla-and-lover

What’s going on in the bottom right of this photo?

too-much

I hope there isn’t a person inside of that suit, still.

godzilla-and-children

Oh sure, people say that Gamera was a friend to the children, but the original true friend was Godzilla.

godzilla-take-one

I like to imagine the joke that the person inside the Godzilla suit said right before this photo was taken.

godzilla-vs-mothra

That guy is looking inside of Rodan’s… ahem.

sad-friends

Aww, look at that little guy.

godzilla-parade

The world’s greatest crossover.

mechagodzilla-head

Ahhh! Your neck! Your neck!!

godzilla-pool-party

Time for a poooolll parrtttyyy!

godzilla-dancing

When Godzilla jumped the shark.

Invasion-of-the-Astro-Monster

I want a trailer, a massage, and a bottle of saké, this instant!

creepy

This is not right.

making-ghidora-fly

It’s amazing the things they did to make things fly.

group-photo

Never, ever, put your fingers in there.

godzilla-date

Date night, part two.

rodan

All that work, only to have it crushed. Gloriously crushed.

godzilla-castle

So much skin to peel off.

mothra

Ahhh yesss. This one is developing well.

godzilla-1954

“A little more stomping, and quit looking at the camera.”

posing-for-group-photo

So many monsters!

hawaii-godzilla

Now that Tokyo’s destroyed, it’s time for Godzilla to take a little vacation.

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Selfie!

godzilla-teaches-people-how-to-write

In its free time, Godzilla would teach orphans how to read.

walking-mechanism

When you get inside a Godzilla suit, you have to learn how to walk all over again.

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Original Godzilla suit, handmade by this guy.

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What do you mean you don’t want to knock down the castle?

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“You’ve got yourself a deal, friend. This littler Godzilla is all yours.”

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I can’t imagine what it’s like to wear one of these underwater.

fipPD4i

And last but not least, I leave you with quite possibly the greatest photo ever taken.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Truly The King Of All The Movies: A Review Of The Film “Godzilla” http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/16/truly-the-king-of-all-the-movies-a-review-of-the-film-godzilla/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/16/truly-the-king-of-all-the-movies-a-review-of-the-film-godzilla/#comments Fri, 16 May 2014 16:00:27 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=39619 Godzilla. What a film. For some reason this past week I’ve been getting tons of emails from people asking me to watch and review this film, and for once I am more than eager to help out with that. Unlike the Dragonball movie review from a while back, which felt like a swift kick to […]

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Godzilla. What a film. For some reason this past week I’ve been getting tons of emails from people asking me to watch and review this film, and for once I am more than eager to help out with that. Unlike the Dragonball movie review from a while back, which felt like a swift kick to the dragonballs, Godzilla is a great film. That’s right, I pulled some strings, called the right people, and now I’m writing this after watching this film midnight last night. So how does the film Godzilla stack up? Should you watch it? What does the official Tofugu review conclude? Let’s find out.

Plot Summary

gojiramovieposter

Spoiler alert!

The film Godzilla (Gojira) starts in a mysterious fashion. Several ships explode and sink off the coast of Odo Island, Japan. Authorities who are sent to the island think the cause is underwater mines or underwater volcanic activity. Basically, they’re clueless. You and me though? We know what’s up. We’ve seen the movie posters after all. Locals of Odo Island also seem to be in the know. They tell of a “god” who lives beneath the sea that they had to sacrifice ladies to back in the day to quench its hunger. That “god” turns out to be Godzilla, and appears on the island in an extremely iconic reveal.

godzilla-appears

After some running and screaming, Godzilla goes back into the ocean. After being poked a little bit, he shows up in Tokyo, demolishing everything in his path. There’s some fighting, there’s some smashing, and there’s a lot of running away. Things are looking pretty bleak for a while, but eventually they figure out how to kill it. Don’t worry, though, as they allude to at the end of the film, this probably isn’t the only monster like this down there in the ocean. Sounds like somebody saw Pacific Rim.

A Living, Breathing, Atomic Bomb

godzilla-and-train

What is Godzilla, exactly? The name comes from the combination of two animals, a gorilla (gorira) and a whale (kujira). As someone who is really into the hybridization of animals (Tofugu, WaniKani, *cough cough*) I completely approve this chimera. This may have been more from some of the earlier iterations of Godzilla though. The final product was said to be more like an iguanodon, tyrannosaurus, stegosaurus, and alligator hybrid. It’s easy to leave it there and say that’s what it is, but the correct answer is a lot more interesting. Godzilla is an atomic bomb brought to life. The film was made and released not long after the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and people still felt that fear. Says Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka:

The theme of the film, from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind. If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just one cannonball. But if he were equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn’t know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla.

This is why artillery fire, fighter jets, and 50,000 volts of electricity can’t stop Godzilla. One criticism I occasionally see is that it’s “unrealistic” that Godzilla doesn’t feel the attacks of the Japanese army. Well, if you assume that Godzilla is an atomic bomb in flesh and blood form, it’s now a lot easier to understand why these weapons had no effect. There’s nothing quite like nuclear warfare in terms of its devastation and invincibility. That being said, they did try to shoot down an atomic bomb. Of course, that just made things worse for everyone and Tokyo was leveled.

There are plenty of other references to atomic bombs and the fear they held (and hold even today). Godzilla’s skin texture was inspired by the keloid scars found on atomic survivors. Godzilla also carries a dangerous nuclear weapon: “Atomic breath.” This power is “a nuclear blast that it generates inside of its body and unleashes from its jaws in the form of a blue or red radioactive heat ray” Wikipedia.

godzilla-atomic

The biggest atomic kicker, though, are all the references to the use of atomic weapons by humans. Remember how I mentioned in the plot summary that a couple of boats were sunk in the beginning of this film? What I didn’t mention was that survivors came back from the ships with radiation burns. This is a reference to an actual event that took place on and near Bikini Atoll.

On March 1, 1954, the Daigo Fukuryuu Maru (aka Lucky Dragon 5), a Japanese fishing boat, got caught in some nuclear fallout after the US’s Castle Bravo Thermonuclear test on Bikini Atoll. Although the Daigo Fukuryuu Maru was outside the danger zone set up by the US military, the explosion turned out to be twice as big as expected. On top of that weather patterns blew nuclear fallout outside the danger zone, exposing the fishermen to a fine radioactive ash. The story doesn’t end well for the people who were on that boat, though. Later that year on September 23 chief radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama died, making him the first victim of a hydrogen bomb.

Now back to Godzilla. Where were we? In the film it was suggested that nuclear testing was what “awoke” Godzilla from his slumber. Basically, the lesson here is that if you screw with nature it will screw you back, so, don’t screw with nature. Not only that, but the radiation from the nuclear testing may have made Godzilla even stronger than it previously was.

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Basically, atomic bombs are no good, kids. Listen to uncle Godzilla and the lessons he’s trying to teach.

It’s Not Just About The Monster

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The American version of Godzilla (“Godzilla, King Of The Monsters!”) really helps to highlight this fact. This version was dubbed (forgivable, I guess) and got a lot of new footage for American audiences (not as forgivable). They added in the character Steve Martin (played by Raymond Burr) who was a reporter on his way to Cairo. He sticks around to cover the story of Godzilla acting as a kind of documentary-style narrator throughout the film.

Not only did they add footage but they removed footage too, which included (in this reviewer’s opinion) some of the best parts of the film: namely, the non-monster portions. A lot of the original focused on a love triangle between three main characters, which played into the monster-portion of the plot as well. Raymond Burr was kind of like the third (fourth?) wheel that made everyone else uncomfortable, so they suddenly couldn’t act out their dramas. This killed one of the best parts of the film. On top of this, other dialogue was trimmed. One scene, which has the Japanese Diet debating about the US’s use of atomic bombs was cut (it would make US audiences uncomfortable, presumably). Even the overall theme of nuclear holocaust was softened (if not practically muted) as well. The film become purely about the monster and not about the message.

But, the message is what I loved most about the Japanese version. Sure, the giant monster was there and was totally badass, just like the American one. But, it had some feelings. It made you think. It asked you questions. You come away wondering what’s right and wrong (more on that later), but you also come away thinking “awesome, I love seeing giant dinosaur/whale/gorilla monsters leveling a city.” All that, and you get a love triangle drama as a bonus. If you’ve ever seen any Japanese drama, you know that this is a recipe for success.

Suffice to say, if you have a choice between the original and the American version, choose the original. It’s not only about the monster.

A Message Of Hope And Shinto

godzilla-dying

Spoiler alert!

In the end, they use the “Oxygen Destroyer” which “disintegrates oxygen atoms” on Godzilla, disintegrating him to bones and then nothing. It’s eluded to that this “Oxygen Destroyer” could have been a new energy source as well, which has a lot of connections to nuclear power. With power comes responsibility to use it correctly… but, that’s obviously not going to happen. The creator of the weapon (Dr. Serizawa) commits suicide and takes the weapon along with him so that the secret of this power goes with him to the grave.

Another possible interpretation is one of hope. There has always been talk of renewable and unlimited energy. If one could simply create a reaction in water by taking all the O2 out of it, couldn’t that become a great new energy source? Perhaps what they were trying to say here is that if someone were to come up with something like this then nuclear power could be killed (remember, Japanese folks weren’t so up on nuclear things back then). That being said, this new energy source is dangerous as well. It’s certainly a somewhat grim (though somewhat hopeful) outlook on our future.

That brings us to the question: Is nuclear power good or bad? I have my own opinions, but producer Shogo Tomiyama has a more interesting one. He said that Godzilla is like the Shinto “God Of Destruction.” The God Of Destruction has no moral compass and cannot be held to our standards of good and evil. “He destroys everything and then there is a rebirth. Something new and fresh can begin.”

After reading that quote and thinking back on the film I found myself becoming less and less sure of things. Is he saying that the destruction that Godzilla causes good? Is he saying it’s bad? On one hand, some people say that the bombing of Japan was good because look at the 180 Japan made, going from warlike and imperialistic to peaceful and democratic. On the other hand, is the destruction itself really okay if the end result is “good”? I think that what they’re trying to say is that neither is true. We as humans just can’t use our own moral compasses to come to a “correct” answer. Like Godzilla itself, it’s too big for us to deal with. We can have opinions about it, but in the end there’s not much we can do to make a difference when something this big and this terrifying comes about. And, if it does… well… you just move on, and life comes back and destruction comes back and the cycle continues on and on and on…

The Final Verdict

godzilla-final-verdict

This is a giant, smashing, atomic breathing, great film. I absolutely recommend you go see it. This is probably the best if not one of the best Godzilla movies to date, and it’s certainly the deepest and smartest one as well. There will be imitations, like a man wearing a rubber godzilla suit wearing another rubber godzilla suit (who is then wearing a CGI suit), but there’s nothing quite like Godzilla the original. It’s a classic and one of the greatest films ever made. If it wasn’t for The Seven Samurai, which came out in the same year, Godzilla would have won Best Picture in Japan. Speaking of which, that’s another good film. They’re both worth watching (so put aside an entire day to watch them).

Story: 8/10 – The more you think the deeper the rabbit hole gets. Understanding the social issues of the time will help you to enjoy this film a lot more.
Special Effects: 9/10 – Some little gaffes but overall a remarkable amount of craft was crafted.
Overall: 10/10 – Nothing truly beats Godzilla. No seriously, nothing. If you watch the other films this is almost always true.

Anyways, you should go watch this movie now. I don’t know why suddenly everyone was interested in Godzilla reviews, filling up my inbox with requests, but I hope this helps you to decide whether or not it’s worth seeing. RAWWRRRRRRR!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

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SHONEN JUMP and Tofugu Debut: Kumaman, The Manga http://www.tofugu.com/2014/04/01/shonen-jump-and-tofugu-debut-kumaman-the-manga/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/04/01/shonen-jump-and-tofugu-debut-kumaman-the-manga/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 16:45:02 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=38537 We know that readers of Tofugu are big fans of manga. We at Tofugu are big fans of manga – in fact, One Piece from SHONEN JUMP is one of our favorites of all time. There isn’t a week that goes by where we don’t discuss and argue about the intricacies of each of Eiichiro […]

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We know that readers of Tofugu are big fans of manga. We at Tofugu are big fans of manga – in fact, One Piece from SHONEN JUMP is one of our favorites of all time. There isn’t a week that goes by where we don’t discuss and argue about the intricacies of each of Eiichiro Oda’s chapters (seriously, how did Usopp pull that off?). So all that being said, I really gotta say… this announcement is super exciting for me and for all of us here at Tofugu.

That’s right, FOR THE NEXT 12 WEEKS WE’LL BE WRITING AND ILLUSTRATING A NEW MANGA SERIES FOR SHONEN JUMP, and it will be all about the back story of our beloved character: Kumaman.

jumpcover-kumaman

Although it’s only a 12 week contract we’re hoping it will turn into a longer term thing, though I guess that just depends on numbers. Ever since I was a kid it was my dream to write my own manga. It’s pretty much all I thought about. With Aya as the illustrator, and with SHONEN JUMP’s publishing power, that dream is finally going to become a reality, so we’ll be focusing most of our time on the manga side of the business, because, frankly, we were given a lot of money to do this.

The manga will be in all Japanese, but I know how you internet pirates work! Guess what? We’ve scanned and translated our own manga into English, and will be making it available to everyone for download (see bottom of the post). So don’t even bother, MangaStream! We just beat you at your own game.

Download “Kumaman: The Bear Bang Theory” Early

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The first chapter, “Kumaman: The Bear Bang Theory” is a history of Kumaman and how he got to where he is in the present timeline of the manga. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say Kumaman has had a rough life! Even though the chapter isn’t out in Japan until May 2014, we’re releasing the first chapter early, because we can, and because we love you. The contracts are signed and nothing says we can’t do this (I think! That contract was super long and in these weird Chinese characters), so hopefully it doesn’t get us in trouble. Plus, we’ve already cashed the check. I’m writing this post from Vegas, after all! Hit! Hit! Hit!

If you’d like to download it and read it in it’s full glory, it’s all yours. Note: you will need some kind of PDF viewer like Preview (OSX), Adobe Reader, or even most modern web browsers. Also note that since this is a manga made for Japanese customers first, the panels should be read from right to left. It will be very confusing otherwise. We did translate everything to English though, so at least that part won’t be confusing.

Okay! Get to downloading! Chapter 1 is here! I can “bearly” wait! ha ha.

Update: Manga now available in the Tofugu Store.

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I’m super excited for this Tofugu business pivot and I hope you are too. Let’s all forget about Japanese language education and all think about manga and the hot tubs full of money that come with manga publishing. Thank you, and please enjoy!

P.S. This was an April Fools joke (sorry!), but maybe someday it will become real. You never know. Thanks everyone for enjoying the comic!

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Send Your Stuffed Animals On A Tour Of Japan So You Don’t Have To http://www.tofugu.com/2014/03/26/send-your-stuffed-animals-on-a-tour-of-japan-so-you-dont-have-to/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/03/26/send-your-stuffed-animals-on-a-tour-of-japan-so-you-dont-have-to/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 16:00:21 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=38438 Did you ever have an idea that you were sure no one else would ever think of? And then, because we have the Internet, you found out that there were people doing the same thing all over the world? That’s what happened to me when I started taking photos of my stuffed Kogepan toys on […]

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Did you ever have an idea that you were sure no one else would ever think of? And then, because we have the Internet, you found out that there were people doing the same thing all over the world?

koge-pan-tours

That’s what happened to me when I started taking photos of my stuffed Kogepan toys on my vacations. I took them with me to California, to New York City, and around the monuments and museums of Washington DC. I thought I was original and maybe a little bit odd. Then I went to post the photos online and discovered there was more than one Flickr group devoted to traveling stuffed toys.

And now, I’m kicking myself for not realizing that this was actually evidence of a huge under-served market. Sadly, I was not as brilliant as Sonoe Azuma, who three years ago opened a travel agency for stuffed toys in Japan.

It’s called Unagi Travel, and it started out because Sonoe Azuma had the same hobby I did: she took photos of her stuffed eel Unasha and blogged about it. Now Unasha serves as stuffed animal tour guide and together they’ve taken about 450 stuffed toys from all over the world on trips around Tokyo as well as excursions to other areas. Her customers are so satisfied that more than half come back for another trip, and one, a hippo named Kaba-san from Osaka, has been on six trips.

hippo

Customers can choose from various options: a tour around Tokyo including Asakusa, Meiji Jingu Shrine and Tokyo Tower, a one-day tour to an onsen, a weekend in Kyoto, and special tours that are sometimes offered, including to the Tohoku region. While you follow along via social media, your stuffed animal will see the sights and learn about Japanese culture, like calligraphy:

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…and have Japanese meals that you will envy:

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If your toy is a real free spirit, you can surprise it with a Mystery Tour. The Mystery Tour may visit other parts of Tokyo, Azuma told us, such as Shibuya, Ginza, or Roppongi, or places in nearby prefectures such as Kawagoe or Odawara. Or it may have a cultural theme, and your toy may come home knowing more than you do about architecture of the Meiji period or bronze statues.

unagitours-duckreading

Tours are limited to ten so everyone gets enough personal attention. You’re assured that your animal will never be placed directly on the ground, and asked whether your toy has any food allergies, whether it gets seasick or carsick, and if there’s anything in particular your creature wants to see or do on the tour.

unagitours-stan

The form that customers fill out also asks how long you’ve been together and has you tell something about the toy’s character. Along with the photos, the answers to these questions often show up on Unagi’s Facebook page, so it’s fun to follow even if you’re not sending a toy on a trip yourself. People have all sorts of creative stories about their toys, and there’s often the hint of interesting human stories behind them as well.

One toy from France on a recent trip was said to have been with its thirty year old owner since she was one day old, and loves chocolate and knitting. A pair of handmade cats from Nara Prefecture called Custard-san and Hana-san from Nara Prefecture were said to be on a mother-daughter trip together. They’re supportive of each other, and the mom loves to listen to enka. And a toy called Little Brother Bear was returning to Tokyo where he had lived sixty years ago.

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All sorts of creatures are allowed, as long as they weigh under 250 grams, and you need to mail your toy to Tokyo. The Tokyo tour is $45; special tours cost more, like $95 for two days in Kyoto.

unagitours-bed

Do you have more questions about this? So did we. Azuma was kind enough to answer a few questions for Tofugu:

Tofugu: What kinds of toys do foreigners send? Are they different from Japanese, or does everyone like the same kind of stuffed animal?

Unagi: Foreigners tend to send us realistic animal toys, whereas Japanese tend to send us cute toys. Regardless of whether it’s from Japan or overseas, the teddy bear accounts for a large percentage.

Tofugu: What’s the most unusual toy you have taken on a tour?

Unagi: It was a Japanese spiny lobster.

Tofugu: When you go on overnight trips, how do the innkeepers feel about having stuffed animals as customers?

Unagi: Once the business understands the concept, we are very welcome.

Tofugu: Your job sounds like so much fun. What do you like about it?

Unagi: I’m happy that I can make my customers happy and energetic. For example, there was a man who applied for our trip in order to make his wife happy, who was very busy raising their child. After the trip, he gave us the feedback that our trip became a good pastime for her and she really enjoyed it. Although this is a small business, it’s very satisfying for me because I can do something for someone else. This job also requires imagination, creativity, and interpersonal skills. That part of it is also fun for me.

unagitours-meiji

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: “What is the matter with these people? What normal adult would pay good money to send a stuffed animal on vacation?” If you don’t get the fun of this, maybe what you need are some of the heartwarming tales: One customer who was in a wheelchair wanted her toy to go down narrow alleys that she was unable to navigate. Or you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be touched by Connor the Chemo Duck from Tennessee, a stuffed therapy animal for children with cancer, especially when he went to Senso-ji temple to fan himself with the healing smoke.

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And if you’re thinking this is one of those uniquely weird Japanese things, not so fast: right now, Azuma says that half of her customers are from overseas.

There was actually once a similar business in Prague – the owner was half-Japanese, and it eventually failed, and one in Berlin seems to be hanging on, although they seem to do tours far less often. But I think there’s global potential here. I’m thinking maybe I need to open a company like this of my own. Don’t you think Japanese stuffed animals would love to come see the cherry blossoms in Washington DC?

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If you’d like to send your stuffed animal on a tour of Japan, be sure to visit Unagi Travel’s website to get more information.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

Links:

References:

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Thank you. Don’t Touch My Mustache. http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/28/thank-you-dont-touch-my-mustache/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/28/thank-you-dont-touch-my-mustache/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 17:00:21 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=37375 Everybody takes to using various short cuts and methods for memorizing vocabulary terms or phrases when learning a new language. And for learning Japanese, it is no different. It is not uncommon to be studying pronunciation of a foreign language and think, “this word sounds like…” in order to help you remember it. One of […]

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Everybody takes to using various short cuts and methods for memorizing vocabulary terms or phrases when learning a new language. And for learning Japanese, it is no different. It is not uncommon to be studying pronunciation of a foreign language and think, “this word sounds like…” in order to help you remember it. One of the fun things about learning Japanese (at least for English speakers) is that it can allow for the possibility of being creative with mnemonics. A mnemonic device is defined as a technique that aids information retention and memorization. In my time of being around the Japanese language, I have heard English expressions, or joke phrases, that are not quite puns, that sound like Japanese words and phrases, and are popularly used as mnemonic tools. One of the most famously used being, “don’t touch my mustache”. Can you guess what that means?

Quick Tip: How To Say “You’re Welcome”

mustache

Photo by Ari Helminen

どういたしまして (do-i-ta-shi-ma-shi-te) You’re Welcome

Greetings and general pleasantries are typically some of the first vocabulary words one learns when studying a foreign language. With Japanese we learn “hello” as konnichiwa, “goodbye” as sayonara, “good morning” as ohayo, and “thank you” as arigatou, to name a few. Here’s a quick tip: when trying to remember how to say “Good Morning” in Japanese, it may help to recall Ohio, like the state. And if you ever find yourself forgetting how to say “You’re Welcome”, all you have to remember is “Don’t Touch My Mustache”.

The exact origin of the use of the phrase “don’t touch my mustache” is unclear, though some personal accounts date it back to being commonly used in World War II, and some speculate that perhaps it started with Commodore Perry’s expedition to Japan. However it first came about, the idea behind it is that the English phrase “don’t touch my mustache” is thought to sound very similar to the Japanese word for “you’re welcome”, which is どういたしまして (doitashimashite).

You may have to try to say it a few times. Or say it rapidly all together so it sounds like the phrase is slurred, but it does seem to replicate a similarity in its sound.

Don’t Touch My Mustache in Pop Culture

Extending past the confines of the Japanese language classroom, the idea that the phrase “don’t touch my mustache” sounds similar to どいたしまして in Japanese has been alluded to in a couple of instances in American pop culture.

“A Majority of One”

a-majority-of-one

A first example is from a 1961 movie titled “A Majority of One” starring Alec Guinness and Rosalind Russell, and directed by Mervyn Leroy. Alec Guinness stars as Mr. Koichi Asano, a Japanese businessman. Rosalind Russell stars as Bertha Jacoby, a Jewish widow from Brooklyn who ends up moving to Japan when her son-in-law Jerome, who works for the government, has been promoted to a position stationed at the American Embassy in Yokohama. Although in the beginning things between Mr. Asano and Bertha are rocky, eventually Bertha is able to warm up to him. This film is a love story which explores lessons learned in tolerance and prejudice in a time after the war. There is a scene in the film where Guinness and Russell are having a conversation and she asserts that she knows a little Japanese including “you’re welcome, which sounds like ‘don’t touch my mustache’”. You can listen to the conversation here.

“Toy Story 2”

toy-story-2

What might be the most popular reference to “don’t touch my mustache” appeared in Pixar’s Toy Story 2. In Toy Story 2, the sequel to Pixar’s original Toy Story, the hero Woody is stolen by a toy collector who wants to sell Woody and other toys he has collected from the same “Woody’s Roundup” franchise to a museum in Tokyo, Japan. This sound clip is from a scene where Al, the Toy collector, is finishing up a phone call with the Japanese investor from Tokyo. They have just accepted his offer for Woody and feeling ecstatic, Al hangs up the phone call with “Don’t touch my mustache”.

Interestingly enough, Toy Story 2 was not Pixar’s last phonetic reference to a Japanese vocabulary word. They included another one in 2001’s Monsters Inc. In Japan, store employees to greet their customers by saying いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase) when they enter the store or restaurant. In Monsters Inc, whenever somebody entered Harryhausen’s Sushi Restaurant, its employees shouted “Get a paper bag!” which was intended to be a phonetic reference to Irasshaimase. What do you guys think? Do they sound similar?

Don’t Touch Dug Up Potatoes

potatoes

Transitioning from don’t touch my mustache to don’t touch dug up potatoes, another fun fact about mnemonic gag expressions is that sometimes they can go both ways! A popular Japanese memorization aid is the expression 「掘った芋いじるな」(hotta imo ijiru na), which is a way of studying how to say “What time is it now?” in English. Translated literally to “don’t touch dug up potatoes”, it was first recorded to have appeared in a language study textbook written by Nakahama Manjiro, also known as John Manjiro.

Manjiro was a fisherman who hailed from an area now knows as the Kochi Prefecture of Japan. He and his four brothers were shipwrecked and rescued and taken to Honolulu. He decided to stay on board his rescuer’s ship and was consequently one of the first Japanese people to visit the United States. He studied English for a year in Massachusetts and in 1850 made way for San Francisco before returning to Japan in 1851. Upon his return to Japan, Manjiro worked as an interpreter and translator for the Shogunate, advising on foreign matters. He wrote a book called 「英語練習帳」which can be roughly translated to English Learning Workbook in which the “hotta imo ijiruna” approach is referenced for transliterating English into Japanese.

Other “This Sounds Like…” Expressions

In order to complement some of the phrases brought up in the article today, I thought it would be fun to look into some other “sounds like” phrases that could be used for increasing one’s Japanese language vocabulary. So, here is a short list of a couple other expressions I’ve been introduced to from friends and discovered on the internet that I thought were worth sharing:

ありがとうございます [ arigatou gozaimasu / thank you ] = Arigatou Godzilla-Mouse

危ない [ abunai / dangerous] = Have an Eye!

いただきます [itadakimasu / about to receive [this food] or let’s eat] = Eat the yucky mess

As you can see they kind of somewhat barely resemble the original thing word. Which brings me to my next question:

Is it Passable for Japanese?

While many such expressions including the ones mentioned above may be useful in creating memorable associations with Japanese phrases and vocabulary which in turn could assist with language learning, could they actually be useful as passing for spoken Japanese? They are clever, many are humorous, but for the most part I feel as though they only vaguely resemble the Japanese phrases they are trying to reproduce. Perhaps if spoken with a swift tongue, “don’t touch my mustache” could be recognized as “doitashimashite”, but assuming that the universal association between “don’t touch my mustache” and “you’re welcome” in Japanese does not exist, if it’s enunciated too clearly, it might be missed. And similarly, if a Japanese person were to ask me about the time using “hotta imo ijiruna” I would almost certainly have to ask them to please repeat the question. But regardless of whether you have heard the mnemonic before, or it’s something new for you, or if it happens to be a personal principle that you live by, now you know that if you ever need to say“you’re welcome” in Japanese, all you have to do is remember “don’t touch my mustache”.

So, what do you guys think? Are these helpful devices for language learning? Are they passable as substitutes for Japanese? Or are they going to end up hurting you in the end?

References

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An Exclusive Interview With Tonoharu Creator, Lars Martinson http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/15/an-exclusive-interview-with-tonoharu-creator-lars-martinson/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/15/an-exclusive-interview-with-tonoharu-creator-lars-martinson/#comments Wed, 15 Jan 2014 17:00:55 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=37220 If you are considering teaching English in Japan, my best advice as a former ALT is to buy a copy of Tonoharu Part One and read the introduction. In the first sixteen pages of this graphic novel, cartoonist Lars Martinson lays bare the assistant language teaching experience, making way for a story seldom told about […]

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If you are considering teaching English in Japan, my best advice as a former ALT is to buy a copy of Tonoharu Part One and read the introduction. In the first sixteen pages of this graphic novel, cartoonist Lars Martinson lays bare the assistant language teaching experience, making way for a story seldom told about the life of a foreigner in Japan.

A former English teacher himself, Martinson draws from his own experience to create a fictional account of a young man named Dan Wells. The story is often ambient and introspective, emphasizing the day to day events of life abroad. Our hero, Dan, is a passive character rarely found in American storytelling. Martinson expertly guides Dan through the story and keeps him balanced, so we can easily look down on his passiveness in one scene and sympathize with it in the next. This expertise makes Tonoharu more than a mere parody of teaching English in Japan. It is a purposeful tale of a fully realized character teaching English in Japan, which in itself is rare.

The art, of course, is what draws most people to check out the series in the first place (myself included). Martinson’s style is reminiscent of the Belgian artist, Herge. The intricate backgrounds contrast with the simpler designs of the characters, allowing the reader to inhabit the story’s environments. Of course, there is little I can say that the art itself can’t say better.

lars-martinson2-700pxImage from Lars Martinson / Media

Lars Martinson studied East Asian Calligraphy for two years in Fukuoka after his initial experience of English teaching. His own personal style, compounded with his knowledge of ancient inking technique, really shows and the art alone is worth a purchase of both volumes.

A paperback edition of Tonoharu Part One is due out this summer. Until then, hardcover editions of both parts are available through most book retailers and Martinson’s own website: http://larsmartinson.com/buy/

For the tech-savvy, Martinson’s more light-hearted e-comics are available digitally: http://larsmartinson.com/e-comics/

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to correspond with Lars for an EXCLUSIVE Tofugu interview! Below are insights into his stories, his art, his process and, most excitingly, the future volumes of Tonoharu!

For those who may not know, who is Lars Martinson?

lars-martinson-700pxImage from Lars Martinson / Media

I’m an American cartoonist that has spent half of my adult life in Japan. For the past decade I’ve been working on a graphic novel series entitled Tonoharu.

What is Tonoharu about?

Tonoharu tells the story of a young American who moves to rural Japan to work as an assistant English teacher. It is based (in part) on my own experience doing the same from 2003 to 2006.

Because Tonoharu is fictionalized and not a direct telling of your Japan experience, what inspired you to tell this story? Did you have an “aha” moment?

I’ve always been frustrated by how hard is it to relate my experiences in Japan to friends and family back home. It’s sort of like when you try to describe a dream to someone. It’s fascinating to you because you experienced it firsthand, but it’s almost always tedious for the listener because they don’t have the same frame of reference. My inspiration to create Tonoharu came from a desire to bridge this gap; to describe the experience of living abroad in a visceral way.

You’ve mentioned elsewhere that your main character, Dan Wells, is not you but merely a fictionalized character. That being said, how do you as his creator feel about him and his decisions? Was he difficult to write?

I’m certainly more driven than Dan. I made much more of an effort to improve my Japanese abilities when I first arrived in Japan, and have a clearer sense of what I want to do with my life. That said, I share a number of qualities with him, so he wasn’t hard to write. Like Dan I’m introverted, and often struggle to form meaningful connections with people around me.

How much Japanese did you know when you went on JET? How did the language barrier affect your experience?

I knew very little Japanese when I first arrived. Just a little bit of hiragana and katakana, and basic grammar. It improved quickly, but even now I feel like I have a long way to go. I heard somewhere that you can become fluent in three European languages in the same amount of time it takes to learn Japanese, and I believe it. It’s a huge undertaking.

One interesting consequence of my mediocre Japanese abilities is I tend to be more forthright when I speak it. It’s easy to be evasive in English since its my native tongue, but in Japanese I don’t have the language skills to dance around the subject. So I’m forced to distill what I want to say down to its naked essence. There’s a Dostoyevsky quote that goes “Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence squirms and hides itself. Intelligence is unprincipled, but stupidity is honest and straightforward.” I feel like this applies to how I use English compared to how I use Japanese.

Your main character, Dan, goes through a difficult bout of negative culture shock in the first volume. Did you have a similar experience?

lars-martinson3-700pxImage from Lars Martinson / Media

Most people who live abroad experience culture shock to some degree, and I’m certainly no exception. I sometimes worry that I favored those negative moments a little too much in the first volume of Tonoharu, because many people who read it seem to assume I had an unequivocally horrible time in Japan, which certainly wasn’t the case at all.

You went back to Japan to study calligraphy for two years after finishing JET. How did that trip affect your art and your relationship with Japan?

Before I really got into it, I had no idea how deep East Asian calligraphy is, both in terms of history and technique. I’m now convinced that it’s the most sophisticated line art tradition in the world, hands down.

When a cartoonist wants to improve their penciling, they usually study Western art fundamentals such as perspective, anatomy and composition. I would argue that Eastern art fundamentals are just as useful to learn comic inking. Practicing East Asian calligraphy has improved my inking more than anything else I can point to.

Regarding your calligraphy learning experience, was it more of a disciplined practice that enhanced the skill you already had or was there something inherent in East Asian calligraphy that got added to you? Do you have any stories about the learning experience?

The discipline was certainly a huge part of it. Art classes in the US tend to emphasize personal expression over technique, so student critiques can be vague and coddling. The calligraphy classes I took in Japan were the exact opposite. We would be tasked with replicating a piece of classic calligraphy as accurately as possible. We’d show our attempt to the professor, who would point out where we went wrong, and we’d try again. They were technical exercises rather than creative ones, but they helped me learn how to control the brush in a way I never would have if left to my own devices. These skills, in turn, benefited my creative work.

Beyond technique, East Asian calligraphy has a number of qualities that informed my development as a cartoonist. It’d be too lengthy to get into them here, but if anyone’s interested I wrote a few entries about it on my blog:

http://larsmartinson.com/thoughts-about-lines/

What inspires you as an artist in the realms outside of comics? Music, film, visual art, etc.

I’ve always been fond of stories told through pictures, so most of what inspires me has visual and/or narrative elements. Wong Kar-wai movies, Knut Hamsun novels, and Hokusai’s sketchbook collections spring to mind as sources of inspiration. For music I really like Scandinavian folk; Hedningarna and Triakel are particularly good.

Recently I’ve become intrigued by the narrative potential of video games. I played Persona 4 Golden on the Vita last year, and it’s taken a place among my favorite narrative experiences in any medium. It paints a surprisingly subtle and nuanced portrait of a Japanese school life for a game that features demon-summoning and serial murder.

What is your favorite manga or manga artist? What draws you to that manga/artist?

I read tons of translated manga when I was in high school. Favorites at the time included Masamune Shirow, Johji Manabe, and Rumiko Takahashi. Eventually my interests drifted elsewhere, so I have to admit I’m not too familiar with the current manga scene. My favorite manga these days is hardly cutting edge: “Sazae-san” by Machiko Hasegawa. I explain why I admire it in this comic:

http://media.boingboing.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/sazae_930px_1.jpg

http://media.boingboing.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/sazae_930px_2.jpg

http://media.boingboing.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/sazae_930px_3.jpg

What has been the reaction of Japanese people who have read your graphic novel?

tonoharucover-700pxImage from Lars Martinson / Media

More than anything Japanese people tend to be surprised by the format. The Tonoharu books are hardcovers with two-color interior pages, which is all but unheard of in the manga world. Manga is usually first serialized in weekly or monthly b&w anthologies, so creative choices such as page sizes and printing methods are out of artists’ hands. Conversely, anything goes for American indie comics, so there’s a lot more diversity in terms of presentation, use of color, and binding.

Many of our readers have expressed interest in moving to Japan to become mangaka. What advice would you have for them?

I’ve never actually worked in the Japanese comics industry, so I’ll refrain from speculating on that in particular. But in broader terms, I wouldn’t advise pursuing a “career” as an artist unless you can’t imagine being happy doing anything else.

By some measures, Tonoharu has been a massive success; it’s been covered in the Wall Street Journal and Entertainment Weekly, translated into French and Spanish, and has sold out two hardcover printings with a paperback edition coming down the pipeline. But for all that, I’ve never made anything even approaching a living wage off of my work. Granted, I don’t have many books to sell, since I work at a glacial pace (spending more than ten years on three books is pretty ridiculous). But either way, trying to make a living as an artist rarely makes financial sense no matter how productive you are.

That said, I’m certainly not trying to dissuade people from pursuing something they’re passionate about. Obviously I wish I made more money from my comics, but I don’t for a second regret creating them. I guess my advice to someone looking to work in the Japanese comics industry would be the painfully obvious; strive to improve your craft as much as possible, and become proficient in Japanese. And make sure you’re having fun doing it, because there’s a good chance it may not provide as much monetary compensation as you’d like.

Tonoharu Part Two ends with a cliffhanger. What is in store for Dan in the third volume?

With each book, I’ve tried to capture different aspects of the experience of teaching in Japan. Notably absent in the first two books is any sort of meaningful interaction between Dan and his students, so I devote a significant chunk of the third book to that. This makes for some of my favorite scenes in the whole series, so I hope readers enjoy it as well.

What is your opinion of Japanese cake?

Almost always disappointing.

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Color-Me-In Bear Abs: The Tofugu Coloring Book #1 http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/03/tofugu-coloring-book/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/01/03/tofugu-coloring-book/#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 17:30:14 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=37120 Working on 42039849023 illustrations for Tofugu, it didn’t take long for me to think about the many things we could do with the art that we’ve collected over time. It also didn’t take me awhile to be like, “Wouldn’t it be great if little kids would be able to color in Kumaman’s abs? Forreal?” And […]

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Working on 42039849023 illustrations for Tofugu, it didn’t take long for me to think about the many things we could do with the art that we’ve collected over time. It also didn’t take me awhile to be like, “Wouldn’t it be great if little kids would be able to color in Kumaman’s abs? Forreal?” And it took less time for everyone in the staff to shake their heads and say, “Do you want to leave little children scarred for life by a creepy-ass bear with an amazing six pack for the rest of their lives?”

“Yes.” I said. And this happened.

tfgcoloringbook-03AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!

Worried that your baby brother and/or little kid doesn’t appreciate your love of Kumaman? We have 20+ pages of different Tofugu illustrations outlined and made pretty, all compiled in one ginormous PDF to make them think otherwise!

tfgcoloringbook-01Random Tofugu employee showing off his finished piece. SO PRETTY.

There are other characters featured in the the coloring book (not limited to): Koichiffany, Hayao Miyazaki, Gomenjira, an alpaca, Shinzo Abe, cute vampires, Fugurobots, Matt Cain, and a giant squid! There’s also funny odd captions on every page that will make you think twice bout printing these pages out to give it to your children/siblings/mum/etc.

(Coloring book is now available in the Tofugu Store)

Color in the pages. Put it up on your fridge. Just do it. Make us proud. And make Kumaman proud.

tfgcoloringbook-02/SIGHS IN THE BRILLIANCE

And, because we want to see some finished products, we thought we’d hold a little contest!

PRIZES!!??

Go ahead and print out a page (or many pages) and color something in. Take a picture with your finished page and post it in the comments. We’ll pick out around five that we like sometime next week and send those lucky people some Tofugu/TextFugu/WaniKani stickers. Possibly bonus points if you make a small child do the coloring dirty work for you. Also some bonus points for a creative picture. JUST IMAGINE IF YOU COMBINED THE TWO!

Have fun, thank you for the great year, and we look forward to seeing what you can do with this!

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Christmas Goodies 2013: Tofugu Edition! http://www.tofugu.com/2013/12/20/christmas-goodies-tofugu-edition/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/12/20/christmas-goodies-tofugu-edition/#comments Fri, 20 Dec 2013 17:00:36 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=36966 It’s almost Christmas! And you forgot to put labels on your presents (unless you did it on purpose because you love to annoy/amuse everyone around you by trying to make them guess which gifts are theirs, in which case, gets you in my awesome list of annoyingly awesome gift givers)! WELL, POOP. Be glad you’re […]

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It’s almost Christmas! And you forgot to put labels on your presents (unless you did it on purpose because you love to annoy/amuse everyone around you by trying to make them guess which gifts are theirs, in which case, gets you in my awesome list of annoyingly awesome gift givers)!

WELL, POOP.

Be glad you’re reading this post because I’ve just illustrated a bunch of holiday gift tags and postcards that you can print out and use! Send your fellow WaniKani subscriber/BFF (of the 5ever kind) a postcard of a jolly Crabigator making a SnowKoichi! Or creep your friends out by mailing them a Kumaman postcard! (Or better yet, send Koichi a Kumaman card!) Get those gift tags printed and stick them on yo presents (pets/annoying little brothers/etc, etc.)!

Have fun printing these out as I did making them, and I hope your holidays are filled with creepy Kumamen and SnowKoichis!

Gift tags!

tofugu-gifttag-01

[Download 1600x1600 Tofugu Gift tag]

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[Download 1600x1600 Kumaman Gift tag]

textfugu-gifttag

[Download 1600x1600 Textfugu Gift tag]

 

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[Download 1600x1600 WaniKani Gift tag]

Postcards!

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[Download 4x6 Tofugu Postcard]

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[Download 4x6 Tofugu Postcard]

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[Download 4x6 Kumaman Postcard]

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[Download 4x6 WaniKani Postcard]

Wallpapers

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Tofugu Christmas Wallpaper
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Kumaman Christmas Wallpaper
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WaniKani Christmas Wallpaper
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I hope you all enjoy our version of holiday cheer! Have a great Christmas or holiday or late December — Whatever you celebrate or don’t celebrate!

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Knitting For Jizō http://www.tofugu.com/2013/12/05/knitting-for-jizo/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/12/05/knitting-for-jizo/#comments Thu, 05 Dec 2013 17:00:36 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=36559 One of the first sightseeing missions I embarked on while in Japan in 2005 was to Kamakura, a small, sleepy town to the south of Tokyo. Kamakura has a lot to offer for a day trip: a ton of temples within walking distance of the JR station, hidden restaurants in the downtown area with plenty […]

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One of the first sightseeing missions I embarked on while in Japan in 2005 was to Kamakura, a small, sleepy town to the south of Tokyo. Kamakura has a lot to offer for a day trip: a ton of temples within walking distance of the JR station, hidden restaurants in the downtown area with plenty of charm (we ate amazing wakame udon at a place we literally stumbled into after walking for three hours straight), and if it’s summer time, a great beach to while away a day in the sun.

Kamakura is an easy place to get to, a quick one hour train ride from Tokyo Station along the Yokosuka Line. As I usually do on any extended trip minus children, I had my knitting with me, my husband had a book, and we alternately attended to our hobbies while watching the countryside speed by us. We were in Japan over the American Thanksgiving holiday, so no beach time for us, but I remember it being a beautiful sunny day, perfect for walking and sightseeing.

When the first destination is fun but the second is inspiring…

kamakura-daibutsu

The first stop for most just coming off the train in Kamakura is to walk west along the main road towards the Daibutsu, the large sitting buddha.

It’s an extremely popular destination for both foreigners and Japanese alike, so you won’t be the only person standing in front of the giant buddha making the peace sign while others snap photos with rapid abandon. Off to the right side of the giant buddha is a covered area with a huge, absolutely gigantic, pair of straw shoes that made my husband and me laugh. I stood and wondered about the person who had woven them hoping buddha would step off his platform and walk away. Then I took a photo. Of course.

buddha-shoes

The Daibutsu is fun and interesting, but the statue is, at most, a ten-minute sightseeing effort. Stand and gaze at its immensity, maybe burn some incense, sit and ponder your significance, and move on.

Traveling further east from the daibutsu, we came to the temple I was most interested in, Hasedera. I knew from friends who had visited this temple that it was high up on a hill and had a beautiful view of the bay and beach beyond the city. But what really draws people to Hasedera are the Jizō statues.

jizo

These tiny statues are placed on the temple grounds to honor deceased children, children who have either died young or in childbirth, and there are hundreds of them in perfectly symmetrical lines. What struck me most about spending time with the Jizō statues was how quiet everyone was. Silent and respectful. Each statue was a marvel, a representation of a tiny life lost before he or she could make their mark on the world. I wasn’t the only one who kneeled down to make eye contact with one, like you do with a child you want to talk to. I snapped a few photos of them all in a row, and when I placed my camera back in my bag, my knitting was right next to it. I didn’t know this tradition of knitting or crocheting hats or scarves for Jizō statues. Just like we keep our kids warm in the winter, these knitted items protect the little statues from rain, wind, snow, and sun. Had I been prepared, I would have knitted a baby hat and brought it along to adorn a lost soul.

Who was Jizō?

Jizō is best known as the protector of deceased children, especially children who have died before their parents or during childbirth. He guards them and escorts these children into the afterlife across the Sanzu River so they won’t be forced to make penance for all eternity for not having outlived their parents. But Jizō is also the saint that protects travelers and common people, so his likeness is not just found at temples but also at roadside stands and cemeteries.

There is a Japanese children’s story, Kasajizō, about an old man and woman who are poor but still manage to help the animals that depend on them even when they are starving. They’re kind and thoughtful people, despite having very little. When the old man is unable to sell hats he and his wife have made in exchange for food, he places the hats on his neighborhood’s Jizō statues. In return for his kindness, the Jizō statues come to life and deliver food to the old man and his wife. Continuing the circle of gift-giving, the old man and his wife return what they don’t eat to the Jizō statues to thank them.

jizo2

This story is so iconic of Japanese life, especially concerning the circle of gift-giving that can occur with Japanese people. Once someone is presented a gift, they must respectfully gift something back to the original giver at an appropriate time or holiday. It becomes an obligation, one Japanese omiyage shops are more than pleased to help you with should you be traveling and need a gift to bring home to your coworkers or neighbors. Jizō, traveling, and gift-giving all go hand-in-hand. He is a deity you should keep on your side, at all times.

Protect Jizō from the elements with your knitted gift

Jizō is known for being a benevolent god, helpful and kind, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he deserves a lot of love and affection. Hats and scarves are common gifts amongst the statues, but if you look closer you may find other gifts: a toy yo-yo, a mobile phone charm, a Hello Kitty stuffed animal, a pot of flowers, or even jewelry. Gifts arrive for Jizō statues almost daily, piling up next to and between them until someone comes and moves them to add more.

If you’re a knitter like me, now would be a good time to think about providing him with something warm to get him through winter. I’m sure many of us would want to shroud Jizō in the finest wool and cashmere, but let’s think practically for a moment.

jizo3

You want your gift to last for a long time. If you’re in Japan for a short stay, it would be worth it to knit something to last until the next time you visit Japan, if ever. You need a shield for your statue, not a comfortable and fluffy sweet frock.

Need to learn how to knit first?

Knitting has become extremely popular in the last five years with well-known figures such as Margaret Atwood, Julia Roberts, Christina Hendricks, Kate Middleton, and even Ryan Gosling all publicly talking about their knitting. Knittinghelp.com is my favorite online resource for learning to knit. Their videos are clear and easy to understand. If you learn better one-on-one with a teacher, be sure to check out your local yarn store to see if they have classes. Once you’ve purchased needles and yarn, become a member of Ravelry.com (it’s free) and log all of your projects there, find others who knit in your community, and cruise the Ravelry boards for inspiration.

Knitting For Jizo

knitting

Photo by elitatt

Knitting for Jizō presents its own set of challenges. The statues live outdoors all year round and the weather in Japan can range from blistering hot to frigid to typhoon winds that blow houses down. My suggestion is to go with acrylic yarn, the more workhorse yarn the better. Crocheted red hats are a popular choice (as evidenced by the photo above) because red is the color of life and has traditionally been associated with the protection of children in Japan. It is not uncommon to find Jizō dressed in other colors, though, so I challenge you to step outside the norms and knit or crochet something with love from your heart. Choose a color or pattern that means something to you, something you’ll be able to pick out of the crowd because, if you’re lucky, you may see your gift again in photos online!

When choosing a size, the smaller the better. Jizō statues are generally small with preemie-sized heads. Knit the newborn size but don’t go larger. If you have the skills, add a tie to keep it attached to the statue’s head during typhoons. I have a few pattern suggestions too, if you need somewhere to start.

The Basic Newborn Hat by Major Knitter

Here’s an example of it knitted in stripes:

And another one in blue with a rolled brim:

If you’re a crocheter, try the Teresa’s 10 Minute Crochet Preemie Hat.

Here’s an example of them crocheted in several colors:

And here are some more in muted colors with stripes:

Remember, you’re crafting this for a statue! You don’t need to worry about how scratchy it’ll be or if you screwed up your decreases. If you have time, knit or crochet a thin, long scarf to add as well. And though you probably don’t want to get too involved with this, the crazier the design and color choice, the better. Have you seen Japanese street fashion? It’s out there, way out there. Your Jizō attire will attract more photos and additional gifts should you decide to be creative so shower your chosen statue in the something you had fun making, something that will bring a smile to mourners’ faces, or just be a bright spot in an otherwise somber tradition.

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Bonus Wallpapers!

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How To Celebrate A Japanese Birthday http://www.tofugu.com/2013/11/01/how-to-celebrate-a-japanese-birthday/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/11/01/how-to-celebrate-a-japanese-birthday/#comments Fri, 01 Nov 2013 16:00:37 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=35983 In Koichi’s previous article, “What It’s Like Dating A Japanese Girl,” he wrote about Dale’s interesting New Year’s Eve experience with a Japanese girl, and I thought it would be a good idea to learn about the other special occasions in Japan, such as birthdays and Christmas, Valentine’s day & White day. However, again, I’m […]

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In Koichi’s previous article, “What It’s Like Dating A Japanese Girl,” he wrote about Dale’s interesting New Year’s Eve experience with a Japanese girl, and I thought it would be a good idea to learn about the other special occasions in Japan, such as birthdays and Christmas, Valentine’s day & White day. However, again, I’m sorry that we are going at this topic by topic, but each topic contains so many things! Today, we are going to look at how couples celebrate “Japanese birthdays.”

Birthdays In Japan

otanjyobi

Japanese birthdays are not as big a celebration as they are in the West. In fact, there was no custom of celebrating birthdays in Japan until around 1950! Before this, there was only one day on which to celebrate birthdays (everyone’s birthday) and that day was New Year’s Day. This was because ancient people thought everyone got older on New Year’s Day, not the day they were born. Since then, however, Japan has been influenced by Western culture, so they started celebrating people’s birthdays on the date of their actual birth.

In Japan, the only time you’ll organize your own birthday party is when you are a child, although your parents likely played a bigger part in the actual organization of it than you did. The cake is a “must” and we sing “Happy Birthday” in the dark and blow the candles out on the cake (a 1:1 ratio of candles to years). It’s the same as Western culture, isn’t it?

Now that I’m an adult, I feel uncomfortable when someone says “Hey, I’m having a birthday party on Sunday. Can you come?” In Japan this discussion would take place in a conversation amongst friends like, “Hey, Mami’s birthday is on April 9th, so we are planning a birthday party. Are you available that day?” When someone celebrates their birthday, though they can have a say in where to go or what to do, it’s customary that when making arrangements, inviting people to it and paying the bill is not their responsibility. Food is, of course, a big part of Japanese culture, so it is very common to be treated to a meal on your birthday. A lot of restaurants also anticipate birthday parties being held there, so they keep cake and candles on hand for such occasions.

In the case of my husband and I, he doesn’t like being the main person of focus or attention, so he never plans an event to celebrate himself. Knowing how much he dislikes it, I’ve only organized a party for him once.

Birthday For Couples (Women)

girl-heart

Photo by Scion_Cho

However, this sort of “surprise” party is usually held a few days before or after the actual birthday because the birthday person may have a boyfriend or a girlfriend and they usually go on dates for special occasions. Even high school students, if they have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, will go on a date for their birthday.

According to research conducted by Ozmall in June, 2011, 56% of 800 women ages 20 – 29 years old want to spend their birthday alone with their boyfriend or husband. As for a presents, 27% want accessories, 20% want to go to a restaurant, 17% just want to spend some time with their partner, 9% want to go on a trip within Japan, 7% want to travel abroad, 6% want to be proposed to, 5% want brand-name things such as bags or wallets, 2% want a watch, and 7% want something else (miscellaneous).

Many of these participants said that the reason for wanting an accessory was “because I want to feel my boyfriend/husband is with me at all times.” Isn’t that romantic? Lovey-dovey vomit tummy! Ugh, I just tasted the gyuudon I had for lunch.

Birthday For Couples (Men)

dude-heart

Photo by Scion_Cho

The same organization conducted another research study among 200 men who have a wife or a girlfriend and about 70% of them answered that they go on a date for their birthday.

In regards to presents, most of them actually answered that they would be happy with anything their girlfriends gave them, but they do have a preference for what they would like to do on their birthdays. 28% said that they would like to go on a “dinner date to a fancy restaurant,” followed by 16% who wanted to “stay in a hotel,” 15% who wanted to go on an “onsen date,” 13% who wanted a relaxing night in, 6% who wanted to go to a theme park (ex. Disneyland), 4% who wanted to watch sports, another 4% who wanted to eat at an average restaurant, 3% who wanted an relaxing spa date, 1% who wanted a beach date, and 10% wanting other things (miscellaneous).

I think you can see a lot of the differences between men and women right there.

Romantic Birthday

cake

Photo by is_kyoto_jp

So, the birthday is as important for Japanese couples as it is for couples from many other countries. Although most couples don’t bother making plans that fall very far outside the norm, others want to be very unique as a way to show their boyfriends/girlfriends that they are special. A classmate of mine from university falls into the latter description. I remember he once wrote a poem on the back of a picture of himself that was enlarged to life size and gave it to his girlfriend at a Kobe beef steak restaurant. If I was her, I might have been embarrassed because he told me this monstrosity (imagine a Justin Bieber life-size poster) was standing behind them throughout their entire meal at a fancy restaurant. Apparently, the girl was very impressed and quite taken by the amount of thought put into her present.

Trying to make your significant others’ birthday very romantic is not only a Japanese thing, but a commonality shared among many countries. According to S(Initial) , a 35-years-old female, she dated a very romantic German man for a while and now she’s having a lot of difficulty finding a nice guy like him. Here is her description of her romantic birthday.

“On my birthday, he gave me a picture frame with three pictures in it. There were three messages, one underneath each picture. The picture on the left was of him when he was a baby and the message read “I was born into the world, and…” The middle picture was a picture of him and me together and the message read “an angel…” The one on the right was a picture of me and him hugging each other and the message read “caught me” (Her cheek turned red as she spoke). It was such a great present and I felt so happy.”

The border between cheesy and romantic is so difficult to distinguish sometimes. What’s cheesy to some is romantic to others. Personally, I think this was adorable. I hope my husband doesn’t read this article so I can do the same thing for his next birthday. Think he’ll like it?

Lame Birthday That Turns Women Away

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Photo by armigeress

Although some plans work out well, like the one above, others could be considered cheesy or lame and cause women to turn away. I found and shared a few of the lame ways in which men confessed their love to women in my previous article: Japan’s “Love Confession” culture. Why not learn the type of birthday plans that turn women off, as well? It’s often said that “failure is a stepping stone to success”, right? Luckily, I found research conducted by my-navi-woman from June 3 to June 10, 2013 in which over 389 women were asked about this topic. Let me share some of them! (I apologize in advance for not being able to find one for the opposite sex, which would be “lame birthday plans that make men flee”)

「期待しといて!1日予定空けておいて」と言われて、めっちゃ期待したのに、結局ノープランだった(32歳/女性)
I was told, “Look forward to your birthday and please be available the whole day”, but he ended up having no plans. (32 year-old-woman)

How bad is that? Was the surprise that there was no surprise? If so, good work! You shocked her right out of wanting a boyfriend. I wonder why he couldn’t come up with anything, though. I mean, even a last minute idea could be a “yakiniku birthday” where you spend the whole day out eating lunch and dinner at a yakiniku restaurants and fill in the gaps at the mall letting her pick out a shirt or two.

レストランで店員さんにハッピーバースデーを歌われた。全然うれしくなかったので、喜んだふりするのが面倒だった(29歳/女性)
In a restaurant, all the waitresses sang “Happy Birthday” to me. I wasn’t happy at all, so it was difficult to pretend as if I was glad. (29 years old woman)

It seems that being sung to in front of a lot of people would more than likely be embarrassing for most adult Japanese women – perhaps most people? I certainly would be, anyhow.

ディズニーランドに行ったときに、彼氏がいろんなスタッフに「彼女の誕生日なんです」と言って至る所で歌われたこと(28歳/女性)
When we went to Disneyland, my boyfriend told every single staff member, ‘Today is my girlfriend’s birthday”, and every single one of them sang “Happy Birthday” to me at every single place. (28-year-old woman)

This may be more embarrassing than being sung to in a restaurant! Hey, since we’re at a theme park, you might as well just tar and feather me, throw pies in my face (preferably strawberry), set me up as the dunkee at a dunk tank and hire a comedian to crack jokes about me while I dirty up the water.

オリジナルソングを歌われた(35歳/女性)
I was sung an original song. (35-year-old woman)

Original songs can be a death sentence, unless you are really good at it. I think you also need to have a relationship with a few thousand miles clocked up for that to work. Perhaps not, but I think a truly good original song would come from knowing someone really well.

サプライズをするつもりが自分で事前にばらしてしまった(34歳/女性)
He was planning a surprise party for me, but he accidentally told me. (34-year-old woman)

That’s a bit careless. Maybe he was too excited about the party to keep it secret from his the person he most loved. Actually, that might be the perfect thing to say to get yourself out of that blunder.

誕生日プレゼントを宝探しのように探させたかったみたいで、暑い中蚊に刺されながら探した。プレゼントを見つけるまでに疲れ切ってしまって、もうどうでもよくなりました(30歳/女性)
He wanted me to find the present he got me, like a treasure-hunt, but it was summer and I had to look for the present outside on a very hot day while being bitten by mosquitoes. He hid it very well, so I had exhausted myself before finding it and gave up. I literally thought, “Whatever!” (30-year-old woman)

I guess he wanted to make it like an attraction in a theme park. Live and learn, I suppose. Next time make it a little easier. Not everyone wants to solve a Rubik’s Cube on their birthday.

誕生日を祝おうと言われて彼氏の家に行ったら彼の両親や家族が勢ぞろいしていた。サプライズの方向がおかしい(28歳/女性)
I was told “Let’s celebrate your birthday” by my boyfriend and I went over to his house. Then I found out that all his parents and relatives were there. It was such a weird surprise party. (28-year-old woman)

I believe that most of women need time to prepare when they meet boyfriend’s parents and his relatives. Furthermore, it is weird that only his family and relatives were there on her birthday and not her friends or family, isn’t it?

誕生日に彼氏が私の好きなアニメのコスプレをして登場した。3次元にそういうの求めていないし似合っていないし最悪だった(25歳/女性)
On my birthday, he showed up dressed as my favorite anime character. First of all, I don’t like it when 3D people try to be 2D. Furthermore, he didn’t look like the character at all. It was horrible. (25-year-old woman)

It’s pretty sad that he didn’t look like the character at all. I wonder what the character was. I hope it wasn’t a titan from “Attack on Titan” because they don’t wear any clothes.

高崎白衣大観音に連れて行かれた。渋すぎる……(29歳/女性)
I was taken to Takasaki-byakue-daikannon. It’s too cultured for me. (29-year-old woman)

Takasaki-byakue-daikannon (aka Takasaki kannon) is a huge statue of Kannon (the goddess of mercy) at Jigen-in temple in Takasaki city in Gunma prefecture. It’s height is 41.8m and it weighs 5,985 tonnes. It would be fine for a normal day, or even a date, but a temple is too cultural of place to celebrate a birthday. I wonder why he decided to take her there. Perhaps he didn’t know her very well, yet.

誕生日なのに、仕事帰りに彼氏の知り合いの誕生日会に参加された(23歳/女性)
Although it was my birthday, he joined a different birthday party after his work. (23-year-old woman)

That’s a Japanese guy for you. Not all of them, of course, but many of them make work, or even friendships between men, more of a priority than girlfriends and relationships.

So, how do couples celebrate birthdays in your country? I heard that in Portugal, celebrating before the actual birthday will bring you bad luck. Are there such birthday related superstitions where you are from? How do couples spend their time on each one’s birthday? Do they give presents and what is commonly given? What is your most memorable birthday involving a significant other?

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