Thursday, 31 December 2009
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
And what did I learn from the project? When I showed the advertisements to Western friends, they assumed I had been teaching junior high school students. "But it`s all so childish" they noted. True. What it is, is amaterish and cute. Now this is partly because the students, like most Japanese students, have very little experience using computers. On mobile phones they can do anything but many students don`t even own a computer. Essays are hand-written, at least in the first year at university. The other reason is that slick and sophisticated is a Western concept, and one that many Japanese do not like or trust, at least until they spend some time abroad anc can learn to understand it. (And you can tell when that happens because their fashion sense changes.) `Cute` is the No. 1 brand in Japan. Think Hello Kitty. It`s fun, it`s not threatening, it`s nostalgic, like memories of your childhood. The idea of `growing up` in Japan is not a popular one.
I also learned that going out for coffee or tea and cake is a women-only pastime. Food is gendered and our survey results showed that no matter the price bracket no Japanese man is going to waste his money on a cake. For 500 yen he wants a whole meal. Japanese men choose their food by mass. A large cheap meal keeps you fuller for longer. That is their dining criteria.
Congratulations to all my seminar students. Next year, it`s thesis writing!
Last semester my seminar students carried out a small-scale marketing project. I divided the seminar into 4 groups and gave each group a typical British biscuit or cake to market in Japan. The 4 items were shortbread, gingerbread, arctic roll and cupcakes. Each group created advertising for their product and `launched` it with a PowerPoint presentation. Through this project the students learned the following points. That any product and the marketing of any product must be adapted to the country and the customer. That the Japanese consumer is extremely particular about what they will buy and how they view themselves through their purchases.
The shortbread group chose to design a cafe specializing in shortbread, named Cafe Shovre (short for shortbread in Japanese). It sounds European and therefore fashionable. The cafe is situated in an upmarket area of Tokyo and is aimed at wealthy people, particularly housewives with free time to meet their friends. There is a terrace for dogs. (Dogs are an indicator of status in Japan. The most popular dogs are extremely expensive and of course need space to live, an expensive commodity in central Tokyo.) They therefore marketed shortbread as an international, aspirational biscuit.
The gingerbread group tapped into the trend for wholesome, colour and additive-free foods. Their Ginger Ranger range could also be fun. Customers could ice their biscuits themselves. This range was aimed firmly at mothers and children. Although the poster shows gingerbread people, the group did not feel that this shape would be as popular as, for instance, gingerbread houses. They said most Japanese would feel like cannibals biting the leg off a Ginger Ranger.
The artic roll group initially floundered as this cake has never been produced in Japan. However their survey of students and friends showed that many Japanese wanted to try it, especially as a summer treat. Their survey also showed that most Japanese would want to try green tea and black sugar flavour, as you can see above. It may look like mould to most Westerners but green foods in Japan look delicious and healthy. The artic roll would be sold in convenience stores and was marketed as a family dessert.
And the cupcake group? More on them tomorrow.
Saturday, 26 December 2009
There were so many drunk people weaving along the streets last night you would have thought we are on a ship on the high seas. The Japanese, not traditionally being milk drinkers, lack an enzyme needed to process alcohol. They can get paralytic simply by uncorking a bottle. Still, it`s Christmas ...
From the Youtube `drunk Japanese salaryman` collection ...
Let`s spending festive season joyfully! After four weeks of emergency dental work, Santa brought me a newly moulded filling on Crimbo Day, just in time to eat my turkey dinner without having to puree it in the blender first. (The 25th December is a regular working day here and my dental appointment was fixed for 9.15am so the filling could have time to settle before dinner time.) Here are a few pictures of `Lightopia` from the Tokyo/Hibiya area and one from the 20th floor of the Foreign Correspondents` Club where I went with chums for our turkey dinner. Happy Hols!
Sunday, 29 November 2009
Last week my students were practising an important conversation, how to shop at Duty Free, when one student introduced the phrase, "I have a coupon". This got a big laugh. Shopping with discount coupons has become popular in recent years and in the big cities you can pick up coupon magazines like the ones above. They give details about restaurants, shops, nail bars and beauty salons together with photos of the premises and the various menus on offer. Japanese people like to see exactly what they are getting in advance.
The Japanese government wants us to spend money too. This week I received from them my 12,000 Yen spending money (that`s 82 pounds, 75 pence at today`s rate). Every Japan-based taxpayer can apply and receive this. Apparently if we all go out and spend it we will jump-start the economy. I`m buying books. I have a coupon ...
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
I once asked students how long it took them to get ready in a morning. The girls took one hour on average to blow dry their hair and `make up`. If they were running late, they would finish on the train. It is very entertaining to watch Japanese women whipping out heated tongs and applying them to their hair on a crowded subway. And I once watched a schoolgirl use electric eyelash curlers on a fast moving bus.
At least they`re making an effort. Some of the ojisan (older blokes) on the subway can clear a carriage in seconds. First there`s the enthusiastic nose-picking ... and flicking. Then there`s the coughing and sneezing without even putting their hands over their mouths. And a couple of weeks ago, the ojisan next to me had such appalling bad breath I had to hold my scarf over my mouth and leave the carriage at the next stop, followed by several other nauseous women.
Granted, I also feel somewhat sorry for the ojisan. These guys have spent their lives in soulless smoky offices, working from early morning to early evening and then having to go out with colleagues, drinking and visiting hostess bars. They eat junk food, get drunk and throw up on the last train home. Their putrid breath is a sign of dangerously poor health.
Younger guys are shunning this lifestyle. A salaryman friend of mine, sick of having to go out drinking alcohol most evenings with his ojisan colleagues, being denied orange juice and having to inhale their secondhand smoke, simply quit.
So I don`t have a problem with women or men (some men shave their whole faces and then pencil in Beckham style brows) making up in public. In fact I sometimes do it myself. It`s important to look presentable in this country.
Monday, 16 November 2009
Dominoes Pizza Home Delivery present the BreadBowl Pasta: a 23cm breadbowl base filled with the pasta of your choice. From 9 pounds sterling (I don`t have a pound symbol on my Japanese keyboard). Is this just for the Japanese market or is this muck available elsewhere? Food this sickly shade of orange cannot be healthy.
Thursday, 12 November 2009
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Yesterday, whilst I was trying to teach, two students were sitting at the back of the classroom perusing a book they seemed to think was a lot more interesting than what I had to say. And they were right! This is `Youfuku Visual`, a photobook showing job-hunting graduates how to dress, stand, sit and generally comport themselves in job interviews. I immediately set the students an essay-writing task, confiscated the book and took these pictures. Circles indicate correct postures, crosses indicate incorrect. This is one thing I love about Japan. It`s so strict. No yob culture here.
Please sit properly when reading my blog.
Sunday, 8 November 2009
Had to work this weekened, interviewing high school students for possible admission to the university next year. Uni provided this obento (lunchbox). A mini hamburger, 1 inarizushi (rice in fried tofu), two types of rice: plain with a pickled plum and also rice with azuki beans), two pieces of deep-fried squid with a slice of lemon and a small bottle of soy sauce, a piece of salmon on a plastic leaf, a piece of renkon (Japanese radish - looks like a wheel), a slice of yellow omelette, bamboo: raw and also cooked with some pieces of cooked carrot, and various pickles. Delicious.
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Saturday, 31 October 2009
I have now added green foods to my autumn diet. I just can`t get enough matcha (powdered green tea) and am eating it in matcha mochi (soft rice cakes with red bean filling) and in the Starbucks Matcha Latte. It`s so healthy I can FEEL myself antioxidizing. Coffee is dead.
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
I`d better make this quick as I could be called up to join a J Pop band at any moment. In order to appeal to teen groups (and their pocket money), bands used to have 5-6 members, one for each teen to like and `adopt`. Suddenly Japanese bands are appearing with even more members (see Hey!Say!Jump above with 10 band members). Not only that but after a few months the members `graduate` to spawn other bands which appeal to new markets and age groups. It`s the J Pop version of swine flu. At this rate everyone in Japan will at some time or other be required to spend time in a J Pop band.
Two examples. Morning Musume (Morning Daughters) are an all-girl band of such saccharine-sweet, paedophile-attracting awfulness, I weep for the lost cause that is Japanese gender equality whenever they appear on TV. And in one guise or another, they are ALWAYS on TV. Formed in 1998, they currently have 8 members, 17 former members, and 9 associated acts including Country Musume and Mini Moni. They`ve released 9 albums and their 41st single, Kimagure Princess, is out this week. From an anthropological point of view they tick many of the boxes for Occidentalist thinking. For example, their amateurish style of singing and dancing suggests an honest, country attitude, free of the corruption and dishonesty of the city (or just a total lack of talent). They are popular across Asia in countries where women are supposed to be dumb and compliant. And young. Minimum age requirement at auditions is 12 years old. Here`s their 2006 hit, Sexy Boy, featuring para para style dancing. Para para style is when everyone learns the dance movements to a song and does them at the same time. Japan is a group society, remember.
Plastic boy band Exile currently has 14 members, being an amalgamation of Exile and J Soul Brothers, which was the original name of Exile until they became Exile, and J Soul Brothers emerged as a new band. Stay with me. They have only one former member, Shun, who quit when he found he couldn`t fit on stage with all the others there. Since 2001 they`ve released 31 singles, 7 albums and 7 Best Of albums. Interestingly, they don`t have to be young. Their ages range from 23-40. Here`s their No 1 single from July this year, Fireworks - part one only due to Youtube copyright reasons.
Monday, 26 October 2009
A new sento (hot baths) has opened near my apartment. I quite like sento and onsen (natural hot springs), especially if the facility has some special feature like a sauna or a waterfall. There is a great hot spring resort at the beach near Nagoya where you can sit in a hot bath and watch the planes taking off. (Actually the airport also has its own sento too so you can have a bath and relax before you fly.) And I once went on a school trip to a hot spring resort which had a melon bath. It was a surreal experience sitting naked in a giant green bath surrounded by floating plastic melons, talking adverbs with my students.
All sento have strict rules about who can enter. Some tried to ban foreigners until Japan`s crusading human rights campaigner, Debito Arudo, took them to court. But they still do not allow any drunk people (obviously, as they may drown) and people with tattoos. Tattoos in Japan are worn by society`s so-called losers, only in Japan this means the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Ya.Ku.Za is the name of a losing hand in Hanafuda, a Japanese card game.
Friday, 23 October 2009
I`ve graduated from white foods to yellow. Which is good timing because the Yakimo man is back. Yakimo or yaki jagaimo are hot potatoes, regular white and sweet yellow. Traditional Japanese cuisine is not oven-based so most Japanese don`t have ovens in their homes. The Yakimo man drives up and down the streets in the early evenings calling people out from their houses to buy the potatoes from out of the open fire on the back of the van. The call - a taped chant on a tannoy - sounds rather spiritual. A colleague who had recently moved to Japan said to me, "The Japanese are so religious. I hear them calling the faithful every evening but I can`t find the temple".
Many supermarkets also have little ovens for potatoes and roast chestnuts. I walk in and think it`s Guy Fawkes Night.
I`m not a fan of fast food. It gives me a splitting headache. And why bother when there is always a sushi shop nearby. But on the rare occasions when I do feel like fried food, I head over to Freshness Burger in the high street for their Vegetable burger. It`s grilled tofu with tomato, avocado and relish. Goes well with their hot green tea latte. It is said that Japanese people live the longest because they have a lot of soya in their diet. I would say that it forms part of every meal the Japanese eat.
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
The anti-SMAP brigade at uni have suggested that I actually introduce a band that most young people really like. They took a vote and Radwimps, Flumpool, Rip-Slyme, Kat-tun, Glay, Gackt and even Ikimonogakari made good running but the overwhelming winners were Bump of Chicken. Which is a pity because I think they are boring and bland. So my student will introduce them:
My favorite band is Bump of Chicken. They`re 4 people and consists of two guiters, base and dram. They`re rock musicians. They`re all from Chiba-Sakurai-shi. They met in their nursery school student. Their birth year is all 1979. Their brief is equality so they haven`t decide leader. They`re so cool!
Apparently, they chose their name because it means `cowards strike back`. They claim to be influenced by the Beatles (God knows how) and my students say their songs have beautiful and complex lyrics.
Well, try them. The first video, Namida no Furusato (Hometown Tears) will at least give you some idea of what a typical Japanese high school looks like. The second, `Danny`, is in English and will give you some idea of what a typical Japanese high school student`s English ability is like. Bloody awful.
Sunday, 11 October 2009
The other day in class the students were drawing self-portraits anime style. One student drew herself with long hair in ringlets and the others agreed it was very "Versailles". It reminded me of some clothes I had photographed recently on display outside a shop in Kichijoji. I couldn't understand the origin of this fashion so I wrote to ex-student K. He replied:
Umm... I don't know what kind of fashion too. In Japan especially Tokyo, there are many crazy people.
To me, it doesn't feel that's odd. This is merely one of fashion which born new style one after another.
I suppose these are inspired by anime or TV game(ex,dragon quest) whose story is the Middle Ages in Euro.
This period is noble sophisticated elegant to Japanese people.
Some might be fond of that kind of style.
Is it good explanation?
The smell of Autumn makes me happy:)
Thanks ex-student K and good luck with the Hip Hop.
The European 'noble sophisticated elegant' fashion is also popularized by the all-woman troupe known as the "Takarazuka" who perform musicals often based on romantic or fairy-tale periods in European history (although I have also seen a toe-curling excerpt from their version of West Side Story). I guess women playing male roles is no weirder than traditional Japanese forms such as Noh and Kabuki in which the female roles are played by males. Or even traditional English theatre. Even so, the Takarazuka seem odd to me. See for yourself. Here's a scene from their most famous musical, the Rose of Versailles.
Thursday, 8 October 2009
The 18th typhoon of the season, Melor, made landfall this morning and is currently working its way up the centre of the main island. Tokyo seems not to be too badly affected however most of the trains have stopped so classes have been cancelled for this morning. The building next door to my apartment is undergoing refurbishment (or 'reform' as it is known in Japan). The scaffolding is swaying and the canvas sheeting, which is supposed to cover the two-storey building from top to bottom like a curtain, ripped away and disappeared up the road half an hour ago. Oddly, the sun is shining.
Yesterday we were told to fill our bathtubs with water in case the typhoon cuts water and power. I don't think it will come to that here. But judging by the continuous TV coverage, other regions haven't been so lucky.
Japan's TV stations test the strength of a typhoon by sending some news cutie into the eye of the storm with a pakamac and clipboard and seeing how long it takes her to get swept away (see above). If it's really serious they send an ambitious young man down to the ocean and see how long it takes him to get an electric shock off his microphone. Great fun!
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
Summer ended overnight. One day it was 29 degrees, the next morning it was 19. Japanese people are getting their autumn stomachs, replacing cold noodles with hot stews. But it takes a couple of weeks for your body (Japanese or foreign) to shift into autumn mode. As the temperature drops, we get muscle and joint pains and lose our appetites. I can only eat white foods right now: mochi (glutinous rice cakes like the ones above filled with red bean paste and covered in sesame seeds) and fresh tofu. The above tofu is a speciality of a little izakaya near my university. The toppings are, from left to right, chopped spring onions, ginger paste, and green tea powder. Pour on soy sauce and add green wasabi (hot horse radish)... delicious.
Typhoon Melor has just reached the islands of southern Japan. It is expected to move up to the mainland overnight. If so, lessons will be cancelled tomorrow.
Tuesday, 29 September 2009
I`ve spotted a marketing opportunity. Watch the video below of ABS in concert flying the flag for Britain and featuring a guest spot with some bloke I`ve never heard of. See the cardy? Pringle of Scotland (one crummy shop in Aoyama), sign these guys up!
They`re a good demographic for knitwear too. Believe it or not, all the band members are 40 years old, except for the lead singer who is 39. And yet they`re still popular with Japanese schoolkids.
A prefect`s badge for me, I think.
Monday, 28 September 2009
I see Abingdon Boys School have a new single out. Yes, that`s them above. Is that regulation uniform?
Their new song is called Kimi no Uta (Your Song) and it`s the soundtrack to a new anime (animation ...... it`s a cartoon) `Tokyo Magnitude 8`. ABS`s genre is alternative rock and they are touring Europe in November, playing at the Underworld in London on 12th.
What interests me is how this band are tapping into the continuing popularity of the British brand, especially the belief that the British education system is the best in the world. These guys wouldn`t last 5 minutes at an inner city comprehensive. But then they`re not called Inner City Comprehensive, are they? They`re called ABS because Radiohead attended Abingdon School, the prestigious `public` (which in England means private, fee-paying) school.
Since their formation in 2005, ABS have had several hit singles including: Stay Away, White Breath, Howling and Jap. They also sing some of their songs in English – kudos for them.
Take a look at the PV (promotional video) for Innocent Sorrow. Is that any way to treat books?! Detentions all round except for the keyboard player who is obviously way too old to be a student. I bet he`s the music teacher.
And here they are in summer uniform singing `Freak Show` in English. Nice to see a band tackling real issues; what to do when you have too many electrical appliances. Still, not bad for a `live`.
Sunday, 27 September 2009
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
Today I saw a dog wearing a navy and white striped tee shirt and a beret. My first thought was, "That's a good look". I think I have been in Japan too long. The autumn outfits for dogs are just in at Pet Paradise in Kichijoji. Lee are doing casual knitted cardies teamed with jeans (for boy dogs) and denim skirts (for the girls). For toasty evenings around the kotatsu (a low Japanese heated table) wrap your pooch in red brushed cotton all-in-one jammies. Or for a more feminine look how about the yellow leisure outfit with frilly skirt and pom-pom hood to keep those ears warm.
And they say Japan is in a recession .....