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Japanese reality TV shows: more addictive than sugar

Sunday, September 22, 2019 / No Comments
In the last few years, Netflix has introduced us to Japanese reality TV. And we gobble. it. up. I grew up watching reality TV like The Real World and Jersey Shore (don't judge me). I still love these shows to be honest, I love drama. Unlike these shows, Japanese reality TV shows aren't all 'out there' in the drama department. The fights are way more subtle, the yelling and physicality is much less. So when it does occurs, it leaves audiences shocked. As desensitised as I have gotten to fights and yelling and hurling insults to one and another watching Western reality TV shows, I did not really expect this Japanese slow-paced-quiet-life to be this addictive. The quiet, soft, between the lines kind of conflict that was happening on my screen had me GLUED onto the screen. Let me walk you through some of the shows I have been binging and waiting for new seasons to come out, like a dog waiting for its owner to return home after a long, long day.

Terrace House

First of all, who doesn't know about Terrace House nowadays? The Japanese reality TV show similar to other Reality TV like Big Brother, The Real World, or Jersey Shore, an unscripted show where 6 strangers live together whom are carefully cherrypicked models or mixed so there are never ugly people in the house. Three women and three men where the women and men sleep separately in two different rooms and live in houses I could only dream of living in. So we basically just follow their lives, and they may or may not fall in love with each other.

Oh maaan, I wish I was young and pretty so I could join this show.

I started watching Terrace house from Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City, because this is the one that Netflix started showing. This stuff was like, what's going on. Is there even anything happening on my screen? And then quickly escalated to OH MY GOD did you see what -insert super subtle movement of someone- did? And how -insert very subtle and normal toned comment of the other person- reacted?? I CAN'T BELIEVE IT. Most people would go like, whut. There's nothing going on, they're just talking. But to some people who know the Japanese culture a bit better, some of these 'normal conversations' are full-blown conflicts. And when they DO have actual conflicts that are more obvious, shit has hit the fan and splattered on everyone in the room already. Enjoy that mental image.
If looks could kill.

Tears will flow: from people leaving the house kind of sadness to getting dumped.

I am such a fan-girl I even went to Karuizawa last April and took a picture in front of the house. 

Fangirling SO hard, I NEEDED to go to Sasa (Tsubasa's dad's soba place) and try the soba there! I even saw him work there.

 The interior was very (old-style) Japanese.

The soba was actually quite nice!

They just made me hungry man.. Every date you have, every bite you eat, I'll be watching you. Am I sounding creepy yet?

Currently I have just finished Part 1 of Terrace House: Tokyo 2019-2020. I wonder if the Olympics are going to be a big part of this next year! Will there be anyone that will compete in the Olympics joining the house? Won't they be too busy training? All these questions!

Ainori (Love Wagon)

Less well-known, Ainori (Love Wagon) is a dating show taking four guys and three girls on a trip in a van throughout the world. During this time they get to know each other and if they like someone they can get a 'ticket' from the Love Wagon driver to go home together. Then they confess to the person they like and ask if they want to go back to Japan together (and continue their relationship). The next day the person that was confessed to gives her/his answer and either continue on Ainori or go home together. This show started in 1999 and was already popular in Japan, it was even picked up in Vietnam with their own version! Some of the couples even got married and have kids now. Netflix took it internationally and we are glad they did!

The newer season started in South-East Asia and during season two we got all the way to Central Asia. This newer version of Ainori includes some colourful characters to say the least..

Depparin is a young lady from Fukuoka (shout out to Fukuoka where I studied!) with a very ... colourful character. She is not your standard nod and smile type of girl. She will state her opinion and fight you for it. This woman stole my heart in season 1. Whenever she gets angry, her Hakata dialect comes out in full force. I enjoyed this the most honestly, she made the drama but some of it was fair. You can feel how she challenges the stifling side of Japanese culture by calling the others out when they stick to the rules a bit too strictly. This straight forward woman who dropped out of school challenges the restrictive Japanese standards in this show.  


In season 2, it felt a bit like they were milking her enormous popularity.

Oh oh, Shyboy.. How I love you so. You are not shy at all, singing in front of a radio audience like that with your own songs. Doing what you like. You are the most adorable, sweetest virgin boy out there. And boy, DID they focus on him never having even kissed a girl before. I think they just chose him to be a funny character on the show. Who would have thought the audience would be rooting the hardest for this underdog, this man that follows his heart and stays true to his ideals even though so many people might have mocked him up until now.

Never scared of showing your emotions. You precious, precious man.

How they show which character is interested in whom. Depparin's arrows were always all over the place, this girl liked a guy within 10 seconds! And then changed her mind in the next 10 secs.

Some of the characters are very memorable on this show. Some are not memorable, but as time passes we get to know them better and they touch our hearts as well. I definitely had to wipe away a tear here and there, tears of sadness as well as pure joy.

 These two made me bawl my eyes out.

Oh man, the most tense confession in season 1 imho.

I love this show, and a new season is out now! Can't wait to binge Ainori: African Journey soon! I first need to wait for the whole season to come out. Patience, where art thou.. 

The Bachelor Japan

Pretty well known over the world, The Bachelor is about a group of women competing for one guy (usually rich or something). I never watched this show before, and I started with season 3 of the Japanese version. This bachelor is a 31 year old dentist who likes fancy cars and golf (talk about stereotypical rich men..). All these golddiggers women compete to be the one he proposes to in the end. This guy is serious, he has a specially made ring ready and everything, boi's not playing around.

I feel like the show is making fun of itself with this one though. It's really milking this rivalry between women and bitchiness thing.

These are the main Japanese reality shows I am addicted to now, any others I should watch? Leave your recommendations in the comments! Please do tho, I don't have a life. I need this as life-support, for real.

Studio commentators: ode to Yama-chan

What I really like about these Japanese reality shows is that they have commentators. Usually a panel of commentators consisting of singers, comedians, actors and etc (aka famous people) sit and discuss what's going on in each show. Usually they start with what happened last time, and then halfway through discuss what had happened up until then, and in the end somewhere another reaction moment. I love how we can have a breather to digest what has happened and to discuss what could happen. It's kind of anthropological research in a way.

 These are the core commentators except for the guy 2nd from the right. There is one young actor like him which changed up until now, but the last few seasons the actor stayed the same.

 Sometimes they even have guests.

The commentators from Ainori, which except for Becky has changed a lot as well. I didn't start African Journey, it hasn't come to SG yet but we watch it with VPN anyway so amirite?

The Bachelor Japan commentators: I like the lady on the right. She was a former AKB48 from what I heard (correct me if I'm wrong) but unlike the 'pristine' image of that group, this lady is haaarsh and we love it of course.

My favourite commentator of all, is Yama-chan from Terrace House. Ryota Yamasato is a comedian who gives the sharpest and funniest comebacks. I love how he has no filter, at all. He thrives off the chaos and drama. Like me! Every time I watch an episode with my friends, I make a comment about something that happens. And then during the commenting he says the EXACT SAME THING. Too bad he's already married, totes soulmate material heh. 

All in all, I love that we get a glimpse into these Japanese people's lives. It's a tad bit very voyeuristic, but hey, I don't have a life. And it is so, so entertaining. Well then, let's open up another bag of chips and the next episode is in 5... 4... 3... 2...1...

~Written by Devi~

The Evolution of Kimono

Saturday, August 11, 2018 / No Comments
Are you interested in Japanese traditional clothing? Do you consider kimono as Japan's traditional outfit, and would like to try it on at least once in your life?
Well, while most people can easily identify the traditional Japanese outfit as kimono「着物」there are few who actually know that it isn't a garment worn by many until the Heian period, and the name "kimono" for the garment wasn't recognized until the Meiji period!

Also, although it is undeniable that the kimono is a historically significant part of Japan's culture, historical records pointing to Jomon period suggest that the clothing back in this hunter-gatherer era held little resemblance to the kimono. The kimono isn't "traditional" in this sense, but it is a garment that evolved along with the Japanese people through the Jomon period to the modern days.
Restored Incipient Jomon man
(Supervised by Hisao Baba, illustrated by Reiko Ishii)
In the Jomon period, the attire that the hunter-gatherers wore was thought to be made of fur and draped loosely around the bodies of the hunters, enabling them to benefit from the warmth and protection that the furs offered without any impact on mobility.

However, when Japan started switching from hunting-gathering to agriculture, the properties of garments that the civilization needed changed. In the Yayoi period, the outfit that they used was a loose cloth with holes for arms. This gave them a lot more freedom for movement and helped them work on rice fields comfortably. Geta which are commonly and traditionally paired with yukata was said to be developed during this period as well.
When trade flourished in Kofun period, the influence of Chinese and Korean culture came into play. The attire worn by women during this period was heavily inspired by Chinese and Korean robes which were closed at the front and tied at the waist with brightly colored sashes.

It is also noteworthy that there are still differences between the garments during the kofun period and kimono as many women then still wore skirts and trousers under their tops, making it a two-piece garment rather unlike the kimono we know today.

(Book “The History of Women’s Costume in Japan.”)
In the Asuka period, civilization has improved and developed advances sewing methods that allowed them to improve on the garb from the Kofun period to become more practical and aesthetically pleasing. Clothing became longer and wider, and were  divided by color into three different groups: formal clothes, court clothes, and uniforms. It is also during this period that males became the ones predominantly wearing trousers while females wore long, flared skirts.
In Nara period, Chinese culture was actively absorbed by Japanese locals as they sent envoys under the Kentoshi system to Tang Dynasty China. It is also in this period that the process of dyeing the kimono was further developed. Most of the kimono from Nara period consisted of only a single color per layer. In addition, Nara period also came out with a Code that required all kimono to be crossed left over right, and this convention that was inspired by Chinese robes stayed with the Japanese until modern times.

The Kentoshi system was subsequently abolished in the Heian period and during this period of transition, the Japanese were able to build their own national culture. Layered and patterned clothing to suit the four seasons became popular and colorful in the Heian period with the further development of dyeing procedures, and these techniques were swiftly employed to create a gorgeous set of robes that unified both the Chinese culture and Japanese aesthetics.
The most commonly known type of kimono in the Heian period is the Jyuni-Hitoe, otherwise known as the twelve-layered kimono which you often see on Hinamatsuri dolls. However, this attire does not consist of clunky twelve layers. In fact, the official name is Itsutsuginu-karaginumo, also known as the five-layered Chinese dress costume, which consists of six different parts in addition to the base Itsusuginu (five-layered robe): Uchiginu (a silk robe), Uwagi (outer robe), Karaginu (a waist length Chinese style jacket), Mo (ancient skirt) and Nagabakama (a long hakama).
In the Edo period, the kimono started becoming much simpler though more merchants started to pursue the emerging world of Japanese fashion and created decadent fashion compiling designs from several famous artists into one kimono and adorned the fabrics with metallic leaf, gold threads, dappled tie-dye (kanoko shibori) and luscious embroidery.

With fashion becoming an outlet to show off wealth, many samurai became extremely displeased with the riches of the merchants and the Shogunate passed many laws regulating the dressing of the lower classes. One of such laws was the forbidding of merchants and other lower classes from using the labor-intensive and expensive  dapple tie-dye technique.

Yuzen dyeing was developed at around the same time, which allowed craftsmen to paint the kanoko pattern directly onto the kimono, allowing for the use of distinctive and vivid colored fabrics with more artistic textiles. Since only the tie-dyeing method was illegal, merchants got away with using yuzen technique.

Three stark difference between the kimono during the Edo period and those before was the number of layers, length of the sleeves and the obi. With the improved dyeing techniques, kimono during this period had became single-layered once again and fashion was focused more on the patterns adorning the fabric rather than the number of layered colors. The sleeves were made longer to amplify the gracefulness of women as they moved, and were commonly seen in unmarried women's kimono. The idea of having longer sleeves for unmarried women are still rooted in Japanese culture with the Tomesode which is a formal kimono worn by married women. On the other hand, the obi sash in this time period became wider and several techniques of tying it were invented and came into fashion.
Japan opened her ports to trade in 1853 and soon after the overthrowing of the Shogun and the restoration of the Meiji Emperor in 1869, the new government realized that they had to transform themselves along the Western line in order to compete with the military and industrial might of the West. One of the by-product of this transformation was fashion. Many of the male elites started to wear business suits to work due to its association with concepts of civilization and modernization that the government was promoting. However, many women still wore kimono most of the time and one avenue that technology was employed was actually to increase the production amount and quality of silk fabrics, making them more affordable.
Industrial development during the Taisho period was heavily stimulated by the First World War. With the domination of urban growth, many people moved to the capital, Tokyo, to find work. Women also started entering the work force and although they still wore kimono, these garments often had Western influences in their designs. For instance, kimono became even more comfortable, vibrant and affordable with the new types of silk, patterning techniques, chemical dyes and industrialized mass production.

Women began wearing hakama as well, to improve their mobility when working and schooling. Also, the motifs on the kimono were typically dramatically enlarged and also diverged from the usual patterns found on traditional kimono. This style was believed to have been inspired by Western styles such as Art Deco, and acted as a visual statement for the independent, urban women of the Taisho and early Showa periods.
After the Second World War, Western-style clothing has became the everyday wear for most Japanese. Kimono became very expensive to own and maintain, and are only worn at a limited number of formal occasions and in festivals, and there are guidelines to what type of kimono should be worn during which occasion.

In the 21st century however, we are witnessing something resembling a kimono renaissance as they gradually come back into fashion.

The example that we are all familiar with are yukata reappearing in departmental stores in summer, and locals wearing these while touring summer festivals. Moreover, on New Year's, some females also choose to don a thicker winter kimono which is further layered with furs to keep warm while going for their first shrine visit of the year.

However, what you might not know is that fashion gurus have spun off looks involving elegant kimono in beautiful modern fabrics, and this is actually inspiring youths to match kimono fabrics with different items. Some of these youths wear these outfits to events such as graduation, while the bolder ones are trying them for everyday looks.

Fashion brands are riding on this wave to come up with new ideas which combine elements of kimono with other everyday items, designed for those who love the traditional aspects of Japanese fashion but are too afraid of standing out if they were to use them for everyday wear! And so far, the more popular items actually pull their inspiration from Taisho Roman outfits, which are the perfect mix of classy, sweet and cute, as well as elements from the traditional kimono such as geta or obi ensembles!
MOCOLLE's indoor Taisho schoolgirl wear
and the Hanao shoes, inspired by the geta design!
If you're interested in traditional Japanese wear but aren't sure if you wish to invest several hundreds into getting a full set of kimono, there are thousands of other people like you. Build your confidence by starting small with these simpler everyday items!

~ Reina-rin

Book Review: Japanese Whisky The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Desirable Spirit by Brian Ashcraft

Monday, May 28, 2018 / No Comments

"For relaxing times, make it Suntory time." 13 years after Lost in Translation's release, it seems as though the whole world has caught on and made their relaxing time a Suntory one, or Nikka...or any other Japanese whisky brand in fact, judging by how the industry is making international headlines every month. For the last three to four years, Japanese whisky sales has shot through the roof both domestically and internationally, winning numerous accolades and garnering immense praise from both critics and consumers alike. However, the attention has been a double-edged sword, with newer boys in the business being forced to innovate with non-age statement expressions or to bide their time and hope that the world is still as receptive in a few years. For market leaders Suntory and Nikka, they must be kicking themselves for not having the foresight to predict the success they're having currently, having opted to play it safe when the industry was in a lull. For the former brand, it has had to cease distribution for its popular Hakushuu 12 and Hibiki 17 expressions. On Nikka's end, they've had to do the same for their Yoichi and Miyagikyo lines. And as for myself, I regret not buying a few bottles when I had the chance to while I was travelling..and for finishing my bottle of Yamazaki 12 a little too quickly. Oh well, they say that hindsight is 20/20 after all.

With all the buzz surrounding Japanese whisky recently, I was curious to find out what made their take on the caramel-coloured spirit so appealing to consumers worldwide in recent years, even beating out bigwigs from Scotland and the USA. Enter Brian Ashcraft's Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Desirable Spirit. I came across the book while window shopping recently and eventually bought it after my browsing session threatened to become an in-depth reading. The book is split into two parts, with the first one detailing the history of Japanese whisky and what makes the tipple uniquely Japanese. However, I'm willing to bet that the second part is what most people would flip to instead. It details the major players in the market Suntory and Nikka, along with several rising stars and what the future of the industry holds. After the introduction to each brand, there is a set of tasting notes and scoring for a number of their whiskies by Japanese whisky blogger Kawasaki Yuji. These tastings include bottlings that are rare or might not even be available anymore, unless you've a spare arm or leg of course.

Although the pace of the first part is much slower than the second, it's far from dry, serving as a comprehensive guide to the Japanese whisky industry and showcasing how the culture of adaptability and flexibility has been present since its early years after first borrowing techniques from the Scottish. Additionally, Japan's drinking culture was explored, showcasing why whisky faced a decline for a period before its resurgence. Although beer still reigns supreme in Japan's drinking culture today due to its price, availability and how easy it is to pair with food, the guide also noted the places that sake, shochu and whisky had as well. The publication is a guide in every sense of the word, discussing the various steps of the production process and shedding light on native ingredients and materials that are used. Some of these include Japanese barley; which is already used to make beer and mizunara; a Japanese wood that's used to create casks that hold the whisky for aging and is reported to be notoriously difficult to work with.

For those of you who're strapped for time or are craving for a bottle or two already, I'm cutting to the chase, fret not. The highest scoring expressions on Suntory's end are The Yamazaki 1999 The Owner's Cask Mampei Hotel, with a whopping 98/100 and being mainly available at the Mampei Hotel in Karuizawa. Hibiki Deep Harmony comes in second at 97 points out of a possible 100 and like its cousin, is available only in Japan at bars across the country. For Nikka, its The Nikka 40 Years Old and 34 Years Old expressions all received a 98/100 but good luck finding a bottle of any of these. The latter expressions were bottled 19 and 20 years ago and as for the former, it's a limited edition, much like any other Japanese whisky these days actually.

Personally, one man's meat is another man's poison so just take the plunge and snag a bottle from any brand, you might just chance upon a hidden gem. Even Suntory's Kakubin and Nikka's Black Rich Blend hold their own against traditional whiskies that are geared towards mixing such as Johnnie Walker's Red Label or Jack Daniel's. These might even be your go-to whiskies after a long day, especially when paired with their best friends ice and soda water. However, as the industry continues to grow and with brands beginning to enter the fray, expect some duds in the coming years but for me, I'll be shrugging them off as experiments or as growing pains. The book ended up acting as an excellent introduction to the world of Japanese whisky and although several segments were bogged down by the technical aspects of whisky production, it was nonetheless a good read and a nice break from academic text, so cheers to that!

Written by ET

「Dearest Japan」Is the "Boys' Love" genre considered porn?

Thursday, April 19, 2018 / No Comments
One of the perks of having a degree in Japanese Studies is that you are constantly exposed to the weirdness that is Japan, alongside with several eccentric BL-loving accomplices that join you on your daily rambling about gay 2D men... as well as start a new series titled "Dearest Japan", for you to ask all your pressing questions regarding Japan and for me to do some research!
While the most debatable question remains as "why do you even ship men together?" which is most likely targeted at fujoshi who ships every man in a room together to form complicated relationship trees, I am not one of them and neither are the fujoshi I personally know. We love to stay close to our OTPs, thank you very much.

But jokes aside, let's begin with a little background context and some content from academic sources!
The genre for BL is created by women, for women's consumption, and this genre took shape from as early as 1970s in post-war Japan and appeared as a sub-genre in Shoujo manga. As incredible as this sounds now, the works started out rather platonic and lived off the basis of it being a "passionate friendship). 

It was only in the late 1970-80s that sexual content started to be incorporated into the genre. Hence, BL moved  from only encompassing the platonic relationships between two men to a larger scale, where it takes sexual relationships between two men into consideration as well. Around this time, magazines devoted to this particular genre started appearing in the market too.
The term Yaoi was coined in late 1970s and was an acronym for 「山なし、落ちなし、意味なし」suggesting that there was no peak, no fall and no meaning to the genre. Yaoi is, by default, only used to refer to works that primarily focuses on the (explicit) sexual escapades between two men. This holds true even in modern days when we think about all the porn without plot (PWP) fanfiction on the internet.

On the other hand, the term shounen-ai depicts the romantic and loving relationship, typically omitting sexual content. 

Take down notes here so you won't get your terms mixed up when speaking to a fujoshi. Most wouldn't mind but I'm sure you don't want to appear (too) stupid when you call root beer as coca-cola just because they are all grouped under "soft drinks", do you?
So now that you know that the different terms mean, let's move on the most possible reason why BL was even created. And that brings us to the long historical partnership Japan has with homosexuality.

I hope that you know that Edo Japan (1603-1868) had its own fair share of homosexual men and same-sex relationships were celebrated in some ways back then.
These male/male relationships typically consist of a younger beautiful man, wakashu, and an older influential man and the status of the older man is somewhat "elevated" with a wakashu at his disposal while his wife, who is considered a older woman, would be lacking in the looks department in comparison (shaved eyebrows after marriage).
Fast forward to the Taisho period, schoolgirls were enrolled into girl-schools where platonic relationships between an upperclassman and a junior were tolerated and viewed as a passing phase where the junior was "practicing" before graduation when she will then be married and be in a proper heterosexual relationship. They were also expected to stay pure (virgins) until marriage, and women were still oppressed in Japanese society then.

Hence, it is actually concluded by extension that the BL genre came about to help women cope with the stress of being a part of this oppressive society. BL became an empowering tool whereby it gave women an outlet for their sexual urges (porn for women?). Using the male main character, they were able to engage in sexual fantasies without having the guilt that they were sullying their own purity. They were also able to get away from the weaknesses that come with being a female, such as rape.

Thus in a way, BL and especially yaoi was created to be a form of "porn material" for women back in the 1970-80s. In fact, some academic papers actually claim that most early BL works can serve to liberate women and popular works typically feature androgynous main characters (example below) for these women to imagine and empathize with the main character. 

Due to the works being written by women, they also have an added shoujo-manga flair to it which does not encapsulate what gay men and relationships are in real life.

What I personally think is the starting point of BL really strikes me as being made as porn material for women when I look from the perspective of the women as well as the authors of the academic papers I've read through. However, I think that it is also crucial to note that most works nowadays do not usually feature androgynous characters anymore. 
Popular works like Junjou Romantica, Sekaiichi Hatsukoi and 10 Count all have both the seme and uke designed such that we can clearly identify them as male... so perhaps the dynamics of how BL serves as porn for women has changed (because we all know that yes, yaoi still is a thing.)?

So, what do you think? Should BL really be considered porn for women in the past? How about now?

~ Reina-rin