culture

Pocket Money for Leo: Django Unchained Star finds Extra Work Pimping Whiskey in Japan

Commercials: a lot of celebrities in the west won’t touch them with a borrowed pole. After working hard to build up their portfolio and making themselves a household name, for many professional actors the mere thought of putting their face on an advertisement is completely abhorrent.

In Japan, however, it’s a very different story. TV celebrities, singers and sports stars are a common feature on commercials, whether they be on television, magazines or even hanging over our heads as we take the train to work each morning. Watches, skin cream, beer, anti-hair loss, cars, language courses; you name it, someone famous is smiling and pretending they love it in exchange for a few extra yen.

This time it’s the turn of hollywood heart-throb Leonardo DiCaprio to take the cash and smile for the camera. Because, as we all know, DiCaprio never shuts up about how much he loves Jim Beam whiskey usually…

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Could one of Osaka’s Most Famous Dishes Actually Originate from Tokyo?

Here’s a story that’s bound to ruffle a few feathers down south. According to those in the know, okonomiyaki – a savoury “pancake” dish loved by millions and one of Osaka’s most acclaimed culinary delights – may in fact have been created in none other than Tokyo.

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What do the Affluent Men of China Yearn for More than Anything Else?

On January 20, 2012, United Arab Emirates’ English newspaper National (Electronic version), published an article that featured an affluent Chinese man named Hoan. It revealed that what some of China’s wealthiest men are looking for is not an increase in material fortune but rather a mistress to perfect their social status. According to the report, if you’re wealthy and happen to be living in China, the presence of a mistress is a symbol of one’s success in society in some circles.

Nevertheless, like many a member of the single male demographic, these affluent Chinese men are sometimes confronted with the problem of just how to go about meeting available members of the opposite sex. Here, what many man with bucket-loads of cash are increasingly turning to is online dating.

Let’s take a quick look at the process for a man like Hoan.

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Is the Japanese Word for “Thank You” Losing Its Meaning?

As linguists and scholarly types routinely profess, language is something that is continually evolving. It is a living, breathing entity that twists, turns and grows on an almost daily basis. As our lives change, so too does language. We don’t always like the changes, but, realising that the amount of time we spend on this earth is a mere blink of the eye compared to how long language itself has existed, we come to accept that words are no more ours than the valleys and hills we trek over. (Although I must confess that I still face-palm whenever I hear someone utter the phrase “I could care less” to suggest that they do not care an iota about something.)

Nevertheless, when changes in language begin to occur, people notice them. The first time we heard the word “Facebook” used as a verb or saw our first “LOL”, many of us likely furrowed out brows and thought, “Is that right?” In much the same way, in July and August last year Japanese broadcasting giant NHK launched an online survey asking the people of Japan whether they had noticed the rather peculiar use of the word “arigatou” (thank you) cropping up in conversation in recent times.

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Too Tired to Stay on Your Feet? Why Not Wait in Line Like They Do in Thailand

If you live in a heavily populated area, you will inevitably be made to wait in a line at some point during the day. The post office, city hall, and the DMV are all notorious places for facing long, unpleasant waiting times. What’s worse, if you step out of line to use the restroom or are simply too tired to stand, you’ll lose your place and be forced to start standing at the back of the line all over again.

However, a picture from Thailand has surfaced online that seemingly solves the problems most people face while queuing up: just let your shoes do the waiting.

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Japan Weighs in on the Eternal Question: Is it OK to Pee in the Shower?

Japanese are generally perceived as being particularly fastidious when it comes to bodily cleanliness, what with the special toilet slippers and showering before getting in the bath and all. But it turns out that doesn’t keep some of them from engaging in a much debated activity: peeing in the shower. Read More

A Chinese Perspective: Some of the Most Surprising Cultural Differences upon Coming to Japan

On February 1, a Chinese newspaper writing primarily for Chinese nationals residing in Japan published an article titled “Some of the Things that  Surprised Me when Coming to Japan”. Written by Chinese men and women who have experienced the Japanese lifestyle, the publication gives accounts of some quite startling differences between Chinese and Japanese customs and what is taken for granted as common sense.

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Tipping in Japan: Yes, It Exists and It’s Confusing

Flipping through any travel guide about Japan you will learn that Japan is a country where tipping is non-existent. Leaving your change on the table at a restaurant may result in the waiter chasing you down to give it back.

But in Japan there actually is a system of tipping that exists but is tangled in a mysterious system of formality that no one really seems sure of. In an interview with Yahoo! Japan, Nobuko Akashi of the Japan Manners & Protocol Association attempts to unravel this system so we can all know when and where it’s appropriate to tip in Japan.

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Jammy Shoes and Out of Bounds Restrooms: School Kids Vote to Abolish Unwritten Rules

“Ignore the rules and you’ll get jam in your sneakers.”

The teachers may not always know about them, but throughout schools in Japan there are a number of unwritten rules that have been passed down from school generation to school generation and must be obeyed. First graders may only use the old, “haunted” toilet block nearest to the gym; only third graders may wear their backpack with just one strap; the cute art teacher must never be gazed upon by anyone other than the boys from class 2-F…

Entering a new school and being told to obey these long-standing rules “or else”, many kids probably wonder why their seniors, or “senpais“, are such jerks. But as the years go by and they, too, slowly rise to power and reap the rewards of having aged a couple of years, few are in a hurry to abolish the “ura“, or “other side”, code of conduct.

According to a report by Japan’s Yomiuri Online, however, students at a school in Tainai City, Niigata Prefecture have taken the unusual step of openly discussing these rules and swearing to abide by them no more.

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Why one Man Refuses to Sit: Standing up to Pee “A Matter of Honor”

No matter how much you love someone, once you start living with them minor irritations are bound to come to the surface. The object of your affections – that perfect specimen of a human being whose every movement used to be cute, sexy or endearing in some way – suddenly becomes just another person with flaws of their own. Perhaps they slurp their coffee too loudly. Maybe they have a habit of leaving hair in the plug-hole or not changing the toilet roll when the old one is finished. These minor issues are the kind of thing that we only come to notice after the initial “honeymoon” dating period when we were always dressed to impress and only have to keep our bad habits in check for the duration of a single evening at a time.

In a recent story about marital relations, Japanese website News Post Seven heard from both relationships experts and a number of married women who were distinctly irked by their husbands’ bad habits. While issues such as of a general lack of help with the housework or cooking frequently cropped up as the cause of arguments and unhappiness, one of the most common complaints made was of husbands making as mess while peeing. Told to take a seat while draining his spuds, however, one Japanese man was seemingly morally offended by the mere suggestion, stating that to pee standing up is “a matter of honour”.

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Lazy Slobs Rejoice: Upside-down “Desk” To Use While You Snooze

Now all you need is an intravenous drip, catheter and bed pan…

On 7 February, a new day of sloth dawned with the issue of Thanko’s new upside-down laptop desk, aptly named Aomuke Gorone Desk (“Napping Face Up Desk”) for 7,980 yen (US$86).

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Sapporo Restaurant Fines Customers Who Don’t Finish Every Last Bite

Most of us grew up being scolded about cleaning our plates at dinnertime. Some of our parents used enticements like dessert to get us to eat all our food. Others used guilt, talking about the starving children in Ethiopia. But chances are you never had to pay a fine for leaving a few morsels of food uneaten. But that is exactly what will happen if you don’t bring your big-boy appetite to Hachikyo, a seafood restaurant in Sapporo. Read More

Top 10 Things Single Japanese Women Want from a Man

According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, about half of unmarried women report that they are not dating anyone with any serious intent. Why are so many available ladies completely unattached? Could it be that they just don’t see the appeal of having a partner? Or conversely, maybe they are holding out for an unrealistic Prince Charming.

Goo Rankings decided to look into the issue and asked the single ladies what they would ideally want a boyfriend to do for them, if they had one. The surprising answers after the break: Read More

It’s the Little Things: One More Reason Why We Love Japan

After a long week at the office, our Japanese writer Yoshio was in dire need of a pick-me-up. After stretching and clicking his back, he stood up at his desk, tucked his wallet into his back pocket and announced in unusually glum tones that he was popping out to the convenience store to grab a few things.

A few minutes later, Yoshio walked back into office and placed his little white plastic bag down on his desk with a tired sigh. But then he stopped. Looking down at his purchases inside the bag, he suddenly began beaming with a level of happiness that we hadn’t seen in quite some time.

“Oo! Sugoi!” (“Oh! That’s awesome!”) he softly exclaimed.

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Public Ritual Sex in Japan: Bizarre Fertility Festival “Onda Matsuri”

One of Japan’s most ancient fertility festivals, Onda Matsuri (“Rice Field Festival”), which features public ritual sex, was held on February 3 at Asuka-ni-imasu Shrine in western Japan.

Around 1,400 years ago, Asuka was Japan’s political, cultural and spiritual heartland. The chief priest of this Shinto shrine is the 87th priest in an unbroken line of priests always named Asuka- a tradition that has stretched down the ages for 87 generations, perhaps thanks to the legendary fertility conferred by the rite, which is said to bring luck in matchmaking, marriage and easy childbirth. Easy childbirth? That sounds a tad oxymoronic. if you ask me. But at any rate, it sounds better than having my deity “greatly multiply my pain in childbirth” for my sins, naming no names…

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You’re Not Really Japanese Until You Have a Set of Sliding Door Power Outlet Covers

Yes, you can use chopsticks, and yes, you pronounce the words karate and karaoke “correctly” in the middle of your otherwise English sentence, but you’re not a hardcore Japanophile until you’ve kitted your home’s power outlets out with these hugely unnecessary but utterly brilliant shoji sliding paper door covers.

Made by hobbyist and blogger Tori Sugimura, these little wooden boxes feature delicate sliding doors and real washi paper panels as well as traditional Japanese design features like flowers and wading cranes.

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Japanese Magazine Offers Advice for Avoiding Life’s #1 Disappointment: Bad Ramen

Consumers are always hoping to get more than they paid for products and services, but in reality, the reverse is just as common. We’ve all been suckered in by a wily shopkeeper at one point or another, but what knowledge and preparation can we arm ourselves with to avoid being taken advantage of?

There are a bounty of goods and services available to us, all of which are marketed with beguiling strategies. Some of them will be such good values our hearts will delight in our own cleverness, while others will simply satisfy with their averageness. Of course, the remaining products, for all their appeal, will be deeply disappointing. Maybe billionaires can just spend for the joy of spending without worrying if something is really a good value, but for common people like  you and me, making a poor decision can impact our wallets and our self-esteem for a long time to come.

In the hope of protecting their readers from it, Japanese weekly magazine SPA! has set out to discover what exactly is behind this buyer’s remorse in all its complex forms. Read More

Make Tracks to Tokyo’s Train Bars

There are train hobbyists and then there are train hobbyists. Japan’s particular breed of railway aficionados are referred to by the somewhat-affectionate term densha otaku, or train nerds, and are famous for feats like memorizing complex, phonebook-size timetables or visiting every single one of the country’s almost 10,000 stations.

Of course, when they aren’t trying to increase their encyclopedic knowledge of all things rail-related, they are out looking for like-minded people to impress with it. As it turns out, Tokyo offers the densha otaku a wide selection of appropriate watering holes, or perhaps we should call them bar cars. So grab your subway map and let’s go see this elusive creature in his natural habitat. Read More

Beauty Clinic Survey Reveals Japan’s “Top 10 Words”- All Remarkably Positive and Upbeat

In a survey carried out late last year, Japan’s Shonan Beauty Clinic asked 1,400 Japanese men and women what their favourite words were. The results were remarkably wholesome.

If you ever wondered how Japanese people truly think, or thought for a second that the stern expressions worn on busy commuter trains each morning were accurate representations of passengers’ inner feelings, you were way off the mark.

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Girly Noodles: Is Japan Witnessing the Start of a Female-Oriented Instant Noodle Revolution?

Instant noodles – also known as cup noodles and what this writer lived off during most of his university days – have been a food staple for the busy, cost-conscious and kitchenphobic since their inception back in 1958. Peel back the lid, pour in some hot water, wait a few minutes and you have a hot, filling, if not especially nutritious meal for about the cost of a cup of coffee.

But with the handy meals being something that many associate with students and lonely bachelors, many women shy away from instant noodles, regardless of the fact that they’re just as pressed for time as their male coworkers. And all stigmas and stereotypes aside, few women in their 20s and 30s would be especially happy about replacing their nutritious mid-day meal with a plastic cup of rehydrated noodles swimming in a salty broth.

Enter the girly noodle.

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