Suicides and Japan

Today, one of the writers here at Ryugakusei Town was a few minutes late to the office because of a depressingly-common Japanese problem: suicide. His morning train was delayed since someone jumped in front of it. I suppose that person simply couldn’t face another day at work; that, or he decided to take a final snub at society by making everyone late for work.

Unfortunately, Japan has historically been very tolerant of suicide, so much so that it has become a cultural issue. Back in the days of the samurai, suicide was seen as an honorable way out. As recently as WW2, soldiers were expected to commit suicide rather than surrender; and let’s not forget the organization of kamikaze plane raids, where the pilots were expected to die from the very beginning. Even relatively famous public figures commit suicide: following a financial scandal, cabinet minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka did just that; later, the then Tokyo mayor Shintaro Ishihara lauded him as a “true samurai” for “preserving his honour” in such a manner. Suicide is also a major theme in various anime and movies (e.g. Evangelion).

NGE - Death and Rebirth
Sadly, it isn’t uncommon for there to be instances of suicide around your everyday life in Japan. For example, Japanese trains are known for exceptional punctuality; if they are late it’s usually because of a jumper. Japanese friends and acquaintances usually know of at least one person who has committed suicide. As a co-worker explained, pressure to get into a good university, near-constant (unpaid) overtime, financial problems (loan sharks are another big issue here), bullying—Japanese people that suffer from these problems usually repress their anger and stress, leading what seem to be normal lives, until it is too late.
Still, Japan is a wonderful place to live in. Like any other place, it has positives and negatives. If you wish to live here, you’ll just have to learn to deal with both!


Conquering Mount Fuji

One of the most thoroughly Japanese things you can do is climb Mount Fuji, Japan’s national icon and inspiration for proverbs (“a wise man climbs Fuji once, but only a fool does it twice”) and art.

Mount Fuji woodblock print art

Mount Fuji woodblock print art

I went with a bunch of friends from Waseda; all of them wanted to tackle Fujisan at least once before going back to their respective countries (we “graduated” from Waseda a few days ago). Our ascent was a little different than most climbers’ though. Apparently, many climbers stop halfway through the ascent, sleeping for a few hours, and resuming the climb, aiming to reach the summit in the early morning in order to see the sunrise. We, however, chose to do Mount Fuji in a single trip—an overnight climb—reaching the summit just in time for sunrise, and a daytime descent.

For the most part, the route itself was not extraordinarily difficult or anything, except that because of the way our group was organized—6 girls and 3 guys—it became a bit harder. The guys ended up carrying most of the weight as altitude sickness and fatigue seriously affected a few people (girls) in the group. Needless to say, the climb became considerably more difficult because of these factors; also, especially nearer to the summit, Fujisan became especially crowded, further slowing us down.

Some of the Mount Fuji wildlife. Climbers beware

Some of the Mount Fuji wildlife. Climbers beware

At times, parts of the route were very rocky; certainly, one can appreciate just how steep it is simply by looking back (or rather, down). These parts were probably very dangerous, as the wind kept hitting us, the poor ryugakusei group with what was probably a shortage of equipment (we didn’t bring walking sticks). Stories of people falling to their deaths or dying from hypothermia definitely did not sound highly encouraging.

Nevertheless, I still think that anyone living should try to climb Mount Fuji at least once! The view from the summit is extremely beautiful; all the more so seeing as how it seemed the climb would never end! A few people in our group became highly emotional and teary-eyed. As for the fear-of-death, do not worry too much; there are people with megaphones standing on tall rocks immediately outside of the main trail (rain or shine) whose whole job is to shout encouraging things to climbers: “Ganbare! Don’t give up! You are almost there!” This definitely added a touch of humour to an otherwise highly physically demanding climb.

Needless to say, the climb cemented our already strong friendships into lifelong ones. It truly is the best way to finish a year of living in Japan.

The Rising Sun

Once you reach the summit, you’ll truly understand why Japan is called “The Land of the Rising Sun.”

Japan’s favourite police officer, “DJ Police,” strikes again; this time, a hanabi festival

The Katsushika Noryo Hanabi Taikai, a popular fireworks event (hanabi means fireworks) took place recently in Tokyo. To pre-empt spectators from creating a disorganized chaotic mass of people, police officers were dispatched to the scene in order to sit everyone orderly. However, spectators were amused by the rather witty and sarcastic tone in which they were being ordered about—an officer whose mannerisms and frank phrases gained him the moniker of “DJ Police” (think of a hip hop DJ) by Japanese netizens, was the one in charge of the operation.


DJ Police urging Japanese gentlemen to aid their damsels in distress

DJ Police urging Japanese gentlemen to aid their damsels in distress

Some quotes from DJ Police:

“Gentleman, please gently escort out the as-beautiful-as-hanabi, yukata-wearing (summer kimono) ladies.”

“Sir, I advise you, seeing as how you are the father and [thus the] leader of your family, to take them to the open space to the right. Your family will be proud of you.”

“For the sake of the important and special hanabi [photos], do not run out of data storage space in your cell phone cameras, please.”


Despite the event being eventually shut down due to rain, hanabi attendants did not seem upset, precisely because of the presence of Japan’s soon-to-be favourite public servant. In the words of one “as-beautiful-as hanabi, yukata-wearing” lady: “Because I could see DJ Police, I was happy!”

DJ Police's number 1 groupie: a as-beautiful-as hanabi, yukata-wearing lady

DJ Police’s number 1 groupie: a as-beautiful-as hanabi, yukata-wearing lady

Japanese Elections: Vote and get free “politically-inspired” Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream

Ben and Jerry’s has a special promotion to move the Japanese electorate away from its historic indifference to elections: free ice cream. From July 21st (Sunday) to August 8th (also Sunday), Toyosu, Omotesando and Kichijoji Ben and Jerry’s locations will be offering a variety of “politically inspired” ice cream flavours. Voters simply have to visit its website and “vote” for a tasty political colour such as Minshuto “Oh My! Apple Pie,” Nihon Isshin “Cherry Garcia,” Jiminto “Chunky Monkey,” or salaryman underdog “Chocolate Fudge Brownie.”

Enthusiastically lean forward and choose the future of Japan like you would choose ice cream.

Vote for my boys and I'll give you some Chunky Monkey flavoured ice cream. Hmm, political

Vote for my boys and I’ll give you some Chunky Monkey flavoured ice cream. Hmm, political

Accidentally hilarious: Engrish

The Japanese love affair with English (if indeed there is such a thing) has resulted in a rapid and careless adoption of several of its words and phrases. Why, after all, said words find their way into all kinds of things: signs, restaurant menus, t-shirts, etc. It’s too bad that (almost) always, the English used is hilariously incorrect. This phenomenon, the use of misspelled or inaccurate English words, is known as ‘Engrish.’
Engrish is not solely a Japanese phenomenon though. Other East Asian countries are guilty of it as well; see Kim Jong-il’s solo in the movie Team America World Police:

In the video we see Mr. Kim continually make the same mistake: mispronouncing the L sound in the word ‘lonely’ (“I’m so ronery”). But it is Japanese who are most often associated with these kinds of mistakes. See the following examples:



明るい町作りの会 actually translates into something like ‘Sunny Town Party,’ or ‘Sunny Town Board’. ‘Sunny Town Election Party’ also makes sense; unfortunately whoever wrote this misspelled election (選挙), and instead wrote ‘erection’ (もっこり or ぼっき). So now this political party actually looks perverted (へんたい ) like it wants to create a sunny town through the power of their erections. Could it be that Japan’s international reputation as a perverted country (スケベな国) is because of a simple spelling mistake?

Do not feel too bad if you too fail to notice these mistakes however. Engrish is often seen as humorous after all:


Apparently Yoda wrote this sign

Perhaps one of the most famous use of Engrish is the following internet meme—the opening for the Genesis cult classic Zero Wing:

The game’s writers probably never expected their faulty translations to become news worthy:

But then again, using Engrish is not that bad. Let’s not forget that foreigners also use bastardized Japanese, even tattooing it. Both are, essentially, the same thing:


Note: For the curious, Wikipedia has a more accurate translation of All Your Base are Belong to Us @

Japanese Advice: Idioms

Oh Japanese idioms. One would think that these don’t make sense at all, but actually we have to keep in mind that idioms never make any literal sense in any language. For example, see this English idiom:

“Ed kicked the bucket.”


This isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but okay.
Now, take the following Japanese idioms:

尻に火がつく (shiri ni hi ga tsuku):


As you may have guessed, translated, it means “my butt is on fire.” What it really describes though, is the pressure you feel when something urgent is approaching, say a deadline for example: “So much pressure! Feels like my butt is on fire! I gotta finish this blog post before the deadline!“
腕に縒りをかける (ude ni yori wo kakeru):


A very painful-sounding idiom, it literally means “to twist one’s arm,” but it’s used in a similar to頑張る (ganbaru). It kind of means to put your best effort into something: “I will do my best at this just like professional wrestlers try their best to break people’s arm by twisting them.”
And finally, 腕が鳴る (ude ga naru):


Terry Crews making sounds and music with his biceps? Yes, the literal translation means “to make sounds through one’s arm.” But again, it means something totally different than its literal translation; it’s a bit difficult to explain, but it roughly means to be excited or hype about something you will do: “I am so hype about watching Terry Crews in the movie White Chicks tomorrow!”
Like most idioms, these three are seen most often in writing. Only 腕が鳴る though, is a common staple in anime as well:


Classic Japanese Videogame Ports: Sonic CD

The lot of us who grew up playing videogames have certain nostalgia for old school Japanese games. Now that almost everyone has a smart phone, many Japanese videogame companies are porting their classic games in hopes of quick profits. Unfortunately, like the quality of most Japanese games nowadays, these ports usually suck (gotta be honest here guys). Control schemes of classic consoles like the Super Famicom and Sega Genesis do not translate well into a touch screen; furthermore, a lazy emulation process often results in choppy frame rates, tiny unreadable text and an all-around bad experience—I mean, nostalgia can only go so far to get us past these problems. Because of this, it is always exciting when at least one classic game gets it right. Case in point: Sonic CD for iOS.

Sega had ported games to iOS before—Gunstar Heroes, Phantasy Star—but they suffer from the smart phone dilemma, mainly, choppy frame rates and terrible controls not designed for a touch device. One fan confronted the problem though: not wanting to see a favorite franchise get butchered by bad emulation, during his free time Christian Whitehead secretly began re-engineering Sonic CD for the smart phone generation. Through reverse engineering Whitehead dissected the game and designed a completely new engine (the Retro Engine Development Kit) with iOS in mind; naturally, this engine avoids the problems of bad emulation and runs at a brisk 60 frames per second.

Community buzz about his work was so loud that Sega quickly contacted him and hired him to port the entire game to iOS. And to sweeten the deal, new content like achievements, leaderboards, extra characters and time attack modes were added. So successful was the re-mastered port (it won numerous awards and averages a 93% rating on Metacritic) that now Whitehead is re-mastering other games (The original Sonic, currently. Apparently the iOS version is of much higher quality than its Xbox Live counterpart—better than a console port!) as well.

What’s most important though, is that this shows that indie developers can have a great impact on the industry, all the more so now that entry into it has in a way been ‘democratised’ by the explosion in tablets and smart phones—anyone, never mind small budgets (and thus maybe even getting past giant publishers too), can code a game for these platforms. And if big budget developers pick-up on these trends, like Sega did with the Whitehead case, then all the better. Japanese companies should follow such examples; they need the fresh thinking of indie developers because they certainly aren’t doing much of anything these days!

And now, for some pictures:

You won't need to buy one of the worst console add-ons ever made to play one of the best Sega games ever made anymore

From now on you won’t need to buy one of the worst console add-ons ever made to play one of the best Sega games ever made

Brand new splash screen

Brand new splash screen

Touch to play!

Touch to play!

Check out the new game modes

Check out the new game modes

Actual gameplay. Oh, and did I mention the game costs only 200 yen?

Actual gameplay. Oh, and did I mention the game costs only 200 yen?

For more of Christian Whitehead’s work visit his website at