Saturday, January 22, 2011

What are Chinese people like?

In the past few years, China has been catching global attention as an important player. In Japan, no country is more frequently reported in the news than China. The word "China" always makes the covers of major magazines. Chinese tourists, students, and workers are everywhere throughout Japan. Under these circumstances, I'm often asked what China and Chinese people are like since I lived in Guangzhou, China from 2006 to 2008. Actually, this is the most difficult question to answer for me.

As you know, China is a huge country with a huge population and a very long history. Every local area has its own culture and language. It's well-known that the Cantonese language is so different from Mandarin that it usually takes many years for Beijing people to master Cantonese. Chinese people love and are proud of their hometowns. When they first meet somebody, they always ask him/her where he/she comes from. They care about where somebody originally comes from to the point where it sometimes causes conflicts. For example, when a person from a province next to Shanghai became a manager at the shanghai branch of a Japanese company, some shanghaian employees complained, saying that they didn't want to work under the manger because they felt uncomfortable with non-shanghaian managers. I guess that this was because the promotion touched shanghaian pride. Some Chinese people strongly advise you that you should care about where your coworkers come from when you manage them.

It will take me some time to describe China and Chinese people. If I tell you a common characteristic of Chinese people, it will be that they always live aggressively and act in their best interests. If they didn't do so, I guess that they wouldn't be able to survive. Many of them keep challenging themselves to make a better life for themselves in any given situation. It sometimes impresses me. On the other hand, since they pay too much attention to their best interests, contracts and regulations are meaningless. It means that they consider contracts and regulations to be always changeable based on situations. It often bothers me. 

Anyway, I've realized that the Chinese society and Chinese people are generous enough to accept different things, which is what the Japanese society doesn't have. Actually, the generosity attracts some Japanese people to China.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Are Japanese women seeking for an opportunity to rely on men and to express their passion??

The annual world tango championship called "Mundial de Tango" was introduced by a Japanese TV program yesterday. It's held every August in Buenos Aires, Argentina where tango is very popular. The program tried to understand what tango was by means of examining three Argentinian couples who attended the 8th annual world tango championship held last August (408 couples from 16 counties attended it). According to the program, tango is a dance which requires dancers to present a love story and express their passion; so tango deeply reflects how a pair of dancers are feeling while they are dancing.

The first pair covered by the program used to be a couple in private life. Both of them are in their early 20s. Since they realized that their private relationship always influenced their dancing, they intentionally broke up to make their dancing better. As for the second pair, the male dancer is 37 years old. He did very well with his previous partner, who was also his girlfriend, every time he attended the world championship. But right before this world championship, she walked away from him. It broke his heart. However, he was determined to attend this championship with a new young partner not only to win it but also to overcome the difficulty. The third pair is a couple in private life. They are in their early 20s.

I enjoyed the three different love stories presented by the three pairs in the championship, although I didn't see many technical differences among them. I found it interesting. Only the third pair couldn't get into the final. The results made us think about whether or not tango dance partners should be a couple in private life. Since tango seems to be sensual, I was wondering how many people didn't care about their boyfriends/girlfriends dancing tango with their dance partner.

Anyway, the TV program mentioned that this time, a pair consisting of a 42-year-old Japanese woman and a 21-year-old Argentine man won the world championship in the category of “Stage Tango”. Last time, a Japanese pair won it in the category of "Salon Tango" (There seems to be these two categories). The remarkable accomplishments really surprised me because I don't think that Japanese people are good at expressing their passion, which is an essential element of tango.  I wondered if tango performed by Japanese women seemed attractive to foreigners since they usually express themselves in different ways: indirectly.

According to the program, in Japan, tango had been very popular especially among women, which also surprised me. However, the main reason reported was convincing: Many women who are fascinated by tango feel that they can rely on their male partner while they are dancing tango. This feeling attracts them. It seems that tango requires male dancers to lead their partners more aggressively than other kinds of dancing do.

These days, in Japan, many young men don't express themselves to their girlfriends. Women are often forced to put themselves in a situation where they have to be forward and take initiative in a relationship. Under these circumstances, Japanese women seem to be seeking for an opportunity both to rely on men and to be allowed to express their passion while responding to men's passion. Dancing the tango may be that opportunity.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ordinary things aren't ordinary

At the moment, I'm stuck in my house since the gas hot water unit is being replaced. It will take a few hours for me to be free. 

Last night, I had no choice but to wash dishes in very cold water due to the breakdown of the unit. I couldn't help but admire my grandparents since they must have always washed things in cold watter in winter. People never realize that ordinary things aren't ordinary and how much these things help them lead a comfortable life until they've lost them.

When I lived in Hong Kong more than a decade ago, sea water was supplied for toilet flushing. The water supply system would sometimes have problems. One day, the water for toilet flushing in my house didn't stop and overflowed. Although I managed to prevent it from going into other rooms, my bathroom was still flooded with water. When the water receded from the bathroom, I was really surprised to find that the bathroom was covered with sand. It was then that I realized sea water was being used for the toilets. 

When I lived in Guangzhou, China a few years ago, the electric supply in my area would occasionally be suspended for more than 8 hours in the summer. When my house had no problems with the electric supply, the supply to other districts would be suspended. At the time, this was because Guangzhou was suffering from chronic shortages of electricity. The suspensions would cause traffic turmoil. Although many people there were unwilling to obey traffic rules even under ordinary circumstances, turning off traffic lights worsened the situation. Frozen foods and foods put in the open fridge cases (it means fridge cases without doors) at shops were usually left there as they were during the suspensions, and were sold after the blackouts were over. I was wondering if the food was OK since it was humid and hot in Guangzhou during summer.

These things always made me realize that ordinary things aren't ordinary.

Today, many Japanese people might eat fried meat cutlets !?--頑張れ受験生!

My house is within seven minutes' walk of a train station. On the way, there are two well-known cram schools. One is for elementary school children. Every time I notice how many children attend the school in the evening, I wonder whether or not it is necessary for children to study such a long time. (All of the students that go there carry the same distinctive backpack provided by the school, so it's easy to pick them out). The other one is for high school graduates who failed their university entrance examinations during their last year of high school. They usually attend this kind of school, called 予備校/ yobiko, to pass the next examination for their first choice university.

Today, I heard a cheer in front of the school for high school graduates. The cheer reminded me that it had been reported that the annual National Center Test for University Admissions would be held this weekend (on the 15th and 16th). When I took the test many years ago, only public universities required you to take it. Now, though, many private universities require you to take it, as well. As for public universities, you decide which university you will apply to based on the result.

Anyway, after I passed through the school, I stopped by a bakery where I regularly go.I found that there were many fried meat sandwiches displayed (please see the attached picture). Usually, fried meat sandwiches don't sell very well. These sandwiches are called カツサンド/ katsu-sando in Japanese. Katsu means fried meat cutlets and サンド means sandwiches. Anyway, these sandwiches at the bakery also reminded me that the aforementioned test would be held tomorrow. Can you guess what the sandwiches have to do with the test? In the Japanese language, katsu/ 勝つ means "to win" in English. 勝つ(win) and カツ( fried meat cutlets) have the same pronunciation : Katsu. Because of this, some people are willing to eat カツ/ fried meat cutlets right before they, their family members,or friends take on something challenging, such as a test or important sports match.

According to the weather forecast, tomorrow will be the coldest day thus far this winter, and it will be snowing in many places. I hope that the test will be carried out without hindrance.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I feel like I'm outdated when 昭和/shouwa is used as a certain meaning.

There are traditional Japanese era names in Japan. We use both Western/Christian year and the traditional Japanese year. For example, this year is 2011 and 平成23年/heisei 23 nen (年 means year). 平成/ heisei is the current era name. Every time a new emperor (天皇/ tennou in Japanese) ascends the throne, a new era begins and a new era name starts being used. So, 平成23年 indicates that it's been 23 years since the current emperor ascended the throne. Actually, I don't know exactly how the era names are decided.

I still remember the time when 平成/heisei was announced as a new era name 23 years ago (please see the YouTube video). According to the announcement, 平成/heisei comes both from 内平外成 written in 史記, a well-known old Chinese book written by 司馬遷 in the Early Han /前漢時代, and from 地平天成 written in 書経, a very old Chinese book. If I make it short, 平成/heisei was named in hopes for an era of peace. Specifically, it was hoped that Japan would be well and peacefully governed while keeping good relationships with other countries. I don't think that people know that, but they assume that 平indicates 平和(heiwa, peace in English), and 成 indicates 成る(naru/ accomplish English).

I often hear people, especially young ones, saying that 昭和な感じがする. The literal translation of the Japanese phrase is that I feel that it is 昭和/shouwa , but the meaning is that I feel that it is old or outdated. 昭和/showa is the previous era name before 平成/heisei. Since 昭和/showa was used from 1926 to 1989, 昭和/showa seems to sound like former times to young people. Because of this, 昭和/showa is often used to indicate "old" and "outdated". Every time I notice that 昭和/showa is used as the meaning of them, I feel like I'm outdated since I'm familiar with 昭和/showa.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Freddie Mercury is singing with Japanese lyrics!! How impressive!

Have you heard of Cup-o'Noodles produced by Nissin/日清食品, a Japanese food company which was the first in the world to invent instant noodles? Have you ever eaten them ? Cup-o'Noodles are convenient instant noodles. All you have to do to eat them is just add hot water and wait for three minutes. This product has been very popular among Japanese people since it went on sale in 1971. Although there are various kinds of convenient instant noodles displayed in supermarkets, Cup-o'Noodles still seems to do well. In Japan, some people like eating a Cup-o'Noodle for lunch, and some store them as a sort of emergency provisions. As a matter of fact, they are helpful at disaster sites. When they went on sale in 1971, Cup-o'Noodles were welcomed especially by construction workers standing outside during the cold winter nights. Personally, I usually don't eat them. When I'm working late and on special occasions like this, I eat them.

Anyway, I think that Cup-o'Noodles TV commercials are always fascinating. When this year began, Freddie Mercury started appearing in a new TV commercial. He is singing "I was born to love you" with Japanese lyrics there. Needless to say, the lyrics are made to promote Cup-o'Noodles. I'm very impressed by it. I wonder how the commercial was made, although I'm sure that high technology is used.

According to Nissin, this year, it has been 20 years since Freddie Mercury passed away and it has been 40 years since Queen was formed. This TV commercial is a part of their worldwide advertising campaign, as well.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Many Japanese words equivalent to the English word "wife" have different nuances.

In my previous post, I wrote about Japanese words equivalent to the English word "husband". The words deeply reflect Japanese culture and are controversial. If you are interested in this topic, please click here. Today, I'll talk about Japanese words equivalent to the English word "wife".

In the Japanese language, 妻(tsuma), 嫁(yome)/嫁さん(yome-san), 奥さん(oku-san)/奥様(okusama), 家内(Kanai) and 女房(nyoubo) are used as the meaning of a wife although these terms have different nuances. They aren't interchangeable in some situations. When you are talking about your wife in daily conversation, you can refer to her as 妻, 嫁/嫁さん, 奥さん, 家内 and 女房. Only 奥様 is a little unsuitable although some men intentionally use 奥様 to convey some nuances. I think that 家内 and 女房 have become less popular, and are used mainly by older men. When you address someone's wife, 奥さん/oku-san is usually used. 奥様 is sometimes used as well, but it sounds very polite since, for example, Smith 様 sounds more polite than Smith さん(As you can see, 様and さん mean Mr., Mrs., Miss etc.).

Among these terms, 妻/tsuma is the most neutral, not having any nuance. When you describe the fact objectively in newspapers, etc., 妻 is used. As for 嫁/嫁さん, in my opinion, if you refer to your wife as 嫁/嫁さん, it will be usually fine with many wives (not all the wives). However, if you refer to your daughter-in-law as 嫁(yome), it often sounds offensive. In the past, when a woman married a man, it meant that she married into his family.(XX家(ke)に嫁(totsu)ぐin Japanese). In other words, she was required to take his surname and take care of him and his parents. She was required to devote her life to doing her best for his family as 嫁/yome. It was assumed that these were 嫁's roles. Because of these backgrounds, if you refer to your daughter-in-law as 嫁, she will feel like she is expected to play the traditional roles.

I don't think that 奥さんand 奥様 have negative nuances although these terms reflect Japanese culture. A long time ago, a man in a high position always lived in a large house with his family and a lot of servants. His wife was referred to as 奥様(okusama) or 奥方(okugata) since her room was located at the area far from the house entrance (At the time, the husband stayed at his room. When he wanted to meet his wife and sleep with her, he went to her room). In the Japanese language, back areas or areas far from the entrance are called 奥(oku), so the wife of a man in a high position was referred to as 奥方(方 means a person) or 奥様.

家内/kanai also reminds many women of a traditional idea. Until three decades ago (maybe), it was assumed that husbands should work and wives should stay at home and take care of their families. 家内 comes from this idea. 家 means a house/houses and 内 means inside, so 家内 means inside a house, which indicates a wife based on the traditional idea.

When you are talking with your friends, etc., if you refer to your wife as 妻 and refer to somebody's wife as 奥さん, it will be no problem. I think that Japanese words equivalent to the word "wife" are not as complicated and controversial as Japanese words equivalent to the word "husband".

Friday, January 7, 2011

Need a new Japanese word equivalent to the English word " husband"

In Japan, there is the traditional idea of 家長/kacho, although a lot of women, regardless of age, dislike it. 家 indicates a family and 長 means a leader of a group or a person who controls a group. So, 家長/kacho means a person who controls his family. In other words, the person makes a final decision of what to do and has to take responsibility for it in a family living together. The person is usually the oldest man in a family. When your husband is 家長/kacho, you are required to follow his decisions and respect him as 家長/kacho.

By the way, in the Japanese language, 夫(otto), 主人(shujin)/ご主人, 旦那(danna)/旦那さん and 亭主(teishu) are often used as the meaning of a husband. All the words mean husband in English, but they have different nuances. On top of that, these words aren't interchangeable in some situations. We chose the best word as the situation demands. 

In my opinion, 夫/otto is the most neutral word among them. 夫/otto hardly has any nuance. You can often find the word "夫/otto" in newspapers and essays, etc. I think that 夫/otto is often used when you want to describe the person/relationship objectively. However, 夫/orro isn't a very common word in daily conversation and emails between friends. I don't know why.

主人/ご主人(the usage: 私の主人/my husband, 彼女 or あなたのご主人/her or your husband) is the most frequently used in daily life. Actually, the word 主人/shujin reflects the aforementioned traditional idea of 家長/kacho. 主人/shujin means a person who controls a group. In the family, 主人/shujin means husband, since a husband is supposed to control his family based on that idea. These days, many women, including myself, don't want to use the word 主人/shujin largely because the word makes us think of gender inequality based on traditional roles.

Under these circumstances, 旦那 danna/旦那さん(the usage: 私の旦那/my husband, 彼女 or あなたの旦那さん/her or your husband)has become very common since the word does not make women think of gender inequality and the traditional idea. However, this word seems to give some older women a negative impression. This is because in the past, a concubine's husband (is not legally husband) was often referred to as 旦那danna/旦那さん. For example, at the time, if a man had a wife and a concubine, he was referred to as 主人/shujin when he was with his wife, and he was referred to as 旦那/danna when he was with his concubine.

Personally, I often use 旦那/旦那さん, but when I talk with unfamiliar people, especially when I address their husbands, I use 主人/ご主人. As for 亭主/teishu, it has become less common and is also controversial. How bothersome! I want a new Japanese equivalent to the English word "husband". I'm wondering whether or not the word "husband" has any nuances.

Languages are cultural. Some Japanese words and expressions deeply reflect Japanese culture, which sometimes bothers me.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Are the New Year Holidays the time to go shopping in Japan??

The New Year holidays, which are traditionally considered to be the time for family gatherings, have ended. Everything has gone back to normal. I n the past decade, there have been less things that make me feel celebratory about New Year.
When I was a child, no shops opened from the 1st to 3rd of January. The special decorations called 門松/kadomatsu (the first picture) were put in front of a lot of houses. When my parents took me to my grandparents' house, we all often wore Japanese traditional clothes called 着物/kimono because of the New Year celebration (the second picture: It's not my family, but my family was like this at the time). In town, I could easily see people dressing up in kimono or much better clothing than usual. These things made me realize the New Year Holidays. 
Many years ago, when I first started working, on the first day back (usually 4th January), many female workers wore kimono to their offices. The scene was often reported in the news. In my company, there weren't many female workers who would wear kimonos. Still, they dressed up. On the 4th, we were usually allowed not to work. They went to their offices just to say Happy New Year to their colleges while having snacks and drinking.

In contrast, people don't usually dress up during the New Year holidays these days. We can barely find the special decorations in large cities - except in front of shopping malls. A lot of shops open during the New Year holidays.In Tokyo, even on the 1st of January, there are long queues in front of major shopping malls because some people are willing to buy limited lucky bags called 福袋/fukubukuro (the third picture) which they have their eyes on. In Japan, traditionally, lucky bags go on sale on the first business day of the year to celebrate the new year. A Lucky bag is not a bag; rather it is a set of various goods which are put into a paper bag. For example, if you buy a 100USD lucky bag, you'll get goods worth 500USD at least. Needless to say, you don't always get what you want or need. Until two decades ago, you could find what was put in a lucky bag only after you bought it. These days, many shops announce in advance what will be put in a lucky bag to attract more customers. According to the news, major department stores enjoyed good sales of lucky bags this year. On top of that, winter bargain sales starts on the 2nd of January in department stores and shopping malls, although it used to start around the 10th of January until a decade ago. Because of this, I feel that the New Year holidays the time to go shopping.

As for the first working day of the year, it literally means the day to start working. No female workers dress up.