- We were on Japanese TV nationwide last night, on NHK. My mom and aunt are here, and a reporter asked to follow us around while they shopped. 07:08:50, 2014-11-20
- The Fukuoka mayoral race: the megaphones may be loud, but the campaign season here is legally limited to just 2 weeks http://t.co/3FFzYPzpDB 08:23:43, 2014-11-20
- @speno That actually may have been part of the story! The dollar is very strong against the yen right now. It's like getting 10% off. in reply to speno 18:30:27, 2014-11-20
- For my fellow parents with children soon to be teens, don't let this happen to you
http://t.co/xYHDv5qIc4 09:22:07, 2014-11-24
- My 3rd ever Stack Overflow answer, plumbing the depths of Poltergeist and Capybara http://t.co/ZMnSGKrd4E 20:13:38, 2014-11-24
This past Sunday was election day in Fukuoka, for the Mayoral race. There were 6 candidates, and the popular incumbent mayor, Soichiro Takashima, won easily. He was only 36 when he was first elected, making him an unusually young politician by Japanese standards (he’s 40 now). There is an excellent article at TechInAsia.com that provides a good overview of Fukuoka’s favorable economic environment, and includes an interview with the Mayor (in English). Fukuoka has been designated by the central government as a “National Strategic Zone” for economic development, which means certain regulations are removed or lessened here. Takashima is using the designation as an opportunity to focus on making the city friendly to start-up businesses. Also, he was previously a TV personality, so he knows how to make good use of the media. For example, he made an appearance in Fukuoka’s “Happy” video (he’s the 3rd person they show).
The mayoral campaign went on for only two weeks, as the campaign seasons here are short, and have a legally specified start date. Vans with loud PA systems trolled the streets during that time, and I saw one of the candidates campaigning with a megaphone in front of the Apple store. To understand just how different the political campaigns here are from the US, I’ll quote myself from 7 years ago, when we were in Tokyo during the mayoral race there:
Japanese political campaigns are very different from the US’. On the face of it, the Japanese constitution’s guarantee of free speech is similar to the US’. I don’t know the legal history, but it seems that the definition of “speech” here is much more narrowly construed than it is in the US, at least as far as political campaigns are concerned. During campaign season here, politicians spend a lot of time making speeches near major train stations, and in that environment they can say just about anything they want, just like politicians in the US. The reason they spend so much time out on the street is that they can’t advertise on TV. Ads for political parties are allowed, but not for individual campaigns. Even the party ads are very limited in what they can say. They can’t attack their opponents, and they can’t say too much about all the great things they would do (as that’s just another way of making their opponents look bad). So the end result is typically short, banal ads showing one of the party leaders saying something like “Go Japan!”
The campaign season also has a defined starting date – candidates can’t campaign before that date… Campaign posters can go up on privately owned buildings as their owners sees fit, but posters in public spaces have to go on boards that are put up by the city specifically for that purpose…
Fukuoka Now translated the slogans of each of the 6 candidates. They are banal political slogans as you might expect, but they do provide an interesting window into the issues that are on the minds of politicians and voters here. The slogans bring up concerns over education, economic development, and Japan’s depopulation problem:
Tomoyuki Okawa (37): Changing Society through Education
“The problems facing society were made by humans. The only way to resolve them is with educational reforms.”
Soichiro Takashima (40): Fukuoka is Alive Again
“It is Fukuoka’s job to provide the rest of Japan with hopes and dreams. We will use the National Strategic Zone designation to become a town that supports people willing to take a chance.”
Yujiro Kitajima (65): Formulating a Roadmap to Combat Population Decline
“I firmly believe it my mission to ensure that Fukuoka takes the lead among Japan’s municipalities in formulating a road map for solving the crisis that is Japan’s dwindling population.”
Hiroshi Yoshida (58): Helping Citizens Forge Ahead
“Is our current leadership what we really need? The citizens need someone who can give them a helping hand. We need to cut waste and create policies that look to the future.”
Kumiko Takemura (64): The Happiness of Our Children is No. 1
“I will end City Hall’s unfriendly childrens’ policies … and increase the number of authorized child-care facilities.”
Kouko Kanaide (67): Improving Working Conditions for Women
“As society ages and the population declines, women will need to work while they care for their children.”
- RT @jbrains: "What are the advantages and disadvantages when we are implementing the dependency injection?" http://t.co/dxrSiKc5pZ 03:40:58, 2014-11-13
- Check out the new Apple watch, freshly carved http://t.co/EAjkfL822h 02:28:07, 2014-11-14
- The "Photos of the Day: Japan" slideshow is fantastic – check it out http://t.co/EQK0N0ekHY 02:35:03, 2014-11-14
- I don't know much about yo-yos, but this is amazing to watch. He goes to the boys' school, and he's Eidan's new idol http://t.co/dYWhGWSWff 08:23:05, 2014-11-07
- @mattmcmanus Interstellar opens here in Japan on the 22nd. I'm especially curious to see it now, since the reviews have been so polarized. in reply to mattmcmanus 05:48:13, 2014-11-08
- Oh, you're looking for the Martians – they live next door.
- @YokoToyoda Wow in reply to YokoToyoda 22:31:03, 2014-11-11
The word “mansion” (マンション) in Japanese is borrowed from English, but its meaning is almost exactly the opposite. Instead of a vast ornate home made of marble, a mansion in Japan is roughly equivalent to an American condominium. A mansion building is usually 3 or more stories, has a central entrance, is made of steel and concrete, and the units have thick walls. The place we’re living in now is a mansion. Mansions are a step up from “apaato” (アパート）which are generally smaller, cheaper buildings that have units with thin walls.
The sale and rental listings for mansions use a concise set of acronyms. For example a 2LDK has 2 bedrooms, and a living, dining, and kitchen area (one bathroom is standard, so it’s not part of the acronym). Other possibilities are 3LDK, 1K, 2DK, etc. The exact meaning can be slippery sometimes though: our place in Fukuoka was listed as a 2LDK, but the “LDK” part is just one fairly small room with a kitchen counter, couch, small table, and TV stand jammed into it. It’s really a 2DK.
Our place also has a washing machine and a balcony, both of which are also standard with mansions. Like most mansions, ours doesn’t have a clothes dryer. So we do what the Japanese do, which is hang our clothes to dry on the balcony. Our washing machine has a hose which we can optionally put in the bath, to re-use bath water for the initial wash cycle (the Japanese always shower before getting in the soaking tub, so the water is fairly clean).
The listing for our mansion is still online, and has photos and the floor plan, if you want to see what it looks like.
It’s common to have a business on the first floor, and it’s usually something like a dry cleaners or a convenience store. In our case, it’s a mental clinic, and there’s a wedding planner on the second floor.
As an American used to going to baseball stadiums in the US, attending a professional Japanese baseball game is a surreal and amazing experience: the pristine cleanliness, the “beer girls” serving beer from pony kegs strapped to their backs, the food, the cheerleaders, the non-stop choreographed chanting and cheering from the crowd… In 2010 I wrote a post describing my amazement going to my first Japanese baseball game, seeing the Yomiuri Giants play at the Tokyo dome. If you haven’t read that post before, please do – it’s one of the best on my blog.
I went to my second game a couple months ago, with Maria and the boys. We saw Fukuoka’s SoftBank Hawks play at the Fukuoka Dome. We went with my Japanese tutor and her family. Overall, it was a more mellow experience than my previous one. The Fukuoka Dome is not as big as the Tokyo Dome, and the game we attended was not very crowded, so the constant chanting and cheering from crowd was not overwhelming like it was at the Giants’ game. But there are a couple things that make seeing a game at the Dome a special experience. In the US we have the 7th inning stretch, while in Fukuoka the 7th inning is when the crowd participates in a stadium wide, simultaneous release of thousands of phallic balloons. Watch the video:
The other special thing is that they partially open the dome and put on a small fireworks display if the Hawks win. The game we attended ended in a tie however, so there were no fireworks. This is one of the few ways Japan’s baseball rules differ from the US’ – if there is no winner by the 12th inning, the game is declared a draw.
If you’re wondering about the team’s name, SoftBank is a mobile phone company: most baseball teams here have corporate sponsors. This can result in some amusing names, like the Hokkaido “Nippon Ham” Fighters. The names can also change over time, as the fortunes of their sponsors rise and fall: the Hawks used to be the Daiei Hawks, until Daiei went into bankruptcy and was forced to sell the team in 2005.
On October 31, the Hawks won the Japan Series, which is Japan’s equivalent of the World Series. They beat the Hanshin Tigers (Hanshin is a railway company). Japan has leagues similar to the US: the Hawks beat the Hokkaido Fighters in the Pacific League “Climax series” before continuing to the Japan Series.
Local support for the Hawks is very strong in Fukuoka. All season long, on game days, all the bus and taxi drivers in town wear Hawks shirts. In the Tenjin Chikagai underground shopping area, they were playing the team’s theme song almost non-stop during the Climax Series and the Japan Series.
The Dome is sheathed in titanium and “…is so valuable that in 2004, Tom Barrack, a billionaire real-estate mogul, bought the dome simply because the roof alone was worth the purchase price.” At the time it was built in 1993, it was Japan’s first stadium with a retractable dome. It’s current official name is the “Yafuoku! Dome,” which is the name for Yahoo’s auctions web site in Japan. It’s changed names a couple times, but people generally refer to it is as the Yahoo Dome or the Fukuoka Dome.
Over the last couple weeks Eidan has become obsessed with yo-yoing. It’s pretty much all he does outside of school now. When his teacher found out, he introduced him to Tsukasa Ryu. He’s a senior at the same school the boys go to, and he’s one of Japan’s yo-yo champions (the school is K-12, and Eidan is in 3rd grade). He taught Eidan a trick the other day, and said he’ll teach him a new one each week if he keeps practicing. Eidan is awestruck – today he was talking about how strange it felt to know someone that he sees in videos of official competitions.
Here he is at this year’s Japan championship. I don’t know much about yo-yo tricks, but it’s amazing to watch.
I shot this video at Kyoto station. The animation you’re seeing is on the steps between the 4th and 10th floors.
In 1997 Tokyo Disney had its first “Disney Happy Halloween” …As Japanese people already had a fascination with Disneyland, it was easy to make the concept of Halloween seem enchanting and magical. Every year after 1997 the Halloween celebration has grown as word of mouth has spread, and now the party starts as early as late September. Of course, Disney isn’t hogging the fun all to itself. In 2002, Universal Studios crashed the party and introduced “Hollywood Halloween,” another major success. Together, these two theme parks have contributed to bringing the Halloween tradition to Japan.
Based on what I’ve seen this past month, in Fukuoka, Osaka, and Kyoto, I think it’s safe to say that Halloween has evolved into a full-blown national event in Japan. The pictures below of people in costume are from our trip to the Universal Studios theme park a few weeks ago (the park has a Halloween celebration going for the entire month of October, so many people come in costume). On Halloween night, I walked the streets of our neighborhood here in Daimyo, which is the nightlife center of Fukuoka, and there were a lot of people dressed up in similar costumes. The majority of costumes were zombie themed, and most of the people dressed up were young women: zombie police girls, zombie Cinderellas, zombie schoolgirls, etc.
The Japan Times has a fantastic slideshow of people in costume if you want to see more. I believe they’re all in Tokyo.
Trick or treating is still fairly unknown here, however. People go to Halloween parties instead. The boys’ international school organized a small trick or treating route for the kids, which was nice. Eidan dressed up as a vampire, and had a great time. They were given a map of the neighborhood around the school, with a route and designated houses to visit, which had candy for the kids (these were mostly homes of foreigners living near the school, who already knew about Halloween).
- RT @PrettyAgile: RT @astorrs: Best org chart ever! @UberGeekGirl #DOES14 http://t.co/pJ2HUyHeHz 09:05:32, 2014-10-24
- Instant ramen is serious business in Japan.
- Despite the population decline here in Japan, there seems to be no shortage of Japanese school girls http://t.co/xQNbYE3wIZ 21:29:42, 2014-10-27