Portrait of the assassin as a young man

Mar 15, 2014

Portrait of the assassin as a young man

Sometime in the 1970s, as more Americans began to rally against the Vietnam War, an unknown cynic parodied the U.S. Army’s promotional recruitment tagline with the slogan, “Join the Army! Travel to unusual places. Meet interesting people, and kill them.” The killing part, at ...

Media await rightist ex-general's next move

| Feb 22, 2014

Media await rightist ex-general's next move

“Thank you, everyone,” wrote Toshio Tamogami in his weekly column in Shukan Asahi Geino (Feb. 27). “This has given me great courage toward my next move.” Tamogami, former chief of staff of the Air Self-Defense Force, received 610,865 votes in Tokyo’s gubernatorial election on ...

Playing the Japanese name game

| Feb 16, 2014

Playing the Japanese name game

Once, when telephoning the international PR office of a major electronics manufacturer, I got lucky. Without my even asking, the young woman who picked up the phone volunteered her name, saying 私は青木と申します (Watashi wa Aoki to mōshimasu, My name is Aoki). Actually it sounded ...

Promises of 'taboo' topics rarely live up to the billing

| Feb 8, 2014

Promises of 'taboo' topics rarely live up to the billing

When you see the word "tabū" in a headline, it's probably not really a taboo, mainly because self-censorship ensures that topics that really are taboo are treated with commensurate caution. Thus, an article claiming to expose some taboo might titillate, but probably won't reveal ...

Marketers succeed by generating <I>hitto</I> products

| Jan 19, 2014

Marketers succeed by generating hitto products

Japanese consumers and marketers alike certainly love their ヒット商品 (hitto shōhin, hit products). To understand how this term came about, we need to look back to the decade following World War II. When living standards gradually began to improve from the early 1950s, Japanese ...

After Aum, post-9/11 lull, weeklies rediscover faith

| Jan 18, 2014

After Aum, post-9/11 lull, weeklies rediscover faith

March 20 will mark the 19th anniversary of the toxic nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by members of the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) doomsday cult. That attack, which shook Japanese society to its very foundations, resulted in 13 deaths and thousands of ...

Imagining Edo Period intrigue from the U.S.

Jan 4, 2014

Imagining Edo Period intrigue from the U.S.

At the climax of “Shinju”(1994), Laura Joh Rowland’s first mystery novel, gallant yoriki (police sergeant) Sano Ichiro rescues the shogun from an assassination plot and earns himself a big promotion. It’s a pyrrhic victory leading to what Sano immediately realizes will be a thankless ...

| Dec 22, 2013

This year's buzzwords show how Japanese is evolving

Last month I shelled out ¥2,980 for my 2014 edition of 現代用語の基礎知識 (“Gendai Yogo no Kiso Chishiki”, “Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words”). It’s a 1,660-page monster that’s well worth the outlay, and this year publisher Jiyu Kokumin-sha, as an extra bonus, included a 74-page booklet ...