During my time here in Japan, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a wide range of Japanese people, from children to an 88 year old barber who used to tell me what our city was like after World War II and the GI’s were here. I’ve encountered smart young people who loved literature and an unexceptional middle-aged salaryman who surprised me by showing me pictures of the trip he took on the Siberian Express. But the one type of people I’ve met all too often are the bored, personality-less Japanese who seem to have no interests, hobbies or dreams whatsoever. Although there are middle-aged men and unfulfilled housewives who fall into this category, most of the people who fit this description have been teenagers, seemingly so bored with their lives that all they can think of to do is baito (part time job, from the German word arbeit) and video games, even as the springtime days of their youth pass them by. I know part of the problem is that I’m an over-stimulated American, but I’ve got tons of hobbies, hundreds of fun things I like to do alone or with my family, so it’s especially shocking to meet someone who, when asked what their interests are, truthfully answers “nothing.” We’ve racked our brains coming up for a word that describes this uninspired segment of Japanese society, but have come up empty, so I’ll dub them shumi-nashi (translatable as “the Hobbyless”) and see if the term sticks.
Japan is a complex place, and sadly, more than a few people choose to opt out of the rest of their lives through suicide. All too often, they choose as their final resting place a forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji with the dubious honor of being Japan’s most popular suicide spot. It’s called Aokigahara Jukai, a “sea of trees” that lies near the various picturesque lakes that dot the Fuji area. Every year police and firefighters do a sweep of the forest to find anywhere from 50-100 bodies inside, a number which acts as a bellweather for the general emotional health of Japan as a nation. Part of the problem is news coverage — as reporting on the number of suicides in the area increases, more and more people are drawn there. Aokigahara Forest is dangerous for other reasons too: mineral deposits in the ground cause magnetic compasses to stop working, which can trap hikers inside, and strange air currents have caused plane crashes, too. My Buddhist wife, who is quite in touch with the spiritual world, has declared that we won’t be taking any family vacations in the Mt. Fuji area in the near future.
The most popular way for students of the Japanese language to find what level they’re at is the Japanese Ability Test (Nihongo Noryoku Shiken), held every December at cities throughout Japan and around the world. There are four levels to the test: level four requires you to read hiragana, katakana and about 100 kanji (it sounds like a lot, but it’s easy, trust me), while the highest level, level 1, requires the ability to read the 1945 joyo or “common use” kanji, a requirement for entering a Japanese university. But there’s an even higher level for gaijin aiming for mastery of the language: giving a speech in Japanese. On Sunday, J-List’s own Daisuke will be tying the knot with his fiancee, and according to the United Nations Convention on Japanese Weddings, as the boss of the groom I must give the opening speech in Japanese. Wish me luck!
As if we didn’t have enough incredible 2005 calendars in stock for you, we’ve got two new items in today that you’ll just love. First is a larger, deluxe Totoro 3-D desktop calendar which features Hayao Miyazaki’s most popular creation enjoying some corn after a day’s harvest. Then, we have a great Kiki’s Delivery Service 3-D calendar which features Kiki preparing to depart on her great adventure with her black cat Jiji. Both are made of extremely detailed pre-painted resin and both can be used as unique photo stands when the calendar pages when 2005 is over.
Remember that J-List’s wacky Japanese T-shirts are a fun way to wrap yourself in an esoteric Japanese message and broadcast your love of Japan to others. Our shirts are all 6.1 lb weight 100% cotton and printed with the highest quality silkscreening method that will last for many years. J-List goes the extra distance for you too, offering sizes from small all the way up to 3XL for most shirts. Order 3 or more shirts and get 15% off, too! These unique shirts make great gifts, too.