Tag Archives: culture smash

Uniqlo Commercial Pulled In South Korea Due To Subtitle Translation

In a recent Uniqlo commercial, 98-year-old fashion model Iris Apfel talks with 13-year-old fashion designer Kheris Rogers. The commercial is in English, and the Korean-language subtitles have caused the Japanese clothing company to pull the ad. Viewers are accusing the subtitled commercial of forgetting the horrors of Japan’s forced occupation.

Apfel speaks English in the ad and is asked how she used to dress when she was the 13-year-old’s age. She replies, “Oh my god, I can’t remember that far back.”

In the Japanese version of the ad, the line is translated into Japanese as “As for things in the past, I forgot em.”


However, in the Korean version, the line is translated as her saying, “How can I remember when it was over 80 years ago?” Obviously, the original English differs.

This translation has caused controversy because in South Korea there are claims this is a reference to Japan’s imperial rule of South Korea and all that happened during that period (more here), such as forced labor and sexual slavery. The subtitle controversy has made its way to mainstream Korean news.

The implication is that old people cannot really remember what happened, which would be a pointed condemnation of the surviving comfort women, who are now in their 90s.


In 2015, the Japanese and South Korean government reached an agreement on the comfort women, establishing a $9 million fund to assist them. But former comfort women, like Kim Bok-dong who died earlier this year, want a formal apology from the Japanese government.

Against this backdrop, tensions between Japan and South Korea are currently running high with the South Korean Supreme Court ruling that Japanese companies need to pay for forced wartime factory and mining labor, Japan no longer considering South Korea a trusted trading partner, and Seoul abandoning intelligence sharing with Tokyo. Korean tourism is down in Japan, and in South Korea, there are boycotts on Japanese goods, hurting companies like Uniqlo. The two neighboring countries are not getting along.


At the center of contention is the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea. The Japanese point of view is that the treaty states issues of compensation were settled “completely and finally” through Japan’s massive injection of economic aid, which included settlement money, into South Korea. As Lawfare points out, the South Korean government did not pay that money out as compensation to its citizens and instead used it to build up its infrastructure.


However, the Korean view is that the Japanese occupation was unlawful and thus, the South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling is correct. Moreover, the ruling argued that Japan never agreed that colonialism was unjust and therefore the money could never have been intended for victims. You can read more on Lawfare about the ongoing legal wrangling between the two countries.

Tadashi Yanai, Uniqlo’s founder and CEO, has been critical of how the Japanese government has been recently acting toward South Korea, saying it has been “odd” and “hysterical” and that he understands why South Koreans have started boycotting Japanese products.


Uniqlo Korea has pulled the ad but believes this is a misunderstanding. “We can’t really comprehend why it’s controversial, but there might be a misunderstanding,” said Uniqlo Korea, according to SCMP. “We think [the Korean people] have overly interpreted it in that way.”

“The ad was not designed for a specific country. It’s a global advertisement,” Uniqlo Korea added. “The models are real designers 98-year-old Iris Apfel and 13-year-old Kheris Rogers. The subtitles are to highlight their age difference. There are no national or historic connotations.”

Source: Kotaku.com

If You Visit Kyoto In October, Check Out This Spooky Parade

Kotaku EastEast is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

While Halloween in Shibuya might get lots of attention because of the massive crowds (and chaos), Kyoto has an annual yokai parade that sure looks like spooky fun.

The parade, which was held this year on October 19, is called Ichijo Hyakki Yakou (Ichijo’s Night Parade of the Hundred Yokai). The street Ichijodori, one of the biggest in Kyoto, was said to separate the real world from the spirit one.


Tales of yokai night parades date back over a thousand years. During the Heian Era (794-1185), samurai carried charms to avoid crossing paths with the yokai.



There are various legends about Hyakki Yakou and there are other yokai parades held in Japan. However, in Kyoto, the story goes that unwanted household items were dumped in the vicinity. These household items got angry, and a deity turned them into yokai to seek their vengeance. The yokai then marched down the street, and the event is recreated in this annual parade in the Ichijodori’s Taishogun shopping section, which is now known as Yokai Street.

While the story of Hyakki Yakou dates back to at least the 9th century, the current parade has been revitalized since 2005.




Throughout the year, the street is decorated with yokai.




This certainly seems more enjoyable than the Halloween chaos in Shibuya!

Source: Kotaku.com

What ‘Hentai’ Actually Means

“Hentai is brilliant,” reads the title of a recent Guardian article about a British game show contestant who won a round with the word “hentai.” But what does “hentai” actually mean, and how has that meaning changed? Let’s dive into the word’s etymology!

The Oxford Dictionary defines “hentai” as “A subgenre of the Japanese genres of manga and anime, characterized by overtly sexualized characters and sexually explicit images and plots.” The origin of the word in English is given as “1990s Japanese, literally ‘abnormal, perverted.’”

The first Japanese character (変) in the word hentai (変態) literally means “strange” or “curious” (変), while the second kanji character (態) means “state” or “condition.”

Today in Japanese, the word does refer to people who are perverted or abnormal (as noted by the character Hentai Kamen, above), but that isn’t the only definition. Hentai also means “metamorphosis,” as in the complete changes insects make into their adult form.

As Kotobank notes, before that, during the 18th century for example, hentai was also used to note when the condition of things, such as the moon, for example, looked different.

During the early 20th century, the term hentai seiyoku (変態性欲) or “sexual perversion” was coined with seiyoku (性欲) meaning “sexual desire.” However, hentai seiyoku was shortened simply to “hentai” in colloquial speech due to Japanese speakers’ preference to shorten long words. The term hentai then began to take on a new, sexual meaning. One early example dates from 1931 when the modernist writer Riichi Yokomitsu used “hentai” in relation to collecting a woman’s personal artifacts.

This definition continues. In contemporary Japanese, as website Takashionary explains, saying that someone has a “hentai hobby” (変態な趣味 or hentaina shumi) means that the interest is sexual in nature and abnormal.

The word hentai, it seems, also became the basis of the Japanese slang ecchi (エッチ), which is the Japanese pronunciation of the letter “H.” However, during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the slang term ecchi apparently referred to the “h” in the world “husband.” However, in the decades that followed, it appears ecchi began to refer to the “h” in “hentai.” The term ecchi came into wider colloquial use by the mid-1950s, and by the 1980s, the slang “ecchi suru” (to have sex) was in use.

Writer and game translator Matt Alt points to a thread by Yoshihiro Watanabe, a producer at Studio Orange. Watanabe explains that the term “hentai” isn’t used in Japan to refer to a specific anime or manga genre.

It’s no doubt for the best that Kafka’s book is called Henshin (変身) in Japanese and not Hentai (変態). Though, I can’t say the same about Freeza’s ultimate hentai…

Screenshot: Franz Kafka Henshin (Amazon)

Source: Kotaku.com

It’s Hard For Japan To Change Its Escalator Manners

Photo: Shuji Kajiyama (AP)
Kotaku EastEast is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.  

One of my first memories of moving to Japan in 2001 was the surprise at seeing how everyone lined up on one side of the escalator, leaving an open path for people in a rush. How courteous, I thought. But now, there are campaigns to change the country’s long-standing escalator manners.

The tradition is so ingrained and a part of modern Japanese culture that there are even regional differences. In Osaka, for example, people stand on the escalator’s right side, while people in Tokyo stand on the left side. Why is there a difference? People in Kansai tend to think they’re distinct from other parts of the country, especially Tokyo, but the reason that’s often given is that this is due to historical differences between Osaka, a city of merchants, and Tokyo, a city of samurai. The merchants kept their coin purses on one side, while the samurai wore their swords on the other. It’s a nice story, but Osaka wasn’t the only merchant center in Japan. Tokyo (née Edo) became one, too.

According to Nikkei, the first escalator in Japan was installed in Tokyo in 1914. It wasn’t until 1967 that escalators were finally installed in Osaka at Umeda Station. There were announcements at Hankyu Umeda Station telling people to leave open the left-hand side of the escalator, thus advising people to stand on the right. In 1970, when the World Expo was held in Osaka, more escalators were constructed and the practice of standing on the right continued. There is a theory that this practice of standing on the right side was learned by Osaka rail operators from studying the London transportation system. The practice of standing on the right and walking on the left has existed in the London Underground since escalators were installed in 1911.

The Tokyo style of standing on the left follows the direction of traffic, with cars driving on the left side.

There have been several campaigns to try to change Japan’s escalator habits. For example, in 1998, the “keep right” announcements at Hankyu Umeda Station ceased. Yet, people in Osaka still stand on the right (pictured, below).

In 2015, there was talk about issuing fines for people in Osaka if they stood on the right side. “We won’t stand for this. It’s what sets us apart from the rest of Japan,” Eiji Saito, spokesperson for the Japanese Association of Railroad Station Commutation Concessionaires, told The Japan Times in 2015. [Full disclosure: I am a columnist for The Japan Times.]

There have been several campaigns since then to get people in Japan to stand on both sides of the escalators, because people running up and down escalators isn’t exactly safe, especially if an older person was accidentally bumped or knocked over. Also, another concern is that the foreign tourists flooding into Japan might not be familiar with the country’s escalator habits, especially these regional differences.

The concern about accidents is real. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that between 2011 and 2013, over 3,800 people were ended up in the hospital due to escalator accidents. “It is not necessary to leave one side open,” a representative of escalator manufacturers told the Yomiuri (via The Telegraph). “There are some people who have an arm or hand that is incapable of functioning and have difficulty in keeping a specific side clear.”

The practice of standing to one side was banned at Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda in 2015. Yet, if you go to either airport, you still see people naturally lining up on one side.

It’s not only accidents that are the problem. The combination of standing and walking isn’t as efficient. As The Telegraph reports, there was a study that found more standing-only people could get up an escalator than a combination of walking. Thirty percent more people get up the escalator when standing only.

Recently, there have been other campaigns across Japan, such as in Sapporo and Sendai, telling people not to stand on one side of the escalators. With the Olympics coming to Tokyo, there has also been a push to tell people not to walk up moving escalators.

(The handrail reads, “Don’t walk.”)

The warning tells people not to walk and to stand on both sides of the escalator.


Old manners sure are hard to break.

Source: Kotaku.com

Tourists Are Causing Headaches In Japan

Photo: Shizuo Kambayashi (AP)
Kotaku EastEast is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.  

Until recently, Japan didn’t have much of an influx of foreign tourists. Now, it does, and with that comes problems.

Of course, Japan should have a thriving tourism industry! This is a beautiful country with a rich culture, a long history and delicious food. But for much of the 20th and 21st century, foreign tourism in Japan didn’t really exist. There are obvious reasons for that: a World War and expensive air travel are the easiest explanations. Yet even during the 1990s, there weren’t many overseas visitors.

With the rise of Japan’s neighbors in Asia, the country has seen an influx of travelers like never before. In 2018, a record number of 31 million foreign tourists visited Japan, which as Nippon.com explains, was an 8.7 percent increase from the previous year, which had also been a record-setting year. Over fifty percent of foreign tourists currently come from mainland China and South Korea. Another 15.3 percent are from Taiwan and another 7.1 percent hail from Hong Kong. Tokyo is the most popular destination, with 46.2 visiting the capital, while 38.7 percent visit Osaka.

Which did the boom start? The number of tourists noticeably jumped between 2014 and 2015, which the number of foreign tourists almost hit 20 million. But leading up to then, the influx of visitors had steadily increased. In comparison, less than 5 million foreign tourists visited in 2001, which was the year Japan co-hosted the World Cup (and the year I moved to Japan). In 1990, there were only 3.2 million foreign tourists, there were 1.3 million in 1980 and there were 854,000 in 1970.

To promote tourism, the Japanese government has latched on to the idea of omotenashi, which it defines as “to wholeheartedly look after guests.” According to the Japan National Tourism Organism’s website, “Omotenashi is hard to define in English because to understand it is to experience Japan in-person. It is a sense of incredible hospitality that carries across home stays, formal ceremonies, retail, and dining. However, omotenashi goes beyond ‘the customer is always right;’ rather, it is an implicit understanding that there are no menial tasks if the result ensures a great experience for a guest.”

Photo: Eugene Hoshiko (AP)

That experience isn’t always great for the host.

This sudden spike has caused growing pains, such as overcrowding and hotel shortages as well as a spate of new problems.

As The Japan Times reports (full disclosure: I am a Japan Times columnist), tourism has also caused a backlash as well as skewed coverage as evident by some local media, for example, showing drunk foreigners in Shinjuku as evidence of naughty visitors—which is a little unfair when the area certainly has no shortage of drunk Japanese.

“It’s a matter of do we pick money or do we pick culture,” Beat Takeshi said while hosting a show last year covering the tourism boom and issues that it has caused. According to Takeshi, he felt as though allowing lots of visitors will chip away at the culture. “I feel like, wouldn’t be okay if Japanese were poor?” That sounds as though he’d rather not pick tourism money to support the economy.

As Nikkei reports, foreign tourists spent a record $40.1 billion in Japan last year, which is four times the amount spent in 2012.

When I first moved to Osaka, I lived in the southern part of the city. I remember walking through rundown shopping arcades that were on their last leg. They had delicious food, but with a dwindling population, their time seemed over. But now if I visit those areas, they’re packed with tourists. So I wonder if tourism is chipping away at culture, like Beat Takeshi claims, or if it’s propping it up? The answer isn’t simple.

Case in point: Nishiki Daimaru, a 60-year-old fish shop in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market. Called “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” the Nishiki Market and has been around for over a thousand years. It’s where locals go to get fresh fish, tea and pickled veggies. Rather, where many locals used to go. The Nikkei reports that the owner of Nishiki Daimaru says 80 percent of his customers are foreign tourists. However, sales have been down over the last several years because the visitors only buy a small amount of sashimi to eat in-store. Locals are staying away. Since the market is now packed with tourists, shopping at the Nishiki Market on a daily basis has turned into a hassle. Katsumi Utsu, the market’s director, told the Nikkei that Nishiki is a “crush of spectators rather than a lively scene of local shoppers.”

Photo: Adam Geller (AP)

The market is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the city.

“Undoubtedly the increase in tourists has had an influence on the daily lives of the citizens of Kyoto,” Shuhei Akahoshi, managing director of the Kyoto’s Department of Conventions and Tourism, told SCMP. “It has, for example, caused our buses, trains and roads to become more crowded, causing adverse effects for commuters. The increase of illegal guest houses has brought up concerns from our residents about the potential threat to their safety and peace of mind. And cultural differences concerning things like smoking and garbage have caused various problems.”

Some locals in Kyoto have taken things into their own hands and created a “scenery preservation” committee. The Asahi Shimbun via Independent reports that the group will tackle issues such as “half-naked hikers, trespassing travelers and prolonged photo shoots” in order to preserve the Gion’s elegance. In other parts of Kyoto, volunteers pick up trash.

(To be fair, foreign tourists are not the only ones guilty of messing things up for photo ops. Rude Japanese folks have done that, too!)

Kyoto has been dealing with more than tourists who linger for photos. Its beauty has been defaced and vandalized, most notably the bamboo grove in Arashiyama. It is not the only destination in Japan to deal with damage believed to be caused by visitors.

Mainichi reports that the Tottori Sand Dunes have seen their natural beauty ruined by tourists who have violated the site’s rules and written huge messages, such as “Happy Birthday Natalie” and “SEBASTiAN” with a face doodle. Presumably, it was SEBASTiAN’s. Tottori Prefecture then has to clean up the dunes, removing the scrawled messages.

These were not firsts.

In the past, foreign visitors have also written messages on the dunes, which made the national news. Clean up crews must be dispatched to remove the sand graffiti.

The story of the Australian tourist who was arrested for allegedly spraypainting a Tokyo subway also made the national news. None of this is a good look in the minds of the Japanese public. Tourists are seen as causing trouble. A bother or meiwaku (迷惑). You don’t want to cause meiwaku in Japan, because you are creating an annoying imposition on others. But increasingly, that’s how some in Japan are seeing tourists.

(YouTuber Logan Paul certainly didn’t do much for the image of foreign visitors in Japan, either.)

Asahi even reports that a “no-foreigners policy” is spreading among some businesses, though the evidence is anecdotal. A 45-year-old pub owner in Kyoto, for example, is quoted as saying that he tells groups of five or more foreign tourists that his restaurant is booked because in the past they’ve brought in outside food and used plates as ashtrays. While he hasn’t hung a “no foreigners allowed” sign outside, did say, “I want Kyoto to stop staging promotional campaigns targeting foreign sightseers.”

Nanzoin temple in Fukuoka, however, has banned groups of foreign tourists and now displays a sign in multiple languages that explicitly states that it is a place of worship and foreign visitors are not welcomed. According to Asahi, Chief priest Kakujo Hayashi explained that around ten years ago, tour buses started pulling up. Foreign visitors blasted music throughout the holy grounds and splashed about in a waterfall reserved for Buddhist spiritual training. The priests first warned the visitors, but after more and more Japanese worshippers stopped coming, the temple felt compelled to ban the overseas groups. The temple does allow small numbers of foreign visitors, Asahi adds, and will boot any Japanese visitors who do not follow the temple’s rules. “I want to accept all worshippers, but there are limitations to our capacity,” Hayashi told Asahi. “We have no choice but to take measures to protect the place of prayer on our own.”

Certain areas of Japan are having difficulty handling the influx of visitors. Starting from 2019, the Japanese government will begin collecting a 1,000 yen ($9.13) exit tax to help build up the country’s infrastructure. Hopefully, this will help create the necessary infrastructure to ensure that both visitors and locals benefit from Japan’s tourist boom.

These days, big Japanese cities, for example, often feel packed with tourists. But then again, so does New York, Paris and London—all of which are destinations favored by Japanese travelers and all of which are flooded with tourists.

An increased understanding by those who are guests and those who are hosts is necessary because when people venture abroad on vacation, these roles do get reversed. So unless you never plan on leaving your home country, a degree of willingness to make room for tourists is required. The influx of tourists to Japan is sudden, but with time, the country should become better equipped to handle it.

For visitors, there are simple things to keep in mind. When in Japan, do as the Japanese. Leave things as you found them. But definitely remember the most important tourism rule of all: Don’t be an asshole.

Source: Kotaku.com

Naomi Osaka And The Expectations Put Upon Biracial Japanese 

Kotaku EastEast is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.  

Earlier this week, Naomi Osaka fielded a question from a Japanese reporter who wanted the tennis star to reply in Japanese. “I’m going to say it in English,” Osaka replied.

The reporter said kongurachureeshon (congratulations) instead of omedetou gozaimasu, Japanese for “congratulations,” before going into a question about the difficulty of playing the left-handed player Petra Kvitová. “First,” the reporter continued, “in Japanese, could you say something about how hard it was?”

Osaka replied that she was going to say it in English before going into her answer.

People in Japan have criticized the media for constantly asking her to reply to questions in Japanese, calling the press “annoying” and saying that athletes are not there to delight the media.

(During the same series of interviews, Osaka did reply to questions in Japanese. So it’s not as though she refuses to answer stuff in Japanese. Understandably she might feel more comfortable replying to some questions in English.)

Osaka plays for Japan and was born in the country to a Japanese mother and a Haitian-American father. She is what is known as haafu (ハーフ) or “half” in Japanese. Osaka, however, moved to the U.S. when she was three and has lived there ever since. Japanese people who support Osaka probably want to hear her answer questions in Japanese because she is playing for the country.

Flip on Japanese TV, and there are an array of mixed-race Japanese celebrities. The vast majority grew up here in Japan and are native Japanese speakers. The stereotype is that they look cool or have outgoing personalities like foreigners are supposed to have. But what about the ones that don’t? There is a term for haafu who don’t live up to expectations: zannen haafu (残念ハーフ) or “disappointing half.” There is societal pressure placed on biracial kids to meet whatever misguided presumptions exist.

Then, there are inevitably awkward situations due to how haafu look, their last names and more. It’s certainly not easy being half as YouTuber humorously points out.

[*Both clips have English language subtitles available in Settings.]

My three kids, ages ranging from 15 to 4, are biracial. Their experiences here in Japan have varied, but there are usually expectations. One of the biggest ones has been linguistic. The assumption is that if a person is biracial that they speak both of their parents perfectly as if the language was part of their genetic code. That’s simply not the case!

Biracial people who grow up in Japan typically speak fluent Japanese. In a country with historically high literacy and one that puts great emphasis on the native lingo, whether that’s through the systematic number of kanji kids must learn or the continued significance given to teaching Japanese calligraphy, the language has come to represent identity. Japanese, like all languages, is intimately tied to the culture.

For a long time, being Japanese has meant having a Japanese name, “looking” Japanese, “acting” Japanese and speaking and reading the language perfectly. Are things changing? Legally, if you have a Japanese passport, then you are Japanese. Full stop. But what about how society at large thinks?

“It is hard to say for sure if the extremely narrow conception, unconsciously or consciously, held by many Japanese of being Japanese, is being loosened,” Naoko Hashimoto, who researches national identify at the University of Sussex in England, told the AP (via Asahi).

“In my opinion, it still appears that Japanese are generally defined as those who are born from a Japanese father and a Japanese mother, who speak perfect Japanese and ‘act like Japanese.’”

So while biracial people in Japan might not even be expected to speak or know Japanese due to their appearance or the larger societal presumptions, Osaka is now expected to show her Japaneseness, whether that’s being asked about her love of Japanese food or asked to say things in Japanese. Her situation is reversed, but the expectations are still there. These are expectations that are not put upon Japanese coming from a singular background.

“For me, it’s just who I am,” Osaka said when asked if she was a “new type of Japanese.”

“When someone asks me a question like that, it really throws me off because then I really have to think about it,” Osaka was quoted by The Associated Press as saying. “I don’t know. I don’t really think that I’m three separate—like mixes of whatever. I just think that I’m me.” And the only expectation that should exist is for someone to be him or herself.

Below are some interesting clips about the biracial experience in Japan.

Source: Kotaku.com

The Complex World Of Japanese Business Manners

Kotaku EastEast is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.  

Manners in Japan are tricky, complex and sometimes hard to follow—even for Japanese people.

Over the weekend, I flipped through a book on Japanese manners I purchased here in Osaka. The book is divided into several sections, such as the correct way to perform rituals at Buddhist funerals (as well as Christian and Shinto services), the intricacies of noshigami and seasonal gifts, the proper way to address and write letters, and more. The book is aimed at shakaijin (社会人), which means literally means “a member of society,” but denotes adults and working people.

Full disclosure: The manner book was published by Kodansha, and Kodansha International, which no longer exists, published my first two books. My most recent books, such as Japanese Whisky, were published by Tuttle.

The Manners Encyclopedia has the inevitable bowing and business card sections. There are bits on the right way to sit, how to politely remove and fold your coat and even the proper way to pick things up off the ground (don’t bend over, but kneel down without touching your knees on the ground and pick up the dropped object). There is also an array of information on table manners, some of which is covered here as well as how to correctly and politely use chopsticks and other tableware.

To give an idea of how complex things can get, here is a section on business manners for how people in a company should ride in an elevator, on a train, in a taxi or in a private car. In the drawings, the number 1 indicates the most senior or important person. The other numbers are of descending importance.

So, for elevators, if there are two button panels, person 3 and person 4 stand in front of each panel with persons 1 and 2 in the back. If there is only one button panel, the person 4 stands there.

When riding taxis, person 1 sits behind the driver in the backseat, while person 3 sits in the other back window seat. Person 3 sits in the middle back seat, while person 4 should sit up front with the driver. But if the car is a private automobile for, let’s say golf outing, then person 1 sits up front with the owner of the car, while person 3 sits backseat in the middle.

For trains with four seats together, person 1 sits next to the window in the direction the train is traveling. Person 2 sits across from person 1 in the window seat. If there are two rows of three seats, then person 5 and 6 will sit in the middle. Person 1 will, once again, sit facing the direction the train is traveling.

Complicated! But this is scratching the surface. A couple of the book’s Amazon Japan reviews say the Manners Encyclopedia has just the most basic Japanese manners, which, if you aren’t already a manner master, might make it a good place to start.

Source: Kotaku.com