oC-ute of Hello! Project Kids

The Rise of J-pop (Japanese Pop culture) has paved the way for many aspiring young artists in Japan. Normally, these groups are comprised of well-trained performers who are not only talented singers but graceful dancers as well. There are groups of male and females alike and there are even mixed gender groups. These J-pop performers immediately swept Japanese fans on their feet but also awed fans in different parts of Asia and the world. It is actually surprising that Non-Japanese fans can sing along without fail like they speak the language fluently. It doesn’t matter if Japanese is not their native language, the catchy and upbeat songs of these J-pop groups are already enough to entice fans to learn Japanese!

There are a lot of J-pop groups that have debuted since 2000 and one of the most famous is the girl group oC-ute. Yes, the oC (Celsius symbol) was intentional to give the name a more attractive and original effect. This girl group made their major debut in 2007, immediately attracting thousands of fans as their first single was released. In the same year that they debuted, they already won the Japan Record Award for Best New Artist, showing that this girl band is really ahead of the game. In the next year, 2008, they were nominated for the Main Japan Record Award known as the Grand Prix. Though they lost the award, it really shows that oC-ute has unbelievable talent. Since then, all their major label singles have debuted in Oricon’s Top 10 weekly singles chart.

Members of C-ute

Members of C-ute

All original members of the group were part of the Hello! Project Kids, which is a talent search where fifteen talented girls were selected in hopes of producing a new generation of artists. They all started training since 2002 and became members of different groups. Eventually, the 15 girls from Hello! Project Kids were separated into two – Berryz Kobo of 8 members and Cute with 7 members. Cute was officially formed in 2005. However, over the years some of their members left the group eventually leading to a 5 member girl group consisting of current members:  Maimi Yajima, Saki Nakajima, Airi Suzuki, Chisato Okai and Mai Hagariwa. They immediately caught the fans’ attention because of their bright, youthful image that creates happy vibes to their listeners. They are currently on their 24th single (released in January 2014) and their 7th album (released in 2012). Even though their latest album was released in 2012, they have been staying active and have travelled to different parts of Asia and Europe for tours and concerts.

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Card Captor Sakura

Card Captor Sakura is one of the most famous Japanese manga turned anime series which was greatly received both locally and internationally. There are Japanese versions and even US versions of the anime and this adaptation was praised for capturing the interest of both young and adult viewers. It started out as an anime and eventually became a TV anime adaptation. It even won a Best Manga award in 2001 from the Seium Awards, Best Anime Award from Animage Grand Prix in 1999.

Card Captor Sakura

Card Captor Sakura

Sakura Kinomoto is the main character of this Japanese Shojo Manga series which started in 1996 and officially ended in 2000. She is an elementary school student who, after accidentally setting free a set of magical cards, learns that she has magical powers. These cards, known as Clow Cards, have individual powers in them and were created by one of Sakura’s ancestors who had magical powers. Since it was her who set the magical cards free, it was her task to collect (or “catch”) these cards to prevent them from creating harm to the world. As she “catches” the cards, she can use their powers so that she could capture the other Clow Cards. She has a magical staff which was seemingly gifted to her by Clow so that she could easily capture these cards. Later on in the series, she would be using a key of the same purpose.

Whenever she’s trying to capture some Clow Cards, she normally wears different costumes that seem to exactly fit the power of the card. These costumes are made by her best friend, and number 1 fan, Tomoyo. Tomoyo is also excessively passionate about everything that Sakura does and even risks her life to film her during his card capturing activities.  Tomoyo is perhaps one of the most important characters in the series and she plays a major role in completing the personal of Sakura. Sakura also has a love interest, Syaoran Li, who even though he started as a competitor in capturing the Clow Cards worked hand in hand with sakura to capture the cards.

Sakura’s character is extremely energetic, sweet and even athletic and cheerful. She is also very optimistic and trustworthy, which is why she gained lots of friends. Her character is extremely outgoing as she is portrayed to be an excellent runner and even a member of her school’s cheer leading squad. All these traits may be the reason why she was somehow fated to become the card captor.

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Matsuo Basho

Haiku is among the most famous forms of Japanese poetry which greatly influences the literature of the world. It is a very short poem that is usually consists of three phrases. The three phrases follow a particular pattern of 5,7 and 5 respectively. This means that the first phrase has five syllables, the second phrase has seven and the third phrase has five. Normally, haikus are written traditionally to give its readers or listeners an image of what is being described. Often these images include those of beauty and nature. Modern day haikus also include imagery not only of nature but also everyday objects or occurrences. It simplicity gives the haiku its allure and peaks the interests of its listeners. This poem is also dynamic because the simple description of nature and objects allows an individual to portray what they are visualizing to others who can actively imagine them. Haikus are great pass time of people in early Japan and are normally exchanged during parties and banquets.

Matsuo Basho

Matsuo Basho

Matsuo Basho, though he lived in 1600 Japan, is the most famous poet in Japan. He began writing when he was young where he was known to love wandering in the wilderness. All his observations and experiences that he gets from his explorations are those that inspired majority of his work. He believed that the beauty and wonder he sees and feels towards nature need no elaborate explanation and can easily be revealed even with the smallest amount of words.  His words were so profound that he gained a wide following in all his lifetime. So many people had admired his work about nature that certain Shinto bureaucrats feel threatened and call his works “blasphemous”. His fame reached beyond the Japanese shores that in the 20th century his works are among the first few Japanese poetry that have ever been translated to many European languages.  This incident has expanded his influence that he is believed to have been an inspiration to many aspiring writers of the time.

Matsuo Basho’s works have been admired by many that soon many people requested to be apprentices under him. Many people wanted to be like the great writer Matsuo Basho. Since then he lived his life up until his death not only as a poet but also a teacher. He lived majority of his life expressing his thoughts in haiku. However, in 1692 he wrote his farewell piece and one of the deepest of his works:

“Falling sick on a journey

My dream goes wandering

Over  field of dried grass”

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The Art of Japanese Fandom

Japanese fans are known to be one of the most dedicated and distinct set of admirers anywhere in the world. The level of passion that they have towards their idols, their favourite manga and anime reach beyond other people’s common notion of fandom. They fully express their desires and their adoration to a point where they celebrate in large masses and even try their very best to portray their idols and favourite characters (which is what all know as cosplay).

Hardcore Japanese Football fans

Hardcore Japanese Football fans

Japanese fandom is distinct to their counterparts in the world. They are even more intense than the “Directioners” of One Direction and “Beliebers” of Justin Bieber. It is an active community of fans with a common passion towards their idols. Japanese fandom is a subculture that has its own philosophy, lifestyle and even language. What is distinct about the Japanese fans is that before you join their community you have to learn their language because they not only have their own vocabulary but they also usually make acronyms about a lot of things. If anyone wants to be a part of the Japanese Fan Community, then there must be a few fandom vocabulary that they must learn.

Together, they are the true stakeholders of the entertainment industry. Other than the famous critics and journalists, fans can be the best admirers and even the worst critic of anyone popular. They can easily make statements, and gain following from other fans with the same opinion about a particular matter. The Japan fan community are even conservative that certain artists from other places in the world cannot easily penetrate and gain popularity in Japan. It is said that if an international artist has made its claim in the Japanese fan community, then it can be considered as a true mark of success. They would love it even more if the artist learns a little bit of the Japanese language.

Through modernization and globalization, their common platform is the internet. There are now a lot of pages, websites and forums that they can easily access and where they can discuss information, issues and even news about their favourite manga, anime, movies, and idols. Through these media platforms, they can easily organize events and even gather up sponsors from famous businesses and companies in Japan. Some of the fan organized events are featured in popular Japanese fan websites. Through these, fans can rally up other enthusiasts from different parts of the world to join together in celebration of many human interests and activities.

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The Infamous Japanese Internet Hater

In the midst of the natural catastrophe brought about the 9.0 magnitude quake that shook Japan in March 2011 and the devastating tsunami just right after it, the most common emotion all over the world was sympathy. Everyone in the world worked hand in hand to give whatever help and prayer they can for the distressed Japanese community who were not only shocked but disheartened by the unforgiving disaster that they have experienced.

Who would have ever thought that someone in their right mind would even thank God for such a disaster to befall any nation in the world? Oh, surprise, surprise! Just a few days after that devastating disaster, a 21-year-old woman named Pamela Foreman immediately became one of the most disgustingly hated people on the internet because of her “GOD IS SO GOOD” video. At first, any viewer would think that the video is nothing but a simple and innocent praise and worship clip. But, what is most striking about this famous video is the disturbing description that Foreman daringly posted along with it which said:

“PRAISE GOD FOR ANSWERED PRAYERS!!! GOD ANSWERED US AFTER JUST 1 DAY OF FASTING AND PRAYING! HE RATTLED THE ATHEISTS IN JAPAN!! THE REST OF THE WORLD BETTER BE READY! 1 DAY OF PRAYER = 9.0 EARTHQUAKE IN JAPAN! I CAN’T EVEN BEGIN TO IMAGINE WHAT 40 DAYS OF PRAYER WILL DO!”

She claimed that what happened to Japan was deliberately prayed for and (she believes) was God’s way of showing non-believers (not only in Japan but all over the world) that He exists. Within hours the video became increasingly viral where comments was posted about it in a rate of 500 comments every three minutes. All those that were appalled by the video immediately made retribution, dislikes reached more than 100,000 votes. After approximately half a million views, millions of hateful comments she came to her senses and eventually deleted all of her videos on the site concerned.  She even posted a video coming clean to what she did and many claim that she was merely trying to get a laugh (known as trolling) out of the incident.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion and with the constitution backing up her rights for speech and expression there can be no specific allegations that can be held against her unless it would be considered as a cyber-related crime.  But despite the constitution, what she did and said was hurtful and definitely insensitive and inconsiderate. The most inspiring thing about this was that the Japanese community was understanding enough to not create a commotion regarding such a petty internet incident.

Pamela Foreman

Pamela Foreman

image by themindofmatt

Shinsuke Shimada, a Fall of Disgrace

Shinsuke Shimada is one of the most noted and acclaimed comedians in Japan. He is considered a legend in his craft and made millions of Japanese laugh to their hearts’ content. However, in August 2011, he was relieved from his duties as a comedian and was officially kicked out from television. Everyone is curious as to what scandal he did that he gained such a disgraceful downfall. The event was simple, he had email contact with a well-known Yakuza member. The Yakuza is a mob association in Japan that has gained their population through the decades and centuries of power in Japan. Actually, upon the review of the contact between Shimada and the Yakuza member, there are no indications of crime or even any attempted crimes. However, talking to the Yakuza was already enough to send Shimada packing.

Even if it is quite unusual, for many, especially those outside of Japan, simple ties with the Yakuza can end someone’s entertainment career. But what many don’t understand is that have ties with these associations is no laughing matter to the Japanese. Such a relationship between a famous entertainment figure and an individual from a powerful association is an indication of the dominance of the Yakuza in many aspects of Japanese businesses, even up to the entertainment industry. Famous individuals like those from politics and entertainment industry may be thought of as using their positions to ensure and strengthen the power of the Yakuza in these industries.

Apologetic Shimada during a press conference

Apologetic Shimada during a press conference

However, since many Yakuza members are known publicly for their organized crimes dealing with huge amounts of money it is never a positive media image to be associated with them. Shimada may not be legally guilty with the crimes performed by the people he is associated with but have close ties with the yakuza is a Japanese cultural crime of guilt by association.

Despite their image, the Yakuza still have legal corporate entities that are leading in many industries such as distribution of media franchises in Japan. And they’re not all evil criminals that we think of, the Yakuza even quietly helped relief operations during the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. So, Shimada’s association with the yakuza is not the only reason why he is leaving the industry. There was even an incident that Shimada assaulted a young co-worker whom he felt was disrespectful towards her superiors; due to this he believed that he needed to teacher her a lesson and eventually assaulted her.  It is not known whether he retired on purpose that resulted from his shame or he was really fired because of these incidents. Either way, his time in the limelight has been cut short.

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Haruki Murakami: Japanese Best Selling Author

“You have to dream intentionally. Most people dream a dream when they are asleep. But to be a writer, you have to dream while you are awake, intentionally.”

The quote above was stated by none other than Haruki Murakami on one of his many interviews. The statement seems simple enough, but you can see that there is true meaning in what he said. It is his take on becoming a writer, and probably one of his best advise for all those who dream to be one.

Haruki Murakami is among the many notable contemporary writers of today’s era. He is famous not only in Japan but also in different parts of the world. In fact, his books have been translated to about 50 different languages, from native Japanese and English to other languages so that readers all over the world can be touched with his work. His bestselling noves has also been published in millions reaching almost every country in the world. He has received awards and recognition both in his native country and internationally. Among these awards are the World Fantasy Award in 2006, Franz Kafka Prize in 2006 and Jerusalem Prize in 2009. His most famous works include A Wilde Sheep Chase (1982), Norwegian Wood (1987), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994), 1Q84 (2009) and Kafka on the Shore (2002). His works are so in demand and current that in 2013 there were even buzzes that there is a possibility of Murakami winning the Nobel Prize.

Who is Murakami and why is he as famous as he is? Just like famous authors like Kafka and Tolstoy many of his books have themes of searching for the meaning of life and even the irrationality of the human mind. These authors are believed to be his inspirations and they have played great influence on his work. What sets Murakami apart from them is that he focuses more on a darker aspect of the human mind which include isolation, alienation and loneliness. Many readers can relate to his stories because he amplifies feelings and desires that are normally repressed. He also highlights the importance of memory and how each individual has their own but in a more worldly sense all are connected by similar memories. His works are meant to boggle the mind and to keep the reader searching for answers and truth. Sometimes, the truth is not the same for all. He even once said that his work are not well received in Japan because he thinks that the Japanese people always need to find the answers and exclaiming that his stories often don’t have any.

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami

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AKB48, the Top Selling Japanese Idol group

Normally, fans will hear of girl groups of four to five members that blend their talents together to form an awe-inspiring performance for their fans. However, AKB48 is no other Japanese idol girl group because they originally have 48 members. Yes, you read it right; there are 48 individuals that perform under the Japanese girl group AKB48. In fact, that is where their name was derived from. AKB is from the shortened termed for Akihabara or “Akiba” where the vowels at the middle and end are removed. They also placed a “48” in their name to signify the roster of their members.

What is most interesting about AKB48 and what makes them most different from other Japanese girl groups is the fact that they have their own theatre. Their producer, named Yasushi Akimoto, has conceptualized and created a group that will not only be limited to occasional guesting and concerts that are normally seen in television. He wanted the fans to have the chance of seeing their idols live and choose the dates when they want to see the performances of the group, and so they built their own theatre so that AKB48 will be able to perform on a daily basis. Other than just the performance, they also have handshake events where fans can have a brief opportunity of closely interacting with their idols. Their fan base even reaches shores beyond Japan where fans from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have found their ways on how to buy AKB48 tickets.

Today, there are actually a total of 140 members and knowing the true nature of the group’s performances will explain why there are so many members.  Within AKB48, there are smaller teams which rotate performances so that the girls will not get exhausted from performing every night and at least have a night or two to rest down their voices and their dancing bodies.

Despite performing on a nightly basis, their records and performances are among the highest selling in Japan. In fact, they set a record in 2012 for a whopping 226 million US dollars. This record has even beat some of the most famous Hollywood artists of today. They have set a series of records that proves their performances are really awe-inspiring and amazing. As of March 2014, they have sold more than 30 million records, which landed them a second place in the Most Wanted idol groups in Japan. In 2010, they even reached an achievement that not many artists reach in their careers where they have the first AND second spot for the Top Selling Singles of 2010 for two different singles “Beginner” and “Heavy Rotation”.

Members of AKB48

Members of AKB48

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One Piece’s Monkey D. Luffy

Monkey D. Luffy is the Pirate Captain of the Straw Hat Pirates. The fictional world of One Piece revolves around places populated not only by people but also all those other non-human folks like fishmen which is a race of a hybrid between fish and humans, giants and merpeople (mermaids and mermen). The main object of desire in this world is not just treasure but an object that can bring an individual pure supremacy. All pirates are in search of the One Piece which will give a person the power and the right to become the King of the Pirates.

Despite his age of merely 17, his childish demeanour and his simplistic way of thinking, Monkey D. Luffy is the Captain of the faction called Straw Hat Pirates and leads them on a journey through the world to search for the One Piece. His childhood idol was Gol D. Roger who was known to be the last King of the Pirates. However, due to some conflicts, he was executed. Before his death, he announced that his treasure (which is known as the One Piece) will belong to anyone who will be able to find it. Because of his known immense wealth and the promise of becoming like Roger, a great number of pirates set out in search for this treasure.

He is normally portrayed as a simple-minded young character who can be easily amazed with the simplest of things. However, there are times that his simple-mindedness becomes an advantage during their search. When faced with the toughest and meanest rival pirate groups, he is often the first and only one who can see the most straightforward and simple solution to their problems. Other than that Luffy also has a heart of gold. He is in good relation with all the members of his pirate group, befriends all other outsiders and welcome them into their pirate group. This fact also shows that he has a great and unstoppable sense of determination and commitment because whatever plight befalls his friends and comrades, he will use unbelievable amounts of strength to back them up. His golden heart is not limited to just that, as he never kills any of his villainous enemies no matter how evil they may be thinking that killing them does not serve the world justice. He believes that letting them see their dreams ruined will be a more satisfying punishment than ending all their suffering through killing them.

 

Luffy - Main protagonist of One Piece

Luffy – Main protagonist of One Piece

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Light Yagami of Death Note

Won’t it be wonderful if the world can be rid of criminals with the simplest gesture of writing their name on a piece of paper? Light Yagami has that power! He is the main protagonist of the Anime Series Death Note, which has a wide fan base all over the world. Well, it’s not exactly his magical powers because the magic comes from one of the mystical objects that seem to be in his possession. The power is his to control but is not his to begin with. As the story goes, Light found a mysterious notebook on the ground when he was roaming around school.  Written on its cover are the words “Death Note” and some instructions stating that any person’s name written within it will die.

Light is a normal student who is known to be talented and hard working. He is also known as a natural genius because of his high mental capacities and academic capabilities. He is so smart that he can calculate and predict all possible scenarios that could happen in a certain event. With this ability, he can easily plan the best solutions that would be most advantageous for him and he could do this even in the shortest amount of time. However, every genius has their pitfall. It seems that he has a sincerely cynical outlook on life; he is overconfident and even believes that he is never wrong.

He believes that the world lacks justice and he can put justice into his own hands through the use of the Death Note. He realized that he could use it as a tool to fully eradicate the world of criminals.  Believing that he can save mankind, he became passionate about his mission turning him into a ruthless serial killer of criminals. He used a pseudonym “kira”, continuously taunting detectives with his true identity. In an interesting turn of events, one anonymous detective known as “L” seems to always on Kira’s tail, provoking Kira into an attempt of killing L. Even the other characters of the series does not know his true character.

It is true that what he wants the world to have is something that the people truly need, but does it have to go to the lengths of him staining his own hands of the blood of the people that he killed, no matter what kind of criminal they may be? The intriguing conflict between the goodness of Light’s mission of providing true justice in the world and the evilness of how he carries out his believed justice is the most important reason why many fans are at awe with this series and his character.

Actors playing the character of Light

Actors playing the character of Light

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