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Tutorial: How to Use Your Denshi Jisho!

27 Jan

EDIT: Wow, cool! It looks like a lot of people are using this tutorial. I’m so excited that this is helpful. If you have any questions for me or would like to request other topics to post about, please feel free to comment and let me know! 🙂


Hi, everyone!

I’ve gotten quite a few comments on a post I made a while ago with a detailed explanation of the contents of my denshi jisho (electronic dictionary). Because the interface is all in Japanese, it’s difficult for a student to learn to use it, and there aren’t many (any?) guides in English online. So here is a simple guide for getting started with your brand new Denshi Jisho!

This tutorial was written with the specific model in mind (Casio EX-Word Dataplus 5 XD-A9800); however, I think this should be helpful to people with other dictionaries in the EX-Word series. Also, take a look at my list of contents. Even if it’s not the same model, you probably have some dictionaries in common with me, so it should be helpful.


Let’s begin with your keyboard! (These explanations go from left to right)

Top Row: First is the power button, which I’m sure you all found. The rest of the keys on this row are shortcuts, mainly to specific dictionaries. Note that each key has two things listed: when you press it once, you get the first dictionary. When you press it twice, you get the second.

*Note: If you are searching a term in one dictionary and hit the shortcut button leading to another, it will try to search that term in that dictionary (this only works if the dictionaries go in the same direction: JP>ENG, for example)

The first key is your all-access pass to the language dictionaries. (First press is to input English, second press is for Japanese). This allows you to search for a term in all the relevant dictionaries: I will cover this special function later. The second is JP>JP dictionaries. The third is Encyclopedia Britannica (all in Japanese, probably useless to you) and the main Kanji Dictionary. The fourth is ENG>JP dictionaries. The fifth is ENG>ENG. The sixth is the one you’ll use the most, JP>ENG and a collocations dictionary. I’ll leave you to puzzle what collocations means, because I still haven’t quite worked that out. Just use the JP>ENG dictionary and you’ll be fine.

The seventh key lets you toggle between the main menu (the list of dictionaries you see on startup) and review tools (to be covered later). The last button leads to “favorites” and your SD card data. I will not cover these in this tutorial–mostly because I barely understand how to use them–so consider it a challenge as your Japanese improves!

Letters: These are mostly self-explanatory. I haven’t figured out when you can use the keys with the little hiragana, but the numbers and math stuff is for the calculator function (電卓).

Bottom row of letters: Not much to cover here, except the key with the blue シフト(shift) and the one to the far right. Shift obviously lets you us the secondary functions of keys (written in blue if there are any), and the key to the far right is your backspace button.

Left bottom keys: In order, these read (blue in parentheses): History (Quick Search), Character size (Layout), Jump (Guide). The arrow keys are meant to scroll down when you are viewing a page. Now, if you are in a dictionary and you hit History, it will bring you to a list of entries you have looked at before. This only applies to entries that you have chosen and viewed full-screen (that is, if you stay to the half-screen view where you can see a list of words in order on the left, it won’t register in the history). Quick search is a shortcut to a mini all-dictionary search (First input box is English input, second is Japanese). Character size and layout just modify how things look on the screen: experiment with this yourself. Jump is an amazing function that you will love, and I will cover it later. Finally, Guide brings you to a guide in Japanese, and so is totally worthless to you.

Right bottom keys: The up/down/left/right/center arrows do exactly as you think they would. Though if you use shift, the up/down buttons can raise and lower the volume. If you press the button with the speaker icon, it will let you highlight a word (english only) and have it read to you out loud. This isn’t very helpful for us, but it’s super amusing. The other button, to the bottom left of the directional pad, lets you go back a screen.

There are also some buttons on the right-hand side of the screen. These are, from top to bottom, menu, jump, read aloud, go back a screen, enter, and page up/down. The buttons to the left of the screen (if any) depend on the dictionary, so I won’t get into them quite yet. They have pictures, so they aren’t too hard to figure out.

The input screen below the keyboard is awesome, and you should use it for looking up kanji. When it’s not set to input, it has some buttons on it–some which only appear in certain dictionaries. They are mostly shortcuts and can be safely avoided–so if you can’t read them, don’t fret.

*A small note: there is a tiny switch on the left side of your dictionary. If you switch it towards the headphone jack it sends the sound through the jack. If you switch it away, sound will come through the speakers.


So, now that you know everything about your hardware, let’s get into the software. I won’t cover everything in your dictionary, but I will highlight the things you need to make your word-looking-up experience as awesome as possible.

To begin with, let’s head to the all-dictionary searches. As I explained, there is one for searching English terms and one for searching Japanese terms. The first input box in each is for an easy search, but I’m going to teach you something really handy. See, this dictionary is made for Japanese students learning English, and so it’s kind of hard to read the entries for ENG>JP because they have no explanations: this is especially bad for words that are the same in English but totally different in Japanese. If you go to the English input screen and go down to the second input box (starts with 例文) you can search your term in example sentences! This gives you context, which is awesome. What I also find helpful is using multiple words in searches like these. If you type in “buy&love,” you get an example with the phrase “money can’t buy love” (there is an ampersand key next to the backspace button, only functional in searches like these). Also, if you happen to be looking for English idioms or pronunciations, the third input box seems to be the thing to use.

Next are the review tools (the second option for the seventh in the top row of shortcut buttons). When you hit this button you get a list of four functions: Marker, notebook, sticky notes, and sound-flashcards. I haven’t done much with these, but I’ll tell you what I can. These functions appear as options in most dictionaries, and can be found on the left-hand buttons on the screen. So if you are in a dictionary and you pick “marker,” you can highlight something in an entry in your choice of 3 colors. When you do that, it asks you which “marker folder” to save it in (just pick the first) and saves it there. Later on you can find it easily by going to review tools>marker>look at markers>marker folder 1. This is wonderfully helpful for keeping track of words you want to remember. A similar thing applies to sticky notes. Play around with these and see if they’ll work for you!

The notebook can also be accessed from a dictionary, but it’s not tied to the entries and is just there for making notes (I think it’s completely unhelpful but that’s just me) Finally, there are the flashcards. I’m going to let you figure these out for yourself, because 1) I don’t understand them very well and 2) I hate the interface and would recommend Anki if you’re looking for a good way to review your vocabulary.

And here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for (you have been waiting for it, you just don’t know it yet): the jump function! Let me begin by saying, again, that this dictionary was not made for us English-speakers. To get any kind of good information out of this dictionary, you are gonna have to cross-reference like crazy. Seriously, if you don’t do this you’re going to end up writing some really wonky sentences by accident.

To get started, search for “lunch” under all dictionaries. The first thing you see might look like 昼食. Say you’ve never seen the kanji before and you have no clue what it means. Never fear! Hit the “enter” button to make the selected entry full-screen, and now hit “jump.” Suddenly there’s a green highlight thing that you can move around the entry with the directional keys (you can also tap a word with your stylus). Let’s scoot over to those funny kanji. When in jump mode there are three buttons that appear both on the left side of your screen and on the input pad below the keyboard. The first option (top or leftmost option, depending on which set of buttons you’re looking at) lets you jump to the last dictionary you jumped to, which you can define by going to the second option, which allows you to choose what dictionary to jump to. The “last dictionary” function’s memory is different for JP>ENG and ENG>JP, so you’ll always get sent to a relevant dictionary. I won’t discuss the list of dictionaries that pops up because mine is probably different from yours. But read on to the next section for some hints on reading stuff!

So, say you know what your kanji means but don’t know how to pronounce it. You can use the third button (bottom or rightmost) to call up a tiny JP>JP dictionary, which–lucky us!–Includes the kanji reading as the first part of the entry. This will make your life a gazillion times easier.


Obviously this tutorial is very limited in scope. I do this partially because this device is way too complex to summarize in a blog, and partially because exploring is good for you and you will learn awesome things and be proud of yourself!!

But especially if you’re new to Japanese, it’s pretty darn scary to mess around with this thing. Here are a few characters to memorize that will make those big blocks of Japanese easier to compute:

和: “wa” refers to Japanese (as well as Japanese stuff and all things harmonious).

英: “ei” refers to English.

So, if you see a dictionary with a title 和英 it is JP>ENG. If you see this in the title: 英和 it means ENG>JP (和和 is JP>JP, and 英英 ENG>ENG).

国語: “kokugo” refers to Japanese as a first language (this tends to denote JP>JP dictionaries).

漢: this is the first character in “kanji,” and may indicate a kanji dictionary (like 新語林).

語: refers to words or languages.

見: refers to looking at things.

消: refers to deleting or erasing things! If you’re looking to erase things, look for this character. If you aren’t, look for this character and avoid it! (That right-hand side part of the character is what indicates erasure, so if you see it in another character, be wary).

Final comments

Yep, that’s it! I hope this tutorial has been useful to you! I definitely enjoyed writing it.

If you have any questions, please feel free to comment. If there are any parts I can clarify or edit, any places that need pictures, or any functions you’re dying to know about, please, let me know! I’d like for this to be a dynamic tutorial that gets better as more people read it and comment on it.

And if you have any questions totally unrelated to this dictionary (about Japanese, studying abroad, life in Japan) I would be happy to answer you!



15 Dec

So I think this will be my last blog, as I am leaving less than a week from now.

Today I’m going to try to sum up my experience here by telling you what I will and won’t miss about Japan. I’ll definitely leave something out here, because I’m limiting myself to 30 points total.

Things I Will Miss

  1. Theme music in grocery stores (especially the song about how fruits and veggies are good for you in FriendMart) and convenience stores.
  2. Amazing sweets, snacks, and baked goods–America doesn’t do them half as well, and doesn’t sell them in as many places.
  3. Western-style (sort of British) cafes with cake sets and cute sandwiches. I am going to go into withdrawal if I don’t hit up a tea room when I get back to Delaware.
  4. Japan’s habit of taking something Western and doing something to it that makes all the westerners go like “what?” Example: omelettes filled with fried rice.
  5. Special offers where you collect proof of purchases and get some kind of product out of it/drinks and such with little collectible items attached.
  6. Hot drinks out of vending machines for cheap.
  7. People dressing in the most outlandish clothes ever. On a related note, male fashion sense in general.
  8. Character goods.
  9. Being able to ride a train everywhere for pretty cheap.
  10. Very small dogs in outfits of varying degrees of ridiculousness.
  11. The sensitivity to seasons, aka seasonal snack variants (winter pocky!) and decorations for EVERY holiday ever. Oh, and Christmas music, because it’s always a little weird.
  12. The consumer culture–I’ve found that I kind of identify with it, even though that may not be the best thing ever.
  13. TV, including but not limited to, Japanese sign language instruction, anime, the most crazy variety shows ever, and the fact that if you flip through the channels you are sure to find a few hosts sampling some kind of food and going “umai!” while the audience oohs and ahhs (by extension, the food culture here, which equals eat lots of yummy pretty things and getting really excited about it)
  14. Sleeping on a futon! There’s something nice about sleeping right on the floor that makes you feel safe. Also it makes me feel super cool to roll up my bed every morning.
  15. Linguistic things about the Japanese language: getting spoken to very politely by store clerks is one thing, but another is a few turns of phrases that are exceptionally indirect. Instead of “Okay, let’s do this,” it’s “Let’s do this and have fun.” Or instead of “Okay, do this,” it’s “Okay, try doing this.” And instead of “I’m going to…” it’s “I think I’m going to.” It doesn’t make as big a difference when I translate it into English, but in Japanese it adds quite a few syllables, and you can mix and match as you see fit. This is why a hugely long Japanese sentence can translate as a very short one in English. It seems cumbersome, but all of these turns of phrase are made to indicate a spirit of cooperation and shared experience, so it is actually kind of comforting (However, depending on how it’s said and by who I also find it exceptionally irritating)
  16. Microwavable rice packages–best invention ever.
  17. The closeness and accessibility of everything–supermarkets, drug stores, convenience stores, public transportation, and so on.
  18. The lady who runs a produce stand near my apartment and greets us every morning.
  19. The popularity of all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink in restaurants and bars. A fixed price and a time limit, and you can get whatever you want. It’s a great way to get people together and socialize 🙂 Also to stuff your face.
  20. The fact that there are a zillion amazing things to do and see within less than 20 bucks and 2 hours away.

Things I Won’t Miss

  1. Lint. It is everywhere! I don’t know if it’s just my apartment but it is driving me crazy.
  2. Line drying clothing… all of my shirts are stretched beyond belief. I can’t wait to be able to use a dryer again.
  3. Being in the minority–it really wears on you. Knowing that you will never ever belong here no matter what you do makes you want to just give up.
  4. Japanese teaching styles and styles of communicating. These two things made my classes this semester SO awful.
  5. My tiny kitchen! Yep, next semester I will gain a whole square foot of counter space. Woo!
  6. Not-well-advertised and strange business hours that change depending on the store. So frustrating! I never know when something will be open.
  7. The garbage system, which is complicated and way too much work. On top of that, the things that are most excessively produced (plastics and paper products) are not recycled. My inner hippie is so sad.
  8. Standing out on train platforms in the cold.
  9. Constantly fearing a sudden and painful death by bicycle collision.
  10. The lack of central heating in most buildings.

Overall, I have had an amazing time in Japan, but I am certainly ready to go home. I want some space to process what I’ve experienced, but even though there are a lot of things about this country that irk me, I’m sure that once I get over the excitement of being home I will be wishing I were back here.

I’ve learned quite a lot of things in these four months–how to cook, how to not be a picky eater, how to travel without freaking out, how to get over my insomnia, how to speak Japanese and read kanji (not just knowledge but developing an innate understanding of why things are what they are), what it’s like to be a minority, how to live alone, how to budget… a zillion things. I’m still growing, but I can say for sure that this trip has been a really important part of my life. Now I understand why people make such a big deal out of studying abroad: it really is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

So if any readers out there have not studied abroad yet, make sure you do. You certainly won’t regret it.

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog! I really enjoyed writing it.

See you on the other side of the International Date Line!


8 Dec

Hello, everyone!

During my stay here, I’ve been lucky enough to visit quite a few classes and schools. In my last post, I talked about Omoto and a visit to an Esperanto class. Today I’m going to tell you about my two school visits.

Last month, our class had the opportunity to visit the high school associated with our university. For those of you who have watched a lot of anime, I can now confidently tell you that all of the high schools you saw in these shows were pretty darned realistic. As you go through the gate, a guard greets you. You then go into the school, which has a bunch of shoe lockers and slippers for visitors. We were first brought over the reception room, where we were introduced to our hosts. Then we were brought to the staff room, which is basically rows of desks piled with books and papers. In Japan, it’s relatively rare to have your own office, especially if you are a teacher: in most Japanese schools, the students stay in the same homeroom and the teachers change classes. Therefore, as the bell rang for the next class, the teachers all shuffled out of the staff room in their nice suits and slippers (great combination). Chris and I followed one to an English class.

Let me tell you, English classes are nowhere near like foreign language classes in the States. I’ve already touched on the Japanese education system in this blog, and I still don’t have a lot of good things to say about it. The class started with the teacher reading (in a horrendous accent) the lyrics to “Englishman in New York,” and the students repeated. Then they all sang it together. That was the fun part; but it was time to get down to business. Business consisted of reading and repeating of a story, and then a grammatical explanation all in Japanese. Finally, they were put into pairs and asked to translate sentences into Japanese and vice versa. And that was it–no making original sentences, no conversation, no language-immersion (such as speaking only English in class). I’ve taken tons of language classes, so this was a really big surprise to me. It’s hard to think it’s at all effective. But really, it’s just effective in different ways. Since English is a compulsory subject, most Japanese people have had a lengthy language education. They can’t speak it at all, but their vocabulary is surprisingly extensive. For example, I had to visit a clinic last month, and the doctor there didn’t speak any English with me. However, when he hit a word I didn’t know, he could write it down in English, because he learned all the English terms in med school.

Since this was my research topic this semester, I think I’ve come up with a good way to explain this huge difference in education. In Japan, English is a compulsory part of a student’s education: students take English with members of their class, and aren’t placed in classes based on ability. The material is taught in Japanese (except for the occasional ALT teacher–a native speaker who teaches conversation classes) and the focus is regurgitating information. In short, English is treated like a regular class in Japan (such as history, science, and math), even though language learning requires a very different approach. However, according to my research, younger teachers are looking to pick up a more “western” approach–in fact, conversation-focused language schools are becoming more popular. Japan is famous for adopting other cultures and cultural practices and making them its own, so I look forward to seeing what it can do in the future to improve its English education techniques.

In any case, the teacher and students were kind enough to let us take a photo with them. There’s me, sticking out like a sore, pink, thumb 🙂

After that, we met with some teachers and administrators and were allowed to ask questions. They provided cake and coffee (I love Japanese hospitality–this is completely normal) and we got to experience a formal meeting situation. This was a really amazing experience for me, and by following the lead of our teachers I learned a lot about being polite in Japanese.

Next up is my visit to Saiwai Preschool (Izumi City). Thanks to our program director’s excellent connections, Karen and I were able to spend about 45 minutes as preschool teachers to a bunch of energetic Japanese kids. They were absolutely adorable. Karen has worked at a preschool before, so she loves kids and is totally used to lesson planning. Therefore, we had a bomb lesson plan and managed to keep the kids busy the entire time.

First, we introduced ourselves. Then we played a quick game where we threw a ball around and had the children introduce themselves to us, which was about 10 minutes of throwing, catching, and mumbling. Ah, kids. In any case, our next activity was HAND TURKEYS. It was the week after Thanksgiving, so we thought it to be a fitting activity.

We also taught them how to write “Happy Thanksgiving,” which went relatively well, except for the one kid that burst into tears because he couldn’t write it right. Anyway, the children did a great job, and had an awesome time coloring in their turkeys and adding eggs. Look at the skill!

Finally, we sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in English, which was super amusing. I broke out what I guess is a less-well-known version and confused some people, but the kids seemed to have fun with it.

Finally, it was time to go, and the kids all shook hands with us (us being Westerners and all). A few of them mumbled “今日遊びに来てくれて、ありがとうございます”–that is, “Thank you for coming to play with us.” But it took them so long to get it out (it’s kind of a complicated sentence structure) and it was just adorable. Some of them even gave us the pictures they drew!!

After the class, we were served coffee in the staff room and got to have a little chat with the teachers, which was nice. It was a much more relaxed atmosphere than the high school, it being a preschool and not too serious at all. When we left, they gave us a little gift of adorable and delicious cookies (gift-giving on a visit is very common here–Lauren brought a gift not only for the teachers but also a personal gift for her friend in the school).

And, like in the high school, there was time for a photo op!




30 Nov

Today, I’m going to tell you about my visit to Oomoto’s Osaka branch to sit in on an Esperanto class. Okay, so that probably makes little to no sense to you readers, so give me a moment to explain:

Although I’ve already talked about Oomoto in this blog, here’s a quick history. Oomoto is a sect of Shintoism that came to be in the turbulent late 1800s/early 1900s. It began when Deguchi Nao, a woman with an exceptionally difficult life, was suddenly possessed by the god Ushitora no Konjin, who claimed he would be the one to restore the world. After some time, her frequent outbursts landed her in jail, where she requested the god to please find a better way to get his point across. At this point, he commanded her to take up a nail and compelled her to write on the walls. This was somewhat of a surprise, considering Deguchi was illiterate. In any case, over the course of her life Deguchi wrote a huge number of pages, all in hirigana, a phonetic script.

As the religion took hold, another person came onto the stage: Deguchi’s son-in-law, Onisaburo. He took a very entrepreneurial approach to the religion, and brought it large amounts of success–so large, in fact, that the religion was shut down by the government twice (and violently so).

Omoto’s teachings center on peace and understanding between cultures and religions, and the traditional arts. Of course, the thing I find most interesting about Omoto (aside from the fact that it reminds me so much of my own faith, Quakerism), is that they are a strong proponent of Esperanto. Esperanto is a language that was created by Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof, from what is now Poland. Because it is a constructed language, it has no political borders or cultural allegiance, and so can be used to facilitate international relations and understanding.

As it so happens, there is an Omoto branch nearby, and I managed to get in contact with the international relations director, who was also an Esperanto teacher. After a lot of back-and-forth involving rules and regulations and group affiliation issues, I finally got permission from my program director to visit.

After some interesting transit adventures, I walked down an old street full of crowded buildings and found myself at the gate of a very large one, Omoto’s Osaka headquarters. I went in, took off my shoes, and introduced myself to the first person I could find, who took me down a hall into a Japanese-style part of the building. My contact, Tanaka-san, and another man were waiting in a small conference room with sweets, takoyaki (fried octopus balls), and coffee.

At first it was really awkward–I had never met Tanaka-san before, so I had to ask who was who, and then I think neither of us knew what to say. Tanaka told me a bit more about Omoto, mixing English and Japanese, and then brought me out to their main sanctuary (not sure what the right word is for it). It was absolutely beautiful: here it is set up for the class.

Since I was early, they showed me a video of their history in Japanese (did not understand it, but I picked up on a few things I had learned before). Then, as people were trickling in for the Esperanto class, I was introduced. The members had some questions for me, and then I got to ask questions to them. I didn’t quite know where to start, and although I found a few to ask I couldn’t quite understand their answers. Somewhat of a bummer, because from what I could tell they were really interesting. But I did get to take a picture of us all together, which was nice. Everyone was super friendly.

In any case, class started. I think my presence got the teacher kind of off-topic, because he started talking about how different cultures deal with names (like how in Russia you are “son-of-so-and-so”) and how different cultures write. He also spent some time explaining to the class why Japanese was so darned difficult for people like me (by giving examples of how totally random kanji readings can be). Even though we never quite got to the point of the class, the students seemed to be enjoying themselves anyhow, because they were learning new things about different cultures.

After the class, I got to talk a little bit more with the students. They were all really friendly. Culture note: there’s a generation of 40+ women in Osaka called Osaka Obaa-san (“Osaka Grandmas”) who are very different from other people you meet. They’re super friendly, very outspoken, love to gossip, and sometimes they dye their hair weird colors like purple, just because they can. Another thing they do is hit people. I have a friend staying with one such Obaa-san, and as he explains it, this lady just smacks him out of affection (arm, back of the head, etc.) when he does something silly, something smart, something nice, etc. It’s just one of those things… but in Japan, a culture where people don’t seem to touch very much, this is quite a lot of contact, even though it comes through in a kind of violent way.

Anyway, the point I’m getting to here is that at least one (I suspect more) of the women in the class fell into this category, and I got hit on the arm quite a few times. I had warning and so I knew it was a positive thing–otherwise I would have been surprised. And honestly, it was heartwarming just to have someone take the effort to reach out and touch me, in a place where other people tend to keep their distance.

Overall, it was a really interesting experience. It didn’t go quite how I expected it to, and in a lot of places I was worried I said the wrong thing, because I still haven’t learned how to be properly polite in formal situations like these. However, everyone was really nice and open and I felt really welcome. I’ve been wanting to learn more about Omoto ever since I learned about it back at my home university, so I’m really glad I got the opportunity. It’s a really nice community–perhaps when I am better with Japanese I can go back and learn more.


Note: I pulled a lot of the background information out of my somewhat sketchy memory, so do forgive me if there are any small errors.

Another note: If you are interested in Oomoto (especially Onisaburo’s hijinks), I recommend to you Nancy Stalker’s Prophet Motive. Not only does it have an extremely clever name, but it’s well-written and super interesting.


28 Nov

Today I’m going to tell you about Japanese Characters. I don’t mean the ones you write with–I mean “Character” with a capital “c.” To orient yourself, let’s start with Hello Kitty, one of the few characters that has made its way to the United States’ mainstream culture. But although Hello Kitty is still huge in Japan, it’s certainly not alone.

Here’s a look at what characters are “in” in Japan right now.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(Slideshow contents: Mameshiba, Kapibara-san, Anpan Man, Cubic Mouth Mickey, Hikonyan, Elite Banana, Rirakkuma, Sento-kun, the Snuggle bear, Usavich, Suita city’s mascot)

Now, Japan loves cute. It’s everywhere. So if there’s an event or a city wants to spice up its image, they make a character for it. My school’s city has a character, Nara’s 1300th anniversary has a character, and next time the Olympics are in Japan–oh, you know there’s going to be a character. Of course, you don’t need such a solid reason to make a character, because the consumers are waiting. This isn’t just “Oh, I found a cute doll. Maybe I’ll give it to my niece.” And it’s not “Wow, this wallet is so silly-looking! I’ll buy it and be ironic and cute at the same time.” Folks, this is:

Wallets, stationary supplies, stuffed toys, cell phone chains, cell phone decorations, cell phone cases, bags, keychains, card cases, water bottle covers, book covers, pencil cases, body warmers, hand warmers, kitchen supplies, things that hold your boots up straight when you aren’t wearing them so they don’t wrinkle, videos, books, candies, clocks, trash cans, decorations, headphone holders, tissue box covers, cups, mugs, chopsticks, bentos, toothbrushes, towels, handkerchiefs… and I am most definitely leaving something out.

The point is, character goods make up a huge share of the market for everyday items and accessories. Everywhere you go, you will see people, especially–but not limited to–young people, using character goods. There are plenty of places to get them: capsule machines, home goods stores, stationary stores, and even stores devoted to a single character or character franchise (see slideshow above).

Why are character goods so popular here? As I discussed in my last post, there certainly is a preoccupation with cute. Cute things make you feel better. To some people they are somewhat of a healing: you look at the character, which is cute and simple, it brings you some happiness and a feeling of simplicity, even if your life is messy and stressful. Cuteness requires some kind of dependency–a cute character needs you as its caretaker. And no matter what your age, cute things can bring you back to your childhood, and good memories (natsukashii, or nostalgic, might be the second most common adjective after kawaii, or cute). And in the stressed world of Japan, this is pretty important.

Character goods also fit into the rampant consumerism of this country. People buy stuff. A lot of stuff. I don’t really know how to explain this any further, but consumerism appears to run much deeper here than in the States, and in a different way. Consumerism is a way to fit in in society. For example, everyone who’s cool has these big keychains that look like they cut the tail off an animal, even though they look mildly silly. And tons of people have Usavich dolls hanging from their bags. If you buy these things, it gives you a sense of community with mainstream, even if you feel isolated in other ways. You share a branded connection.

In any case, character goods are great. I really enjoy them, because cute makes me really happy. I wrote this post because I started going on about them to a friend and was met with total confusion. I hope I managed to explain them properly to everyone out there!


Note: My cute analysis draws from a few different articles I’ve read on cuteness–they appear to be agreed-upon in the intellectual community, so I didn’t bother to cite a specific source.


7 Nov

Hello, all!

Lately I’ve been working on my research project for my Contemporary Culture in Japan class. Today, I’m going to tell you a little bit about the ren’ai simulation game, LovePlus–the focus of my research.


First of all, what is a ren’ai simulation game? The word ren’ai means “romance,” and these game simulate romantic relationships. In these games, the player plays as a single character and interacts with others, choosing from possible conversational topics, responses, actions, etc. in order to develop a relationship. Depending on the game, you can play any gender combination (guy pursuing girl, girl pursuing guy, girl pursuing girl, guy pursuing guy). The setting can take realistic or fantastic form, and the goal ranges from getting the guy/girl, getting married, getting to the end of a story, or just hooking up. Often there are multiple potential romantic interests. These games can be super-innocent, but they can also be extremely pornographic.

Ren’ai games are on a continuum of unscripted and scripted role-playing games. The most heavily scripted are called visual novels, some of which give you little to no choice and tell a story with still images, sound, and text. On the other end of the spectrum is what I’ve decided to call a “pure” romantic simulation, where the world is your sandbox: you choose what your name is, what kind of things you do, where you go, and what you say.

LovePlus for the Nintendo DS is a relatively new game from Konami that brought the concept of unscripted ren’ai games to a whole new level. In this game, like other “pure” romantic simulations, you have tons of choices. What sets this game apart is that there’s no end, and no goal. You see, once you win over one of the three girls and begin dating, the credits roll, and a whole new type of gameplay is opened up. From now on, you are dating this girl. You live a life, go to school, take tests, have dates, and deepen your relationship.


Once you start dating, some very unique functions become available. First of all, although you can choose to play casually, you can also set the game to real time mode. This means that if you make a date with your girl at 6:00pm, you have to switch on your DS and meet her. The girls themselves are ridiculously realistic, although certainly stylized. They move realistically, are fully-voiced, and can even say your name. Your girlfriend’s personality and appearance will change over the course of the game depending on things you say or suggestions you give her.

Another very interesting feature is called “skinship” mode, (slightly weird video, not quite appropriate for the workplace) which is meant to simulate a physical relationship without being pornographic. You essentially touch your girlfriend’s face, neck, ears, etc. with the stylus, and receive feedback in giggles and sighs. There is also a kissing function that works in a similar manner.

On top of all of this, you can use your iPhone to take photos of your girlfriend in real-life settings. There is a map on the Konami website where users can post photos and comments. A particularly sweet (some might call it crazy) photo has a guy’s DS with his girlfriend propped up next to a meal at a restaurant. The comment reads “Nene [girlfriend’s name], how do you like the meal? Oh good, I’m glad.”

People who enjoy fantasies like this were also able to take part in a campaign this last summer where they could visit the romantic destination of Atami city with their virtual girlfriend. When they checked into participating hotels, they would be greeted as couples. During their stay, they would play through a corresponding game scenario, simulating a vacation with their beloved.

Overall, the game is exceptionally realistic, and in not offering a goal as well as offering all kinds of simulation options, it becomes less of a game and more of a reality. In fact, one man by the name of Sal9000 actually went as far as to have a wedding ceremony for himself and his virtual girlfriend. Although quite a few people thought it was a publicity stunt, in all of his statements he appears very earnest. Clearly, this game has a strong effect on its players.


Konami recently released a new version of the game, LovePlus+, which includes a few extras. One of these extras has the potential to do quite a lot of good: the SOS button. If, in your conversation choices and such, the game detects a negative change in your mood, an SOS button will become available. If you are in crisis, you can press this button (you can only do it once, so it’s truly for emergencies) and your girlfriend will talk you down with a moving speech about how important you are to her and everyone else you know.

Now, after reading all of that, I’m sure some people are cracking up, some people are puking, and some people are just completely dumbfounded. The LovePlus phenomenon is something that would never happen anywhere but Japan. I can’t do a really amazing analysis here, but I will offer some theories on why it “works” in this country.

First of all, the Japanese are stressed out. They work hard, and are under lots of different pressures. LovePlus can provide an outlet. A lot of peoples’ jobs take up tons of their time, and there’s just no time for real relationships, ones that you can’t just turn off. On top of that, marriage for a woman often means losing her job and taking on the role of housewife, something many women are just not okay with. So a lot of people just aren’t getting married: they’re too focused on other parts of their lives. Another thing is that in Japan, it isn’t so strange to see an adult playing on a DS on the train. Here, unlike in the States, the DS is an acceptable diversion for adults as well as children.

Finally, there’s kawaii culture. Kawaii is loosely translated as “cute,” but its meaning extends a bit farther, to concepts like “childish” and “dependent.” In the States, there’s an age limit to kawaii. If you’re an adult who’s childish and dependent, it’s not cute. But–according to Kanai Haruka of Waseda University (Cute Culture and People in Japan: What Makes Japan Cute?)–in Japan, the concept of kawaii is somewhat of a method of acceptance in any age group. Kawaii is practiced and appreciated by everyone, not just children.  Therefore, it seems that it’s a bit more acceptable to enjoy what others might call a childish fantasy, despite being an adult.

This is mostly from my observation, and as a gaijin, I’m not particularly well-informed. But it definitely says a lot about Japan, that LovePlus is so popular. Although it seems a bit strange, I don’t think it should be written off too quickly. There are merits to LovePlus and other games like it: they bring some kind of joy to people like Sal9000, and I think that’s important.


For further reading, I recommend this website. It has a full English walkthrough of the game’s features.


2 Nov

Hello all! I’m sorry for the lack of posting. My life has been extremely busy and extremely uneventful. I’ve had a ton of work to do, so there hasn’t been much new to report.

Today I’m going to tell you about last week’s school festival, Kishibe-sai.

All of the foreign students were randomly split into groups: China, Korea, America, and Europe. We had to come up with a menu specific to our region and then mass-produce it for the festival. I was placed in China, and we decided to make gyoza (dumplings), corn soup, and ebi senbei (some really amazing deep-fried lightly shrimp-flavored chip things that melt in your mouth). Therefore, the days proceeding the festival were spent in huge groups rolling dough, mixing meat, and folding up cute little dumplings.

The folding part is amazingly difficult, but after a gazillion tries, I got the hang of it. I also took down some notes, so hopefully I can now make them on my own!

The festival started on Friday, which meant a day off from school! However, I was signed up to work 4 hours each day, so it wouldn’t be a super chill time. During my shifts, I helped make more gyoza, serve customers, and take care of the trash. A lot of people knew what they were doing more than me though, so I kind of kept to the sidelines and looked for things to keep me busy. Here’s our booth and our faithful mascots 🙂

I also got to help out with Aikido club’s booth for a little while, which was fun. They were also making grilled sandwiches, including one with chocolate and one with pizza sauce, tuna, and cheese… yum! This is them getting super excited to be photographed!

At the festival, there were all kinds of food. Cucumber-on-a-stick, chicken-on-a-stick, hot-dogs-on-a-stick (beginning to notice a pattern?), custard-filled balls of dough, hamburgers, fries, ice cream, cotton candy, you name it. The Korean booth did Toppogi (Tteokbokki, or Korean rice cakes in a spicy sauce), America did grilled cheese, and Europe did pea soup and pancakes (highly underrated! They were delicious!)

On top of that there were performances. Each of our groups did one. Later on during the festival there was a kid’s show too. There was also some wrestling, and inside the buildings various clubs had displays. My favorite was the model-building club, because they gave me delicious foodses. For some reason, there was also a place where you could pay 300 yen and try on a wedding dress and take photos.

One of the cool things about the festival was that they had a festival-wide recycling program, where each booth receives plastic plates and cups. They put the food in there and then festival-goers would return them to a central location to be washed and reused. Very effective!

Overall, I had a really good time. I think some people kind of overworked themselves, but in the end we turned a profit, which we are in the midst of arguing over what to do with.

Tomorrow is Culture Day, which means another day off (we get one every two weeks on average)! This evening, I’m going to visit the public bath, then come back home and try making Nutella-and-marshmallow-filled-gyoza (just for funsies). Basically, I’m going to be a total slacker. Tomorrow I am off to try to find some good souvenirs and get some cold-weather necessities.

You have interesting blogs to look forward to in the future, including adventures to Shikoku, a small report on dating simulation games, and–if all goes well and I can get permission–perhaps my visit to an Omoto-sponsored Esperanto class. Stay tuned!