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Archive for the ‘ Learning ’ Category

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6
Nov

Japanese Culture: Episode Five

Friday was another national holiday here in Japan: Bunka No Hi or Culture Day. Of course, culture day, along with a day off from classes, got me to think about Japanese culture, as I had explored it in my fifth episode, which premiered last week.

What is contemporary Japanese culture? What is any country’s culture? I’ve been here for nearly two months and seen a lot of Tokyo and surrounding cities. I’ve been to Kyoto in the south, Gunma and Nikko in the north. I’ve spoken to a sociologist who has lived in Tokyo for nearly two decades. I interviewed Donald Richie, who has lived in Japan for 60 years and has written 40 books on Japan. No one can really define the culture. It is too large and too diverse, not to mention the Japanese people do tend to take on styles from around the world. Especially here in Tokyo, there are so many contrasts.

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6
Nov

Disparity

There is disparity in this world. The English language and my position on this planet afford me the opportunity to refer to the largest-scale, globally encompassing, heart-wrenching, should-be-apoplectic, kick-you-in-the-balls obstruction in a tight, succinct six words. Polonius said that, “brevity is the soul of wit,” but in a civilization of complexity, the terse can be irresponsible at best, incendiary at its most violent worst.

I went to a bar with some American friends one night a few days ago. Down a few flights of stairs, below the well-trafficked streets of Shibuya, an entertainment district in Central Tokyo, I stuffed myself in a booth with four guys and slowly sipped a beer as I told dirty jokes and ate complimentary popcorn. In time they coaxed a few Japanese girls to our table, and soon our party had ballooned to nearly twenty.

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26
Oct

Kabuki

Standing in front of the famed Kabukiza Theater in Tokyo

Ever heard of Kabuki? Maybe so.

Early in the seventeenth century, a woman named Okuni devised a new form of dramatic dance and presented it to the people of Kyoto. Called Kabuki, the dance became and remains wildly popular. Even attempts to squash it have just enhanced its fame. Known for flamboyant costumes, Kabuki became associated with prostitution. When the Japanese government banned women, the resulting all-male casts produced “onnagata”, or men playing female roles.

Still today, the scratchy, high-pitched voices of onnagata are a favorite part of Kabuki, along with its tradition of gaudy dress, brilliant sets and excessive special effects. The idea that only men participate in Kabuki is no longer a reminder of a male-dominated society but rather a fundamental portion of the Japanese aesthetic, a people with respect for obedience that aren’t afraid to look past traditional promiscuity.

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25
Oct

Reader Response 2: Baseball

There is nothing more encouraging than finding emails or blog posts from readers and viewers. Better still is when questions and comments are hurled in my direction. So, I’d like to answer some questions that I think might interest many of you. As always, send me more mail or posts! Suggest something or ask a question, please!

I was recently asked about the influence of Major League Baseball in Japan. Having just watched, or to be more accurate, having followed pitch-by-pitch online accounts of my New York Mets losing in the seventh game of the National League Championship Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, this is a sore subject of sorts, but who could say no to cultural diplomacy?

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24
Oct

The Honorable Visitor: Episode Four

Well, as you might have noticed, my fourth episode has debuted. I have gotten some emails and blog posts about the episode, both kind-worded comments and some questions.

(Find the episode below)

So, I thought it might be fruitful to supplement the segment with a bit more about why Donald Richie was my focus and offer a venue for any questions about the man, his work or his philosophy. For me, it was a great pleasure to interview Richie, truly a legend of academia and cinema.

As was clearly displayed in the episode, Richie has authored more than 40 books on Japanese culture and thousands of articles and reviews through his weekly columns and inclusion in anthologies and other publications. He is a legend of academia and the man responsible for introducing Japanese film to the world. Moreover, he is an authority on cinema worldwide, with a short tenure as the Curator of Film at the New York Museum of Modern Art being the only interuption of his six decades living in Tokyo.

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6
Oct

Japan Part 3 of 3: International

The stunning conclusion of my very brief rundown of Japan ends with a global perspective. I’ve kept it short, but, if you’re looking for the lurid details of an intimate encounter, feel free to skip this entry.

Japan. What do we think about it in the U.S.? Technologically advanced, or at least that is all I really knew about it previous to pre-departure research.

Based on its technological pursuits, which was founded on an intensive pursuit of a niche in the world during the 1950s, post-American occupation, Japan experienced unprecedented economic growth through the early 1990s. Then it all went to crap, if only briefly.

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6
Oct

Japan Part 2 of 3: Domestic

In our continuing series on figuring out Japan, today, why don’t you learn a bit about Japan domestically? Seriously, why don’t you?

Japan is roughly the size of California – just a bit smaller – with a population of 127.5 million, while the Golden State has just over 36 million residents.

What might account for Japan being smaller than California but having 3.5 times as many citizens? Well, the Japanese live longer, that’s for sure. Life expectancy in Japan is over 81-years-old putting it in the top ten among the world’s oldest living people, a list topped by the people of the small, western European country of Andorra, whose population can expect to live to 84-years of age. For some perspective, the title of lowest age expectancy goes to the landlocked south African country of Swaziland. There, citizens can be called lucky for crossing the threshold of 33-years-old.

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6
Oct

Japan Part 1 of 3: Tokyo

This is a month in the making and perhaps even tardier than that. As your disorientated guide, uninformed teacher and uninspiring leader, I apologize. Let’s figure out Japan.

NBC has done a lot of things right in this, the premiere season of what I hope to be a show of divergent course in the nascence of online-only media. What they didn’t do was give you viewers nearly enough information about our countries of travel. But, then, I suppose that is just what I am supposed to do, and so I am here to do it now.

So here it is: my first in a three part series that might just be my bid for an Encyclopedia Asiananica. I hope all of this will give you a better understanding of one of the world’s more interesting and powerful nation-states. Today, we’re going to very briefly and generally discuss Tokyo in every way I could think you might want to break it down. I will follow with two posts on Japan, a domestic breakdown and then try to place the country in a global concept. If you’re actually still reading, you’re probably alone, so keep going, if only out of pride.

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5
Oct

Donald Richie: Episode Four

By most standards, I am not particularly cultured. So, it might surprise you to hear that recently I was in a small, basement club in Tokyo watching Japanese avant-garde films from the 1960s. Yeah, it surprised me too.

I was there to see the event’s host, an 82-year-old author who has lived in Tokyo for some 60 years. Anyone who takes cinema seriously or who knows anything about Japanese culture has heard of Donald Richie. He is considered a central figure on Japanese film, and the man has pounded out more than 40 books on Japanese culture, in addition to his own films and weekly columns. There is scare a scholar known more widely than he.

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2
Oct

Jaa mata

So I have this peculiar habit of ending my entries with, “jaa mata.” From a recent blog comment, it has occurred to me that I never mentioned what that meant. How absurdly anti-educational that is. It comes in closing, so, yes, some of you are savvy enough to understand it is, indeed, a Japanse farewell. “Jaa mata” can be translated to mean “See you again,” while its shortened, and more commonly used, form is “Jaa ne,” which I sneak in from time to time, means, basically, “See you.” Dreadfully complicated isn’t it?

Anyway, for those of you hoping to expand your everyday Japanese, here’s Christopher’s pronounciation guide, (JYA maTAH) yes, JYA being the first sound, not the name of this dreadful show you’re experiencing.

(JYA nay)

That being said, what you should know is what the Japanese call Japan: Nihon. If you are to continue to travel with me in Tokyo, you need to know this, that is just respectful. Nihon, get it, (NEE hone)

And a particularly literate comment brought forth, “Fuku wa uchi,” which, someone far more capable of Japanese translating than I tells me means literally, “Fortune comes in.” (Ignore what Googling the phrase tells you, my source is more reliable)

Commonly the phrase runs as, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi” The Devil is out! Fortune comes in.”

(OH nee wah so TOE. FOO koo wah oochi)

And, while we’re on this subject, I should clarify the two Japanese words I knew before I started learning in the months preceding my Tokyo arrival. “Sayanora” and “kon’nichi wa.” They meant goodbye and hello to me before I learned better.

“Sayanora” is really only used when referring to a goodbye with a sense of finality, as if the departing will not return for a long time. And “kon’nichi wa” is “good afternoon,” though it is used widely, from 10am to well past sunset for some.

See, who among us can say we didn’t learn something new today? Who, I demand!

Jaa,
Christopher