Archive for November, 2007

Women’s-Only Trains are Good to Go

It’s long been known that Tokyo’s commuter trains have been the stomping ground for gropers, harassers and straight-up perverts. Dressed like your every day commuter simply because he is your every day commuter, he scouts the sardine-packed scene for his unassuming victim. Most people stay quiet on the train, fixing their eyes on the floor and daydreaming about the weekend, but just about that time is when the train molester, or chikan, makes his attack.

I should know because I’ve been a victim. One time it was a touch from behind, the other time it was an odd rubbing of the knee against his (Don’t ask me to reenact that one). And when they strike they do it in such a subtle way that you’re not quite sure if what’s going on is really going on. But as the harassment persists like a nagging headache you begin to realize it’s not just your imagination. So then what did I do? …Nothing.

Maybe it was the cultural mindset of not wanting to be the nail that sticks out. Maybe I was simply being a coward. Either way, I regretted not doing anything and also developed a temporary phobia for greasy older men. (Though really, young men do it too.) The odd thing was, when I started asking Japanese female friends if they’ve ever been harassed on the train, 9 out of 10 said “yes.” Of them, how many had actually done something? Less than half.

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Yes, it’s a sad fact that Japanese women aren’t the most physically defensive species. That’s why I’m glad that Tokyo is now operating “Women Only” trains. During the hours of 5:30 am to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. until the last train just after midnight, men are banned from entering certain cars marked in pink. When I jumped on the train last month and noticed men sitting down I have to admit I was a little disgusted, until I saw the posted hours. It was still only 3 p.m. It made me wonder if at the stroke of 5 p.m. those men have to make a quick exit.

So the next time you’re in Tokyo and notice a train with pink decals on the doors, check your watch. The last thing you want is to be accused of being a pervert~!

Himawari

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November 30, 2007 at 10:02 am Leave a comment

Bang Those Drums & Celebrate: Autumn Festivals in Japan

November is a beautiful time of year in Japan, and a perfect opportunity to experience some amazing, traditional fall festivals. There are endless parades with vibrant, colorful floats; street theater performances; tons of dancing; elaborate costumes; and huge crowds.

On “Culture Day”, November 3rd, there were at least seven festivals this year. The largest by far was the Ohara Festival in Kagoshima Prefecture. It lasted two days and attracted 22,000 people dancin’ to folk songs in the street.

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Do you love a parade? The loudest is probably Matsue Do-Gyoretsu Drum Festival in Shimane Prefecture on Honshu Island. It features a “battle of the bands” between drummers from 30 neighborhoods. The drums are pulled through the city by floats, and played by children. If you happen to be in town, odds are they’ll give you a shot at the drums; they love to invite visitors to participate — so don’t drink too much sake before you’re called up!

Other parades on November 3rd included the Shitenno-ji Wasso parade in Osaka , which started in 1990 and celebrates “the history of cultural exchanges and relations between ancient Japan and East Asia.” Thousands of people showed up wearing intricate costumes showcasing heroes and historical figures.

Last but not least, consider Hakone Daimyo Gyoretsu in Hakone-machi, Kanagawa, an event that re-enacts the Feudal Lord’s Parade:

 


It’s almost like being there…

 

Sarah S.

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November 26, 2007 at 6:50 pm Leave a comment

Japanese Cell Phones: Why Leave Home?

When it comes to cell phone technology, Japan is light-years ahead. Back in the mid-90s while every American toted clunky Nokia handsets, Japan was knee-deep in ultra-slim phones available in every color of the rainbow. Then after reaching razor-thin heights, cell phones started bulking up for built-in cameras with resolution now as high as 5 megapixels.

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These days, Japanese cell phones aren’t only about snapping and yapping away. Of course there’s text messaging, which spawned a new world of smiley icons and heart-embedded conversations between girls and boys everywhere. With the help of 3G technology which connects at speeds up to 2.4 Mbps – nearly as fast as a cable modem – mobile internet access is standard issue. But how about using your cell to pay for the commuter train? Just pass your phone over a sensor at the gate and you’re in.

Now it’s all about barcodes. During my trip to Japan last month, I spotted a square, black imprint on the corner of nearly every poster, magazine and snack box imaginable. Scan over your phone and can get the latest information on promotions, reviews, nutritional content, and more. When the technology was first introduced last year, over 400,000 products had already implemented this barcode technology. I even found a barcode on a flyer posted in a university bathroom. (Hmm, is Big Brother watching me?)

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A cell phone function young boys have taken to is mobile gaming. Not just Tetris and minesweeper but popular role-playing games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. In the middle of rush hour, I found a kid on the train slumped against the door helping his avatar fend off fire-breathing dragons. He was so absorbed by it he nearly fell out of the train.

People have been watching TV from their cell phone and these days they’re even writing novels. One young woman wrote a book completely from her phone and later sold 400,000 copies after publishing a hardcover version. She continues to write cellular novels but admits that she sometimes falls asleep on the job.

Truthfully, hearing about all the things Japanese cell phones can do makes me jealous. But one thing they don’t have is the iPhone. My brother, who lives in Southern Japan, envies the fact that I can go to the Apple Store right now and pick one up if I wanted to. It’s a little much for my budget but maybe I’ll do it just out of spite. =P

 

Himawari

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November 20, 2007 at 11:24 am 12 comments

Fantasy Cars Debut at Tokyo Motor Show

This fall, The New York Times has been live-blogging the 40th Tokyo Motor Show, a seventeen-day extravaganza in Chiba City that’s open to the public. From super-cute, eco-friendly bubble cars to futuristic sports fantasies, the motor show has it all. (Ironically, visitors are asked to take the train to the show so their cars don’t clog up traffic!)

Building a lot of buzz is the BMW tii, a sleek, aerodynamic, light-weight sports car, and the 2008 Nissan GT-R, which has been in previews for several years, using concept drawings to make car fans drool.

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I was intrigued by pictures of Mitsuoka’s Orochi. Only 400 will be made over a four-year period, and they’ll only be available in Tokyo. The low-to-the ground, almost cartoon-looking fantasy car starts at 12 million yen ($104,00). Orochi means eight-headed serpent, and it’s true the car resembles an animal; check out its snarling snout:

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Toyota’s new plug-in hybrid car, the bizarrely-shaped, compact Hi-CT, could help car buyers alleviate guilt about global warming. It even has a removable rear trunk!

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Sarah S.

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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
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November 15, 2007 at 9:40 am 2 comments

Japanese Etiquette for Dummies

Regarding Sarah’s post a couple weeks ago on the onslaught of ‘reality-enhancing’ Nintendo DS games to hit the market, I just bought an RPG that’s guaranteed to hone my business etiquette skills. In the game, I’m a young office worker who goes through the week answering a series of questions by coworkers on topics ranging from word usage to phone conversation – even elevator manners. The more answers I get right the more my coworkers begin to respect me. Heck, I might even get a promotion!

Here’s a sample question for you:

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Three clients arrive at your office for a meeting. Chairs and table are set up as shown above with two seats on the left side and three seats on the right. The doorway is on the south (bottom) side. Given that you’re with your boss and the three clients – a regular worker, a department head and the company president – how would you seat everyone? Three seconds…

Time’s up! The answer: The higher your rank the furthest from the door you sit. So you’ll be sitting on the left side next to the door. And as long as you know this rule you can figure out other patterns like when riding in a taxi cab, elevator or eating at a restaurant. It’s the same rule for Japanese martial arts. The high-ranking master always sits at the far end, called kamiza (literally, upper seat).

A friend told me the reason for this is because when enemies attacked in the feudal days the most vulnerable seat would of course be that closest to the door. Low ranking soldiers had to be willing to take the hit for their leader. Shame on them if they didn’t.

As a real-life worker in a Japanese office I know it’s important to be wise to proper etiquette. Telephone conversations are especially tough because it’s hard to know how to address the person you’re talking to. There’s at least ten honorific ways to say, “He’s not here,” none of which I’ve ever used outside the office. And then there’s the humble form when speaking about yourself. E.g., “I humbly present you this cup of tea,” or “I will humbly visit you on Wednesday.”

Though, even if you foul up the words or confuse your seat with the president’s, at the end of the day the important thing is that you show respect and apologize when in doubt. “Gomennasai (Sorry)” … it’s golden.

Himawari

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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
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November 13, 2007 at 8:46 am Leave a comment

School’s Out: NOVA Closes For Good

Amid rumors and rumblings all year that Nova Language School in Japan was on the brink of bankruptcy, word comes that the ubiquitous chain has closed, leaving thousands of foreign teachers in the lurch (not to mention hundreds of thousands of paying Japanese students). American, Australian, Canadian, Irish, New Zealand and British visitors living and working in Japan while teaching English now have nowhere to go (Nova set up their apartments and deducted rent from their monthly salaries) and no way of recouping their losses or extending their work visas.

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Complaints about late payments and poor job training had dogged the company for months, if not years. Japanese students who wished to cancel their classes found themselves locked into long-term contracts that supposedly couldn’t be broken. Some estimate Nova’s debt at ¥43.9 billion, but having filed for bankruptcy on October 26, the company is seemingly court-protected from lawsuits both inside and outside the country.

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How did this happen?

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, “…Nova grew too big, with nearly half the market.” Known in some circles as “McEnglish”, Nova was founded in 1981 but didn’t become aggressive about expanding its offices and overall presence until the late 1990s. Starting in 1997, the brand was everywhere, and Nova became Japan’s biggest conversation school (or eikaiwa), responsible for the livelihood of 7,000 foreign teachers. Not all of them were English-speakers. Many people were hired to teach French and Chinese, as well.

It’s unfortunate that Nova is making eikaiwa look bad right now. I did find a website, The Greenlist of English Schools, that offers “a comprehensive list of good schools to work for” in Japan.

Also, English First, a private education company, is apparently offering relocation assistance to teachers throughout the month of November.

 

Sarah S.

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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
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November 8, 2007 at 8:58 am 1 comment

Seeing Double with Eye Puchi

At this very moment, millions of young Japanese girls are scrutinizing their face in the mirror, pinching and poking not at pimples but the surface of their eyelids. The Western world may never quite understand it, but a fold across the eyelids means the difference between being voted Miss Popular and getting your butt kicked.

Strange as it may sound, “monolids,” as we call them, are seen as plain, harsh-looking, even ugly. And so girls born with them will undoubtedly spend some point in their adolescent years “correcting” the situation. Enter Eye Puchi, a stick and glue kit which girls use to create the desired fold. First spread the glue across the eyelid’s edge, then use the two-prong stick to make an indentation. Wait for the glue to set and after a few hours, voilà, you have the eyelids of your dreams.

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Through just like do-it-yourself home improvements, not all self-renovations come out perfectly. Some end up with puffy, bloated eyelids. Others’ aren’t nearly as bad but the before and after picture can be so startling that class bullies are sure to take notice. There are online forums in which teenage girls write about their experiences with Eye Puchi. Some love it, but others write about how they were teased the next day at school. “Those with double-fold eyelids have no idea what us girls with monolids have to go through,” one girl posted. Though as the months pass, the bullies settle down and the girls happily transition into their creased-lid lives.

In many ways, American society is far more tolerant of people’s physical differences. It can be the shade of their skin, the color of their eyes, or the texture of their hair which makes them unique. People take pride in being an individual. But in a homogeneous society like Japan, everyone starts off in life with black hair and brown eyes. Some are born with folded eyelids, some aren’t. But because popular trends dictate beauty, some rest easy while the remaining population scrambles to “improve” itself.

Fair or not, one thing for sure, Eye Puchi is raking in the money.

<Related Articles:>
Japanese Eye (July 4, 2007)

 

Himawari

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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
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November 5, 2007 at 10:18 am 2 comments

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