Jan 16

WIT Life #294: 明けましておめでとうございます!

WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Happy New Year to all readers!  Hope the year of the monkey has been treating you well so far.  I am enjoying some time at home before my interpreting travel schedule begins at the end of this month.  My first State Department trip of the year will start in DC and finish in Hawaii, so I am very much looking forward to that!  After that I will be heading further east to Tokyo to work with a client over there, so many adventures on the road surely await…

Here are two Japan articles I recently read that I thought would be worth sharing.  The first from the Wall Street Journal talks about the aging of the Japanese population (高齢化 or koureika) and how companies are targeting this older generation.  The article highlights the business buzzword “end of life activities” (終活 or shuukatsu) being used to pitch products to the elderly.

There is even a costumed mascot known as Shu-Cat-su (シュウキャッツ), who has been attending trade fairs encouraging the elderly to purchase various services allowing them to better enjoy their golden years.  Pictured here, his headband reads “Be Alive!” and his profile explains that he is actually over 100 years old and also known as cat wizard (猫仙人 or neko-sennin). 

The second article is from the New York Times and takes a look at such Japanese mascots.  It profiles Miyazaki-based costume maker Hiromi Kano, who created one of Japan’s most popular creatures, Kumamon, the mascot for my JET home prefecture of Kumamoto.  He didn’t exist when I lived there about 15 years ago, but since that time his popularity has spread across the country like wildfire and he got to meet the Emperor in 2013!  These mascots (ゆるキャラ or yura-kyara, a combination of yurui, meaning loose or laid-back, and kyara, for character) are a booming business, one foreign entities looking to make inroads into Japan can’t ignore.  Ms. Kano gave an interesting read on why yuru-kyara are necessary: “Japanese people have this desire to take the sharp edges off things, to take hard things and make them soft.”  Sounds like these mascots play a large role in preserving the harmony (和 or wa) favored in Japanese society.


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