Category Archives: Japanese Culture

Puzzle and Dragons 3DS Review/Impressions

puzzle-and-dragons-3dsPuzzle and Dragons (or Pazudora as it is affectionately known) is a huge phenomenon in Japan on smartphones and the like. It is now being released on the 3DS and a very substantial playable demo is available on the Japanese eShop.

It costs ¥4,000 which actually is likely to work out considerably cheaper than the “free” phone version, which charges for in-game stamina and apparently soon adds up to pretty expensive. The game has been an enormous financial success.

I have been playing the 3DS demo of Puzzle and Dragons and I am very impressed.

At first sight it is somewhat akin to the excellent Puzzle Quest, in that it is an RPG in which combat takes the form of a Bejewelled-style game played on the lower touch-screen, in which different colored gems represent different elemental powers.

puzzle-and-dragons-3ds-gameplay

However, Puzzle and Dragons is a much more graphically-oriented game with lots of character interaction. The “dungeons” (actually often open air settings, though they are called “dungeons”) are graphically lovely with wonderful scenic depth fully utilizing the machine’s 3D.

It is also a lot cuter. While the storyline is quite serious, focussing on an evil force invading the world, it isn’t long into the story before a “rabbit” drops out of the sky. The “rabbit” is actually a dragon (but as cute as a rabbit) who plays an important part in the story, a little reminiscent of Precure’s fairies. In general enemies are cute, characters are cute, and despite a serious storyline you can’t go far without encountering something cute.

Now, since you will only be downloading this if you have a Japanese 3DS you may be wondering what the language level is like.

All the kanji have furigana, so you can easily look up unknown words. The dialog is reasonably simple and I find it a lot easier to follow than Pokemon, largely because in Pokemon a lot of interaction is with NPCs who say random and often quite odd things, whereas in Puzzle and Dragons the dialog is mostly furthering the storyline, the characters say things you might expect them to say, and generally it is much easier to follow.

Definitely download the demo if you have a Japanese 3DS. This is a graphical treat with fun characters, an engaging storyline, excellent gameplay, and good, understandable Japanese practice.

If you enjoy the lengthy demo, you may well want to buy the full game. You will be paying to own it outright rather than being nickel-and-dimed in perpetuity, and the gorgeous 3D alone makes it worthwhile to have this version.

And it’s an excellent chance to find out why Puzzle and Dragons is such a huge phenomenon in Japan.

puzzle-and-dragons-3ds-large
Puzzle and Dragons characters (click to enlarge)

Enryo and Love

Last week, Cure Kiyoku wrote about episode 37 of DokiDoki Precure, which explored the importance of appreciation for vegetables.  This lesson was very much in line with what we have learned about the importance of vegetables from Cure Dolly.  In Cure Dolly’s previous article, she also taught us about the Japanese virtue of enryo, or self-restraint.  Interestingly enough, the next episode of DokiDoki Precure, episode 38, is about enryo.

Ai-chan playing drumsAt the beginning of the episode, we see that Ai-chan is doing very well.  She is learning to be a very good girl.  She is throwing less and less tantrums.  We also see that being a good girl means practicing enryo.  Ai-chan is told that she can not eat too much or drink too much.  She accepts that without complaining, and because she is good, she gets the reward of playing with a drum.

Of course, the villains have to try to spoil all of this, and they kidnap Ai-chan to try to turn her into a Selfishness.  To do this, they give Ai-chan anything she wants, whenever she wants it.  They give her as much to eat and drink as she wants, and they let her do anything she wants without restraint!

Ai-chan being temptedFor a time, this works.  Ai-chan does become a Selfishness for a time.  This is very much like the temptation faced by Candy-chan in Smile Precure.  You can read about it in Cure Dolly’s article, The Philosophical Riddle of the Ball of Neglect.  In DokiDoki Precure, this temptation is even more virulent.  Ai-chan starts to become rather nasty.  She throws temper tantrums and even becomes a bit violent.

Ai-chan turned to SelfishnessIn Smile Precure, Candy-chan is able to resist the temptation by remembering a lesson from Miyuki-chan regarding the pleasures of shared treats.  In DokiDoki Precure, it is Cure Heart that rescues Ai-chan.  She is able to rescue her with love.  She tells Ai-chan how much she loves her, and how happy Ai-chan makes all of the girls.  She reminds Ai-chan of the fun that they have all had together.

Ai-chan and Cure HeartIn the modern world, this would seem to be a poor antidote for being able to have everything one wants whenever she wants it, yet, this frees Ai-chan from the Selfish Kingdom and restores her heart!

It seems that love and enryo are very much intertwined.

Ai-chan restored

Oh yes, from the previews it looks like Regina-san is back.  I am quite interested in seeing what will happen next.

Carrots are Made With Love

I have to admit that the last episode of DokiDoki Precure, episode 37, touched on one of my faults.  See, I am a bit of a finicky eater.  I do not mean to be.  It is just that there are a lot of things I dislike.

Scary CarrotsOne of the things I have learned from Cure Dolly is that it seems that in Japan, being a finicky eater is not a good thing.  Cure Dolly was very brave when she was in Japan, eating raw egg and natto.  Cure Dolly also showed us a movie that teaches us how important vegetables are here.

In DokiDoki Precure, episode 37, Ai-chan will not eat carrots.  We have learned in previous episodes that it is dreftly important that Ai-chan continue to be a sweet baby, and not turn into a selfish one.  If Ai-chan turns selfish, the powers of Evil will get stronger, and she will lose her protections.  It seems that being a finicky eater is a way she can turn selfish <deep blush>.

Carrots are Filled with LoveWell also find out that Aguri-chan is also a finicky eater, or at least she does not like carrots either.  As Cure Ace, she has to learn to eat carrots in order to defeat the Selfishness, and to set a good example for Ai-chan.  Cure Ace is able to do so after learning about and thinking about the love of the people growing and cooking the carrots.  She conquers her dislike of carrots and learns to love carrots too.

Ai-chan and CarrotsI do not know that this will inspire me to get over some of my finicky-ness, but is it something to think about.

Oh yes, by the way, did you see the previews for next week?  It looks like Regina-san may be back.  Oh yes, I wonder if my theory about Cure Ace will turn out to be correct.  It is getting quite exciting, isn’t it?

The Peoples who Bring us Nice Things

okra-chan
Grr – they’re giving us something nice!
What are they trying to pull?

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”.

Oh dear. That was four words wasn’t it?

Follow the discussion on this post on the Senshi Forums

Absolutely THE Best Vegetable Music Video EVER!

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!

AKB48: Vegetable Sisters
Ladies sing the greens

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:

さようなら、かぶさん。さようなら、にんじんさん。みんな、みんな、大きく育ってくれました。悲しいけど、お別れです。おいしく食べてもらうのよ。あなたたちのこと、忘れないから。

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 dear vegetable friends.
Okra-chan: Goodbye dear vegetable friends.

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*.

Itadakimasu!


*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.

En(ryo)d note

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:

遠慮なんかしないで。

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.

Thoughts on Rilakkuma

Rilakkuma-Forest-GifIn 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.

Rilakkuma-Drying-Laundry-Gif

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.