Friday, December 31, 2010

You may find something serious or get something expensive during the New Year holidays.

Yesterday, passenger planes and the Shinkansen (bullet trains) were overcrowded with people going back to their hometowns during the New Year holidays. International airports were filled with travelers who were encouraged to go abroad because of the strong Yen. As you can see, the New Year holidays are traditionally for family gatherings, although more and more younger people are willing to take advantage of the longer holidays to go on a trip. Because of that, in December, there are fights between parents and their children over how to spend the New Year holidays since older parents, especially those who live far from their children, really want them to come home.

Anyway, I've noticed that a special TV commercial has been frequently broadcast since a week ago. It says that you should please try to watch your old parents carefully and see whether or not there is something unusual with them while you visit them during the holidays. It also shows the significant symptoms of dementia and numbers to contact if you find something unusual. Actually, the number of people suffering from dementia has been sharply increasing in Japan, so both society and individuals pay attention to how to prevent themselves from getting it. It's been said that noticing dementia symptoms in an early stage is key since there are effective ways of slowing the progression of it, although dementia isn't treatable. I'm aware of these things, however, I didn't expect TV commercials like this to be broadcast.

On the other hand, there is a special promotion to encourage senior citizens to spend more money for their children and grandchildren during the New Year holidays. Actually, younger married couples tend to rely on their parents when they have to buy something expensive for their children. This is because people over 65 usually have a lot of savings since they could receive a lot of money when they reached the mandatory retirement age; in contrast, their married children are struggling to make a living since they have been suffering from the recession.

Under these circumstances, some major shopping malls, most of which are open during the New Year holidays, have already displayed the traditional dolls called ひな人形/hina-ningyo (the first picture) and back-to-school merchandise for incoming pupils so that senior citizens, their children, and their grandchildren can take advantage of the New Year family gathering to go there together to buy them. That way, they can buy something that their children and grandchildren will really like. 

The first item is a set of traditional dolls which are displayed at home to pray for young girl's happiness around the Doll Festival/ひな祭り on the 3rd of March. Many grandparents are willing to buy them before their baby girls have their first Doll Festival. Many kinds of the dolls are very expensive. The second item mainly refers to student desks/学習机(the second picture) used at home and Japanese school bags called ランドセル/randoseru (the third picture. The new school term begins in April in Japan). Until two years ago, these things started being displayed in February. I've heard that the promotion succeeded this year.

I wish you all the best in 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Now is when I have the strongest feeling that I'm Japanese.

In Japan, the last few days of the year are the most hectic in the year. People often say that they don't leave things to be done until the next year, so they try to have everything done within the year. Although some traditions are fading out from Japan, the New Year celebration still makes many people feel like they have to do something based on tradition.

People will clean their entire house during the last few days of the year to greet and enjoy the New Year. They first distinguish necessary things from unnecessary ones, and then they try to throw away as many things as possible. After that, they wipe every nook and cranny of their houses as if they were trying not to carry over any dust to the coming year. Since the idea called 断捨離/dan-sha-ri (please see Note 1 below) has become very popular this year, I think that people try to throw away many more things than usual .

On the 31st of December, wives are usually stuck in kitchens cooking special dishes called おせち料理/osechi ryori ( please see the pictures) for the New Year Holidays, although more and more people are buying them. These dishes were developed when refrigerators didn't exist. They were basically nonperishable foods at the time. In other words, they were cooked to last for a few days so that wives did not have to cook during the New Year holidays. Because of this, the special dishes will be strong and too sweet if you cook them based on the general recipes. Speaking of nonperishable foods at the time, some kinds of sushi/寿司 were developed to last longer, as well.

Anyway, people are willing to buy expensive foods because of the New Year celebration, whether or not these foods are what they are supposed to eat during the New Year holidays. Some want to use new sheets starting from the 1st day of the year. I'll stop listing these things. All in all, shops can enjoy good sales during the last week of the year.

I'm often told that I'm different from ordinary Japanese. This might be because I lived in foreign countries for seven years in total. On top of that, I'm flexible about tradition. However, I do feel like doing something before the New Year holidays. Yesterday, I spent a much longer time than usual to clean up my house. Today, I'll go shopping. Tomorrow, I'll cook some special dishes.

I wish you all the best in 2011!

Note1 :断捨離 /dan sha ri
I'm not sure where this idea and phrase come from, although I've heard that they came from Yoga. This means thinking about your life by means of thinking about what things around you really need and throwing away things other than those you really need. Books and magazines relating to 断捨離 are enjoying good sales.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Do calendars play a certain role on business? Calenders are things to be given in Japan.

There are only a few days left this year. Companies other than service ones got closed for the New Year holidays yesterday. The last business day of the year is called 仕事納め/shigoto-osame in Japan. On the day, small parties called 納会/noukai are usually held. In my experience, snacks and drinks including alcohols are served at the office. Companies will be usually be closed for business until the 3rd of January.

As I mentioned before, people traditionally give gifts to their bosses and friends etc in order to show their gratitude in December although this tradition has become less popular. Other than this tradition, right before the holidays start, workers visit their main clients to express their gratitude and give them original calendars or diaries which their companies made as promotional goods, although I've found that there is a growing tendency by companies to stop making and giving them to cut costs.

I don't know why calendars and diaries have become that popular as small gifts given in December. I guess this is because they are necessary and coveted things. On top of that, calendars are put on desks or hung on walls for a year, and diaries are used for a year, as well. In other words, they can remind people daily of companies which gave them, so they are effective promotion tools. However, the calendars and diaries will be meaningless if they aren't used. In order to capture hearts and minds, some are highly designed, and some are functional. Needless to say, company's names and telephone numbers are printed on the calendars and diaries in a way to not spoil the design of them. As for calendars, in my experience, I can find ones I like among calendars given at work. If there are some left at the office after Christmas, workers are often allowed to bring them back home if they want. Until a decade ago, banks etc would give them not only to main clients but also to individual clients such as housewives. All in all, calendars are things to be given, not to buy, for many people in Japan, although more people buy them since the number of attractive free calendars has sharply decreased due to the current recession.

I wish you all the best in 2011!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

This is Christmas in Japan !!

When I was little, Christmas was the day when Santa Claus came to my house to give me a gift. When I woke upon the day, I found that the gift was beside my bed. In Japan, Christmas gifts from Santa are usually put beside Children's beds. This might be partly because people don't know what Christmas gifts mean and partly because tiny Christmas trees are very common due to small houses. When I realized that Santa Claus doesn't exist, Christmas disappeared from my family. Every time I asked my mother to give me a Christmas gift, she said to me, "We aren't Christians, so we don't need to celebrate Christmas". Still, she'd buy a whole cake decorated for Christmas and roast chickens. As you can see, Christmas makes many people think of cakes and roast chickens. On Christmas Eve and day, well-known cake shops temporary appear in major train stations to sell Christmas cakes to businessmen/women on the way home (There are no national holidays for Christmas in Japan). KFC tries to achieve as large sales as possible. As for gifts, currently, many children seem to receive them from their parents and grandparents even after they realize the truth about Santa.

About a week ago, on a train, I heard a few young business women having a small talk about Christmas. They said: "I've heard that XX is going to XX with her boyfriend on Christmas. I wish I had such a plan. We all don't have boyfriends. Do you have a plan on Christmas Eve and day? This year, Christmas Eve is on Friday. It sucks, doesn't it? While I stay alone at home after work on Friday night, I sometimes feel lonely. I don't want to spend Christmas Eve alone on Friday night. Why won't we go out for dinner together after work? ". This conversation reminded me of when I was in my late teens and 20s. Christmas makes young people feel like they want to have a romantic date with their boy/girlfriends. If they can't do that, then they try to fill the time with a party with their friends.

Actually, around Christmas, workers, including myself, are busy at both work and home because it's several days before the New Year holidays. I think that many of them are forced to work late on Christmas Eve and day.

I have a few Japanese Christian friends. They usually go to church on Christmas Eve.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Are Christmas gifts replacing traditional gifts sent in December in Japan?

During December, in the west, people usually think of Christmas gifts when speaking of gifts. People in Japan, especially the youth and those with small children and grandchildren, think of Christmas gifts as well. However, some think of another kind of gifts called お歳暮/o-seibo. This is a Japanese tradition. In December, we give gifts to our bosses and friends etc in order to show our gratitude for their help during the year, although this tradition has recently become less popular. I'm even wondering if the tradition is fading out, but special zones for the gifts called お歳暮/o-seibo still appear in supermarkets and department stores in November.

When I was a child, this kind of gifts were sent home mainly by my father's co-workers whom he was in charge of and by his clients. I looked forward to the gifts. When I started working many years ago, my company strongly advised that its employees should refrain from sending the gifts to their bosses and co-workers since the employees wondered if the gifts helped their bosses give them a good evaluation. Because of this, I never sent the gifts to my bosses nor received them from my co-workers in my company. However, my division still received them from other companies with which my division had close relationships in business. On top of that, I was personally given the gifts by other companies etc which were involved in my projects. Although I was required to report to my boss who gave me what, I was allowed to accept the gifts since all of them were within the bounds of common sense. As far as I remember, I received a dozen beers, a few pieces of handkerchief and things like that (Please see the Note below).

At the time, in December, some workers in department stores visited companies to give advice and help them send the gifts. As the times have changed, companies are required to be more transparency. Since some of the gifts were likely to be considered a sort of bribe, companies stopped sending and receiving gifts. Although I think that there are some companies which still keep the tradition, the current recession has encouraged more companies to turn from the tradition. On top of that, the tradition is disappearing from many younger people. Instead, Christmas gifts have become more familiar with them.

When I started working, I was a only woman in my project, although many people from various companies were involved in the project. They were not used to dealing with female co-workers. In December, some of them wanted to give me a gift as お歳暮/o-seibo. However, I guess they didn't know what kind of gift was best for me since they hadn't given the gifts called お歳暮/o-seibo to female co-workers before. After they thought through it, some gave me a big stuffed Snoopy because I told them at work that I liked Snoopy very much. Some gave me a pair of very high-quality pajamas. These surprised not only me but also my co-workers in my company. We all broke up.

I wish you a merry Christmas !!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"I love you" versus "愛しているよ"

Christmas is mainly for young couples and children in Japan. Many young couples want to have a romantic time because it is Christmas. I'm sure that younger women expect their boyfriends or husbands to put them in a romantic mood on Christmas.

Anyway, I often hear women from the West complaining that their Japanese boyfriends or husbands say sweet words to them much less frequently than they expect. Some Japanese women are frustrated with the same thing, as well. As you can see, generally, Japanese men are not good at making women happy with words. As for the phrase "I love you", I think that Japanese people, regardless of gender and age, hardly use it to express themselves. I suppose that the Japanese phrase "愛しているよ", which is the literal translation of " I love you", gives many Japanese people different impressions from those which "I love you" conveys. Some insist that they can easily say, "I love you" in English, but it's very hard to say 愛しているよ in Japanese not only to Japanese people but also to non-Japanese who can understand Japanese. I totally agree with them. On top of that, when Westerners say to me "I love you", I can take the phrase at face value. In contrast, when my Japanese boyfriend (or husband) seriously says to me "愛しているよ" in ordinary situations, I'll be surprised, wondering if there is something wrong with him. Needless to say, it depends on situations and people.

In American TV shows, the phrase "I love you" is always used between parents and their children. To be honest, I've never said to my parents "愛しているよ/ I love you" although I love them. If I said that, they would be so surprised that they would start worrying about me. As far as I remember, they've also never said to me ” 愛しているよ” although I've realized that they love me very much.

In Japanese culture, ambiguous expressions are often preferred, so Japanese people subconsciously try to sense what speakers imply even when they don't imply anything. Japanese people still tend to prefer expressing themselves and being expected to sense others' feelings without words. When Japanese people express how much they love their lovers, they use various expressions based on situations. I guess that these backgrounds make 愛しているよ a special phrase. I'm sorry I can't explain it well.

PS: Actually, "大好きだよ/ I like you very much" is much more common among couples. Given that and considering nuances 大好きだよconveys, 大好きだよ might be equivalent to "I love you" among couples.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas is a good excuse for people tired of pinching pennies.

Have you recently been busy preparing for Christmas or are you already on holiday? In Japan, Christmas is mainly for young couples and children. Many young couples want to have a romantic time because it is Christmas. Small children believe that Santa Claus is going to come to their house to give them gifts. Children who have already realized that Santa Clause doesn't exist look forward to Christmas gifts from their parents and grandparents. Since most Japanese people are not Christians, Christmas is highly commercialized. Because of that, some of our unique customs relating to Christmas look weird to Westerners.

Anyway, it has been recently reported that Japanese people's attitudes toward Christmas have clearly shown that they are tired of pinching pennies. Department stores are happily surprised to see that luxury goods are enjoying much better sales than expected. These goods are being bought as Christmas gifts or on the pretext of Christmas. Extravagant rooms at luxury hotels have been fully booked around Christmas. These things didn't happen last December. This year, Christmas seems to be a good excuse for people tired of pinching pennies to spend a little more money to make themselves happy. Unfortunately, it isn't seen as a good sign of economic recovery, although I sometimes hear that the Japanese economy is gradually getting better. I have found this sign, but I haven't deeply realized it yet. I feel that the income gap between the rich and the poor has been growing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Did a high school girl help Peter Ferdinand Drucker become more popular in Japan?

In Japan, after school, junior and senior high school students can participate in club activities that their schools offer, although there is a growing trend of students having no interest in joining them. Also, more and more students aren't allowed to participate in club activities even if they really want to because they have to work part-time jobs to help their parents suffering from the current recession. Anyway, there are various clubs at school, such as a baseball teams and brass bands. In some sports clubs, there are students who take care of players and support their activities and training. These students are called managers. I don't know why.

To make my explanation more easily understood, I'll use a baseball club as an example. Some students are willing to join the baseball club as the so-called managers because they really like baseball but can't or don't want to play it for some reason. In addition, there are some girls with an ulterior motive. It means that are interested in a guy in the baseball club, so they join it as managers. Also, boys in the baseball club sometimes try to drag popular girls into the club as managers. What I want to say is that Japanese people are very familiar with these so-called managers.

Incidentally, a certain business book has been drawing considerable attention in the past year. Recently, it was announced that this book was No.1 on the 2010 annual best seller list, which has drawn more attention to the book since it's unusual for business books to hit the bestseller list. It has been said that the current recession makes many people think through what to do to survive the recession and pay more attention to business books. Besides that, it has been pointed out that another factor which has boosted the sales of the bestseller book is that it's written from a different, original viewpoint.

The title of the book is "If a female manager in a high school baseball club reads (or read) the book, " Management", written by Peter Ferdinand Drucker/「もし高校野球の女子マネージャーがドラッカーの『マネジメント』を読んだら". In the book, a high school girl joins her high school's baseball club as a manager. She is determined to make the baseball team strong enough to be able to win competitive preliminary matches and participate in the national high school baseball championship. One day, she happens to find the book "Management" written by Peter Drucker and manages to read through it, although she has a hard time understanding it. Then, she realize that his theories can apply to the baseball team, and tries to reform it based on those theories.

It's important yet difficult to break the theories down into understandable and manageable pieces. Although I haven't read the book yet, I'm sure that the book shows how to break it down and to apply it to your life. Actually, the book has attracted people who have little or no interest in business books as well. Thanks to the book, books written by Peter Drucker are enjoying good sales, as well.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

This year, hot weather and China have had a major impact on Japanese people--One Kanji describing the Japan of 2010

In Japan, December is traditionally the time to look back on the year. There are some events relating to this tradition. One of them is picking one Kanji (漢字/Chinese characters) describing the Japan of 2010. It was announced a few days ago.

The Kanji of the year is decided in a ballot. It means that anyone is allowed to choose one Kanji that best describes the Japan of the year and enter his/her own choice, and then the Kanji that the largest number of people have chosen is announced as the kanji of the year. When you enter your own choice, you are required to write the reasons for it.

According to the news, there were 285,406 entries this year. 暑/sho has gained 14,537votes (approximately 5%) and won first place. 暑 means being hot, heat etc. In Japan, during summer, it was brutally hot throughout the country. Many people suffered from heat stroke. It was reported every day how many people had died of heat stroke. Agriculture and fishery have been seriously damaged since then. The unusual weather caused a sharp increase in vegetable prices, which made people's lives difficult. The temperature of the sea around Japan was higher than usual. Because of that, in October, some kinds of fish which are usually sold at the market didn't appear near Japan. This is largely because a large number of people chose 暑.

Other than that, two incidents made people think of 暑. One is that in Chile, the 33 trapped miners managed to cope with "heat" and were rescued. The other is the Japanese asteroid probe called Hayabusa. The probe withstood very high temperature("hot") when it entered the atmosphere, and succeeded in returning to the earth from the asteroid Itokawa. About a month ago, it tuned out that particles which the probe brought back were definitely from the asteroid Itokawa. Since this news gave a dream and hope to people struggling with the current recession, it impressed many people.

Actually, what surprised me most is the Kanji in second place, 中/chu or naka. 中 mainly indicates 中国/chugoku (China in English) . Admittedly, the Shanghai Expo, a surge in number of Chinese tourists in Japan, the political conflict over an island, the embargo on the export of rare earth and the Nobel Peace Prize drew considerable attention. On top of that, I've realized that many Japanese people were shocked by Chinese diplomacy and responses by Beijing. However, I didn't expect at all 中 to be in second place. Since I already got used to the Chinese ways while I was in China, I underestimated the impact of these incidents on people.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Are Japanese wives too forgiving of their husbands' love affairs ??

I often hear non-Japanese living in Japan saying that they can't at all understand the attitudes of Japanese wives toward their husbands' love affairs. The non-Japanese wonder why the betrayals don't often make wives determined to divorce, and insist that Japanese wives are too forgiving of their husbands' love affairs. I don't think that younger wives try to shut their eyes to their husbands' love affairs like the older generations did. However, I have to admit that traditional ideas which help men glamorize or rationalize their love affairs still remain in society and younger women.

According to a survey, wives tend to condone their husbands' love affairs because they think that the affairs can put them in a stronger position and they can wear the pants in the relationship. Come to think of it, a few female friends of mine told me in the past that if they found that their husbands were cheating on them, they would never divorce because not letting their husbands go is would be the best revenge. Needless to say, there are other reasons why wives try to forget their husbands' love affairs or let them pass. Actually, the very definition of love affairs is very ambiguous and totally depends on the person. As a matter of fact, some women say that wouldn't mind if their husband slept with a prostitute, however, they would mind if their husband regularly had dinner with another woman. Some insist that they don't allow their husbands to go to bars where women called hostesses sit next to them and talk (sometimes flirt) with them. Some would feel uncomfortable if their husbands go to dinner with another woman, just the two of them, even if it's something like stopping at a cafe to grab something with their female coworker after they work late.

No one will know what to do until the time comes.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Have you heard of Manzai/漫才? --The top 10 words describing the Japan of 2010:final

Recently, I've been writing about the top 10 winners of the 2010 new words and buzzwords contest.(If you are interested in finding more information about them, please see the links below). Finally, there is only one left. However, I'm still wondering whether or not I'll try to explain the last one: 「ととのいました/totonoi mashita」. Actually, it's very challenging to explain it.


Have you heard of Manzai/漫才? This is a Japanese tradition and a sort of stand-up comedy. Generally, two people form a group and name it. They make up funny stories and perform talks about the stories. We refer to the people as Manzaishi/漫才師(Manzai comedians in English). The stories, speaking styles and speaking tempo, and rhythms will decide how funny Manzai comedians and Manzai groups are. It usually takes at least ten years to be able to make a living as Manzai comedians. Please see the You Tube video below. One of the two Manzai comedians (the shorter one) there is what Takeshi Kitano/北野武 was about 30 years ago. Although he is currently well known as a film director in foreign countries, especially France, he became very popular as a Manzai comedian in Japan. He insists that he is still a comedian.

Anyway, Japanese people always love Manzai, regardless of the times. In the past 15 years, Manzai comedians have become necessary for TV shows. Popular comedians tend to be used as MCs there. In variety TV shows, their humor greatly helps the shows gain popularity. Under these circumstances, a lot of Manzai comedians are struggling to survive. New styles of Manzai pop up one after another. This year, the Manzai group called Wコロン/W koron, which consists of two people, has become very popular by means of using the Japanese traditional word game called 謎かけ/nazo kake. The aforementioned phrase/ととのいました is the one which a member of the Manzai group always says before presenting 謎かけ.

As for 謎かけ/nazo kake, I'll try to explain it a little, although I'm not sure if my explanation is good enough to help you understand it. As I mentioned above, 謎かけ is a sort of word game. Homophones are often used in 謎かけ. When you play 謎かけ, you instantly have to present two short phrases and what the two phrases have in common. There is a patten to 謎かけ

The patten is:
XXXとかけて/XXX to kakete,
XXXと解く/XXX to toku,
その心はXXX /sono kokoro wa XXXX

「TV sets」とかけて、

「people who care about their hair loss」と解く。

その心は「Both TV sets and their hair are becoming thin.」

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The top 10 words describing the Japan of 2010--part:4 無縁社会/ society where people hardly care about others

In this post, I'll talk about 「無縁社会/munen-syakai」which was ranked in the top 10 in the 2010 new words and buzzwords contest. The results were announced about a week ago. I've described eight out of the ten in my previous posts. If you are interested in them, please see the links below.


「無縁社会/munen-syakai」started being used by NHK, the public broadcasting network, in its documentary program about serious social issues. Before I explain the phrase, I'll talk about social background.

In the past (maybe up to three decades ago), there were three strong ties in the Japanese society. These ties prevented people from being isolated, even if they were bad at socializing. The first one was family ties (家族の絆/Kazoku no kizuna or 血縁/ketsuen in this context). Needless to say, nowadays, there are still family ties. However, the ties have been less helpful to make strong relationships among family members since nuclear families consisting of a married couple and their children became very common about thirty years ago. On top of that, the number of single households, regardless of age, has been sharply increasing in the past decade. After you marry, neither your parents/in-laws nor you want to live together, even when they become very old, which is a current trend.

The second one is ties among neighbors (地縁/chien in this context). In the past, people always cared about their neighbors. Some often stuck their noses in others' business in a positive way, meanwhile some fed on misery. Sometimes, you probably felt that your neighbors were annoyingly meddlesome or that they tried to pry into your business. Also, you were annoyed with rumors that gossipy neighbors blurted out. Still, the ties played a certain role in making people not feel lonely.

Recently, the ties have been disappearing from society, especially in large cities. People prefer surface relationships with their neighbors. On top of that, the concept of privacy started to be taken into more account. People started minding their own business. The Personal Information Protect Law/個人情報保護法, which went for effect in 2005, has increased the tendency of respecting privacy. I feel like these factors discourage people from asking someone if he/she needs help and asking for help.

The last one is ties among colleagues at work (社縁/syaen in this context). Until twenty years ago, people usually worked many years for a single company. This was a Japanese tradition. Companies were like big families. Co-workers knew each other very well. Employers cared about their employees and employees' families. It has been said that companies played an important role in social welfare which was supposed to be provided by the government.

Both the current prolonged recession and the popularity of western management systems have changed people's attitude toward work for the past decade. Although the tradition still remains in companies, I don't think that employees try to develop deep relationships with their co-workers like they used to.

So, the phrase 無縁社会 (無 means nothing, 縁 means bonds, ties etc, 社会 means society) indicates the society which is losing these ties or where people hardly care about others, suggesting a tendency for people to avoid deep relationships. As a result, more people feel lonely although they can contact anyone they want anytime via various devices.

Nowadays, more and more people, regardless of age, die alone. To make matters worse, when they die alone at home, it often takes someone a while to start wondering about them and find them. How sad!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The top 10 words describing the Japan of 2010--part3: 脱小沢/ 食べるラー油/ ~なう

For the past few days, I have been talking about the top 10 winners of the 2010 new words and buzzwords contest which were announced a several days ago. I've already described five of them (Please see the links below).Today, I'll talk about three of one's remaining,

1.脱小沢/datsu Ozawa
As you may know, there was a political power shift in Japan 15 months ago. It was the first full-fledged shift since 1955. Since the event was remarkable, 「政権交代/ the political power shift / the change of power/administration」won first place in the same contest last year. From 1955 to 2009, the Liberal Democratic Party/自由民主党 had taken power. In August last year, the Democratic Party of Japan/民主党 won in a landslide victory, and Mr.Yukio Hatoyama/鳩山由紀夫 was inaugurated as Prime Minster. However, during the Hatoyama administration, it was frequently reported that the administration was controlled by the power-broker, Mr.Ichiro Ozawa/小沢一郎, not by PM Hotoyama. Actually, it has been said for many years that Mr. Ozawa is an influential politician and deserves to be the PM. However, the public is skeptical of him largely because there is always bad news surrounding him, such as receiving illegal contributions.

In June this year, Mr.Hatoyama was forced to step down as PM under great pressure, and then Mr. Naoto Kan/管直人 assumed power. The public expected Mr.Kan to appoint cabinet members who were distant from Mr.Ozawa. Because of that, the current cabinet members aren't influenced as much of Mr. Ozawa.  Whenever the administration is being discussed, the phrase/脱小沢 comes up. 脱/datsu indicates 脱する/get out of etc. So, 脱小沢 means removing Ozawa's influence.

It was very hard to buy for a while because of a production bottleneck due to the surge in popularity. I talked about it a month ago. Please see the link below.

It comes from the English word "now". It means that "Now, I'm doing......." etc. A high school boy started using it on Twitter, and then it exploded in popularity. The surge in popularity of Twitter made the phrase become very popular. On Twitter, you can always see sentences including ~なう such as:

-New York なう/ Now, I'm in NY.
-京都なう /Now, I'm in Kyoto.
-会議なう /Now, I'm having a meeting.
-勉強しているなう or 勉強なう/Now, I'm studying.

Needless to say, these sentences are grammatically incorrect. Even Japanese people who are unfamiliar with Twitter can't understand them.

There are two phrases left: 「ととのいました/totonoi mashita」and 「無縁社会/muen syakai」. The former is very challenging to explain. The latter is a newly coined phrase by NHK, the public broadcasting service, and requires me to explain the social background. I'm sure that 無縁社会 will be very popular and will continue to be used for many years like 家庭内離婚 (click here) has been often used since it was selected in the contest in 1986. I'll try to explain these two in my future posts.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The top 10 words describing the Japan of 2010--part2:いい質問ですねぇ/ イクメン/AKB48/女子会

A few days ago, the top 10 winners of the 2010 new words and buzzwords contest were announced. In my previous entry, I talked about the phrase that won first place:「ゲゲゲの~/ge ge ge no......」(please click here). In this entry, I'll talk about the others. Actually, the nine words/phrases aren't ranked. They were announced as the top 10 winners.

1.「いい質問ですねぇ/ii shitsumon desune/ that's a good question」
It's the comment that a well-known journalist, Akira Ikegami/ 池上彰, often makes when he feels that the question posed to him is a good one in his regular TV show, 池上彰の学べるニュース (This is a news program where you can learn through explanations made by Akira Ikegami).

Until 2005, he had worked for NHK, the public broadcasting service, as a reporter and newscaster. At the time, in a NHK TV show on Sundays, he illustrated the key points and backgrounds of major news and made them easily understood by children. The show was for children, but I'm sure that his explanations were very useful to grown-ups. In the past few years, people have become more interested in politics, the international situation and things like that. This is partly because people have realized that the global economic climate and the international power balance is changing and partly because there is growing uncertainty about the future.

Under these circumstances, in April this year, the aforementioned TV show began to air on TV asahi. He always makes detailed, objective and satisfactory explanations on events in major world news. In the show, actors/actresses, singers and comedians etc appearing there as guests ask him questions after he has given an explanation on a particular topic. One of his common responses is that いい質問ですねぇ/that's a good question. It has been reported that the show is enjoying great popularity. I feel like his increase in popularity over the summer is due to the increased frequency of serious international incidents, which would garner plenty of media attention. In my opinion, the surge in popularity of the phrase and Ikegami himself reflects a growing concern about both the domestic and international situations.

2.イクメン/ Ikumen
This is a newly coined word. It means men who are willing to or are active in taking care of their children. I talked about it a few months ago. Please see the link below.

It's a very popular girl group. It has bee said that AKB48 is a new successful business model. I talked about it in June. Please see the link below.  

4.女子会/jyoshi kai
The phrase has become very popular this year. 女子会 means women gather to enjoy meals, drinking and talking mainly in restaurants. Men are not allowed to join them. I talked about it a month ago. Please see the link below.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The top 10 words describing the Japan of 2010--part1:ゲゲゲの~/ge ge ge no......

A few days ago, the top 10 winners of the 2010 new words and buzzwords contest were announced. As I mentioned in my previous post, the contest is held around this time every year and the results are widely reported in the news. People pay attention to the results and make it a topic of conversation. Usually, newly coined words and impressive phrases which have had a great influence on society are selected. Recently, it has been said that it has become more difficult to select these words and phrases, because the channels to deliver information have become more varied. As a matter of fact, some people, including me, are wondering about the results for this year.

「 ゲゲゲの~/ge ge ge no.......」 won first place this year. This phrase comes from ゲゲゲの鬼太郎/ge ge ge no kitaro, which is one of the most popular manga series, and it was created by Shigeru Mizuki /水木しげる more than 40 years ago. When I was a little girl, I would often watch the cartoon on TV. I really loved it. All the characters are yokai/ 妖怪 (supernatural beings or creatures from folklore). I think that ゲゲゲの鬼太郎 has been very popular among people of all ages like ドラエモン/Doraemon has been.

The TV cartoon in the 70s (I like this version)

In 2008, Shigeru Mizuki's wife published her autobiography. This year, a TV drama series based on the autobiography, ゲゲゲの女房/ge ge ge no nyoubou (ゲゲゲ indicates Shigeru Mizuki, and 女房 means wife), was broadcast on NHK from April to September as 朝の連続ドラマ( please see Note #1 below). The TV drama series enjoyed the viewer ratings of over 20% from June to September. These high ratings caught the public attention since TV networks have been suffering from low viewer ratings in the past several years.

Unfortunately, I only watched a few episodes of the series. However, given that Shigeru Mizuki is 88 years old and his wife is 78 years old, I can guess that he had a very hard time being the breadwinner as a manga artist. It's well known that they married only five days after being introduced to each other. When they married, they didn't know at all whether or not his work would be appreciated. On top of that, they were suffering from poverty. I guess that the drama series encouraged people to keep struggling with various difficulties since there is growing uncertainty about the future of Japan.

Note #1: 朝の連続ドラマ/asa-no-renzoku-dorama/a morning drama series
In 1964, NHK, the public broadcasting service, started broadcasting a TV drama series every morning except Sundays. We refer to it as 朝の連続ドラマ or 朝の連ドラ. Until a year ago, it had been broadcast from 8:15 to 8:30a.m. (Currently, 8:00-8:15). Every six months, a new drama series starts. Until 15 years ago, the viewer ratings had always been over 30%. I guess that the drama series gave housewives a 15-minute break to relax after being busy taking care of their families, largely because many wives were housewives at the time. In the past 15 years, the drama series has become less popular, but having said that, many people still look forward to watching it. ゲゲゲの女房 is the drama series from April to September this year. Speaking of 朝の連ドラ, おしん/Oshin is the most popular drama series not only in Japan but also in many other countries such as China, Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan and Egypt.

The TV cartoon in 2007

Friday, December 3, 2010

The buzzwords and new words of the year contest in Japan

Every year around this time, the top 10 winners of the buzzwords and new words of the year contest are announced. The results are widely reported in the news. People often make it a topic of conversation. Generally, newly coined words and impressive phrases which have had a great influence on society are selected. Some of them describe social phenomena so adequately that they have been popular for many years. 「亭主元気で留守がいい/teishyu-genkide-rusugaii」and 「家庭内離婚/kateinai-rikon 」, for example, have been frequently used since they were selected in 1986. The former was a catch-phrase used in a TV commercial. As far as I remember, middle-aged housewives repeated the phrase there (please see the video below). The phrase means that if husbands are healthy and away from home, it will be the best for their wives. It implies that housewives expect their husbands only to make money for their families. As for the latter, 家庭内/kateinai means inside families or at home, and 離婚/rikon means divorces, so 家庭内離婚 indicates the situation where a marriage couple still live together, but they don't love each other and don't even talk to each other, so the couple have realized they have already divorced mentally.

At the time, many husbands were assertive and came home late every day. Although wives understood that their husbands were forced to work long hours, they realized as well that their husbands often went drinking on the pretext of working. To make matters worse, many husbands didn't try to save time for their families. Under these circumstances, some wives really wanted to divorce. However, great concern about negative impact on their children, difficulty in economic self-reliance and other reasons discouraged these wives from divorcing. Instead, they started trying to enjoy their lives, not expecting their husbands to do things for them. They decided to shut their eyes to the aggravating attitudes of their husbands toward them as long as their husbands made money for their families. The phenomena created the aforementioned phrases.

Anyway, two days ago, the top 10 winners of the 2010 buzzwords and new words were announced. It's said that, as the channels to deliver information have become more varied, it has become more difficult to select these words. As a matter of fact, some people are wondering about the results. I'm planning on describing the result in my future posts. Last year,「政権交代/seiken-koutai/political power shift or change of administration /government」won first place in the contest. It shows how much people expected the new government last year, although many of them are currently ready to brand it as an incapable group. In my opinion, this power shift was an inevitable step for Japan to become a real democratic country.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The god of the toilet/ トイレの神様 -- A popular song in Japan

In Japan, the song tittled トイレの神様/ the god of the toilet has been popular.I've heard that this song was broadcast on the radio in February this year, which triggered the song's success. Recently, it has become very popular. This is partially because this way of gaining popularity is unusual and partially because it was recently announced that the 27-year-old singer, Kana Uemura/植村花菜, would appear on the very popular TV show, Red and White Singing contest /紅白歌合戦, held on the 31st of December every year. The lyrics were written by the singer, based on her experiences.

According to a TV show, the song has helped many people sort out their feelings about their deceased grandparents. This is largely because many people regret that they never showed their gratitude to their grandparents even though they already realized that they had affection or their grandparents when they were still alive. I'll translate these lyrics into English. Some translations will be general, in order to convey various nuances. Also, some parts of the lyrics are written in the Osaka dialect.


When I was the third grade of elementary school, I started living with my grandma. I don't know why. 
Although her house was next to my parents' house, I lived with her.


Every day, I would help grandma.
I would play the game called 五目並べ/Gomoku-narabe with her (*Note: The game is played with a go board. Playing go is difficult for ordinary people, especially children, but the game is enjoyable for everybody).
I was bad at cleaning the toilet at home.
My grandma noticed that and said to me.

トイレには それはそれはキレイな
だから毎日 キレイにしたら 女神様みたいに

"There is a female god in the toilet. How beautiful she is.
So, if you cleaned the toilet at home every day, you would be able to become very beautiful like the female god"


From that day, I started scouring the toilet.
I really wanted to become beautiful, so I would polish the toilet every day.

買い物に出かけた時には 二人で鴨なんば食べた

When I went out for shopping with my grandma, she took me to a Japanese restaurant to eat Kamo-nanba Udon (Udon means Japanese noodle).
I asked her to record the very popular TV show in the Kansai area, 吉本新喜劇/Yoshimoto-shinkigeki.
When it turned out that she had failed to record it, I blamed her while I was crying. 

トイレには それはそれはキレイな
だから毎日 キレイにしたら 女神様みたいに

There is a female god in the toilet. How beautiful she is.
So, if you cleaned the toilet at home every day, you would be able to become very beautiful like the female god.
*Note: This part is repeated a few times in the song. I guess that this is because this phrase is the most impressive for the singer.

少し大人になった私は おばあちゃんとぶつかった
家族ともうまくやれなくて 居場所がなくなった

When I grew up a little, I started kicking against my grandma.
I wasn't able to get along with my other family members, neither.
So, I lost a comfortable place at home.

休みの日も家に帰らず 彼氏と遊んだりした
五目並べも鴨なんばも 二人の間から消えてった

Even when it was a day off, I wouldn't get back home. Instead, I would spend time with my boyfriend.
The good memories of playing the Gomoku-narabe game and eating Kamo-nanba Udon disappeared from both mygrandma and me.

どうしてだろう 人は人を傷付け
いつも味方をしてくれてた おばあちゃん残して
ひとりきり 家離れた

I'm wondering why people hurt people, and are losing something important.
I left my house, leaving my grandma who was always behind me.

痩せて 細くなってしまった

When it had been two years since I came/moved to Tokyo, my grandma was admitted into a hospital, which I never expected.
I went to see my grandma who had already become thin.

昔みたいに言ってみたけど ちょっと話しただけだったのに
「もう帰りー。」って 病室を出された

I intentionally tried saying to her "Grandma, I'm home" like I would say that while I lived with her.
Although I still felt like I had talked only a little bit with her, she let me out of her ward, saying that you should go.

次の日の朝  おばあちゃんは
まるで まるで 私が来るのを

The next day, my grandma drifted off into an eternal sleep.
Which made me feel as if she had been waiting for me coming to see her.

ちゃんと育ててくれたのに 恩返しもしてないのに

My grandma raised me up and loved me. In contrast, I never repaid her for that. I was never a good granddaughter.
Nonetheless, she was waiting for me coming to see her.

トイレには それはそれはキレイな
おばあちゃんがくれた言葉は 今日の私を

There is a female god in the toilet. How beautiful she is.
I'm wondering if this phrase that my grandma gave me still makes me beautiful.

トイレには それはそれはキレイな
だから毎日 キレイにしたら 女神様みたいに

There is a female god in the toilet. How beautiful she is.
So, if you cleaned the toilet at home every day, you would be able to become very beautiful like the female god 

今日もせっせとトイレを ピーカピカにする

I dreamed about becoming a well-disposed wife when I was younger.
So, today I work hard on scouring the toilet as usual.

おばあちゃん ありがとう

Grandma, thank you.
Really thank you.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A K-pop boom in Japan

As I wrote in my previous post, South Korean companies have recently been drawing more attention in Japan. TV news programs often report on them, suggesting that there are things that Japanese companies can learn from them. 

On top of that, in the past year, there has been a huge boom in K-pop (South Korean pop music). Korean girl groups have debuted in Japan and frequently appear on Japanese TV shows. According to a TV show, in order to become popular in Japan, these groups were launched by South Korean agencies based on specific strategies. In the case of the popular Korean girl group, 少女時代/shoujyo-jidai (girls generation), it appeals mainly to girls in Japan. All the members highlight how cool they are by means of exploiting their good figures, especially their long and beautiful legs. In contrast, in Korea, they highlight how cute they are to attract boys. Its catchy debut song, impressive dancing and promotional activities are based on detailed marketing research. Needless to say, the group has successfully captured the hearts and minds of Japanese girls as the agency managing the group expected.

It's also been reported that many Korean girls dream about becoming popular singers like the aforementioned girl group. It's becoming common in South Korea for elementary school girls to be very busy developing their talent. After school, they take singing, dancing and English lessons. Some families are willing to move into smaller houses to get the money for these lessons.

As I mentioned in July, about eight years ago, the South Korean TV show, 冬のソナタ/Winter Sonata, triggered the first South Korean boom. Japanese women, especially those over 50, are fascinated with Korean TV shows and Korean actors. A few years ago, Korean boy bands started becoming popular in Japan. I've realized that becoming familiar to Korean TV shows and music have changed Japanese people's attitude toward South Korea.

Personally, I prefer creative and original singers rather than these commercialized ones, regardless of nationality.

Girls generation