Japanese Culture and Daily Life
The Japanese Language Boom
Renewed appreciation for the beauty and pleasure of the language

Koe ni dashite yomitai Nihongo and the television program, "Nihongo de asobo": A huge hit among adults and children.
Koe ni dashite yomitai Nihongo [Japanese One Wants to Read Out Loud], a selection of famous quotes and texts from kabuki, rokyoku ballads, poetry, passages of classical literature, and rakugo comic stories, as well as tongue twisters and other texts, for the purpose of recitation has sold over 1.5 million copies and became a best seller in 2002. This book went far to reawaken appreciation among Japanese of the beauty and pleasures of their language.
      Author Saito Takashi, professor of literature at Meiji University, is a specialist in the fields of education, studies of the body, and communication. He explains that the recitation and reading aloud of phrases that have been developed and nurtured throughout history provides the physical body with a vitality that leads to emotional strength, and argues that educators should focus more of their efforts on the reading and recitation of texts that nourish both mind and body.
      Professor Saito is a consultant to "Nihongo de asobo" [Let's Have Fun with Japanese], a television show geared towards children in the lower grades of elementary school, which made the rakugo story "Jugemu" and the kyogen play "Machigai no kyogen" hugely popular throughout the country among children. Many children memorized well-known lines from these stories.
Koe ni dashite yomitai Nihongo
(Soshisha, 2001)
"NHK ‘Nihongo de asobo' Yayakoshiya
version & Jugemu version (Warner Music
Japan, 2004)." CDs that include recitation of
texts featured on the television show. Samples
can be heard at http://www.wmg.jp/nihongo/

Let's read out loud!

Tongue twisters

Frogs jump, jump. Three jump, jump
They all jump, jump. Six jump, jump.

The guest next door is a persimmon gobbler guest.

Red rolls of paper, blue rolls of paper, yellow rolls of paper

Raw wheat, raw rice, raw egg
"Piled-on" words

Yep, I understand. I'm Mr. Understand.

Surprise, peach tree, pepper tree.

What do you want, eh? nine, ten days.

You're lying, a big Tsukiji temple lie.
From the rakugo, "Jugemu." The title means what the kanji represent: ju or kotobuki (good fortune) is everlasting. The story tells about parents who want to give their newborn child a name with auspicious meaning. After much debate, they ended up giving him this long and involved name.   "Piled-on" words [Rhythmic words]: Tsuketashi kotoba are words that have been added to original phrases for their rhythmic compatibility or punning effect. The words have a momentum that makes them fun to say out loud.
"Machigai no kyogen"

So very confusing, confusing,

Oh, so confusing, confusing,

Very, very confusing.

I'm you, and you are me.

What in the world am I?

Oh, so confusing, confusing,

Very, very confusing.
There is front. There is back.

There is shadow. There is light.

It's all very confusing, confusing,

So very, very confusing.

One person is two. Two persons are one.

Lie becomes truth. Truth becomes lie.

It's all very confusing, confusing,
So very, very confusing

Very, very confusing.
Taken from "Machigai no kyogen" [The Kyogen of Errors] based on Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors." The author is Takahashi Yasunari, a renowned Japanese scholar of Shakespeare. It was performed in Tokyo and London in 2001, directed by kyogen performer Nomura Mansai.

Rakugo: A traditional Japanese art both old and new
Rakugo is a traditional performing art in which one performer, seated on stage, impersonates numerous parts to tell comical stories, tales of human foibles, and ghost stories using words and gestures and sometimes a folding fan or tenugui towel that substitutes for various items such as chopsticks or a kiseru pipe. Rakugo stories consist mostly of the characters' dialogue. The art form is said to have originated in the mid-seventeenth century, and matured in the late Edo to Meiji periods. In Tokyo, rakugo performances are held almost every day in a Japanese vaudeville theater (yose) in Asakusa, Ikebukuro, Ueno, and Shinjuku. Occasional performances are also held in various theaters throughout Japan.
      Tatekawa Shinosuke, one of the most popular rakugo performers today, hosts an NHK information program and radio shows while holding successful rakugo performances every year at PARCO Theater in Shibuya, Tokyo, capturing the hearts of a wide range of fans.
      The rakugo presented by professional performers are of two major types. One is koten rakugo (traditional rakugo), stories passed down for generations whose main characters are Edo period townspeople. The other is shinsaku rakugo (new rakugo), which are created by contemporary rakugo storytellers and take place in the present day. Shinosuke, however, is not much concerned about sticking to these categories, calling all of his rakugo "Shinosuke rakugo." He adds his own interpretations to the stories, extracting and performing universal themes from comedies or heartwarming talks. The themes vary, covering everything from philosophy of life, education, communication, the nature of Japanese, to modern civilization. This is the source of his great appeal with audiences.
      For example, in the famous koten rakugo "Shinigami" [The God of Death] based on a Grimm's fairy tale, "The Grim Reaper," there appears a candle said to represent a person's lifespan. In his performance, Shinosuke replaces "lifespan," a concept somewhat difficult to grasp, with "luck." Hence, he rewrites the original story into something more easily understood and convincingly explains that "human beings die when they use up the luck with which they were born into this world."
      In his shinsaku rakugo, he satirizes contemporary society's dependence on information technology through a story called "Odoru fakkusu" [The Fax Fiasco], about the turmoil created by a mistakenly faxed note. There is also "Midori no madoguchi" [The Green Counter; the name of JR ticket reservation offices], about the odd things that people do and that happen to them mostly unnoticed through a story of an idiosyncratic passenger in a train station.

Suehiro-tei, yose in Shinjuku, Tokyo

Tatekawa Shinosuke

Haiku are Japanese verses arranged in three lines of 5, 7, 5 syllables. The poems must include kigo, or words that express the season.
      Itoen, a drinks manufacturer, holds the "Oh-i-ocha shin haiku taisho" [Oh-i-ocha New Haiku Grand Prize Competition]. In 2004, 1,401,095 entries were submitted to its 15th contest, and 2,500 prizewinning haiku are selected that are then used on Oh-i-ocha packaging. The Itoen contest accepts "shin haiku (new haiku)," allowing haiku submissions without kigo or with a few too many syllables than are generally permitted, making it easier for a wide audience to participate.

Itoen shin haiku website⇒
太陽の 光めがけて 逆上り
Doing a back-flip over the bar, aiming for the sun
大阪府 古家葉月 16歳
まだ知らない こころが交ざる 白い息
White breaths, is it the mist of innocence?
北海道 中川治香 17歳
天高し 思わず靴を 投げてみる
The heavens are high; on impulse I hurl a shoe up into the blue.
愛知県 平岩麻美 15歳
カマキリは カンフー上手で ポーズ決め
The praying mantis is a kung fu king, posing like an expert.
福島県 大竹淳平 11歳

Tanka are five-line poems composed of 31 syllables arranged in 5, 7, 5, 7, 7 syllables. Collections of 100 poems by 100 poets are called hyakunin isshu (100 poets, one poem each), of which the Ogura hyakunin isshu, said to be compiled by Fujiwara no Sadaie (1162- 1241), is the most famous. Since the Edo period, it has been played as a card game that is a popular part of New Year celebrations.
      Toyo University holds the Gendai gakusei hyakunin isshu [Modern Students Hyakunin Isshu] contest every year, inviting tanka submissions on the subject of modern students' perspectives and lifestyles. In its eighteenth year, the contest recorded a total of 63,330 submissions in 2004.

Toyo University Gendai gakusei hyakunin isshu website⇒
悩んでも 立ち止まったりは もうしない ゆっくりゆっくり 歩いて悩む
I don't know what to do, but I won't stand still any more. Slowly, slowly, I'll keep moving while I figure out what to do.
長崎県 山下朋也 17歳
秋風が 君と私の帰りみち 手と手をつなぐ 理由をくれた
The autumn wind gave us an excuse to hold hands on our way home.
香川県 日比さくら 18歳
抗争と 和解が地図を 分割し 赤ペンで染まる 世界史年表
Strife and peace divide the map. The time lines of world history are stained with red pen marks.
岡山県 藤澤恭行 16歳

Senryu are short poems that became popular around the middle of the Edo period. There are no regulations on kigo or kireji (exclamatory words), and are composed in colloquial language. They capture the amusing and ironic in human foibles, the times, and popular culture.
      The insurance company, Dai-ichi Seimei, runs the "Sarariman senryu konkuru" [Salaryman Senryu Contest] for which 100 poems are selected each year. These senryu must be written about things that occur in the home or workplace, and many of the poems are poignant reflections of the times. There were 21,878 submissions in 2004, the eighteenth year of the contest.

Dai-ichi Seimei Sarariman senryu konkuru website⇒
妻の声 昔ときめき 今動悸
My wife's voice calls. Once it was charming; now it is dreadful.
Kamifusen [Paper Balloon]
『前向きで』 駐車場にも 励まされ
"Face forward." We are admonished even in the parking lot.
Purasu shiko [Positive Thinker]
入歯見て 目もはずしてと せがむ孫
Seeing my false teeth on the table, my grandson begs me to take out my eyeballs, too!
Hassuru Jisan [Hustling Grandpa]

Shin meikai kokugo jiten: A dictionary with a unique flavor
The sixth edition—the newest—of the best-selling Japanese dictionary in Japan, Shin meikai kokugo jiten, went on sale in November 2004, and has been attracting widespread attention since. The first edition went on the market in 1972, and a total of 20 million copies have been sold so far. This comes out to an average of 300,000 copies per year. This is a startling figure in a market where a book of general content is considered a best-seller when it sells 100,000 copies.
      The key to Shin meikai kokugo jiten's appeal is that it is enjoyable to read. In addition to general meanings and interpretations, it includes commentary based on the experiences and opinions of its authors and editors. These commentaries are at times philosophical and humorous.
Shin meikai kokugo jiten,
6th edition (Sanseido, 2004)

Let's compare entries!
▼common meanings or connotations/ ▼meanings or interpretations given in the Shin meikai kokugo jiten
世の中 [yononaka] 読書 [どくしょ dokusho]
▼the realm of human interaction. The world (cf. seken). Society.
▼The environment of adult society in which people must make their way through life according to the circumstances (fate) in which they find themselves. Generally, it has contradictions arising from complex human relations and changes occurring from political/economic activity. It can be said that there is an intermingling of aspects that can be tolerated and aspects that arouse anger and disappointment.

▼Reading, unlike that for research or entrance-exam studies, that momentarily removes one from immediate realities, allowing one's mind to roam in unknown worlds, and helping one to develop a mature understanding of life. (Lolling in bed reading comic books and leafing through magazines on the train are not considered dokusho in the true sense of the term.)
幸福 [こうふく kofuku]
▼A state of contentment in which there is no dissatisfaction. Happiness.
▼An (emotional) state in which one feels peace of mind and sense of spiritual fulfillment towards one's circumstances now (up to the present) and wishes for no more but that the state continue.
恋愛 [れんあい ren'ai]
▼Love between a man and a woman, or the feeling one feels in such a situation.
▼To feel an affection for an individual of the opposite sex so intense that one would not regret sacrificing anything for that person; the person is constantly on one's mind, prompting the wish to always be together and share a private world; one feels happy when that desire is satisfied and anxious or depressed should the slighted doubt about that person's affections arise.
*Entries translated by the Japan Forum.

Gyaru moji: Word play in the cell-phone age
Picture icons and kao moji (facial expressions created from a combination of symbols on a keyboard) have become common through the use of cell phones and e-mail. In recent years, however, code-like characters that resemble handwritten characters have begun to attract attention on television, magazines, and the Internet.

Examples of gyaru moji
ぉレ£∋ぅ ⊇ωレニちレ£ レナ〃ω(≠? 走召± レヽ⊇→
[Good morning.]
[How are you?]

      These characters are called gyaru moji (gal characters) or heta moji (poorly written characters), using combinations of symbols and the alphabet to make them look like hiragana or katakana. They are said to have been created by junior and senior high school girls through cell phone email exchanges starting around 2003, but it appears that these characters are not commonly used; rather, they are enjoyed as a type of word play.
      There are cell phone services that convert messages into gyaru moji before reaching the recipient, and some websites provide gyaru moji translation functions.
*Please refer to "Japanese Culture Now" published in The Japan Forum Newsletter for information about cell phones.

Activities: http://www.tjf.or.jp/takarabako/PDF/TB04_LP.pdf
More explanation and activities: http://www.tjf.or.jp/takarabako/no4activity.htm
Picture cards: kappa
1 2  3  4
Picture cards: iruka
1  2  3  4
Picture cards:jesture
1  2  3
(Illustrations: Maeda Sumiko)

Original text : Takarabako no04 "Feature" June 2005.

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