Thursday, August 29, 2013

Are unique mascots the trump card to boost local economies?

In Japan, new unique cartoon characters are frequently created for promotional purposes. Because of our Anime and Manga culture, these characters are more likely to play an important role in promotion. As a result, our society is overflowing with cartoon characters. I even wonder if people are fed up with them. Nonetheless, new ones pop up one after another. Can you guess why?

In 2007, the mascot, "Hiko-nyan", appeared to promote events for the 400th anniversary of Hikone Castle in Hikone city, Shiga prefecture (click here). This unique character gained great attention and became very popular. At the very least, it helped make the castle and city better known. Since this great success, more and more towns, cites and prefectures have been willing to have their own unique mascots. They have been jumping on the bandwagon in hope that their own mascots will help boost their local economies because they have been struggling to do that for many years.

On top of that, the cute black bear mascot, "Kuma-mon (click here)", which was created for the promotion of Kumamoto prefecture /熊本県, has proved for the last few years that mascots can be an effective way to attract more tourists. Surprisingly, the incurable popularity of Kuma-mon still shows no sign of slowing down.

Because of this boom, for the last five years, countless unique mascots have begun to promote local economies. Then, the coined Japanese word, "Yuru-kyara /ゆるキャラ (the literal translation into English is loose characters)", has become very popular as a word indicating these mascots which are distinguished from major cartoon characters like Hello Kitty (Note #1).

Chiba-kun, which is the mascot of
Chiba prefecture. With a side view,
it is shaped like Chiba prefecture.  
Needless to say, outstanding Yuru-kyara always have good gimmicks. This year, the jiggly yellow pear mascot, "Funassyi", brought fresh gimmicks to the competitive mascot world. I plant to talk about Funassyi later.

Note #1:
According to Wikipedia, a person who coined the word "Yuru-kyara" insists that Yuru kyara should have the following three features (Although I don't understand exactly what these three indicate even if I read them in Japanese, I'll try to translate them into English):
-"Yuru-kyara" are designed to delivery a strong message filled with love for the hometown.
- "Yuru-kyara"have quickly and unique behaviors and acts.
-"Yuru-kyara" have the element of being adorable loose.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Can that popular dog, "that Father dog", help stamp out frauds??

It's been quite a while since I posted my last article. I hope I'll be able to post an article frequently.

Anyway, today, I'll talk about fraud schemes which the police have been having a hard time stamping out for many years in Japan ( I guess this kind of fraud is similar to phone or billing frauds in other countries). The victims are mostly elderly mothers whose sons live away from home. In Japan, there are a lot of healthy and elderly mothers living alone since Japanese women have the longest life expectancy in the world and live about seven years longer than Japanese men on average. Also, sons generally don't have as many opportunities to communicate with their mothers as daughters do. Because of this, women with sons tend to be the first target for the frauds.

As to how the scammer gains the women's trust, he calls and says something like this:-Hi. it's me, it's me, it's me. I need some money because I have a big problem. Please go to a bank and put money (usually, several million yen) into the following account to help me
-Hello, is this XX? It's XX company (where is the mother's son works). I'm your son's boss. Your son has an accident. To help him, please go to a bank and put money into the following account.

You may wonder why elderly mothers fall for such a simple trick. As a matter of fact, those who haven't had that experience are even surprised at the fact that the number of victims has been increasing, although both the police and the government frequently warn about the fraud schemes. Also, many of the victims wonder why they fell for the frauds, saying that they thought they would never become the victims. As the schemes have been growing in sophistication and diversity, the police have been struggling to find an effective way to reduce the victims.

Under these circumstances, the police have used many kinds of cards to protect elderly mothers from the frauds. One of them is very interesting to me. The police decided that popular white dog, "that father dog", would take up the post of an adviser to stamp out the fraud schemes. Then, the poster (please see the attached picture which I took at Tokyo station) appeared. When I first saw it, I really realized how popular the dog was. I wondered how many Japanese people thought of the dog when they heard of "white dogs" or "fathers".

As for this white dog, please click here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why did she shave off her hair?

Have you heard of AKB48, the Japanese girl group? I would say that the group has been very popular in Japan for more than five years. Although I'm not interested at all in the group and their songs, I think that it is worth paying attention to this group as a unique business model. If you are interested in it, please click here.

I've heard that there are rules that all the group members are required to obey. I see these rules as a sort of contract for joining AKB48. I don't really know these rules, but know the most popular one: dating is banned. To be honest, I've been feeling that the dating ban rule is strange and ridiculous, although I'm aware of the fact that there are still many men who don't want female idol to have boyfriends. Anyway, aside from whether or not the rule is positive, it's undoubtedly what the members have to comply with.

The other day, it was reported in a magazine that a 20-year-old member had spent a night with her boyfriend. The magazine also printed pictures of her leaving his house. It means that she broke the dating ban. Immediately after the revelation of the scandal, she shaved off her long hair without telling the other members and her management agency. In a YouTube video on the AKB48 official channel, she displayed her buzz-cut head, made a tearful apology, and asked for forgiveness. Her buzz-cut stunned not only the other members but also many ordinary people. The video has become very controversial. Surprisingly, NHK, the Japanese public broadcasting service, and major foreign media played up the video mainly because of her bizarre reaction (Click here).

In Japan, men sometimes shave off their hair to show their deep reflection on what they have done. For example, when top male athletes weren't able to achieve their goals, they do that, saying that they will make more effort. This custom originates from Buddhism ( I don't know much about it). In my understanding, shaving off one's hair is a way of expressing self-criticism, but not of asking for forgiveness. Because of this (not because a girl shaved off her hair), when I saw the video in the news, I felt that there was something wrong. I hope that she didn't expect tears and buzz-cut head to be helpful to ask for forgiveness.

Japanese society is always seen as a male dominated society. In my opinion, to improve it, both men and women have to change their way of thinking. From this viewpoint, that video has made me think a lot.

Monday, October 29, 2012

I can't help but pay attention to Tommy Lee Jones and that white dog. I don't know why.

If you talk about white dogs with Japanese people, many of them will first think of a white dog which always appears in a very popular series of SoftBank cellphone TV commercials. This series is so interesting and funny that it has been very popular for more than five years. It has a storyline that revolves around the Shirato/白戸 family consisting of a girl, her brother, her parents, and her grandmother. Aya Ueto/上戸彩, a very popular actress, plays the role of the daughter. Both her mother and grandmother are played by two well-known actresses. Her bother is played by an American. Interestingly enough, a white dog plays her farther. He is a white dog in appearance, but he thinks and speaks like standard Japanese fathers do. Other family members treat the dog as a normal father. I've heard that a company, which has been creating the series since the start, wanted to use a popular actor as the father, but the budget wasn't enough, so the company reluctantly used the white dog instead. Because of this, the company didn't expect the series to become that popular. No one knows what will turn out to be lucky, right? Anyway, in the series, a new episode appears very frequently, and it always captures a trend and portrays the family as humorous. So, a lot of people, regardless of gender and age, like the series.

Speaking of a very popular series of TV commercials, the series of Suntory canned coffee commercials where Tommy Lee Jones appears is still continuing. Surprisingly, he has been playing the role of an alien in the commercials since 2006. Have you heard of it ? Since the series also portrays Japanese society with humor and irony, I've found it interesting. I've been wondering why Tommy Lee Jones has been doing a sort of comedy as an alien in the commercials for such a long period of time. Does he enjoy the role? Is it for a lucrative endorsement contract ?

About two months ago, the aforementioned two companies, Softbank and Suntory, started collaborating in promoting their products. About two months ago, the aforementioned two companies, Softbank and Suntory, started collaborating in promoting their products. These episodes in the commercials are ridiculous, but I can't help but pay attention to them. I don't know why.

Is there a series TV commercials which has been popular for a few years in your country?

A SoftBank cellphone commercial with English subtitles. This is old.

A Suntory canned coffee commercial with English subtitles. This is also old.

The new collaboration TV commercial.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Let's go to Akita and see beautiful Japanese women!!

Have you heard the Japanese phrase " Akita-bijin / 秋田美人" ? Akita/秋田 is a prefecture in the northern part of Japan facing the Sea of Japan. Bijin/美人 means beautiful woman. So, Akita-bijin/秋田美人 means beautiful women from Akita, implying that there are many beautiful women in Akita. I'm not sure whether or not Akita has more beautiful women than other prefectures.I don't know exactly when the phrase became very popular, but it was already popular many years ago, when I was a child.

It's been said that women in Akita have beautiful skin. The other day, I saw a TV show about beautiful skin on NHK, the Japan's national public broadcast station. The show introduced women at a town in Akita as those with beautiful skin. Admittedly, many of them had fair and beautiful skin. Four of them over 70 (years old), even without makeup, were amazing. Their facial skin was really beautiful and fair without flecks and with very few wrinkles. Their skin made them look much younger. Can you guess why the women in Akita have beautiful skin?

According to the show, Akita has the shortest annual hours of sunlight in Japan. And the four elderly women with beautiful skin have been living in the town since they were children. They worked indoors for many years. It proves that people who have fewer chances of being subjected to sunshine tend to have beautiful skin. As you may know, ultraviolet are harmful to the skin. It causes not only skin cancer but also flecks and wrinkles which make people look older. As a matter of fact, elderly people who always work outside tend do look older than they actually are.

I think that beautiful skin is one of the most important elements of beauty. Also, I feel that as one gets older, beautiful skin grows in importance. After seeing the show, I've understood why the phrase Akita-bijin/秋田美人” was coined and became so popular.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Professor Yamanaka gives Japan chances and suggestions !!

It has just announced that the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 was awarded jointly to Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent". I'm very glad to hear the news not only because Yamanaka is Japanese but also because I've been impressed by his background and words which were introduced in a documentary on his findings. The documentary was broadcast when he began to draw considerable attention in Japan a few years ago.

According to the documentary, Yamanaka tried to become an orthopedic surgeon immediately after his graduation. However, he wasn't able to become a "normal" surgeon. He usually took much longer to do an operation than others. For example, he took about two hours to do an operation which takes 20 minutes on average. He was so unskillful that he was called jyamanaka/邪魔なか(His name is Yamanaka/山中. The nickname "jyamanaka" sounds very similar to his name, but jyama means disturbing others or bothering others). While struggling to improve his skill, he often encountered the fact that surgical procedures aren't very helpful to patients with intractable diseases. Eventually, he decided to change his career from orthopedic surgeon to researcher mainly because he wanted to find a way to help patients with intractable diseases. A few years later (maybe), he sent his research papers to many universities in the US in order to continue his study. One of them welcomed him. After that, he often had difficulties in his study both in the US and Japan. Well, I'll stop talking about his background.

In the documentary, he was interviewed. Many of his words impressed me. I'll talk about some of them. He said, "When I was at the university in the US, nobody cared about my past. Prominent professors often spoke to me. They were friendly to me. In Japan, it's unlikely to happen. In the US, people often change their careers when they find something more interesting, so my background wasn't strange to people there. I was really saved by this academic research environment and atmosphere in the US. In Japan, people tend to try to go straight to and work hard toward their goals. This attitude is considered to be good in society. I think that the attitude is not bad, however, it's likely to limit potential."

Other than him, I've heard that Takeshi Kitano/北野武, who is well-known as a movie director in the world, points out similar things (He first succeeded as a comedian in Japan. After that, he started making films). He said on TV, " In France, people admire me for having succeeded as both a comedian and a movie director. In contrast, in Japan, I'm often told that I'm a successful comedian, so it's too much and even intrusive for me to make films (His words and their nuances are hard to translate into English).

There are many things that we can learn from their words. They have shown how Japan should change. I do hope that Yamanaka's win of the Nobel Prize will make more people realize what we should learn. At the last press conference, he said, "I want to express my sincere gratitude to my family and fellows, at the same time, I greatly feel responsible. I have to work harder so that our findings will enable patients with intractable diseases to be cured as soon as possible. I think that the pace of research in my field is much faster than expected. I hope that discussions on the law and ethic issues will be promoted". Japan often can't make a quick decision and change things. It usually takes some time to do that. I do hope that Japan won't miss this chance because of its poor support.

Monday, October 8, 2012

This is currently the most popular tourist spot in Japan!?

 I often pass through Tokyo Station. I found it annoying that many parts of the station were covered for about five years due to the renovation. I hoped that the renovation would be completed as soon as possible.On the 1st of October, the station was finally revealed with a more fascinating appearance. As I mentioned in my previous entries, the appearance of the station was restored to its original state which was designed in 1914 (click here and here).

A few days ago, I tried looking around the station. Although all the annoying construction covers were gone, I felt like a lot of people gathered and covered the impressive appearance of the station instead, which was also annoying. Having said this, however, I fully enjoyed the restored station.

I'll attach some pictures of the station which I took at the time. I hope that you can enjoy them. The first picture attached is the restored Station. You can see how many people were there. The second one is a special doorway for VIPs. It's located in the central part of the station building. The doorway is usually closed. When I took this photo, the doorway was closed, but when I returned to the station a few hours later, the doorway was open. On top of that, there were many security officers and people near the doorway, and a few helicopters were circling around above. I assumed that an important dignitary was coming out of the station. A few minutes later, a black car with the Emperor and Empress passed in front of me. They were lit by the light in the car and were waving in the unstable position so that people along the route could see their faces, which made me realize how hard their duties are. I don't know much about the Imperial family. However, I'm often impressed by what the current Emperor and Empress do. Also, their behaviors and facial expressions in the news often make me realize that they have good personalities. 

The third picture is the illuminated station. I don't think that the picture can convey the beauty.

The below ones are pictures of a vaulted ceiling of the station. I also took these pictures. The vaulted ceiling is also worth a look. It's impressive that this was designed and built in 1914.