Whether you like them or not, Golden Bomber seems to have found their own gold in the entertainment scene. Their latest album titled The Past Masters Vol. 1 which was released on April 24th, topped the Oricon hit charts in its first appearance, selling over 110,000 copies in the debut week alone. This actually follows another record they made back in January with which their thirteenth single Dance My Generation also entered top of the charts in its first appearance.
Now they have become the first music artists to achieve having both their single and album ranking at the top of the charts in their first appearance. Wait — something is missing here. Yes, their real achievement is attributed to the fact that they don’t belong to a major record label. They are proud to be the first artists representing an indie record label whose single and album both dominated the Oricon charts in their first appearance.
Perhaps they will be even more proud as they continue to see more success in the industry, knowing that people like their music for its authenticity — even though they appear to be deceiving audiences due to the very simple fact that three of the members don’t play any instruments.
Previously we published a post on lip-syncing in the Japanese music industry and talked about just how ubiquitous and accepted it is here, so some people might wonder. Lip-syncing and hand-syncing. Which is more fake?
While I can imagine some people claiming it’s a meaningless question to begin with: We know they are both bad, so what’s the point of asking which is worse? Golden Bomber, though, has made hand-syncing part of their performance and thus perhaps a little less sinful as well. After all, they owe their fame partially to the fact that they don’t play any instrument on stage or even in a recording studio. All of their songs are recorded by “professional” musicians.
Then what is it about them that attracts our attention? The popularity of so-called “visual-kei bands” peaked in the early Nineties so we have seen this kind of thing before — there’s nothing new about their heavy make-up or fashion.
It’s more likely that their popularity and fame stem from their act of not playing cool. For example, the title of their smashhit single, which basically pushed them to the fore of the music scene, is Memeshikute. The word literally means “like a woman” and is used negatively to describe any male who’s not manly enough, whatever that means.
The meaning is more easily “seen” than explained. The first twenty seconds of this music video will show you everything about being memeshii. See how this guy reacts when he gets dumped by his girlfriend.
The song is about having lingering feelings for our ex, told in a not so sentimental way. Life is a performance, they seem to say, so learn to laugh at life.
Their brutally honest expressions of what could otherwise be featured as a central theme of tear-jerking romance films can be seen in the titles of their songs alone. The level of “honesty” varies greatly from “I couldn’t ask for your phone number again” to “I’m going to kill your ex-boyfriend,” both of which are actual titles of their songs. Being uncool is the coolest thing, so embrace the darkest, the most shameful part of yourself.
In their latest single though, they are getting more political. The music video is obviously a satire mocking the people who enjoyed the triumph of Japan’s Bubble economy in the late Eighties when money was believed to take them to the top of the world.
Yet even the burst of the Bubble economy can be turned into a piece of entertainment — it’s just too much fun not to!
I usually don’t watch TV dramas, but there is always one or two a year that almost forcibly catch my attention. Legal High was definitely one of them. The drama was first aired last year as a regular eleven-episode series on Fuji TV.
In short, Legal High is a courtroom drama about a lawyer trying to do everything and anything to win his cases. What makes this drama different, though, is that Kensuke Komikado, the protagonist lawyer, is not at all a heroic figure to begin with. Money is what drives him to work and success. Justice is always in the hands of a winner — this is the core of his work ethics.
On April 13th, a two-hour special was aired on Fuji Television.
In this episode, instead of tackling more general legal issues such as business corruption, divorce, bribery, medical malpractice, product defect, wrongful conviction and so on, the producers chose one of the most sensitive and controversial topic of our time: school bullying.
The story had a happy ending where the bullied kid and his mother won over 100 million yen in compensation. However, the real message was delivered in Komikado’s seemingly ruthless words about middle school life and bullying in general:
The middle school peers that you think are so important to you right now will mean almost nothing to you when you grow up… Bullying exists everywhere. It exists in every part of this country. Bullying is like the flow of air, where the majority always win and have right to justify their action.
That was just one of the highlights of the drama and Komikado’s words definitely speak true about the nature of bullying.
Although the level of severity varies from one case to another, bullying does exist everywhere; it really is in the air. The definition of bullying ranges from ignoring someone (called shikato in Japanese, the most notorious and extremely inhumane form of bullying because it literally denies someone’s existence) to the more violent forms.
Speaking from my own experience, girls or women in general tend to be more cruel and prefer the non-violent yet more lasting forms of bullying, shikato or name-calling. It is very unlikely that the bullied and the bully end up becoming friends later in life. The people that I did not get along with in middle school have now become strangers to me. This is not to say, however, that our school life is nothing but years of studies with a bunch of random kids around.
People come and go, and bullying occurs everywhere. It is very possible that for a long time we’ve been trying to find a solution that does not even exist in the first place. This I believe was the message behind this episode — to show that there might be no solution at all.
I don’t think one TV drama can make any significant change in society, but Legal High is not a typical feel-good story of the socially oppressed trying to fight against bigger, evil forces. Perhaps the praise should go to actor Masato Sakai, who successfully immersed himself in the character to make each line in the story more realistic and believable.
This coming fall, the new series will be aired on Fuji TV with the same cast members, so if you missed the first one or the special on bullying, you’ll get a chance to see what this drama has to offer and the social challenges that it presents to us.
As Japan’s population continues to decline, we see more and more non-human characters pop out and come to life on a daily basis. The yuru-kyara boom which started less than a decade ago is now gaining momentum and dominating our everyday lives.
Yuru-kyara refers to a character or a mascot representative of a city or a prefecture, whose primary mission is to promote and vitalize its local culture and community. The name yuru-kyara is an abbreviation of two words: yurui which means “loose”, and kyara – character.
They are not meant to be lovable in the obvious way that facilitates money-making like other commercial figures (Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, Snoopy etc) or anime characters — at least not when they were first introduced to the scene. This notion obviously is starting to change as we see more and more people see monetary value in the popularity of their promotional mascot characters, which is completely understandable.
For example, the very popular Kumamon mascot, Kumamoto’s yuru-kyara, is estimated to have generated around 640 million yen for the prefecture, and the sales of Kumamon merchandise totaled over 2,500 million yen in 2011.
While many of these characters are now becoming more like commercial figures, here I would like to introduce a lesser-known newbie, a native of Funabashi City, Chiba, and one which is not even approved or supported by the local government. This unofficial mascot called Funassyi is a “pear” fairy (the word for pear in Japanese is nashi) and looks like, well, a yellow pear with a face.
Despite its unofficial status and supposedly low publicity, Funassyi ranked 506th in the 2012 yuru-kyara “grand prix” popularity contest, out of 865 entries, which I guess isn’t too shabby. Now Funassyi is everywhere.
Incidentally, the winner of the 2012 Grand Prix was Barii-san, the simple but huggable character for Imabari in Ehime, and who jumped up from being second place last time. That’s him below.
Perhaps what makes Funassyi quite different from many others is that he is a talking mascot (and he talks a LOT) and appears to be a bit wacky as well. In this clip, his talk starts around 1:00 in (after a spot of dancing). Notice the enthusiastic waves and responses he gets from the crowd.
So why hasn’t Funabashi City adopted him? The answer is rather obvious – because they don’t want to. Instead, they recently announced their own “official” city mascot named Funaemon, who has no resemblance whatsoever to Funassyi.
This is Funaemon below, a more conservative and “human” yuru-kyara than the pear that is Funassyi. But which is the better mascot?
Will this move be enough to kick the unofficial yet one-and-only Funassyi out of the game? It seems like the odds are against the bureaucrats!
If Kabukicho had a theme park starring Akihabara chika aidoru (“underground” idols), this might be it…
It is located in the heart of Shinjuku’s world of the erotica. The entrance is a garish, bright open plaza manned by cold beefy bouncers who are if not quite rude, certainly very unwelcoming and unhelpful (don’t expect any kind of guidance). In other words, just like a sex club or strip club.
Anyway, then you go over to the main building on the other side of the street to a horrifically bright waiting room. Seriously, it’s so bright that your eyes hurt. There you are surrounded mirrors and flashing lights, and constant sound.
After waiting for the audience to leave from the previous show, you then go down the stairs to the basement performance area where you are given a bento lunchbox and asked to take a seat on one of the two audience areas. It is a kind of traverse stage, with the “show” happening in the hallway between the two blocks of seats.
This means you spend as much time watching the giant walls of screens showing cheap CGI battles and images of female warriors on horseback, and, naturally, the faces of the other audience members.
We were expecting an audience of sleazy guys or otakus, but actually it was mostly just curious Japanese and foreigners. Considering that the club has advertised itself on its mammoth budget (10 billion yen or $130 million!), the handful of empty seats are not a good sign, though. (Saying that, we can’t really see where the money went but anyway…)
Now to the show itself. Words fail me. It features essentially about 20 dancers who play instruments and, well, dance. Stylistically it’s the biggest smorgasbord of kitsch and the burlesque you are likely to see outside of a Takarazuka performance, only with Kabukicho strip culture and Akihabara chika aidoru motifs thrown in for good measure. It is also erotic; all the girls are scantily clad, plus some had busts we hadn’t seen in Japan except in a porn film.
But more than being aroused, we were most of just simply befuddled by the swirling vortext of influences and elements poured into the mix here. A fighting panda. Drumming girls. A dinosaur. A tank. Sci-fi. Robots. Sex. Sexism. Cheesy smiling idol subculture with genuinely alluring sexuality (well, actually, that’s quite common in Japan so we’re at least used to that).
It is around an hour long, though structured as a series of numbers, so there are quite frequent pauses. Considering it now costs ¥5,000 (with a bento lunchbox meal and drink included), it is a little expensive then, though the kitsch is priceless. For the record, I went with a group of gay Americans and they all seemed to have a whale of a time.
The style of the dancing and music was more Gekidan Shinkansen than genuine strip club, and the finale with the carnival float robots (you have to wait quite a while for the robots to appear!) and a neon tank, followed by dancers who hang from the ceiling, is utterly impossible to define.
Here’s the video we made!
In Japan, April is the month of new starts. The new school year. New company employees join their firms. And we see an increasing number of TV commercials promoting the message of “It’s now or never!” — and eikaiwa (conversational English) schools are no exception for that.
As Japan adapts itself to become a more globalized nation, we can’t avoid the question of just how important English education really is. English is now taught at all elementary schools as part of their mandatory curriculum. In the business world, some companies like Rakuten and UNIQLO have officially announced the “Englishization” of their workplace.
I myself learned English as a second language in middle school and high school. In addition to this “official” English education, I was also taking a thirty-minute eikaiwa lesson once a week when I was in the fifth grade. Although I don’t recall anything I learned from my personal English teacher, I do remember that she was always late to class and asked me the same question (“How was your weekend?”) every time at the beginning of each lesson.
OK, I’m not trying to criticize the way she opened conversation so much — but just that it was only a twenty-five minute lesson (because she was always late), anyway, and this “warm-up” would take up the first ten minutes! I want to point out two things here. One: as an ordinary citizen trying to live a peaceful life, one weekend cannot be that different from another. Two: knowing that she would always ask me the same question somehow made me feel like I HAD TO do something special every weekend. I was forced to come up with an answer — sometimes even make up one — to that dreadful question which I’m not sure, to this day, whether it came from her sincere, pure curiosity to find out what her student did over the weekend or was simply written in her teaching manual. I’m leaning towards the latter.
But there is no question about eikaiwa schools being the most profitable enterprise in the English-learning industry. One of the most notable schools in the history of eikaiwa business was Nova. Some of the readers might remember it from the famous school mascot, the pink Nova rabbit, or Nova Usagi. Nova’s biggest appeal was ekimae-ryugaku — which basically meant that people no longer needed to go overseas to study English, thanks to Nova’s attempt to have a school near every major train station.
While Nova succeeded in making English schools more accessible to anyone, other competitors found their own marketing strategies to lure the students away from the old school. Gaba, for example, is known for its luxurious facilities, more personalized one-on-one lessons and much longer business hours, from 7 am to 10:40 pm. In 2011, Gaba was acquired by Nichii Gakkan, the company which recently launched their own eikaiwa brand called COCO Jyuku.
COCO Jyuku takes a somewhat different approach to millions of prospective customers out there. The first time I saw their commercial on TV, I was struck by the elegance of their message. There was no classroom, obedient students or happy-looking teachers in business suits.
They made English-learning seem like a higher-level, more sophisticated activity, when in reality it is a process of sweating while trying to memorize twenty words a day and remembering only a few a week later at best. (Or maybe this was just me.) Or feeling like a six-year-old again due to having limited vocabulary and grammar when we know we can say the exact same thing much more “elegantly” in our native language.
The point I’m trying to make here is this: we the consumers already know that advertisements or marketing phrases are all manipulative in one way or another. Yet COCO Jyuku doesn’t even give us a chance to see what their teachers are like. They skip all the learning process and instead show us a perfect movie scene. How realistic is it?
Raising kids is indeed one of the toughest jobs out there. While parenting entails balancing when to treat and when to reprimand your child (of which I’m sure the latter is much harder), Media Active is now offering a helping hand to parents who just can’t get their kids to behave.
The free smartphone app is called Oni kara denwa (literally, “the call from a demon” — though oni can also be translated as “troll” or “ogre”) and the name alone would surely scare your child enough! The idea is that you get the call and then pass the phone to them, making them listen and stop whining.
Simply choose one from the six most typical child discipline situations — not going to bed, not taking medicine, not tidying up etc — and you’ll then get a call from a variety of scary or authoritarian figures, the most popular of which will surely be the “red demon” (Akaoni).
The only “work” required on your side is to pretend that the call is real by responding. Here’s how the conversation might go.
“Hello? Yes. Oh, it’s the Akaoni. Yes, my child is being very naughty again. Here, you can speak to him.” Cue passing the phone to terrified child!
Actually, we think the visual effect of the Akaoni’s face appearing on the screen is probably more than sufficient to produce total obedience.
There are some other, more benign characters too, such as a doctor and even Santa Claus, though Akaoni will surely be the most popular with parents at a loss with rebellious brats.
The idea of using an ogre, according to the CEO, originated from the character of Namahage, where a man dressed up as an ogre walks into people’s houses on New Year’s Eve to see if there’s any naughty kid around, a traditional ritual in some parts of the Akita prefecture.
While the nature of this practice somewhat reminds me of Father Christmas checking his list every year to see who should get a present (or even European figures like Krampus), Namahage does not reward good kids: their job is simply to punish naughty kids by giving them what could be the most traumatic experience of their childhood. Here’s what namahage looks like in “real life”.
In addition to the red ogre, other scary figures are also on call. You can see the latest versions here.
While some people would definitely argue against the use of non-human beings or even the latest technology in parenting, sometimes one’s goodness comes from the fear of greater forces — after all, that’s how the world works, right?
The Japanese have one of these effortless and inimitable attitudes towards religion.
It is both part of their lives, sort of, in the form of Shinto customs, visiting shrines, animistic “power spots”, good luck charms on mobile phones and local matsuri festivals. But these are essentially communal customs or acts that border more on superstition than “belief”.
Of course there are genuine believers too, especially in Buddhism — and even people who follow cults that carry out sarin gas attacks.
But for the most part religion is there to be charmingly indulged in, rather than frightened of, like in so much of the Judaeo-Christian world.
Could you, say, ever imagine an American comic book writer coming up with Saint Young Men and getting away with it? For the uninitiated, it’s the story of the amusing adventures of the Buddha and Jesus in modern day Tokyo, irreverent but also respectful in a charming way. The very fact that the religious figures have been elevated to such entertaining characters is an act of esteem.
Such a comic (and now feature length anime) would be enough to get you killed in certain parts of the west.
Here’s another great example of what I mean.
The Buddha Hair Salon Flower Pot is a series of Buddha heads in a variety of poses and in which you can grow a plant.
There are three types of facial expressions (laughing, angry, meditating) and two colors (red or white), and after a little bit of watering, the result is visually striking “hair” that sprouts up straight.
Can you imagine selling a plant pot of Jesus or even a Hindu god — and not drawing the ire of an institution or the fire and brimstone of fanatics?
In Japan, whether you’re religious or not, you’re allowed to cultivate the Buddha’s locks in order to make your home greener.
Lanterns in Japan are called chochin and are featured on the front of most izakaya restaurants, as well as shrines. There is a famously huge one, for example, at Kaminarimon (“Thunder Gate”) in Asakusa, Tokyo.
Typically they are red and decorated with the name of the restaurant/temple, and sometimes the type of food being served.
You can also see white or other colored lanterns at shrines and temples, often decorated with the name of the local business that sponsored them.
Meanwhile, a great scheme to increase the consumption of Japan-grown ingredients has seen green lanterns (midori chochin) hanging from the entrance to some izakaya, with stars to indicate how much of their produce comes from local suppliers and farmers.
Well, here’s another smart way to use Japanese lanterns by GOES Inc, this time with traffic signals.
With the Japanese Lantern Signal, now pedestrians can cross the road with a bit of Edo chic.
The designers say that if you mistake the light for a regular izakaya chochin, then you’re already too drunk and it’s time to go home!
On another note, we’ve always loved how traffic signals in Japan feature men with hats. Even the symbol for a pedestrian is a salaryman!
An actor is someone who acts. A dancer is someone who dances. A singer is someone who sings. They all get paid to do what their job title claims, but when it comes to singing, we tend to become more tolerant. It’s OK that singers don’t sing on stage, right? Well, maybe not anymore.
On March 5, a TV producer at Fuji Television Network Inc., Shin Kikuchi openly declared on his blog an end to lip-syncing in his show, Music Fair, to follow the same rule in his other two music programs, Bokura-no-ongaku (Our Music) and Domoto Brothers. He says that the decision was unanimous and that any professional singers should be able to sing live. While this movement might make us appreciate live performances of those who CAN sing live on stage (which by the way don’t seem to exist that many in the current Japanese music industry), traditionally in Japan we have never been so critical of singers not using their voice on TV.
Source: Fuji Television Network
After all, watching TV is a passive experience and we can change channels anytime if we don’t want to see singers lip-sync in a show. We might even be a little sympathetic to hundreds of poor idols out there, who have to dance and sing all at the same time. Because their schedule is so tight, they don’t have time for such training anyway.
So why are the Japanese so tolerant of lip-syncing?
One possible reason is that in Japan, the level of professionalism required and expected of singers is not very high to begin with. One notorious case I remember is Arashi singing in FNS Music Festival, a live music show aired on Fuji TV Network back in 2011. Arashi undoubtedly has become one of the biggest pop groups and dominated the Japanese music industry over the past decade, together with the female idol group, AKB48.
Ironically, what made their performance so controversial was not that they lip-synched — but rather that they actually sang live AND sounded completely out of tune. People immediately fired up comments online: they either mocked at Arashi’s poor live performance or backed up the idols for their diligent effort to finish the song despite having “technical problems” backstage. What really happened was not the question (the auto-tune was not working). The controversy surrounding this incident made me realize that in general, we don’t want to see people suffer on stage.
As the current Japanese music industry is in large part made of idol groups, what we expect from their performance is not their singing but merely their appearance — looking good on camera. (Plus some dancing, perhaps.) Considering that Beyonce’s alleged lip-syncing made huge headlines in the US, we could say authenticity is much more valued overseas even if it results in mediocre or even poorer performances.
The bottom line is, we just want to be entertained. If their singing is so bad, I would rather see them lip-sync and appreciate their music more. In this music video I recently found on YouTube, Rola, a Japanese model who’s also known for her supposedly “innocent” use of tameguchi slang, lip-syncs to Carly Rae Jepsen’s smash hit “Call Me Maybe”.
Why is she doing this? Is she trying to impersonate Jepsen? Personally, I don’t get this, but if the attempt was to show how easy it is nowadays for anyone to be a “singer”, then maybe Kikuchi was right. We should have been more critical.