When Politeness Isn’t Nice At All


One fascinating but sometimes frustrating feature of anime is that key facts about character relationships are often conveyed by the level of politeness in their speech. This often is not straightforward. A higher level of politeness can indicate respect and admiration. Or, since greater formality means greater distance, it could indicate resentment and hostility. (The latter is particularly common in women’s speech.)

Generally it’s a change in the politeness level that’s most significant. If a woman normally addresses her husband as “anata” she may switch to the less formal “omae” when she’s mildly annoyed with him. On the other hand her children will probably tremble in their boots if she addresses them using polite verb forms. (“Ii desu ka?”) That means they are in BIG trouble.
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Lucky Star Worshippers Multiply

A while ago I mentioned the Washinomiya Shrine which has become a pilgrimage site for fans of the 2007 anime series Lucky Star. That was quite a while ago and one might think that the fans would have long since turned their attention to some newer fad.
Portable shrine
However according to the Japan News (the English-language edition of the Yomiuri Shinbun) the number of anime fans and cosplayers who travel to the shrine has continued to increase year after year. This month’s Hajisai festival was attended by 1,200 cosplayers. 150 winners of a special lottery were privileged to take turns carrying the Lucky Star-themed portable shrine past cheering throngs behind the festival’s more traditional portable shrine. (Both are visible in the photograph above.)
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Anime and the Olympics

Now that Tokyo has been awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics I think that it is a safe bet that we will see a lot of Olympic-themed anime episodes or even entire shows in the next few years.
1964 tourch lighting
There have recently been a number of anime references to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, probably due to the upcoming 50th anniversary.
Showa Monogatari
The 2012 series Showa Monogatari was a slice-of-life about a young boy in Tokyo in 1964 with the excitement over the Olympics providing a constant background buzz.

From Up on Poppy Hill Poster
And of course there was the Studio Ghibli movie From Up on Poppy Hill about high school students in 1964. The games weren’t actually shown but the excitement over them was a driving force in the plot.

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Samurai Armor Exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

To the samurai a glorious death in battle was desireable but an anonymous dealth was not. Armor was elaborately decorated to make sure that the wearer's valorous deeds would be recognized.

To the samurai a glorious death in battle was desireable but an anonymous dealth was not. Armor was elaborately decorated to make sure that the wearer’s valorous deeds would be recognized.


The small bow on the left was designed to be used from inside a palanquin. To the right is a normal Japanese longbow..

The small bow on the left was designed to be used from inside a palanquin. To the right is a normal Japanese longbow.


Metal masks were worn to protect the face in battle.

Metal masks were worn to protect the face in battle.


The big noses on these masks were supposed to represent European features.

The big noses on these masks were supposed to represent European features.

Native Japanese horses are small--technically ponies.

Native Japanese horses are small–technically ponies.

This horse's armor makes it look like a dragon.

This horse’s armor makes it look like a dragon.

Standing Samurai

Battle standards, drums and war fans could be used for signalling.

Battle standards, drums and war fans could be used for signalling.

This helm is designed to look like the headgear of a Zen priest.

This helm is designed to look like the headgear of a Zen priest.

Elaborate helms

This warrior would be visible from a long distance away.

This warrior would be visible from a long distance away.

This armor is designed to look like a character from folklore: a karasu-tengu (crow spirit).

This armor is designed to look like a character from folklore: a karasu-tengu (crow spirit).

Sasami-san and Shinto concepts of death

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai has gotten noticeably darker with the appearance of Sasami’s dead mother. By now I’ve dropped the hypothesis that Sasami is an ordinary girl with Shinto-based delusions. This really is an offbeat story about ancient Shinto gods and goddesses. (I think.)
Sasami's Mother
Anime in general is full of references to the Shinto religion, but it is usually a lightweight pop Shinto. Sasami-san takes a more scholarly approach, one that is both more esoteric and darker. To fully understand the show you need some background in some of the older Shinto traditions.

There are actually 3 fairly distinct concepts of death and the afterlife associated with Shinto.
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The Decline of Akihabara

A reporter for The Register visits Tokyo’s Akihabara district and finds it’s not quite the tech paradise that he was hoping for

Step out of the station’s “Electric Town” (denki machi) exit today and it’s difficult to see what all the fuss is about.

Along spotlessly clean pedestrian precincts you might spot the odd PC or computer parts store but for the most part it just looks like the rest of Tokyo – restaurants, cafes…, pubs and bars jostle with karaoke emporia, book shops and endless branches of the ubiquitous 7-11.

Cross the main thoroughfare – Chuo Street, which bisects the district – and the streets get narrower, the otaku (geeks) a little thicker on the ground and it’s all generally a bit more “Akiba”, as the locals call the area.

You’ll see the odd store here devoted to electronic parts, used PCs, smartphone accessories, gaming gear and even spy cameras, but still – where’s all the cutting edge tech? Where’s the unusual and bizarre gadgetery we’ve been led to believe only Japan can produce thanks to the curious Galapagosization of its technology industry?

The answer lies partly in an overzealous mayor who has for several years been driving out the old electronics shops to replace them with shiny glass and metal tower blocks like Akiba Ichi – filled restaurants and offices – or gigantic family-friendly mega-tech department stores like Yodobashi Camera.

This is pretty consistent with my own observations but I suspect the redevelopment is more a symptom than the cause.

Akihabara’s reputation as Gadget Central peaked in the late 1990s, in the early days of the Internet. Today someone who wants to buy high-tech gadgets can find a better selection and lower prices on the ‘net. This leaves little room for the specialized boutique electronics stores that the district used to be famous for. If you want an innovative gadget that no-one else has you would probably do better to look on Kickstarter.

Meanwhile the anime and manga stores and the maid cafes continue to flourish and expand. Their otaku fans aren’t just looking for something that they could buy on the Internet. They want a chance to get together with like-minded people. And for mainstream tourists there are the shiny new department stores selling upscale mass-market goods.