Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Boots Filled with Snacks!

During the Christmas season in Japan, Christmas boots filled with snacks appear at general supermarkets. Special spaces for them are set up near the entrances of these supermarkets. Various boots are stacked in piles. Actually, they've been popular since I was little many many years ago, although apart from standard boots, the cartoon characters that are put on them often change. Every time I see them, I wonder how well they sell. However, given the long popularity, they are attractive to children and convenient for mothers when they have Christmas parties for children.

This year, these boots appear to be less luxurious. The piles of them are smaller. The current recession has greatlyinfluenced everything.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Unique ? Weird? Christmas in Japan --part 2: Christmas for unmarried young people

In Japan, Christmas is a special event for young unmarried people. Many of them really want to spend their romantic Christmas with their boy/girlfriends. Some of them fiercely look for someone to date for it if they don’t have boy/girlfriends. They appear to feel unbearably lonely if they spend Christmas Day without a lover. When the economy was good, many young couples had an excellent Christmas dinner and spent their romantic nights at high-class hotels. Many young women received expensive gifts from their boyfriends. Some couples went on short skiing or snow boarding trips. Some couples spent Christmas at Disneyland in Tokyo. Although few young people can afford such luxurious Christmas celebrations these days (thanks to the economic downturn), they seem to enjoy their romantic Christmas in various ways based on their incomes.

When I was a college student many years ago, young couples already considered Christmas special. I don’t know how or when it became special to young people, but I can think of a few possible reasons. The first one is that in order to boost their sales, many businesses created enough of an special atmosphere to convince young people that Christmas was special. Actually, it has been highly commercialized here. In addition, young people used to be the most attractive target, although these days, they are not the driving force of consumption anymore. The next one is that you are free to arrange your own Christmas plan however you want since it is neither a traditional nor a religious event for the majority of Japanese. The final reason is that the 23rd of December became a national holiday when our current emperor ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne 20 years ago because that day is his birthday. Since then, it has been easier to take a few days off around Christmas although we don’t have any Christmas holidays. This has made people pay more attention to Christmas.

Finally, I’ll introduce the TV commercials that had great influence on young people. These were broadcast from 1988 to1992 by JR Central (JR 東海) in order to boost the number of passengers on bullet trains (Shinkansens/新幹線) between Tokyo and Osaka. The song in this commercial is still very popular as a Christmas song. The second version was the most impressive to me (there are five different versions in the YouTube video). Incidentally, the Japanese economy was good from 1988 to 1992.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Unique ? Weird? Christmas in Japan --part 1

Christmas in Japan is probably unique. Since the majority of Japanese people are not Christians, we don’t celebrate it. Christmas is highly commercialized and seen as an enjoyable event. In this sense, Christmas has firmly rooted in the Japanese society, and we have been familiar with it. However, I don’t know exactly how and when Christmas was introduced to Japan.

Within the last 10 days, as a part of their holiday decorations、big Christmas trees have appeared everywhere, mainly in shopping malls. Many of these trees appear to be less gorgeous and bright than usual. When I saw them, I wondered if the economic downturn has probably influenced these trees. I think that for Japanese people, Christmas means enjoying Christmas decorations, romantic illuminations and atmosphere. During December, when you enter any stores or restaurants, you will immediately put you in a Christmas mood. Many people put up Christmas decorations in their houses. In the last decade, lighting up your house has become popular, although it's still not a common occurrence.

In Japan, around Christmas Day, we don't enjoy family gatherings and don't exchange Christmas gifts. Speaking of Christmas gifts, many people may think of gifts given by Santa Clause. Almost all the small children believe that Santa Claus exists. They usually find their gifts from Santa Clause beside their beds when they wake up on the 25th of December. 

From the beginning of November, mothers start asking their small children what they want Santa Claus to bring to them, and they prepare the Christmas gifts. During this period, I often hear mothers telling their children that if they don’t study hard enough (or something like that), Santa clause won’t bring gifts to them. Needless to say, once the children realize that Santa Clause doesn’t exist, they cannot receive their Christmas gifts from Santa Clause any more.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Top 10 Words Describing the Japan of 2009

There is less than a month left this year. In Western courtiers, many people are already busy preparing for Christmas. In Japan, we don’t have the custom of celebrating Christmas since the majority of Japanese people are not Christians. In December, we are busy preparing for our most important, traditional event/festival the “New Year’s Holidays”, and there are various events through which we look back on the year that is coming to an end.

Yesterday, the top 10 winners of the 2009 buzzwords and new words of the year contest were announced. Since these words reflect the social conditions of the year, many people pay attention to the contest. The grand prize was awarded to “政権交代/ Change of administration/government" which was used over and over by our current Prime Minister until the last election in August. Unlike the results in previous years, this year, there were three words relating to politics in the top 10 words, which shows that we cannot talk about the Japan of 2009 without discussing the change of administration and the policies of the new government.
The other two words relating to politics were 脱官僚/debureaucratizing or debureaucratization and 事業仕分け/project classification. The former was a campaign slogan used by a remarkable politician. The latter is a very hot phrase. The new government, in order to review the entire national budget, held an open meeting for 9 days, and the meeting ended only a few days ago. Among about 3000 taxpayer-financed projects, the government first picked out 477 projects in which there were uncertainties and the need to review their budgets. The 477 projects were discussed in the meeting. Only an hour was allocated to each project. The bureaucrats and other people in charge of projects answered questions asked by members of the meeting, who had been chosen by the government. They also had to deliver effective presentations within that hour to persuade the members to approve their budgets. Anyone was able to watch the meeting at the meeting place and through live blogs. Although the meeting is controversial among specialists, politicians and the other people involved, it’s been reported that the majority of the public shows afavorable attitude toward the open meeting. It’s true that the meeting led to many people becoming more interested in how and for what their taxes have been used.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Reasons why the Movie are Receiving Public Attention

In this post, I’d like to supplement the information relating to my last two posts.

In the 1980s, Japan became affluent enough for ordinary people to travel overseas. At the time, apart from foreign airlines, only Japan Airlines (JAL) covered international routes. I suppose that many people, especially those who went abroad for the first time, somehow felt relieved when seeing JAL’s “red crane" logo at the airport in other countries. Many Japanese believed that JAL was the most reliable and safest. Until about 15years ago, many educated women aspired to work for JAL as flight attendants. Partly because of this fierce competition, JAL’s flight attendants were beautiful.

In the evening in August 1985, JAL betrayed the public’s trust. A JAL’s airplane crashed into Osutaka Mountain on the way from Tokyo to Osaka. This evening flight between major two cities was very popular for businessmen/women. A president and board members of major companies died. 坂本九/Kyu Sakamoto, who was well known for the singer of Sukiyaki songs in Western countries, lost his life. Additionally, it was during summer school holidays. The flight was full and many children were on board. Although only four people miraculously survived, the death toll rose to over 500. Some passengers wrote letters to their families on the plane snaking between mountains when realizing that they were going to die.These remains moved people to tears.

Both JAL and the government announced the findings of their investigations on the crash, but there were so many inconsistencies in their reports. Their explanations never satisfied people, especially the families of the victims. About ten years after the crash occurred, the novel” 沈まぬ太陽/shizumanu-taiyou” written by a famous author 山崎豊子/Toyoko Yamasaki was published. This novel drew public attention back to the crash. Right after its publication, the novel became controversial. JAL insisted that the novel would lead to misunderstandings. Although some TV and film companies announced that they would attempt to adapt the novel for the screen, they weren’t able to make it happen. It's been said that they were forced to give up producing it because of great pressure and harassment by JAL and the big names involved.

With the times changing, today, the movie “沈まぬ太陽/shizumanu-taiyou” was finally released. It’s been about ten years since the novel was published. In my opinion, if JAL had seriously examined their problems at that time, it wouldn't be standing on the edge of precipice now.

A Remarkable Japanese Movie is going to Be Released Today

A remarkable movie “沈まぬ太陽/shizumanu-taiyou” is going to be released today, on the 24th of October. The movie is based on a best selling novel written by 山崎豊子/Toyoko Yamasaki. She used to be a journalist/writer at a major newspaper. Since she became an author, she has been known for writing her novels based on her years of investigations on some questionable incidents. These investigations include a lot of interviews conducted by her with some of the people involved. Although her novels are categorized as fictions, everyone knows that her stories contain some facts and truths that were never revealed to the public. On top of that, politicians and major corporations often appear in her novels. Although their real names aren’t used, their assumed names are so similar to their real ones that you can easily guess and identify who or what they are.

I read her long novel “沈まぬ太陽/shizumanu-taiyou” right after it was published many years ago. This novel is well known as the semi-fictional tale of the terrible JAL(Japan Airlines) crash in 1985. However, as far as I remember, rather than focusing on this crash itself, the story focuses on bringing out deep problems hidden within JAL. Moreover, through laying bare the reality of the big corporation, the story makes you think about human essence. (If you want to know more about JAL, please see click here).

The main character of the novel is an employee of 国民航空 (This is an assumed name that indicates JAL). He was transferred to various countries in Africa and the Middle East. Through his over ten-year working in these countries, he came to realize how ruthless, absurd and greed his company(国民航空) was and began to question his company. When his company had a devastating plane crash, he was assigned to handle and support the crash-bereaved families. Through this assignment, he noticed that his company always gave priority to their profits and they ignored the safety of their flights. He thought that this crash was an accident waiting to happen. On top of that, he became aware of corruption, cozy relationships among politicians, bureaucrats and businesses. Although he received constant harassment from his company, he kept on fighting his company.

Since JAL is currently being required to restructure in order to receive a taxpayer-financed bailout, I’m wondering what JAL will think about this movie. On top of that, there is a phrase in this novel that has stuck in my head. The main character loves animals. One day, he went to a zoo. When he reached the exit of the zoo, there was a big mirror on a wall. The phrase “No animal in the zoo is more awful than the one in the mirror, mankind is the most awful animal on earth” was beside the mirror.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Japan Airlines Receiving Public Attention

My first trip abroad was to San Diego when I was a college student many years ago. I went there by myself. On top of that, it was my first time taking an airplane. Because of this, I was very nervous. I vividly remember how I got a little panicked when I was trying to figure out how and where to take my connecting flight at an airport in Los Angeles. This was because I was overwhelmed by how big LA international airport was and I didn't know how to get to the domestic terminal from the international one. Although an American lady at the information desk told me that I had to take the free shuttle bus, I assumed that she couldn’t understand my terrible English, since it didn't make sense to me that I had to take a shuttle bus. It was actually the first time that I realized how different things are between the US and Japan. I also remember how relieved I was when I saw Japan Airlines’red crane" logo ( the attached picture). When I asked a Japanese woman at the Japan airlines (JAL) counter how to get to the domestic terminal, the ensuring conversation with her calmed me down.

Speaking of which, JAL (it was a government-run corporation until 1987) has been struggling with its poor performance for a long time. Recently, JAL announced that it was going to start negotiating with Delta Air lines to form a capital alliance. Since it seems unlikely that JAL could successfully turn around its business without government aid, it's projected that it will receive taxpayer-financed bailouts.

During this time when JAL has been receiving public attention, a remarkable movie is going to be released in a week. The title of the movie is 沈まぬ太陽. The film is based on a novel written by 山崎豊子/Toyoko Yamasaki. Since the novel is the semi fictional tale about the terrible JAL crash in 1985, every time a film company attempted to adapt the novel for the big screen in the past, they gave into strong objections made by JAL.

Friday, September 25, 2009

In Japan, everything is inside train stations.

In Japan, there are many rail lines. This is especially true in the big cities. Generally, workers in central cities are not allowed to commute by car. In cities, people mainly use trains and subways for transportation. They are very familiar with the trains and their train stations. Thus, people tend to prefer to find their house located within a 15 minute walk from the nearest train station. It seems that houses located within 10 minutes by bicycle are their second choice. Needless to say, there are many people who have to take a bus from the station to their house. At any rate, train stations are the center of cities and towns. Inevitably, there are shopping malls around major train stations.

Recently, the places inside train stations have been catching the public attention. The word “inside” here means the places that you can get into with train tickets. A few years ago, an excellent shopping mall opened inside Tokyo Station which I’m very familiar with. The mall consists mainly of many grocery shops, cafés and casual restaurants. There are various prepared meals at reasonable prices. When you are tired after work, you’ll feel compelled to purchase them on the way home. You also can get high-quality sweets and unique products that you rarely get in other places. In Japan, the companies pay train fares for their regular employees. Workers usually buy commuter train passes that offer discounts. The pass holders are free to get into and out of any stations between their office and their house.

Even inside local train stations, there are many shops that satisfy passengers. Inside Ueno station in Tokyo, there is a sport club. I’ve heard that it's welcomed by busy commuters. The nurseries for children that many people are always waiting for a vacancy of are located inside or in front of train stations, since busy working parents, who are often required to work long hours, can save time.

The pictures are of a shopping mall inside Tokyo Station.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Is Tommy Lee Jones Interested in Appearing in Comedy Shows ?

You've probably heard that many Hollywood stars appear in Japanese TV commercials. I've heard that they usually dare not to appear in TV commercials in the west, especially in the US, even when they are offered a good deal. I don’t know for the fact if they don’t appear in TV commercials there though. I guess that they want to avoid their images being affected or blemished by their commercial appearances in the US. In Japan, in contrast, there is a low risk of that if the broadcast is limited to inside Japan only. On top of that, I suppose that many Japanese corporations offer lucrative endorsement contracts to them and accept their many requests. For them, Japan might be an attractive place to make extra money.

Brad Pitt has appeared in the Softbank (a mobile phone company) TV commercials since 2006. The commercials aren't often broadcast, and are intensively broadcast during a certain time of a year. This winter and spring, George Cloone appeared in the Honda TV commercials. I think that these commercials are ordinary and predictable, which means that they are made based on their own images in movies. The Suntory canned coffee commercials that Tommy Lee Jones has been appearing in for more than three years, in comparison, are surprising. In these storyline commercials, he is an alien. The alien came to the earth in order to see what is going on there. The commercials with him have been frequently broadcast for such a long time. Additionally, they are kind of comedies. He has been doing a comedy in the commercials. I started assuming that he is really interested in doing a comedy. Otherwise, why has he been doing that? Just for money?

Tommy Lee Jones

George Cloone

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Surprising behavior in safe Japan

Although security in Japan has been getting worse recently, I think that Japan is still relatively safe. There's a good example to prove it. When my Chinese friend who just moved to Japan a few months ago went to an electric retail store, she put her purse somewhere and left the store. A few hours later, she realized that she had forgotten it. She immediately went back to the store and asked a shop staff whether or not the store had her purse. Against her expectation that it would not have been found, the store had her purse. Despite being valuable things in her purse, she got it back without anything being stolen. This incident actually astonished her.

I'm proud of the safety in Japan, and hope that the safety will continue to be preserved. However, I'm sometimes surprised by Japanese people's careless behavior toward their personal belongings. This may be because my experiences when living abroad have made me accustomed to always keeping my eyes on my personal belongings whenever I go out.

When I went to a self-service cafe with my Slovak friend in Tokyo, some behavior of Japanese women stunned her. To reserve seats for themselves, they first left their personal belongings on the table and the chair, and then went to a counter to buy a cup of coffee. Some of them even left their cell-phones on the table. They seemed to be fully confident that their personal belongings left on the table wouldn't be stolen, even though it was impossible for them to keep their personal belongings in sight. It actually took them some time to return to their reserved seats because of a long line in front of the counter. My friend was surprised and asked me whether or not anybody would intend to steal their personal belongings.

I think that behavior is not acceptable any more even in Japan.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Many Japanese are attracted by the speeches of Barack Obama

Asahi press publisher seems to be hardly affected by the economic crisis. One magazine "The Speeches of Barack Obama" published by the publisher hit the bestsellers list a few months ago. The magazine was originally published for English learners, so it is provided in English and Japanese and is accompanied with a CD-ROM. It's like textbook, and there's nothing attractive about it. Nobody expected it would hit the bestsellers list.

According to the TV news, most of people who bought the magazine felt something attractive when they saw Barack Obama delivering a speech on the news, and then they didn't understand English and understood the whole content of the speeches after they read the magazine in Japanese. Moreover, the more they understood the speeches, the more they were attracted by the speeches.

I understand how they feel. Our prime minister often makes a slip of the tongue and changes his policies, and then his speeches are sometimes inconsistent, so a large number of Japanese people have been disappointed by him. With the serious economic downturn, they/we need something which gives them hope. "Yes, we can" or "change" might encourage them to face the difficulties and try to overcome the serious situation.

When I saw Mr. Nakagawa making a blunder at G7, I felt embarrassed to be a Japanese person. I think we also have to change now.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The characteristics of young Japanese men--herbivorous men

It's been said that Japanese men, especially young ones, have recently become kinder to and less assertive towards women. Japanese women, meanwhile, have become stronger and more independent.

From a marketing perspective, the distinctive characteristics of Japanese people are defined by age bracket and generation. Some are further broken down and named after their characteristics. Some of the names are so popular that they have become common knowledge.

Lately, I often hear "草食系男子/soushokukei-danshi", which is a name describing a new group of young men mainly in their 20s. The phrase was coined a few years ago. 草食/soushoku is from "草食動物 soushoku-doubutsu" which means herbivore. 男子/danshi means a man. Can you guess what "草食系男子/soushokukei-danshi” indicates? Actually, herbivore is used here in contrast with carnivore. In Japanese carnivore is called 肉食動物/nikushoku-doubutsu. In this contrast, the the Kanji character "肉/niku" for" 肉食動物/nikushoku-doubutsu" implies 肉体/nikutai (body) and 肉体関係/nikutai-kankei (physical relationship).

Well, the main characteristics of " 草食系男子/soushokukei-danshi” are as follows
  • They prefer staying home rather than going out in their free time.
  • They are (relatively) sensitive and kind.
  • They don't actively/aggressively try to find their girlfriends and date.
  • When a man is asked by a woman to go shopping or to go to dinner etc, he will accept her offer, and will accompany her on the outing, but this rarely leads to them dating each other.
  • When they spend the night with a woman who is just a friend, and sleep in the same room, nothing even happens between them.
Other than this, it's been said that many Japanese men in their 20s aren't interested in cars. In the past, many young Japanese men used to work hard to buy brand-new/stylish cars. In contrast, at the moment, many Japanese men in their 20s don't think they need cars. Under these circumstances, it's often reported that automobile companies in Japan have been seriously damaged not only by the current economic crisis but also by the attitudes of young people toward cars.
On top of that, young men have less interest in traveling overseas because they think that they can get any information they could possibly need about foreign countries over the internet. They usually don't spend money on expensive thing seven though they can afford to.

It seems that Japanese men in their 20s are no longer able to serve as the driving force for the expansion of domestic demand.