Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#36 Neko Ramen!

NEKO RAMEN  猫ラーメン by Sonishi Kenji.

This is the most adorable manga EVER.  I exaggerate (maybe?) but for me it was an amazing find (that I stumbled upon in an internet cafe!  See last week’s post).  Especially since I’m not normally a fan of manga in the first place; this one really roped me in.

It is, at it’s heart, a 4-koma manga, sometimes called yonkoma or 4-cell manga, which is a traditional form of Japanese comics.  The panels read top to bottom, right to left, and has a certain flow in terms of the story, such that there is set up, further progression, and the main gag comes at the last panel.  Neko Ramen also deviates from this style from time to time to tell slightly longer stories.

The basic premise of Neko Ramen is a cat running a Ramen shop all by himself.  He does a somewhat a poor job of it, but is an incredibly enthusiastic go-getter who is always thinking up crazy schemes to be more unique or to gain more popularity.  He only has one main customer, Mr. Tanaka (the most generic last name in Japan – like having a Mr. Smith).  The majority of the manga is dialogues between the cat owner (affectionately known as Taisho 大将, or General) and his sole customer.  Other characters are brought in too though, like the people or animals Taisho hires, or his family members, especially his father who is a cat model.  You get to learn more about Taisho and his past, and how he got to where he is today, as well as of course witnessing lots of antics that happen in his ramen shop.  Many of the gags, unsurprisingly, play up the fact that Taisho is a cat, and an adorable if somewhat prideful cat at that, and it makes for a very compelling character.  I adore him ^.^

The manga consists of 6 volumes in Japanese.  I bought volumes 1 and 2 while in Japan.  I wanted more but…things.  Must be responsible with things (and not having too much of them).

My mouth dropped open just now, as I just searched on amazon.com to see if they’d have it as an import, to find that the first 4 volumes have been translated into English!!!  And for incredibly reasonable prices; there’s used versions available as well, even cheaper.  Check ’em out!

Neko Ramen Volume 1: Hey! Order Up!

Neko Ramen, Vol. 2

Neko Ramen, Vol. 3

Neko Ramen, Vol. 4

And, for those not interested in spending money (or acquiring more things) or in reading manga, there’s also been an anime made!  It consists of 12 very short (2 and 1/2 minutes each) episodes, and they can all pretty easily be found online, with English subtitles and all.  The anime uses the exact jokes from the manga and presents them in pretty rapid-fire form, adding voice overs obviously for Taisho and Mr. Tanaka and adding in sound effects.  I rather like the way the anime is presented; it seems very faithful to the manga and sticks closely to its style.

Here’s a link to the first episode:

The person who uploaded that one has all 12 episodes, so check them out!

My life has been made better having Neko Ramen in it; I hope you get some enjoyment out of it as well!  They do say that laughter is one of the best ways to release stress and feel good.  I am indebted to Taisho and his antics for helping me through my last few weeks in Japan.  Thank you Taisho!!!

Or perhaps I should be saying, Thank you Kenji Sonishi!  (the Author).

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#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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