Japanese and Cherry blossom (sakura)

From the end of March to beginning of May, Japan is colored pink everywhere by the flowers. It is season of cherry blossom which we call Sakura(桜).

During this season, many people go out and enjoy beauty of this flower day and night. There is a Sakura forecast aside from weather forecast. Japanese people know when can be the best timing to enjoy the flower.

Many foreign friends remember my country with this beautiful floor. In fact, when I asked students here in the Philippines; what do they know about my country, one of the list they mentioned is Sakura.

I could say we have sort of special feeling toward it. In my view, the following can be the reasons why it is so special to us.

Period of this flower 
Only once a year, during March to May, we can see it blooming. Period we can enjoy Sakura is very short. Sakura blooms usually around 2 weeks. Once we notice it starts blooming, next time we see it falling. Some counts how many times enjoy this view in my life time...It sounds very melancholic.

Sakura often becomes theme in Poems, Haiku and songs (even pop songs).

久かたのひかりのどけき春の日にしづ心なく花のちるらむ (Hisakata no hikari nodokeki harunohi ni shizu kokoronaku hanano chiru ramu) 

Meaning of this poem is:
Flower petals are falling while we enjoy subdued spring sun light. Even though it is mild day of spring, why Sakura is rushing to fall.  

When I was elementary, teacher requests us to memorized all one hundred poems. This was the one I remembered the most because it appeals to our imagination and describes well its beauty and melancholiness.

It blooms after long cold winter season. Spring is people awaiting season. Sakura become one of symbol of Spring.
Season of Sakura is also season of graduation or entrance ceremony. So some people may recall memories of graduation or entrance  of schools.

Sakura ends gracefully. Even thought it is beautiful and people praise its beauty very highly, it seems knowing its time ending.
In our society, people appreciate this kind of attitude. As the proverb says, A defeated general should not talk of the battle.

Color of Sakura
Color of Sakura is pink but it is close to color white. Its color is not appealing itself. It may not irrelevance that Japanese like a self-effacing person.

My province in Japan, season of cherry blossom has ended. Sadly, I missed the season again this year.


Valentine's Day in Japan

Last night, I saw one of my niece preparing a Valentine's Day card for someone. I asked who will receive the card. She answered someone's name but I do not know that person and it seems not her clash. He might be a teacher? I missed chance to tease her.

Since yesterday, my nieces and relative's girl greeted me by saying Happy Valentine's Day. I heard this greeting from the radio too. This morning, my husband also greeted me in that way. It is weird to hear so because we are a couple not celebrating any date except Christmas.

As a Japanese who has been observe very strange Valentine's Day's tradition in my country, I sort of get disenchanted with the day. It might be a reason why I am sort of nothing to say about this day even people greeted me by saying Happy Valentine's day.

The following four points might be uniquely observed in Japan on this day.

1. Gift on this day is dominantly chocolate
Do you like Chocolate?
It is not bad to chose a chocolate as a gift. In fact, I pick this as a gift or souvenir for friends or relatives and I love it. But what if the gift is dominantly chocolate and people somehow expect to receive this?
Before this day, shopping malls, super markets and even convenience stores display different kind of Valentine's Day chocolate. This is commercialized event which was created by chocolate industry :D We are all aware of this point but people still consider chocolate is the gift on the day.

2. Girl to boy, one-way gift giving event
It is commonly observed one-way, female to male gift giving. The reason why this practice- female to male gift giving- are accepted in our society, can be academic  research :D
Why not, other way around? Is it because our society decades ago male is the one who are expected to lead the relationship? So if we revise the gender based expected action, it shows empowerment female? Female is not anymore being passive in the relationship.
Or simply is it just commercially motivated? Male like my husband! usually do not care about the day or event. So it is better to start from female? If female gave a gift to a male, he feels obliged to return a gift to her?

Anyway, we somehow imprinted this idea.            

3. Opportunity to express love
Elementary days, there were several very courageous girls to give a chocolate to her clash. It was sign she liked him. Even she declare her love for her clash. The idea won't change that much even we get old.    

4. Chocolate out of courtesy
Previously I mentioned, chocolate is sign of love on the day of Valentine's day. But we are people obsessing sense of obligation. This sense applies even to this event. How? Women prepare chocolate(or gift) for her clash or loved one, but at the same time, they prepare chocolate for her colleagues and close male friends too. It is called "giri choco" (chocolate out of courtesy). Eventually, girl spend a lot to distribute chocolate.
By the way, there are categorizations of level of chocolate(or other gifts). Honmei choco means chocolate for your special someone. Tomo choco means chocolate for (usually female) friends. Anyway, girls love chocolate. It is nice to bond among friends.

I usually enjoyed tomo chocolate from my female friends who are good at these things. In this way, I enjoyed this day..I wish Happy Valentine's Day.



Japanese cuisines in Albert Heijin published magazine

When I went to Albert Heijin, super market chain in Netherlands, I took the magazine, allerhande because of curiosity. To know the culture of the country, we better eat food as local people do and learn their language. So, I wanted to learn something very Dutch aside from Stamppot.

However, my expectation sort of ended as disappointing result because variety of food in that magazine are mostly international foods not classical Dutch food.

Well, but it was published for mainly for Dutch, they do not need to learn classical Dutch food in this monthly published free magazine. And in the front page, it says "azie easy". That is why there are many Asian cuisine recipes. I just did not pay much attention to the feature of this month before I brought this home!

Then, I flip its pages all over again. I found Japanese dishes they picked for this magazine interesting. There are four, Yakitori, temaki-zushi, maki-zushi(hand-rolled sushi) and even Nigiri zushi(hand-shaped sushi).

Amazingly, they covered how to use chopsticks!

Yakitori is grilled chicken which is cooked over charcoal with special source. It is usually served in
Japanese style bar and stand. I have never cooked Yakitori in my house. In the presentation of the magazine, Yakitori serves with noodle. I think I will try this combination once I go back to Japan.

One of the well-known or only known (for some people) Japanese food is sushi. So it was no wonder why sushi was introduced there but I have seen the magazine features maki-sushi but not nigiri sushi.

I watched the videos of these dishes on the website, http://www.ah.nl/allerhande/clusterdetail/N-1z13nka/azie.
It is enjoyable that how people prepare our food in different cultural setting.

I realize that Dutch food is not known much in my country! In fact, food about Netherlands my another weblog in Japanese has been browsed by many Japanese. They might be wondering what people here are eating everyday. It might be nice to add one more article to suggest to cook Dutch food in their house?!

maki sushi which my friend made!
Now, while I am experiencing variety of stampot, I am thinking how can I fusion Japanese and Dutch food. I am still exploring this. I heard the cream cheese soaked miso paste is match well with beer. I wish I will find such a miracle combination.


General house cleaning and practicing dan sha ri (断捨離)

As one of practice of my family is general house cleaning in the end of year. Most probably all family members are required to join this event. Idea of this clean up is for preparing to welcome toshigami (God of shinto) and start new year on new note.

It was seasonal tradition in Japan. Duster and broom are used to be typical tools for this. We cover our head with scarf or towel and mouth with mask then, fling dust off from ceiling, ramp shade and walls. We do clean the rooms completely. Family members are assigned to the place to clean. Nowadays I haven't seen this family event much. One of the reasons is technological advantages. The research has been done by marketing research company Intage (2006).

However, there are many information regarding general house cleaning. How to schedule this, tips, tools, and throw. Especially, dan sha ri (断捨離)- to reduce unnecessary stuffs from our life to bring harmony to our life - became a sort of trend and it goes with general clean up. This word was introduced in the book and awarded the grand prize in the annual buzzwords-of-the-year contest in 2010.

Origin of the word came from yoga practice and it was applied to daily life. Dan (断) means to refuse unnecessary stuffs coming to us. Sha(捨)means to throw away unnecessary stuffs in our house. Sha(捨)means to leave ourselves from love of things.

I totally agreed with this because we have things more than we need. But one simple question remains. How are person who grow up highly consuming society accustomed not purchasing stuffs? My observation is easy to throw things up than to refuse to buy things.

In my experience, letting things out and refusing unnecessarily things were not so bad. After I left my hometown, I move one to another places. Technically I could not own stuffs except few selected items. Saddest moment of giving up was to sell or give away one shelf of books I have in Japan before I left there because no strange to save and not bring to abroad. But all these old book might have blocked new idea to come to me. If these things are necessaries in my life, it will come back.

Today, I did general clean up here in the temporary house and felt refreshed. I hope my new year will bring me new learning and experiences.


Why majority of Japanese can't speak English? - personal journey of learning English

Why majority of Japanese can't speak English?
My foreign friends ask me whether we have English subject in school or not. Sure, we do have it. But we still remain poor. Some claimed it in their blogs by citing comparative TOEIC(Test of English for International Communication) score data among Asian countries. It said we are 27 out of 30 countries or 30 out of 30 countries. So far, I could not find origin of these data yet. I do not believe until I read these data but I could sense we are the one of these countries of poor ability of English.

I am wondering why Japanese can't speak English even our English subject has started when we are Junior High school. Japanese people learn English for 6-9 years on average.

Based on my experience, roughly there are three major reasons behind poor English language ability of Japanese people. First reason is educational system, secondly, attitude, and the last might be our environment.

English education in my generation
"This is a pen." It was the phrase which I learned very beginning of Junior High school days. Most of my friends were excited at the learning English because it was something new to us and made them realized that they were finally becoming a Junior High School student. Excitement being Junior High School student came from that way. However, it is obviously we do not use in conversation.

Our English education might contain several challenges. These are age issue, time we learn per week and, methodology.
Learning English is at the age of 13 is quite late. 3-4 hours per week was the length of time we learned in the school. It is too little if we intend to speak in English.
Focus was grammar and reading. We listened cassette tape (not CD yet!!) and follow after non native English teacher besides never study abroad. For me, I hardly recognized my English teacher's pronunciation, dog and doll !! 

Attitude toward learning
It is easy to say that do not be shy to commit mistakes. However, most of Japanese, we are avoiding mistakes. More than shyness, actually few chances of speaking out leads few trial in their speaking practice.

When I was a junior high school student, I did not want to pronounce in front of classmates. If my sentences were grammatically incorrect,  I started to repeat these in mind. I tend to reflect these over and over again, which made me so tired. That is so-called vicious cycle.

No urgent
We live in the country where we could survive without using it daily In the job market, nowadays we often require to submit the score of English proficiency test. However, English is not commanding language in the most of work places. How we can see the situation after learning hard this. There is a question, are we motivated enough to learn this?
We have to have own sources of motivation if we want to improve it.

It was the after the University I started studying English in serious manner. Soon after my graduation, I experienced 3 weeks abroad for volunteering. Then, I was totally stressed out not expressing myself well. My promise after the event was to reach my English upto the level I express myself freely. Well, I am still on the progress.

No remedy for improvement? 
Yeah, there is no remedy for it unless we are totally motivated doing so, more chances to speak and drastic change of English education methodology. How long does it take to come all these together? I have no idea however, Whether true or not, I heard nowadays elementary school is going to have English subject from grade 4. It might be starting point of changes.

What I thought I need to do several things in order to get better my English are Improving Japanese language. It seems like long way around however, if we are not good at commanding our native tongue, how we will be a good speaker of other languages.
Having friends from different nationalities is one of these resolutions. It creates necessity of speaking. If we want to get close to that person we might be motivated to practice more to have nice conversation with her or him.
After reaching certain level, we can have a field of expertise. Then we can dig in that field to talk and discuss it in English.

I hope 10-20 years from now there is no admiration just speaking in English. If people go through 12 years educational system, people at least express even simple stuff in English. And hopefully, we will have more chance to learn languages of neighboring countries.


Japanese Finance Drama HANZAWA NAOKI is trailblazing.

HANZAWA NAOKI is the main character of ongoing popular Japanese drama about a banker. Its audience rate has reached 32.9%, with the highest rate reaching 37.5% at one point in Kanto area. Recently, only few TV dramas have reached over 30% audience rate because of a declining trend of television viewing in Japan. The record shows people's strong interest towards this kind of drama. Even the drama director was surprised at this enthusiasm and interest.

Admittedly, I am one of these audience. This dram doesn't follow popular drama which contains several factors such as, few female characters, less prominence of love story, and lacking of easy tunes and impressive music. In general, this kind of drama is not one of those that can gain such a high audience rate every week. Nonetheless it continues to buck the trend and surprise the TV reviewers.

This drama is based on Jun Ikeido's series of novels. The story is about a banker who joined a Japanese major bank in the late bubble economy period in the 1990s. The main character, Naoki Hanzawa stands up to and overcome adversities. This story strikes a chord in Japanese hearts and memories of not so long time ago and a shared past.

I argue that there are several reasons in this drama that allow us to get hooked.

So, what grabs the audience's heart and attention?

Structure and story itself
It is a financial drama which brings out masculinity in the audience - the element of being in control. It is an entertaining story which contains moral, similar to what we find in samurai drama. However, not simple as samurai drama, it includes desire and struggle. It may be fictitious but anyone human can relate with it.

It is a financial drama, therefore it shows somehow banking business or presents the financial world to the audience. Little do we know about banker's real life. By the way, the author used to work in bank, that is why the characters and story are vividly described. But since it is a drama, an element of exaggeration cannot be ruled out. Thus often, we hear some technical jargons, which make us somehow learn the work of a banker. We are drawn to his world.

It is piquant. There is a figure of justice and evil. Then, of course Hanzawa plays on the justice side. He has never compromised his values to achieve his goal, even against those in top management. His words exude powerful and challenging tone. It seems that there is Hanzawa in each one of us who strive to say and stand up for what we believe in even against those with power in the office. We find Hanzawa living what we ought to be in the office.

Comic-like camera work
It is like Japanese anime's framing. Especially, I feel it when camera zoomed in Hanzawa's eyes. The familiarity of an comic book framing can be one of its strong point that drives its popularity.

In the drama, Hanzawa describes the nature and work of banking. Banks can lend us umbrella when it is even sunny; then they get rid of it when it rains. I say it is true based on my experience. That's why I am sometimes infuriated at the government's policy toward the so called mega bank. At the same time, some of my relatives are working in financial sectors. I am quite interested in how they see this drama.