Monday, September 1, 2014

What habits have you picked up from living in Japan that you sometimes have to try and stop yourself doing when you go overseas because you don't think it will look right?

What habits have you picked up from living in Japan that you sometimes have to try and stop yourself doing when you go overseas because you don't think it will look right?

The comments are worth reading.  There are different gestures used here, body language and different things to lubricate social interaction that go beyond simple vocabulary.  If you live here for any length of time and have cultural sensitivity and a desire to adapt, you learn to do many of these.  Bowing, handling someone's business card the correct way, the hand chop meaning "I need to pass through here/in front of you," the giving of obligatory souvenir snacks to coworkers after taking a trip. Three little examples of behaviors I've adopted to get along. 

Some other adaptations we make seem counter-productive or flat out dumb to me, such as using Japanese nouns when speaking English to other ex-pats.  Why say keitai when you mean cellphone when you're talking to another American?  Others are as necessary because you're in someone else's country and you need to learn their ways.  I think this is one of your important tasks when living abroad.

I'm very independent, and even in my home country I often felt like an alien observer.  I had learn the niceties the hard way, with many difficulties and with much practice.  Those little things, such as saying "Good morning" fifty times in five minutes because you pass fifty different people in the hallway when arriving at work.  Making small talk or engaging in conversations that don't interest you in the least because you want the other person to feel validated.  Using certain utensils in a certain order while dining.  Drinking a single glass of wine and maintaining proper decorum at a dinner party rather than giving into social anxiety and chugging a 12-pack of beer in as little time as possible, then peeing in the bathtub because the toilet is too small a target and keeps leaping about.

Now that I live in Japan and I am a perpetual outsider, I make an effort to walk the line between my homegrown American ways and personal identity and the one I'm expected to adopt here to get along, make friends and be a productive member of Japanese society.  When I go back to the US, though, I quickly revert to my original state.  Maybe I don't internalize place as much as others do, or maybe there's something severely wrong with me.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Here's a guy who knows how to have fun: Chiba Batman

Chiba Batman

We saw him on TV the other day, but I thought he was a comedian or tarento.  I didn't realize he was just some dude who enjoys dressing up like Batman to drive around on his funky four-wheeler.  We see a lot of bikers out here where we live, far from the city center.  To me, this Chibatman fella is hardly any different from these bikers, who love hitting the road every chance they get, to blow off steam and enjoy themselves.  He just dresses a bit more flamboyantly.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Nice: Movie academy to honor Belafonte, O'Hara, Miyazaki

Movie academy to honor Belafonte, O'Hara, Miyazaki

There have been many brilliantly inspired filmmakers, but few deserve the often-slung superlative "genius."  Hayao Miyazaki is a genius.  I came to his films late in my movie-loving life, taking what I considered a chance on Spirited Away when it played in my hometown.  I went with my dad, who was then in the stages of Alzheimer's where he could no longer compensate for what he'd lost and was still draining away.  He needed help with daily tasks, he'd drift away at times.  The man in the mirror was increasingly a stranger.  He longer could quite comprehend moving pictures on television.  Even televised baseball games were beyond him for the most part, and he was a guy who knew baseball enough to teach it and coach it.

And even in his best years, he'd had this tendency to fall asleep if he sat still for any period of time.  We'd go to the movies and he'd nod off about twenty or thirty minutes in and he'd wake up in time for the credits and the ride home.  And those were movies he wanted to watch.  For something like Spirited Away, which he went to just to hang out with me and get out of the house for a bit, I expected him to have a pleasant afternoon nap. 

At about the halfway point, during one of Chihiro's colorful misadventures in Yubaba's bath house, I stole a glance at ol' Dad and saw his eyes glistening in the dark, the images from the screen reflected in the glassy curve of their corneas, the corners of his lips turned up in an ever-so-slight smile.  He had the same expression he wore many years before when we all went to Disney World and rode the horse-drawn trolley.  That trolley was the only thing that he really enjoyed doing simply for himself that day in the park.  Sure, he got a kick out of watching my mom and me do our thing, but being pulled along by a horse spoke to his country heart in a way anthropomorphic mice and ducks never could.  That trolley was his thing. 

Years and years later, there he was, already on the other side of the initial stages of a disease that wouldn't kill him but instead would hasten his death within two years, watching the work of someone from another culture and it spoke to him.  Maybe the colors.  Maybe the movements.  He wasn't a guy to analyze stories or his enjoyment of them.  When the cowboys farted in Blazing Saddles, he responded with laughter.  That was the level on which he approached media. So I don't know why Spirited Away kept him awake and pleased when so many other good movies, even ones he enjoyed, rocked him gently to sleep, but it doesn't matter.  As much as I'd been enjoying Spirited Away up to that point, seeing his face like that, that pure enjoyment of something for its own sake, was enough to bond me with Miyazaki forever.  I still feel I owe him a big thank you for giving my father and me one more moment like that in a life full of little moments and memories.

There's a lifetime achievement award from me to Hayao Miyazaki.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Japan's economy stalls as incomes, spending languish

Japan's economy stalls as incomes, spending languish

Did the government here really think at any time people were spending less and hurting the economy because they were hoping things they wanted to buy would cost less later on due to deflation?  I want someone to tell me if that truly is the case, as this article states.  I have this suspicion people have been spending less and saving more because they're simply tight with their money, planning for retirement, insecure in their jobs, worried about unemployment or economic hardship or generally pessimistic about Japan's future.  Or in some cases, they work such long hours they don't have time for recreational spending and simply limit themselves to necessities like rent, utilities and food.

You mean news stories about how the "bubble" popped a generation ago and Japan's economy has never bounced back and all those extra hours of unpaid "overwork" at the office and the paid leave workers are either not allowed to take or can only use one or two days at a time spread throughout the year doesn't put them in the mood to go crazy and lavish themselves and their families with a lot of consumer goods and luxury items?

Splurging means Uniqlo or Seiyu these days.

People did briefly go on a spending spree in anticipation of the consumption tax increase.  They were goaded into by news stories leading up to the big change.  You know, on the government-operated national television network.  They made it seem that way, anyway.  Probably in someone's vested interest to do so.  Afterwards, people were more like, "Wow, stuff's so expensive now.  Better not splurge because we can't really afford it."

It seems every time there's a problem here the solution bandied about consists of "Continue doing what we did before... ONLY HARDER!"  If we all just work longer hours and toe the line more firmly then the nation's future is assured!

Ceci n'est pas une chat: Hello Kitty not a cat, has never been: Sanrio

Hello Kitty not a cat, has never been: Sanrio

I find it bizarre the way this concept has been stretched and pretzeled the last couple of days.  It's not a difficult concept to understand, but I suppose that's what the Internet is for these days-- discovering some idea that should have been obvious all along and then acting incredulous about it. 

All Sanrio is saying is Kitty is not a cat in the sense that Mickey is not a mouse and Goofy is not a dog.  They wear these familiar animal shapes not because they're animals, but because animal shapes are appealing, the visual vocabulary of cute cartoony works.  Kitty is an anthropomorphic character and we've had those for as long as we've had pop culture.  Way back when I was a kid, thousands of years before your grandparents were even introduced via OK Cupid, Aesop did this kind of thing all the time, using animals to illustrate human foibles.  I don't remember any of us running around screaming, "Oh my god, a lazy cricket and an industrious ant!  A fox who sneers at the grapes he can't reach!  I've been lied to!"  Eventually, our animal-shaped avatars began wearing clothes and selling merchandise but they've always been us.

Ultimately, what Kitty is... is her own unique self.

A good friend of mine was Sanrio's North American web designer for years so this is big news for her, but only because she also doesn't get the furor over something that should have been obvious all along and really isn't difficult to understand at all.  Still, I'm pretty sure she's happy so many people are talking about Hello Kitty.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I ain't got the faintest idea what this is: Babymetal plot world domination with Lolita rock

Babymetal plot world domination with Lolita rock

But you know, I have to pontificate on it from within my fortress of ignorance like some kind of idiot king.  I've heard stirrings about Babymetal, but until now I could just turn away.  Every morning when I hit work, I check out this stuff on Japan Today-- which seems to draw a great portion of its content from RocketNews24-- because I want to know what's happening in my adopted home country and some of the articles prove useful for our upper level English Club activities.  And the Japan Times website puts a limit on how much you can read before you have to pay for it.  Screw that.

Thanks to this little daily ritual Babymetal leaped into my consciousness this morning because Japan Today's story about them is one of the most popular right now.  So I read about Babymetal.  And I learned Babymetal is a trio of junior high girls who mesh Lolita style with heavy metal for some reason.  Their names are Su-Metal (she gets the most quotes in the article), Yuimetal and Moametal.  They have a hit single titled "Gimme Chocolate," which continues the continuity of Japanese female rockers and singers singing about food and candy, a tradition stretching as far back as Shonen Knife's early days, which then jumped the Pacific along with Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto fame, and eventually returned to Japan and mutated into Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

My first thought as I plunged into the article was these girls are some of those musical prodigies you hear about from time to time, or see in viral videos on YouTube.  You know, the 9-year-old who can play the drum parts to Rush's "Tom Sawyer," or the kid with the four-octave voice who wows the usually heartless judges on some televised talent contest in Europe.  Just some friends taking music lessons who bonded over a mutual love of heavy metal and had connections somewhere.

Actually, from what I gathered via the article and a quick visit to Wikipedia just now, Babymetal is a manufactured group concept and the three girls have been kicking around the Japanese music scene in various junior idol singing groups for a few years now.  They don't play instruments as far as I can tell.  But at least merging two apparently diametrically-opposed ideas is fresher than simply cloning AKB48 or Perfume with children and dumping some wan pop song theme from an anime series on the charts for the ten thousandth time.  It may all be a carefully orchestrated ploy by a talent agency to make a few yen, but the girls' seeming devotion to metal gods and thrill at meeting Metallica reminds me of Electric Eel Shock, a legitimate hard rocking group who have been upholding the banner of pure rock for a number of years now.  And that's not a bad thing, either.

I'm a rock person myself and if Babymetal can act as a gateway for an infusion of new fans who go on to discover the power and glory of good, honest guitar-based rock music, then I'm all for it.  Not enough to buy a CD, but from the periphery, as a casual observer.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

At last, a real life superhero who is actually useful: Cleaning up the streets

Cleaning up the streets

Mangetsu-man turned up in Tokyo to help clean a bridge in Nihonbashi.  Who is Mangetsu-man?  I don:t know, but he has a big, round head like a yellow moon and a purple cape.  He sweeps and cleans the streets with a broom and a dustpan, so I count myself among his fans.  He wasn't the only one.  Some helpful civilians also turned out.  I am a fan of those people, too.

I go to Nihonbashi occasionally in search of American comic books.  There's a nice little shop there called Blister that sells them, plus imported toys.  It seems a fairly quiet place with a few restaurants and a number of office buildings.  I'm not sure what its main focus is.  You know, Shibuya is for shopping, Shinjuku is for fun, Akihabara is for AKB48 and geeky interests.

The next time I go to Nihonbashi, I'll keep an eye out for Mangetsu-man and his anti-garbage crusaders.