Category: Japan

My general observations from living in Japan.

Where I Live, Twenty Years Ago

My little neighborhood here in Japan has pretty much been in existence for twenty years. I came across an old aerial photo of the housing estate on which I live during its construction in 1989.

My part of Kakamigahara City in 1989

You can clearly see the baseball ground there, and there’s a small hospital, too, which still stands today. Beyond that, in Heisei 1, everything had been cleared away to make room for factories and houses. In fact, as you can see from a Google Earth image below of how things look now, large chunks of the mountain were also removed for my wealthy neighbors who bought land at the height of the economic bubble.

My part of Kakamigahara City in approx. 2008

How has your area changed over the last two decades? Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out?

What’s Your Favorite Font?

This is probably a really geeky topic, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we all have a favorite font. Maybe it’s the font you use when you write email, or the font you usually pick for a Word document. At some point, we have all chosen a typeface that looks good and feels good. Indeed, your font is a fashion statement for the web.

Vista introduces a new generation of fonts

I brought this up because I’ve been using Word and Excel 2007 a lot recently. It came bundled with my copy of Windows Vista, and today I thought to myself, “Damn, this font is sexy!” I was of course admiring Microsoft’s new Calibri font, one of six new antialiased fonts, set to replace Arial, Courier New, Georgia, Times New Roman, Trebuchet MS, and Verdana, fonts which have dominated the web since their introduction in Windows 95.

Experimenting with Calibri

The six “C” fonts are Calibri, Cambria, Candara, Consolas, Constantia and Corbel, and I’ve chosen to write this post in Calibri. Of course, if you don’t have these fonts installed on your system, you won’t notice the difference between this and my other posts.

Are you a font buff?

I’m not going to get into specifics but you can read more in the article, New Vista Fonts and the Web, and for information on downloading them and installing them on an older Windows OS, read Downloading and Using Vista Web Fonts.

What’s your favorite font?

So, until now, I have been a fan of the simple, but elegant, Verdana font, and I’m also partial to a bit of Arial. What’s your favorite font, and don’t pretend you don’t have one! ;)

Rikuto Goes Cherry Blossom Viewing

Mami and I braved the wind to show Ricky some cherry blossoms. Not many of the trees had fully bloomed, and Rikuto wasn’t too impressed, but any excuse for another family video! :)

I do apologize for the music. It originally had a different soundtrack with one of my favorite tunes. I was even going to offer cash prizes to those of you could name the song! Unfortunately, Mami didn’t think it matched the video very well, so she picked… well, you’ll just have to listen for yourself!

If you can’t view the video, you can watch it here on Youtube.

The Whirly Whirly Road

You’ve all seen photos of spaghetti junctions and double-decker expressways cutting through urban Japan, but on a recent trip out into the mountains, I came across what can only be described as a “whirly-whirly” road.

The Whirly Whirly Road #1

The purpose of this extravagant helter skelter of a street is to get you high enough to drive over the mountain it perches on. The problem is, it makes you so dizzy you’re quite likely to drive through the railing and hurtle into the trees and rivers below!

The Whirly Whirly Road #2

While you can marvel at the power of creative imagination and extraordinary engineering involved in building this monstrosity, you have to wonder what lies on the other side of the mountain; something so special it warranted spending exuberant amounts of taxpayers’ money on the construction of a road that’s tantamount to a fairground ride.

And then you see it, the treasure at the end of the “whirly whirly” road…

The treasure at the end of the whirly whirly road

Do You Close Your Eyes At The Dentist?

Yesterday, I made the trip to the dentist for the first time in over 8 years, and right now, I’m recovering from having a wisdom tooth pulled out. Incidentally the last time I went to the dentist I also had a wisdom tooth out. Fortunately on both occasions, I had a top tooth removed, which I’ve heard is less painful than having the bottom ones out.

The horror of a Japanese dentist?

The last time I went to the dentist, back in 1999, I had reached a point of desperation. There are so many horror stories about Japanese dentists that I put up with the pain for a year before it finally got the better of me. If you’ve never been to the dentist in Japan, let me tell you that it’s no different to what you’d experience back home (at least from what I remember of the dentist in the UK). Perhaps the only bizarre thing is that you’re not alone in the room. My local dental surgery has four chairs lined up with a partition between each, and the same dentist hops from patient to patient as we sit there with our mouths open, waiting for him to rotate back to us. Other than that, my experience was quite normal… or was it?

Staring out the dentist

I was telling my wife how the dentist had used what looked like a pair of pliers and (gesturing with my arms) yanked the tooth out while my eyes rolled up into my head, when she said “What? You don’t close you eyes?”

What a question!

I spent my first two years in Japan squatting the wrong way over a Japanese toilet because I thought I was doing it the right way, and this is quite similar. Is is normal for people to close their eyes at the dentist? I never have. It’s not like I stare out the dentist, but I usually stare at the ceiling. So, am I alone? Am I a weird, scary, wide-eyed foreigner whose eyeballs roll upwards in their sockets when having a tooth pulled out? Here’s the poll…

[poll=5]

Launching OshiboriArt.com

The paint is still wet on JapanSoc, but I’ve managed to get another new website online. This time, I’ve picked the little covered topic of oshibori origami, or what I like to call oshiborigami. I’m talking about making animals, food and other exotic items from those wet hand towels you’re given in Japanese restaurants.

OshiboriArt.com is a fun tutorial site with videos and photos to show each step of the origami process. The video below is a compilation video of all the designs on the site, and before you ask, yes that is me playing with the oshibori. If you like what you see, help me make this thing go viral! :-D

If you can’t view the video, watch it here on YouTube.

Earn Money with Japan-Hopper.com

What would happen if you combined Google Maps, Wikipedia, and personal experiences of English speakers in Japan?This is a question that Kiyotaka Maruyama decided to answer by creating Japan-Hopper.com, an interactive website that lets you use English to search for a place in Japan, and then either read a related Wikipedia entry or a review from someone who actually went to the place you searched for.

Japan-Hopper.com

In the media

Reading personal accounts, together with pictures, and covering details such as access, prices and accommodation is such a good idea that it has earned Japan Hopper a mention in the Japanese newspaper “Nihon Keizai Shimbun” and on Radio Nikkei.

Personal experiences on Japan Hopper

Looking for authors

Japan Hopper has been up and running since 2006, and the database is filling up with articles, but obviously not quickly enough because Kiyotaka is looking for more authors, and he’s willing to pay for it, too!

Earn money with Japan Hopper

Get paid for writing about your experiences in Japan

It’s a deal which should appeal to English teachers who have lots of free time, little money and the desire to see Japan:

Update: Japan-Hopper have changed their site around and it seems impossible to find the page offering the writing work from the website itself. However, you might find it here.   

With japan-hopper.com, we want to recruit people experiencing Japan and wanting to write about it. Although you still don’t having experience in writing articles, you can use this way to achieve experience writing on Japan Hopper.

1. Article requirements
・Article concerning Japan
・The written language has to be English
・The article should contain a minimum of 200 words.

2. Earning
・The average fee for one article, depending on the contents, varies from 1,000 to 2,000 Yen .
・By contributing high quality photographs, the fee will increase.
・By writing more detailed information in the article, the fee will increase.

3.Contract
Contents purchase

Please send the following information to the person in charge’s address, if you are interested.

1. Name
2. Age
3. Gender
4. Article writing experience
5. Good topics

info@japan-hopper.com

Help our cash-strapped friends, promote Japan Hopper

I think Japan Hopper is a useful site with great potential, and the financial incentive to submit an article is more than fair. However, I don’t think it has had the exposure it needs among the foreign community to really grow, which is why I’m helping to get the word out. I’m sure all of us here in Japan know someone who could do with some extra cash in their pocket, so why not give Japan Hopper a mention?

Thanks to Daily J for the heads up.

I’m Not Afraid of Chinese Dumplings!

While I understand that over a thousand people have claimed to be ill due to food poisoning from gyoza (Chinese dumplings), I still think that a lot of them are attributing whatever ailments they have to the food scare because the news has frightened them into believing that it must be the cause.

The fact is, I can’t find any news reports stating an official number of more than ten food poisoning victims. Even if another thousand people did fall sick due to these dumplings, I’d be surprised if their sickness was serious enough to warrant the hysteria spread from the media to the general public.

Media hysteria scares Japanese off China-made food

I know of Japanese people that now refuse to eat any food made in China. Perhaps they should also stop eating Japanese food after last year’s domestic food scandals. The way I see it is, JT Foods distributed gyoza that had been poisoned with pesticides. Therefore, if you’re worried about your health, don’t eat gyoza distributed by JT Foods! Why should all the other companies and restaurants suffer? Have they poisoned their customers, too?

Food scandals boost TV ratings

Calm down people. This is how they sell newspapers and get higher TV ratings. To prove my point, here’s a video of me eating Chinese dumplings from a different distributor. If I fall sick, I’ll eat my words, but not until I’ve finished my gyoza!

If you can’t view the video, watch it here on YouTube.

Top Sightseeing Spots in Second Life Japan

I’m a regular visitor to the virtual world of Second Life, and one of my favorite ways to spend time there is by visiting some Japanese sightseeing spots. I have shown you Tokyo Tower, and the castles in Osaka, Kumamoto and Himeji before, but here they are again along with some of my other favorites.

Note: Please let me know if any of these places no longer exist, and I’d be happy to add recommendations for other places in Second Life Japan.

Asakusa and Sensoji Temple

Asakusa is a district in Tokyo, and home to the famous Sensoji Temple. Although it has been recreated in Second Life, most of the buildings are just eye candy. However, Sensoji is beautiful both inside and out, so if you are “virtually” Buddhist, I recommend a minute’s pray in this pixel-rich temple.

Asakusa's Sensoji Temple

Beppu Garden Fountain

Beppu City in Kyushu’s Oita prefecture is famous for its hot springs. Home to over one thousand “sacred” onsen, Beppu has more hot water than anywhere else in Japan. The Second Life version of Beppu doesn’t do the real city justice, but the garden fountain is nice and if you look around a bit, there’s a hot spring under a cherry blossom tree. Very relaxing.

Himeji Castle

Japan’s most visited castle is Himeji Castle. Also known as the “White Heron Castle” because of its white walls, it is one of Japan’s “Three Famous Castles”, along with Kumamoto and Matsumoto. I’ve been following the progress of Himejijou in Second Life for a while now, and as I write this it is still under construction, but it is looking likely to be one of the most impressive structures in the whole of Second Life when it is finished.

Japanese Warship Kanrin Maru

The Kanrin Maru was a Dutch-made sail and screw-driven steam warship used in the Naval School of Nagasaki to bring Japan up to speed on the newest advances in ship design. Eventually lost at sea, a bigger replica was bought in 1990 and is currently used as a sightseeing ship. In Second Life, you can explore the ship and play in the boiler room!

Kenroku Garden

Kenrokuen is a beautiful, 25-acre garden outside the gates of Kanazawa castle. It is considered on of Japan’s “Three Great Gardens” and is known for it’s beauty in all seasons. The Second Life version of Kenrokuen also changes by season and, along with Kanazawa Castle, is simply stunning to walk around.

Kinkakuji – Golden Pavilion Temple

The Golden Pavilion is one of Japan’s most visited temples, and a trip to Kyoto wouldn’t be complete without seeing the pure gold-leaf covered Kinkakuji. The Second Life version is also a sightseeing requirement, as is the Kyoto Bakumatsu “sim” it’s located on. The whole place is full of beautiful Japanese-style buildings, many of them based on real buildings from the end of the Edo period, and don’t be surprised to see a few people dressed as virtual geisha walking (or flying) around.

Konpira Grand Theater

The Konpira Grand Theater in Shikoku, also known as Kanamaru-za, is a restored Kabuki theater and possibly Japan’s oldest opera house. Although it has a revolving stage and trap doors in reality, I couldn’t find any in the Second Life version. I did get to kneel down on the tatami and enjoy the beautifully recreated interior before I danced around on the stage while no-one was looking.

Kumamoto Castle

Kumamoto Castle celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2007, and considering it was burned down after a 53-day seige in 1877 is quite impressive. Actually, original parts of what was once “an extremely well fortified Japanese castle” do still remain, making it a little more authentic than its Second Life equivalent. The virtual Kumamoto Castle is however, a great-looking reconstruction and if you look through the telescope on the observation deck, you can see photos of the real one!

Mount Fuji

Fuji-san is Japan’s highest mountain, measuring 3,776 meters (12,388 ft). It’s actually a dormant volcano which last erupted in 1707, but could do so again anytime. Mount Fuji is well-known for its symmetrical cone and is a symbol of Japan, depicted in art, photographs and even in Second Life. The SL “Fujiyama” is worth a quick fly around if you can’t visit the real Mount Fuji.

Niseko Hirafu Ski Resort

Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu in Hokkaido is popular with both Japanese and foreign skiers. Niseko in Second Life is represented by a very fun ski course and a digital replica of Yoteizan, one of Hokkaido’s highest mountains. Sadly, I’m just as bad on virtual skis as I am on real ones.

Osaka Castle

The famous Osaka Castle is actually a concrete reconstruction that only looks like a castle from the outside. If I remember rightly, the inside is an air-conditioned museum with modern lighting and elevators. That shouldn’t detract from what was one of the sixteenth century’s most significant castles. In Second Life, the observation deck is the only accessible part of the building which is otherwise a nicely crafted replica of Osaka-jou.

Touji Pagoda

Kyoto is home to so many temples and shrines, but the 5-storey pagoda at the Buddhist temple, Touji, stands out as the tallest wooden structure in Japan at 57 meters. In Second Life it is on the Kyoto Sanjo sim, surrounded by other beautiful Japanese-style buildings you really should see.

Shuri Castle

The bright red walls of Okinawa’s Shuri Castle make this one of Japan’s most unusual yet beautiful castles. Reconstructed after being reduced to rubble in 1945, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It makes up a significant part of Second Life’s Okinawa island, along with shops, a popular beach and a restricted military base. Fortunately Shuri Castle is open to the public so you can enjoy it from inside as well as out.

Tokugawa

Recommended by Laurel in the comments, the SecondLife Tokugawa sim is based on buildings from the Japanese Edo period when the Tokugawa shogunate ruled.

Tokugawa and the collection of 6 or more prefectures that surround it is a work of art. There is a massive castle, formal Japanese gardens, Japanese shopping district and soon there will be an urban sim based on Tokyo. Also, tons of Samurai stuff, residential areas, hot springs, temples and a geisha houses where dancers perform regularly. The whole thing was built by Domokun Giotto and if you like Japan, I suggest you check it out. The castle alone takes up an entire sim.

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower needs no introduction. It is still Japan’s tallest man-made structure at 332.6 meters (8.6 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower), although it will lose that title, as well as more of its profits when broadcasters move to Sumida Tower in 2011. The Second Life version of the tower is a faithful recreation, with two observation decks, the higher of which offers a 360 degree photo view of the real Tokyo cityscape on a clear day. Having visited the real tower on a cloudy day, I actually think the view is better from the SL Tokyo Tower!

There is still so much to see so please bookmark this page, and come back in the future to see what new places I’ve added.

JET Teacher Rocking in Hakata, Ehime

Rocking in HakataAmong many things, Deas Richardson is an English teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) programme. That alone makes his blog essential reading for any prospective Japan-bound JET participant, and there’s plenty more to satisfy anyone with a keen interest in Japan.

The man behind the blog

Describing Deas is best left to his students who had this to say:

Deas seems smart, which surprises me.

Deas is 22 years old. Deas is very very fun. Deas is verry verry cool!!!”

He’s a little older than that now, but is no less fun. Hailing from South Carolina in the U.S, this supposed Harry Potter lookalike invites you to read his blog because,

It could be quite entertaining. (Then again, it could be so bad that it makes you want to put your finger through your eye, into your brain, and swirl it around. Ahem. I hope that that is not the case.)

Do foreign men speak like Japanese girls?

According to some fancy blog metrics, Deas’ most popular article is about foreign men speaking girly Japanese. It’s a good read and probably applies to me, too, as I’m always speaking Japanese with my wife, and learned the language from female teachers. On the subject of language, judging by his popular Japanese translation of “Santa Claus: An Engineer’s Perspective“, Deas has a very impressive grasp of Japanese, which adds a lot of credibility to his articles about Japan.

Japanese in the TV show, Heroes

The most popular series of articles on Rocking in Hakata is not surprisingly Deas’ breakdown of the US drama Heroes. I haven’t seen it myself, but I do remember hearing that one of the stars is wanted by Japanese police for trying to stop fisherman here catch dolphins. In his series, Deas analyzes the Japanese spoken during the first season, and we get to see videos of what the man in Hakata actually looks like!

Start Rocking in Hakata

I’m actually quite new to Rocking in Hakata but I have enjoyed what I’ve read so far. There’s a good balance between teaching, Japan and other things on Deas’ mind, and it’s clear that he puts a great deal of effort into writing quality content. Recommended reading!

Japan It Up Before You Leave

Before I talk about Japan It Up, a new blog that has already made its mark in the Japan bloggers’ community, I have to get something off my chest…

How anonymous should an anonymous blog be?

Recently, I’ve come across a number of bloggers who choose to use codenames to hide their identity. Two that come to mind are JDonuts blogger, Contamination, and the author of Japan It Up, Smoother. I would understand the need for anonymity if they were blogging about bizarre cults, sordid fantasies or something else they wouldn’t want a potential employer seeing, but these guys are respectable bloggers sharing stories and information related to Japan. Why not just go with a first name, or at least a fake name that people could take seriously, like… Humphrey? Hmm, maybe I’m just old fashioned. ;)

If you’re coming to Japan, you have to Japan it Up!

JapanItUpBlogging out of Fukuoka in Southern Kyushu, Smoother hails from the American Midwest and is here with his fiancee, who tapped into his desire to see Japan, suggesting they visit after she graduated. Before his departure, he had all sorts of questions about Japan and thought it would be a good idea to blog about his experiences, answering his own questions so other Japan-bound visitors could know what to expect before boarding the plane.

A collection of useful Japan info in one place

Smoother only started Japan It Up last October, but has come up with some top-notch stuff. Some of the most useful articles are Flying to Japan, which details the trip over, an Airline Review, which gives his ratings for the airlines he’s traveled with, Breakfast in Japan, ATM Currency Conversion, Going to the Doctor, Apartments in Japan, and much more which I’ll let you discover for yourself.

It’s not all for Japan newbies

There are also articles that would interest Japan veterans such as myself (if 10 years qualifies me for “veteran” status) such as Ice Cream Ramen, and tech talk like WordPress in Japanese and English, which I must implement on this blog. You can also follow the adventures of Smoother’s pet chihuahua, Lulu.

Japan It Up has gotten off to a great start and is worth subscribing to. I can only imagine it will get even better the longer Smoother stays in Japan, which could be a long time yet.

I don’t know where I placed my return ticket which has already expired and that’s okay with me. I have a feeling that this short stay will turn into forever.

Japanese Government Discusses 9/11 Truth

For a while there, I distanced myself from discussing September 11th, 2001. If there was ever a controversial topic, it would be that of 9/11, a subject which touches a raw nerve with many Americans, provoking angry reactions that put me off pursuing the topic.

Japan presented with “9/11 Mysteries” footage

I previously told you that the popular video, 9/11 Mysteries, was shown in part to Japanese TV audiences on the show, Sekai Maru Mie, at 8pm on Monday, October 15th, 2007. While the reaction to the video wasn’t overwhelming, it was somewhat comforting to see the panel of celebrities take on board the information they were presented with, rather than dismissing it as a “conspiracy theory”. Never did I expect the questions raised in that video to come up in the Japanese Diet, asked before the Japanese Prime Minister and his cabinet.

Councilor Fujita questions 9/11 events – January 10th, 2008

This news seems to have escaped the mass media, and if not for YouTube, I never would have known it even took place. Fortunately, I can blog about it and post the videos in the hope of waking a few more people up to what really happened on 9/11.

At the National Diet of Japan on January 10, 2008, Councilor Yukihisa Fujita of Democratic Party of Japan questioned 9/11. This is a BIG NEWS yet Japanese MSM absolutely ignored it.

In Part 1, Councilor Fujita questions the “War on Terror” and if Japanese Government ever conducted an independent investigation.

In Part 2, Councilor Fujita examines the Pentagon.

In Part 3, Councilor Fujita examines the WTC Towers and Building 7.

If you can’t view these videos, follow the links to see them on YouTube:

  1. Councilor Fujita Questions 9/11 Part 1
  2. Councilor Fujita Questions 9/11 Part 2
  3. Councilor Fujita Questions 9/11 Part 3

A Typical Life… In Japan

A Typical LifeShane was one of the first people to register at JapanSoc, and has been active in the community ever since. Some of the many articles she’s submitted come from her own blog, A Typical Life. This is a site she started in November of last year, but Shane has been working hard to fill it with meaningful content, mostly related to Japan, as that is where she will be spending the better part of the next two years.

Bringing memories of Japan to her blog

It won’t be Shane’s first trip to Japan as she was here in 1994. You can read her Memories of Japan, including articles on the language barrier, eating out, and taking the train.

Getting ready for a return to Japan

Now, she’s gearing up for Japan again, and has written a Top Ten list of things she’s most excited about including sumo, 100 Yen shops, art and culture, crafts such as ikebana (flower arrangement), and baseball (as a Brit, I will never understand this!).

Comparing Japan 2008 to Japan 1994

I am looking forward to reading A Typical Life once Shane gets herself set up here. She’s already packing so it won’t be long now, and it will be very interesting to hear if Japan of 2008 lives up to her memories from the early ’90s. Shane has promised some exciting things for her blog, and I will be following along, anxious to hear her stories of fingerprinting at immigration and the demise of 100 yen shops in the wake of China’s bustling economy. ;)

Pikachu and Bicycle Bells

PikachuA co-worker of mine has that book, You Know You’ve Been in Japan Too Long…, and from it I learned the true meaning of the name, Pikachu.

What does Pikachu mean?

Apparently it comes from the Japanese, pikapika, which means to glitter or sparkle, and chuchu, which is the sound a mouse supposedly makes in Japan. Put it together and you get Pikachu, meaning “sparkly mouse”, or more appropriately “electric mouse” because of the lightning bolt stuck up his bum.

Beat the crowd with a bicycle bell

bicycle bellTying together my recent review of NihonHacks, and the proposed (overzealous) changes to Japan’s bicycle laws, I thought I’d share with you my favorite Japan “hack”. When I lived in Nagoya, I found it ever so frustrating wading through the crowds at train stations, on busy streets and in departments stores, so I went to a 100 yen shop and bought myself a “Dragon Ball” bicycle bell.

You don’t need a bike to use a bell…

As I had hoped, a ring on my bell was enough to induce the natural jump-out-of-the-way reaction from the people in front of me, letting me pass with ease! I used this trick in the street, in stores, on escalators and even on crowded trains!

…but you do need a bell to use a bike

I think the proposed bicycle laws in Japan smack of big brother, but my own country is even worse. According to this 2006 article in the Telegraph, the Labour government were planning to fine you up to 2,500 pounds (over 500,000 yen) or even send you to jail for two years if you didn’t have a bell. I don’t know whether or not this law was implemented, but it makes Japan’s proposals look quite tame!

Tips and Tricks for Survival in Japan

One of the first blogs I ever subscribed to was LifeHacker, a blog jammed with tips and tricks to increase productivity. When it comes to living in Japan, the equivalent blog would be NihonHacks, a collection of time and money-saving tips for foreign students, visitors or “lifers”.

Top Tips and Tricks from NihonHacks

NihonHacks.comNihonHacks is the work of Thomas Hjelm, a former exchange student and current JET teacher in Hyogo. Thomas has written articles about using JR Odekake NET for planning trips by train, saving money on cleaning products by buying refills, how to find cheese in Japan, how not to waste rice, how to make miso soup quickly, finding cheap steaks and even winning on a UFO Catcher.

Beyond NihonHacks – BabelHut and TwoFatBrothers

NihonHacks isn’t Thomas’ only project. I know he also writes for BabelHut, a blog dedicated to language learning, and he’s working on a new blog with his brother called “Two Fat Brothers“, a blog which documents their dieting competition. I would follow along if I wasn’t already far too skinny!

JapanSoc and Baby Boys

Thomas was one of the first to support JapanSoc, so I’d really like to thank him for that. Incidentally, we are both fathers of baby boys born last summer, so I’m always looking out for pictures of little Noah on NihonHacks and showing them to my wife. If Noah and Rikuto weren’t growing up so fast, I’d suggest to Thomas we start TwoFatBabies.com!

Japan Exposed Through Opinion Poll Translations

What Japan ThinksForeign perception of Japan is often tarnished by sweeping generalizations made by people who lack the language skills and tools necessary to understand the real thoughts and actions of Japan’s general public.

What Japan Thinks

Introducing Ken Y-N, a legend among Japan bloggers and the face behind What Japan Thinks, a blog full of English translations of Japanese opinion polls and surveys. A keen statistician and Japan enthusiast, Ken has amassed nearly one and half thousand subscribers while shining some light on Japan’s bad office habits and why Japanese women love American men.

Helping the Japan bloggers’ community

His new found fame has brought him some publicity in the form of an interview with the Japan Times, and now he’s sharing his fortune with the rest of us by hosting crowd-pullers like the Japan Blog Awards and using his web skills to promote the JapanSoc social bookmarking site with the JapanSoc FeedBurner FeedFlare.

There’s more to Ken than charts and graphs

One last interesting tidbit about Ken is his other websites. First, do you remember that immensely popular Japanese website that would tell you what you were thinking? Well, Ken jumped on the opportunity to make an English version and the result, BrainScannr, tells me that I’m thinking happy thoughts, which makes it almost as accurate as Kazuko Hosoki! Next, If you’ve ever wondered what your name would be if you were a Buddhist, Ken has the answer. His site, My Buddhist Name, will do the English to Buddhist conversion for you! However, I’m not so sure it’s all that accurate since my Buddhist name turns out to be The Girl Lion Always Youth! :shock:

Yahoo Comparison Exposes Quirky Japanese Culture

On January 1st 2008, Yahoo! Japan officially unveiled their redesigned web portal. Despite Yahoo’s popularity among the Japanese (over 60% share of the search engine market), we’ve had to wait this long for them to come up with a flashy web 2.0 style homepage.

Pushing slow adopters to increase their screen resolution

With so many people in this country using Yahoo! I was quite surprised they dropped the old 800-pixel-wide layout and opted for 1024 pixels. This could be one of the most overlooked steps in forcing people to increase their screen resolution. Not everyone in Japan is a tech-savvy otaku, and even my own mum was using 800×600 until recently. Anyway, it’s a positive step and gives us more room for advertising! ;-)

Examining cultural differences with the Yahoo navigation menu

Here is a picture showing the US (.com) version of Yahoo’s navigation menu on the left, and the Japanese version on the right, complete with my dodgy translations.

Yahoo navigation menu comparison

I find comparing the two quite fascinating and it shows a lot about Japanese culture. For example:

  • Yahoo Auctions are right up there below Shopping in the Japanese menu. I realize the US version is in alphabetical order, but the Japanese menu is probably in order of popularity, showing Japan’s love for retail.
  • Travel in the Japanese menu refers to “rail routes”. When you follow the link, you choose your starting station and destination, click the button, and are instantly presented with a step-by-step guide to getting where you want to go. Very fancy, but essential for Japan’s millions of train commuters.
  • Cuisine, restaurants, food, gourmet, whatever you want to call it. Japan loves food, and that’s an understatement. Yahoo knows this all too well, and satisfies their passion for eating in and out with restaurant and cooking guides galore.
  • Beauty is a new section, and one that will be welcomed by the masses. Second to their craving for good food, Japanese people are obsessed with beauty. Yahoo lists all the latest trends in cosmetics, massage and dieting. This will be of particular interest to those suffering from metabolic syndrome, which almost everybody here believes they are!
  • Divination is much more than just horoscopes. We’re talking superstitions of supernatural proportions. It could be astrological predictions by Kazuko Hosoki, Ehara’s ghostly meetings with the deceased, lucky charms made of elephant dung, or the years of bad luck that can only be yakudoshi. Japanese people love this stuff!
  • Pets is another new category and seems to tap into the Japanese need to ooooh! and aaaah! at the cute little dogs in pet store windows. There’s not much more than pet photo albums on Yahoo, but that’s probably all they need to keep people using Yahoo forever and ever and ever.

That pretty much sums up modern Japanese culture, and shows just why Google is still lagging behind Yahoo in Japan. We don’t need accurate search results here! We just need horoscopes, cosmetics and puppies!

ECO – Japan’s New Buzzword?

There was a ridiculously long documentary on Japanese TV tonight about Al Gore’s new cause, global warming. I sat through the first three hours; watched ants eating houses, deer ravaging Hokkaido, watermelons growing in November, hybrid iguanas and evil konbini bentos (those CO2 polluting lunch boxes sold at convenience stores).

While I much preferred Al’s DVD, An Inconvenient Truth, some of what they showed was quite convincing, and would no doubt encourage the mass purchase of environmentally friendly products. In fact, there seems to be an “eco-friendly” boom happening, as more and more household appliances get labeled with an ECO badge.

What makes a product eco-friendly?

ECO, wrongly pronounced in Japan as echo, looks likely to be this year’s buzzword, as the move to halt global warming picks up speed. What concerns me at the moment is that there doesn’t seem to be any regulation over what items are ECO and what aren’t.

Let’s look at an example. Here’s a new air conditioner from Sharp. Notice that it is a self-proclaimed eco-friendly, energy efficient machine. Please excuse the fact that it’s a 2006 model, it was the cheapest ECO air conditioner I found on Yahoo Japan Shopping.

Eco-friendly 2006 air conditioner

Notice also how it only uses 2.2 kilowatts of power on “cool” mode, and 2.5 kilowatts on “warm” mode. Pretty energy efficient, right? Well, let’s have a look at an older, 2002 air conditioner from National, one without an ECO label. I found this one on Yahoo Japan Auctions.

Non-Eco-friendly 2002 air conditioner

Just because it says ECO, doesn’t mean it is true

As you can see, there is no difference whatsoever in their power consumption. I’m no electrician, and don’t know anything about air conditioners other than what’s on the remote control, so maybe I’m missing something here. What I am sure of though, is that companies will take advantage of the consumer’s desire to be environmentally friendly, and will market their products as such. So, buyers beware!

10 Predictions for Japan 2008

Happy New Year everybody! And what a great start… I won the Nenmatsu Jumbo lottery! Actually, that’s a bald-faced lie, but I did win $25 from Jason in his post, Time to Give Away Some Cash. Whoo-hoo! :-D

10 Predictions for 2008 in Japan

Back in December, after watching how easily Brazilian “Psychic” Jucelino Nobrega da Luz convinced Japanese TV audiences of his mystical powers, I thought I’d try my own hand at reading the future. Here are my own predictions for 2008. Hopefully I can refer back to this list during the year and claim to be a psychic myself!

Another new prime minister?1. A new Japanese Prime Minister

Looking into my crystal ball, I see that Japan will once again have a new prime minister during 2008. My psychic skills won’t tell me who or when, but I’m confident we will have a new “leader” before the year is out.

iPhone to flop in Japan?2. iPhone flops in Japan

There will be huge publicity over the launch of the iPhone, but it will come too late. By the time it’s released, competing phone makers will be offering the same multi-touch technology in their own handsets, and Apple’s failure to get the market share it was looking for will be blamed on a “lack of understanding of Japanese culture”.

Arakawa wins gold3. Japanese athlete wins Olympic gold

Much like when Arakawa Shizuka won Olympic gold in figure skating, this year’s summer Olympics in China will produce a single gold medal winner for Japan. Like the former ice skater, praise will be heaped upon the Olympic champion, hiding the fact that Japan failed to bring home more than one gold medal.

Cute Japanese robot4. Aibo-style robot boom begins

2008 will be the year that artificially intelligent robots are on every child’s Christmas list. It might be an add-on for the Nintendo Wii, or a standalone robot programmable through cell phones, I can’t say, but I do know it will be very “cute”.

Global warming5. Japan has the hottest summer on record

It’s almost inevitable that we will once again have a very hot summer, with a record number of days over 40 degrees celsius. This will be accompanied by numerous water-related tragedies and the deaths of uninformed elderly folk who believe air conditioners are bad for your health.

Nikuman6. Food scandals continue in 2008

Like last year, both domestic and imported food will be exposed as poisoned, expired, or made of cardboard. The population will abandon certain foods or brands, switching to other equally-guilty-but-not-yet-exposed products.

Earthquake7. Over a dozen killed in Japanese earthquake

It won’t be the big one we’re all waiting for, but Japan will still suffer another fatal earthquake. In this annual event, a dozen people will be killed when their wooden houses, built on the side of mountains, are flattened by resulting landslides.

Nova died in 20078. Large, scandal-ridden company makes headlines

With Nova last year, and Livedoor in 2006, my crystal ball shows another big name company suffering a similar fate in 2008. The president will be publicly humiliated for at least a month before the general public forgets the whole thing ever happened.

Foreign crime magazine9. Foreign crime on the rise again

You don’t really have to be a psychic to see another round of foreigner-bashing this year. With crime statistics published annually, it’s inevitable that the media will spend a disproprtionate amount of time blaming foreigners for the nation’s growing crime problem. Personally, I blame this guy.

More taxes10. Higher taxes and higher prices

Well, you can’t really expect things to get cheaper, can you? Following on the trend from 2007, I can see taxes rising to counter the hugely exaggerated terrorist threat, the need to clean the air, the looming pension problems, and to cover NHK’s losses when people don’t pay their licence fees! Furthermore, oil prices and subprime loans will be blamed for further increases in the price of cheese.

Well, there you have it. Ten predictions for 2008. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.