Gaijin on Getas Blog

Hidden Gems

Japanese Films

Posted on May 18th, 2017 by Mary Brown

Movies can be another fun and interesting way of learning more about another culture, and this applies to Japanese films as well. Traditional Japanese performing arts, such as Kabuki, Noh and Bunraku are audio visual. There is typically very little plot and character development when compared to western performing arts. The main purpose of these entertainment forms is the strict, stylized movements and the colorful costumes and makeup. Japanese movies are typically the same, at least when it comes to plot and character development.

At times, there are often long periods of conversations during Japanese movies, making the movies somewhat slow at times. A good example of this is last year’s “Shin Godzilla”, the latest and 31st movie in the Godzilla franchise. It was the largest grossing live-action movie of 2016 in Japan. You would think, giving the subject of the movie, it would be a fast-moving and action- packed movie. I have seen the movie, and there are several parts of the movie that are 20 minutes or even longer of discussions on how to handle the problem of Godzilla, making the movie a bit slow at times by western standards. (But then, this is Japanese way for the most part, and indicative of the Japanese culture.)

As you know, Hollywood movies take years to make and have huge, multi-million dollar budgets. In Japan, movies are made in months with much smaller budgets. It is not uncommon in Japan for a director to make 3 to 5 movies in a year. Most movie theaters in Japan are owned by the movie studios. Naturally, they will feature their studio’s movies only. So, they need to produce enough movies to fill the theater over the course of a year, and have enough variety to sell more tickets.

Just as with western movies, there are many different kinds of movies. But there are some genres in Japan that are not found in the west. Here are a few of the more common Japanese film genres. It should be noted that many times a movie could be included in more than one genre.

Jidai-geki

Literally meaning “period dramas”, these movies usually take place during the Edo Period (1603 to 1868). These movies rely heavily on costumes, makeup, set design and language. They will often feature Samurai and “bushido” themes, the Samurai code for living, and often feature the conflict between “giri” (duty) and “ninjo” (personal feelings). Examples – Seven Samurai, Harakiri, The Twilight Samurai, Chushingura

Chanbara

These are the “sword-fighting” movies, and are really a sub-genre of the Jidai-geki as they normally take place sometime in Japan’s history. These movies are the equivalent of American westerns, with samurai playing the part of American cowboys. Examples – Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman series, Rurouni Kenshin Trilogy, Lone Wolf and Cub Series, Yojimbo

Anime

Anime is hand-drawn or computer generated animation. The name is an abbreviation of “animation” in Japanese, and describes all animation in Japan. However, outside of Japan, the name usually is used to refer specifically to animation from Japan. Japanese anime usually features colorful graphics, vibrant characters and fantastical themes. Examples – Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, One Piece, Naruto Shippuden, Fullmetal Alchemist

Yakuza

This popular film genre focuses on the lives and dealings of yakuza, the Japanese organized crime syndicates. During the 1960s, a sub-genre called “Ninkyo eiga” (chivalry films) became popular. These movies portrayed the yakuza as honorable outlaws torn between the contradictory values of duty and personal feelings. This changed in the 1970s when another sub-genre, “Jitsuroku eiga” (actual record films) portrayed yakuza not as honorable heirs to the samurai code, but as ruthless and treacherous street thugs. Examples – Battles Without Honor and Humanity Series, Outrage, Abashiri Prison Series

Pink film

In its broadest sense, these movies include almost any film that includes nudity or deals with sex. This encompasses everything from dramas to action thrillers and exploitation films. Although, some Japanese film scholars reserve this term for movies produced and distributed by smaller independent studios. These movies became popular in the 1960s, but in the 1970s some of the larger studios such as Toei started creating another sub-genre called pinky violence films, which included violence in addition to the adult content. With their access to higher production values and talent, some of these films went on to become critical and popular successes. Examples – Female Convict 701: Scorpion Series, Female Yakuza Tale Series, Delinquent Girl Boss Series

Japanese Horror

Japanese horror is noted for its unique thematic and conventional treatment of the horror genre when compared to western horror films. Japanese horror tends to focus on psychological horror and suspense involving ghosts and poltergeists. Many movies also feature ancient folk religion stories of possession, exorcism and shamanism. Examples – Ringu, Battle Royale, Kwaidan, Audition, Onibaba, Ugetsu

Gendai-geki

Unlike the jidai-geki genre of period dramas, whose stories are normally set in the Edo Period, gendaigeki stories are contemporary dramas set in the modern world. Examples – Shall We Dance, Departures, Vengeance is Mine

Shomin-geki

Realist films which focus on the lives of common working class People. Examples – Tora-san Series, Tokyo Story, One Wonderful Sunday

Kaiju

This genre features monsters, usually attacking major cities and engaging the military and other monsters in battle. The popularity of these films started in 1954 with Godzilla, and continues today.Examples – Godzilla Series, Gamera Series, Mothra Series, Rodan Series

Kumano Kodo Trek – Day 2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura

Posted on December 3rd, 2014 by Mike Roberts

  • Total Elevation Gain: 1,650 Feet (500 meters)
  • Total Elevation Loss: 1,300 Feet (400 meters)
  • Net Elevation Gain: 350 (100 meters)
  • Total Distance: 8 1/4 Miles (13.2 kilometers)
Nakahechi10

Nakahechi Trail

During the night it rained heavily, which meant one thing for today’s walk. It would be very humid. After having an excellent breakfast at the minshuku, I set out for Day 2 at about 8:30 for Tsugizakura-Oji.

For the first kilometer or so, the trail was over pavement, and then changed to dirt trail. For the first 5 1/2 kilometers, the trail steadily climbed past several important Oji to the former site of the Uwadaya-jaya Chaya. At about 700 meters (about 2,300 feet), this location is the highest spot on the trail between Takijirioji and Hongu Taisha Shrine. At one time, there were numerous chaya (literally translates to tea house) along the Kumano Kodo. These were places of rest, drink and food. Some chaya also offered lodging. These chaya were an important part of the Kumano pilgrimage infrastructure. In addition to a place of rest, they also served as centers of exchange between pilgrims and the locals. These chaya were not only found on the Kumano Kodo, but were also common along major highways in Japan such as the Tokaido and Nakasendo.

From here, the trail descended into a small river valley to the Osakamoto Oji. It is thought that the Oji got its name from the fact that the Oji is located at the base of what was once known as Osaka Pass. In his pilgrim’s diary from 1109, Fujiwara Munetada wrote “On the Osaka Pass, there is a tall tree on which a snake-shaped object is hung. It is said in the past, a woman was transformed into the object.” It is also thought that in the old days, at the site of the Osakamoto Oji there was an inn for lords. Read the full post »

Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Trek – Day 1

Posted on November 11th, 2014 by Mike Roberts

 

Nakahechi Trail

Nakahechi Trail

I set out for my Kumano Kodo trek from Kyoto as did pilgrims more than 1,000 years ago. At that time, it was common practice to visit Jonan-gu Shrine just south of Kyoto near Fushimi. Here, pilgrims would stay for about a week and perform “misogi” (Shinto water purification rituals) and maintain a strict vegetarian diet to purify themselves before starting their pilgrimage. After leaving Jonan-gu, they would travel down the nearby Yodo River by boat, and then walk along the Kiiji pilgrimage route along the western coast of the Kii Peninsula. After arriving at the present site of the city of Tanabe, they would follow the Nakahechi along the river until reaching Takijiri Oji. I visited the Jonan-gu shrine before today, but I didn’t stay for a week, and I didn’t perform any water purification rituals or eat only vegetables. Read the full post »

Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes

Posted on October 28th, 2014 by Mike Roberts

Entrance to Hosshinmon Oji

Entrance to Hosshinmon Oji

Rather than one trail to one destination, the Kumano Kodo is a network of trails crossing the Kii Peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture. However, if you look at the map of the trails below, you will see that all of the trails lead to the Hongu Taisha shrine, or rather to Oyunohara (the old location of Hongu Taisha Shrine). That is because Hongu Taisha is both the physical center of the pilgrimage routes and the spiritual center of the Kumano Kodo.

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Akihabara Maid Cafes

Posted on May 11th, 2014 by Takako "Tammy" Ota

Akihabara Maid Cafe Ad

Akihabara Maid Cafe Ad

Akihabara is a paradise for electric appliance and anime subculture fans. Akihabara started as a place where radio parts were sold just after the Second World War. Today Akihabara is famous as the cheapest place in Japan for electric appliances. It’s also well-known as a place of ‘otaku’ (Japanese word for geeks) including comic-book devotees, video-game fanatics or anime figurine colletctors. Among all the shops, maid cafés attract attention, especially to men. If you spot girls dressed in a waitress costume delivering brochures on the street, they are the maid café waitresses who attract customers to their shops. They wear a maid dress, petticoat, and apron and frill accessory. At a maid café, they act as customers’ servants and entertain them just as the customer’s own servants. When customers enter a maid cafe, they will be greeted with ‘Okaeri nasai mase, goshujin sama!’ which means ‘Welcome back home, my lords!’ Read the full post »

History of the Kumano Kodo (Part 2 of the Kumano Kodo Series)

Posted on April 24th, 2014 by Mike Roberts

Kumano Kodo NewKumano has been considered a sacred area since prehistoric times. Shinto, the native religion of Japan, started during prehistoric times as nature worship. And it was during this time when the sacred sites of Kumano were first created. When Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the 6th century, Shinto and Buddhism merged together. It was during this time when the belief that Kumano as a Buddhist Pure Land became prevalent (in the 9th and 10th centuries), the sacred sites as we know them today were formed. Read the full post »

Kumano Kodo – Part 1: What is the Kumano Kodo?

Posted on March 23rd, 2014 by Mike Roberts

Entrance to the Hasshinmon-oji along the Nakahechi Trail

Entrance to the Hasshinmon-oji along the Nakahechi Trail

The Kumano Kodo is a large and complex subject, and could not be sufficiently discussed in one blog. So this is the first part of three blogs. I have found that few people, even people who are very familiar with Japan, know what the Kumano Kodo is. So this blog will define what the Kumano Kodo is. Part 2 will discuss the major trail routes that are part of the Kumano Kodo. And Part 3 will discuss the Kumano Sanzan.

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Arashiyama Monkey Park

Posted on March 6th, 2014 by Takako "Tammy" Ota

Feeding Time at Arashiyama Monkey Park

Feeding Time at Arashiyama Monkey Park

Monkeys are the closest species to humans and they are often portrayed in proverbs and sayings as stupid and incompetent. For example, ‘monkey brain’ means ‘stupid’, ‘monkey about’ means messing around. But are they really silly? Arashiyama Monkey Park is a very rare place where you can observe how monkeys behave, and buy them bananas to feed them from inside a cage. You can see baby-monkeys chasing each other around, wrestling with each other and climbing or jumping off trees. Arashiyama Monkey Park has come to be known worldwide since Tom Cruise visited there and introduced it to the public. Even though they are tame, they are wild animals. When you are in the park, please follow these three rules and enjoy the time with monkeys!: ‘Don’t feed them, touch them or make eye contact with them’. The entrance to the monkey park is near the JR Arashiyama station, and it’s about 30 minute-uphill walk from the entrance.

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Dogo Onsen

Posted on December 23rd, 2012 by Mike Roberts

Dogo Onsen Honkan

Dogo Onsen Honkan

Located in the city of Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku, Dogo Onsen is considered to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest onsen in Japan. There are references to Dogo Onsen in documents from the 8th century. It is reported Prince Shotoku (considered to be the father of Japanese Buddhism) enjoyed the baths, and the baths are mentioned in the “Tales of Genji” written about 1,000 years ago. According to the legends, long ago many egrets lived in Dogo. One day, an egret who injured his leg was seen soaking its leg every day in the hot water. Eventually the egret became well and flew away. The people who saw this began to use the hot springs and their health improved. The news spread that the hot spring was beneficial for ones health, and the hot spring became popular.

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Tsutenkaku and Shinsekai

Posted on December 16th, 2012 by Takako "Tammy" Ota

Tsutenkaku

Tsutenkaku

Tsutenkaku is a symbol of Osaka.It means ‘tower reaching heaven’. The first tower, built in 1912, lived up to its name and was the highest in the East at that time. The original tower had an eccentric design that combined influences from the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Unfortunately, it was dismantled in 1943 to supply iron for the war. The present tower is the second one, constructed in 1956 by a well-known architect Naito Tachu, who is called the ‘father of Japanese high-rise towers’, and is 103 meters high.

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