Japan - from Asahi to Zen
Traditional terms, and a pop culture glossary through the eyes of a raw gaijin.
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Japan's Ultimate Fighting Championship

Tokyo Dome All comers are welcome, all styles of fighting are accepted.    Those who want to fight just sign up in advance, then show up in Tokyo Dome and duke it out in front of an always packed-to-capacity and frevently enthusiastic, if not outright bloodthirsty, Japanese audience.    This is hugely popular in Japan, and even those who profess not to watch it, seem to have a suspiciously deep knowledge of the main combatants.

There are three rounds, and the goal is to get a knockout, however, failing that, three judges will decide.    There's no biting, no attcks to the groin, and it's strictly stand-up fighting, but apart from that, the rules tend to be pretty non-restrictive.    All the fights are on the same night, and the last man standing is the winner.

See Also:    Martial Arts

faces of kabuki Kabuki came into existence around 1603 with the arrival in Kyoto of a troupe of dancing girls led by a certain Izumo-no-Okuni, formerly a shrine maiden.    Their dances created a sensation and were labelled "kabuki", which at the time meant "unorthodox" or "eccentric".    Such troupes of women were subsequently banned as were those of the dancing boys that took their place.    They were succeeded by groups of adult men whose performances developed into the modern art form.    In the process, the original meaning of the word changed to become:
Ka (Song), Bu (Dance), Ki (Technique or Skill).

Originally consisting of short dances, it now contains a huge repetoire of both plays and dances, most of which date from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.    Originally the principal entertainment of the urban merchant classes, Kabuki is the traditional, popular theatre of Japan and continues to flourish and draw large audiences.

See Also: Aragoto ,    Arts ,    Bunraku ,    Geza ,    Hanammichi ,    Jidaimono ,    Kakegoe ,    Ki ,    Koken ,    Mie ,    Onnagata ,    Sewamono ,    Shin-Kabuki ,    Shosagoto ,    Tachimawari ,    Tachiyaku ,    Tsuke ,    Yago

Kaiten Zushi
A sushi restaurant where the dishes revolve around the restaurant on a conveyor belt.

This is one of the best ways to eat delicions Sushi in Japan, at a reasonable cost.    Ordering food from a Japanese menu can be intimidating, but eating at a Kaiten Zushi couldn't be simpler.    Simply go in, sit down, get ready, look at the dishes as they come past you, and grab anything that takes your fancy.    It's a good idea for health reasons to munch some pickled radish along with the sushi, and this can usually be found (free) in containers along the counter.

Usually the dishes either all cost the same price, or the dishes are colour-coded by price, but in any case, paying couldn't be easier.    Just take your dishes up to the teller, who will tot them up and present you with your bill, which never comes to too much.

Here's an advanced tip for those brave enough to try talking to the chef standing behind the conveyor belt.    When you see a dish you like, don't take it, but instead, point it out to the chef and make it understood that you'd like a fresh piece.    On a slow day at the restaurant, it's possible that a less popular dish on the conveyor belt may have been sitting there for an hour or more... It doesn't really make that much difference, but it's what the locals do.

See Also:    Plastic Food,   Sushi,   Sashimi

In Kabuki, this refers to appreciative shouts by members of the audience, timed to the actors lines, poses, entrances etc. most often shouted are the actors' yago and generation number.

Once an ancient capital of Japan, now a small town packed with temples and shrines, easily walked around in a day and a very pleasant day-trip from Tokyo or Yokohama.

See Also:    Kamakura Period

Kamakura Period 1185 - 1333
A period of bakufu ("tent government") by the Shogun, in the new capital of Kamakura, away from the imperial pomp and intrigue of the titular Emperor's court in Kyoto.    The movement of the political capital to Kamakura followed an earlier economic and military shift eastwards, recognising the importance of the Kanto Area.    It was also designed to drag the Samurai away from the Emperor and bind them in service to the Shogun by whom they were well rewarded.

The period also saw a renewal of closer contacts with China and the importantion of culture from the the mainland.    It was around this time that Zen Buddhism, and Chinese ink painting first entered Japan.

Shinto gods residing in, and equivalent to, trees, rocks and other natural phenomena.    Mt. Fuji is maybe the most powerful of them all.
kamikaze headband

Divine Wind.

Kublai Khan, head of the Mongol empire sent two invasion fleets to conquer Japan. Each time, the invading ships were scattered by typhoons, and the grateful Japanese dubbed this the "Divine Wind" - God had saved them from the barbarians. ;-)

fighter pilots More famously, kamikaze became the nickname of the pilots in the 'Special Attack Forces' in the closing stages of World War II.    Special indeed.    Smoke your last cigarette, get into your plane, and ram it into the first American ship you can find.    1,035 of these attacks took place in the Battle Of Okinawa alone.

Some see the Kamikaze pilots as self-sacrificial fools, throwing their lives away, in the service of an all too human Emperor whom they believed to be God.    Others see them as brave men, who willingly gave their lives for their country, in the hope of preventing the war from reaching their families.   

Whatever your view of the Kamikaze, perhaps their deaths are best viewed as part of a tradition in warfare, ranging from Samson's destruction of the Philistines, through the Knights Templars during the Crusades, all the way to 21st century religously-inspired attacks on the Western world.

Were they mis-led pawns, or brave heroes, in the end, perhaps it just depends on your point of view.

the kanji for kanji Symbols from Han China, the characters used in Japanese writing.

Kanji symbols originated in China around 2000 - 1500 B.C., and were imported into Japan much later.    Until that time, the Japanese language existed in spoken form only, until the Chinese symbols provided a way to write Japanese down.    The Chinese symbols had their own pronunciation in Chinese, and so when the writing was imported, so too were some of the sounds.    Because of this, each Kanji symbol in modern Japanese has at least two readings:

  • The Kun, or Japanese language reading.    Generally used with stand-alone characters.
  • The On,, or Chinese language reading.    Often favoured in compound words.
However, over time, Japan lost and renewed contact with China, developed its own meanings and readings and imported new meanings and readings for the original symbols.    As such, these days, the typical Kanji symbol may have two or three Kun readings and two or three On readings also.

How many Kanji are there?
No one can say for sure, since many of the Kanji are archaic and obscure, some are not generally used, some exist in Japan only, some in Classical Chinese only etc.   
How many Knaji do you need to know?
The Japanese Government specify the Joyo Kanji or "General Use Permanent Kanji", comprising 1945 characters, or which 996 are designated as Kyoiku Kanji (to be learned in elementary school).    Any publication using Kanji outside of this list are legally required to print the Furigana (Hiragana) interpretation alongside the obscure Kanji symbol for clarification.
How are Kanji organised?  How do Kanji dictionaries work?
Apart from a few very basic symbols, most Kanji characters actually consist of two or more seperate elements.    One of these is the key element, known as the "Radical", which often indicates the general nature of the character.    A Kanji which includes the radical for water, will generally have a meaning somehow related to water, be it river, lake, stream, puddle, flood etc.    There are about 200 of these radicals, and Kanji Dictionaries are organised by grouping the symbols by their radicals.    After that the symbols are further divided by the number of strokes it takes to write them.

The Japanese also invented two new writiing systems of their own.    These Kana (syllabries) provided an alphabet-like way to write the Japanese language and can be used to adapt the Chinese Kanji to Japanese needs.    These syllabries are known as the Hiragana and Katakana.

Confused?    Well, take some solace from the fact that the Chinese / Japanese were too.    The Kanji for "Character" is derived from a symbol meaning "proliferation", whilst the Kanji for "Writing" origninally meant "Complex, Intricate Pattern".    On the other hand, whilst they are difficult to learn, and easy to forget, there is no denying the beauty of the Kanji.    When the Jesuits first arrived in Japan they were overcome with the beauty and the hidden meanings of these symbols, and it was the Kanji amongst other things which convinced the Jesuits that the Japanese had a culture at least the equal of our own.

See Also:    Hiragana,    Katakana,    Romanji,    Writing

An oriental torture technique, masquerading as a leisure activity. ;-)

The Japanese sometimes refer to these machines as the "electronic Geisha", although for some reason the live geisha haven't filed suit for defamation!

"Kara" means "empty", and "oke" means "orchestra", hence Karaoke, the music and words are there, it just needs you to sing along.    Note, the local pronunciation is something like "ka-ra-o-gay", and not "kari-O-key" as in the West.

Originally a Japanese invention, now a world phenomenon.    If you don't already know what a Karaoke Bar is, I suggest you thank your lucky stars, and forget you ever read this.

manga karate kick Kara-tae, meaning "empty" "hand", is the weaponless martial art of self-defence formed by mixing Kung-Fu from China with self-defence tactics from Okinawa.    As a modern sport, there are two types of competition:
  1. Kumite: Sparring competitions where the points are scored by launching effective thrusts and kicks, which stop just short of really connecting with the opponent.
  2. Kata: Demonstrations of combinations of techniques by individuals or by groups, where points are awarded for form, technique, accuracy and spirit.

See Also:    Martial Arts

Death from Overwork

Salarymen dropping dead in work usually of heart-attacks or strokes brought on by stress.    The Japanese value the group, Wa, above the individual.    Under the traditional lifetime employment system, your company is like your family... and who wouldn't be willing to die for their family?

See Also:    Salaryman,   Wa

"Part (of Kanji) Syllabic Script"

Originally derived from abbreviated Chinese characters used by Buddhist monks to indicate the correct pronunciations of Chinese texts in the 9th century.    Initially it was known as "men's writing", as women used Hiragana.

Each of the 48 syllables is a simplification of a chinese character with the same pronunciation.

These days Katakana is used for writing foreign loanwords, onomatopoeic words, and also used for emphasis, instead of our usage of bold or italic.

See Also:    Writing


typical phones Features that come as standard:    Colour screens, mp3-like ringtones, picture messageing, an in-built camera and e-mail.    And everyone has that basic model.    I once saw a schoolboy sitting next to me on the subway, using his phone to take a photo up the skirt of a gyaru girl seated opposite us, and then he emailed that photo to his friends!   

Then there are the m-commerce enhancements, and the popular i-mode services.    These allow you to download enhancements to your phone, or take advantage of internet mobile services, as and when they are needed.    Forgotten a word in a foreign language?    Look up any word, in any world language, directly from your phone.    Need to know the future?    Have your horoscope forecast instantly, and beamed directly to you!

These advanced devices may also be used to make phonecalls, but this is seen as primitive. ;-)

One feature of computers as well as these phones which worries some people is the way that Japanese words can be entered phonetically, using the hiragana script.    They are then converted automatically to their kanji representations, thus obviating the need to learn the actual symbols.    The fear is that many young people are becoming dependant on their communication devices, and will no longer be able to write Japanese Characters by themselves.

Whatever about that, what some studies have shown is that Japanese kids are becoming more dexterous with their thumbs than with the traditional index finger.    Use the phone's keypad enough and it becomes natural for you to point at things with your thumb!

See Also:    Hiragana,   Kanji

kendo demonstration The "Way of the Sword".

Japan's oldest martial art, using wooden staves, with its roots in Samurai training exercises.

See Also:    Martial Arts

In Kabuki this refers to wooden blocks struck together to signal the opening and closing of the curtain and also at other times.

Sometimes known as hyoshigi.

Literally, "clothes".

This term usually refers to women's traditional clothing.    This can still be seen at ceremonies and on formal occasions and at times when Western women might have evening wear, things like trips to Kabuki for example.

All Kimono are of equal length, and are adjusted for the wearer by folding the necessary cloth up under the Obi belt.

See Also:    Geta,   Kosode,   Obi,   Yukata

Snapping - sudden outbursts of anger.

Sudden violent "snapping" of seemingly-ordinary students, who suddenly and unaccountably become violet.    Japan is experiencing a wave of sudden violent outbursts from Junior High, and High School students.    Scenes more reminiscent of something from "Bowling for Columbine" are now playing themselves out in Japanese schools, and the Japanese, who consider their country to be one of the safest in the world, and shocked and alarmed at this perceived upsurge in unexplainable violent youth crime.

Students who snap or become enraged also report a feeling of malaise or physical discomfort in their daily environment.    Many complain of not feeling well physically and lack of sleep.    They do not feel comfortable either at home or at school.    An overwhelming percentage of students who said they become enraged every day tend not to have even one friend with whom they can share happy experiences, who will listen when they are depressed, or who will listen to their problems

See Also:    Hikikomori,   Mukatsuku

In Japan, kissing is an explicitly sexual thing, not a mere romantic gesture one step up from holding hands.    Kissing in public in Japan would be like a boy walking around touching his girlfriend's breasts in a Western society.    It may be acceptable to both people involved, but it's just not done, in public.

Neighbourhood Police Box

These are especially neat in Tokyo where each one posts daily statistics about the number of people killed and injured in Tokyo Traffic the day before.

An AV (Adult Video) star, who specialises in scenarios involving costumes.

The costumes come in all shapes and sizes, but the most popular seem to be the schoolgirl uniforms -    elementary as well as high-school.

Sometimes this term also includes people like GROs, Naked Sushi and Soaplands workers.

See Also:    AV,   Bukkake,   Cosplay,   Enjo Kosai,   Girl Hunter,   GRO,   Hentai,   Naked Sushi,   Salaryman(6),   Soaplands,   Underwear

Kabuki stage assistants who help actors with their costumes and props.    They may be dressed completely in black, or in formal wear.

Historically and rightfully a part of the dominion of Japan.    An uncultured land, which has always prospered from the beneficial knowledge and selfless intervention of the Japanese people.    However for some reason, the people there do not like the Japanese, despite all that has been done for them.    We even allowed them to learn our history and culture rarther than their own, kindly taught them our language and even assisted them in changing their family names to decent Japanese versions.    Yet despite all this, thanks to their inferior culture, Korea remains ungrateful and in some cases, even hostile.    Maybe they will need more help in the future?

See Also: Korean

The sort of man you would not allow your daughter to marry.

Can refer to any born-and-bred Japanese citizen who happens to have some "tainted" (ie. Korean) blood in his ancestory.    If this is suspected to be the case, the proper procedure is to have your potential son-in-law's background and family history thoroughly exposed by hiring a private investigator before your daughter gets married.

See Also: Ainu,   Burakumin,   Korea,   Gaijin

Similar in appearance to a standard Kimono, this garment differs in that it has much smaller wrists.

See Also:    Geta,   Kimono,   Obi,   Yukata

A heated table.    Possibly the most wonderful thing in all of Japan.

Japan has alarmingly cold winters, and its houses are not famous for their insulation.    Enter the mighty Kotatsu.    A traditional low wooden table, covered with a thick bedding and with an electric heater placed underneath.    The idea being that you sit on your tatami mats, pop your legs under the table's bedding, and let your heater do the rest.    Glorious.

See Also:    Fusuma,   Futon,   Genkan,   Irori   Shoji,   Tatami,   Tokonoma,   Windchimes

Short, satirical plays, providing comic interludes in No dramas.

See Also:    Arts

One city, ten centuries, 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and more temples and tourists than you know what to do with.    Originally founded by some settlers from Korea, it grew to be the centre of courtly power, and it's now, in my humble opinion, the most charmingly magical city in Japan.

the golden pavillion Unlike nearby Osaka which was flattened, Kyoto was left untouched by the American bombing raids in WWII.    Whether this was because of its inherent beauty and importance to world culture, or simply because there was nothing of military value there is anyone's guess!

Whwatever you believe, what remains today is a beautiful city full of Zen Buddhist Temples and Shinto shrines.    Kyoto was the ancient capital, the home of the Emperor, and the center of wealth and power during the period when Japan's fine arts reached their greatest heights.    It was here that the Tea Ceremonies were perfected, and here that the incredible Tale Of Genji was set.

See Also:    Dialects,   Historical Periods,   Kinkakuji,   Regions

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