Satoko and Mark chat about Japanese culture
Hi and welcome to The Everyday Language Podcast.
How’s it going?
It’s started to get cold in Akita now. It’s the middle of October, and we’ve started to use the heater in our house and it’s time to get the winter clothes out.
It hasn’t snowed yet but you can definitely feel winter is coming.
So today’s episode is about Japanese culture, in the chat we recorded, I’m talking to Satoko about manga, email culture in Japan and emojis.
Vocabulary and Phrases
trivial questions – unimportant questions
anime – Japanese made animation programmes
manga – the Japanese name for comics
otaku – a Japanese word meaning geek; nerd; enthusiast
Shonen Jump – a name of a manga magazine
One Piece – a recent super popular manga series
Tezuka Osama – a famous manga artist
phoenix – a type of bird that is used in the idiom to rise like a phoenix from the flames. Meaning to come back from the dead, or to come back from failure
Lloyds insurers – a famous insurance firm in London
Sexism – 1) The belief that people of one sex or gender are inherently superior to people of the other sex or gender; 2) Different treatment or discrimination based on a difference of sex or gender. Definition from Wiktionary
a salient feature – a prominent feature
soft power – Political influence that is extended by means of diplomacy, media, international assistance, cultural exchanges, etc., rather than by such “hard” means as military intervention or punitive economic measures
etcetera – and so on
freedom of speech – The right of citizens to speak, or otherwise communicate, without fear of censorship or prosecution
senpai – a Japanese term in alphabet to indicate senior (at work or school); superior; elder
hontou – a Japanese word written in alphabet to mean really; truthfully; true
oh dear – an expression that means “oh no!” or “that sounds bad!”
formality issues – problems to do with using formal or informal language
Mark: This next part is, er, more trivial questions.
Satoko: Uh huh,
Mark: Ok so, er, yeah, I know you’re quite an anime fan, or manga, (manga), manga, manga, sorry I’m wrong, manga.
S: It’s all the same but maybe they’re, yes I am more, I, I’m a manga fan.
M: So like, lots of people are hopefully going to, well for non-Japanese listening to this, where do you find good Manga?
S: First of all, because I was… I grew up in Japan, Manga was, was…everyday, well part of my everyday life, (yeah) I used to, well my, I have my, I have, I have a big brother, so my bi-brother used to buy, er, weekly manga magazines, or monthly manga magazines.
M: Like is there a big one? Or famous ones?
S: Famous one? Shukan Shonen Jump「週刊少年ジャンプ」.
M: Shonen Jump?
S: Jump. And [Shonen] Magazine「少年マガジン」, Magazine is the name of the Magazine. (yeah) Ha, so these are the like the big, my brother always had major weekly and monthly manga magazines so I, it was at home, so I read it and I liked it.
M: And did your brother let you? Or, did you have to steal it?
S: Yes, yes, we, we just shared and then I also, I bought magazines, manga magazines for girls.
So I, I know some major and, you know, manga writers of high quality and when I see the newly, a new series of those writers I can, you know, take it and read, this is one thing, and also, recently I found that, well as I’ve grown up now and have work and so I don’t have much chance to go to book stores, and I feel very, somehow embarrassed, to go to manga café where there are millions of manga books and you can read for free, well, you pay the money, by, you know, for the time that you stay there, but I don’t go there so.
M: Do they have that in Akita?
S: Yes, yeah, yeah Akita does. But instead, I found that there are lots of online manga websites. (Ok?) Yeah, so those online websites have free comics.
M: Such as?
S: Such as! Such as… One Piece.
M: No, which, which website, One Piece?
S: One Piece, well [the] famous series,
M: Oh yeah!
S: Yeah, er, Ebook Japan, I think that is one of the largest online, erm, online bookstore which not only, handles mangas but also Japanese novels and all sorts of books, but manga I think, area is very large because of lots of customers so there is [a] very large list of free books to, free books that customers can read without even regist- registering to the webstore, er web- website and because it’s free I basically read any- anything that seem[s] good.
And some are rubbish but it’s fine because it’s free, and it’s free for a specific period of time (right), and always it’s you know, the free books come, come rotating.
M: Oh, ok, sometimes is it the whole book? Or whole…?
S: Whole book.
M: Oh really?
S: Or whole, two books, two or well, two series of the whole series.
M: Oh, two like…
S: How do you say?
M: What’s the word for that?
S: Two chapters, or?
M: Yeah two chapters, or two books in a series.
S: Yeah two books in a series, so that you can know, you know, the story and if you like it maybe then eventually you are buying it, that is what online bookstores want.
M: Oh ok.
S: The customers to…so I think the first, if you are interested and you don’t know where to find good manga books maybe you can go to online bookstores and go to… and search free books, (right) there are millions of free books actually and, er, Tezuka Osama, Osama Tezuka which is, er, classic (right) writer in [the] ninety sixities, seventies I think are all, some of his books are free too.
S: So before I go to bed after my son, my son fell asleep.
M: Our son!
S: Our son! Sorry (laughs) after our son is in bed, (mm) I just go to those websites and read some and sleep.
M: So are you Otaku?
S: I don’t consider myself Otaku, but maybe? For, you know from eyes of people who have never read mangas or who have no idea of what manga is, especially if they’re Japanese.
M: Is there some? Some people like that?
S: Very few, my gener- , I think, I think majority of my generation, I’m in [my] thirties (mm) are exposed to manga (right) culture, but people maybe in [their] fifties (50’s) sixties (60’s) may not, my parents don’t have that, you know.
M: Not into it?
S: Not into it, they are not, into it.
M: Right, ok, so top 3, er, manga?
S: Top 3 manga? Er one is… actually, er, Firebird by Osamu Tezuka
M: What’s that about?
S: It’s a series of, it’s a big series, and each one, each chapter has a different story at a different time, but always er, there is a theme in common which is Firebird. Which is Firebird lives forever, you know, Firebird dies but the Firebird comes back.
M: Yeah, this is like [a] phoenix?
S: Phoenix, yes sorry, yes, sorry it’s phoenix,
M: Phoenix rising from the flames?
S: Yeah, yeah, exactly, so it’s about, a story of always the main people are those who, who… seek [the] phoenix for eternal life because I think the theme is that if you lick the blood of phoenix you can get eternal life.
M: It sounds a little bit like Harry Potter? Perhaps?
S: Might be, might be, but I think it’s, it’s, it’s deeper, hahaha.
M: It was before Harry Potter wasn’t it?
S: Before Harry Potter, it’s very much into the human life and human emotions and greeds, and I think it has a lot of things to tell.
M: Yeah, Firebird is that number 1? Or number 3?
S: I think, I don’t, I can’t order.
M: Can’t order?
S: Like, top 3.
M: Yeah ok so like,
S: And [the] second one is Master Keaton.
M: Oh yeah, Master Keaton.
S: Master Keaton is a, is also a very famous, by very famous author, manga writer and it’s about, it’s a story of an anthropologist (uh huh) a Japanese-British half, (yeah? Wow) and who is also very, who hasn’t been very well in developing his career as [an] anthropologist however he is very, a very talented insurance agent. (insurance?) Agent of Lloyds.
M: Oh of Lloyds insurers in London.
S: Lloyds insurers, yes and he encounters somehow a lot of mysteries as an agent and he solves lots of problems.
M: Ah, is it kind of like detective?
S: Yes, detective, because I love detective police, you know kind of stories (mm)
M: Yep, ok, and, er…
S: Last one?
S: I’m not sure, there’s a lot of, a lot of good mangas and I can’t really come up with a good one so maybe in future, I can tell you? I’ll tell you.
M: Yeah that’s fine, at a later date?
S: Yes, at a later date, mmm but I’m, I’m frankly speaking I’m not very happy with the last decade’s mangas or trend’s of mangas because it’s more feminised from my point of view.
M: So sexualised?
S: More sexualised, (Yeah) more sexism is apparent.
M: Right, (and) so the last decade? Is that?
S: Well maybe it’s been so, but it’s increasingly more has become a salient feature of manga, (right) that women are exaggerated in the terms of the size of bumps.
S: And size of hips and…
M: Bodies? Er, kind of? [the] Focus on women’s bodies?
S: And I’m not sure about it, I don’t want my, my, our son, to be exposed too much, to that kind of manga.
M: Mmm, ok so that’s happened a lot more than before?
S: Yes, it seems, or I feel so, although there are still goo-lots of good mangas (mm), really, so I understand that soft, when we speak about soft power of Japan, it’s abou-it’s much about cultural power driven by manga, animation etcetera, I think it’s very, very unique and positive in the world.
M: Do you think the manga publishers have got a responsibility?
S: Yes, manga publishers, as well as I, think the readers. (mm) And authors.
M: Like not to write, not to read those kind of, (um hmm) kind of things?
S: Yeah, I think so, but it’s difficult because of speech, freedom of speech.
S: However because manga targets teenagers or even you know lower age groups, I think we can become more, we can, and we should be more sensitive about what is expressed and what isn’t.
M: Ok, yeah, I’m not sure, I didn’t really know much about manga. So I’ve learnt quite a lot from you. When, when you go to the convenience store, do you read manga?
S: No, I don’t.
M: You don’t?
S: I don’t.
M: Some people do.
S: Lots of people do.
M: Is it allowed?
S: It isn’t allowed.
S: However people do, but because it’s not, it’s not allowed, I, I don’t’, I used to do it when I was a student.
M: Did they ever tell you off?
S: I have never been told off.
M: Because it looks like no-one has ever been told off, ever.
S: No I have never, you are right! I have never witnessed anyone being told off by staff of [a] convenience store.
M: Yeah, do you think they care?
S: Ah, what they do which I have read by other magazines and on the TV shows, that staff deliberately clean up the floor where the books are.
M: To make you move?
S: Yeah, so that, you know, people have to move.
M: Would they actually, is it like, rude or something to say don’t, don’t read that?
S: It’s not rude, they should, however, I think, they are more sensitive and possibly scared of a revenge act.
M: Revenge? Like someone will…?
S: Someone, someone you know circulate [a] bad rumour about that convenience store on the internet,
S: Today it’s very easy to give some particular impression of something, on the internet, and people don’t have a clue, and people might believe it, and, and I think the culture of customers are gods.
S: Meaning that customers have a definite priority or a definite superiority.
M: Mmm. This is linked to the not saying, “Thank you”, thing isn’t it?
S: Uh, hmm,
M: Like you don’t need to say, “thank you”, when you buy stuff.
S: No, no, but, but, people that sell, convenience store staff have to say irrashaimase 「いっらしゃいませ」”Welcome to the shop”, “Thank you very much” “Yes, we received this money, thank you!”
M: Ok, yeah, ok so you don’t do that, so you follow the rules.
S: Try to.
M: So that was manga. Ok going back to work stuff, like, I hear you tell me a lot that you have got a serious amount of email work to do every day, or most weeks, like, “I spent all morning doing emails”.
M: So is that something to do with Japanese language? Or is that more to do with your job?
S: I think both.
S: First of all, I would like to say that the volume of emails that I get, shouldn’t be more than, er, people who work in Japan, (mmm) er, employees of public firms, public companies, I think they get, sometimes hundreds [of] emails every day, on an everyday basis, but I don’t receive that many emails, however, it can still take time, and sometimes I can spend over an hour just to respond to one single email.
And this is because I have to write a lot to respond, it’s not just “yeah that’s fine, Best, Satoko”, but…
M: Western style.
S: Western style, but I have to explain, “Yes I agree with it because… blah, blah, blah, however, it might cause some consequences that… blah blah blah” so you have to give all the details and especially when it is in Japanese, you have to be careful about usage.
M: Er, respectful language?
S: Respectful language and the level of how much respect you should express is different by the relationship with the person with whom I send back, and I’m not used to it because most of the time in my twenties, which is I think critical to learn that kind of basic manner in Japan, I spent time in, I spent time outside, overseas.
M: Why can’t you learn it? Er, but why is it in your twenties? Why is it critical?
S: Because this is when you work for the first time and on the job training culture in Japan,
M: They actually focus on that?
S: Yeah focus on that.
M: A lot?
S: Yeah a lot. So I think your senpai「先輩」or senior employees, or mentors in the company, you receive basic knowledge about how you should respond to your customers, but I didn’t go through that step, I worked for three years but it wasn’t really enough and, and I was in, it was in a different context, so I, I’m now doing it by myself, googling it everytime, should I? How should I start [this] email?
Should I say some greet-should I put some greetings?
S: If it’s October, what greetings?
S: Every month it’s different,
M: No way, ho-n本当?[- really or true in Japanese]
S: Yeah hontou, really, or by season,
M: Oh dear.
S: So, therefore, I still google greetings, work–business email, October, and there are lots of blogs and websites which tell about it (oh wow), so I pick up some, and pick up some sentences and put it in context.
So every day I’m learning or I spend some time for it, and I’m getting used to, so I’m quicker but still, I think, I spend a lot for that kind of formality issues.
M: Yeah, some of your colleagues were talking about that as well. It’s quite common?
S: Yeah, I think so, the colleague who should have told you about it is a women who have, have, [has] who has got lots of working experiences, but in the US and France and in the UK. Therefore she isn’t used to Japanese working culture either. So I think it, it gives me extra time to finish.
M: Right, ok, so that’s email, yeah an everyday, like, challenge.
S: Challenge, yes.
M: Er, you know what I found…like text messages in Japan, like, you’ve got to be so good at what’s it called, emojis?
M: Yeah it’s like, god how do people? Like I just do like er, the, double colon, brackets smile, smiley face, but you get all these ones which are like wow, works of art, kind of really intricate emojis (laughs)
S: Yes, yes when I came back to Japan, well every time I come back to Japan from spending certain time outside. I see some developments in emoji, you know, animated characters to express where you are happy with what someone said to you and etcetera.
M: It’s quite a lot of detail.
S: Yeah, very detailed.
M: I’m not used to.
S: I’m not used to, so I don’t use as often as I think, average Japanese people but sometimes especially with friends, and my, and with my family, I use “I’m happy” and then face with happy expressing happiness.
That’s it for today. Please leave me a comment below if you have anything you wish to talk about from this episode. Remember you can subscribe to this podcast using the buttons below the player. Cheers, have a good one!
Episode 11: Colours and vision
Episode 17: Reading the air, KY, and Harmony