Japan - from Asahi to Zen
Traditional terms, and a pop culture glossary through the eyes of a raw gaijin.
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Daikon Actor,   Daimyo,   -dake,   Dango,   Dates,   Defence Forces,   Dialects,   Disneyland,   Donjon,   Doraemon,   Dori

daikon with a girl for scale Daikon Actor
A "ham" actor.

A Daikon is a giant radish - big, ugly, bland and cheap - hence, Daikon Actor.

Feudal lords.

Throughout much of its history the titular Emperor of Japan was nothing more than a nominal head of state, without any real power.    Instead fractured authority lay with the Daimyo, the powerful regional feudal lords, and the Samurai under their command.    The Daimyo struggled between themselves, until one became powerful enough to sieze the position or the title of Shogun.    Although often, even when a nominal Shogun was in place, the more powerful Daimyo continued to rule their own little fiefs regardless, ignoring the central authorities, and hiding safely behind the walls of their great regional castles.

See Also:    Ronin

Bid rigging

As in the West, it seems to be the best way to land the most lucrative (government) contracts.

There are two ways to count years in Japan.

The first, perhaps most common way, is to use the western system, marking years AD, since the assumed mythical birth of Christ.

The second, is to mark years according to reign of the Emperor in which they fall.    And just to make things more complicated, the Reigns have their own speical names, unrelated to the name the Emperor had whilst alive.    The disadvantage of this second system for the Gaijin is that you first have to know the names and dates of various reigns, before you can even attempt to understand what year is being referred to.

Some recent imperial eras are as follows:
Emperor Era Name Year 1
Matsushito Meiji 1868
Yoshihito Taisho 1912
Hirohito Showa
Englightened Peace
Akihito Heisei
Peace Perfecting

So, the Western year 2004, would be the Japanese year Heisei 16.

Also note that often, the date format is given as "yy/mm/dd", so 16-1-17 would be the 17th of Jan., 2004.

See Also: Calendar,   Historical Periods,   Zodiac

Defence Forces
Since its first ever defeat in World War II, the Japanese Defence Forces have been constitutionally prohibited from being deployed overseas.    This was much to the relief of the various countries invaded and harrassed by the Japanese over the years since the Meiji Restoration, and long before.

Nevertheless, in today's world, with disputes with Russia over the Kuril Islands, the growing might of the Chinese, the crackpots in North Korea lobbing missles overhead whilst developing nuclear weaponry, and Osama bin Laden targeting downtown Tokyo, many feel that it's time Japan's military took its proper place in the world.    Especially when you consider the growing dissatisfaction with the American military presence in Japan, especially in Okinawa.    Some people feel that it's time Japan stood on her own feet, as a world leader again.

As such, despite the seemingly-tight constitutional ban, Japanese military forces were deployed in Iraq in 2004.

See Also:    Chishima,   Korea,   Okinawa,   World War II

The different Regions of Japan are seperated by various seas and mountain ranges.    Historically speaking, it was therefore diffiuclt for people to move between these regions.    Each region, isolated from the others, developed its own dialect of Japanese, or their own related languages, depending on your point of view.    So much so that it was once difficult for the people from Kyushu to understand speakers from Tohoku.

In modern times, the language known as Japanese has standarised around the Kanto dialect spoken in and around Tokyo.

However, Kansai-ben, as spoken in Osaka, Kobe and the Kansai area is still a prestegious language variety.    As is the Kyoto-ben, the dialect of Kyoto, which is within the Kansai area, but still has it's own unique dialect, softer and more refined than Kansai-ben.    Indeed, the Japanese are famous for what Westerners might call the "two-faced" nature of their speech, and their habit of omission, but within Japan, that's what the other Japanese people think of the folks from Kyoto!

See Also:    Language,   Regions,   Writing

Disneyland a.k.a. Tokyo Disneyland, a.k.a, TDL
the holy gates You know you've been living in Japan too long when you can't remember how many times you've been to Disneyland.    The Japanese, with their love of all things cute, are in heaven in TDL.    If you want to see grown women turn into screaming kids, whilst abandoning their own screaming kids in order to beat a path through the crowds to grab Mickey, ... if that's your cup of tea, then this is exactly the place to come.    And it's not just a family affair, it's also a top datespot - it's a rite of passage for Japanese couples to go there.

There are actually two resorts:   TDL, and the nearby DisneySea, which is a newer resort built to handle the overflow.    The difference is that DisneySea is smaller, with less fun and fewer good rides, but on the other hand, you can drink in DisneySea, and you can't in DisneyLand.    If you can only check out one, then your best bet is to head to Disneyland proper.    Be warned though, it can fill up early, especially since many companies, which act as corporate sponsors, give their employees discount cards for Disneyland.    Get there before 9am to make sure you get a place if you haven't booked in advance.

disney propaganda photo Whether you go to Disneyland or DisneySea, the worst thing about the whole experience will be the fact that despite the cloying cuteness, the mickey-monorail, the sugar-coated slow-moving rides and the long long queues.. despite all of this, whatever your preconceptions, you're actually gonna have a wonderful time. :-)    Be warned though, more than one couple have broken up in the long lines at TDL - the locals say that the only way to avoid this is to plan your spontaneous day rigourously in advance.    Only in Japan.

A castle's keep.

Japanese castles are completely different to the equivalent structures in Europe or the Middle East.    Personally I think they look much more elegant, if not a little dainty even.

That being said, it may be pretty, but that prettiness is purposful.    The sloping roofs for example, were designed to stop fire arrows lodging in the eaves!    And in the civil wars between Daimyo and Shoguns, having a strong castle was seen as the key to saftey.

Here's a fine example from Osaka.    Like most of Japan's 'surviving' castles though, most of it is a reconstruction.

doraemon A time-travelling downtrodden-helping cute blue robot cat.    One of the most popular of modern Japan's many "characters", appearing in Manga, on TV, and in who knows how much merchandising.

See Also:    Anime,   Hello Kitty

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