Mar 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.

Hello from day #? of coronavirus quarantine. Hope everyone is staying safe by hunkering down and practicing self-care. The news of legendary Japanese comedian Ken Shimura’s death from coronavirus was a shock to the entire nation. Some say this is what might be needed to awaken the populace to the potential danger that this pandemic brings.

Japan’s coronavirus mascot Quaran

So far infection rates in Japan have been super low, and various theories abound as to why. One cites cultural aspects, such as the propensity for problem denial, no handshaking, little showing of PDAs in public, the popularity of masks and of personal hygiene like hand washing, taking shoes off at home, and the ability to receive proper medical care because everyone is insured.

Up until now, the Japanese government’s limited strategy has been to focus on known cluster areas. Current guidelines recommend the avoidance of gathering in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation, meeting in large groups and having conversations with close contact. Some believe that the lack of testing was due to an attempt to salvage the Olympics, but that once testing takes place more frequently cases will surely increase.

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Jan 14

WIT Life #338: Get to Know Kanagawa Prefecture!

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! 今年もよろしく お願いします。 (Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu! Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu).   Or in more casual parlance, アケオメことよろ (ake-ome-koto-yoro)! Hope 2020, a.k.a. the Year of the Rat, has been treating you well so far. With the Tokyo Olympics around the corner, Japan is already in full gear.

But of course there is much more to Japan than just Tokyo. As part of its Get to Know Japan Series, Japan Society is kicking off the new year with a slew of programs related to Kanagawa Prefecture. The first offering takes place on January 23rd at 6:30 pm, and it has the catchy title of Get to Know Kanagawa: Hot Springs, Japan and the Great Wave. It will be moderated by my friend Susan Miyagi McCormac, Japan cultural connoisseur and founder of JapanCulture·NYC. If that is not enough of an incentive for you, the discussion will be followed by a tasting reception featuring maguro donburi (tuna rice bowl) from Misaki Port and Kanagawa sake!

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Dec 20

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 been a long time since I’ve written here, and I can’t believe the holiday season is already upon us! If you are like me and are still in the midst of Christmas gift shopping, what better present is there than books? In the last week I’ve visited various bookstores in the city, and was lucky enough to be introduced to the fantastic new cookbook Japanese Home Cooking (Simple Meals, Authentic Flavors) from the cooking teacher, noodle maker, grain activist and author Sonoko Sakai.

California-based, Queens-born Sakai shares personal stories while showcasing traditional Japanese dishes in this beautifully photographed book. She offers readers advice on how to stock their pantries with the necessary ingredients for creating any Japanese meal, as she views this as the most important aspect of Japanese cuisine (she often takes students on tours of Japanese grocery stores as they can be hard to navigate if you are not familiar with what is being sold). I like how she opens the book by describing freshness, beauty, seasonality, simplicity and economy as the five keys to Japanese cooking. As an introduction she also breaks down the five elements of cooking and eating (i.e. five colors, five senses, five flavors), making these essential aspects easy to remember.


May 31

WIT Life #336: June Japanese movie round-up

 

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.

The weather is getting warmer by the day, and soon we’ll be seeking air-conditioned movie theaters to escape the heat.  Here are some Japan-related films in June that you might want to check out to stay cool and entertained!

Earlier this month I enjoyed Metrograph’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi series.  I was able to finally catch Asako I & II (寝ても覚めても), after having the chance to interpret for Hamaguchi several years ago when his epic Happy Hour (ハッピーアワー) came to MoMA.  This month the theater will feature Kon Ichikawa’s Alone Across the Pacific, based on the eponymous non-fiction book about the first successful transpacific solo sea voyage from Nishinomiya, Japan to San Francisco, California.

If short films are more your thing, don’t miss Asia Society’s New York Japan CineFest next week.  This two-night program features a diverse lineup of shorts, as well as Read More


Apr 30

WIT Life #335: End of an era

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.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga holding a placard reading Reiwa.

In Japan today was the last day of its 30-year Heisei (平成) Era, and tomorrow is the official start of the new Reiwa (令和) Era.  This is Japan’s 248th era with an official name, a number higher than America’s 243 years of history!  You might have heard how the new name has been slightly controversial and largely underwhelming in terms of people’s reaction to it.  In celebration of the new imperial era, this year’s Golden Week is an extra-long 10 days.  Japan is a famously vacation-averse country, and true to form some citizens have been lamenting the length of the holiday.  Other concerns in regard to the transition, such as updating stamps bearing the era name used for official documents and making sure computer systems are in compliance, are highlighted in this NYT article.

As the article details, there was plenty of time for preparation since Emperor Akihito’s abdication was announced in 2017.  This is in contrast to the previous transition, which took place within Read More


Mar 29

WIT Life #334: Hikikomori shifting demographics

 

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.

The plight of Japan’s hikikomori (ひきこもり or voluntary shut-ins), has always been a topic that received a lot of buzz, but has primarily focused on young people affected by this phenomenon.  However, according to a recent nationwide survey carried out by the Cabinet Office that was the first of its kind, recent trends indicate that it is actually older people who now comprise a larger percentage of Japan’s hikikomori population (gender-wise, men still comprise the majority of hikikikomori at a rate of around 3:1).

This BBC article characterized hikikomori as “modern-day hermits,” and describes how this condition is not only limited to Japan, but also seen in other Asian and European countries.  In fact, the problem of loneliness and social isolation got so bad in the UK that it appointed its first designated minister for loneliness last year.  Here in the States, loneliness has various deleterious effects, which have become Read More


Feb 28

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.

The sports portion of today’s Japanese news showcased the celebration of Kazu Miura’s 52nd birthday.  Looking as dapper as ever in a fashionable white suit in front of a huge cake, he shared that every birthday he wore a different color suit (past years have included bright red, yellow and blue), but that he had run out of colors so had to return to white.  Perhaps it is this enthusiasm and youthful spirit that enables him to keep pace on the soccer field with professional players decades his junior.  Miura (a.k.a. “King Kazu”) began his career in 1986, and he is considered to be Japan’s first soccer superstar.

He was the subject of a NYT profile last year, in which he was described as the epitome of Read More


Jan 25

WIT Life #332: Japanese Tennis and Film News

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 (Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu or Happy New Year)!  A bit late, but this is my first post of 2019.  Those who have been following the Australian Open tennis tournament know that Kei Nishikori unfortunately had to pull out of his semifinal match against Novak Djokovic due to a leg injury.  This was actually his 18th career retirement from a match, a statistic that earned him some bashing, including from commentator John McEnroe.

Speaking of controversy, Japanese noodle manufacturer Nissin recently got into some trouble for its ad featuring Nishikori and his countrywoman Naomi Osaka for changing her skin and hair to be lighter and straighter.  Osaka has blazed her way into the Australian Open final and will be playing Petra Kvitova, and who will win is anyone’s guess.  What is known is that the victor will claim the #1 rank, and if it’s Naomi it will be the first time for a Japanese player.  For the night owls (or early risers depending on how you think about it), the match will be shown live on ESPN at 3:30 am tomorrow morning.  For people like myself who are not in this camp, the match will be replayed at 9 am.  Ganbare Naomi!

Speaking of Japanese who are receiving acclaim, Mamoru Hosoda’s animated film 未来のミライ (Mirai no Mirai or Mirai) and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest 万引き家族 (Manbiki Kazoku or Shoplifters) just received Read More


Dec 12

WIT Life #331: Kanji of the Year

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.

 


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