Invasion of the Virtual YouTubers!

Invasion of the Virtual YouTubers!

Move over, Logan Paul, because a new sensation has spread across Japanese YouTube!

Fading are the days of real live people interacting with audiences on the popular streaming site. The new trend revolves around people creating virtual anime avatars using motion capture technology. The reasons as to why fans are flocking to these avatars are quite varied. Some people enjoy watching virtual presenters when they are playing games; some people feel that they are getting a raw and real version of Japanese culture that they can’t get from a live person; and some folks just find the freedom of the virtual world to be a perfect catalyst for a few funny or crazy adventures that they can share with the host. No matter what their reasons are, though, they and others like them are tuning into these virtual hosts in droves.

 

Kizuna Ai

The Virtual YouTuber trend was pioneered by Kizuna Ai (a name that uses the kanji for “Bonded Love”), who is easily the most famous of all virtual YouTubers. Debuting in the tail end of November 2016, Kizuna Ai has become a superstar in the field. In her introduction video, she states that her goal is to one day appear in a commercial. And while, to my knowledge, she hasn’t gotten her own TV spot, she has appeared in multiple video games and anime titles, and she’s become the first virtual YouTuber to get a verified Twitter account. On top of that, in 2018, she was named as the official tourism ambassador of Japan.

Ai’s not the only one, though. To date, there are literally thousands of these characters on Japanese YouTube (an exact number is impossible to guesstimate, as new virtual YouTubers are now appearing and disappearing almost daily). With so many new presenters making their debuts over the past couple of years, it can be hard to know where your attention should go, exactly. That said, most of the more popular avatars have some kind of defining characteristic that makes them stand out from the pack.

A simple search on Google will pull up many different options to pick from, including a Japanese idol who speaks perfect English, a catgirl who loves FPS games, a tsundere student council president, and many, many others.

It’s not always easy to break into this industry, though. Becoming a virtual YouTuber can take a lot of hard work and patience.  Also, it can’t be understated that sometimes, a little luck will go a long way towards success, as was the case for the woman behind the virtual avatar named Rhythm Otonashi. Chosen via raffle to appear at Kizuna Ai’s first live event in March 2018, she traveled all the way from Germany and soon caught the performing bug, herself. Catching the audience’s eye right away, it was only a month later that Otonashi was invited to join the same talent agency as Kizuna Ai, Project upd8. It’s one thing to start performing on YouTube, though.  It’s another thing entirely to keep it up for a sustained amount of time and gain a legitimate following.

Rhythm Otonashi.

“I try to upload 1-4 videos a month and on my current schedule, I stream 4+ times a week. Personally, I’m sort of a niche producer and don’t feel pressured to create videos on things that are currently trending, so it’s more of a matter of finding the time to record, edit and sometimes figure out how to pull something off from a technical point of view,” Otonashi told me via an interview. When asked about the varying demands of the audience and if it’s difficult to please such a wide range of people, Otonashi spoke of the difficulties she’s had up to this point. “It is definitely difficult, yeah. Many Virtual YouTubers make a large variety of content instead of focusing on one specific niche, which is why I think establishing a personality that people enjoy is really important.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint a single reason why this trend has exploded in popularity but one popular theory is that being presented by a virtual avatar allows people to be more free and expressive with their emotions and interests. Otonashi, for example, stated strongly that her virtual persona is a big part of who she really is though she also admitted to having a bit of stage fright when she first started.

Regardless of the why’s, the popularity of these virtual presenters is still climbing and while some fans believe that the trend is either currently at its peak or is close to it, others don’t feel that way at all. Rather they’re of the opinion that this is only the beginning as the technology is still becoming more widely available to people outside of Japan.

“I absolutely believe in the phenomenon surviving and evolving in the future though. Virtual YouTubers are about far more than just making YouTube videos by now and we’ve seen them appear in events, concerts, games and show off their skills as creators beyond just talking in videos,” Otonashi said after careful deliberation. “I don’t think Virtual YouTubers will grow to the point where they *replace* other types of entertainers but there are still many, many possibilities for them.”

With the trend still rising in popularity and scope, it’s impossible to predict where this trend will go in the future. Will we see more virtual YouTubers appearing to the point that a real person appearing on the site is a novelty? Doubtful but it appears that those with a terrible case of the shys have a new avenue when it comes to self-expression.

2018 Holiday Gift Ideas for Japanese Learners

2018 Holiday Gift Ideas for Japanese Learners

It’s that time of year again. The weather is getting colder and everyone is frantically racing around trying to figure out what to get as gifts for the special people in their lives. If you happen to have a Japanese learner in your life, your job is even harder thanks to the multitude of products aimed at those who love Japanese or even just Japan itself.

For the last month, I have been pouring through the internet to come up with a sure-fire list of gift ideas to please even the hardest to satisfy gift recipients. From books and study aids all the way to stuff that is just for fun, you should definitely bookmark this list and refer back to it if you find yourself stuck on what to get for your special someone.

Books/Magazines/Study Aids

Hiragana Times Cover

Hiragana Times – Since 1986, the Hiragana Times has been publishing a bi-lingual monthly magazine which caters to those learning Japanese. With interesting articles that are printed in both English and Japanese (complete with furigana for the difficult kanji), this is a great magazine to learn not only more about Japan but brush up on reading comprehension. You can subscribe to either a physical or digital edition via their official website.

Studio Ghibli picture books – If magazine-style articles aren’t your thing, how about some simple picture books to practice basic reading skills? With so many children’s books to choose from though, getting the right one can be a challenge which is why I recommend this series of picture books which are based on famous Studio Ghibli movies. There are a number of them available including Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Ponyo, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Kagura, and more!

Lonely Planet Phrasebook – One of the most trusted series of travel guides out there, this handy book will fill a student’s brain with tons of handy phrases and words that they need in order to navigate Japan. Available from Amazon.

Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan: Do It Right and Be Polite! Book – DO NOT visit Japan without doing diligent research on proper manners and etiquette! This book is a great way to start that! Available from Amazon.

Manga magazines – Unfortunately, there are literally dozens of different manga magazines in Japan which cater to different audiences. Some are shoujo based, some are shounen, and don’t even get me started on the myriad of cosplay magazines that are available! Luckily for you, there is a website which offers subscriptions to various magazines from Japan but I warn you that you should do your research to make sure that the manga magazine you’re ordering is actually something that your intended will actually enjoy. For more information about a regular monthly subscription, contact Kinokuniya or you can purchase magazines one month at a time via J-Box.

Kanji Flashcards – When I decided that I wanted to include physical flashcards on this list, I quickly found out that flashcards are slowly disappearing from the world and are being replaced by mobile apps. Luckily there is still one place to get high-quality flashcards to study kanji with: White Rabbit! While they are not cheap, these sets still set a gold standard for what information a kanji flashcard should contain so don’t let the price tag scare you away!

Electronics

Casio Japanese to English Electronic Dictionary – This item might not be for everyone but if you have a serious student of Japanese in your life, this will eventually become an essential purchase so make someone’s entire holiday with this big-ticket purchase. Available via Amazon.

Nihongo Master Subscription – I would be seriously remiss if I didn’t at least mention that now is the perfect time to get a subscription to this fine site that you’re reading right now! Simply head over to the subscription page and choose the plan that fits your needs and budget!

Food/Drink

Japanese Whiskey – I know that when you read the word ‘whisky’, Japan is not the first country to come to mind but Japan has been brewing quality whiskey for over a decade now and has become of the world leaders in the alcoholic beverage. I’m not saying that this bottle of 12-year-old Yamazaki is the best whiskey you’ll ever have (because tastes vary) but it was the best selling whiskey in Japan in 2017. Hard to argue with that. Head over to Dekanta to get your own.

Kit-Kat – Every year, the Japanese branch of Nestle puts out special flavors of Kit-Kats which are considered a treat for fans of both the candy and the country. If you want to put a smile on the chocolate-loving face of the Japanese learner in your life, head over to World of Snacks and order yourself some of these sweet treats!

Clothing

Yukata or Kimono – These beautiful works of art have been worn in Japan since at least the Heian era. This style has withstood the test of time and would make a wonderful addition to anyone’s wardrobe. Check out the multitude of styles available here.

Just for Fun

Japan Subscription Box – So you’ve gone through this list and still don’t see anything that you think would be a good fit? How about letting someone else pick for you by getting a Japanese subscription box? Just like other items on this list, you’ll want to do good research into each box company to make sure that you’ll be getting exactly what you paid for. CrateJoy has a huge selection of Japan-themed boxes to sort through including some aimed at anime lovers or even just general fans of Japanese culture.

Omamori – This is a gift that I know for a fact that your loved one won’t see coming; an authentic Japanese shrine charm! Coming straight from Japan, wish your intended good luck on any number of different situations such as good grades, car safety, health and more! Head over to Omamori.com to find out more info.

That’s our list of awesome gift ideas for this year! Be sure to check back next year around this time for another list of awesome gifts.

Anime to Supplement Your Japanese Studies – Nov 2018

Anime to Supplement Your Japanese Studies – Nov 2018

Last month we published a list of eight different anime that you can use to help supplement your Japanese studies. And apparently, you loved it so we’re going to do it again! Here is a list of MORE anime you can use to supplement your Japanese language skills.

Anpanman

Soreike! Anpanman (それいけ!アンパンマン)

First appearing as a series of children’s books in 1973 (which ran all the way until the author’s death in 2013), Anpanman made his debut as an anime aimed at young children in 1988. Since that time, it has gone on to produce over a dozen movies with the most recent one, Soreike! Anpanman Kagayake! Kurun to Inochi no Hoshi, premiering in Japanese theaters on June 30, 2018. As with most of the other series that have appeared in this article series, you won’t be getting a masterpiece of the medium when you watch this but rather basic listening comprehension skills.

Chirubii

Chirubii (チルビー)

This is another children’s show, however, don’t expect a ton from this series. It has very simple animation (it’s more of a picture book that comes with audio) but will still aid you in your studies with very simple Japanese that even beginners can follow.

sazae-san

Sazae-san (サザエさん)

You want to talk about One Piece having lasting power? It’s got nothing compared to this series! First premiering in 1969, Sazae-san has been running steadily ever since with over 3,000 EPISODES to date! Based off a manga which ran from 1946 to 1974, this series follows a family’s daily lives in the suburbs of Japan.

Crayon Shin-chan

Crayon Shin-chan (クレヨンしんちゃん)

Another series based off a manga that has a long history, Shin-chan is about a troublesome youth who just wants to have fun but in the process creates nothing but trouble for his parents and teachers. Since it’s debut in 1992, the series has aired over 800 episodes and has launched 26 movies (the most recent of which premiered in Japanese theaters in April 2018). One word of warning: Shin-chan is a very rude little boy so you would be wise to NOT copy his speech exactly unless you want to come across like a major jerk.

keion

K-ON! (けいおん!)

Finally, we come to a series that ISN’T aimed at children! Admittedly a lot of the vocab you’ll be picking up from this series is music based (it’s about a high school light music club after all) but you never know when those words are going to come in handy in daily conversation!

That’s it for this month! Do you have a favorite anime that helped you learn Japanese? Share them in the comments and let’s discuss!

Senpai! Please Notice This Blog Post!

Senpai! Please Notice This Blog Post!

senpai kohaiIf you’ve studied Japanese culture at all, you’ve likely come across the words senpai and kohai. What do these words mean exactly? The truth is that the senpai/kohai relationship in Japan is one of the most important systems that the people there follow. The basic idea behind it is that the more experienced person is the senpai and the less experienced person is the kohai. This is particularly true in schools, clubs, and places of work. In these situations, the senpai acts as a friend and mentor to the newer, less experienced person in order to help guide and teach them. They are in charge of keeping tabs on the new recruit and help them navigate the waters by showing them how things are done, how to please the boss/coach and other things of that nature.

Sounds pretty great for the kohai, right? They get a new friend who is usually around their same age and a mentor all in one. What’s the catch? Respect. If you’re the kohai in the relationship, you show respect to your elder at all times. You do the menial tasks that no one else really wants to do, you pour the drinks at parties and functions, and you show deference to your senpai as much as you possibly can.

This is a system that has been in place since the beginning of Japanese history. It’s not going to disappear at any point in the near future so if you end up staying in Japan for an extended period of time, you should probably do your best to get used to it as soon as possible.

If it sounds tough, that would be because it can be and before you ask, yes there have been cases of senpai letting the power go to their heads to the point of being severely punished for abusing their kohai. In the modern era, the senpai/kohai system has relaxed a little. With the economic bubble burst of 1992, more senior members of the workforce suddenly found themselves having to find new companies to work for which led to kohai appearing who were physically older than their senpai. In other circles, the extreme respect that was expected from the younger members of the team is being lessened as well (though the appropriate level of politeness in language is still expected).

The general attitude towards the senpai system is acceptance though there are still plenty of critics within Japan who are reluctant to accept it or even completely indifferent. Many people feel that the system is antiquated or that their senpai was overly bossy or pushy. Others are afraid that it is creating generations of citizens who are afraid to stand out from the pack for fear of outshining their senpai and causing them to lose face.

Regardless of how you feel about this system, it has survived many centuries and is so ingrained into Japanese society that it’s a foregone conclusion that you’ll experience it at some point during any extended stay within the country.

You Can Be A Winner At the Game of Karuta!

You Can Be A Winner At the Game of Karuta!

Karuta Queen and MeijinEver since I first saw the anime series Chihayafuru, I’ve been fascinated with the world of competitive karuta. If you’re not already familiar with the game, competitive karuta (競技かるた Kyōgi karuta) is a lightning-fast game of skill which demands a lot from those who choose to pursue it as a hobby. In order to play the most well-known and widely played variety of karuta (known as Hyakunin Isshu) first, prospective players must memorize all 100 of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu anthology of classical Japanese poems. Think that sounds difficult enough just to start? Well, it gets a whole lot more complicated from there!

There are two different decks used in competitive karuta. The first deck is made up of 100 cards called the Yomifuda (reading cards) which contain an entire poem from the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. The other 100 cards are the torifuda (grabbing cards) which contain only the final two lines of one of the poems. The point of the game is to choose 25 cards from the 50 cards each player gets at random at the beginning of the match, arrange them in three rows in front of you, and be able to grab each card one by one as each poem is read faster than your opponent.

Think about everything that goes into each match for a second: At the start of each match, both players are given a 15 minute memorization period in which they must memorize the position of each card in front of them and their opponent which means half the cards are upside down. Keep in mind as well that the layout of the cards can change throughout a match and once the match is over, the board layout must be completely forgotten to make room for a new board layout in the next match (this is particularly true for tournaments). Just how seriously do these players take the game? Watch how fast the players move in a real-life queen match from 2017 to determine the best female player in Japan.

This is a game that requires a razor-sharp memory, lightning-fast reflexes, mental and physical stamina to spare and serious determination to make it all the way to the top!

History of Competitive Karuta

Interestingly though, this is a game that has only been around since the early 19th century, a little before the Meiji restoration began. In the early 20th century, the rules (which vary from region to region) were unified under a blanket set of rules instituted by the Tokyo Karuta Association and the first competitive karuta tournament took place in 1904 though these days the rules and regulations are governed by The All-Japan Karuta Association established in 1957. Tournaments to determine the best players in the country have been held annually since the mid to late 1950’s for both men and women.

In the current era of competitive karuta, the championships are held annually in January at Omi Jingu in Otsu, Shiga. The title for the male champions is meijin while women are called queens though both are considered Grand Champions.

karuta cardsVarieties

As mentioned above, there are plenty of different varieties of karuta that are played by different age groups and in different regions of Japan. Along with the Hyakunin Isshu, there is also a simpler version aimed at children called Iroha-Garuta. In this version, there are only 96 cards total and the point of the game is to match proverbs rather than poems. Then there’s Obake Karuta which features the artwork of famous monsters from Japanese folklore. The point of this variety is to listen to the clues being read out and to match the clues to the correct hiragana syllable on the grabbing card. If that’s not enough for you, there are also regional editions of this game which can have wildly different rules depending on where you are.

 

International Acceptance

Up until very recently, Japan was the only place in the world where you could play this game competitively. That all changed however when in 2012, an international tournament was held which hosted players from the U.S., China, South Korea, New Zealand, and Thailand. Another organization is attempting to arrange another international tournament in Japan in 2020 (the same year that Tokyo is hosting the Summer Olympics) so if you want to join the fun before it becomes an international sensation, start working hard now!

As you have learned, karuta is a fascinating and difficult game but is also equally beautiful and mesmerizing. Ready to go memorize the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu and become the next meijin or queen yet?

Toho to Offer 1st Annual Godzilla Certification Exams Next Year

Toho to Offer 1st Annual Godzilla Certification Exams Next Year

Godzilla Certification ExamGodzilla has been making plenty of headlines lately (and no, not because he’s risen from the depths to destroy Tokyo again). First off, it was announced recently by NASA that our favorite giant lizard has been given his own constellation in the night sky made up of gamma rays. Secondly, though, it’s been announced that kaiju fans are finally getting their chance to prove that all that useless knowledge in their head about giant monsters is actually worth something!

As reported by Crunchyroll News recently, Toho Studios is offering two levels of the 1st annual Godzilla certification exams in Tokyo and Osaka on March 10, 2019. The exam will have a beginner version which will feature questions from the Godzilla Official Textbook (because, of course, Japan has an official Godzilla textbook) as well as questions about the original 1954 movie along with questions about the 2016 movie Shin Godzilla. The intermediate version will feature questions from the textbook as well as questions about ALL 29 MOVIES!

In order to pass the beginner test, examinees must score at least 65% while intermediate test takers will have to get a score of at least 70%. In order to take the test, applicants must sign up on a special website and pay a fee of 5000 yen for the beginner test, 6000 yen for the intermediate, or 9500 to take both exams and be known as a true Gojira master!

I know what you’re thinking, why would I possibly want to study for a Godzilla certification exam when I could be studying for the JLPT instead? Well, you never know when something is going to come crawling up out of the ocean which is going to require a true master in the field to step forward and save all of Japan (or maybe even the world)!

Best of Japanese Commercials – Nov 2018 Edition

Best of Japanese Commercials – Nov 2018 Edition

Japan has a reputation for having some of the most entertaining television commercials in the world. Remember that this country did give us those Alien Jones Boss Coffee commercials starring American actor Tommy Lee Jones a few years ago. This is why I’ve decided that as a monthly treat, we’re going to take a look at some of the best TV ads to come to us from Japan.

In this month’s feature, we’ll be taking a look at a series of ads which promoted Nissin instant kitsune udon which ran last year culminating in a touching Christmas ad. The joke here is that kitsune can mean fox but it also refers to a type of noodle dish which features fried tofu on top (yummy!). The series of ads star actor, idol, and voice actor Gen Hoshino and film and television actor Riho Yoshioka as the fox girl. Let’s take a look!

Got any favorite Japanese commercials of your own? Share them in the comments and let the rest of us see what makes you smile!