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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Crazy Whim of the Day

Love in the Time of Cholera is one of my all-time favorite books. I've read the English language translation four times.

My wife has never read the Japanese copy I bought for her a few years back. So I'm gonna.

I don't really know why I'm blogging this. Maybe because it'll be harder to back out. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Behind The Scenes on Japanese TV in the Aftermath of the Disaster

Author's note:
The first part of this post is geared towards Japanese Language students. If you're interested in the disaster related content, skip down past the vocab lists.

I've mentioned this before, but if you watch Japanese TV,
you'll hear the same handful of words OVER and OVER and OVER again.

They boil down to three basic categories: "Delicious," "Beautiful/Cute," and "Feels Good!"

Which means that even a beginning Japanese student should be able to survive a Japanese TV appearance with the following five phrases:






Of course, I get a lot of mileage out of those five. But since I've started working in TV, I've found myself using some other words A LOT more than I used to. I'd like to introduce you to those today.

to be cured, healed

Used in relaxing situations. Connotations of peacefulness and quietness that magically clear away your stress. Good for nature and for onsen, and massages!

to calm down; to harmonize

Also good for relaxing. Great for quiet restaurants with traditional Japanese decor. Think relaxing on the tatami and drinking tea.

to be overwhelmed; over powered

Great for fantastic vistas, stunning scenery. Imagine a lookout point with a 360 degree view, beautiful in all directions. Or being confronted with like, an ENORMOUS tree that's been alive for thousands of years.


While I NEVER use the word mysterious in English, it gets used a lot in Japanese. The Easter Island statues are "shinpiteki." So are jellyfish. It's a great word to pull out for travel segments that involve shrines, natural wonders, or "power-spots." Or jellyfish museums.

the scenery

My English-language brain thinks that scenery always has to be outside, like a landscape, but 風景 can just be what's in your visual field. Interior decor can sometimes be described with 風景. The point is that it's what you're looking at, purposefully.

the scenery

THIS one is for the landscape :)

a superb view

A simple one word phrase that you can use to combine 風景 with 圧倒される。 Scenery that overwhelms you with how splendid it is. The kanji 絶, used in other compounds like 絶品 (a unique or superb item) or 絶妙 (exquisite, miraculous) has a touch of the high class to it.

the flavor; the air

Encompassing hospitality and atmosphere, it's the intangible feeling of a place. You don't have to add more descriptive language to this word. Think of it like "This place has character."

ふんいき (pronounced ふいんき)
the atmosphere

Again, the general feeling/mood of a place. This one is better used with descriptive words, and can be used to talk about places and people. Check this archived Nirav post for more detail.

wonderful; gorgeous; extravagant

Useful when faced with a lavish spread of food, or anything that was clearly expensive.

luxurious; extravagant

Again, luxury is usually determined by the money. A hamburger is おいしい. A hamburger made with Kobe beef is 贅沢。
How the Earthquake Affected Language on TV:
A handful of these words actually became NG (no good) to use on television recently.
In the aftermath of the Touhoku Earthquake/Tsunami, most Japanese regular TV programming was canceled or preempted.

For live entertainment based shows, like the one I work for, this meant going off of the air for a while. I had about 7 days of scheduled work that, due to the crisis, became inappropriate to air.

And when the regular TV shows did resume, it was with a more somber tone. My first day back at work, I had to present a segment about going to an aquarium, watching a dolphin show, visiting a petting zoo, and eating whale sashimi. All while Disaster Relief information and aftershock updates ticked across the bottom of the screen. You can imagine the delicate nature of trying to figure out what kind of mood you want to communicate to the viewers.

Because of that, in editing all of the footage we had shot, the directors chose to excise any instances of words like "extravagant," "luxurious," "fun," and even "delicious." Whole sections were cut out of a trip to Kumamoto segment, like a scene in which a local fish market presented us with a 5 pound brick of fresh sushi-grade maguro.

Even words like 癒される (to be healed), and 落ち着く(to relax) had to be called into question. We were being "healed" by relaxing in onsens. What right did we have to even talk about "healing" when those affected by the disasters were in real emotional and physical pain.?

The nature of these kinds of shows in general is problematic in a situation like this. The basic format is "We're going to show you someone enjoying something." When faced with a disaster, it suddenly became inconsiderate to do that. We were living it up, wasting money, and going on and on about how great it was.

Personally, I don't enjoy watching Japanese gourmet or travel shows, even in the best of times. Every reaction just seems over the top, and as a "reporter" having to rant and rave about how good the theme park curry is has only reinforced that opinion. So I was impressed by the recognition for the need for restraint and respect.

At the same time, I draw mental parallels between the director who says "We can't show people having fun" and the governor who says "It's inappropriate to hold a flower viewing party."

True, a private flower-viewing party with friends and family in a park isn't quite on the same scale as broadcasting a TV show next to disaster-related news. But for me, hanami and Japanese TV are both manifestations of the culture, and both hold a place in Japanese life. And there comes a time where you have to go back to normal life.

It's neither my intention nor my place to say "We've spent enough time on this disaster, let's move on." I actually would have preferred a longer moratorium on television shenanigans. It's REALLY uncomfortable trying to sell a fun little video clip of yourself rowing a boat and feeding ducks, when the news at the top of the hour is about evacuees.

I talk about TV's place in Japanese life because of the emails, faxes, and letters that the TV station receives.

Many of them say "Thank you." Just like the people who refused to abstain from hanami, the people who watch the show seem to feel that it's important to be able to have fun again. The messages are full of phrases like "元気を貰える” (we can get our positive energy back) or "笑顔が戻る" (to be able to smile/laugh again). They say they think it's important to be able watch someone "enjoying" things, because it lets them imagine themselves feeling the same way. They say it's what people need in a time like this.

I can see what they mean.

I also understand the opposing argument, that TV is used more to distract than to galvanize. But our show is still working to help support the survivors. The anchors have filmed a commercial that tells people what they can do to contribute. Miranba-kun, our mascot, makes public appearances and brings a donation box.

In any case, as of last week, "delicious" and "fun" are back on the table. On TV at least, it seems like everything's back to normal.

My Answer to The China, Korea, Japan question is finally up!

Question I got from JetDaisuke. What's the deal with Western movies and TV confusing Asian cultures?

Your comments really helped me with the answer to this one, so please, check it out: