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Yesterday, I took a walk and saw that the Cherry Blossom Trees near my house were turning pink! A few flowers were blooming. It just made me really happy. It looks like this weekend will be great for a Hanami party!

Sakura with two unsuspecting salarymen

Check out the Live Webcams on Live Japan for more images of Sakura Blooming!

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勝った! I won!

Some time last month, I joined a contest that Evan Pike from Japan Photo Guide was sponsoring. The contest rules stipulated that for adding Japan Photo Guide, Japan Daily Photo, Blogs on Japan, or Photography of Evan Pike to your blogroll, you get raffle tickets. I’d already had Japan Photo Guide in my blogroll but I added Japan Daily Photo, giving me two tickets.

Just yesterday, I found out that I won! I wasn’t really expecting to win since I do visit both sites quite a lot, as I think Evan’s photos are amazing. I had found out about his photo blogs from Japan Probe where he contributes photo posts, the Japan Photo of the Week. Before writing this post, I received an email from both Paypal and Evan that $50 was credited to my account! Thank you, Evan!

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Friends in Japan tell me that it’s really rude to use my bicycle bell. I always ask them what else I’m supposed to do make people – especially groups of people – move to the side when I’m cycling… I mean, I could very slowly cycle around them but then I’d still be risking hitting one of them. Or I could keep hitting the brakes and make that really loud annoying sound that would probably make them realize I want to pass. Or I could just ring my bell, which is part of my bicycle anyway and then just say Sumimasen (Excuse me.) and bow while passing.

Bike courtesy is something people always bring up when talking about manners and how there is a serious lack of them recently. Others, of course, include behavior in the train, loud chatting or smoking in non-smoking areas. Since I have to rely on my bicycle to get me places, I try to be as responsible as I can when cycling through town. So when I caught wind of the new bicycle laws that have been passed recently, I started to panic. Most of the stuff on the poster I saw were stuff I already knew: prohibition against riding with an umbrella, no parking in areas not designated as parking areas, no cycling on pedestrian lanes, etc. But what got to me was the extremely unreasonable fines. For leaving your bicycle in a no parking area, you have to pay a maximum fine of ¥50,000! I’d just leave my bicycle there then… I thought.

Then things like overtaking senior citizens would cost up to ¥300,000. I had to ask one of my friends to translate this properly for me. I had to ask her several times if she was sure it was overtaking and not bumping the elderly pedestrian while overtaking. She just kept repeating that it was overtaking, just overtaking. To be fair, a lot if not all of the rules were reasonable. I was just concerned about the penalties. So I had to ask, “How about ringing your bell, what’s the penalty for that?”, just to receive a “No, that’s not on here…”

Irony. (After reading the above article, however, it seems bell ringing has been added to the list! I think I’ll just walk.)

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Small face, long legs, and a tiny, tiny waist. This is how most Japanese women would like to look and how Japanese men want women to look. It’s everywhere from their anime to their ads for beauty products, and oh yeah, did I forget to mention the dyed hair and the huge eyes? There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s perfectly alright to want to look a certain way. But there seems to be an obsession here in Japan with this image of perfection.

In a lot of the anime I watch, the heroines almost always fit this description, making them the perfect women. And while some of the women I know wouldn’t admit to it, they apply cosmetics and go on diets to get this exact look. I have, one time or another, enjoyed praises from other girls that are like “顔が小さくて、足も長くて、いいですね。Kao ga chisakute, ashi mo nagakute, iidesune. Your face is small and your legs are long, good for you…” (Ok, I enjoy it all of the time…) But then sometimes it gets uncomfortable. Like for example, when that’s all they can say. And when that’s all they care about…

It also gets too much when men start to think about things like long legs and slimness… for themselves! It’s not enough that they want their women to be petite and cute, they think they must look petite and cute, too! As proof, take a look at this article from Asian Offbeat. I know that Japan has a long history of these pretty men, these boya or those samurai boytoys from like the Warring States Period (戦国時代, Sengoku Jidai). But from what I gathered, it was usually the strong, powerful men who fancied them and not really the women. Here in Japan, there seems to be some shift occurring where beauty, fashion and obviously physical attraction are concerned.

Image via: JapanFan20 and Mizer.malice (through Asian Offbeat)

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Recently on the news, there have been reports about requiring Japanese ability for certain visas. I just read today that the law could be passed pretty soon. As I am an avid fan of Japanese, I have no problems with this new law, in fact, I welcome it wholeheartedly. The reason I do, is simply because it’ll push a lot of foreigners to study the language more. I’ve heard of so many foreigners who are hard up because they can’t speak the language or understand it, but when asked why they don’t try, they often use the excuse that it’s too hard or that they’re lazy. A high level isn’t needed I think, just basic conversation or something close to basic.

But talking about Japanese competence, the other day at work, I was trading stories with a Japanese co-worker about traditions and beliefs in my country. And when I couldn’t think of a word to explain something, I took out my dictionary and read out the translation… only to shock everyone in the office! It seems the word I used was horribly offensive and pertained to things totally beyond polite and proper. So I found myself in a truly embarrassing situation where in addition to giving everyone a nasty thing to remember me by, I also felt my Japanese was still far from perfect.

It’s probably going to take decades before I even get close to knowing enough about Japanese and Japan, but using this last episode with Japanese as my motivation, I want to try to at least get to a level where I don’t embarrass myself. For those who are really interested in Japanese, I recently discovered this site for beginners: Learn Simple Japanese. I hoped to make my site something like it in the beginning but I haven’t had the chance to put things together just yet. The lessons in this site though are basic and are really simple to learn. It has audio files for pronunciation practice, too. Check it out!

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A few years ago, I went to a fireworks festival somewhere near Tokyo. Around noon that day, my friends and I had to go to the viewing site and set up a mat… I found this odd because I hadn’t thought at that time that one could actually “reserve” a viewing area during a festival. (Turns out you can, and we did…) On the mat, instead of my friends’ last name of Suzuki, they had written the name Kitayama with packing tape. Suzuki was too common a name, and someone who claimed to be a Suzuki would take our spot. Why they would not claim to be a Kitayama… well that’s another story. But anyway, there are too many Suzukis in Japan. In fact, it is the second most common last name in Japan. The most common is Sato.

The most common male Japanese name is Hiroshi Sato. According to the character in my textbook (his name is Hiroshi Sato), he shares his name with more than 50,000 other males in Japan. He goes on to say that they could probably fill up Tokyo Dome with Hiroshi Satos. (It made me wonder if they’d ever held a Hiroshi Sato convention or something like that…) Hiroshi hasn’t been a popular name with kids of today though. The more traditional names have been neglected in favor of more trendy ones in recent years.

Every year, a survey of the year’s most popular baby names is made. Many Japanese tend to name their children after notable people that year or the previous year. According to this article on Asian Offbeat (I’ve been reading a lot of stuff on there lately… :) ), the names for 2007 are Hiroto and Hina. The character used is 悠 (read as hisa, or yuu, which means eternity), which appears in the name of Prince Hisahito (悠仁).

Below are the Top 3 Names for Boys and Girls for three different eras. This list was taken from a Meiji Insurance Survey.

Boys Names

1927

1960

1996

1

昭二

Shouji

Hiroshi

翔太

Shouta

2

Shou

浩一

Hiroichi

健太

Kenta

3

和夫

Kazuo

Makoto

大輝

Taiki

Girls Names

1927

1960

1996

1

和子

Kazuko

恵子

Keiko

美咲

Misaki

2

昭子

Shouko

由美子

Yumiko

Aya

3

久子

Hisako

久美子

Kumiko

明日香

Asuka

See this list of Most Common Japanese Names by Prefecture

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I like studying Kanji. It reminds me of my college drawing class, where we had to balance letterings and drawings, make them fit into boxes and stuff. When I started to learn Japanese, my teacher told me that if I wanted to be respected by the Japanese, I had to write Kanji (and Hiragana and Katakana of course) like a Japanese. He then drew a box, and made me balance the Kanji 日(read as にち nichi, ひ hi or bi, に, ni and じつ jitsu, which means sun or day) in the box for several minutes until I got it right. He’d been quite strict, and for that I am thankful. After his initial instructions, he left me to study Kanji by myself.

Since that time, all I used to study Kanji was my Basic Kanji 500, then later my Intermediate Kanji Book. I’ve stayed faithful to this series, I don’t believe in switching books or styles or all that. I don’t recommend jumping from book to book, because for one, Japanese books are costly. Another reason is you’ll accumulate too many books, there are literally dozens of books on Kanji. I’ve never really written on my textbooks, only on my workbooks and only in pencil. I always use notebooks, word cards and writing pads. I’d suggest though that if you were really serious about learning Kanji, you have to stick to what you’re used to, if it works.

Also, I took the Kanji Kentei this year, and I plan to do so again early next year. Preparing for it has helped me a lot in my understanding of Kanji. For this, you need to practice a lot, write, write, write, and write again. When I was studying for it though, I wasn’t looking up English meanings and all that, I was purely studying the stroke orders, Kanji word combinations, readings and radicals. Then when I went back to my Japanese studies, it seemed so much easier.

On a related note, there have been quite a few blog entries about the Kanji of the Year, 偽 (read as にせ, nise, meaning fake). These are the links to those posts:

Japan Probe: 2007 Kanji of the Year

3Yen: “Fake” best describes Japan this year

What Japan Thinks: Kanji of the Year 2007

Asian Offbeat: ‘Nise’ (Fake) Chosen as Japan’s Kanji Character of the Year

GlobalTalk 21: Do you know what the No.5 Kanji is in this year’s countdown?

Photo via: 3Yen.com

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I have a mixi account. I don’t have a lot of contacts but I blog there nearly everyday, about random stuff mostly but I use it mainly to practice my Japanese writing. I use a nickname and I use an avatar for a picture. Nothing personal is ever published, I get feedback from my Japanese friends and it’s been really pleasant.

Just today, I came across this article on Asian Offbeat about Japanese bloggers. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a Japanese friend. I was asking her how often she blogged on her mixi and if she read others people’s blogs. While she claimed to be really into her blogging, even checking her page several times a day on her phone, she hardly ever read stranger’s blogs. She said she kept to her network of friends, often commenting on their posts. It was a total breach of privacy to be reading a strangers blog, she told me. I wondered at that time if she meant just her, or Japanese people in general.

Update: There is also an article in the Japan Times about Japan being the number one blogger.

See Mobile phone-based blogging statistics from What Japan Thinks
Photo via: Asian Offbeat (Qullevek, +Oden+)

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While a lot of Japanese people have chosen to grow Western-style gardens – those with flowers and shrubs – the majority still do keep Japanese gardens. Out front they have their lanterns and green conical-shaped bushes, and at back, they have their vegetable gardens.

A friend of mine said that in the olden days, Japanese households took care of their own needs within their own fences. They were self-sufficient that way. What they didn’t have, they traded for. They did not travel far to get what they needed, usually just bartering with neighbors and relatives. And they were always sure their food was safe and fresh, he said. His family used to bring me potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries and an assortment of Japanese herbs like shiso (in Kanji 紫蘇, which is a perilla). They use to invite me over to dinner so I could share in their meals made from vegetables that were all proudly home-grown. They said eating them was healthier and was a lot safer than store-bought vegetables.

So I understood instantly when I saw this article from Mainichi Daily News. Even before the question came up, I had an answer.

Incidentally, the same friend told me that one Autumn, his mother was getting ready to harvest their persimmon but then she woke up the next morning to find all the fruits gone. She was plenty angry but I guess it was しようがない (*read as shiyouganai, meaning a Japanese shrug of the shoulders, something can’t be helped).

The Original MDN Mainichi Article:

    Woman steals vegetables from garden because they’re fresher than store goods

    ISAHAYA, Nagasaki — A 76-year-old woman questioned on suspicion of stealing vegetables from a local resident’s garden has told police that they were fresher than what were sold in stores.

    The woman, whose name has been withheld, is accused of stealing a cucumber. She has reportedly admitted having stolen other vegetables.

    “They were fresher and tasted better than what were sold in stores,” she was quoted as saying. Police reportedly seized a cucumber from her home, which matched one stolen from the home of a 58-year-old woman in Isahaya.

    Since she has reportedly paid the victim 1,000 yen for everything she took, police did not form a case against her.

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