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Review & Giveaway 15: Japan Journeys

18 Apr

Here is another book that Tuttle Books have kindly given to me to review and, again, they have agreed to give one free copy of this book to a random visitor to my blog!

(Click here to read all of my reviews and giveaways.)

This book is titled “Japan Journeys: Famous Woodblock Prints of Cultural Sights in Japan” by Andreas Marks.

“Japan Journeys: Famous Woodblock Prints of Cultural Sights in Japan”

I will put the details of the free drawing for this book at the end of this post.

Japan Journeys: Famous Woodblock Prints of Cultural Sights in Japan” is a hardcover book full of large, beautiful pictures of all kinds of ukiyoe (Japanese woodblock prints).

Mr. Marks is a historian of Japanese and Korean art and he gives explanations of the prints that show famous sights around Tokyo, Kyoto and other parts of Japan.

I have been to many of the places shown in these prints and it’s fun to see them depicted in artwork that is sometimes centuries old.

This book would be treasured by anyone interested in Japan, Japanese ukiyoe art, or artwork in general!

Japan Journeys: Famous Woodblock Prints of Cultural Sights in Japan” can be purchased through Amazon here.

But, as I said above, Tuttle Books has agreed to give one random visitor to my blog a free copy of this book.

To enter the drawing for the free book, submit this form by 2015 May 10th:

The ’90s in Japan

14 Apr

I have been living in Japan since 1990. I know what the 1990s and 2000’s were like in Japan much more than America.

Japan was quite different in 1990! I wrote a post last October about some of the here to read it.

I found a website by a man who took a lot of photos of Tokyo in the 1990s.
It’s very nostalgic for me!

Here are some photos of Tokyo in 1990 (This was Tokyo when I first came here):

This is the large, busy Ikebukuro train station in Tokyo in 1990. There were no automatic ticket gates back then…station workers punched and collected tickets manually!


This is the largest, busiest train station in the world…Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station in 1990. There were many payphones on platforms and station entrances back then!


Inside a train in Tokyo in 1990. There were no cellphones back then. Everyone read, slept or sat quietly on the trains here.


Tokyo is first…again

10 Apr

Tokyo was the first city in all of Asia to host the Olympics (the 1964 Tokyo Olympics).
(Tokyo will host the Olympics again in five years).

Tokyo was the first city in the world to have a Disney amusement park outside of the U.S.

And now Tokyo is the first place in the world where two independent fast-food chains have collaborated to make one unique restaurant together.

The Japanese branch of the American fast-food chain “Wendy’s” have joined with the Japanese fast-food chain ironically named “First Kitchen” to open a store in Tokyo called “Wendy’s First Kitchen“.

"Wendy's First Kitchen" menu has unique menu items made from items from Wendy's and First Kitchen together.

“Wendy’s First Kitchen” menu has unique menu items made from items from Wendy’s and First Kitchen together.

Japan “Do’s & Don’ts”

2 Apr

In tourist books, and especially online, there are many lists of Japanese manners “do’s and don’ts”.

Honestly, most of the things on those lists aren’t important! Some are only applicable in certain situations and others aren’t really important…even many Japanese don’t follow them.

For example, it’s commonly written on those “Japan do and don’t” list that have been compiled by non-Japanese:
– Do not put soy sauce on your rice
and – make slurping sounds when you’re eating noodles

In actuality, no one in Japan would care if foreign visitors put soy sauce on their rice, or ate their noodles silently.

Other common ones on those types of lists are:
– Don’t pour your own drink.
and – It’s insulting to leave a tip.

It’s true that if you go out with friends or co-workers and order beer in a large bottle or pitcher in Japan, you should pour for others and they will offer to pour yours. But…if your glass gets empty and your pour your own beer, it’s not “rude”.

And then, many of those books and websites often tell visitors to Japan that they must learn and follow some customs that even many Japanese people don’t bother with.
Such as how to clean your hands and mouth before enter a Japanese shrine.
Really, a lot of people (if not most) in Japan don’t even bother with that custom.

I’d say that if you come to Japan as a visitor, no one would expect you to know the myriad of customs and manners that are “common-sense” to people raised here (and become “common-sense” to those who have lived here a long time).

Here are the Japanese manners and customs that I’d say are the most important for visitors to know:

  • Don’t leave chopsticks directly into food, especially rice.

    Don’t do this! It’s shocking to Japanese people.

  • Don’t point with chopsticks (or with a fork, etc).
  • Don’t touch other people’s chopsticks (or fork) with your own.
  • Don’t pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another.
  • If there is a sauce for dipping food into, don’t dip a piece of food into it after you’ve taken a bite of it.
  • Don’t wear shoes indoors in a house…and many restaurants, clinics, schools, temples, etc.
    (It may be difficult for visitors to Japan to be sure where / when to remove their shoes or slippers. In general, if the floor has a step-up or a step-down, shoes must be taken off (or put on, when exiting). Also, no shoes or even slippers are worn on tatami flooring.)
  • When riding a escalator, people who want walk up or down the escalator go on the right-side*. If you just want to stand and ride the escalator, you should keep to the left-side*.
    (*In western Japan, they have this rule reversed. But, I’ve heard that they may change it to be the same as the Tokyo area, to reduce confusion.)
  • Don’t put your feet up on a table.
  • Don’t put anything that could be considered “unclean” or “unsanitary” on a table…such as shoes (even a pair that were just purchased).

I’ve lived in Japan for most of my life now. These “manners” have become common-sense to me. But, how do they seem to you? Confusing? Strange? Or are they similar to manners in your country?

Also…if you’re in Japan, or planning to visit, do you have any questions about Japanese customs or manners?

Interview with Roger Dahl

19 Mar

Roger Dahl is an American cartoonist who has lived and worked in Japan.

He has a book titled “Comic Japan: Best of Zero Gravity Cartoons from The Japan Times-The Lighter Side of Tokyo Life” which is a collection of his comics about life in Tokyo for an American couple.
(Click here to read my review and to enter (by 2015 March 22nd) for a chance to win a free copy of his book).

Self-portrait by Roger Dahl

Roger Dahl has kindly agreed to do an interview with me.

– My questions and comments are in red. Roger Dahl’s answers are in black.

1. Could you please give us a short self-introduction?

I was born in Tacoma, Washington, not far from Seattle where I now live (in the North Beach area of Ballard). I graduated from two universities: The University of Puget Sound, where I got a degree in Art, and from the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. My medical specialty was in Prosthetics and Orthotics – making artificial limbs and braces for patients. I worked briefly for a hospital in the Washington, DC area, but decided I just didn’t love being stuck mostly in a lab all day (I DID very much enjoy interacting with patients). I often tell people that my medical training made me a better artist; all those courses in anatomy have helped me make my cartoon characters anatomically correct.

2. How / when did you first become interested in Japan?

My aunt and uncle were missionaries in Japan for many years, so I became familiar with the culture from an early age. I didn’t really get interested in visiting until my sister went there and had a blast. A few years later I visited for four months, staying in the home of a professor at Tokyo University. It was a great introduction to Japan, and I have loved the country ever since.

Interesting trivia:  My relatives had a cabin in the mountain resort of Karuizawa (one of my favorite places in Japan). John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived there for a time when Sean was young. Lennon occasionally would attend chapel services, so my uncle met him. Since then, I have met others missionaries who hung out with the Lennons. All say that they were extremely pleasant.

3.  You lived in Japan from 1991 until 1995, didn’t you?  Have you been back to visit Japan since ’95?  How do you continue to draw comics about Japan?

Actually, I moved to Japan as a resident in 1989. I was hired in Seattle by a representative of a Tokyo conversation school. It was a miracle that they hired me, as I had no teaching experience, and was competing with candidates who had strong credentials. It turned out that teaching was an excellent fit for me, and I loved the job.

Over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday break of 1990/91, I committed to creating a comic strip about Japan, as I found the culture so amusing and wasn’t seeing any such satire in any of the national English daily newspapers. I came up with about a dozen comic strips which became Zero Gravity. I was told by a seasoned journalist that I would have no chance of getting hired by any of the big papers, but I forged ahead anyway. Two of them offered me jobs, and I went for The Japan Times because it was the biggest, most independent and prestigious, and simply felt like the best fit for me. The editors there told me that what interested them most was the one political cartoon I added just to demonstrate versatility.

So that hiring was in February 1991. I was then living in Naka-Meguro, Tokyo. At the same time of my Japan Times hiring, I was also offered a job to teach at a private boys senior/junior high school (Zushi Kaisei) in Zushi, just south of Kamakura, in the suburbs of Tokyo and Yokohama. I taught there for four years while also producing my political cartoons and comic strips. It was really challenging juggling these job demands, but I’m glad I did this, as a lot of the material for the comic strip came from my experiences living in Zushi. Because it is so close to Tokyo, I still spent lots of time in the megalopolis, which I never grew weary of.

When I decided I needed to return to the States (especially because my father’s health was declining), my Japan Times editor graciously asked me if I’d like to continue cartooning from abroad. I actually never dreamed it would become a long-term arrangement, but here I am in my 25th year.

Having the resources of the internet has made all of this possible. I feel like I manage to keep abreast of the cultural and political zeitgeist of Japan sufficiently to continue commenting as I’ve been doing. I didn’t have the internet while in Japan, so in some ways I feel better informed now, even though I’m not in-country. It helps that I maintain so many friends – both Japanese and expatriates – in Japan.

4.  I came to Japan in 1990 (around the same time as you)…a lot has changed in Japan in the past quarter-century.  What are some of the good changes you’ve noticed?  Some of the not-so-good?

I think a lot of the pressure to conform has diminished. I tend not to be very conventional in my thinking, so I consider this shift progress. I do somewhat regret, however, that some charming traditions might be lost as Japan forges ahead in its postmodern development.

The global phenomena of obsession with electronic devices seems to be one relatively recent change in Japanese society that I’m suspicious of, as it seems to separate people more than it connects them. Of course, I’m just as guilty of this as anyone in Japan.

5.  What brought you to Japan initially?

As I mentioned previously, it was initially the awareness of the country through the stories of my aunt, uncle and cousins. Also, as an artist, I think I was always drawn to the aesthetics of Japan. My ancestors came from Scandinavia, Sweden, Norway and Denmark – and I’m only a generation removed from that region of Europe. I have often reflected that the Japanese are the Scandinavians of Asia, sharing many traits, such as minimalist aesthetic traditions, love of refined craftsmanship, healthful lifestyles, personality reserve, etc.

6. What did you do for employment at first?  How did you get a job with the Japan Times newspaper?

I guess I kind of answered that already with my account of preparing strips for submitting to the national English dailies. I’m a big advocate of boldly attempting the seeming impossible. That was why I was willing to go to Japan to teach. I was slightly terrified of teaching, but found out that it came fairly naturally to me.

Submitting strips to big newspapers took some moxie too. My initial interview with The Japan Times left me with some doubts, as the managing editor wondered if I’d be able to find sufficient material for a regular feature.

A big change came when JT started asking for three cartoons a week instead of two. That was a really difficult challenge.

7.  What do you think Japan should learn from American culture?  And vice-versa?

I’m discovering that culture has really become globalized, and that everyone is influencing everybody else now. I think this is mostly a good thing. I think America has more to gain from being open to Japan, as Japan has always seemed more willing to adopt new things from abroad and make them its own.

I think the US’s individualism is worthy of emulation, as is its positive emphasis on activism and altruism. I wish Americans could adopt Japan’s efficiency, attention to good service, and general considerateness; I really wish American cities could feel as safe as Japanese urban centers.

I sure wish Japan would switch to driving on the right side of the road!

8.  What advice would you give to newcomers to Japan?

Don’t interpret everything through the filter of your own culture, but be open to enjoying the new one you find yourself in. You very well might find better ways to approach life than the way you are accustomed to

Try to become adept at doing things the way the locals do, but don’t be afraid to express your individuality.

I would add that one should avoid having a critical attitude toward Japan when annoyances arise. I realize that must sound ironic coming from a satirist like myself, whose job often involves criticism. But in my day-to-day life in Japan, I was mostly going with the flow, and not making much of a fuss when frustrations arose.

9.  What is a question that you’ve never been asked in an interview, but you think you should have been asked?  And, of course, what’s the answer?

How much of you and your experiences are in your ‘Zero Gravity’ characters and their experiences?

A lot of the things that happen in the strip are based on the my own experiences or that of friends. However,  many of their frustrations are not my own.

For example, I didn’t have as many frustrations with food, train commuting, office bureaucracy or language challenges. I would say my life in Japan was extremely pleasant. I was heartbroken to leave Tokyo and return to the US, and had terrible reverse culture shock. I desperately wanted to return to Japan almost immediately

I will add that the character of Larry in my comic strip is basically me. He looks a little like me (at least the way I looked twenty years ago!) and has my basic personality.

10.  Any comments for the visitors to my blog?

I noticed that some of your blog followers were asking about my possible relation to Roald Dahl. (It was asked here) He and I share a Norwegian heritage, but I have no knowledge of any common ancestry. Dahl is a relatively common name in all of Scandinavia, meaning “valley“. There are a lot of mountains and valleys in Norway! Also, in my family’s case, Dahl is a shortened version of the original name, which was, Ringdahl, I think.

Since I started illustrating children’s books (I’m about to start on my third book with Penguin), questions about my relation to Roald Dahl have come up regularly.
I certainly don’t mind speculation that I’m related to such an eminent creative person. The only drawback is that if I Google my name, links to Roald often come up instead.

Thank you, Mr. Dahl for taking the time to answer my questions. Your answers are very interesting!

Study Japanese with Japan Times

18 Mar

The Japan Times newspaper has a regular feature that teaches grammar and/or phrases of the Japanese language.

This is from their site (here) the day before yesterday:

Learn ‘nantoka’ any way you can

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Chikatetsu-de ikeba, nantoka maniai-sō-desu. (If I take the subway, I’ll only just make it in time.)
Situation 1: Ms. Shiba is speaking on the phone with her colleague, Mr. Tian, who is on his way to a client’s office.

芝: 今、JRがかなり遅れているみたいですから、他のルートで行ったほうがいいですよ。時間、大丈夫ですか。

ティエン: かなり大回りになるけど、地下鉄で行けば、何とか間に合いそうです。

Shiba: Ima, JR-ga kanari okurete-iru-mitai-desu-kara, hoka-no rūto-de itta hō-ga ii-desu-yo. Jikan, daijōbu-deshō-ka.

Tian: Kanari ōmawari-ni naru-kedo, chikatetsu-de ikeba, nantoka maniai-sō-desu.

Shiba: The JR-line train seems to be late. So, it’s better for you to use another line. Is there enough time?

Tian: If I take the subway, I’ll only just make it in time — even though it takes a long way around.

Today, we will introduce the adverb 何(なん)とか (in any way) and some related expressions. The adverb 何とか is used with a verb (X) and expresses that X has happened or is going to happen, barely, as in Mr. Tian’s sentence in Situation 1 or as in: 少(すく)ない年金(ねんきん)で、何とか暮(く)らしています( I only just get by on a small public pension).

Situation 2: Mr. Mita talks to his colleague Mr. Sere.

三田: セレくん、今夜、帰りにちょっと飲まない?新しい居酒屋ができたんだ。

セレ: いいけど、三田くんは明日までに報告書を書かなくちゃいけないんじゃない?

三田: まあ、何とかなるよ。ちょっとだけ、飲んでいこうよ。

Mita: Sere-kun, kon’ya, kaeri-ni chotto nomanai? Atarashii izakaya-ga dekita-n-da.

Sere: Ii-kedo, Mita-kun-wa ashita-made-ni hōkokusho-o kakanakucha-ikenai-n-ja-nai?

Mita: Mā, nantoka naru-yo. Chotto-dake nonde-ikō-yo.

Mita: Hi Sere, why don’t we go and have a drink on the way home? A new Japanese pub has opened.

Sere: OK, but don’t you have to write a report by tomorrow?

Mita: Well, I can manage it somehow — let’s go for a quick drink.

何とかする is a suru-verb that means to solve a problem by any means necessary, as in: お客(きゃく)さんが来(く)るんだから何とかしてよ (Tidy up in any way you can, because a guest is coming soon). The te-form of this verb 何とかして, when used with a verb, functions as adverb and can replace 何とか, as in 何とかして彼(かれ)を助(たす)けたい (I want to help him in any way I can). 何とかなる is an intransitive verb used to indicate that something is happening, or is expected to happen, naturally and without effort, as Mr. Mita uses it in Situation 2.

Bonus Dialogue: Mrs. Okubo and her son Mitsuo are talking at home.

母: あしたは三者(さんしゃ)面談(めんだん)ね。憂鬱(ゆううつ)だな。

光男: 心配(しんぱい)することないよ。ぼくは、ちゃんと単位(たんい)が取(と)れて、3年生(さんねんせい)になれるから。

母: 3年生になれても、来年(らいねん)、大学(だいがく)に入(はい)れるかどうか、心配。

光男: そんなことより、ぼくが3年生になれることを喜(よろこ)んでよ。悠太(ゆうた)は、音楽(おんがく)を一科目(いちかもく)落(お)として、進級(しんきゅう)できないかもしれないんだから。

母: 音楽1科目だけなら、何(なん)とかならないの?

光男: 担任(たんにん)の先生が、音楽の先生に追試(ついし)をたのんでいるんだけど、音楽の先生は、なかなかオーケーしてくれないんだって。

母: 芸術家(げいじゅつか)は、気難(きむずか)しいからね…。でも、きっと担任の先生が何とかして下さるわよ。ああ、光男が何とか進級できてよかった。

光男: 母さん、ぼくは、「何とか」じゃなくて、ちゃんと進級できたの。まちがえないで。

Mother: Tomorrow we’ll have a school meeting with the teacher — I don’t like it.

Mitsuo: You don’t have to worry, Mom. I got the credits and will be able to be in the third grade.

Mother: Even if you are allowed in the third grade, I wonder if you can enter a university next year.

Mitsuo: Don’t worry about that, just be pleased that I’m allowed into the third grade. Yuta failed one subject, music, and may not progress.

Mother: If it’s only music, can’t he manage?

Mitsuo: The class teacher asked the music teacher to give a make-up exam to Yuta, but she seems unwilling.

Mother: Artists are difficult people . . . Perhaps the class teacher will do something for Yuta. Well, I’m relieved that you just made it to the third grade.

Mitsuo: Not “just” — I was allowed into the third grade with no problem. Get it right, Mom.

Review & giveaway 12: Cool Japan Guide

15 Mar

Yet another review of a book and giveaway from Tuttle Books!!

(There is still time to enter in the drawing for a free copy of Japanese Design: Art, Aesthetics & Culture,
and “Comic Japan“.)

The next book that I’m am reviewing is a newly published book titled “Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen” by Abby Denson.

“Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen”

I will put the details of the free drawing for this book at the end of this post.

Ms. Denson is an American award-winning cartoonist who loves Japan and has visited often with her husband.

In this book, she describes with words and illustrations how to have an enjoyable trip to Japan.

If you are planning to visit Japan, have visited already or are currently here, this book will be very interesting and useful to you. In fact, even if you have no plans to actually visit Japan, you could still enjoy learning about Japan through the pages of this book.

Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen” is illustrated by the author on every page in comic-book style. It’s easy to understand, even if you have no knowledge of Japanese culture. Each chapter is prefaced with the definitions of numerous Japanese words and expressions to help your understanding further.

The last pages of the book also have useful website and smartphone app URLs.

Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen” can be purchased through Amazon here.

But, as I said above, Tuttle Books has agreed to give (given) one random visitor to my blog a free copy of this book.

To enter the drawing for the free book, submit this form by 2015 March 22nd:

***** Updated March 22nd, 2015 *****

This special promo ended on 2015 March 22nd. One random winner was selected and contacted directly by Tuttle Publishers (via email) with the details about the free book.

Thank you to all who entered, but only the winner was contacted.


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