My eye was recently attracted by an article about Japanese television advertisements and their “deeper meaning” – well I should have guessed that it would be anything but deep, but it was interesting.
The writer said that while “celebrities” no longer appear in CMs on television in the West they still do in Japan. It wondered why that was and made some rather banal suggestions. However it also made one comment that then seemed to be forgotten. But I think it is quite clearly the key to the whole question.
It said that in the West, celebrities would now (unlike a few decades ago when celebrity advertising was common apparently) be seen as “selling out” if they advertised goods.
That seemed to me like a very strange idea and I think it would seem to most Japanese people like a very strange idea too. But it is very typical of the increasing cynicism of the West and the way people think there.
I have noticed it on Western game sites. There is a constant climate of complaint and anger that people are not getting exactly what they want when they want it. And an underlying assumption that the people who make them nice games are somehow in existence to do them down.
I think the attitude is general. That the people who make all the wonderful things we see in the shops (I never fail to be filled with wonder when I see how many lovely things are in shops), who carry them often across the world so we can have them and make them easily available in shops very near where we live – that these people are somehow our enemies of whom we should be constantly suspicious.
Now I am not here trying to defend “captialism”. That isn’t really the point. Neither am I wanting “celebrity CMs” in the West. I never watch Western television anyway and the only CMs I have seen in the wild are those that come in the interstices of Precure (they have little girls with Precure toys, not celebrities). In any case, I wouldn’t know a Western celebrity from a hole in the ground (and I’d probably like the hole better).
But the point is a great and growing cynicism and lack of gratitude in the West. In Japan I think people are still fundamentally grateful for food and the availability of good things. They don’t see those who make them possible as their enemies. The entire concept of “selling out” comes from a very mean spirit.
The answer to the question of why there are still celebrity CMs in Japan but not in the West boils down, I believe to one word: “cynicism and mean-spiritedness”.
Musume Senshi’s Astrologer in Residence has calulated the Auspicious Hour for the launch of what we affectionately term Project X, or the Arrival of the Mystery Puffin.
So if you were thinking of getting up with the first rays of dawn to see what is coming – well it won’t be there yet. And that isn’t because we are all lazy nebou (Japanese for the more familiar Shakespearean term slug-a-bed) but because of this. We already knew that the Auspicious Day was Monday, but this is what our Resident Astrologer says about the hour:
I think I like around 10 Pacific time the best Even though there will be a Void of Course Moon…. Which can also mean that things go smoothly And she is in Cancer…which is a really good place for her And axiomatically, the Moon does still function in Cancer, even when she is Void of Course but, it puts things in a good house and by then the Moon is freeing herself from being Combust. She has moved around 5 degress from the Sun. And her last aspect is a conjunction with Mati (Mercuria) which is good for us.
We know you understood all that (so could you drop us a quick note to explain it to us?)
Anyoldhow! The upshot is: call in at 10pm Pacific Time to find out what the Mystery Puffin has to reveal!
We called our fashion section Lolita and Friends because not all the Cures here are Lolitas, but we all share a philosophy of dress even if we implement it in a variety of ways.
Recently a new Precure made her 登場 (toujou) to shouts of “a new Cure has appeared” (well, I shouted it anyway). Cure Utsukushiku, true to her name, is our Fashion Correspondent and is a Lolita.
In her toujou article she writes:
There are many sites and blogs devoted to Lolita fashion, but we like to think this one will be a little different – for our interest lies not just with the fashion itself, but with the philosophy and meaning behind the fashion.
Now I was thinking about this when I was contemplating writing about my own fashion path (if I may so distinguish my humble attempts), and not only is what Cure Utsukushiku writes vitally true, but I think it can even be taken a step further. In a certain way what we are doing fashion-wise here is the precise opposite of what many current Lolitas (or Western neo-Lolitas) are saying.
The current neo-Lolita orthodoxy seems to be that it is important to get the “fashion” right – to be picky about the right lace, the right brands etc. etc. but that there is no philosophy behind any of this. Dressing good and innocent doesn’t mean being good and innocent. In fact in many instances it is considered important or clever not to be good and innocent. The idea that one can have a foul-mouth, alley-cat morals and a body full of – uh – “modifications” and still be a Lolita is the New Orthodoxy.
It of course makes sense in this context to be ultra-picky about the lace. After all, Lolita has to be about something, so since it isn’t about anything else, it had better be about material details.
Now please don’t think that for one moment I am opposed to connoisseuseship of fine lace, or to attachment to some of the finest brands in the world (which really do have a beautiful ethos and philosophy). I admire and cannot afford these things and I am happy to have friends who can afford them. They make the world more beautiful for me and for everyone else. And I try, in my much humbler way, to do the same thing.
But – but but but but – the question is having one’s scale of values right. There is an old Victorian joke in which a mother admonishes her daughter whom she is afraid is becoming spoiled by material wealth: “Darling, always remember, it is not clothes that make the lady.”
To which the daughter replies: “I know, mother. It is the hat.”
I think everyone knows what the mother meant. That it is neither the clothes nor the hat nor any other material thing that makes the lady. It is the heart. It is goodness and purity and modesty and gentleness and kindness. A perfect hat on an impure heart (well not directly on it, but you know what I mean) will not turn anyone into a lady.
Now the Western neo-Lolita will doubtless cry “I don’t want to be a lady. I don’t want to be innocent. I don’t want to be pure. I just want the right lace.”
That is fine. We are absolutely not here to tell anyone what she should or should not do or be. This isn’t a crusade, it is a haven. We aren’t saying how other people should think. We are just saying how we think. And we are telling other people who think this way that you can. You don’t need to be intimidated by the neo-orthodoxy. You can believe that Lolita is what it (visually) says it is and what names like Angelic Pretty imply. You can believe that it is something more and better than a mere “fashion” on the same level as punk, grunge and murder-your-mother.
If Western post-modernists are allowed their heroin-chic, we are allowed our heroine-chic!
In fact I think we would agree with the people who say “For me Lolita is a fashion, not a lifestyle”, but from the opposite angle. For us, our way of life is the fount and source of the way we dress, not vice versa. Those of us who are full-blown Lolitas don’t love purity and innocence because they are Lolitas. They are Lolitas because they love purity and innocence.
So, to say a little about the mere self (which is what I set out to do) – long before I discovered Lolita I knew that clothes are not just neutral bits of cloth. They say something. All clothes do and everyone knows it. They are not morally and philosophically neutral. The “casual dress” of the current West is rooted in its post-modern philosophy of life. That is why I always disliked it.
Neo-lolita tries desperately to twist a dress-style that says something else into the mold of the post-modern West. Now if you like the post modern West, please go ahead. That isn’t our affair and we have no desire to interfere. But we are writing for people who don’t like the post-modern West and are looking for that something else that Lolita so clearly represents.
For myself, I wanted to dress in a way that reflects my ideals. I wanted to be pretty, neat, innocent, pure and a little flamboyant. Being poor, I experimented with clothes from thrift stores and made a delightful discovery. You can get really nice, quite traditional clothes almost unworn from thrift stores.
Why do people buy brand new and actually nice clothes and give them to thrift stores? Here’s my guess: current Western society has almost no occasions for wearing good (non-business and non-“s*xy”) clothes. So if people buy them for an occasion they never wear them again, or they are attracted to them because they are lovely but never have the social courage to wear them. Just my guess, but the phenomenon is very real and – very useful for impoverished Princesses!
Now such clothes are clearly not Lolita, far less are they by beautiful Lolita brands (though they are often good Western brands). But then one can dress them up really quite cheaply.
Here are some of my favorite inexpensive up-dresses:
Neckscarves: you can often get these new from thrift stores too. You can get lots of pretty ones that add variety to a small wardrobe. A delightful touch is getting a BIG chiffon scarf and tying a HUGE bow at the neck. This makes relatively conservative clothes look much more kawaii.
Gloves: Gloves are a super-secret. No one in the current West wears gloves except to keep their hands warm! Simple white gloves can be very inexpensive, and they transform an outfit. You are changed instantly from someone in neat clothes to someone in what the general populace tends to regard as “costume”. You will get comments. You will get admiration. You may well also get unwanted attention. Gloves are the catalyst that gives your outfit the quantum leap (if you’ll excuse my blonde physics).
Hats: Not quite as powerful as gloves, but again, hats are almost unknown and you can get lovely straw ones very cheaply.
Hair decorations: If you aren’t wearing a hat, decorate your hair. Bows, ribbons, Hello Kitty hair-slides. Again they dress up your outfit and add kawaii-points out of all proportion to their size and price.
Shoes: Lots of nice shoes around and you don’t have to break the bank. Again thrift stores can be your friend. A favorite trick of mine to ratchet up the Kawaii is to get some nice school-type Mary-Janes (mine have darling little punched-through the leather flowers) and wear them with lace-trimmed white ankle socks (usually over pale sheeny stockings).
So – if you have the money and dedication to be a full-blown Lolita, please do it, and make the world a prettier place! And if you want to discuss it here among like-minded friends you are a thousand times welcome on our comments section (and maybe you’ll become a Cure).
But if you can’t afford it, you can still express your love of purity, goodness and kawaii through dress. Experiment. Ask questions here. And tell us your discoveries.
You thought you knew vegetable songs. We all thought we knew vegetable songs. But believe me, AKB48’s new release, 野菜シスターズ – Yasai Sisutaazu: Vegetable Sisters – re-creates the genre!
If studying Japanese gives one one thing, it is a fresh (no pun intended) appreciation of vegetables. Whether in Precure or Tonari no Totoro, a visit to a vegetable garden is a thing of delight, accompanied by cries of oishii! Western people take vegetables for granted as they take everything else for granted. I have always been filled with wonder at the sheer abundance and kindness of Our Mother’s world, and so are Japanese people. In so many ways, the Japanese attitude seems to me the natural one and the Western attitude peculiar and perverse.
In Anpanman there is a truly charming character called Okura-chan (Okra-chan — yes, she is a lady-finger) who grows vegetables for all the dear peeples. When she gives a lovely tray of vegetables though, she starts to cry:
In Japanese it is really quite lovely. I will give you my translation, which really cannot do it justice, I fear, partly because English language/culture just does not support these sentiments, and partly because vegetable names sound humorous in English in a way that they do not in Japanese, where respect for the eating of life is ingrained. When Japanese people say itadakimasu (I humbly receive) before meals they are giving thanks for the life that has been taken, even vegetable life, to nourish and delight them. That spirit also permeates Okura-chan’s speech:
Sayounara, turnip-san. Sayounara, carrot-san. All of you, all of you, kindly grew up to be big. It is sad, but the time of farewell has come. Receive the favor of being eaten with appreciation [or, of being eaten and found delicious]. I will never forget you all.
As you see, the translation is very awkward and strange, and not only owing to my poor skills in the matter (though they don’t help). I could have made it sound more naturally English, but only at the expense of what is really being said. This is why English subtitles are so inadequate much of the time. They really cannot convey what is actually said and still sound natural in English, so they tend to say something else that is in the same general area but pervaded with much more cynical and less innocent, straightforward, and fundamentally good cultural assumptions. Modern English does not do innocent well. Nor are the ideas of such things as giving and receiving, mutual kindness and dependence, so deeply embedded in the language.
When I discussed this recurring scene with a Japanese friend, she said that Okura-chan cried because the vegetables were her 大切な友だち (taisetsu na tomodachi) — her precious friends.
So – with a quick run-down of Japanese vegetable culture to prime you, here is 野菜シスターズ – Yasai Sisutaazu: Vegetable Sisters – the best vegetable music-kinnie you’ll ever see!
Now with helpful Japanese subtitles for those learning the language*.
*A friend told me that the subtitles are in English, not Japanese, which puzzled me. I now realize that the subtitles default to your YouTube language settings. Since mine are Japanese, I see Japanese subtitles. To change them, go to YouTube and click the CC button that will appear at the bottom of this video. You can then choose the subtitle language.
Having discussed Okura-chan’s vegetable speech another thing occurred to me that I thought might interest you. In the episode 赤ちゃんマンとオクラちゃん (Akachanman and Okurachan) Okura-chan and a bear are in the position of giving and receiving, each with both hands on the tray of vegetables (as in the picture above). Okura-chan begins to cry and makes her sayounara speech to the vegetables.
The bear, disconcerted, says that it is not necessary to receive the vegetables. Okura-chan’s reply is another piece of Japanese that is hard to translate into English:
Enryo nanka shinaide.
Literally this could be translated as “do not show restraint”. But 遠慮 enryo (self-restraint, self-control, self-denial) is a fundamental concept in Japanese culture.
An example of enryo given to me by a friend is that she used to attend formal dinners at a restaurant where everyone had paid for a sumptuous communal meal. The meal would be on a central platter, and no one would be the first to take food. It would become cold and eventually be removed uneaten by the waitresses. No one wished to appear greedy or selfish. Everyone was practicing enryo. This may seem an extreme, but actually is a common, example of enryo.
Okura-chan thus releases the recipient from any obligation of enryo and walks away leaving the bear saying だって “But…”
This is, of course humorous. In my experience, Japanese people view this with equal parts of humor and genuine appreciation of the sentiments.
I recall a humorous cartoon of Tuxedo Mask reading a newspaper, saying “Call me when the transformations are over”.
People occasionally wonder why “transformation is a free action” and why villains do not attack during the lengthy transformation scenes. As humor the idea is fun. As an actual question (which I fancy it sometimes is), it shows the rather remarkable literalness of many Western minds, which actually, when it is not too cynical, is rather kawaii in its artlessness.
The truth is, of course, that transformation really takes no time at all. Tatoeba: at the beginning of Doki Doki Precure, episode 16, MakoPi changes into Cure Sword in response to Regina’s behavior. The transformation is instant and the henshin set-piece is “skipped”.
Of course, this is how all the transformations take place in “real time” – as viewed by the characters themselves. So are the henshin-scenes merely eye-candy for the viewer? You could look at them that way, but in fact they are a great deal more than that.
I am reminded of a discussion concerning a portrait of Admiral Lord Nelson at his last battle. What has the historic admiral to do with Precures – or even Sailor Senshi? Only the obvious. They are all heroes. And that is crucial.
The discussion in question centered on a piece of literalistic art-criticism that was a shade too vulgar to be kawaii, though it was certainly artless. The critic poured ridicule on the picture of Lord Nelson looking resplendent in full dress uniform, pointing out that he would not have been wearing dress uniform on that occasion, that he was wounded, suffering from dysentery and had not slept and would almost certainly have looked a mess. A realistic picture, says our naïve critic, would have depicted him like that.
Well, that entirely depends what you mean by “realistic”. If you mean simple literalism, then the critic may be correct. However, the true duty of art is to depict something more than the mere material surface of things. The portrait was completely realistic in the way that actually matters. It depicted the hero rather than the accidental circumstances of the moment. It depicted what was real and lasting and fundamental in the scene rather than its surface trivia.
That is precisely what the transformation scene does in Precure and other Magical Girl series. It depicts not the real-time event as it “actually” might happen, but the heroic transformation and the full glory of the heroine. It takes the time to depict what actually takes place in the heart of the heroine because the communication of that truth cannot be instant.
I have called it a truth because that is what it is. The Precure series is about the universal battle between good and evil, and it is subtle enough to be fully aware that this battle is not just an exterior one, but also takes place in the human soul.
As such, it is a series about the very fundamentals of conflict and heroism and it reflects the heroine we can all be if we choose the Light. The glorious transformation that choice unleashes may not take place visually (though I believe that making ourselves pretty is an important part of it!) but it is just as beautiful in each one of us as its artistic depiction shows it to be.
And that, I believe, is why transformation scenes are so popular. They call to something deep and powerful – and also pretty.
In the course of my Japanese studies, which tend to be anything but conventional, I found myself learning about Rilakkuma, to my undying delight.
It was interesting learning about her from a native Japanese speaker, who told me that she is a kigurumi (nuigurumi = stuffed [lit. sewn] toy, amigurimi = knitted toy, kigurumi = worn toy). That is, she is a – well a suit. Her inside (nakami) is a secret (himitsu) that no one knows.
I quote the Japanese because I think it is interestingly different from the English-speaking way of looking at things. Rilakkuma is the kigurumi and she has a nakami (inside). Not “someone is dressed up as a cute bear”.
Nor do we suppose that this “someone” is necessarily a human. Rilakkuma’s little friend, Korilakkuma, is a bear who often dresses as a pink rabbit.
Now my point here is a slightly subtle one. Rilakkuma is considered the epitome of kawaii. One of the slogans surrounding her is “Happy life with Rilakkuma”. The fact that she is, in a sense, a “suit” does not in any way detract from this. The fact that we have no idea what is “inside” does not make her less kawaii, it makes her more kawaii.
The frequent sight of her other “outsides” being washed or dried is part of her unique attractiveness and of what has made her a runaway kawaii success in Japan.
I could be wrong, but I fancy the Western mind would find the fact that a cute bear is not what she seems fundamentally undermining to her cuteness. There would be a near-instant suspicion that the “inside” might not be cute.
The Japanese view, which to my mind is simply the natural view seems to be “happy and innocent unless proved otherwise”, where the current Western or “cynicisist” (or perhaps “neurotic” or “phobic”) approach to life sees everything as dangerous or fake unless proved innocent (and still pretty suspicious even then).
Well maybe that makes Western folks happy (though they don’t look very happy to me). But I know how I’d rather live.
The new Precure series is already up to episode 14, so what do we think? Does it continue the surprising metaphysical depth and wisdom of the other later Precure shows (not to mention the delightful cuteness)? Let’s take a look.
People who dismiss Precure as superficial fluff are really looking in the wrong place for profundity. I blame modern media studies and literature courses and suchlike. They teach people that “depth” lies in such essentially superficial matters as “social reality” or “character development” or “moral ambiguity” rather than in the reflection of cosmic realities and the fundamental moral realities without which there wouldn’t be anything to be ambiguous about.
So, on to Doki Doki Precure.
Doki Doki is a common Japanese term for excitement. It is onomatopoeia for a fast-beating heart, and on one level indicates the exciting nature of the show, but on a deeper level indicates the show’s theme of the heart. “The heart” in the West has become a relatively superficial term indicating the emotions as opposed to the reason, rather than the center of each soul which is ultimately one with the center of the cosmos (which is why the individual Heart Flowers were connected to the Great Heart Tree in Heartcatch Precure).
The primary theme of Doki Doki is the four card suits: Hearts, Swords (spades), Diamonds and Rosettes (clubs). Swords, of course, are the original form of spades, as anyone familiar with the tarot knows (the English name comes from espada = sword). Rosettes for Clubs is a little less easy, but recall that clubs are wands in the tarot and the wands are all depicted as living things sprouting green leaves. Cure Rosetta’s surname is Yotsuba (四葉）= “four-leafed” and the four-leafed clover is her symbol, which is a vertically symmetrical version of the traditional Club symbol.
We should also realize that while in the Western system Clubs/Wands are attributed to the element of Fire, in the Eastern system they very naturally fit the element of Wood. This has a further ramification in that Wood is connected in the eastern system with Jupiter (or Sai Thamë in the feminine system) and thus with the rulership of life and nature from the courses of the stars to the smallest growing thing. Alice Yotsuba, Cure Diamond, as the head of the Yotsuba organization has enormous power which she often uses to help the precures in their work. She is also surrounded by the opulence of traditional aristocratic wealth which is a very Thamic (Jupiter-y) motif.
However, the costumes of each of the Precures are adorned most prominently with a heart at the front, while the other suit motifs are relegated to hair decorations and earrings. Similarly the respective fairies each have a large heart with a small heart above it at the center of their foreheads with the other suit-motifs on their ears. Even the baby (tiny spoiler) has a heart that glows visibly when she works her magic.
Cure Rosetta, in her battle-speech, indicates the profound reason for this:
sekai wo sei suru no ha ai dake desu
Now this is a little hard to translate directly into English. I would be inclined to say “It is love alone that reins the world”. Sei suru is defined as “to rein in (e.g. a horse, unruly people); to bridle; … to control; to command”. The word sei 制 alone is a root-word meaning: system; organization; imperial command; laws; regulation etc.
The statement is very close to the feminine scripture “It is love that holds the stars within their courses” which unites the Thamic, or world-controlling harmony, function with the Sushuric or love function indicated by the prevailing heart-motif of the series.
The battles in this series (reminiscent of Heartcatch) are to return the true heart of the owner, which have been taken over by selfishness. When a heart is taken over by selfishness it becomes dark and has bat wings. When it is recovered it returns to being bright and pink with angel-wings. This clearly depicts the deeper metaphysical significance of the choices each of us makes every day.
Interestingly, each of the people thus “tempted” actually resists the temptation and returns her own heart to its true, healthy state (an optimism one would hardly expect in a Western production) but it is then violently taken by the Selfish who “grant the wish” of the victim by turning her into a monster.
We have only looked at a few of the fundamental motifs of the series. The stories contain lots of interesting philosophy which we may look at later, but it will be harder to keep that spoiler-free!
Personal note from Cure Dolly at time of writing
Watching Doki Doki Precure has been a bit slow as I watch in Japanese with Japanese subtitles, but I find I get faster and faster as I go on. Episode 14 aired yesterday and I am currently on episode ten. Cure Peace (another writer for this site) has recently found a site that relays the Japanese broadcasts in real time and has invited me to watch with her. I should be up to date by the next broadcast. But watching in real time with no subbies is kind of scary, so wish me luck.