One of the things Japan is famous for is its fashion scene. Japanese fashion designers conquer runways all over the world. In our Season 2 Episode 7 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we looked at theJapanese fashion triumvirate: Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo.
These three Japanese fashion designers are not only experts at seamlessly fusing traditional and modern, but they have unexpectedly made quite an impact on the Western fashion industry. You can’t really sum up Western fashion of the late 20th century without acknowledging the contributions by this Japanese avant garde trio.
This trio was repeatedly mentioned during my fashion school classes, highlighted for their unapologetic fusion of Japanese ideals in modern fashion. “Made in Japan” now carries a newfound prestige, and we have these fashion designers to thank for.
Here’s a recap of what we talked about Japan’s avant garde power trio!
The first fashion designer of the Japanese avant garde trio to reinvent Western technical and aesthetic values who we looked at is none other than Yohji Yamamoto. This pioneer of the 1980s Japanese New Wave didn’t, either. In fact, he studied law in university!
Now one of the most distinguished fashion designers of the industry, Yohji Yamamoto is known for his excessive usage of the colour black and the free-spirited concept portrayed in his crafty tailoring and androgynous silhouettes with a notion of concealing rather than revealing the body.
Yamamoto has his reasons behind the intentional usage of black, other than his perspective that black is a combination of colours. Black is modest and arrogant at the same time, black is easy and lazy but also mysterious. What’s better than black?
Yamamoto’s designs are made to be timeless, and instead of putting the garment on the body, he puts the body on the garment. A typical Japanese approach that is used religiously by Yamamoto is to start a design with fabric, rather than silhouette.
Apart from the dark, androgynous image he sets, Yohji Yamamoto is also especially famous for collaborations. Some might say he’s one of the first few designers who celebrates collab culture and gives access of high fashion to the masses. Y-3, anyone? This Adidas-Yohji Yamamoto collaboration that began in 2003 is one of the most successful collabs to this day, altering the perspective of menswear fashion and giving the male market an opportunity to play around with shape and movement just like the ladies.
Our next fashion designer is the one that has ruled the pleats trend for decades now. Issey Miyake was the first out of the three to showcase in France. Not only that, he was the first to restructure sartorial conventions, blinding in contrast to the conventional ways of Western designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Coco Chanel and Chistian Dior. Instead of obliging to the Western concept for women’s clothing of fitted silhouette and exposure of body contours, Miyake proudly introduced loose and baggy designs, free of traditional construction.
And just like his compatriot, Miyake has roots deep in traditional Japanese design philosophy, which is evident in all of his creations, and converting them into fashion-forward, modern Western pieces. Miyake didn’t think of his lack of western heritage in the world of Western fashion as a disadvantage, but an advantage. He introduced a new definition of aesthetics, and not by creating aesthetics itself, but by crafting it into a way of life (iki kata in Japanese) — the garment flows where the body moves.
And to this day, Issey Miyake’s brand — even though the mastermind himself has retired — continues on the legacy of approaching garment construction in original ways, prioritising the user first. If you think about it, that way of doing things is more of a product designer’s approach — and it obviously works out. He did once say, “I make tools. People buy my clothes and then they become tools for their creativity.”
Oh, and remember when I mentioned at the start that Issey Miyake is the pleat master? He’s Einstein when it comes to original fabrics, and the whole pleat thing came from his most commercially successful collection to this date, 1993’s Pleats Please. Instead of going for the traditional method of permanently pressing pleats before cutting out a garment, Miyake did the opposite — he cut the garment out twice the size, put it together and then started pleating.
And that’s only one of his creations. Another one worth mentioning is A-POC, or “A Piece of Cloth”, which is a concept by Miyake and his team, involving a long tube of knitted jersey which one can cut without wasting any material. Now that’s fashion of the future.
The last of the three avant garde designers, but most certainly not the least, is Rei Kawakubo — also known as the founder of Comme des Garçons. She once said she never intended to start a revolution, but she did — and we all have no regrets. If I could sum up Kawakubo’s aesthetics into three words, it would be: monochromatic, asymmetrical and voluminous.
With that said, Kawakubo is similar to Issey Miyake — in a sense of focusing on perfectly imperfect cuts and asymmetrical lines in her designs — and also to Yohji Yamamoto — with the dramatic usage of black. I guess you could say that she ties the trio all together, making the Japanese avant garde aesthetics coherent, but still very much a broad category.
As Kawakubo studied art in university, her collections for Comme des Garçons weren’t based on trends, but rather artistic concepts which create designs of unorthodox silhouettes that use exaggerated amounts of fabric. These all play a part in offering women to look “like some boys”…
This is about providing comfort and mobility. But most of all, Kawakubo’s designs scream to the girls who don’t want to succumb to the wants of men, seduction, approval and all. Unlike Yamamoto and Miyake, Kawakubo’s designs play around with exposing the body without them being sexy.
And then we have Dover Street Market. Kawakubo and her CEO (who is also her husband) created the multi-brand retail store that was originally in London on…Dover Street. Now with stores all around the world, the idea of it is to bring people from everywhere into one beautiful chaotic space. They succeeded — established and up-and-coming designers are free to display and sell their works as they please. Kawakubo still remembers her Japanese roots though — Dover Street Market goes through tachiagari. While in Japanese it means “start” or “beginning”, for these multi-brand retail stores, it’s the revamping of the space and basically giving it a fresh start.
We used a few fashion-related Japanese words in the episode. Here’s a list of them:
Abanga-do (アバンガード) — avant-garde, a French term to refer to works that are unorthodox and experimental
Sekushi (セクシー) — sexy
Kuro (黒) — black
Koraborēshon (コラボレーション) — Collaboration
Puritsu (プリツ) — pleats
Iki kata (生き方) — way of life
Ifuku no kōzō (衣服の構造) — garment construction, ifuku translates to “clothes” and kōzō kinda means framework
Otokoppoi / otokomitai (男っぽい・男みたい) — to look like a boy, which is basically Kawakubo’s brand name
Feminizimu (フェミニジム) — feminism
Tachiagari (立ち上がり) — start or beginning
And that’s an intro to the ultimate Japanese fashion designer trio: the dark, androgynous and still sexy approach of Yohji Yamamoto; Issey Miyake’s revolutionary fashion concepts and construction; and Rei Kawakubo’s inspiring feminism in fashion.
I’ve only just scraped the surface of fashion in Japan, but if you want to know more about these three designers, give the full episode a listen, over at the Nihongo Master Podcast page!
How many times have we felt that the food from a restaurant looks delicious? Or met someone new and they looked younger than they actually were? It’s such a natural thought that we don’t think twice when we form the sentence.
Now, how do we say that in Japanese? In our Season 2 Episode 4 of our Nihongo Master Podcast, we took a look at how to express that something looks or seems like something, as part of our language series Study Saturday.
Just like how we can express one thought in more than a few ways in English, it’s the same in Japanese. In that episode, We ran through the various “it looks like” grammar with its usage, and practiced the new grammar a with a few role-playing scenarios.
This article will be a summary of what we discussed in the podcast episode. While we’ll highlight the grammar points and summarized the vocabulary words we used, the example situations and scenarios are excluded from this post. You’ve got to tune it to the full episode to know more!
1. ~sou (〜そう)
The first grammar point we looked at is “~sou” (〜そう). We started off with the most basic one. When you have something new happening before you, you would already have a judgement in mind: “it looks delicious” for food, “it looks beautiful” for the dress, and “it looks like it’s going to rain” for the weather.
If you’re guessing an outcome, you can use the grammar point ~sou and attach it at the end of the sentence. If the end of the sentence is an i-adjective, you take out the い at the end and add the そう. For example:
“The food looks delicious.”
If it’s a na-adjective, take out the な and replace it with そう:
“The dress looks beautiful.”
If it’s the negative form, change it to the negative form first before switching the い out for さ before adding the grammar point:
“The food doesn’t look delicious.”
“The dress doesn’t look beautiful.”
You’re thinking, how do we use it for verbs then? All we got to do is take any verb’s stem form and then add the grammar point:
“It looks like it’s going to rain.”
2. ~mitai (〜みたい)
The previous grammar point doesn’t attach to nouns, however. But there’s another grammar point to use in place of it, and that’s ~mitai (〜みたい):
“Looks like a student.”
This grammar point can not only be used with nouns but also verbs and adjectives as well — no changes to any of their root forms whatsoever:
“It looks like it’s going to rain.”
There is a difference in nuance with mitai, however. Sou is just a guess of outcome, whereas mitai is basically saying, “it looks like that, but it’s actually not.” So “ame ga furisou” is saying that you’re guessing it’s going to rain, whereas “ame ga furu mitai” says that it looks like it might rain, but it’s not going to.
3. ~you da (〜ようだ)
Remember the sentence “gakusei mitai”? It implies that he looks like a student but is actually not. We can sometimes switch out mitai with ~you da (ようだ), Now, with this grammar point, it’s stating matter-of-factly what it looks like.
“It looks like he’s a student.” (Rather than “he looks like a student”.)
We add the particle の for nouns and na-adjectives only; i-adjectives and verbs remain as it is.
4. ~ppoi (〜っぽい)
“It looks like” can also be figurative. Say you want to describe your friend as childish. In Japanese, it translates to “looks like a child” or “childlike”. The grammar we use for it is ~ppoi (〜っぽい):
5. ~rashii (〜らしい)
The previous grammar point is interchangeable with another grammar point: ~rashii (らしい)…most of the time.
If you switch the ~ppoi with ~rashii for kodomo to make 子供らしい, it’s a whole different meaning — kodomoppoi implies that one is similar or acts like a child (and can refer to someone who is not actually a kid), whereas kodomorashii has to always talk about a child, and that he has the characteristics of a child — lively, active and all.
Here’s another example:
“He looks like an adult, but he may not be.”
Otonappoi (大人っぽい) implies that someone who looks or acts like an adult.
“He looks like an adult because of the characteristics.”
Otonarashii (大人らしい) is someone who has the characteristics of an adult — grown-up and matured.
In our podcast episode, we had roleplaying scenarios in Japanese, so we introduced a lot of new words. Here’s a recap of them:
Oishii (美味しい) — delicious
Wanpisu (ワンピス) — dress, you can also use the katakana form doresu, but that refers to fancy dresses
Kireina (綺麗な) — beautiful
Furu (降る) — to pour
Kodomo (子供) — child
Otona (大人) — adult
Genki (元気) — happy
Niatteru (似合ってる) — to suit (an outfit)
Ureshii (嬉しい) — happy
Kutsu (くつ) — shoes
Haku (はく) — to put on
Onaka ga ippai (お腹がいっぱい) — to be full (not hungry)
Tsukuru (作る) — to make
Umai (うまい) — delicious
Tsukiau (付き合う) — to go out with
Wareru (割れる) — to break (it can also be used to mean, to break up with someone)
Shokuji (食事) — meal
Joudan (冗談) — joke
Let’s list what we have just looked at:
~sou is used for guessing an outcome, usually based on what you personally think ~mitai is used to say it looks like something, but usually isn’t
~you da is saying it looks like something based on the situation
~ppoi is used to say it’s kind of like something
~rashii is used to refer to having the characteristics of something
Now you’re a pro at expressing your thoughts on how something looks in more than one way — five, to be exact! And as you can see, these grammar points can be used in various situations to pass judgements about everything under the sun!
In Season 2 Episode 5 of our podcast episode, we’re all about that packed lunch in a box, also known as a bento (弁当). When I was growing up, a lunch box wasn’t the coolest thing you could bring to school.In Japan, however, the situation is totally different — opposite, in fact.
Lunchboxes are the norm, and if you don’t bring one, you’ll be the one getting looks. Bento culture is a thing — not only does it save you a few bucks throughout the day, bentos are often curated with a balanced diet in mind, the ideal nutritional value and lots of love.
This article is a recap of what we talked about in our podcast episode: how this bento craze came about, what it signifies, the various types of bentos there are, and just a few do’s and don’ts when making one for yourself. For the full info, tune in to the original episode!
History of Bentos
Packed lunch in Japan has been around for about ten centuries, dating back to the Kamakura period of 1185 to 1333. The word “bento” comes from a slang word of the Chinese Song Dynasty, “biàndāng”, to mean “convenient”. In the early days, people carried around sacks of cooked and dried rice to eat at work.
The Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568 – 1600) was when the iconic lacquered boxes were produced. These boxes were used to store and hold food, and oftentimes they were used for occasions like hanami (cherry blossom viewing), koyou (autumn leaves viewing) and outdoor tea ceremonies. They were like really fancy picnics.
The bento craze was full on during the Edo period (1603 – 1868) — it became an essential part of not only outdoor events but general travel as well. There was even a type of waist bento called koshibento that was used to carry around onigiri rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves!
Bento only became more popular as time went by, and by the time the Meiji period (1868 – 1912) rolled around, it was a staple for everyone, from students to workers. This was also the time when rail systems in Japan were booming, and a type of bento box made of aluminium started selling at stations. Bento became a status symbol over the next couple of decades, depending on what nutritional food the bento consists of and how it’s prepared.
Then, in the 1980s, plastic boxes were used in place of metal ones, thanks to the amazing creation of microwaves that eliminated the need for heat resistant boxes. Wooden bento boxes were used less as well. We also have to thank the convenient konbini scattered everywhere in Japan for the boom in bento popularity.
And so that brings us to today — bento is used for basically every occasion under the sun.
Types of Bento
We looked at a few types of bento boxes. The first one is the Makunouchi. Makunouchi is what one refers to when talking about a traditional Japanese bento. Popping up in the Edo period, this type of bento box includes small onigiri with sesame seeds sprinkled on it and a couple of side dishes to go along.
The next bento type is probably the oldest one on the list — sageju is a type of bento that was used back in the Azuchi Momoyama period for outings, fully equipped with wares like dishes, chopsticks and sake cups. It’s like a neatly-packed, multi-functional box with everything you need for a picnic. Lacquered wooden bako is often used for this type of bento.
Then there’s the eki-ben, probably second to makunouchi when it comes to popularity. Dating back to the Meiji era, this type of bento is the one that’s sold on train stations during the blooming days of railway systems. The first ever eki-ben sold is believed to be in Tochigi Prefecture back in 1885, at a station called Utsunomiya Station.
The original eki-ben was just a simple meal — an onigiri with bamboo sheath wrapped around it. It evolved to become a part of local tourism, with lunch boxes made using local ingredients, featuring local specialties and sometimes promoting local aspects of the city on the box itself.
Significance of Bentos
A bento is more than just a packed lunch box. It takes up a huge part of Japanese culinary culture that it’s quite significant. For Japanese people, bento is like a form of communication between the maker and the eater. You can feel the thought and care, and literally see the effort put in to making the bento just for you.
In Japan, some parents and partners get out of bed in the wee hours of the morning just to orchestrate the perfect onigiri shaped to your favourite cartoon character, or cut the nori in cute shapes.
Do’s & Don’ts
Back in the day, bento wasn’t solely a meal to be eaten; it was a whole experience that tingles all the five senses. While there is tons of content out there dedicated to help you curate the perfect bento, I have a few do’s and don’ts to set you off on the right foot.
First off, make sure you prepare a bento with popping colours. And while you’re choosing the food, harmonise the flavours — don’t have all the varieties be strong in flavour; have some delicate ones that complement each other.
Above all, you have to think about crafting the perfect balanced diet with the right nutritional value. Have some food that is cooked, some raw (if you fancy) and even pickled — variety is always welcome.
The first don’t is to never have both rice and bread in one bento — it’s never good to have too many carbohydrates, and plus, it makes the bento look dull with the neutral colours.
Depending on the situation, try not to make a bento which contains food that needs to be heated up. If you’re making for your kid, there’s a solid chance they don’t have a microwave in class. But if your partner’s office has one, then that should be no problem at all.
Also, opt for food that doesn’t really have a strong fragrance!
We introduced a few new vocabulary words in the episode, so here’s a quick vocab recap in the form of a list:
Hoshi-ii (干し飯) — cooked and dried rice, but it literally translates to “dried meal”
Bako (箱) — box
Hanami (花見) — cherry blossom viewing
Koyou (紅葉) — autumn leaves
Koshibento (コシ弁当) — waist bento
Onigiri (オニギリ) — rice ball
Makunouchi (幕内) — a classic Japanese bento
sageju (さげじゅ) — a type of bento that was used in the old days for outdoor events
Eki-ben (駅弁) — bento sold at train stations
Ensoku (遠足) — school outings
Kyara-ben (キャラ弁) — character bento
Okazupan (おかずぱん) — savoury bread
Okashipan (お菓子ぱん) — sweet bread
Iro (色) colour
Aji (味) — taste
Gyoza (餃子) — fried dumplings
Korokke (コロッケ) — similar to the French dish, croquette
Onigirazu (おにぎらず) — sushi sandwich
Now you’re a bento expert — from the different types of bento and how the culture came about, to the tips and tricks to making the perfect bento! If you’re interested in knowing more about bentos and Japan’s crazy bento culture, tune in to Nihongo Master podcast Season 2 Episode 5!
Japanese music is actually pretty popular. More popular than we thought. Sometimes, we didn’t even realize it’s Japanese music. In our podcast, Season 2 Episode 3, we discussed the various types of Japanese tunes and beats.
A country like Japan with such a long and rich history has got to have an equally rich music background. It’s an integral component in most cultures. And true enough, the oldest forms of traditional Japanese music date back to the 6th century.
Over the decades, music has taken over this island nation.
In fact, Japan has the second-largest music market in the world, and was at one point the largest physical music market worldwide! If that’s not proof of music’s influence in the country, I don’t know what is.
In our episode, we looked at three categories of Japanese music. For those who have tuned in, this recap article is for you! For those who haven’t, give the episode a listen! We are on all the streaming platforms – Apple Podcast, Spotify, and we even have our own platform for it! Or subscribe to our channel on youtube for instant updates over there!
1. Traditional Japanese Music
The first category we looked at was traditionally Japanese music, known as hōgaku (邦楽). This refers to home or country music. The term is the opposite of yōgaku (洋楽), which refers to Western music.
It was back in the Nara Period of 710 to 794 and Heian Period of 794 to 1185, when the two oldest forms of Japanese traditional music first popped up: shōmyō (声明) and gagaku (雅楽). Shōmyō, a combination of the kanji characters for “voice” and “wisdom”, is a style of vocal music practiced during Buddhist rituals. It’s believed to have originated from India before making its way to Japan in the 6th century, and to this day, this oldest living form of vocal music is still being practiced.
We have a clip of the Buddhist ritual chant played in the episode, so give it a listen if you’re interested!
The other oldest traditional music, gagaku, translates to “elegant music”. This refers to court music. It’s the fusion of various continental Asian countries’ music with traditional Japanese music. Back in the day, if you were merely a commoner, you probably would never hear gagaku, as it was exclusively the music of the Imperial Court. A typical gagaku ensemble consists of traditional Japanese instruments split into three divisions: woodwinds, percussion and strings.
Similarly. We played a clip of gagaku music on the podcast episode!
We talked a bit more about other types of Japanese traditional music like enka (although this might not really be classified under traditional Japanese music and more of Japanese popular music. This genre just has to be mentioned.). Tune in to know more about it and hear a clip of a typical enka song!
Of course, a category we looked at has got to be J-pop. This is short for “Japanese popular music”, and arguably the most famous one on the list. While K-pop has been taking the world by storm recently, J-pop is also busy winning over the hearts of Japanese people — specifically the youths. The older generation has enka — the youngins have J-pop.
While J-pop has traditional Japanese music influences, the genre has its roots in 1960s music as well as Western pop and rock, prominently bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. J-pop is pretty diverse and not limited to only pop music. Before J-pop became J-pop, it was kayōkyoku.
We played a clip of kayōkyoku in the episode!
J-pop nowadays has been taken over by aidoru groups. There are so many of them that there’s even a term to refer to this current age of overwhelming idol groups: “The Age of Idol War”. Japanese idols are professional entertainers. Although they’re primarily singers, they often take on other roles like modelling, acting and dancing.
We name dropped a few J-pop groups and played some of their music in the episode. If you want to know which popular groups we talked about, give that a listen!
3. Video Game Music
The third category we looked at is something a lot of us would recognise: video game music. If you’ve listened to one of our previous episodes “Pixels and Powerups”, or if you’re a video game enthusiast yourself, you’d know that Japan is pretty much number one when it comes to video games.
Before video games had music to accompany it, they had chiptune, which is a kind of synthesised electronic tunes that’s made using sound generators or synthesisers. If you’ve ever owned those vintage game consoles or played old arcade game machines before, you’re probably familiar with this tune.
We played chiptune music for a brief understanding.
As technology evolved, so did music in video games, and Japanese video game developers are the first few to get the jump on it. Don’t we all know Pac-Man? Arguably the most popular video game of all time, this Namco-produced franchise consists of more than a couple of tunes that we’ll recognise instantly as soon as it’s being played.
Did the Pac-Man tune play in your head? We can refresh your memory in our episode!
The same company, Namco, went on to produce music for various other video games, and so began the era of video game music. Namco’s maze and driving game Rally-X was actually the first video game to have continuous music being played in the background. Fast forward to where we’re at now, and video game music has evolved tremendously. For all the various types of games, there are beats and tunes that match the gameplay — reacting to the player’s movements and action with seamless transitioning from one music to another.
We played some popular game music that you might be familiar with!
Oh, and if you realise, a lot of Japanese words in this genre are just the katakana form of the English words. A lot of the time, you’ll see the words in katakana in Japanese video games!
We slipped in a lot of Japanese words in our episode, so if you didn’t catch it well, we summarised it here:
Hōgaku (邦楽) — “home/country” music to refer to local, Japanese tunes
yōgaku (洋楽) — western music
Shōmyō (声明) — chanting, vocal music practiced during Buddhist rituals
Gagaku (雅楽) — court music
Enka (演歌) — a ballad-style Japanese music genre that was originally a form of political activism, but has evolved to become a nostalgic tune of the nation’s identity
Ongaku (音楽) — music
Kayōkyoku (歌謡曲) — a term for Japanese pop music used up until the 1980’s
Aidoru (アイドル) — Idol
Kashu (歌手) — singer
Ākēdo (アーケード) — arcade
Gēmu (ゲーム) — game
Meiro (迷路) — maze
Akushon (アクション) — action
Tune in to Nihongo Master Podcast!
So this is a quick round-up of the top categories of Japanese tunes and beats! Nihongo Master Podcast discusses various aspects of Japanese culture, travel and even language with our Study Saturday language series! Tune in every Wednesday and Saturday for new episodes!
Our second season’s second episode of the Nihongo Master Podcast introduces a language series in the mix: Study Saturday! In this series, we bring you a new grammar episode every Saturday — bite-sized and full of vocabulary words. They’re going to be very similar to the lessons Nihongo Master offers, so if you realise you love Study Saturday, you’ll love our interactive online learning system.
The series episode flow goes like this: grammar point, roleplaying scenarios, vocab recap.
And for our very first episode, we looked at one I personally use every day: Have you ever…? Like… Have you ever needed to ask someone if they had ever done something? Or tell someone that you have or have never done something before? Yes? Exactly!
If you missed that episode, go check it out! Here’s a recap of what we covered in that episode, along with a list of vocabulary words that we used.
Have You Ever…ことがある？
Before we get to playing “Never Have I Ever”, we gotta know how to ask the basic question: Have you ever…?
To ask this question in Japanese, all you have to do is add “koto ga aru” (ことがある) / “koto ga arimasuka?” (ことがありますか) to the casual past tense of any verb.
We looked at this example: “Have you ever been to Europe?”
For this question, we’ll use the verb for “to go” which is iku (行く), then change it to the casual past tense: itta (行った). Then, just add the phrase we mentioned before to make “itta koto ga aru” (行ったことがある) / “itta koto ga arimasuka” (行ったことがありますか). So when you have the subject and put it all together, you get: “yoroppa ni itta koto ga aru?” (ヨーロッパに行ったことがある？) / “yoroppa ni itta koto ga arimasuka?” (ヨーロッパに行ったことがありますか？)
In the episode, we gave a few more examples — check it out for more clarity.
We also looked at how to reply. There are two ways to go about this kind of question: “Yes, I have…” or “No, I haven’t…” While you could get away with a simple “hai” or “iie”, but why not up your game a bit?
To say you’ve done something, the formula is pretty much the exact same as the question. Reply the example question with “yuroppa ni itta koto ga aru” (ヨーロッパに行ったことがある) / “yuroppa ni itta koto ga arimasu” (ヨーロッパに行ったのとがあります). As simple as ABC! Or, you could even cut it short to “itta koto ga aru” (行ったことがある) / “itta koto ga arimasu” (行ったのとがあります) — leaving out the subject.
For the negative reply “No I haven’t…”, we gotta make a slight change to the ending — aru (ある) has to be in its negative form, which is nai (ない) or arimasen (ありません). So then it becomes: “yuroppa ni itta koto ga nai” (ヨーロッパに行ったことがない) / “yuroppa ni itta koto ga arimasen” (ヨーロッパに行ったのとがありません). Similarly, you can cut it short by leaving out the subject: “itta koto ga nai” (行ったことがない) / “itta koto ga arimasen” (行ったのとがありません).
In short, the formula to ask “Have you ever…” is:
subject + particle + verb in the casual past tense + koto ga aru/arimasuka (ことがある/ことがありますか).
And for the answer of “I have/have never…”, it’s the same with a slight difference at the end:
subject + particle + verb in the casual past tense + koto ga aru/koto ga arimasu (ことがある/ことがあります) for positive; koto ga nai/koto ga arimasen (ことがないことがありません) for negative.
For the full explanation with everyday examples, head over to Spotify or Apple Podcasts — we even have a few roleplaying scenarios using this grammar language a few times!
Just like our previous episodes, we wrapped it up with a vocab recap for all the Japanese words we used. Here’s a compiled list of it:
Kouhai (後輩) — people of lower status
Tomodachi (友達) — friend
Senpai (先輩) — people of higher status
Kazoku (家族) — family
Iku (行く) — to go
Yoroppa (ヨーロッパ) — Europe
Taberu (食べる) — to eat
Kankoku (韓国) — South Korea
Ryouri (料理) — cuisine
Kohi (コーヒー) — coffee
Koucha (紅茶) — black tea
Nomu (飲む) — to drink
Nominomo (飲み物) — drink
Tabemono (食べ物) — food
Ichiban suki (一番好き) — literally translates to number one like, but it actually means favourite
Igai (以外) — with the exception of, or except
Suki (好き) — like
Daisuki (大好き) — love
Meccha (めっちゃ) — a casual way to say really
Chuugoku (中国) — China
Ippai (いっぱい) — a lot
Onaka tsuita (お腹ついた) — to be hungry
hyaku pacento (百パーセント) — 100%
Eigo (英語) – English language
Jetto kosuta (ジェットコスタ) — roller coaster
Noru (乗る) — to ride
Muri (無理) — impossible
Kowasou (怖そう) — looks scary
Hitori de (一人で) — alone
Uso (うそ) — a lie
Tanoshii (楽しい) — fun
Issho ni (一緒に) — together
Ikou (行こう) — let’s go. It comes from the word “iku”
Shiata (シアター) — theatre
Pafomansu (パフォマンス) — performance
Miru (見る) — to see or to watch
Majikku (マジック) — magic tricks. you can also call it tejina
Omoshirosou (面白そう) — looks interesting
Chotto (ちょっと) — a bit, but it can also mean “wait”
Tanomu (頼む) — please
Tabun (多分) — maybe
Yakusoku (約束) — promise
And that’s the recap of our very first episode of our language series, Study Saturday. If this recap has been useful to you, perfect! You’ll love the Study Saturday podcast series — so pop open your preferred streaming app and give Nihongo Master Podcast a listen!
My personal favourite episode so far is episode 9, as we took a walk down Memory Catwalk, looking at Japanese fashion through the ages.
Japan is full of traditional culture — salarymen in business suits rub shoulders with groups of young women wearing gorgeous floral robes, and trendy hipsters who combine their modern tees and trousers with stilted sandals from centuries past. But Japanese fashion didn’t always look quite like this — the story of how these outfits morphed and developed over the years is the story of Japanese history itself.
Fashion reflects the times, and if you want the whole shabang of a walk down memory lane, give the episode a listen — this article is merely a summary of what we talked about!
Japan was heavily influenced by the Chinese in these early days in everything from food to language, so it’s only natural that the clothing was as well. Chinese fashion was the primary style of clothing in Japan. It was only in the Heian Era (794-1185) that there was a shift in not only the fashion but the overall culture of Nippon as a whole, when the identity of Japan became more distinct from China.
We all know what the most famous Japanese traditional clothing piece is: it’s definitely the kimono (着物), a long robe with short, wide sleeves. The short-sleeved style of kimono-like robe popular in those days were known as kosode (小袖). This servedasa base layer upon which the fancier garments would be layered. Commoners were also wearing kosode-style clothing, just without the fancy layers on top. Usually, the kimonos were made from plain material, but high-ranking people at the Imperial Court had theirs made in brocades and top-quality silk.
Even on casual occasions, women would wear at least two or three layers of kimono, with each layer’s hem and sleeves peeking out from underneath the others. Plenty of novels and poems from the Heian Period took the subtle swish of kimono-clad arms past bamboo screens to flirt with the boys as a romantic gesture.
Colour played quite a big role too, as it was an indicator of rank. Want to know how? Listen to episode 9 of the Nihongo Master podcast!
When the Tokugawa Shogunate came into power during this era, they brought peace and stability to Japan for about 250 years. It was pretty chill, until the Shogun passed some pretty restrictive clothing laws.
Only the nobles and military class were allowed to wear the most luxurious fabrics. Anything silk and satin, pattern and brocade, was limited to the high ranks. This law allowed people to strut their social status and power, because it would be several centuries until Louis Vuitton shoes and Gucci handbags allowed people to do that without the need for legal backing.
The traditional garment became an art form due to this, and that called for greater manufacturing capabilities and developments embroidery skills for new patterns. The wealth from the higher ups trickled down to the merchant class — and with it a nice helping of the arts, culture and fashion.
Back in the Heian Era, the yukata (浴衣) was worn by the nobles after a bath. It’s kind of similar to a kimono — only it’s usually made from cotton or linen, extremely lightweight and worn loosely. During the Edo period, when public baths became more common, even the commoners were using yukata, and you’ll still see them worn as a lighter summer kimono today.
As the commoner class became more fashionable, the noble class also took to wearing the haori (羽織), an outerwear piece worn over the kimono. This thigh-length flowing jacket was pioneered by the Geisha, but both genders could be seen wearing it after the craze caught on. Most of the time, it was worn to protect their kimono from getting wet or dirty when they were out and about.
If you’ve been to a Japanese festival, you would most definitely have seen the japanese people wear the happi (法被). What to know what it is? Listen to the episode now!
So, in short: the Edo Era marked an important time in the history of Japanese fashion — as things got a bit more comfortable for everyday people, they could start to enjoy some of the finer things in life.
We also looked at the Meiji Era, which is arguably the most significant time in Japanese fashion’s evolution. Before this time, Japan was sealed off from the Western world, but thanks to the Meiji Restoration this all changed.
After World War I, there was a huge rise in the middle class. With more people working, more businesses raking in profits, and more taxes to be collected, there was a whole lot of money going around. What’s more, their old wardrobes were hardly going to cut it when the Emperor had issued a mandate in 1871 for all officials to wear Western clothes during work and official events.
Men were quick to switch to suits and women started wearing Western-style clothing, too, after the empress herself started dressing in the latest Parisienne trends. Hair trends were adopted as well — when the Emperor himself cut off his topknot in 1872, his loyal followers couldn’t resist but to do the same. Western haircuts and facial grooming for the men as well as Victorian updo hairstyles for the women were huge.
Oh, schools changed their look too — the Meiji Era saw the birth of gakuran (学ラン, Western-style clothes for uniform), based on the Prussian Waffenrock, a kind of outerwear worn by German military. The women got the sera fuku (セ-ラ-服, sailor-style school uniform) came into the picture, inspired by the British Royal Navy uniform.
Do you think the people wore Western clothing at home as well during the Meiji Era, or did they change back into their traditional clothes after work? Listen to the episode to find out!
While the Meiji Era bombarded the Japanese with momentous modernizations day after day, and the Edo Era represented the old traditions, the Taisho Era struck a nice balance between the two.
Even though this era was short-lived, it made quite an impact. When the Emperor basically made everyone give up their comfy robes for woolen trousers, it was an analogy for some bigger societal changes which were happening at the time: the old ideological garb of medieval feudalism was being switched out for a shiny new Westernized liberalism.
Some of the Japanese people took that as a way out of wearing youfuku and sticking to their traditional garb of robes. The liberalization of fashion to them meant the freedom to go retro traditional. Others took it to mean the complete opposite.
It was also the time when even the lower middle class and working class were getting in on the Westernization trend. However, not everyone could afford them, so it was be merely adding a new piece of accessory in the outfit, like a short-brimmed hat for the men and a shawl wrapped around the neck for the women.
Chronologically trapped between Japan’s first major wave of modernization, and the more restrictive and totalitarian pre-war days, the Japanese people of the time took what they wanted from Western ideas and fused it with their own culture.
I guess we could say that the Taisho Era was like puberty for contemporary Japanese fashion — when it really started to figure out what it was going to be when it was all grown up.
The Showa era (1926-1989) pretty much set the fashion scene up as we know it today. With the American occupation came a wave of americanization. This was also the iconic period of time that various Japanese subcultures were formed — if you had listened to one of our previous episodes (episode 7), you’d know the teenage tearaways known as the Yankii started stomping around the streets of Japan during the Showa era.
Moving through the 70s and 80s, things started to get pretty weird, with the arrival of more subcultures like Lolita and Visual K. These were all about expressing yourself in the most visually ostentatious way possible.
Everyday fashion here remains quite sedate and modest, though — every man in a business suit, students, mothers, and school-kids on their day off tend to wear simple, loose-fitting pants and t-shirts. I bet Uniqlo got their whole aesthetics from that.
The rise in unique fashion movements and clean-cut contemporary styles weren’t the only things the Showa era had to offer. The good ol traditions stayed alive, and can still be seen today.
Kimonos went from traditionally handmade to mass production. We talked a bit about why traditional kimonos are priced so high in the episode, so check that out if you’re interested. We also talked about the process of handmade to mass production.
Here’s the full list from our various vocab recaps in the podcast episode:
ikebana (生け花) — traditional Japanese flower arrangement
We looked at how the Japanese fashion scene came to be the unique blend of tradition, westernization, and crazy experimentation which we know today, just in 500 years all in one podcast episode. If you want to hear more about each era’s fashion, head over to Spotify or Apple Podcast to give Episode 9 a listen!
For our eighth episode of the Nihongo Master podcast, we talked about a topic which is probably close to a lot of your hearts: video games.
More than any other country in the world, Japan led the charge in the development of video game tech and software. Space Invaders and Pacman ruled the arcades of the early 80s, while franchises like Final Fantasy and the Legend of Zelda dominated the polygonic days of the 1990s — their modern-day descendants still continue to top the charts with each new installment.
Hardcore enthusiasts will be able to rattle off countless Japanese companies who have been influential on the video game scene, but we only stuck with three of the biggest: SEGA, Sony, and Nintendo. Between these three companies, they have more iconic characters than anyone could possibly remember. And in broad terms, their story is the story of Japanese video gaming culture as a whole.
Let’s look at the summary of what we talked about in the podcast!
Back in 1983, the Japanese could also enjoy coming home to unwind with a game on their brand new Nintendo Famicon (short for family computer). This gorgeous lump of red and white plastic was a vision of retro heaven. In Europe or the US, this device was better known as the NES (or Nintendo Entertainment System) which was the updated model released around the world in 1985. Both consoles took their respective markets by storm, and placed the pixelated crown right on the head of Nintendo’s top in-house game developer Shigero Mayamoto.
These early consoles were also game-changers in terms of the characters and IPs they introduced to the gaming world — we dropped a few names, and if you want to test your gaming knowledge, give the episode a listen!
Nintendo cemented their position at the top of the video game food chain in 1989, with what was technically their second bash at producing a hand-held console: the Gameboy, which was a smash hit, and sold over 120 million units! By 1995, Nintendo dropped Virtual Boy, a rudimentary VR headset, and about the same time the Nintendo 64 dropped — it held its own against the new heavyweight on the scene, the Sony Playstation. And so began the endless arguments about console superiority which still dominate millions of internet forums to this day.
However, the PS1 still outsold the N64. By the time they released the Gamecube in 2001, Nintendo had the PS2 and Xbox to contend with. These struggles have never fully left Nintendo, as proven by the paltry sales of the Wii U in 2012.
Whatever the case, Nintendo is far from dead and buried. The Switch, which is Nintendo’s half-portable half-console hybrid from 2017, was nothing short of revolutionary. It returned to the innovative, accessible roots of the company’s gaming philosophy, and brought some of the best games of this generation despite being considerably less powerful than its rivals on paper.
Want to know more about Nintendo? Give episode 8 a listen on Spotify or Apple Podcast!
In 1993, the Sony Interactive Entertainment branch of the company was formed. Want to know how they decided to start the company? I won’t tell you here — but you know where to get the answer!
In December of the following year, the Playstation barreled onto the scene to bruise the cheeks of Super Mario with a well-placed roundhouse kick to the head. The groundbreaking 3D graphics and iconic square-circle-triangle-x controller raised a massive hype, and Sony got its feet well and truly planted in the video game market almost a full 2 years before Nintendo could respond in kind.
This meant that the Playstation could be marketed as the console for adults — in stark contrast to the usually more cartoonish visuals of Nintendo’s system. Lara Croft rings a bell to anyone? Refresh your memory with a listen of Sony’s rundown in episode 8!
Within the next few years, a solid lineup of action heroes stood alongside her as the flagship main characters of Sony’s console. Classics like Solid Snake from Hideo Kojima’s stealth-action classic Metal Gear Solid, zombie-hunting Chris Redfield from Resident Evil, and Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy 7 all came from Japanese studios. These were the franchises which would sail Sony over into the 21st century as the new titans of gaming culture.
The PS2 managed to shift an amazing 155 million units worldwide over the 12 years following its launch in March 2000. By switching to DVDs instead of CDs, the games were meatier and the graphics more realistic; not to mention a more appealing console. Then came its successor the PS3, continuing the trend of appealing to grown-up gamers, making it a direct like-for-like rival of the new Xbox and Xbox 360. And 2013’s Playstation 4 brought virtual reality to the lineup with the Playstation VR headset.
We covered more content on Sony in the podcast episode — so give it a listen if you’re a Sony enthusiast like me!
The iconic SEGA arcade towers in Tokyo’s Akihabara district were a local landmark for almost two decades. SEGA has been a major name in arcades since way back in the 60s, so there are still some other outlets dotted around town. Alongside the usual dance rhythm games, there are also some distinctly Japanese offerings — want to know what they are? We talked about a few intriguing ones in the episode, so give it a listen!
SEGA was the first major casualty of the console wars — they haven’t released a console since 1998’s SEGA Dreamcast bombed at the box office. To get your hands on any SEGA gear nowadays, you’d have to head along to a secondhand store in one of the retro electronics hotspots.
The SEGA Mega Drive was the one that brought all the power of SEGA’s trademark 16-bit arcade machines to a home console in 1988. SEGA Genesis is what it’s more widely known as in America. Being a 16-bit machine in an 8-bit era, it naturally had the edge when it came to graphics and gameplay and was a huge hit. Think Golden Axe, Street Fighter 2, Castlevania, Sonic the Hedgehog. If you wanted to be the coolest kid in class back in the late 80s, you’d better have those games sitting on your bookshelf.
But despite riding high throughout the early 90s, their 1994 Japan-released SEGA Saturn console totally flopped in the US one year later thanks to the forward-thinking folks at Sony who undercut it on price and one-upped it on just about everything else. Even with Dreamcast in 1999, PS2 got in the way of any potential huge success.
They’ve kept making software even until now, with a hand in some pretty big franchises. If you’re a PC gamer, you’ll be well aware of this from the Total War series, or Football Manager.
Here’s the list from the vocab recap in episode 8:
So that’s the summary of Japan’s leading video game companies — as I’ve mentioned, we covered so much more in the episode so I highly suggest giving it a listen. There’s some exclusive content that I left out here on purpose, and you wouldn’t even know what it is…until you head over to Spotify or Apple Podcast right now and type “Nihongo Master podcast”!
If you like film, specifically Japanese film, then why not give our podcast’s Season 2 Episode 1 a listen? In that episode, we talk all about it and the top genres that make up cinematography in Japan.
Japan has one of the oldest and longest film industries in the world, going back to over a century ago. Horror lovers consider The Ring and The Grudge as classic Japanese scare fests, and who hasn’t watched Godzilla? The King of Monsters became a pop culture icon. And the 2016 animation Kimi no na wa took the world by storm as soon as it was released.
We looked at the top 4 genres of Japanese cinematography: animation, jidaigeki, kaijuu eiga and yakuza. Here’s a recap of what we talked about!
Japan is the king of animation — I mean, they have anime. To the Japanese people, anime is any type of cartoon, Japan-made or not. But to the rest of the world, anime refers to a style of animation that’s made in Japan.
With the earliest anime dating back to 1917, anime has a long-running history. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the prominent anime art style emerged, thanks to animator Osamu Tezuka, also known as the Japanese equivalent of Walt Disney. And if you haven’t heard of Ghibli Studios yet, you got a whole lot of catching up to do — quickly get in-the-know with our episode!
The 2001 anime film, Spirited Away, directed by world-renowed Miyazaki Hayao, had been warming the number one seat for ages before the spot got snagged away not too long ago. I won’t go into detail about Ghibli, but having a museum just to showcase their animation works says quite a bit about the animation studio. You won’t meet a Japanese person that doesn’t know Ghibli.
Literally translating to “period dramas”, jidaigeki movies are more often than not set during the Edo period (1603-1868), and gives an insight into the lives of samurai, merchants and farmers of the time. There can be all sorts of storylines, but the most popular kind features an action-packed sword fight between samurai.
A name you’ll hear often when talking about jidaigeki is Akira Kurosawa, one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinematography — so noteworthy that Star Wars creator George Lucas was inspired by Kurosawa’s period works. If you look closely, some of the elements in Star Wars were heavily influenced by chanbara filmmaking.
If you want to dip your toe in the jidaigeki waters, I’m not going to spill all the beans here — Season 2 Episode 1 has everything you need to know in a neatly packed few minutes! If action, sword fighting and an underlying interpretation to storylines spark your interest, jidaigeki should be your go-to.
Monsters and special effects? Count me in! Kaijuu eiga, a subgenre of tokusatsu to refer to special effects films, is all about monsters — gigantic ones.
Yes, we’re talking about Godzilla. In fact, ever since its release in 1954, the kaijuu genre popularity skyrocketed through the roof! Although this film is Toho Studio’s most famous creation, the production company has made numerous major successes as well, earning themselves the association of being one of the top studios for kaijuu movies.
It’s not just big creatures rampaging through the city causing havoc — these monsters have metaphorical references. As for Godzilla, it’s a metaphor for nuclear weapons, referring to the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Want to know other ones? You know where to find the answers to that.
Kaijuu films have such an influence in the world’s film industry — King Kong, anyone?
The final genre we talked about is yakuza. You might’ve heard of it if you listened to our Subculture Mania podcast episode (S1E7). The Yakuza’s influence in Japan’s film industry goes back all the way to the days of silent movies. Though over the decades it has shifted to something pretty different to the original, yakuza were kind of like the Japanese Robin Hood.
Yakuza films typically feature heroic gangsters with honour who live by their underworld moral code. The characters defend the traditional Japanese ways in a rapidly modernising island nation — the good guys in traditional kimono with conservative ways, and the bad guys in modern suits reeking of exploitation.
There’s a consistent theme of conflict for the heroes — their duty towards their gang and their own emotions. Which outrules which? Unlike Western movies where emotions are prioritised, in yakuza movies, duty is number one.
The Showa Zankyo-Den movie series, first released in 1965, sums up the ningyo genre in a neatly-packed series. The title says it all; in English it translates to “Brutal Tales of Chivalry”, telling the tale of power play and rises and falls of gangs in a small Japanese town.
We mentioned a few movie titles in the podcast episode, so if you’re interested, check that out.
In any Yakuza film, one thing’s for sure though — you’re going to get some good retribution-fuelled action scenes, a bit of blood here and there, and a hell lot of tattoos.
So here’s a list of all the vocabulary words we used in the episode!
Anime (アニメ) — animation, but more specifically animation made in Japan
Manga (漫画) — Japanese comic or graphic novels
Onsen ryokan (温泉旅館) — hot spring Japanese inn
onsen (温泉) — hot springs
Ryokan (旅館) — traditional Japanese inn
Sugoi (すごい) — great or amazing
Jidaigeki (時代劇) — period films, usually set in the Edo period
Chanbara (チャンバラ) — sword fight films
Rōnin (浪人) — a samurai without a lord
Kaiju (怪獣) — films that feature giant monsters
Eiga (映画) — movie
Eigakan (映画館) — movie theatre
Tokusatsu (特撮) — films with special effects
Kame (かめ) — turtle
Yakuza (ヤクザ) — Japanese gangsters
Ninkyo (任侠) — chivalry
Giri (義理) — duty
Ninjo (人情) — empathy/emotions
If you’re wondering why we didn’t cover horror, well, listen to our special Halloween episode which has 3 Japanese ghost stories that’ll do the trick of giving you a fright. But in any case, these 4 genres concludes the Japanese cinematography quite nicely, don’t you think?
In our seventh episode of the Nihongo Master podcast, we chatted about an interesting topic: Subculture Mania. Basically, all about the various subcultures in Japan.
Anyone with an interest in Japan will definitely have seen pictures online of all the weird and wonderful fashion out here: from girls dressed like 18th century toddlers to guys that look like they walked right off the set of the musical Grease. Contrast that with the sea of business suits you’ll see in every train station during rush hour, and it’s easy to see why their eccentricity stands out so much.
Generally speaking, the more conservative the culture, the weirder and wilder kinds of nonconformism you’ll find on its fringes. That’s why when it comes to subcultures in Japan, you either go big or go home — a touch of hair dye and a couple piercings just ain’t gonna cut it.
We looked at five different unique subcultures to find out who they are, where they came from, and what they wear. This article is a summary of what we talked about in the podcast, so if you find this interesting, check out the full episode on Apple Podcast or Spotify!
The first on the list has got to be the prominent Lolita subculture — all about the “kawaii” aesthetic, which basically means trying to appear childlike and innocent, while sticking to traditional Japanese modesty at the same time. Yep, those girls you might have seen draped in lace, clutching parasols and speaking in voices so high pitched they could smash a glass.
How lolita came about began in the trendy neighbourhood of Harajuku — give episode 7 a listen to find out!
I’ll briefly describe the lolita fashion: the unorthodox fashion style of Lolita is mostly influenced by the Victorian and Late Baroque periods of Europe, often mashed up with more modern design elements from other influences like punk and goth. Throughout the decades, Lolita has branched out into a couple of other sub-styles under the umbrella of the original. Want to know what they are? Yup, you guessed it — the full episode!
Ever heard of Harajuku Girls? Lolita was brought into the collective consciousness at large when singer Gwen Stefani released a song called “Harajuku Girl” in 2004.
Gwen Stefani had four backup dancers for her music video, and these girls were dressed in full Harajuku style, donning Lolita-esque babydoll dresses. The term soon became a byword for the quirky and vibrant trends of women’s style on the streets of Harajuku.
Lolita does stand for something more than just the dressing — check the episode out where we explained the unspoken notion this subculture stands for.
Visual Kei was primarily a musical genre that combined punk and glam rock with kabuki (a type of traditional Japanese theatre). The distinctive visuals of these Visual Kei bands — comparable with the aesthetics of the likes of Motley Crue — soon became the primary image of the subculture. The pioneers of this music genre/subculture are said to be a heavy metal band called X Japan, formed in 1982.
This subculture is known to bend the rules of traditional masculinity, promoting androgyny and straight-up crossdressing. Need a visual description of exactly what makes a Visual Kei aesthetics? We went into detail in the podcast! But the key point is glam — lots and lots of glam. You’re always guaranteed to be one of the most flamboyant people in the room.
Both shojo (a manga genre aimed at teenage girls) and Visual Kei celebrate the idea of the ‘beautiful man’ — in a very feminized sense which is quite at odds with the tastes of a lot of North American and European women. This idea of the unattainable perfection of a young pretty guy is what draws in hordes of screaming fans towards Visual Kei bands. Although they might look a bit like Marilyn Manson, the overall effect is more similar to One Direction.
The whole idea of Visual Kei is to be different — and very noticeably so. Similar to Lolita, Visual Kei stands for something more — a movement of individual expression and exploration, through the means of dramatic performance as well as their everyday appearance.
If you want to know more about Visual Kei, episode 7 has all you need to know about them!
Every country has its own counterpart to Japan’s Yankii, who are basically teenage tearaways. The Yankiis are kind of closely related to Japanese gangsters: the yakuza. Think of them as a younger, softer, less threatening version — Yakuza-lite, if you will. There’s a whole story behind the name Yankii — it’s a secret that’s only revealed in the podcast!
Usually, working class youths still in school (or gakkou) make up the Yankii subculture — that’s why Japanese society connects Yankii with juvenile delinquency. These teenage tearaways started their campaign of rebellion after World War II, when life was chaotic at best. The history of Yankiis go way, way back — a summary wouldn’t do it justice, so I suggest listening to the full episode.
From the Yankii heyday of the 1980s to now, the image has included seifuku (school uniforms) that have been modified — shorter skirts for the girls and extremely baggy pants for the guys. In recent decades, there’s also been a swing away from motorbike gear, towards hiphop culture instead. But what remains consistent in pretty much every iteration of this rebellious youth demographic from the 50s until now is the hair — often dyed in blonde or red. The hair plays quite an important role in the look, as the 80s Yankii believed that a tight perm was a symbol of pride.
Yankii members form a close-knit community, in which they stick together from school all the way through adulthood. Why this loyalty? I won’t tell you — but you know where you can go to find out why.
The Japanese Rockabillies subculture might draw their cultural inspiration from the 1950s, but they’re very much alive and well in 2020 around the Yoyogi area in Tokyo — dance, music and amazing quiffs. Paying homage to the classic greasers of the 1950s, the Yoyogi greasers have formed an official dancing group called the Tokyo Rockabilly Club, who make a dance floor out of Yoyogi Park every Sunday.
It all started back in 1955 when the song “Rock Around the Clock” made its way to Japan, dominating the charts. Back then, you could sit by the radio for hours waiting to catch your favourite songs, buy the released record itself, or follow local performers who played covers. Generally that’s how this subculture came to be — but we explained the history in detail in the podcast!
The Japanese rockabilly subculture is committed to the aesthetics of the classic greasers — always in black leather, from top to bottom. Some of them kind of look like a crazy caricature of the Fonz, rather than a bona fida American rockabilly.
They also take the iconic pompadour hairstyle toneweights (literally), greased up to a comically big peak, and combed slickly at the sides with a ducktail at the back. As for the girls, their take on rock and roll culture can be a little more colorful. While some of them don all-black leather like the guys, other sport 1950s poodle skirts — polka dots and all — presenting themselves as swing dancers.
A revival of a fell-out-of-favour music genre through lively dance routines and dramatic visuals, the Yoyogi Greasers are definitely worth knowing about — no fights, no rebellion. Just music.
We also talked about the gyaru subculture — derived from the English word “gal”. Emerging largely out of the blue in the 1990s, the “Gal” culture seeks to defy the traditional beauty standards of Japan, where fairer skin and dark hair are the definitions of beauty.
The gyaru girls of this subcultural movement get heavy tans (hiyake in Japanese) for a much darker skin tone, and contrast this with bleach blonde or similarly light-toned hair. Short skirts and lower-cut cleavage make an appearance too, as does extensive make-up. Generally that’s an image of a Gyaru.
While the Yankii subculture has members from the working class, the Gyaru subculture started off with girls from the middle class and above. How and why, you ask? We revealed it all in the podcast!
Basically, the subculture screams: “I can do whatever the hell I want!”
This rebellious fashion movement didn’t just stick to the world of the wealthy, and as the subculture became bigger and bigger with more participants, sub-styles were formed.
Some of these substyles were hardcore — we went through a few notable ones in the podcast — because the original Gyaru image that greatly resembles Western standard of beauty, they became the target of the very kind of attention it was trying to shake off. That called for greater extremes, with fake tans extremely dark, hair colours becoming bright neons, and the make-up became basically full-on face painting.
So now it screams, “Do you think I’m sexy now, huh?”
If you’ve listened to episode 7, this is a compiled list of the Japanese vocabulary that we used throughout the episode.
These 5 subcultures just scratched the surface of the subculture scene in Japan. And this summary is barely an introduction to them all — do yourself a favour and listen to one of our most popular episodes to date: Episode 7 — Subculture Mania.
From mahogany-toned feminism, to high school biker wannabes, to crossdressing rockers, the subcultures here are undoubtedly some of the most unique in the world.
In our 13th episode of Nihongo Master podcast, we came to you as an ambassador for the royal family of Japan — chatting about the lives and times of the emperors. The royals are still a pretty big deal here.
The imperial monarchy of Japan is the oldest royal dynasty anywhere in the world. We know for sure that this same family has been in power — in one form or another — for at least 1500 years. Although, if Japanese legend is to be believed, that number is closer to 2650 years!
If you want to understand how the Japanese people relate to their imperial family, you only have to look at a select few — a greatest hits of some of the most influential royals ever to sit on the Chrysanthemum Throne.
This is a recap of the full episode, so if you’d like to hear more about it, head over to Apple Podcast or Spotify to check it out!
#1. Emperor Jimmu
We looked at the very first emperor, Emperor Jimmu, linked to the Shinto myths about the creation of the world itself. Jimmu, the very first Yamato Dynasty Emperor, reigned for an impressive 75 years, from 660 to 585 BC. He’s believed to be the grandson of the sun — the actual sun.
We won’t go into detail about how it all came about — so if you’re interested, the quickest way to get your answers is if you head over to the Nihongo Master podcast and have a listen to episode 13!
Jimmu did what all emperors do: he started conquering kingdoms. While moving through modern-day Osaka, he eventually met his match in a local warlord who served the ruler of modern-day Nara and had to back off to lick his wounds, losing his brother along the way.
Because he was the grandson of the sun, he didn’t have to lay down and accept defeat. His godly grandma sent a vision to one of his advisers which showed a magical sword hidden nearby. He then brought the sword to Jim, and they continued on their way.
That’s not all — because the eastern approach to ancient Nara was pretty tricky to navigate, the sun goddess sent a guide to help: a three-legged crow called Yatagarasu. We mentioned him before, in our Fantastic Beasts episode (episode 4).
With a magic sword and a talking animal companion, of course, Jimmu succeeded in his conquering of the cities and established a dynasty.
So do the Japanese people themselves genuinely believe in these myths? We had a bit of contemporary discussion in the episode, so give it a listen to hear more about how these myths came about and what the Japanese people really believe happened.
#2. Empress Suiko
We jumped forward around 1000 years to 593 AD for a healthy dose of girl power. The legal ban of having a ruling empress is a pretty recent development — throughout history, Japan has actually had eight different empresses sitting on its throne. The longest-reigning of them all was also the very first: Empress Suiko. As the 33rd head of the dynasty, she was the ruler of Japan for a full 35 years, from 593 to 628 AD.
There were a lot of deaths involved that put her into power — and we broke it down briefly in the podcast episode. Empress Suiko had to step in to put an end to all of the bickerings between the boys of the two clans, the Mononobes and Sogas. They had fought a war over the last emperor, and it looked like they would be going at it again unless a neutral leader could step up to quieten things down. So that’s exactly why Empress Suiko was chosen to take on the proper title of empress.
Together with her nephew, the crown prince, they spread Buddhism throughout Japan, established diplomacy with China, and brought a lot of Chinese innovations to the country, including the calendar and political system.
So Empress Suiko’s ruling sounds like a huge win for women in Japan, but why the ban on women becoming empress? Similarly, we had a contemporary discussion in the podcast episode — talking about how the imperial palace was made into a boys-only club, and how the current Emperor only has a daughter…what would become of Japan’s royalty line? Will we finally see another empress on the throne in this lifetime?
#3. The Meiji Emperor
We jumped way forward down the line of succession, to 1868, when one Prince Mutsuhito inherited the throne after the death of his father the year before, and with it took the name, Emperor Meiji. This was the start of probably the most important part of Japanese history: the Meiji Era.
If you’ve ever been to Japan before, you’ll know that it’s not all kimonos and pagodas; this is a thoroughly modern country with a lot of international influences. After visiting a centuries-old shrine, you can go grab a hamburger. And after a long hard day at work, you can slip out of your business suit and into a traditional yukata robe for a dip in an onsen. This mix of the familiar and uniquely Japanese is part of what makes Japan such an easy place to travel in. And for that, the first person we have to thank is Emperor Meiji.
Before the Meiji Era, Japan was pretty much completely closed off to the outside world, but, seeing how the rest of the world was racing ahead of them, some influential feudal lords of the day decided it was time to leave the old feudalist ways behind.
The first step was to get rid of the Shogun — the military leader of Japan, who actually held more power than the emperor himself — and they did. With his full power restored for the first time in almost 700 years, the emperor went about giving his country a total Western makeover.
This meant business suits and Western casual clothes; trams on the avenues and railways connecting the cities; flushing toilets and modern sewage systems; street lights and paved roads; newspapers and the Gregorian calendar; and universities to educate the public; oh, and Western food.
But…there was a darker side to all this modernization because at the same time, Japan was upgrading its military with lots of deadly new tools. In fact, some of the samurai who helped put the Meiji Emperor on the throne found themselves at the wrong end of his new guns during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, as they felt short-changed by the fact that they’d lost nearly all of the privileges they once enjoyed.
After putting down the angry samurai, Meiji-san went on a bit of a rampage of wars around Asia, conquering Korea, parts of China, Taiwan, and part of Russia. What’s more, the government also fought a political war against Buddhism, and promoted Japan’s native Shinto religion instead. And for the first time ever, they started promoting the idea that the Emperor himself was a literal Shinto god…
Things kind of went a bit crazy, and Japanese nationalism was at an all-time high. About 30 years after Emperor Meiji’s 1912 death, all of this mad propaganda would eventually lead to…well…
Our contemporary discussion for this part talked a bit about Japanese politics — nothing too heavy, but some stuff that you’d want to know if you’re ever thinking about settling down here permanently. The wounds from those wards with China and Korea are still pretty raw…
#4. The Reiwa Emperor
The final emperor we talked about was the current one. Although his name is Emperor Naruhito, Japanese monarchs traditionally take a new name to match the new era they ring in, so he’s now technically named Emperor Reiwa.
And you might well be wondering, who chooses the name for the era? Well… it’s a whole traditional process that we discussed in the episode, so you should definitely listen to it for the answer to that question!
Emperor Reiwa’s enthronement ceremony was quite a big deal too. It took place in October 2019 and representatives from pretty much every country on earth joined. The area around Tokyo’s imperial palace was also packed with royalists and tourists looking to absorb a little history in the making. If those crowds were any indication, it seems like the Japanese royal family is still doing pretty well.
Naruhito and his wife — Kōgō Masako — enjoy a pretty decent amount of admiration. Kyodo News puts the figure somewhere around 75%, meaning about three-quarters of the country have a generally favourable opinion or better — they’re charitable, gentle, maybe a little boring. However, there’s still a sense among a lot of Japanese people that… they don’t really matter.
Since they don’t get involved in politics, they’re basically just symbolic. The new Japanese constitution stated that the emperor was totally banned from participating in politics. Nowadays, the Japanese royal family stays waaaay away from all of that — the emperor is even less politically powerful now than in the days of the shogun.
But, remember, he is still the head of the Shinto religion.
Densetsu (伝説) — legend
Tennō (天皇) — emperor
Amatsukami (天津神) — the original heavenly gods in Japanese shinto
Karasu (カラス) — crow
Mon (紋) — a Japanese family clan emblem.
Kiku (菊) — chrysanthemum,
Kōgo (交互) — the wife of the emperor
bukkyō (仏教) — buddhism
Daimyō (大名) — a feudal lord and head of a family clan in old Japan
Musuko (息子) — son
Musume (娘) — daughter
Daigaku (大学) — university
Yōshoku (洋食) — Western-style food
sensō (戦争) — war
Gaijin (外人) — a slang term for foreigner, which is short for the more polite term gaikokujin (外国人).
Uyoku dantai (右翼団体)— right-wing groups
Sayoku (左翼) — left-wing
Kenkoku Kinen no hi (建国記念の日) — National Foundation Day, on February 11th
Jidai (時代) — era
ginkō (銀行) — bank
Kōkyo (皇居) — the imperial palace in Tokyo
Kekkonshiki (結婚式) — wedding
Kenpō (憲法) — constitution
Four very different emperors/empresses, who reveal four very different facets of Japanese culture and society. I’d say that understanding the lives and times of these four rulers is pretty key to understanding modern Japan and how it came to be.
It’s a place of ancient myths which still affect and enrich daily life; a place where women can often be relegated to the sidelines; a place where national identity has a sometimes ambivalent relationship with the outside world; and where, despite all that, the vast majority of the people continue to update their attitudes to fit with the modern times, while still holding onto their unique traditions and heritage.
So what are you waiting for? Head over to Apply Podcast or Spotify for the full episode!