We’ve got a bit of a running joke in our family. South Korean television dramas are popular in Japan, and whenever my kids and I catch one on TV we call out to my wife to let her know that “her TV show is on.” It seems that for some reason, my Japanese wife seems to be mistaken for a Korean whenever she sets foot outside of her native country. For example, when we fly to the U.S., we sometimes take Korean Airlines since the bibimbap is good, and when the flight attendants get to my wife’s seat to ask her if she’d like more tea, they always switch from Japanese to Korean. While this often reaps various benefits — retailers in Hawaii will give her better discounts if they can’t tell she’s from Japan — we always wonder what mechanism is at work. Of course, it’s neigh on impossible to tell what nationality a person is just by looking at them, although that doesn’t stop Japanese from assuming that every Caucasian must be from the U.S. or Canada.
What is exactly is a “family”? Different people might have different uses for the word, describing members of the same household, or perhaps including a wider range of relatives. In Japan there’s no vagueness at all, as the concept of “family” is set by the koseki, or the official family register that’s maintained in every Japanese city. An extremely old system — the first family register dates back to the year 645, although the system in use today was begun in 1872 — the koseki is a complete record of the lives of every Japanese citizen, including every major event that happens to them, with western ideas such as birth or death certificates and marriage licenses all working through the koseki registry. When a baby is born, he’s added to the the family’s registry entry, and when a woman gets married she’s removed from her father’s registry and added to her husband’s. Gaijin living in Japan aren’t always happy with the family registry system, though. Since we’re not citizens, foreigners aren’t allowed to be listed officially in the family register except in the comments section. As a result, it looks on paper like my wife is a single mother of two kids, and we’ve had visits from social workers in our city to check up on the poor woman who has no husband.
When dealing with Japan, it’s natural to encounter some “WTF” moments, like seeing a strawberry & whipped cream sandwich for sale in a convenience store for the first time; that first encounter with an ita-sha, a car decked out as a mobile shrine to an anime character; or being asked if having blue eyes meant I saw the world through a blue tint. I remember being confused by the tendency of Japanese songwriters to put seemingly random English phrases in Japanese songs. Reading through my old CDs, I’d see bizarre phrases like HEART CHECK or BLUE RAY, LEMON or GET CHANCE AND LUCK or FAD, FAD, WITH SOMETHING COOL, LIKE A HIDDEN LUMINARY. After a while I came to appreciate that to the Japanese, English represents an emotional investment of (usually) six years of hard work spent memorizing grammar and vocabulary, and songwriters can use English to bring out feelings in listeners that couldn’t be accessed otherwise. Plus, English is just so darned kakko ii (cool), so adding a splash of OH PLEASE BE FREEDOM into the middle of a song gives it a special mystique. Another theory might be that the Japanese songwriters are putting bizarre English phrases into their songs to mess with the minds of foreigners who try to comprehend their language, a thought that occurred to me when watching the original Macross movie the other day, with the line “[Small white dragon]…is a very messiah.” Is that some obscure Dragonriders of Pern reference? I just can’t figure it out…
2008 calendars season is in full swing, and now is the perfect time to browse our extensive selection of over 200 large-format poster-sized calendars that are normally only available to people living inside Japan. From all the hottest anime to gorgeous Japanese actresses and swimsuit idols to kanji and art and traditional images of Japan, I really believe there’s something that everyone will love in our great lineup. Personally I recommend the Studio Ghibli calendars, which are a treat every year. The large Ghibli calendar is especially nice because it features all-new and original images from the films of Hayao Miyazaki, including insight into the movies that can’t be gleaned from any other source — for example, through the calendars you can learn what happens several years after the My Neighbor Totoro movie ends. Remember that are great calendars are the perfect gift for anyone who’s fascinated with Japan this Christmas season.