Expressing 自分 with 自分

I was in the Japan Times last week with a close look at some of the Japanese in the Queer Eye episodes on Netflix that were set in Japan: “Being your best self in spoken Japanese with the cast of ‘Queer Eye.’

I wish I’d had a little more space to talk about some other phrases (I took over 1,400 words of notes and the column was only like 750 lol), but I focused in on the prevalence of 自分 (jibun, self/myself) in a lot of phrases. If you can master this word you’ll be able to say a lot about yourself, and you should be using it instead of first-person pronouns quite often.

If you haven’t seen these episodes yet, I would highly recommend doing so!

I haven’t followed their reception too closely, but apparently people have been divided, with some (many?) criticizing the show of appropriation or misunderstanding Japanese culture.

I don’t think I agree with everything they tried to do. The approach to cooking, in particular, fell flat most of the time (the omuraisu was a serious culinary crime!) and didn’t really understand how to be creative in a Japanese kitchen.

But I do think the Fab Five helped in many of the situations. I think one long quote from the mother in episode three really helps provide some perspective.

When asked about the last time she told her daughter Kae that she loves her, the mother responds:

日本にはやっぱりI love you言ったり、ハグしたり、キスしたりという文化がないので、本当はやりたい気持ちものすごくあるんですけど、抑えている (Nihon ni wa yappari “I love you” ittari, hagu shitari, kisu shitari to iu bunka ga nai no de, hontō wa yaritai kimochi monosugoku arun desu kedo, osaete iru, In Japan we don’t really have a culture of saying I love you or hugging and kissing each other, so while I do strongly feel like I want to do and say these things, I suppress those feelings).

It was easy for the Fab Five to provide some openings to these four people precisely because they’re not suppressing those feelings.

There are aspects and expectations of different cultures in the U.S. that also suppress these feelings at times in similar ways, perhaps to different degrees than in Japan, and it can be incredibly liberating to finally realize that you can safely express these feelings without fear of being hurt.

And sometimes it’s not even a cultural issue, I don’t think. Japan does provide avenues for people to express their feelings clearly, so sometimes it’s an individual’s experience. They’ve somehow convinced themselves that they need to live with their feelings kind of shut down. It’s incredible to see what happens when they get a little help becoming more comfortable expressing them.

It definitely got a little dusty in my apartment while I was watching!

Study Japanese with Netflix Closed Captioning

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at the Japanese shows on Netflix that have closed captioning: “Watch, read, rewind: using Netflix to boost your Japanese.”

I initially pitched this article late last year and fully intended to get to the shows over the holidays but was swamped with translation work and also found myself lacking the appetite to sit down and watch any kind of TV at all, let alone Japanese shows. Strange feeling. In my defense, I was also trying to spend more time reading books.

I’m sure I’ll feel the need for a break at some point, especially now that I’ve finished the new Murakami novel (more on that soon!). I think I’ll probably attack these shows in the following order (consider these my power rankings):

1. Shinya Shokudō
2. Samurai Gourmet
3. Terrace House
4. Atelier
5. Kuromukuro
6. Spark
7. Sinbad

I haven’t watched a full episode of Samurai Gourmet yet, but I like the style, and Jean Snow has vouched for it. It seems like it could be a slightly different take on material similar to Shinya Shokudō. The others I’m partway through, in various states. I’m almost through with Shinya Shokudō.

Terrace House I’m sure will be awful in a pleasurable way. I’m mostly there to laugh along with the celebrity audience. I don’t know why I’m so low on Spark. It just didn’t grab me. Neither did Atelier, really, but Kuromukuro couldn’t be more formula driven (so far).

And Sinbad is just bad. I wonder why it’s the only anime on Netflix with closed captioning? Anyone know? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it’s a Netflix original? Oh well.

Obviously I skipped a massive amount of anime content on Netflix that doesn’t have closed captioning. What are your favorites? What should I be watching? I got part way through Attack on Titan and just couldn’t motivate myself to watch much more, but I guess I’ll get to it at some point. Let me know what I’m missing and if I get good comments I’ll update this post and include them below.

罰ゲーム Season

Everyone needs an obsession or two. I don’t know how people get by in life without at least one. Well, that’s not totally true. I’m sure there are some dull folks out there who are content to work, watch prime time TV, have kids, and then raise them to work and watch prime time TV. But I don’t think I could do it.

I really shouldn’t knock prime time TV because one of my obsessions happens to be the Japanese comedy show ガキの使いやあらへんで!! (Gaki no tsukai ya arahende!!) Technically it doesn’t run during “prime time.” It airs Sunday nights during the odd block 22:56-23:26, so it’s more of a late show, but their 絶対に笑ってはいけない罰ゲーム (Zettai ni waratte wa ikenai batsu game) special runs in the primest of Japanese times: New Year’s Eve from 6:30 until (the technically impossible?) 24:30.

My latest Japan Times Bilingual page column “The annual pain and pleasure of punished comedians” (solid headline—props to my JT editor) introduces the batsu game special and why it’s so great. It’s probably underrated compared to Kōhaku, but not by much and definitely not by its main demographic (elementary-school-aged boys).

I have two personal connections that sparked my obsession with the batsu games.

I first visited Japan during the summer of 2002, and I have vague memories of seeing the “Matsumoto Rangers” on a news program during the wee hours of the morning while I was suffering from jet lag. Wikipedia confirms that this did indeed air during that summer, but I think I arrived earlier than July/August, so I’m not sure I was still jetlagged…I might have seen a replay at some point. At any rate, it stood out and was funny, even if I didn’t really understand why it was happening.

In 2006 I traveled down to Kyushu with a couple of JET buddies during the holidays, but I made it back up to Fukushima for New Year’s Eve, and another JET buddy and I spent it in Kitakata eating and drinking and flipping back and forth between the fights and the batsu game. It was the police batsu game, which was the first special to air on New Year’s Eve.

These two connections cemented my obsession, and I’ve since tracked down and watched most of them. A lot of material is available on DVD in Japan. If you live in other regions but are Internet proficient, you should be able to find the other episodes. Many of them are available on the YouTubes these days somehow (and fanboys/girls have even subbed them).

I’ve written previously on the blog here and over at Neojaponisme about the batsu game. Most of the YouTube links are dead on those posts but should be relatively easy to track down. I recommend watching at least the 24時間耐久鬼ごっこ (24-hour Endurance Onigokko) (Youku, Youtube) and the 絶対に笑ってはいけない24時間警察 (You must not laugh 24-hour police) (Youku, Youtube). They are classic classic moments in modern Japanese comedy.

“Going Backwards” Bonus Coverage

I have a new column over at the Japan Times: “Going backward to get ahead with studying Japanese.”

I take an idea that Jay Rubin discusses at length in his book “Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You” (which all students of the language need to read) and look at a modern example: グルナイ.

Gurunai is, by far, the best reality food TV ever created, and I’m not sure why it hasn’t been adapted for foreign TV yet. I imagine it would be difficult to match the chemistry between Okamura and Yabe. The show is one of the things I miss the most about living in Japan, but apparently ask and the Internet will provide. I need to check the Tubes more often.

I wanted to include another example of MC Hatori Shin’ichi giving a winning ピタリ償 announcement, but it wouldn’t fit in the column, so I’ll give it to you as bonus coverage here. He drags out the announcement even when the contestants win the prize:

Konkai Gochi-10-hatsu no pitari sho, nanto, pitari sho ga, ichinen ikagetsu buri ni, kyo wa, honto ni, pitari sho ga, decchaimaishita! (Today the very first pitari-sho on Gochi Season 10 has, inconceivably, the pitari-sho has, for the first time in a year and a month, today, for real, the pitari-sho will…be awarded!; 今回、ゴチ10初のピタリ償、何と、ピタリ償が、一年一ヶ月ぶりに、今日は、本当に、ピタリ償が、出っちゃいました!)


Fansub FAIL

I’m cursed for some reason. Whenever I try to watch the movie Paprika, I’m always interrupted. I’ve made it halfway through several times, but inevitably something comes up and I’m forced to pause it, promising to finish at a later time. Last night I only made it 15 minutes in before I realized I would have to bail. That was still enough time to see this fansub failure:

Sure, it’s an accurate translation from a certain point of view – it is what comes out of her mouth (the line in Japanese is 「イッツ・ザ・グレーティスト・ショータイム!」) – but clearly the film is referring to the Ringling Brothers’ famous slogan “The Greatest Show on Earth,” so I think a better translation (that takes into account the philosphy underlying my inequality posts) would be “Time for the Greatest Show on Earth!” Or, if you don’t want to trample on the Ringling Brothers’ intellectual property, “Time for an amazing show!” “It’s the greatest show time” is a failure of English.

I must finish watching this movie soon. I’ve vowed to finish watching it before I see Inception so that I can figure out if it inspired any of the movie. And I should probably see Inception before school starts. So in the next week or two.

That’s What All the Ladies Say

My understanding of だろう and でしょう are tenuous at best. I remember being puzzled by these when I took my first Japanese class – an intensive summer class, which I would not recommend (slow down, everyone, you’re moving too fast).

Two encounters have shaped my understanding of these phrases. Today, encounter one.

I was up in Fukushima, I think during my first year as a JET, watching TV. There was a small variety show where a host was interviewing different celebrities who came out one by one. After the host asked a few questions about the kind of work they did, the audience had to guess the celebrity’s annual income. One of the people on the show was パックン – Patrick Harlan, a Harvard grad who parlayed English teaching into Japanese study into fame as a manzai comedian. I don’t remember exactly what the host said to Pakkun, but he responded with a highly suggestive でしょう, which got a lot of laughs. I immediately noted the tone of his phrasing and added it to my mental catalog of funny phrases to use.

It felt like he was confirming something, just as you would with ですね, but this something was overly obvious and a little silly. A phrase you could substitute it with is the equally laugh-inducing よく言われます – literally, and extremely awkwardly, “That is often said about me.” I guess the English equivalent would be, “That’s what they all say.”

The tone on でしょう here is important – it’s slightly inquisitive with the hint of a smile. Amirite? でしょう?

号外 – How to NBA Playoffs

Don’t forget that the NBA playoffs start tomorrow morning (1:30AM Japan time)! The NBA International League Pass packages are priced like so:


I’ll be waking up to partake in the games all night/morning long. I don’t have much hope for my Spurs, but it’s hard not to love the first round of the NBA playoffs where there are 4 games on everyday.

号外 – How to Basketball in Japan – International League Pass

I should have mentioned it when I first ordered it a month or so ago, but the NBA now offers International League Pass. It enables you to stream games live or watch them on replay for up to 24 hours. At $99, only about 9200 yen these days, it’s still worth it to watch the second half of the season. There will be a separate playoff package if you, like the San Antonio Spurs, wait to turn it on in the post-season.

Cool Kanji – 罰

I have an article about ガキの使いやあらへんで’s annual 罰ゲーム and 世界のナベアツ over at Neojaponisme for their 2008 in review series. Other than Murakami and beer, Japanese comedy is probably one of the few other topics I’m relatively qualified to talk about.

Downtown is a manzai group that I’ve known from the very first time I came to Japan. It’s hard to watch any Japanese TV at all and not realize who they are. Hitoshi Matsumoto is the boke, and Masatoshi Hamada is the tsukkomi. Matsumoto occasionally goes by Hitoshi, but generally they are both referred to by surname or their nicknames: Ma-chan and Hama-chan. They’ve been on television since 1989, and since 1990 they’ve been playing different 対決 (たいけつ), which  decides who will participate in a 罰 (ばつ)ゲーム.

罰 means punishment and is often used in the compound 罰金 (ばっきん, fine/penalty fee).  A 罰ゲーム is any “game” where someone has to go through an embarrassing or painful task as punishment for losing the 対決. For the first decade or so, it was always Matsumoto versus Hamada, and the 罰ゲーム was an embarrassing appearance on television or being forced to go skydiving or ride a rollercoaster:


Matsumoto had a long losing streak, so when he finally won a 対決, he sent Hamada to France to fill up a bottle of Evian water from the original source. He later sent Hamada all the way to New York City to retrieve a mechanical pencil.

For a long time the games had a real gonzo feel, but in recent years, their 絶対に笑っては行けない (ぜったいにわらってはいけない, “You absolutely must not laugh”) version has gotten so popular, that the production level has skyrocketed. They began playing this version annually in 2003, and since 2006 it’s been broadcast in ゴールデンタイム, the Japanese version of primetime, on New Year’s Eve.

These shows all include ココリコ, another manzai group made up of Shōzō Endō and Naoki Tanaka, and fifth man Hōsei Yamazaki. (I always felt bad for Yamazaki since he doesn’t have a partner, but then I realized he gets to play the ultimate role – the boke to the group as a whole: two manzai groups!) These three have been included from as far back as 1999 when they played the surreal 24時間鬼ごっこ.

The shows all follow a fairly set pattern. 3-5 of the Gaki no tsukai members are led on to a themed set by Hiroshi Fujiwara (a producer at Yoshimoto and Matsumoto’s 担当). There they encounter a huge number of up and coming (read: soon defunct) comedians, recurring characters, and members of the production staff, all of whom are trying to make them laugh, which gets them punished. The punishment began as blowdarts in the ass, then moved to an S&M whipping, but for the last four years it has just been a caning.

I was fortunate enough to catch the 2006 show by chance, last year’s on purpose, and past shows through the miracle of the Internets. Here are five of my favorite clips.

The first is the 対決 from the 2003 onsen game . Focus on what Hamada says; he has one of the most recognizable voices and laughs on Japanese TV, and I’m certain that’s part of the reason he’s so successful. “というわけで、松本チーム、罰ゲーーーム!”:

This clip shows how high the production level was last year. It also shows how ridiculous the shows have become. One interesting side note is that more of the guys laughed at the comedian who stutters his line than at the actual 勇気の実:

One of my favorite clips from the police show in 2006, the first one that I saw. ゆうたろう, I believe, is a (now-defunct?) comedian who imitates the late Yūjirō Ishihara, Japanese Elvis-type rock star and actor in police dramas (also brother to Tokyo governor Shintarō Ishihara):

This clip is from the 鬼ごっこ show and it has one of the greatest 罰 buildups ever. Matsumoto sent out oni dressed up in black to chase the rest of the guys around and deliver blows from ひしゃく (those water things at the entrance to shrines), はりせん (accordion-style fan things) and other random things. Then he sent out thai kick guys and head butt guys. After a few hours, he sent out the 紙芝居 (かみしばい) man. Make sure you watch all the way until the end:

And my favorite clip is the simple Shōhei clip, partially because it was the first 罰ゲーム I saw, but it’s also just really funny. I used this at elementary school with any kids named Yōhei or Kōhei, and it never failed to get a laugh:

My only complaint about the show is that every year without fail there is a scene where they laugh at foreigners, often of darker complexion, basically for being foreigners – looking different and speaking Japanese in a funny accent. This year they are airing another 罰ゲーム on New Year’s Eve. It’s six hours long and starts at 6:30pm. Madness.