Dec 12

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

As my last post mentioned we are in the midst of the “best of” season, and the latest is the announcement of the kanji of the year. The pick for 2018 is 災 (sai, or disaster), as in 自然災害 (shizen saigai or natural disaster) and 災い (wazawai or trouble/misfortune). As Japan is no stranger to natural disasters, this kanji had been chosen once before in 2004. That was the year of the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake, the deadliest earthquake to strike Japan since 1995’s Great Hanshin earthquake (incidentally, the kanji of the year tradition began that year with the selection of 震 (shin or earthquake)). This year a big earthquake causing landslides hit Hokkaido, heavy rains caused floods and mudflows in Kyushu, and there were also major heat waves and typhoons throughout the country.

But it wasn’t only natural disasters that led to 災. There was also an abundance of man-made disasters such as power harassment in the sports world, Finance Ministry bureaucrats tampering with official documents in a political scandal, and the rigging of entrance exam scores that discriminated against female applicants at medical universities.

In person-on-the-street interviews on this morning’s news, interviewees reacted to the selection of 災. One young woman thought it made sense in light of all the horrible landslides and floods, but an older woman said she found it dark and would have preferred something brighter. Others offered alternatives such as Read More


Nov 15

WIT Life #330: Japan’s 2018 Buzzwords

 

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

It’s hard to believe but 2019 is just around the corner, the time when Best of 2018 lists begin to emerge. From Japan, the nominees for this year’s buzzwords have been compiled. The 30 candidates will be whittled down to the top 10 as well as an overall winner, to be announced on December 3 (you can vote for your favorite at the bottom of the link!).

Unsurprisingly, many relate to Prime Minister Abe’s work-style reform initiatives (働き方改革 or hatarakikata kaikaku). I hadn’t heard of short-time harassment (ジタハラ・ 時短ハラスメント or jitahara・jitan-harasumento), the pressure employers put on their workers to reduce overtime and maximize productivity, but I was familiar with the high-level professional system (⾼プロ・⾼度プロフェッショナル制度 or kōdo puro・kōdo purofesshonaru seido). This allows specialists like financial dealers or analysts with ¥10.75 million plus in annual income to be paid based on work performance, rather than hours worked. They won’t receive overtime pay as a result of being exempt from typical regulations, something the opposition party said would lead to longer working hours. It managed to pass and will go into effect for large companies at the start of the next fiscal year.

In the sports category, I liked the selection of buzzword Naomi-esque (なおみ節 or Naomi-bushi). It refers to the gentle and polite way Japanese-Haitian tennis player Naomi Osaka speaks, in contrast to her on-court tenacity. As reported in this blog, she Read More


Oct 26

WIT Life #329: Japan-Related Films for Your Weekend

 

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s Japanese news, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

This week the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI) hosted the premiere of the 2018 documentary 3100: Run and Become from director Sanjay Rawal. It showcases the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race which takes place in Queens every summer. This elite competition requires participants to run this unbelievable distance within 52 days, which means averaging at least 60 miles per day. Competitors come from all over the world, and some have run it as many as 14 times. Rawal also intersperses stories of other amazing distance challenges, such as a member of the Navaho Nation running 110 miles across the desert in memory of his father’s struggles when young, the Gaolo-San Bushmen running in pursuit of their prey and as part of their lifestyle, and the Tendai-shu monks of Mt. Hiei in Japan who carry out a practice of walking to attain enlightenment.

Spiritual training via walking is called 回峰行 (kaihōgyō), and the monks on Mt. Hiei carry out a version that takes place over 1000 days during a seven-year retreat period, called 千日回峰行 (sennichi kaihōgyō). During this time, the monk must remove himself from all family ties and other worldly distractions. Since this tradition began in 1885, only 50 plus monks have finished this quest, most in their 30s and the oldest in his 60s. The film tells the story of the monk Gyoman-san who is midway through his journey, and examines his mental state as he attempts to accomplish this major feat. He describes a point where you no longer Read More


Sep 7

WIT Life #328: Making Japanese History at the U.S. Open

 

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Being an avid tennis fan, I was thrilled when my clients asked me if I wanted to join them at the U.S. Open women’s semifinals last night.  I was especially excited because not only would I get to see Serena during her “Don’t call it a comeback” tour, but I would get to see Japanese rising tennis superstar Naomi Osaka play live for the first time.  Naomi set a personal record by reaching her first Grand Slam quarterfinal here, and she and Kei Nishikori together made history by becoming the first Japanese duo to reach the semifinals of the same Grand Slam tournament.  The last time Japanese players advanced into the later rounds simultaneously was back in 1996, when Shuzo Matsuoka and Kimiko Date reached their respective quarterfinals at Wimbledon (Shuzo incidentally was Kei’s coach in Japan when he was 12).

Coincidentally enough, Naomi Osaka (大坂なおみ) was born in the same city as her last name (大阪) to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father.  When she was 3, they moved to the U.S. with her and her older sister Mari, also a tennis player, but for the sake of their tennis careers their father made the savvy decision that they would represent Japan.  It’s refreshing that despite not being fluent in Japanese and not being purely Japanese, she has a huge backing in Japan.  At the match last night, a Haitian group was sitting behind us and enthusiastically calling out her name at regular intervals.  We ended up chatting and one guy explained that Haitian fans want to claim her as their own, and that they get frustrated when she is described as only “Japanese” as opposed to “Haitian-Japanese.”

She and opponent Sloane Stephens slugged it out with their amazingly powerful ground strokes, some rallies going as long as 18 points.  In her post-match comments, when asked why she was able to continuously hold serve despite Sloane’s 13 break chances, Naomi said, Read More


Jul 3

WIT Life #327: New York Asian Film Festival

 

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

In addition to being in the middle of a major heat wave, we are in the midst of film festival season here in the city.  Specifically I’m talking about the current New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), which is in its 17th year!  This year I have the honor of interpreting for several actors and directors during the festival, and so far I’ve worked on the films Dynamite Graffiti and The Hungry Lion.  For the former, both director Masanori Tominaga and star Tasuku Emoto were on hand, and you can access a Facebook recording of their Q&A here.  For the latter, director Takaomi Ogata attended the screening and his Q&A can be found here.

This year’s recipient of the festival’s Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award was Masato Hara, who Read More


Jun 7

WIT Life #326: New York Japan CineFest 2018

 

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Last night I caught day 1 of the New York Japan CineFest held at Asia Society.  2018 marks the seventh anniversary of the event, and it seems to get better every year.  The lineup featured six short films that ranged in length from eight to 28 minutes, and included two documentaries.

My favorite was the final film And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool from Makoto Nagahisa, which clocked in at the longest 28 minutes but went by in a flash.  It is based on a true story of four 15-year old girls from a small town in Saitama who released 400 goldfish into their high school pool in order to escape the boredom of their daily lives.  Its zany tone and fast-paced story kept the audience captivated and laughing.  Despite its humorous tone, it poignantly addresses the universal feelings experienced during high school and certainly brought back memories of that time in my life.  Last year it received the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance (you can watch the film via this link), and it was Nagahisa’s directorial debut.

Another highlight of the program was Sugihara Survivors, which told the story Read More


May 28

WIT Life #325: Shogun World

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Hope everyone is enjoying the Memorial Day weekend! I’m out in Colorado, heading into the tail end of a three-week State Department interpreting gig on the topic of disability access and inclusion. This was something I knew very little about before starting, and have come to understand more about the situation both here and in Japan. Our last week will be spent in Seattle, where I’m sure there’s lots more to learn…

The HBO drama Westworld recently entered its second season, and while I am not a regular viewer I tuned in as I had heard it would have a Japan focus. The show tells the story of life-like robots in a Wild West-themed amusement park, and the complications that arise when they become sentient. This time around the series is set during Japan’s Edo Period in a place called Shogun World. Great pains were taken to ensure accuracy, even down to the Japanese that would have been spoken at the time. And it doesn’t hurt that the lineup of Japanese actors includes standouts like Hiroyuki Sanada and Rinko Kikuchi, who play a ronin robot and lead geisha respectively.

For more about Shogun World, check out this Japan Times article.

 


Apr 30

 

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

This weekend I caught Kazuhiro Soda’s Inland Sea (港町) at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real.  The festival’s opening film about John McEnroe whet my appetite for more documentaries, and I was looking forward to seeing the latest from Soda after enjoying his film Campaign at Japan Society several years back.  Inland Sea is set near the hometown of his wife Kiyoko Kashiwagi, who is also the film’s producer.  They were both on hand to introduce the film and take part in a post- screening Q&A.  In his introduction Soda shared that the film adheres to their Ten Commandments, which include tenets such as no research before shooting, not setting any themes or goals before editing, and paying for the production on their own (to the dismay of producer Kashiwagi).

Inland Sea takes place in the port city of Ushimado in Okayama Prefecture, population 7000.  Many of the younger residents have already left, and the documentary’s main subjects are the octagenarians Wai-chan and Kumiko, respectively a fisherman and the town crier.  They are both captivating subjects, but as a cat lover I was most entranced by the stray felines who congregate at the home of transplants to the area who have been feeding them.  I was engaged throughout the film’s two hour plus duration, but it definitely could have been cut in places, especially the long takes on the fishing boat.

During the Q&A Soda explained that the reason he chose to make a black and white film (except for the last color scene) was that he wanted to portray Read More


Mar 16

 

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Japan Week 2018 is taking place through the weekend at Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall, and this year’s theme is 3D Trick Art.  Sponsored by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), the event strives to create an Instagrammable, interactive experience for visitors.  In addition to the regular array of booths from travel agencies, various regions in Japan and Japanese food and drink purveyors, there are several large backdrops into which you can insert yourself for the ultimate selfie.  My favorite was the bowl of ramen into which you can become one of the ingredients, and others include becoming a topping for sushi, helping to carry the mikoshi at a matsuri and shuttling around a sumo wrestler in a rickshaw (Fujifilm is even on hand to help you print out these funny shots after you take them!). Read More


Feb 16

WIT Life #322: Then They Came for Me

 

Written by freelance Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as language, film, business, food and politics. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Sign from Japanese-run business telling customers their clothing won’t be brought to the incarceration camp

After interpreting in Manhattan Criminal Court earlier this week, I stopped for lunch in Chinatown and found myself with some time on my hands afterwards.  I decided to visit the International Center of Photography and was nicely surprised to find the exhibition Then They Came for Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII (through May 6), a comprehensive portrayal of this reprehensible period in American history.  It includes works from prominent photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams, letters and other personal mementos, and moving video testimonials from those who were incarcerated or have family members who had been.

From 1942-1946, thousands of Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated to incarceration camps in desert and swamp areas of the Western U.S.  The original term for this had been “internment,” but I learned from the exhibition that Japanese American organizations and scholars have developed new terminology in an effort to more accurately reflect the wrongness of what took place. Read More


Feb 12

WIT Life #321: Sato Sakura Gallery

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as language, film, business, food and politics. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Last September, Chelsea received a great addition to its art scene in the form of the Sato Sakura Gallery. This Japan-born museum has two locations (Fukushima/Tokyo) that specialize in 日本画 (Nihon-ga or traditional Japanese painting). This term and concept was created in response to 西洋画 (Seiyou-ga or Western painting), which made its way to Japan during the Meiji Era (1868). Today the idea of Nihon-ga can refer to both purely traditional Japanese painting, as well as new styles of painting that incorporate Western painting methods while remaining faithful to traditional Japanese painting techniques.

The inaugural exhibit at the new Chelsea location has 桜 (sakura or cherry blossoms) as its theme, and showcases 12 different artists and their works. They range from regular-sized paintings to giant folding screens, and my favorites were from self-proclaimed “flower and cherry blossom maniac” Reiji Hiramatsu. In particular, his work “Playful Carps” piece is impressive.  Its bright colors are striking, and I enjoy the playfulness of the fish in a pond with petals filling its surface. I also really like his “Mt. Fuji and Cherry Blossoms,” Read More


Jan 5

WIT Life #320: アケオメ!

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

明けましておめでとうございます! A happy new year of the dog to everyone. This post’s title (Ake ome!) is the abbreviated version of the official Japanese new year greeting (Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!). Surprisingly, two of my senpai had never heard of this colloquialism before. Perhaps I’m dating myself but I remember it being popular to say during the time I lived in Japan, though I’m not so sure about now (and maybe it wasn’t around when my older colleagues spent time in Japan).

My previous post discussed the kanji of the year (北, kita or north), and I just came across an article highlighting some of Japan’s 2017 buzzwords. Read More


Dec 29

WIT Life #319: 今年の漢字

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

As we approach the end of 2017, many of us are reflecting on what was a less-than-stellar year.  This was also an anxiety-producing year in Japan, as the designation of this year’s kanji as 北 (kita or north) indicates. It came in with 7104 votes out of the total 153,594 cast, and best captures the mood in Japan amid the heightened nuclear and missile threat posed by North Korea. North Korea has continued to pursue its nuclear weapons and missile programs despite tough new sanctions, including conducting a sixth nuclear test and launching two missiles over 北海道 (Hokkaido) in late summer.

In regard to the selection of 北, other Hokkaido connections were also referenced by respondents. The island’s poor potato crop this year led to nationwide shortages of potato chips, and there is much excitement for 二刀流 (nitouryuu or combination pitcher/slugger) Shohei Otani of Hokkaido baseball team Nippon Ham Fighters making his major league debut with the Anaheim Angels next year.

Coming in second place with 3,571 votes was 政 (sei/matsurigoto or politics). Political scandals, as well as Read More


Nov 30

 

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Last week I had the opportunity to see some amazing works from legendary avant garde Japanese poet, dramatist, writer, film director, and photographer Shuji Terayama. I hadn’t heard of him before, but many critics view him as one of the most productive and provocative creative artists to come out of Japan. He has also been cited as an influence on various Japanese filmmakers from the 1970s onward. The three films screened were Americans, who are you (アメリカ人あなたは), Laura (ローラ) and The Trial (審判).

A special treat was that Laura included the restaging of Terayama’s 1974 film performance with the original actor, Henrikku Morisaki, who was in attendance. This short film feature female strippers who are berating the audience, when all of a sudden a spectator (Morisaki) enters the film. We saw scenes of him as a young man in this role, being stripped and assaulted by the women. At the end of the film he emerged from behind the screen, this time naked and holding his torn clothes. In an interview post-screening, Morisaki told stories about his work with Terayama over the course of almost 17 years. He described Read More


Sep 29

WIT Life #316: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Teikoku Hotel

 

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth, and celebrations are taking place around the country and world.  I recently had the chance to go to MoMA’s Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive (ending October 1 so run to check it out if you haven’t already!).  This incredibly comprehensive exhibit looks at Wright’s career from 12 different perspectives, each of which has its own section.   There are around 450 works that he made from the 1890s through the 1950s on display, and each section has a video narrated by a scholar in the respective field.

I was particular interested in the section discussing the second version of the Imperial Hotel (帝国ホテル), designed by Wright and built from 1919–1923).  It survived the Great Tokyo Earthquake that September, but eventually slipped into decay over time and in 1967 it was decided to demolish the hotel and replace it with a high-rise building.  The structure was mostly destroyed, but the iconic central lobby wing and reflecting pool were disassembled and rebuilt at Meiji-mura in Nagoya, which I was lucky enough to visit during a recent business trip.

This is an amazing theme park with a variety of architecture mostly from the Meiji Era (1868-1912), and Read More


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