Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#34 Cuteness everywhere in Japan

Probably one of the things I will miss the most about Japan, besides the food, is the cuteness that is everywhere.

Really, it’s considered acceptable, if not preferred, to make something, anything, cute.

For example, why have plain old metal and plastic sitting around when you’re trying to rope off a certain area? Why not have adorable frogs do the work, telling everyone you’re “sorry” for inconveniencing them?

Or, say you want to tell people to wear masks when they’re sick, to keep their germs to themselves. Write a sign saying “wear a mask?” Nope! Draw a hippo wearing a mask. Tell people to wash their hands? Nope! Show a raccoon washing his hands.

This sign is particularly well-thought out in that it’s also a play on words.  As the word “cover” as in “cover your mouth” is similar to the word for hippo (kaba), and the word racoon has the word “arai” in it which is from the verb “arau” which means “to wash.”

Japan also likes to cuteify sensitive subjects, such as Domestic Violence or unacceptable behavior when riding public transportation:

The left panel is showing that you don’t break things or steal things, while the right side is showing you that behaviors such as groping or sexual harassment are not acceptable.  Have you ever seen such a cute public service announcement?  Both this and the previous animal-themed one were found on the boat I often take to go places.

On a similar vein is this sign I found on the subway in Nagoya:

It’s basically promoting public transportation, and everyone’s cooperation.

Of course, cuteness is often used in advertising as well, such as this display for glasses cleaner (at least I think that’s what they’re advertising .  Or maybe it’s just standard laundry detergent?  I’m not sure):

I found this adorable anthropomorphic pencil (with an umbrella…?!) over a stationary store:

Mr. Donuts (my favorite Donut Chain!) recently sold some donuts with smiley faces on them:

Also I had an amazing Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Cone around Christmas, back in December 2010:

To be fair, they’re just cute gingerbread and holly cookies, and this sort of thing could probably also be found in the US.

Same can be said for the two mugs below, which were used to serve coffee at a fancy ice cream bar.  What’s an ice cream bar you say?  That’s a question that requires an entirely separate post to answer; look forward to it sometime in the future!

It’s also common to see adorable signs out on the streets.  For example, this lovely Pikachu is warning people (cars mostly) that children might come out of nowhere, so be careful not to hit them (basically).

Next we have a panda demonstrating that you need to look both ways to cross the street:

If you ever thought children’s things were cuteified in the US, or other countries, you have no idea what awaits you in Japan.

Textbooks in Japan, for elementary schoolers, are overly cute, and full of tons of pictures and lavish colorful illustrations.

That textbook actually is for 4th graders.  It’s a music textbook in a series.  Here’s the one that 1st graders get:

Here’s another example.  I’m not sure what grade level this is for:

Lastly, I want to introduce one more category of “cute” that you often find here.  And that is, mascot characters.

This is the mascot character of Matsuyama Castle, located in Matsuyama, which is the capital of my prefecture, Ehime.

Another mascot character for my area is this little guy, which represents the Shimanami Kaido (a large bridge connecting several islands in the Seto Inland sea that extends from it’s southern start-point in Shikoku to it’s northern end-point in mainland Honshu).  He’s supposed to represent crossing the sea by car, as he sports a tiny red car on top of his head.

There are a ton more mascot characters all over Japan, as well as Hello Kitty versions of everything (something that needs a post of its own, and I plan to get to some day).

I’m under the impression that South Korea has a thing for cute too.  I don’t yet know about Taiwan though.  I’m seriously hoping they’re also part of the Asian-cute-scramble because I will probably go into cute withdrawal after some time spent back in the US.  Though, I guess with the popularity of Japanese culture/anime, there’s still plenty of Japan products to be had in the US, and it’s not like we can claim the US is cute-phobic either.  There will be some home-grown cute as well, I’m sure.  I’ll get my fix somehow!

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Omake #11: Personal Update – Leaving Japan Soon

I’ve said most of my goodbyes. I’ve had pretty much all of my goodbye assemblies and parties.

I have 2 more days left of work – the rest of today, and Monday. My contract is technically through Wednesday, July 25th, but I’m using my last two vacation days to take off the last 2 days (Tuesday and Wednesday), so I can have some more time to pack, clean up my apartment, and just laze around a bit before I go through the strenous endevaor of getting myself up to Kansai International Airport and then onto my flights home. I’ll be traveling first to Beijing to change planes and then on to Chicago. The first flight is 4 hours while the second is a whopping 13 1/2 hours. I’m going to be exhausted by the time I get back home to my mom in the Chicago suburbs, but I can’t wait to be back in the US again, arriving Saturday July 28th.

As for this blog, I still intend to post some things relating to Japan and Japanese culture. I still have a lot of ideas for posts so I hope you can continue to enjoy reading them.

I intend to gradually switch my focus from Japan onto my new life that will be in Portland, Oregon. After 2 weeks spent back in Illinois the first 2 weeks of August, I’ll be moving in with my boyfriend, soon to be fiance (we’re going to exchange rings the day I leave town when he sees me off, which will be a few days before he leaves as well). We’ll be living with his parents in their condo for about a month, and then they will go off to teach English in Costa Rica while we hold down the fort in their absence. His parents also have a cat and a cockatiel and I’ve been so pet deprieved that I’m really excited to have pets again. I’m also excited to go back to the West Coast since I think it’s a wonderful area and suits me much better than life in Illinois (with the exception of my time in college down in Urbana-Champaign which is a very vibrant community with people from all over the world and other parts of the USA as well). I think I will really like Portland, which is a very liberal, health-conscious, artsy, bohemian sort of city. Also after having lived in a tiny rural town of 7,000 people here in Japan (my island having only 2,000) and being very constrained by boat and ferry schedules, it will be a breath of fresh air to have access to all kinds of restaurants, to go see a movie or go shopping more easily, and to have more opportunities to meet and befriend people who speak English! There are many wonderful people living on these islands here in Japan, but there’s almost no one my age (26) except for those that are mothers and already have 2-3 kids and are thus quite busy with their family obligations. The younger (single) generation tends to flock to the big cities – Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya, etc – after graduating highschool and/or college. So I wasn’t able to make many friends this year, and am looking forward to actually having people to talk to besides my boyfriend and the occasional skype call to a friend back home.

Also, I’ll be going to Portland Community College (PCC) to study American Sign Language in the hopes of becoming an ASL interpreter. It seems like a long road ahead, and I do have my doubts about whether I’ll be good enough at it by the end of the program, having only become interested in ASL very recently, but I need a goal to work towards, and would love to have some job skills to use in the US, and studying and using foreign languages has always been a big passion of mine. I’m excited to swtich from being a teacher back to being a student and learning and using my mind more actively than I have in the past year, where I’ve often felt bored in English classes, and basically just killed time at home in the evenings.

Overall life has been good here in Japan. It’s certainly had its ups and downs – fantastic highs and devastating lows, but in the end I think it’s had a positive impact on me. I know myself a thousand times better than when I came in – my strenghts and weeknesses, my likes and dislikes, and have a better idea of how I want to spend my life from here on out. I’m thankful for my experiences here, and I’m also thankful for the good salary I was given and the low living expenses of my rural life that has allowed me to save enough money so I can go back to college and study some without having to find a job right away.

So, thank you JET Program. It’s been quite a ride. And now, a new chapter of my life unfolds…

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#33 DS Game: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors

My boyfriend recently got this game for me, with neither of us knowing too much about it except that it’s received really good reviews and is supposed to be a pretty awesome game.

My boyfriend was under the impression that it was a Visual Novel, where you’re reading lots of text and occasionally making choices in regards to interacting with the characters.  I’ve played a visual novel dating sim in the past, called Hiiro no Kakera:

Hiiro no Kakera DS [Japan Import]

I first began playing that back in 2008 or so.  Just by researching the link on amazon now I found out there’s since been 2 sequels as well.  Hmm, maybe I should consider getting one.  It seems to be the exact same characters as well.  I wonder how they continue the story.  Also, side note, I found out (devastatingly) that you can actually lose that game! You can actually make choices that lead to a “game over.” I was traumatized the first time it happened. Fortunately I’m the kind of person that saves pretty often so I just went back to a save and made a different choice.

Anyway, back to the game I want to talk about today.

It’s actually an adventure game, which means you explore a lot, find and use items, and solve puzzles. Some of the puzzles use math, but not hard math of course. Still, I need a pen and paper sometimes to work out solutions.

I’m really enjoying the game. The story is really compelling and the puzzles are pretty satisfying to solve. Also there’s this tense feeling in the air as you’re playing, considering the situation you’re in, which makes me want to keep going and see what will happen next. It’s definitely one of those games that are hard to put down, but that I’ve learned that you need to put down when you’re tired or else the puzzles and even the dialogue exchanges between characters can be a little confusing ;-)

Also, based on my own experience, I find the game to be very engrossing having gone into it with no prior knowledge and continuing to learn more as the story progresses, so I recommend this approach to others as well!

However, for those of you that are maybe on the fence about trying out this game, I will say it is a little Hunger Games-esque in that you’re forced into a situation against your will, and your goal is to stay alive.

Also, there are various endings you can get with this game, so even after you’ve played through it once, it’s interesting to play through it again, making different choices and going into different rooms and getting to explore new things. So it definitely has a lot of game play packed in.

Consider getting it if you have a DS! It certainly is a unique and compelling game.

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