Archive for March, 2007

Get a Makku: “Mac vs PC” Ads Tell a Different Tale in Japan

In 2006, as most U.S. television viewers know, Apple computers launched a series of “Get a Mac” ads comparing Mac computers to PCs (Windows). Mac is portrayed by charming, slacker-type movie star Justin Long, and PC is brought to life by comedian John Hodgman, a commentator for Comedy Central‘s The Daily Show.

Since last May, more than 20 separate skits have been released, each touting the supposedly user-friendly Mac as superior to the supposedly virus-ridden PC. Although they anger some PC users, the ads are considered a success by the likes of Ad Age Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, not to mention Apple itself, which has increased sales overall. Another reason the ads are popular in the U.S. is because Macs are considered the clear underdog in the competition with all-powerful Microsoft.

My favorite ad is the holiday skit from last December, “Gift Exchange,” in which Mac gives PC a photo album filled with images from the past year, and PC gives Mac the C++Gui programming guide, which of course, PC really wanted for himself.


YouTube video of “Gift Exchange”:

A similar campaign has popped up in Japan, but the ads are not identical. In fact, cultural differences between the two countries required the commercials to be re-written from scratch.

Starring “Ra-menzu” (The Rahmens, aka Jin Katagiri and Kentaro Kobayashi), an absurdist comedy duo popular in Japan, the slightly watered-down ads emphasize the positive aspects of both types of computers: Macs are “special,” warm, friendly, and good to settle in with at home after work, while PCs are perfect for the office and running a business, though they admit to having only “business acquaintances” (rather than close friends).

Pasokon (PC) wouldn’t mind a more fun-sounding name. Hearing this, Makku (Mac) gives Pasokon the nickname “WaaKu” (the Japanese way of saying “Work”). It’s Makku and WaaKu, together at last!

YouTube Video of Subtitled Japanese Ad, “Nickname”:

Even though Justin Long as the U.S. Mac treats PC with kindness (wiping PC’s nose when he gets a virus, for example), the fact that he directly and favorably compares himself to a competitor is a big no-no in Japan. In fact, it’s considered obnoxious, arrogant, or downright rude to make points like that so explicitly.

While the U.S. ads stress the differences between the actors’ style, appearance and age (young vs. old, cool vs. nerdy) the Japanese actors are of similar build, age and character type. Any teasing or comparisons are very low-key and not insulting. The fact that The Rahmens already have an established comedic presence makes the ads entertaining to their target audience, and their soft humor and charisma is also apparent.



Sarah S.

Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more

March 30, 2007 at 5:06 pm 6 comments

Meet Me at the Game Center!

On one of those unexpected rainy Sunday afternoons, you could catch any fun-loving Japanese person taking refuge at the local video game arcade.

Affectionately nicknamed gei-sen (short for “game center”), it carries an arsenal of digital goodies ranging from first-person shooters—gunning down an army of evil zombies and such—to purikura “print club” booths where at the touch of a stylus pen you can decorate glossy self-portraits with flowers and graffiti.

“UFO Catchers” take up a good portion of the arcade. At the cost of 200 yen (~$1.70), you use a joystick to maneuver a foot-long crane over a mound of stuffed toys. When the jaws-of-life selects its target it lowers itself for the kill then drops the prize into the release shoot. But don’t think it’s that simple. The crane has a loose grip so just when you think that Doraemon plushie is yours you’ll be gawking in disbelief and then fishing in your wallet for more loose change. I’ve spent up to 5,000 yen on a single machine only to realize I could’ve bought the same toy somewhere else for half the price. Go figure.


Historically, arcade games have provided a good hand workout, but thanks to the innovators at Namco Ltd., gamers can also build abs of steel with the aid of Taiko no Tasujin (Taiko Drum Master). Following the rhythm of a self-selected song, you whack a pair of sticks on a large set of faux-percussions. The harder you hit the better, so before you know it you’re jumping from side to side brutally pounding out “Baby One More Time.” Other games follow a similar interactive format, one where you’re a club DJ and another where you earn points by shaking a pair of maracas.

In recent years, young boys have been rushing to the nearest gei-sen to play “Mushi King,” battling against omnipotent bugs to win colorful trading cards. On any given evening you’ll also find adults at the game center, shuffling their feet on a Dance Dance Revolution machine or posing coyly for a purikura. And of course you’ll also find the ubiquitous pair standing over the UFO catcher— a girl in heels clenching her Prada purse as she cheers on her sweat-drenched boyfriend before they lose yet another Souseki (the Japanese equivalent of the “Hamilton”) to the machine.

Is that plushie really worth it? You bet it is.


Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more

March 28, 2007 at 4:13 pm Leave a comment

Greetings, Vital Stats, and Time for Trade

Let’s start off with some good news, like this tidbit I saw recently in The Japan Times:

On February 16, 2007 the United States and Japan signed a mutual recognition agreement (MRA) that allows U.S. certification of telecommunication products to be accepted in Japan. Lifting this trader barrier makes U.S. exportation of cell phones, wireless networks, video phones, radio systems and many other types of equipment easier, faster, and less expensive.


As long as U.S. products conform to Japanese technical requirements, which The Department of Commerce is tasked to assure they do, Japan no longer has to perform their own tests.

The government-to-government agreement, signed by Mr. Akitaka Saiki (senior Japanese envoy at the embassy in Washington) and Karan Bhatia (Deputy U.S. Trade Rep), is awesome for U.S. businesses. Not only does it expand U.S. opportunities in the Japanese market, it speeds up the process of marketing, exporting and selling products there. Since only one approved set of certification is needed, rather than two, the process is less expensive, as well.

Another reason this rocks? Let’s say the product originates from a country other than the U.S., but is ultimately distributed or supplied to Japan by the U.S. Those products also go through the new U.S./Japan agreement to get to Japan, which gives U.S. businesses even more options; if their products are developed or assembled elsewhere, they can still reap the benefits of the new agreement and take advantage of everything it offers.

This is no chump change, either; telecommunications trade between the U.S. and Japan yielded about $2.6 billion in 2005.

Sarah S.

March 23, 2007 at 3:32 pm 2 comments

During Spring, Beer and Blossoms Go Hand-in-Hand

As the old Buddhist adage goes, life is impermanent… so enjoy it while it lasts.
Cherry blossoms are the same way. One day they powder the sky pink, the next day they’re the mud-tracked victims of gravitational pull.

So as springtime approaches, millions of Japanese will descend upon their local parks to view the sakura trees in full bloom― a cherished tradition called hanami. Though with limited seating, it becomes a team competition to secure the best spot.
For company outings, my boss would send off the wide-eyed newbie to sit in the middle of the park until everyone finished work. The office ladies then go to buy food, and once the entire staff has gathered, we form a big circle and make a jubilant toast to warmer weather. “Spring time has come. Kampai~!” (ç “Cheers!”)
With a bento box dinner in one hand and a beer in the other, we sit for hours among good company, exchanging staff gossip or teaching each other drinking games. And as each hour goes by, our cheeks turn a brighter shade of red as we allow our less serious selves to emerge.
Right about then, I excuse myself and try joining surrounding parties in my attempt to make new friends. Northern Japanese people are pretty shy but once you introduce yourself as an American the questions start coming: “Do you eat hamburgers every day?” … “Have you ever seen Brad Pitt?” … “Why do Americans smell like cheese?”

At the peak of the evening, the park is roaring with noise and laughter. Guys and girls are exchanging numbers. Couples are exchanging kisses (though very discreetly). Trash cans are overflowing, and kids are doing the pee-pee dance around mom. Somehow, sitting under the sakura has made us giddy.
But as the air turns chilly, a strong breeze knocks off a few blossoms from a low-hanging branch. “That’s two down, 500,000 to go,” I think to myself as people start gathering their belongings. By midnight, nearly everyone is gone.
Sad as it is for the party to end, it’s always comforting to know that the blossoms will at least stick around for another week or two. So what you do is make the most of it. Paint lots of pictures. Write lots of poems.
Both life and blossoms are fleeting, so while they’re still around crack open a beer and savor every last drop. (^_^)/

March 21, 2007 at 3:23 pm 3 comments

Does Size Matter? In the U.S., Bigger is Better, but in Japan, “Kawaii” (cuteness) Rules the Day

My name is Sarah S. and I’m very excited to be blogging for JPBizDirect. I’m originally from Chicago (brrr), studied communications at Ithaca College in upstate New York (equally, if not more, brrr) and moved to Los Angeles (ahh, warmth) in 1999. My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Tokyo and Kyoto. I’ve also traveled to Zimbabwe, Great Britain, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, France and the Netherlands. I’m crazy about Japanese food, art and culture (both old and new), and look forward to bringing you all things helpful, fun, informative and occasionally bizarre from the land of the rising sun!

In the U.S., advertisers seduce us with bigger cars, bigger houses and bigger backyards. We’re supposed to eat Big Macs at McDonalds, drink Big Gulps at 7-11, drive enormous SUVs and Hummers, and watch movies on big-screen TVs.

This obsession with “more, more, more” even includes the mundane act of shaving. Got three blades on your Mach3 razor? Not good enough! Try the Schick Quattro with four blades! No, wait! Try the Gillette Fusion with five blades!

For women, big breasts are a plus, but let’s not go there; large eyelashes are also coveted, as are king-size beds and enormous, walk-in closets. Maybe it’s our wide-open spaces or the frontier-history of the country. Skyscrapers grow taller, first class grows wider; and we all want a piece of it.

In Japan, the opposite is often true. When I visited Tokyo and Kyoto with my husband, we noticed a fascination with neatness, smallness, and cuteness. At a corner grocery store in Kyoto, Asahi beer came in size small: 5 ounces (135 ml). Miniature candy and snacks came in small boxes, and inside, each chocolate was individually wrapped.


Pop idols like Puffy AmiYumi, manga comics featuring young female characters and their pets, usually cats, are also very small and cute.

RememberHello Kitty? Back in the 1980s, the ubiquitous meower reached peak popularity among schoolgirls in the U.S., but the concept of cuteness or kawaii(ka-wa-EE) has been prevalent in Japan from the 1970s to present day, and Sanrio, the company that created Hello Kitty, is still going strong. Round faces, wide eyes and tiny bodies are still the preferred look for cartoons and mascots.

Pikachu from Pokemonis seen soaring the skies on All Nippon Airlines (ANA) planes, and an adorable creature – I honestly have no idea what it is — represents the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.


Hotel rooms and bathrooms in Japan are quite small by American standards, but though the cities I visited were crowded, I never felt claustrophobic. This was partially because of the orderliness, politeness and tidiness; even the subway stations were extremely clean, and everything seemed to have its place.

To Americans, it seems strange to combine cartoon characters with real estate, government or the air force, but despite our differences with Japan in this area, there is plenty of crossover. Global interest in Japanese manga has never been higher. Maybe, like Goldilocks, we’ll have to find the size that’s “just right”!

Sarah S.

Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more

March 16, 2007 at 3:09 pm 1 comment

Onsen: Not Your Ordinary Dip in the Water

Hello everybody! \(^o^)/ My name is Himawari, an American-born girl transplanted to Japanese soil, then replanted in the golden state of California. I’m a hybrid of both countries, so even though the U.S. is my home for now, there are things about Japan that I really miss.

Among those are public bath houses, which Japanese people call “onsen“. I have to admit, it’s pretty intimidating to undress in a roomful of other females, (Junior high school gym class all over again!) but once you get used to that, it’s a great way to relax. The routine is always to wash yourself before dipping into the hot bath. Soap and shampoo are usually provided.


Many bath houses have different “themes”to their tubs which can sometimes fit 50 people. I’ve gone into a tub that shoots out tiny electric currents from the sides of its walls as a way to stimulate the body. Another one was infused with green tea. But my favorite one is the jet-stream bath which blasts warm water directly to stiff back muscles. Ah~~

In Tokyo, there’s an onsen “theme park”which harks back to the days when samurai warriors controlled the country. “Oedo Onsen Monogatari“offers you the full Japanese bath house experience, from putting on a summer kimono to getting a rubdown by their resident masseuse, to slurping up hot soba noodles afterward among a row of festive food stalls.

Their baths are pretty neat, too. And not just the conventional ones with water. Imagine having a woman bury you to your neck in a hot pile of sand. Japanese girls love it because it’s supposed to be a good way to lose weight. Not that most of them need to.

The theme park has another attraction, their outdoor foot bath walkway. I’ve nicknamed it the “maze of death” because you’re stepping barefoot along hundreds of pebbles and stones lodged into the bottom of the shallow pool. Believe me, it’s painful~! But again, the health effects are supposed to be excellent because the rocks stimulate different parts of the body through your feet. Hey, no pain, no gain, right? (^_^)


Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more

March 13, 2007 at 11:41 pm 2 comments

riseup japan support japan and be cool


March 2007


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