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(English speakers, please excuse me. This rant is in Japanese.)

The Japanese culture boom, from the outside looking in

Last week I tentatively opened up a new site dedicated to bento, the Japanese meal in a box. I have been kicking around the idea of such a site for quite some time now but I was not sure if I should open a new site, or just fold more bento-related content into my existing, more general food site, Just Hungry. While there are already several bento blogs out there, I was not sure if there would be enough interest in a whole site dedicated to Japanese-style lunch boxes, so I procrastinated, before decided that I wanted to organize all that information in one, separate location.

In less than a week, the traffic to Just Bento, discounting the lack of search engine generated visits, has almost equalled that of the almost 4 year old Just Hungry. I'm simply astonished.

But then it's not the first time that I've been surprised at just how much interest there is in things Japanese, from non-Japanese people, in recent years. Whether it's anime or manga, gadgets or toys, fashion or sushi, amigurumi or Hello Kitty, each time I see how 'hot' and 'cool' something Japanese is it throws me for a loop. The funny thing is that all of this interest seems to have come after the collapse of the Japanese bubble economy in the late '80s to early '90s.

Men taking their wives' last names is not uncommon in Japan

I find this story in USA Today about more American men taking their wives' last names (via kottke) rather interesting as a snapshot of gender attitudes. My impression of the American Male is that a lot of them are awfully defensive about their masculinity, much more so than men elsewhere, which explains the "sissy juice" comments received by Sam Van Hallgren (who, incidentally, is co-host of the one podcast besides This American Life that I listen to religiously, Filmspotting.)

In Japan, men have been taking their wives' last names for a long time. This may seem surprising in light of the view of Japanese society as being very male dominant. In fact, it's done for practical, usually business, purposes. If the woman's family has a well known business which is run as a family concern, and the man marrying the woman is going to enter, and eventually take over, that business, he is legally adopted by the woman's family and thus takes her surname along with it. This is called becoming a yo-shi. The word and concept is the same as for a child being adopted.

On the other hand, Babel gets it right

Last time I griped about the numerous ways in which the popular U.S. TV series Heroes got Japanese things so totally wrong. Over the weekend we finally got to see Babel. The merits of the movie as a movie aside (I liked it, sort of, though it left me a bit cold), as far as the Tokyo scenes were concerned I thought that they felt absolutely right. There might be some minor quibbles with some details of how Chieko (played by Oscar-nominated Rinko Kikuchi) and her friends act (though, not having been a Japanese teenager for some time, I really don't know how a typical 16-17 year old acts) but the atmosphere, the sets, and the way people generally behaved felt very natural.

The numerous Japanese problems in Heroes

I have been resisting downloading Heroes, the new 'hot' show this season on offer on American television, but since several people whose opinions I respect told me that it was awesome, I succumbed and got the season pass. It is a very good show overall. But the Japanese aspects of it are mind bogglingly wrong - I'm talking Memoirs of a Geisha (the movie, not the book) level wrong - a real shame considering that it's quite obviously influenced by manga, anime and graphic novels. It's also the type of show that would probably do very well in Japan (where Dark Angel had a very strong cult following).

(spoilers below)

some of my flickr photos


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