Hi-kara Karaoke Machine

New toy alert!

If you’ve ever lived in Japan you’ve most likely enjoyed karaoke on more than one occasion. With this new product called “Hi-kara”, brought to you straight from Japan by TheJapanShop.com, now you can sing Karaoke at home with friends as often as you like… and even download the most popular songs from Japan as you need them. This Hi-kara gadget is a pretty serious high-tech toy.

Here is a Hi-kara commercial from Japan.

The video mentions it at the very very end of the video (テレビでも!), but you can also pipe the video and lyrics to your home television set with an A/V cable, and sing with an external microphone. Information on how to set this up is on the JapanShop webpage. While doing Karaoke with the small 2.4-inch Karaoke box monitor would be fun, hooking it up to a real TV makes Hi-kara the ultimate Karaoke party toy.

This is a new product in Japan, but there are already 1,000+ songs available for download (official Hi-kara link, Japanese only). Songs by X Japan and Gackt are available, as well as Ayumi Hamasaki and YUI. Unfortunately (for Mac users like me) the software required to download songs to the Hi-kara device requires Microsoft Windows to run.

All of the instructions and controls for the Hi-kara karaoke machine are in Japanese only, but TheJapanShop has taken the time to write up a helpful English explanation on how to use the device. Of course, all of the lyrics to the songs you will be singing are in Japanese as well (except for those Engrish phrases that pop up here and there), so don’t let the language barrier stop you!

I don’t know about you, but if I were a teenage Japanese-studying kid into Japanese pop culture, I would be all over this like white on rice.

Personally though, I suck at Karaoke. (All the more reason to practice?) I’ll stick with my Japanese RPGs.

– Harvey

Japan-quality Customer Service in the States

This is a completely out of the ordinary post.

I use backpacks and shoulder bags made by a company called SpireUSA. I have purchased 3 bags from Spire so far. One for someone else as a gift, and 2 for myself (one backpack and one shoulder bag). I recommend them highly.

This company makes great bags. They’re not incredibly stylish, but they’re extremely functional. They are laptop bags with a protective padded sleeve inside that holds the laptop snug and protects it. From the outside you would never guess a laptop was inside which is great for security. They have pockets, large, small, zippered, open, in all the right places inside and outside of the bag. The bag itself is made from a material called Cordura which is very durable, and for some reason even seems to stay cleaner than most materials. I love these bags. I’ve travelled all over with them. Japan, India, back to the States, and countless other places.

Cheesy picture of my bag in Japan. The company was having a “Spire bags around the world” contest or something. I didn’t win.

Now, the reason for this sudden praise…

The other day I was carrying my bag around and the joint where the shoulder strap meets the bag on one side started to tear. I sent an email to Spire with pictures of the damage, and they said that I could either ship them the bag and have it repaired, or they would send me a replacement bag. They said fixing it could take up to six weeks. So I opted for the replacement bag. They don’t make the same model that I had anymore – I purchased the bag almost one year ago and it has been updated since. So you know what? They sent me a brand new bag, of an updated model, the next day. They also sent me a pre-formatted UPS label so I could easily return my damaged bag.

That’s what I call customer service. While in Japan I often wished that customer service in the states was as good* as it was in Japan… This is it. Excellent. It’s not even as if the bag was defective. I was using it for a year without any trouble, just one day I had my stuff in it, and the joint started to rip. I probably could have sewed it up myself if I knew anything about sewing… It feels good to be treated right.

Note, I’m not an affiliate or anything of Spire (but if they had an affiliate program I would jump at the opportunity), I’m just writing this out of the urge to let you know about this little-known company so you too can share in the greatness which is SpireUSA!

Seriously these are great bags.

– Harvey

*good: you get what you are entitled to, the same way, every time. However… in Japan I would often complain about the inflexibility of their customer service. If you wanted service that was on the books you would get it no questions asked… If you wanted someone to go the extra mile or do something out of the ordinary though… それはちょっと(無理です)〜。

Kurosawa – I Live in Fear

Like most Japan-heads I have seen a lot of Kurosawa movies. The standard Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and Rashomon are some of my favorites.

Now that I’m in school again and have access to a university library I have been borrowing Japanese films like a madman. Having re-watched most of my favorites already, I’m slowly breaking into new territory.

I recently saw a Kurosawa movie that I had previously never even heard of. The official English title is “I Live in Fear“, the Japanese title is 生き物の記録、which roughly translates into “Record of a Living Being”. (Note, the Amazon link goes to a boxed set with I Live in Fear and other rare Kurosawa movies. Seems I Live on Fear is only available from Amazon US in this set, in VHS, or as a DVD import with a non-US region.)

I heard about this movie while doing reading about the bombing of Hiroshima for a course I am taking. “I Live in Fear” is one of the few post-war Kurosawa movies that directly deals with the atomic bombings.

Without giving too much away, the plot involves a man who is so frightened of a potential future bombing that he nearly loses his mind trying to convince his family to move to Brazil with him where he believes they will be safe. But, is he really crazy? Shouldn’t everyone be worried?

I really enjoyed this movie. It was released in 1955, just 10 short years after the bombs were dropped and the war ended. Considering that any discussions or publications about the bombings within Japan were officially censored by the U.S. occupation authorities until 1952, it must have been quite the shocker to see back then. I’m sure it would have given me nightmares.

Random tidbit – did you know that Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis was based on Yojimbo? Bet you didn’t. Now that I think about it, Yojimbo may be my favorite Kurosawa movie of all time…

Now that I know that our library has gems like this, I’ve got a long list of Kurosawa movies to watch this semester!

– Harvey

A Desperate Game of Paper Scissors Rock. And Harisen.

An intense paper scissors rock battle ensues.

This is a game show featuring the stars of the famous comedy duo Downtown. Hama-chan (浜ちゃん) is the guy playing paper scissors rock in this video, and Machan (松っちゃん) is the referee.

The rules for this game go something like this: Each participant throws their chosen sign (paper scissors or rock), and the loser has to quickly grab a helmet and place it on his head before he is get smacked by the giant fan-like object (called a harisen) that is so often used to smack people over the head with in Japan. If they are able to get the helmet on before they get smacked, the game continues and they immediately do paper scissors rock again. The game ends when one person wins paper scissors rock and is able to smack the other person on the head with the harisen before they get the helmet on properly.

As you can see, Hama-chan gets a bit excited when he finally wins a round!

But wait!

This is JapanNewbie! I’m not going to simply throw a video at you and let you laugh at the physical comedy… We’re here to learn about Japanese culture! So here we go.

As I mentioned, this giant-fan like object is called a “HARISEN” (はりせん) and is frequently used in Japanese comedy. Just check Google Images for はりせん and you can get an idea about how prevalent it is in Japanese culture.

Harisen even has it’s own wikipedia entry in Japanese. The article explains that the harisen is a folded piece of paper bound at one in with tape or something like that. It is used by using the taped end as a handle, and smacking the face or head of someone with the other end. Because it is made of folded paper, it makes a very loud POP when it strikes, yet doesn’t hurt much at all. Indeed, the user can smack full strength without really hurting anyone.

I’m sure you’ve probably seen these harisen in various movies, tv shows, or anime. Does anyone have any particularly interesting harisen things they want to share? Let me know in the comments!

Harisen even makes an appearance in Super Smash Brothers X… and is quite funny.

Check this harisen event at 0:45.

By the way, if you want to know how to play jyan-ken-pon Japanese style with 3 or more people, read this jyan-ken-pon guide that I wrote way (WAY!) back in 2002.

Now everyone go make a harisen and smack someone around. I’m not promoting comedic violence.

– Harvey

Baraka: many interesting Japan scenes

I recently watched Baraka, a beautiful film featuring scenes of humanity from around the world. Lots of the scenes in the film were shot in Asia, and there are a significant amount from Japan. I don’t have a blue-ray player so I saw it on DVD, but word on the street says it is one of the most impressive movies to watch on Blue-ray available today.

The movie is a bit “old” now and it seems that most of the shots are from the 1980s, but it’s a great film – really a joy to watch and I highly recommend it .

There are many clips from Baraka on YouTube, but really, check out the DVD (or Blue-ray disc if you’re lucky enough to have a player) and try to watch it on a big screen with good audio as its meant to be watched.

As I mentioned, many scenes from Japan found their way into Baraka, including capsule hotels, monks, crowded trains, factory workers, and temples and Japanese rock gardens to name a few. Having lived in Japan for so long it was fun seeing Japan from an “exotic” perspective again.

This YouTube clip is from one of the many excellent scenes in Baraka. You’ll notice that Japanese Butoh dancing makes an appearance as well.

Some Japan scenes are in this next video at about 8:35 – even has a guy on a platform wiping his sweat… fascinating.


– Harvey

Japan as Number One

One of my professors mentioned as an aside in class today that the best selling non-Japanese language non-fiction book in Japan to this day (though, this needs to be verified, he said) is Japan As Number 1 – Lessons For America

Released in 1979, around the period when “Japan Bashing” in the 1980s would become popular due to Japan’s huge trade surpluses with the United States, Japan As Number 1 – Lessons For America
discusses the expectation that Japan would one day overtake the United States as the worlds most productive society.

I have never read this book, but it’s been added to my to-do list.

Have any of the other Japan-heads out there read this book? What did you think?

– Harvey

Laughing in Japanese

There are many ways to describe laughter in Japanese.

笑う (warau) is to main verb “to laugh”. It can also mean to smile, depending on the context.

There are many more phrases to express laughter or smiling in Japanese, and many use the same 笑 Kanji character.

Note that not all of these phrases are used in everyday conversation in Japan. I found most of these phrases in famous Japanese literature, but in pieces that were written at least 40 years ago.

Most of the vocabulary here I came cross while reading 走れメロス (hashire merosu) by Dazai Osamu. Which, by the way, is an extremely cool story. If you read Japanese from time to time, slug through it, it’s worth it!

Laughing in Japanese:

思い出し笑い (omoidashiwarai) smile reminiscently (to laugh or smile to yourself about a memory)

憫笑 (binshou) to smile with pity

嘲笑 (choushou) a scornful laugh

ほくそ笑む (hokusoemu) to chuckle to onseself

せせら笑い (seserawarai) mocking sneer

 (nakiwarai) a tearful smile; half laughing, half sobbing

微笑 (bishou) a slight smile

にやにや笑う (niyaniya warau) to smirk; to smile ironically

せせら笑う (sesera warau) to laugh mockingly

腹を抱えて笑う (hara wo kakaete warau) one’s sides shake with laughter; to be convulsed with laughter; split a gut.

膝が笑う (hiza ga warau) literally, “knees are laughing”. But this actually has nothing to do with laughter. It is when your legs get tired from walking or running to much and your legs start to wobble and give out.

Also, around the internet you might see (笑) or www used as we use “lol” in English netspeak.

Have a happy day!

– Harvey

Textbooks for learning and teaching Japanese

Genki Textbook

Genki Textbook

My wife is thinking about trying to teach Japanese to people in the neighborhood as a side-business. She knows Japanese, of course, but has never taught it, so now she has to “study” Japanese in order to build up a lesson plan.

Luckily with the excellent textbooks available for Japanese learning this isn’t going to be too tough to figure out.

The Genki Textbook series alone has enough information available for both the student and teacher. Genki is still on top in terms of best texts for beginners learning Japanese. Highly recommended.

Genki 1 Textbook: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese

Genki 1 Workbook

Genki 1 Student CD

Genki 1 Student Cd

And last but not least…

The Genki Teacher’s Manual

This is what my wife will need to in order to start teaching. In order to get any use out of this book you need to be able to read Japanese fairly fluently. Technically I could probably teach beginners Japanese myself… Something about not being a native speaker though that just doesn’t sit right with me there though.

New year, a new challenge! Did anyone make a new year’s resolution to study Japanese more seriously this year?

Good luck to all.

– Harvey

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