My Boss, My Hero Review

Here’s a show that seriously crept up on me. I really thought I was not going to like it for several reasons. Instead, I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. That show is “My Boss, My Hero”.

The title explains a lot of what the show is about. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the best English-named show in the history of J-Drama. I’m going to go even further and say this might be the best use of English for Japanese people in the entire country, for anything.

See, the title plays on the double meaning of the phrase. Depending on how you read it it could either mean “My boss, who is also my hero” or it could mean “My (person X) boss, and my (person Y) hero”. See how that works?

So, the question you immediately ask is, “which one is it?”

The answer is both, which qualifies this for the best English title in Japan. I’m not sure who came up with this title but 1) give that person an award and 2) pay them some money to redo all your horrible translations everywhere else in the country.

Makio Sakaki is second in line to take over a powerful yfamily. He’s the strongest member in any yakuza family and is rightfully feared. The problem is he’s also the dumbest member of any yakuza family. He fights so well people call him “tornado” for being able to wipe out entire rival gangs single-handed. He also destroys really good negotiations single-handed.

Therefore, his father makes a deal. Makio must return to high school for the senior year and graduate or else he will find another person to take over the clan when he steps down. Makio, loving the yakuza, grudgingly accepts.

For those of you born long ago enough that you remember Adam Sandler as a good comedian, this might remind you a little of Billy Madison. And I think that comparison has some merit. Certainly, the plot follows much the same structure as Billy Madison.

I had high doubts as to whether I would enjoy this one.

Not only am I not a big fan of the Billy Madison theme, this drama plays on a lot of typical J-drama tropes I’m not a fan of. It centers around high school life, it resorts to “Japanese humor”, the lead is a long-hair Japanese pretty boy. Usually I make it about 60 minutes – 10 minutes per above situations present. That would normally make this one a 30 minute drama experience.

Yet, it works. First, Makio’s facial expressions are hilarious. Yeah, they are juvenile, but they are hilarious. It’s really the first thing that got me to enjoy the drama.

Furthermore, the show is about more than just high school life. It really does a good job at showing the personal growth of an individual when confronted with a situation contrary to their character. There are many touching moments and the character growth of Makio is fun to watch develop. In fact, Makio essentially develops 2 personalities: “Makio” and “Makky”. Makio himself undergoes the transformation through language use, tone of voice, hair style change, and clothing changes. The highlights of the show are when these two personalities clash or need to appear at the same time.

There are two things I’m not overly fond of in the drama.

First, the romantic relationships never develop. They are teased at but that’s about it. I’m not necessarily a big fan of romantic relationships all over the place but these seem a little weird. It’s almost as if they were half written and then forgotten about. I would have liked to see at least each person dealing with the resolution of a romantic interest not developing as hoped. One love interest in particular is hinted at and teased for 3/4 of the show, only to have it disappear as if it never existed.

An aside to this is Makio’s love interest. Now, you forget often during the show that Makio is supposed to be 28 years old when he returns for school. His girlfriend is 17. This never feels weird or odd in the show, but after everything ends you do tend to start thinking about that. I’ll let you decide how that stands with you. (Note: the actress who plays this part will appear more prominently in my next show review)

Second, the final episode is pretty bad. It’s really just a ceremonial reunion show. Japanese shows seem to have the “let’s overview the entire show” format for final episodes, which puts them at a disadvantage, but they can still be done alright (see Tokyo Love Story – the most difficult to watch last episode I can think of). This one is just bad. It leaves you feeling unsatisfied with the entire experience almost. It’s hard to say what they could have done differently seeing how the episode begins, but it would have been nice to have a better send off.

Japanese Level: Standard to extreme

Makio is a yakuza boss. This presents several problems. First, he speaks like a yakuza gangster. This is not normal Japanese. It’s very gutteral, very guyish, and uses tons of curse words and other forms you would never hear anywhere else in Japan. Yakuza speech to Japanese people is instantly recognizable, and there’s a reason. Second, it also means his underlings have a tendency to use very elevated speech when speaking to him. There’s even a small comical part when one uses standard politeness and Makio threatens to kill him for not addressing him with the proper respect. This requires very good Japanese skills to stay with the politeness shifts and different vocabulary used.

On the other hand, when Makky is in school it’s pretty standard Japanese. Nothing too difficult here. There’s some “high school talk” here and there, but overall I think it’s manageable.

Final Thoughts: A highly recommended show. Perfect for anyone who likes watching characters struggle with immense personal growth, the battle of destiny over desire, or pretty-boy Japanese guys.

Final Verdict: J-drama Watch-o-rating =  In the upper tier, but not the premium tier. Watch.

Confused

Women confuse me. Japanese women confuse me more. Individual Japanese women confuse me the most.

I have one co-worker, we’ll call her Yuki (Not her real name), who confuses me greatly.

She’s about 25 and is somewhat new to teaching. Shortly after she came to this school a year and a half ago I heard her say she enjoyed foreigners and liked to experience foreigner culture in Japan. So, last year I invited her to a foreigner/Japanese Halloween party my company was having. It was a bust, but it seemed to be OK. We had dinner a few times as well last fall/winter. Everything was strictly platonic and it seemed we meshed fairly well. I bought her a CD for Christmas as I thought we were friends.

Things got kind of weird sometime in December and have stayed odd since. She became fairly distant, always coming up with excuses not to do something if I’d ask to go snowboarding or eating. She also went from being pretty friendly at work to being rather distant. I used to get an おはよう   “ohayou” (good morning in a casual/close manner. Maybe ‘mornin’) from her but recently I don’t even get the full on おはようございます (GOOD MORNING), which is verbotten in Japan. I only get a grumpy look.

Today I have no class and was searching for a class to go watch to fill up an hour. Yuki had a class in her 5th hour block that would have been perfect to join. So, I asked her if I could come in and watch. Here’s a bit how the conversation went:

Me: “What are you doing for 5th hour?”

Yuki: “Umm.. why?”

Me: “Oh, I just want to come and watch class if that’s ok.”

Yuki: “We have a test. A test.”

Me: (hint: I had already asked the kids and KNEW they didn’t have a test) “Whaaa? No you don’t. You’re lyin’ aren’t you, tease.”

Yuki: “Test. We have a test.”

Me: “Really? Are you sure?”

Yuki: “Test. We have a test.”

Some kid somewhere behind me: “Teacher, we don’t have a test.”

Yuki: “SHHH! Shut up.”

 

I left the room after that. Now is it just me or is this just plain bizarre? I used to think the issue was the old “a girl liked you, you didn’t reciprocate feelings, and now she’s going to treat you like ass” routine. But now I’m starting to think Yuki is simply a crabby, unstable person. I keep wondering if it’s something I did or should have done differently. I don’t know any more.

So, that’s my Friday. Other than that I caught a cold last night, my first one this year. I had 1 or 2 very minor ones before which disappeared before they even really began.

Have a good weekend. I will have a new drama review coming soon. Hopefully I’ll get a little more blogging done starting in December once graduate school application season is over.

English Bubble

I’ve written about this in brief before.

This Sunday the largest foreigner get together in my prefecture is happening. In my village. That is saying something because foreigners are always in large groups. This confuses me a great deal. It also irritates me to some extent.

I have no idea why this is the case. Foreigners are almost always found in giant herds of mostly white faces doing whatever it is foreigners in Japan do, which, let’s be honest, is drink 90% of the time. I don’t understand the mindset of always wanting to be in a giant group whenever you’re doing anything. What is wrong with doing an activity with 2 or 3 people?

Even more confusing, is why so many people find it worthwhile to pack up their life, move half way around the world, and then hang out almost exclusively with the same groups of people they just got done moving away from. This makes 0 sense to me. If I wanted to hang out with foreigners and spend all my days speaking English I would have stayed in America. Why come to Japan to repeat something you can do back home?

This is the confusing part. It just makes no sense to me. I don’t understand the appeal of it and I don’t understand the rational reasoning behind it.

Here’s the irritating part.

JETs are the most common to be found hanging out in giant foreigner herds. Not coincidentally I would say roughly 60% of all the JETs I’ve ever met have only a limited grasp of Japanese even after 3 or 4 years in the country. Another 10-15% have only a somewhat more advanced understanding, capable of fudging their way through an easy conversation about the weather or sports.

It’s astonishing how many foreigners you can meet in Japan who know almost no Japanese despite having resided here for sometimes 10 years or more. As above, it never comes as a surprise to learn these people’s entire social networks consist of foreigners. Lots and lots of foreigners.

In America speaking English is a rather big pet peeve of most people. There are many different nationalities and many get upset when someone can’t speak English. It seems only a respect thing to try to speak as much a language in a country as possible. I don’t understand the mindset of people who can’t speak a word of Japanese after 1 or 2 years.

I find it irritating when someone can live in a country for several years and doesn’t know the language. At that point I feel you have to be going out of your way not to pick it up.

So, if you’re coming to Japan do yourself a favor: get out of the foreigner bubble. Or, if you decide you absolutely must hang out with giant herds of foreigners on a constant basis you might want to think about saving your money and staying home. Yes, you will see some sights in Japan, as many foreigners do. And you might even get a few nice cultural experiences out of it. But you’ll speak almost no Japanese at the end of it all, have drunk a ton of alcohol, spoke a lot of English, and seen a lot of western people. Doesn’t that sound like your life at home? Moving to Japan can cost a lot of money. Why spend it to do what you’re already doing?

By staying outside the bubble you’ll start to develop a more accurate taste of Japan. More importantly, you’ll actually start to develop some language skills. This will only open Japan up more, give you more options, and allow you not to feel like a baby in a country on a regular basis.

Summer Break

Summer Break just ended the other week. I’m lucky in that at my company I’m afforded the same breaks the students get, minus a few minor exceptions. This means I get almost an entire month off between the end of July and end of August. It’s a nice time.

This break, much like last break, I didn’t do too much. It’s mostly money problems that keep me from exploring too much. Student loan payments have rendered me on the brink of destitution. One of the greatest disservices the US continues to allow its citizens to suffer.

That is not, however, to say that it was not an unproductive break. Ok, in truth it was rather unproductive. I didn’t study at all, and I didn’t even get much cleaning done. What I did do was break out of a funk that has bothered me for most the time I’ve been here. The funk of social stress.

I’ve mentioned before some of my struggles with social situations and my continuing lack of friends. I made a concerted effort over break to get out of my giant shell and do some things with other people. I did enough that I feel I’m somewhat back to a normal life. Well, normal for an extremely introverted person.

Now that school is back I’m trying to get back in the groove of studying. Last week was tough as I was actually pretty busy all around. This week is looking up. I need to find a new drama to start. I’m thinking of wading into some of the classics despite the overwhelming language barrier that will accompany them (they are period pieces with some old dialects. Like Shakespeare in Japanese).

 

Japan and Religion

I’m not sure about this but Japan might be the most secular country in the world. It certainly must be in the top 5. The people themselves in general could care less about religion and the only time it enters any discussion past “you’re Christian, right?” is from some crazy Jehova’s Witness who comes a-knockin’ on your door on a Sat. afternoon. (Yes, they exist here).

I love it.

One of the reasons I grew so fed up with America was the insane amount of Jesus preaching that goes on. In America, founded largely somewhat as an experiment to separate religion and state officially and irrevocably, the president has to meet with an evangelical preacher (if you aren’t from America and not sure what that is, it’s one of those people who believe the snake in Genesis was an actual, talking snake) in order to even have a chance at getting elected. America is insanely nuts over Christianity.

As an atheist, I grew very sick of the entire scene. Luckily for me, I landed in a country that believes in god only somewhat more than I do.

One of my favorite things to do is to debate religion. I could care less about what happened on some reality show. But talking about the meaning of life and whether a soul will outlast our human bodies eternally? Yeah, that sounds important. Debate is more difficult to find in Japan than it was back home, what with trying to maintain wa and all that.

My journey to atheism started during high school. I got it into my head reading the bible would be great fun. What it really was was the quickest path to becoming a non-believer. From there, it was a matter of some years while the layers of faith I had held since I could remember slowly crumbled away one-by-one.

Two distinct occurrences kept me hanging on for quite a while.

One day, I was driving to school or my friend’s house. I was about 16 or 17 at the time. On this particular road there was a RR crossing without a gate. I drove this road almost every day of my life. This particular day I was driving along and keeping tabs on the car behind me. This car suddenly started to slow down. I couldn’t figure out why this moron was going from 45 mph down to 30. 20. 15. Damn, he’s nearly stopped. In the middle of the road. What is he doing? I couldn’t explain it. The track lights weren’t blinking. There was no sound from the RR tracks. The light ahead of us (the one on the immediate other side of the tracks) was still green. What is this guy doing? So, figuring he’s just out of his mind I kept on driving.

Upon reaching approximately 5 feet to the other side of the tracks I looked again into my rear view mirror to see what this guy was doing. To my surprise I was staring at the middle of a train. I quickly glanced to my left and saw this train was a few cars down the track. Even to this day I have no explanation for how that train got that far down the track without either 1) some kind of disturbance of time/space or 2) blasting my car apart and killing me instantly along with it.

At the time I was convinced it had to be some sort of guardian angel.

The second instance happened some years later. I was on my way to being an atheist but making a spirited stop at “spiritual”. The Christian god might not exist, but one like him without all the rules and violence surely did. I had read some snippet of the book “Conversations With God” at some point. I can’t recall where this happened. I can’t recall being able to recall at that time whether I ever knew when and where it happened. I just knew I had read some of it and wanted to read more. I took my girlfriend to the book store to hunt this book down. Problem was, I couldn’t remember the damned title.

So, we wandered around the spiritual section for a good 40 minutes or so with no luck. I even asked the staff. Nothing. So, we both resigned it just wasn’t to be and decided to go home. On the way out of the section I told her I’d like to take just 10 more seconds. Give it that ol’ Christian try, ya know?

Suddenly, off to my right a woman exclaimed “Here it is!” I looked over and she was kneeling, reaching for a book on the bottom shelf. Her husband or boyfriend, who had been looking at the books on the 3rd shelf, was putting a book away and starting to bend down toward her. She was probably 15 feet away. Instantly, I knew the book she had just been so elated was the exact same book I was looking for. I walked over to grab the copy next to it, thumbed through it, and lo’ and behold it was the book!

I was convinced this was one of those “messages” from god. The entire thing seemed like it was out of a movie, except the audience would have groaned for the ex machina mechanics at play.

For a long time those two instances kept me hanging on.

Eventually I moved on. I’m now pretty much in line with strong atheism, where not only do I reject the belief in a god I would go so far to say one doesn’t exist. Nor does any other supernatural occurrence.

Japan is still a country ripe with superstitions of ghosts and spirits. However, Japanese people are much less likely to condemn you to hell for laughing off their ghost stories as their Western counterparts.

It’s one of those points that meshes with me very well here. It’s probably one of the things that has me most concerned whenever I pack up and head back to the States.

A Singing Bird

Pretend you have a bird in front of you. You really need this bird to sing for a bet you recently made with every friend you have. However, this darn bird won’t make a peep. Not one. What would you do?

There is a famous poem every school child in Japan learns. It goes like this:

鳴かぬなら殺してしまえホトトギス

鳴かぬなら鳴かしてみせようホトトギス

鳴かぬなら鳴くまで待ってみようホトトギス

nakanu nara koroshite shimae hototogisu

nakanu nara nakashite miseyou hototogisu

nakanu nara naku made matte miyou hototogisu

 

Before getting in to the English translation let’s set the stage.

The three most powerful men in Japan gather together and begin talking.  During the course of their conversation a topic comes up. What if they were faced with a bird who wouldn’t sing? How would they handle the situation? What tactic would they use to ensure the bird began to sing? As the three talk, it becomes very clear that each has their own very unique way of handling the situation, none necessarily any less effective than the other. After all, they didn’t become the three most powerful men in Japan by chance.

The first man to speak up looks like he’s lived a life time of fighting and war. He speaks with authority, yet not all-together uncultured. It is immediately apparent he is a natural leader. He steps forward and declares the following:

鳴かぬなら殺してしまえホトトギス

If the cuckoo doesn’t sing, kill it!

 

The second man to speak up has a glint of crazy in his eye. He’s a little shifty but still commands respect. He seems like the kind of man you wouldn’t want to wrong as he might spend the rest of his days seeking revenge. His dialect gives away his humble origins as he says the following:

鳴かぬなら鳴かしてみせようホトトギス

If the cuckoo doesn’t sing, coax it.

 

The third man, who has been watching all this unfold without betraying any thoughts he might have, slowly stands up. He’s obviously in no rush. He slowly contemplates his speech, forming the words in his brain so he makes no mistakes. He appears to have paid little head to the other two’s speeches, instead focusing all his thoughts on his own words, making them perfect.  Slowly, he announces the following:

鳴かぬなら鳴くまで待ってみようホトトギス

If the cuckoo doesn’t sing, wait until it does.

 

If you haven’t yet figured it out (or heard this all before), the three men in question here are as follows:

Oda Nobunaga

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Tokugawa Ieyasu

These three men were the three most powerful men in Japan, ruling in succession. They also happen to be perhaps the three most famous men in Japanese history to anyone not raised in Japan.

The poem provides a brief glimpse into each personality. Nobunaga, the warrior, had a reputation as a violent man who preferred to use force to achieve his objectives. Hideyoshi, more of a tactician, preferred to use clever planning and maneuvering to achieve his objective. Tokugawa was patient. His best gift was his ability to wait out all the trouble and then emerge unscathed and in charge.

 

So, what would you do with this bird? Which path would you take? Or would you make your own path?

It’s a nice little poem, don’t you think?

Densha Otoko Review

Let’s talk about one of the more popular J-dramas out there, 電車男, or Train Man.

Densha is purportedly based on a true story about an otaku guy who saves a woman far above his level from harassment on a train, and consequently enters into a romantic relationship with her. From what I can tell the story is flimsy at best, and my best guess is that it had trace elements of truth with a lot of embellishment from the real Otoko.

That doesn’t subtract from the show, mind you.

Yamada is a normal Tokyo otaku. (For those of you who don’t know what an otaku is, picture any Japanese-obsessed person you know who shouts out random Japanese like “kawaiiiiiii” and talks incessantly about various anime or manga.) His hobbies include anime, manga, action figures, looking at models ankles, tight pants, rolled cuffs, and glasses. He is also deathly afraid of women.

One day he sees a beautiful woman being assaulted by a drunk on the train. As the only man with suspenders holding up his tighty-whities he feels he’s the only person around capable of stopping this hooligan. He does, and much to his surprise he is thanked by the beautiful woman.

He calls her Hermes after the thank-you present he receives.

So begins a love affair that involves a lot of Hermes saying “sorry”, Densha stuttering apologies during 90 degree bows, and them both using insanely polite language simultaneously while holding hands.

I’m going to skip the situations they get into because it’s fairly easy to guess based on these two facts: he’s an otaku, she’s a wealthy person living in high-class world.

Why does any of this work? Well, let me briefly explain.

First, there’s the fact that these two characters feel real. Yes, they feel like stereotypes to some extent but at the same time they could be someone you know. It helps create a sense of attachment to the characters.

Then, there’s the real reason: Densha and his friends.

Densha, for lack of better English at the moment, is completely lovable. He’s annoying as all get out, but for some reason you never get tired of his constant shtick of apologizing, bowing, whimpering, chickening-out, and acting like a 13 year old asking Angelina Jolie out to prom. He’s so damned sincere, his heart so apparent, that you can’t help but root for him.

Densha comes with friends. Lots, and lots of friends. However, these are internet friends whom he has never met. The relationship formed between Densha and these chat-room homies, the way the show explores said relationship, and the importance this plays on the story will most likely have tears rolling down your cheeks at times. It-is-beautiful.

The intro music is “Twilight” by ELO. It fits perfectly and by around episode 4 you’ll have that “YEAH!” feeling when the music kicks in at the beginning of each episode. Densha is a master at making you feel good about things.

It involves some standard J-drama tropes but doesn’t go overboard with them. This is one of those shows that really shouldn’t work when described but somehow pulls it all of better than most shows you’ll watch.

Japanese Level: (Remember, this is all in the context of “native level”) Surprisingly, not that bad. Densha and Hermes spend so much time speaking to each other formally it makes the Japanese portion of things pretty easy. Densha’s friends can be quite difficult to understand, depending on who is talking. If you are up on your “very guyish” speaking you’ll survive these parts. There is also quite a bit of Tokyo slang and otaku slang used. References to anime/manga/otaku culture are numerous; however, I feel missing these (as I did) doesn’t subtract from the show. Knowing them would probably add something to the show.

Final Thoughts: Densha is perfect for someone looking for an accessible drama where knowledge of human beings rather than knowledge of subtle Japanese culture provides context for the friction between the protagonist and his love interest.

At heart, Densha is the story of love. Not romantic love, but instead human love. It’s a story about how love can lift us to heights we never imagined we could achieve. It’s the story about being true to yourself and how good things will always result from that. It’s the story of chest high, tight pants.

Final Verdict:  J-drama watch-o-rating =   MUST WATCH!

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