The Japanese government is attempting to end Japan's culture of "death by overwork" (now known as karoshi) by moving to make it illegal to not take mandatory paid vacation days. Why won't Japanese workers go on vacation? The Japanese work some of the longest hours in the world and fear taking paid holidays in case they are ostracised by colleagues. The stress is so extreme that every year thousands of workers succumb to “karoshi”, or “death by overwork”. They either commit suicide (the see suicide as salvation), or die of a stroke or a heart attack. The Japanese are literally dying for work and the phenomenon is spreading to other Asian countries such as China, South Korea, and Bangladesh. A "chapter" of the award winning documentary "Happy" (now on Netflix and other online venues) looks at this Japanese phenomenon of Karoshi. HAPPY (trailer here) takes you on a journey from the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata in search of what really makes people happy. Combining real life stories of people from around the world and powerful interviews with the leading scientists in happiness research, HAPPY explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion.
How development leads to cultural change, and not the other way around. Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang shatters stereotypes, showing how common descriptions of the Germans, Koreans and Japanese right before their nations' intensive economic development mirrors current slurs against workers from African and Latin American countries today.
Donald Richie, American author, journalist, critic and expert on Japan, dies at 88.
Smilingly excluded here in Japan, politely stigmatised, I can from my angle attempt only objectivity, since my subjective self will not fit the space I am allotted . . . how fortunate I am to occupy this niche with its lateral view. In America I would be denied this place. I would live on the flat surface of a plain. In Japan, from where I am sitting, the light falls just right – I can see the peaks and valleys, the crags and crevasses.
-- from The Japan Journals, 1947-2004[more inside]
"The Japanese Tradition" was a series of nine short, parody "How To" videos that gently mocked the formality of Japanese culture, from comedy duo Rahmens (ラーメンズ) and Japan Culture Lab. They're available on DVD, but nearly all of them can be seen on YouTube, including Sushi and Ocha (tea). [more inside]
Japanese Element Symbols is an introduction for non-Japanese to the Japanese language through Kanji symbols, its alphabet, elements of Japan's culture, and what to expect on the culinary front.
"My humble efforts to assist in the elucidation of the social condition of a distant and comparatively unknown race."
Comedy duo, Ramenz (ラーメンズ), aka Kobayashi Kentaro and Katagiri Jin, also known as the Japanese versions of Mac and PC, have recently done a number of shorts collectively called "The Japanese Tradition." Apparently, these tongue-in-cheek pseudo-instructional vids about famous aspects of Japanese culture (Tea, Chopsticks, Sushi, Origami, Apology, Onigiri, and Relationships) have been fooling a lot of non-natives into thinking they are actual guides. (YouTube, each approx 4-6 min).
Geiko of Kyoto is a stunning photo gallery of Kyotos's Geisha - both the mature Geiko and the apprentice Maiko. Melissa Chasse annotates many photos with fascinating details and offers an account of her tea party with Mamechika, a lovely Maiko. For more, this lovely Geisha site offers a brief history from the era of the floating world, more photos, Ukiyo-e art, and links. Also see y2karls' prior definitive post on ukiyo-e.
Tokyo Times is an insightful, well-written blog dedicated to Japanese culture, books, current affairs, news, sex, random images and observations of life, as seen through the eyes of an English expat living in Tokyo.
The Japanese SAQ provides some much-needed and often fascinating answers for seldom-asked questions about Japanese culture like, "Why do those porcelain Tanuki statues outside of restaurants have such outrageously large testicles?"
The billion-dollar juggernaut that is Hello Kitty. Tokyo-based journalists Ken Belson and Brian Bremner have published a history of Japanese character-licensing company Sanrio and their most famous character, Hello Kitty. As Japanese "kawaii" (cute) culture continues to invade the world, this looks to be a great guide to the history and impact of Kitty-chan and her minions.
Japan’s Gross National Cool - Foreign Policy has an interesting article on the impact of Japanese culture and how it has replaced "Made in Japan" products as the dominant export from Japan. The author points to director Hayao Miyazaki, director/actor Takeshi Kitano, artist Takashi Murakami, and singer/songwriter Namie Amuro, as well as anime in general and Hello Kitty as examples of the global spread of Japanese culture. Do you recognize these people or their work? [more inside]