LDP presidential candidate Hayashi: “Let’s play kabuki”

This morning’s NHK Sunday political show contained a disturbing reimportation of the term political kabuki.

The candidates for LDP president were debating their stances on US base relocation, and one, Yoshimasa Hayashi, made the comment (if memory serves) that if Japan cannot deliver progress in negotiations then the bilateral talks would be nothing but political theater.

Specifically, he said they would turn into “let’s play kabuki” (レッツプレイカブキ) apparently referring to the tendency for the US media to refer to kabuki theater in this sense.

Ugh. My least favorite media cliche is now being adopted by the highest levels of Japan’s political establishment.

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I don’t even really like this show that much because it tends to be nothing but unsurprising political bromides, and whatever value they have is directed at the politicos in Nagatacho, not a general audience. I always end up watching though because it comes right after one of my favorite shows 小さな旅 (“Little Adventures” is how I prefer to translate it). It’s a fun travel show but I especially like it for its amazing theme music, written by Yuji Ohno of Lupin III fame. Here it is thanks to the magic of YouTube:

Update on life in Tokyo

A lot has changed for me over the past year and a half. I won’t go into too much detail, but the biggest shift has been my new job. In September 2009 I started translating for an equity research team, which means I spend my days reading and translating reports on publicly listed Japanese companies and the stock market in general.

It’s a fun and deeply interesting job, but it’s had an impact on my commitment to blogging in a big way, for a few reasons. For one thing, I came into the job with a woeful lack of knowledge about stocks and finance. I’ve been spending many nights studying to try and fill in the gaps. Only recently have I felt ready to try and start broadcasting my thoughts again.

Also, all the background research about the Japanese corporate world has had an unexpected side-effect: it more or less satisfies my urge to do the same thing on MFT. I mean, why blog about how Saizeriya serves TV dinners as restaurant food, when I already spent the better part of a day writing the same thing in an analyst report? It feels redundant. Most times, I can’t even be bothered to post something on Twitter.

Recently, I have felt a little more confident in focusing on blogging again. But when I opened the WordPress site, I had a bit of writer’s block. My thinking and interests have changed since the time when I was blogging about pillow-girlfriends and the like. At this point, I don’t know what future posts will look like, but at the very least it now seems kind of pointless to snipe at foreign press coverage of Japan. Working in the investment world with a team of veteran translators has probably skewed my perspective.  I will probably spend more time talking about things like the Gyoza no Ohsho training scandal.

Life in Tokyo in 2011

It’s been almost four years since Mrs. Adamu and I moved to Tokyo, and this September will mark the 12th anniversary of my first landing in Japan at Kansai International Airport. The me of 12 years ago probably couldn’t imagine how I’d be living today. Of course my life has taken many unexpected twists and turns, but more generally, the life of a gaijin in Japan seems much more comfortable and less alienating than it used to be, at least from my perspective.

When I was a high school exchange student, my contacts with the home country were basically limited to monthly visits with other exchange students and the occasional rented movie or episode of Full House on Japanese TV. It didn’t matter much because I was concentrating on learning Japanese to fulfill my newfound dream of one day appearing on one of those shows where Japanese-speaking foreigners argue about politics.

But on the flight home something odd happened. Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers was showing on the in-flight entertainment, and for some reason I couldn’t stop laughing at all the cheesy jokes. I had been away from American humor for so long that even a little taste of it made me crack up. It happened again during my Kyoto study abroad days, when about six months in I watched Ace Ventura Pet Detective.

I don’t have those moments anymore.

I am typing this post on a laptop connected to my home WiFi connection, a few minutes after catching up with The Daily Show and Colbert Report. I can download/stream any movie or music I want using one of the world’s fastest Internet connections, while my cable TV opens up even more possibilities. The Net has all the world’s news. Skype lets me video-chat with my parents at holidays. There are two Costcos within a reasonable driving distance, and a decent amount of import stores that allow me to easily and cheaply cook American food if I so desire. I bought a queen-size bed at Ikea. Hyogo and Kyoto in 1999 and 2002 offered none of these, for both financial and technological reasons.

In so many ways, living in Tokyo in 2011 lets me keep my feet in both Japanese and American cultures. Obviously, I would not trade these comforts, but in a lot of ways it muddies the idea of assimilating into Japanese culture and fundamentally feeling like I live in a foreign country. If it mattered to me, I guess I could tilt the balance of my media/entertainment more toward the Japanese side, but it doesn’t. When I was younger I was all about learning to understand Japanese TV and movies and reading manga. But these days I know most Japanese TV is utterly stupid, and it’s rare for me to encounter a manga title that really grabs me (the last one was Ishi No Hana). Who knows, this might be another reason some of my old go-to blog topics seem less interesting now.

Hello Kitty owner turns things around by licensing anything and everything


Source: Pop Crunch

I’ve long been a detractor of Sanrio’s policy of licensing Hello Kitty’s image to appear on just about anything (and some offerings have been downright questionable [NSFW]). But apparently, if you throw hundreds of darts at the board over ten years, you’re eventually going to hit a few bulls-eyes:

Sanrio Co., the Japanese owner of the Hello Kitty character brand, may boost profit after arresting a 10-year slide in sales by slapping its logo on wine, wallpaper and minicars.

The popularity of Hello Kitty, a white cat with a red bow and no mouth, with celebrities including Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton, has led the company to focus on licensing and to pare its retail and restaurant businesses (Sanrio intends to shut 40 of its 260 gift shops in Japan over the next three years).

Sanrio almost doubled overseas licenses last year and counts clothing chains Hennes & Mauritz AB and Inditex SA as customers. President Shintaro Tsuji, 82, plans to set up an office in Dubai this month to grow in the Middle East.
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An appearance by Hilton, a reality TV player, at Sanrio’s 35th birthday party for Hello Kitty, and by Gaga, a pop singer, on Japanese television holding a stuffed toy, helped the company boost fiscal 2009 sales 0.8 percent from the previous year, the first annual gain since 1999.

“Hello Kitty’s Zen-like calmness and faceless expression are the major reasons for its appeal across age groups and markets,” said Martin Roll, chief executive officer of Singapore-based consulting firm VentureRepublic.


Note that a major part of the strategy is to “expand beyond Europe, North America, and Japan”—in other words, the developed world might have had enough of Hello Kitty, so now it’s time to endear her to the rest of the world. Click through to see Lady Gaga in a Japanese TV appearance, decked out in Hello Kitty everything:

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White American pop singers marketed in Japan

Update: They are apparently not managed by Johnny’s.


Every girl’s fantasy English teachers?

Meet the EastWest Boys. Assembled by Johnny’s Entertainment Sony Music Japan through an audition process, the group, dubbed a “5 in 300 million miracle,” is being solely marketed and promoted within Japan, where they are competing for the hearts of teenage girls.

For their latest single “Take Me There,” they have entered a promotional tie-up with fashion brand Peach John (whose president was mired in scandal last year over a dead woman in her apartment). They are on the cover of the latest catalog and lucky viewers will be able to catch their song on TV ads.

Here’s a YouTube video of a single that recently got some play on Japanese TV, “This Time”:

Sure, I have seen dozens of cheap, poorly produced Japanese pop acts, and some pretty bad American pop groups as well. But watching Americans run through the exact same half-baked dance routines as SMAP produces a special kind of cognitive dissonance.

Johnny’s has made sure to add a few bells and whistles to maximize appeal – the songs are in simple English, and the melody has enough of a pop-punk/emo feel to seem kind of foreign. This was the tune I saw on a few morning shows promoting the group as a new kind of pop act. Girls attending promotional appearances looked overjoyed to hug their new idols.

The music gets much worse when you watch the videos for songs that people didn’t pay enough attention to. “Yesterday’s Hero” was obviously filmed in the exact same warehouse, and the song is 100% cookie-cutter J-POP – no halfway-redeeming nods to American emo to be found. Are they wearing primary colors to make them look like Power Rangers?

While there’s not much to compare, a much, much more listenable American entrant into the Japanese pop world is Jero, the African American enka singer.

The group’s videos are hosted on an official channel, which is kind of a departure for Johnny’s who until recently had a strictly Internet-phobic PR stance. By offering some of their content for free on the web, they are clearly trying to save some PR money by generating buzz online. The upside of that strategy is it gives us a lot of information on these guys that is usually not available on your typical J-pop group.

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The toilet god

Here is an interesting song from singer Kana Uemura called “The Toilet God.”

The video (hosted by her record company) is apparently popular, currently checking in with just under a million views. Her album Pieces of Me has hit #10 on the Oricon charts but has since slipped to 17th place. I think part of the buzz comes from the juxtaposition of the silly sounding title and the somber content.

The song tell the story of the singer’s bittersweet relationship with her grandmother and runs about 10 minutes long. The title comes from the grandmother’s original way to get her to clean the toilets. Basically, there’s a goddess in the toilet who will make you grow up to be a beautiful woman only if you make the toilet spotless.

The story, based on Uemura’s real-life experiences growing up and then leaving Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture (incidentally, where I spent a year as an exchange student) is nothing short of heart-breaking: the girl moves in with her grandmother and the two get along until she reaches her rebellious teenage years. They fight and eventually she leaves the house for Tokyo. Two years later, the grandmother falls ill. The singer visits but is soon turned away. The grandmother dies the next day, leaving the singer with no chance to make amends for all the trouble she caused.

This song has a lot of elements that often help spell pop success:

– An attractive singer-songwriter with a guitar – Tear-jerking lyrics – Shout-outs to local dialects (she sings in Kansai-ben)

And to that she has added a twist, the off-color song title.

It’s tempting to call this the pop song equivalent of a keitai novel, but I liked it because it while it is heavy on the pathos, it still rings true because the story is so common and familiar. This song doesn’t offer a voyeuristic look at a dysfunctional family so much as a raw reminder of our own private dysfunctions.

See below for my quick and dirty translation of the lyrics:
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The Jones hitch-up post-game show: notes on getting married in Japan

I will be traveling over the next few weeks to Austria, Hungary, Italy, Greece and France on a mega-honeymoon with the newly-rechristened Mrs. Jones. Special thanks go out to Roy, the Adamus, Curzon, Younghusband, Peter and his wife, Aceface, Ben, the Gaijin Biker gang, and the many other members of our brilliant cast of characters friends who came to the wedding.

We am getting on a plane to Europe as this goes to press, and I will hopefully be back before long with some good travelogue fodder from this multi-modal, multi-destination itinerary. With that, some topical rambling on the marriage process follows: Continue reading

WITNESS the seedy underbelly of the Visual Kei scene

Everyone, stop what you’re doing and read Tokyo Damage Report’s epic piece on the visual kei music scene. The way it’s written makes it hard to quote, but here are some relevant facts. The interview is long but well worth your time. Read to find out:

  • The coming together of of shojo manga and glam rock that created Visual Kei in the 80s.

  • How Japanese recording acts are formed and popularized.

  • How popular bands find ways to maximize revenue from fans (selling photos, lots of “limited edition” merchandise, and special izakaya parties for the most gullible/hardcore fans)

  • Where the labels go to find talent (it’s mostly ex-thugs).

  • Why Japanese record producers—think Yasushi Akimoto of AKB48, Tsunku of Morning Musume, etc.—are so heavily relied upon to produce every aspect of the final product that they become drug-addled auteurs.

  • The typical salary for a visual kei band member (lots of in-kind perks, very little cash)... and why they put up with it

  • The willingness of label bosses to forego short-term financial gain in favor of long-term connections (perhaps an ubiquitous aspect of Japanese business relations)

For some reason he’s been sitting on this gem since 2008! Shame on you, man.

It’s hard to tell the credibility of some parts, but I think it’s easier to swallow as a true-to-life mockumentary than as a faithfully transcripted interview.

To close out, here’s the video for one of my favorite viz-k songs, Luna Sea’s “Tonight”:

AKB48 fan arrested for taking their business model to its logical conclusion

Today we have news of a fan of girl pop group AKB48 who just had to keep the fantasy going, no matter the cost:

Police on Friday re-arrested an overzealous fan of idol group AKB48, adding to previous charges of theft for which he is already on trial. Masayuki Fujioka, 35, is suspected of committing 151 robberies in four prefectures. He was quoted by police as saying, “I needed money for train fare and concerts so I could chase AKB48.”

According to police, Fujioka illegally trespassed in a construction site in Tochigi City on the night of Oct 6, breaking into a vending machine and stealing 4,700 yen. Authorities say that, since around December 2002, Fujioka committed 151 robberies in Tochigi, Saitama, Ibaraki and Gunma prefectures, stealing a total of 4.1 million yen.


While we have no way of knowing whether this guy really was spending it all on AKB48, it certainly rings true. AKB48 has been a phenomenal success story in what is otherwise a shrinking and lackluster music scene in Japan. The concept is “idols you can actually meet.” While the music and dancing are nothing special, they are very able at appealing to an audience of young “otaku” men. In 2009, AKB48 became more popular than ever, moving from the “fringe” status as an otaku group to more mainstream exposure on TV and magazines.

The group consists of 3 “teams” of around 16 members each (age range: 16-24) who perform semi-independently. With so many to choose from, in addition to dozens of “trainees” aged 15-20, the fans tend to choose one favorite and follow her closely.

The producer, Yasushi Akimoto, exercises total control over the process and has been called a genius for his business model. It combines the J-pop practice of building a long-term, loyal fan base (many old bands long past their prime can still crank out hit singles and fill arenas for this reason), the penchant for fawning over young, innocent girls in the otaku subculture, and the revenue maximization strategy of a hostess bar.

It’s that last part that has led to some illegality and controversy. Here’s a list of some of the group’s money-making practices, some of which I cribbed from a lengthy piece in the Sankei Shimbun:

  • Perhaps the group’s biggest source of revenue is “handshaking events” where fans who bought a limited edition single on the official website receive a ticket that lets them meet and greet a member of their choice. The rarity of these tickets makes them popular items on Yahoo Auctions, Japan’s answer to eBay. The biggest fans find a girl they like and try to attend as many of the events as possible. Of course, the group also releases CDs and holds concert tours just like any other band, though they operate their own proprietary ticketing system.

  • One CD came with a “ballot” that the buyer could use to vote for who will sing on the next AKB48 single. Some of the more avid fans bought hundreds of CDs to vote for their favorites. A journalist in the Sankei explains this is very similar to when a customer at a hostess bar will buy drink after drink for his favorite to help her succeed.

  • Another CD release came with a poster of a random member included. Fans started trading on online auctions to try and collect them all.

  • The group’s home turf is the 8th floor of the Don Quijote discount shop in Akihabara. Members perform just about every day (having a giant roster of 100 members and sub-members helps keep this going).

  • Members also regularly appear in weekly magazine photo spreads in what is very close to softcore porn, not something an earlier, similar group Morning Musume would have done.

  • On their website, there is a link to an address where you are invited to send “fan letters and gifts.”

  • Akimoto is trying to franchise the “48” idea to other countries, envisioning a Paris 48 or Jakarta 48. There was a documentary a couple months ago about his trip to a marketing convention to try and sell the idea, but so far I have not heard whether he succeeded or not.

In addition to the thief mentioned earlier, other criminals have sold counterfeit event tickets, and one fan started stealing a member’s mail. Clearly some kind of fan worship goes on with any popular group, but AKB48 has clearly done a better job than most of exploiting the relationship between performer and fan.

Via CNNgo and Japan Today