Monday, October 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new collaboration TV commercial.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Professor Yamanaka gives Japan chances and suggestions !!

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pink! Pink! Pink!

On the night of the 1st of October, 2012, the Sky Tree, a newly-opened landmark tower in Tokyo, sparked in pink. Not only the outstanding tower but also some other landmarks throughout Japan turned pink (click here). As you may know, these pink lights are for breast cancer awareness. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. When I saw the pictures of Japan landmarks with pink lights in this link, I thought that Japan is making efforts for breast cancer awareness campaigns. However, when I found photos of London landmarks which turned pink (click here), I realized again that some Western countries pay more attention to the campaigns.

According to an official announcement, one in every sixteen women actually has breast cancer in Japan (I've heard that one in every seven women has it in the US). The number of its patients, especially the number of those between 45 and 55, has been sharply increasing in Japan. It's been said that one of the main reasons is a surge in women who don't have a birth experience or have their first babies late, which increases the risk of having breast cancer. 

Nonetheless, compared with some Western countries, breast cancer screening has been much less popular in Japan. It's been announced that only about 20% of women in Japan had the screening in 2007, although I think that the current rate of it is slightly higher. Considering the fact that the rate in some Western counties is above 70%, it's clear that Japanese women have to change their attitudes toward the screening. Pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness has become very popular in Japan, however, it hasn't yet made many women realize that they are strongly advised to have the screening.

In Japan, the local government gives us coupons for free or very low-cost breast cancer screening. However, many women still seem indifferent about it. Actually, the government has been also having difficulties encouraging women to have uterine cancer screening. In Japan, the 2009 rate of uterine cervix cancer screening is 21.3%; in America, the rate of it is about 83%. I'm not sure why women are unwilling to have these screenings, but I often hear them say that they hesitate because these screenings are very embarrassing and uncomfortable.

Statistics have shown that, in Japan, one in every two people has suffered from cancer. On top of that, one in every four men and one in every six women die of cancer. If you just take women in their 40s and 50s who died of cancer, you'll find that the largest percentage of them died of breast cancer. It's been said that if you regularly self-examine your breasts, you will be sure to notice something wrong. Is pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness popular in your country? Do you and your friends regularly have breast cancer screening?


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tokyo Station is a symbol of the restoration of Japan !?

As I mentioned in my previous post, Tokyo Station, which was designed by Tatsuno Kingo, has been fascinating people since it was built in 1914 because its appearance is unique and impressive. However, some parts of the station were burned down during World War Ⅱ, and were rebuilt in different forms. Not only to make the station more earthquake resistant but also to restore its appearance to its original state, the station had been under construction since 2007. On the 1st of October, the renovation was finally completed. The station is expected to attract more people.

The other day, I happened to see a TV program about this renovation of Tokyo Station on NHK, the Japan's national public broadcast station. An episode which was introduced on the program was very impressive, so I'll talk about it here. First of all, could you see the last picture of Link #1 below or the attached picture? This is the central part of Tokyo Station which was restored to its original state. The black roof is made of slate tiles (click here).

When the station was built in 1914, the roof was made of the slate tiles from Ogatsu town, Ishinomaki city, Miyagi prefecture (宮城県石巻市雄勝町). Because of this, it was decided that the rood would be restored and renovated by using slate tiles from this town. The town accepted the order, mined slate and manufactured slate tiles. On March, 2011, packed slate tiles were stored in a warehouse. The town was waiting for them to be shipped.

On the 11th of March, 2011, as you may know, a massive earthquake hit Japan. The town was washed away by a huge tsunami (Please see the fifth picture from the last in Link #1). When the people involved found that the warehouse had been washed away, they were sure that the slate tiles had been also washed away or smashed. Contrary to their expectation, many of the packed slate tiles remained there and seemed undamaged. They strongly hoped to use the slate tiles for the roof restoration of Tokyo Station if these tiles were OK. They wanted to make it a symbol of the restoration of the town seriously damaged by the tsunami.

About twenty-thousand slate tiles were picked out from the rubble. The people involved and many volunteers carefully washed mud off the tiles one by one in the tsunami-stricken area (Please see the third picture from the last in Link #1). After that, the tiles were checked to see whether or not they had cracks and if they were usable. Then, the ones that were fine were used for the roof restoration of Tokyo Station as planned. I didn't know this until I saw the TV show. When I pass by the station, I want to look up at the roof while thinking of their thoughts.

By the way, the station withstood a massive earthquake which hit Tokyo in 1923. As I mentioned above, during World War Ⅱ, some parts of its exterior and many parts of its interior were burned down. Right after the end of the war, the damaged parts of the station were rebuilt in different forms. I've heard that, at the time, the station became a symbol of the postwar reconstruction and encouraged people.

Last year, the station could withstand that massive earthquake again during the renovation. Then, the entire renovation was finally completed yesterday. The station has regained its original appearance and has become more attractive. I do hope that the station will become a symbol of the restoration from the catastrophic disaster which happened on the 11th of March, 2011.

Link #1