Earthquake and Cultural Values

I’ve been terrible about keeping this blog up to date, especially after all of the devastation with the tsunami and earthquakes in Japan. It’s almost surreal watching the news videos of the tsunami swallowing whole cities and the earthquake destroying buildings and homes almost effortlessly. My dream has always been to travel to Japan, and it breaks my heart that it will never be the same again.

One story I found particularly interesting among all the coverage of the past few weeks was one of my fellow classmate’s observations about the cultural values of Japan, post-natural disaster (http://www.newsy.com/videos/why-is-there-no-looting-in-japan). Her story focuses on how despite all the destruction, the people were helping each other by sharing their food, cleaning up fallen stores and essentially not stealing or looting, despite how easy it would be. It touched my heart in one clip showing a Japanese man offering his meager pot of soup to one of the American reporters talking to him, smiling humbly and persistently offering a bowl.

It made me wonder if the New Madrid fault line here in Missouri were to suddenly trigger an earthquake, would Americans do the same? The culture of the Mid-West is much different from anywhere in the US, stereotypically portrayed as honest, down-to-earth people who will wave you through the intersection even if they clearly stopped first (I won’t even get into this story, since it drives the Southern girl in my insane!). But if we were to wake up tomorrow and everything was destroyed, what would happen? Sadly, I imagine a “everyone for themselves” type of attitude, especially in a college town like Columbia. I imagine chaos well before the City could restore order. I imagine nothing like what I saw in the Newsy video.

This realization makes me want to fight even harder to travel to Japan one day, to always keep this image in the back of my mind when I interact with people or when someone asks for help. I want to embody this miraculous part of their culture, if not to respect the tradition, but to carry on and hopefully even inspire a similar sense of camaraderie among American people. If there’s one thing we can learn from this tragedy, it’s that money isn’t the answer for quick recovery. It’s unity and tolerance that will help us immediately, and humbleness and strength of will that will carry us forward to the future.

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Yen Press App: the future of manga

Source: Yen Press

I have yet to hear back from the Yen Press App developer I emailed with interview questions, but I might as well dabble out my thoughts while it’s still fresh for this post.

The iPad app was released mid-January and allows users to download popular manga titles for $8.99 a pop. I was surprised they cost only $1 cheaper than most paperback copies, but perhaps that will be something they change once more publishers release similar apps.

There’s also not a lot of variety in the number of titles to choose from, but they do have some of their newer titles on hand. The app is free to download and opens up to a pretty simple but interesting design. The top third of the page has three manga covers featured and bottom part consists of a list of titles. You can switch this bottom part between “new releases” and “fun stuff” pages, which list the manga title, cover image, description and  price.

The “fun stuff” consists of free downloads mainly authored by Yen Press staff members about their office adventures. It’s pretty cute and offers an inside view of the staff. All of the “new release” titles can be previewed for free, which is a definite must if your expected to pay $8.99 per download.

You can also view your account information, downloads, and give the developers feedback on a separate page of the app, which is pretty handy if you want to go back and read one of the titles you previously downloaded.

I ended up buying “The Clique v1” (read my review below) and enjoyed the virtual experience. Every page was clear and easy to read, and you can switch between single and double page view by turning the iPad. I could scroll through the pages with ease, but had a hard time at first locating the “touch area” that would take me back to the main menu.

I’ve read manga scanlations on my laptop and iPhone plenty of times before, but the experience and portability of reading on an iPad is unmatchable. It’s fun, clear and an easy way to expand your manga collection without taking up room on your shelves.

Sadly enough, I had to return the iPad I checked out from the J-school last week. If I win the lottery or have a spare $500 in my pocket dreams, I would love to invest in an iPad of my own. I definitely see the Yen Press app as the manga reading experience of the future, and I’m excited to see what the publishers will bring next.

Ways to improve: cheaper manga titles/a monthly subscription fee to access as many titles as you want, more options and a review/comment forum for readers to leave their opinions of what they just read.

Liz’s rating: ★★★

White Day, the V-Day of Japan

I thought since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, I’d write about the cultural differences between V-Day in the US and Japan. I remember when I first began reading different shojo mangas, I noticed that the heroines would always stress out on Valentine’s Day because they had to decide if they would bake chocolates for their crush or not. After I saw that this situation was a trend from manga to manga, I decided to investigate what Valentine’s Day means in Japan.

A scene from the shojo manga Skip Beat. The heroine is making chocolates for her Valentine.

Interesting enough, women are usually the ones to give gifts on Valentine’s Day, usually chocolates to their honmei (crush) and friends. It’s not uncommon to bake your own chocolates and cookies, but Japan’s chocolate industry also finds business booming during this holiday.

You may be thinking, “so what, that’s awesome for the guys.” Well here’s where it gets more intricate: the men are supposed to give an

Popular presents on White Day. Source: web-japan.org

“answer” on March 14, a holiday called White Day. The holiday is purely Japanese tradition (about.com), and fits perfectly with Japanese views of a “relationship,” which is really only supposed to indicate you have found your future spouse.

But the romance behind the two holidays was initially profit-driven. According to an about.com article on White Day, “A company making marshmallows launched a campaign in 1965 urging men to repay valentine gifts with soft, fluffy marshmallows. The name White Day comes from the color of the candy, and at first it was called Marshmallow Day.”

Yum, sounds good to me. However, this association with marshmallows has evolved to white chocolates and other accessories, like bracelets and flowers.

As romantic as all of this sounds, White Day is much less popular than Valentine’s Day. Probably another reason why I never read about it in shojo mangas. Plus, the wait must be killer! I couldn’t imagine waiting a whole month for a response from my crush, but I suppose that’s a big difference between the US and Japan.

Shojo Beat: The end of a dream

I’ll never forget the day I found out Shojo Beat, one of the only shojo manga magazine for Americans, folded for good. I was eagerly waiting for the August issue to deliver the latest chapters on Sand Chronicles and Vampire Night. July 11 came around and sitting on my doorstep was the plastic wrapped magazine I was dying to read. However, this time, a note was attached to the plastic wrap. It contained the magazine’s farewells and offer to continue my subscription to Shonen Jump (a “boy” manga magazine) instead. In disbelief, I tore open the plastic wrap and screamed in horror when a copy of Shonen Jump lay in my lamp. Naruto stared–no glared–back at me, his smirk taunting my heartbreak.

Why Shojo Beat? Is this the end of an era?

For a while, I held on to this pessimistic view. Shojo Beat was the only shojo magazine catered to Americans who loved romance comics just as much as the next Japanese girl. Why couldn’t VIZ Media do anything to save it? Were they really that lacking in sales? I find this hard to believe–just look at the dozens of facebook groups protesting the magazine’s end.

Some people suggest I turn to onemanga.com, that it was all the same, and I could read even more than what the magazine offered. But what they don’t understand is that Shojo Beat isn’t just a comic book–it’s a guide to Japanese culture, food, fashion, and literature. It showed us American girls how we could make Lolita our own, and where we could find the gear here in the states. It offered Do It Yourself guides for cute Christmas gift wrap and lanterns. It even gave authentic Japanese recipes.

You can’t find that on any manga site, mind you, especially a guide as honest as SB.

So, where are the female comics fans supposed to go now, and how much of a slap in the face is this (however unwitting on VIZ’s part) in reflecting the state of the industry at large? Given the recent demise of Minx, it feels like publishers are not giving girls and women the chance to prove their fandom, or perhaps they’re attempting to fit them into fandom boxes that aren’t accurate or profitable. Does it show that girls prefer buying bound manga to reading it in magazine form? Perhaps. Does it show that there aren’t enough girls reading manga? Doubtful. Also, how much will this move, like the demise of Minx, cause commentators and industry folks alike to chime in with, “well, this proves there’s no real teen girl audience for comics, anyway”? (http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/540000654/post/1810044981.html)

Will we ever see this magazine again? The only way to predict this is to see what Cartoon Network and the WB can bring in next. Animes like Sailor Moon, Tenchi Muyo, and Cardcaptor Sakura introduced young Americans to quality Shojo. If TV is the only way we can get to these kids, it must be done. And fast. I don’t know how much longer I can go on with Cosmo and Vogue.

Review: The Ramen Girl

After Brittany Murphy’s passing in late December, I learned about her role in The Ramen Girl, a “culture clash” film released in 2008. I finally found the time to watch it last night, and was pleasantly surprised by its exploration of Japanese tradition and culture. The movie goes beyond the surface appeal of most American films by exploring identity when two worlds collide.

DVD cover of The Ramen Girl. Source: Media 8 Entertainment

The story follows Abby (Brittany Murphy), a 20-something material girl who moves to Tokyo to live with her boyfriend. Not long after she arrives, he confesses that the move was too soon and leaves her to work in Osaka.

Alone and out of work, Abby finds herself bawling in a local ramen-ya (ramen shop). The owner, Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida) gives her a bowl of ramen, and the rest is history as Abby vows to become a ramen chef.

 

Tonkostu (Pork-bone) ramen, one of the dishes featured in The Ramen Girl. Source: Wikipedia

The most impressive aspect of the film to me was the celebration of Japanese culture and way of life. From the art of ramen cooking with tamashi (精神, spirit) to the traditional sensei/seito, teacher/student hierarchy, The Ramen Girl is a cultural experience any person with an interest in Japan should see.

At one point, Abby’s crush, Toshi (played by the handsome Sohee Park) bursts out: “Why do Americans think that every other person should act like them?” Abby’s symbolic evolution from self-seeking girl to mature woman relates well to Generation Y’s transition into the adults of the world. While we may find ourselves lost in this phase, acceptance of responsibility and understanding of others’ struggles finally sets Abby free–a beacon of hope for the rest of us.

Liz’s Rating: ★★★★   

A-Kon mania

A lot of craziness has prevented me from blogging in a while, but I thought I should sit down and write about the amazing time I had at A-Kon on Sunday. A-Kon is the longest running anime convention in the country–founded way back in 1990 in Dallas. I’ve been fortunate enough to go consistently since 2006, and it seems to get better and better every year.

I chose to go on Sunday for a number of reasons–well, mainly price. It was only $25 versus the whooping $40 for Friday or Saturday, and I only really wanted to check out the dealer’s room and cosplayers.

My friend Spencer (right) and I managed to find another Bleach fan to take a picture with.

There are so many characters I wanted to cosplay as, namely Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop or Sango from Inuyasha, but costume prices, lack of time and fitness prevented me from going to the next step. I ended up recycling two pieces of old costume for my cosplay: my homemade Bleach Soi Fon captain’s outfit and NANA black wig. Both came together nicely–I think my costume looks just as good as my friend Spencer’s, who bought his on Ebay.

Either way, it came together in the end, and I had plenty of people ask to take my picture, which is always a nice compliment to your labor.

I have also taken up a new job as a columnist/reviewer for MangaLife.com, and I was on assignment to take video and pictures at the con, which is always exciting. I interviewed a few artists, craftsmen and cosplayers on video and wrote my review on the convention. I’m so excited to see it posted sometime tomorrow!

My new job might make me slower to update this blog since I will be busy writing posts for them, but I hope to continue with my musing about Japanese culture and of course, manga. Check out my A-Kon video, it’s a little shaky (I wasn’t about to be any nerdier and bring a tripod), but it was exciting to work on something I’m passionate about.

A-Kon 21 in Dallas – MangaLife.com from Liz Reed on Vimeo.

Toyota recalls, the US government rejoices

With Toyota recalling numerous cars for “pedal sticking” and acceleration problems, I thought it would only be appropriate to voice my opinion, as I own a 2005 Toyota Camry and love it to death. In my family’s car history, we’ve repeatedly owned Toyota or Honda cars–from an Accord to a Forerunner and Camrys, my dad insisted that Japanese cars were the most reliable and fuel efficient.

When I first learned about the Toyota ordeal, I was slightly alarmed. I checked Web sites and lists of the defected models to see if my car was one of them. News articles and videos began plaguing media Web pages featuring distressed Toyota-owners taking their cars to the dealership.

One minute they say to stop driving these cars, the next they say just to take them into the dealership. People then complained that none of the dealerships had the software and parts to fix the problem, and wouldn’t for countless weeks.

While I try not to subscribe to media conspiracy theories, I see this topic popping up more and more as the days go on. Yes, we are the culture of fear, and our media organizations are latching on to every minute.

Not only are these media organizations and blogs gaining constant hits by frustrated and concerned car owners, they are doing exactly what the government and American car dealerships want them to do: destroy the Japanese car industry’s reputation to boost the economy.

Think about it: When Japanese officials first announced that their version of the Cash for Clunkers program would not include American cars, relationships tensioned:

“It’s outrageous that Japan denies that their ‘cash for clunkers’ program discriminates against American automakers. When we put together the CARS program, we followed international law and made it apply to all cars sold in the United States–not just American cars,” said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), author of the cash-for-clunkers bill. “The Japanese program intentionally excludes our U.S. automakers through unfair trade practices.” (ask.com)

Hmm, I wonder why anyone would want to exclude American cars from their program? Probably because they are the biggest and most expensive gas guzzlers of any car in the world! What use does Japan have for hybrid mini SUVs and trucks? None! The big car industry is just not profitable in Japan, where space and fuel is very limited and calculated. The small cars American companies do offer are not what they’re known for, so why should Japan offer overpriced, less reliable versions of what they already have?

This is not discrimination, just common sense. If the American car companies want to remain competitive internationally, they need to evolve and understand cultural customs and norms all over the world.

What others are saying (Dallas Morning News Opinion blog):

I blame scare tactics, unions
I didn’t think it would take the government very long to try to halt Toyota or Honda sales. I’d be willing to bet the Transportation Department got its marching orders from the White House.
These two car companies still make the most reliable vehicles in the world, and I will continue to buy from them. Hopefully, President Barack Obama’s scare tactics will fail once more. His support of the unions is disgusting.
Why do you suppose so many products we use are made overseas? The unions have priced themselves right out of the market.

I’ll buy Toyota again
It’s obvious there is a problem with some Toyota models. It’s also obvious that some folks and companies, irritated with or envious of Toyota’s success for so many years, are all over this problem, pointing fingers and saying See? See? I have been a Toyota loyalist for more than 30 years.
My family has owned a dozen different Toyota models, accumulating an estimated 1.2 million miles. I would buy any of the Toyota models on the recall list before I would touch anything from GM. This is based on my own experience with GM vehicles as well as that of friends and co-workers.
Toyota will get through this trying period and return to its first-place position again. And no, I don’t work for the company or any of the dealers. I’ve just had great luck with their products.

Sorry GM–I’m not buying it.

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