Friday, January 1, 2016

Prime Time

In America, the prime time television slots (8pm-10pm) are often filled with sit-coms, dramas and other TV shows where the viewers relate and care about actors and actresses portraying fictional characters (I'm looking at you Glenn from the Walking Dead) sometimes more than real life people in their lives.

In Japan, they have shows like that also, but they are often shown before 8pm or after 10pm, so what shows make it on Japanese prime time? Food, food and more shows about food. I'm not talking Food Network-type shows that viewers can learn secret recipes from top chefs, in Japan food shows are all about eating.  The typical food show in Japan centers around three or more famous Japanese actors and/or actresses touring different restaurants around the country and enjoying their native dishes. I say enjoying because in my 2+ years of watching shows like this, I have never seen anyone not like their food, as a matter of fact, they often go over-the-top with how much they enjoy the food, like it's the best thing they've ever eaten in their lives.

Now you would think that a TV show where a group of celebrities (the three men in the picture are hugely famous in Japan) visit three or four restaurants around the country that usually ends up with them visiting a restaurant in an onsen (a hot spring hotel) and taking a dip at the end of the show would be enough, but the show also cuts back to the studio where the host is joined by MORE famous Japanese stars, that comment on how delicious the food looks, and a huge audience.

There are also shows about competitive eating in Japan. It is hugely popular and most of the contestants are very famous only for their eating. They often visit restaurants around the country and enjoy the local cuisine, too, but they eat tons of it.  Looking at the portions, I would be full after just one plate, but these girls (yes, they are mostly girls) can put away more than 30-40 plates!  The most insane part of this is that all of the girls are cute and thin and they are all immensely popular in Japan.  Some of them are even idols! When talking to co-workers about it, all I have to say is my favorite is the girl who always wears Native American feathers in her hair and everyone know exactly who I am talking about, her name, her history and all kinds of stuff that only the most die-hard fans should be able to rattle off on command.

The funniest thing is that sometimes they take the show over to America and have the competitive eating contests in Times Square where it is Japanese VS Americans.  It's funny because the Americans are always so over-the-top American with red, white and blue shirts, mirrored sun glasses, baseball caps with huge beards and gruff voices.  It can be a little insulting though, it would be like if in America all the Japanese people were portrayed as otaku with huge glasses and pocket protectors.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Shichi-go-san Festival

Shichi-go-san is a traditional Japanese festival which celebrates the growth of children. It's name literally means "seven, five, three" because the festival is for three and seven year old girls and five year old boys. It is not a national holiday, so it is usually celebrated on the closest weekend to November 15th.

Boys and girls of the above ages usually dress in traditional kimonos and visit shrines. Families also gather together and have professional photos taken of the family in formal attire.

But what is the significance of these ages? Well, during the medieval times, children in Japan all had their heads shaven, I guess for sanitary reasons. At age three, girls stopped having their heads shaven and could grow out their hair. At age five, boys wore a hakama (which is the dress-like pants the boy is wearing in the picture above) in public for the first time. At age seven girls use an obi sash to tie their kimono instead of the cord used for younger girls.

After visiting the shrine, children are often given chitose-ame. Chitose means one thousand years and ame is candy. The candy is given as a parent's wish for a long and prosperous life for their children.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Christmas with Kentucky

Hang on to your hats, because we are about to get weird. Even though only an estimated one percent of the population in Japan is Catholic, Christmas is a huge holiday to the Japanese. Sort of like Halloween in America, you won't get the day of from work, but you look forward to it anyway.

The first KFC opened in Japan back in 1970 and it seems like a visiting foreign family spent the Christmas holidays in Japan and since turkey is non-existent here, the family opted for fried chicken instead. Well, needless to say, KFC saw this as a huge opportunity and during the Christmas season on 1974 launched the "Christmas with Kentucky" campaign which included chicken and wine!

Every year since then, KFC is mobbed every Christmas, some people waiting hours in line for their holiday dinner, the company even accepts pre-orders months in advance. The demand is SO huge that back office workers, executives and even the CEO head out to the restaurants in order to help out! Could you imagine the CEO of McDonald's ever setting foot inside one of their restaurants, much less actually taking a customers order?

Today the Christmas menu at KFC includes a bucket of chicken, a Christmas cake (another huge tradition in Japan) and a bottle of champagne!  Wait. Alcohol at KFC? Let's just say that there are KFC restaurants in Tokyo with their own whisky bars and just leave it at that.

Why am I posting about Christmas in the middle of the summer?  Because now is the time where people are placing their reservations for fried chicken.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Morality Training

One of the benefits of the Japanese school system is the huge emphasis they put on morality training in their schools.

All too often I heard in America that children just have no respect for anyone, their classmates, their teachers and in some cases, even their parents; but no where in the American school system is simple morality taught to children. It could be due to the various religions in America that are supposed to teach them morality and values, but more often than not, they do not.

In Japan, though, things are different. All children are taught how to treat other people with respect beginning at an early age. Not only that, but how they treat their fellow students and teachers are actually figured into their grades. Your child could ace every single test but if he treats the rest of the class and teachers like garbage, his overall grade will suffer. I think this is awesome. Too often we hear stories of that braniac kid who treats his classmates and teachers like they are all idiots. Well, in Japan that kid might get a C no matter how smart he or she is.

Although, I wonder if a child who isn't too bright might get a good score just because he knows how to kiss ass.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Blood Type

In America it's typical of people to ask or guess what astrological sign you are, as a matter of fact, the question is so common that it's shortened to just "what's your sign?" It is believed that your personality can be determined by the astrological sign you were born under. There are 12 astrological signs, roughly one for each month of the year.

Of course, things are a little different in Japan, where your personality is not determined by what day you were born on, but by your blood type. Unfortunately, there are only 4 different types to choose from:

Type A: People with type A blood are earnest, sensible, reserved, patient and responsible. Their bad traits are fastidious, over earnest, stubborn and tense.

Type B: People with type B blood are passionate, active, doers, creative and strong. Their bad traits are irresponsible, unforgiving and going their own way (stubborn?)

Type AB: People with type AB blood are cool, controlled, rational, sociable and adaptable. Their bad traits are critical, indecisive, forgetful, irresponsible and having a split personality.

Type O: People with type O blood are confident, self determined, optimistic, strong willed and intuitive. Their bad traits are self centered, cold, doubtful, unpredictable and being a workaholic.

I've actually had co-workers ask me what blood type I am and are shocked to learn that I have no idea, but in America I don't think that people are concerned with their blood type at all. Looking at the traits, I would say that I am blood type A, but everyone knows that the worst judge of someone is themselves.

Maybe it's just me, but asking someone their blood type sounds like some vampire stuff to me, which is why I chose the above picture for this post.

Plus, what could be more awesome than a nerdy Asian vampire with a huge afro?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Star Power

Whether it's Kanye West at the Grammys, Miley Cyrus twerking on stage or Kim  Kardashian's ass - Americans love their stars.  We want to know every single thing about their lives and hang on every word they say, good or bad.

Things just aren't like that in Japan.  Sure, they have their share of mega-superstars, but the Japanese don't really care about their personal lives or what they may do and say in public, all they care about is them doing whatever it is that made them famous.

As a result, Japanese stars rarely have inflated egos similar to their American counterparts.  It goes a long way to explain how Japanese groups like Arashi (the 90's boy band from around the same era as the Backstreet Boys and N*Sync) are still together and recording albums even though they are all now in their 30's!

Now I am sure that the stars in Japan are just as stupid as those in America, the difference is that when they do something stupid, it doesn't flood social media or the news here like it does in the US; at least not to my knowledge.  Here in Japan, the news is filled with actual news.

I would go as far as to say that if John Lennon would have said the Beatles are bigger than Jesus in Japan, no one would have batted an eye.

OK, well maybe they would have wondered who this Jesus person is and where could they buy His album...

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve

In America, New Year's Eve is usually spent with your friends in a bar or club, getting drunk and partying until the wee hours of the morning.  In Japan, the evening is usually spent with family watching Kohaku Uta Gassen on TV - the Japanese equivalent of Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve.

At midnight, both cultures herald in the New Year in similar styles; making noises with party favors and generally wishing each other Happy New Year.  After that, the people in America tend to just go back to the drinking and partying, but in Japan things are (wait for it) a little different.

After ringing in the New Year, people in Japan usually visit their local shrine, sort of like an outdoor church, where they will wait in line to approach the shrine.  Once in front, they will bow their head, throw some coins into a basket, bow their head again twice and grasp a thick rope connected to bells overhead.  They will shake this rope, causing the bells to chime, clap their hands softly twice and then pray, bow their heads a final time and step aside in order to let the next group of people approach the shrine.  Then you step to the side to receive a free cup of sake, now that is a type of church I can get behind!

Keep in mind that if anyone in your family had passed away during the year, the family does not visit the shrine on New Year or send and receive New Year's cards.

Which leads me to one of the coolest things about New Year's in Japan, the sending and receiving of New Year's cards.  It's similar to Christmas cards in the US, but what makes it really cool is that on January 1st in Japan the mailman (or woman) will deliver all of the New Year's cards.  How awesome is that?  It would be like receiving nothing but Christmas cards on December 25th!

January 1st, the one day of the year where I am not afraid to check the mail.