Must-see video on Youtube and the American quest for authenticity

Thanks to Gen Kanai for passing on this landmark lecture on Youtube culture and how it’s turning all Americans into attention whores who can only find validation through media exposure:

This appears to be on the same page as J Smooth’s observations about how even as the Youtube generation mourns Michael Jackson’s death, now that everyone is a media star they must deal with the same pressures of public exposure that Jackson faced:

An ex-diplomat’s three-step English boot camp for university students


Shunji Yanai, former Japanese ambassador to the United States and current judge at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, offers some radical measures to help university students bring their English communication skills up to speed.

Writing in the July 21 evening edition of the Nikkei Shimbun, he explains that when he first started teaching at a university after retiring as a diplomat, he was asked to help lead extracurricular study sessions for students.

Though his students could read English fairly well, he soon became painfully aware of their poor conversational English. Typically, he blamed Japan’s education system for emphasizing test preparation over actual communication skills.

Out of a concern for their futures as global citizens, Yanai came up with the following crash course to whip the students into shape:

  1. Memorize and recite US presidents’ political speeches: He made all his students memorize a speech word for word and recite it in front of the group. The variety of sentence structures in each speech helped with conversational skills and composition, while speaking at length trained their mouth muscles to speak in English.
  2. Memorize jazz standards and listen and sing along to the songs at live performances: He took some of his students to jazz bars and pays for their drinks… on the condition that they memorize the lyrics ahead of time. Singing along to the songs with some drinks in them, he claims, helped students start speaking more fluently.
  3. Place a digestive pill in your mouth to help learn how to pronounce R’s differently from L’s: Japanese people grow up without using the English L and R sounds in their everyday lives – the sounds in standard Japanese that are written with a letter “R” in English are actually pronounced with a sound that’s somewhere between the L in “la” and the “D” in “dog.” To fix that problem, Yanai had students practice saying R words with a pill of biofermin digestive medicine in their mouths. The weight of the pill kept their tongues from hitting the roofs of their mouths, which would result in a mistaken L sound.

Now, I seriously doubt Yanai ever used these methods on himself. As a former diplomat he has presumably gone through the foreign ministry’s rigorous language training. As far as I can tell from the diplomats I have met over the years, this training is highly effective – every Japanese diplomat I’ve met has spoken very good, fluent English. If this is because of days spent with pills in their mouths, I would be very surprised.

I am far from an expert in English teaching methods, but I can’t help but question this plan’s effectiveness. Can a strict regimen of memorizing speeches and jazz songs, recitation, and jury-rigged palate correction do what commitment, good guidance, and more traditional practice cannot?

Great news! Sears Tower is now the (Wesley) Willis Tower

It’s a good day in America, folks: the Sears Tower has been renamed!

CHICAGO (AP) — The Sears Tower, one of the world’s iconic skyscrapers and the tallest building in the U.S., was renamed the Willis Tower on Thursday in a downtown ceremony, marking a new chapter in the history of the giant edifice that has dominated the Chicago skyline for nearly four decades.

The linked story might claim the building is being named after an insurance broker. But that’s just not true. Everyone knows the building was named after the late native Chicagoan and prolific schizophrenic songwriter Wesley Willis.

Rock over London! Rock on Chicago! Taco Bell: Make a run for the border!

As a fan of his since junior high, I was shocked when Willis died in 2003. I couldn’t think of a better tribute than to name a huge building after him!

How to void a new lease on life

From Young Jeezy‘s Wikipedia entry:
In the early hours of September 29, 2007, Young Jeezy totaled his Lamborghini when it was hit by a taxi crossing Peachtree Street, outside of Justin’s, Sean Combs’ restaurant in Atlanta. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported his claim that this gave him “a new appreciation for life”.  In Atlanta on June 18, 2008, police arrested him for DUI.

That might sound ridiculous, but at least Jeezy is a pretty good rapper. My personal favorite is “Soul Survivor” (no embedding, sadly) in which he talks about how the police unfairly target him… for being a cocaine dealer. This is a running theme in his work.

1984 in Japanese pop: “Careless Whisper” gone horribly wrong

Our frequent commenter Peter alerted me to the following travesty to 80’s music, which appeared in the 1984 Kohaku (“Red Versus White” New Year’s Eve song battle on NHK).

The translated title, Dakishimete Jiruba, is a bit cryptic at first. “Dakishimete” means something like “Hold me tight,” and jiruba is the Japanese transliteration of “jitterbug.”

I do not know what was wrong with Japan in 1984. But as it turns out, the only way to screw up this classic song even more is to have Hide from L’Arc~en~Ciel sing it in English. You might as well ask a random drunk in a karaoke box to try it.

Weekend J-Pop: Ayumi Nakamura, “Tsubasa no Oreta Angel” (Angels with Broken Wings)

【中村あゆみ】 翼の折れたエンジェル (Ayumi Nakajima Nakamura, “Tsubasa no Oreta Angel” (Angels with Broken Wings))

This song from the 80s has a definite “Japanese woman sings Bruce Springsteen” feel to it, right down to the E Street Band-style saxophone. For lack of anything better to do, I listened to this song about 20 times on the way back from the US recently. You might remember it was used in a recent beer commercial, though I forget which one.

The ANA-Shinsei theme music continuum

If you spend enough time in Japan with consumption habits like mine, you will eventually discover that All Nippon Airways and Shinsei Bank have very similar corporate theme songs. This is because both songs were composed and performed by Taro Hakase, a Japanese violinist who sports a generous afro, a skilled bow and a sizable repertoire of corporate contracts.

Here’s the ANA music, “Another Sky,” as presented in their employee tribute video which plays while an ANA flight deplanes. They also play it as hold music on their reservations line and as boarding music on international flights.

And the slightly sadder Shinsei theme song, “Color Your Life,” as performed live by Mr. Hakase. Unlike ANA, Shinsei doesn’t have an opportunity to force-feed this one to every customer, although you can easily get a whiff of it as the hold music on their customer service line. “Color Your Life” is also the company’s retail banking slogan, to tie in with its offering of cash cards in every color.

This is why being on hold with Shinsei gets me in the mood to take a flight somewhere.

How to kill the “turning Japanese” cliche?


Turning Japanese

Adam Posen of the Peterson Institute for International Economics is the go-to guy for understanding Japan’s lost decade. From prepared testimony for a Joint Economic Committee hearing tomorrow…

What follows is thankfully not Adam Posen reading the words “turning Japanese” into the Congressional record, but I swear if I see that phrase again I might just rip myself in half, Rumpelstiltzken-style.

Now, here at Mutant Frog we like to follow cliches in the media, my own favorites being the overused “kabuki” and the often-used but always amusing “slammed!”  But “turning Japanese” is just so cringe-worthy that I haven’t been able to bring myself to mention it.

I am not sure why I hate this phrase so much, but I suspect it’s got a lot to do with the grating awfulness of the original song. I mean, imagine if every time Spain is mentioned on CNN they started playing “Hey, Macarena!” That’s how this makes me feel.

So what can be done to end this painful abuse of the English language? I was thinking it might make a difference if someone came out with a new definitive song about Japan, this time without the cartoonish 80s new wave voices and stereotypically “Asian” intro melody. Please let me know your ideas so we can finally take care of this important issue.

(Bonus: See Marxy’s take on the song at the bottom of the link)