Fatal Frame III: A Cultural Journey

Well, here it is. I hereby dedicate this blog post to my favorite pass time: video games. And three cool things I didn’t know about traditional Japanese culture until I played Fatal Frame in Japan.

Let me tell you a story (and I’ll try to redeem myself in the process).

So shortly after coming to Japan, I bought me the Japanese version of one of my all-time favorite horror video games, Fatal Frame III (or Zero Shisei no Koe in Japanese). Found a copy for about 2500en at a Bookoff in Akihabara. I might dedicate another blog post to game shopping in Japan, but at a later date.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

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I soon learned that buying a Japanese PS2 would be a lot less accommodating on my wallet. Unlike the States, where you can find a cheap PS2 for about $20 or less at a pawn shop, typically, the older the console, the more rare – and thus, expensive – it seems to become here in Japan. Which is a major bugger.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #1: HIIRAGI

There’s a festival that passed in February called Setsubun. On the 3rd of February, there is a decoration that some people use called hiiragi iwashi (holly leaves and sardine heads) on their doorways, so that bad spirits won’t enter. The bad spirits are said to dislike the smell of sardines, and also fear getting their eyes poked by the sharp points of the holly leaves. Essentially, holly in Japan is like a good luck charm and means protection.

On one important room in this game (perhaps some of you remember the room where you first meet the Woman Brushing?), there are three special holly patterns on the doorframe that could mean that they don’t want bad luck in (or in this game’s case, they didn’t want any unwanted people to enter). Excellent little touch for a room that’s warning you about the boss battle to come.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #2: IRORI

The entire map you travel around in this game is traditional Japanese-esque (tatami rooms, shouji, futon rooms, and that sort of thing), but in one room in particular, we have the hearth room (irori).

As we all know, the hearth has many uses, such as cooking, heating water, lighting and heating the room, drying clothes, etc. But the traditional Japanese irori always has a hollow bamboo pole hanging from the ceiling that has a metal rod or chain with a hook at the end, as well as a lever that lets you regulate the height of the hook and how close your pot is to the fire.

Interesting thing about the lever, though, is that it’s almost always in the form of a fish. Why is that? The fish, a water creature, means protection against fire, accidents, or house fires. Fish also have no eyelids and are thought to never sleep, thus giving you around-the-clock protection. In Fatal Frame, though, the around-the-clock protection didn’t help to stop one particular victim’s fate they met in that room.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #3: KOBUN – OLD (OBSOLETE) JAPANESE TEXT

Occasionally, during your travels, your character can find notes or journals from times long ago. And those journals are all written in old-time Japanese, which obviously you don’t see in the English version of the game.

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For instance,

This: 起こしてしま is read like this: 起こしてしま
This: 見てると is read like this: 見てると
This: 帰てこない is read like this: 帰てこない
And this: 伝はつる is read like this: 伝わっている

I’m told that Japanese grade schoolers, high schoolers, and even some college students don’t know how to read these correctly. I’ve watched some Japanese gamers on Youtube pass up the text sometimes, saying they can’t read it. Even the kanji varied back then. It would be a dream come true to be able to translate Japanese language of this caliber.

As I try to come up with a good conclusion to this post (I suck at it, in case you haven’t noticed), I will say that after writing this, I’ve really come to realize how much I miss Fatal Frame III. I should visit the Manor of Sleep again sometime soon. And for all those looking for an insanely good Japanese horror adventure, I hope to see you there.

 

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Negative Google Maps Reviews in Japan that Forget to Faction in Culture

I try not to be too depend on Google Maps reviews, just like I try not to be too depend on Amazon reviews. However, I will admit that they generally can influence the restaurants I choose to go to. Or the hotels I choose to stay at. Or the sightseeing I plan to do with a limited amount of travel time.

…Okay, so I guess I rely more heavily on Google Maps than I thought.

This morning, I had a breakfast date with an old friend in Umeda, Osaka. In general, I noticed that breakfast restaurants or pancake houses are more rare in Japan than out in the States, and I honestly had never gone out for breakfast in the Umeda area. Meaning, it’s Google Maps time.

I pull out that sucker and start looking for places to eat. Although I’m typically open to window shopping for restaurants, this time, I was limited on time and wanted to find a decent place for the two of us, and as a rule of thumb, I generally go for places with around four stars and up on Google.

Which is where I noticed a bunch of very good, reputable restaurants with some not-so-great reviews. I wondered what justified these reviews, so I started scrolling.

And this is where I started thinking a bit more education on Japanese culture might help people to think twice about posting ignorant reviews.

Now, to state the obvious, I won’t be analyzing any high-horse whiners, who post shitty things like, “they cut my sushi too thick, i like it thin” or “this shopping mall is a maze like constructed building, prepare to get lost” or “its too narrow!1! too crowded!” or “the staff didn’t speak english”. As we know, these don’t have anything to do with the restaurants, food, or service whatsoever, just the salty griping of a self-centered creep that probably shouldn’t have access to technology at all without proper respect. As a wise woman once said, “You can’t fix stupid.”

Anyway, disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to analyzing and interpreting.

TOO SMOKEY (at a shopping venue)
I understand this reviewers frustration, but it may not be the shopping mall’s fault, since smoking tobacco cigarettes are still a thing in Japan. When I ask around, though, I find that the times have been changing, and you’ll find less and less smokers as time goes on. In general, tobacco is now developing a bad image. Although you’ll still might be greeted in a restaurant with a, “Smoking or non-smoking?”, I also know that the amount of smoking sections out in public is dwindling. Also, honestly, I’m not sure what the vaping or electronic cigarette scene looks like out in Japan (can’t say I’ve looked), but I’m willing to bet that it may rise with the fall of tobacco, but mere conjecture on my part. I mean, cigarettes still make bank out here (you can buy these things in vending machines, for Chrissakes), so who can say.

THE LINES WERE TOO LONG, HAD TO WAIT (at a museum)
I see this every once and a while. Trust me, I feel cramped and tired of waiting. We all do. But in Japan, this is a cultural difference where we just need to put up and shut up. There are a lot of people in Japan, and we all are expected to wait patiently for our turn. You can see this type of line-forming very prominently when you line up to get on the trains, for example.

OPENING TIME (at a grocery store)
I saw a review once that complained about the late opening time of a grocery store that opened at 9:00AM. News flash, most places in Japan open around 9:00AM. Or 10:00AM. Or 11:00AM. Or if it’s a mom-and-pop shop, they can open and close and have regular holidays whenever they feel like it. And that’s okay.

I think in America we’re so used to having everything open 24-7, that when a place is closed, it’s a “major inconvenience” to us. Rather than feeling inconvenienced, just feel grateful that the hard-working grocery store employees can get the rest they deserve and come in to work at a decent time. Surely, we can wait.

THEY MADE ME HIDE MY TATTOO (at a public bath)
Part of me thanks this reviewer for their warning, but I’m not sure this onsen really deserves such a strongly-worded, negative review. At many public baths, you’ll find signs that say, “No Tattoos”. The meaning behind this is because, traditionally, having a tattoo meant you were involved with dangerous people, like yazuka. Understandably, they didn’t want to serve customers that potentially worked for the mafia, and also probably feared having them inside.

Of course, now times are changing, and more and more foreign people are starting to come to Japan to enjoy their hot springs. Meaning that – I sincerely hope around 2020 Tokyo Olympics – Japan will become more globalized enough to understand that tattoos are a fashion fairly common among foreigners, and cut us some slack. It depends on location, of course, but this is a changing phenomenon in Japan. Instead of whining about it, or getting mad that “they just don’t understand me”, please understand where they’re coming from, and just do as your told. “When in Rome…”

Sakura in Osaka – a Hanami Recommendation

‘Tis the season for cherry blossoms! If you’ve heard of hanami, then you know it probably has something to do with family, friends, or punch-drunk salary-men picnicking under the cherry blossom trees.

You’ve heard correctly.

To each person, hanami has its own different meaning. Some people prefer quieter, local areas, sharing a few snacks with their kids, friends, or special someone, while some people prefer to go out, get drunk, and get happy with a bunch of coworkers (depends how pushy their company is to attend, I guess). In general, everybody is just a lot happier, as they all break out of hibernation and get out to take pictures of their local sakura.

Things you can expect to experience around this week (give or take) of hanami are:

  • Seeing various food stands, selling takoyaki, ice cream, or mini castella cakes
  • Finding lots of random sakura pedals kind of scattered around the sidewalks
  • Getting some strong whiffs of sake/beer in more crowded areas
  • Getting some whiffs of other flowers that start blooming around this time
  • Seeing loads of different parks with their own festivals celebrating the season
  • A ton of birds, and some bugs starting to emerge into Springtime
  • Seeing lots of sakura-themed goods when shopping (probably the most impressive sakura collection I’ve seen so far is at Afternoon Tea. Check this shit out)
  • Seeing sakura-watching boats traveling up and down the rivers
  • Showing up in the background of tourists’ selfies

Just as quick as the season started, it’s already starting to end. It’s a shame that such beauty has such a short lifespan… But maybe that’s what makes them so beautiful? I guess the sakura means something different to each person, but to me, they kind of represent a beautiful, yet somewhat tragic similarity to life and life’s fragile impermanence. It makes me step back and appreciate things a little more. Makes me feel smaller and humbler in the whole scheme of things.

But then again, this could just be the long-awaited Spring talking, and making me feel all emotional.

Without further ado, I will now include photos of Sakuranomiya, Banpaku Memorial Park, Yodo River, Nara Park, and Osaka Castle – for your viewing pleasure. Although I’d recommend any of these places for next year’s hanami (if you can’t make it this year), I’ll leave that decision up to you.

Catching some early sakura at Banpaku Memorial Park:

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Osaka Castle:

Nara:

Yodogawa:

Sakuranomiya (my top hanami location recommendation for you):

Quick factoid side-note: As you can tell by the many photos I’ve included, the five-petaled somei yoshino, yamazakura, are the most common and popular wild cherry blossom trees out here in the Kansai area. They look more white than pink and have a very soft, cloudy appearance, especially when the sun hits them juuust right.

Osaka’s Valentine’s Day Chocolate Expo 2018 Results

So White Day, March 14th, has just passed me by. The day in which women receive a return gift from those they have given Valentine gifts to. Since I, too, participated in the Valentine gift-giving, this March 14th, I received some Mister Donuts from my wonderful boyfriend, who knows me so well.

To those unfamiliar with Japan’s “Mister Donut” shops, I beg you to try their “Pon De Ringu”. https://www.misterdonut.jp/m_menu/donut/ That stuff is fluffy gloriousness.

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This Valentine’s Day, I was fortunate enough to visit Osaka Hankyuu’s very own St. Valentine’s Day Chocolate Expo 2018. There’s not much else to say, other than “Holy chocolates, Batman!”

There were lots of hungry consumers, and there were lots and lots of glorious chocolate stands, all of which had a different theme to them.

For example, there were the “cute” styled ones.

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There were “cool” themed car ones, which you could actually “take apart” and eat. Very creative.

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There were “Godzilla” themed ones, the largest of which cost 7,560en (about $75!).

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The most popular ones seemed to be the “sake chocolates” and the “animal” themed booth, which I had a hard time taking a picture of because of the extensive lines and crowds surrounding the poor stand and its very busy, underpaid part-time workers.

 

There were also very badass “outer space” themed ones, Foucher Olympus, and I’m telling you, I felt like the Chocolate King of the Cosmos, going back a second time to actually buy these (shameless Katamari reference). http://valentine.season-evt.info/foucher/

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I’ve searched the web to try and see if you could order these, but all I’ve found is, “There are no more products found for this product”, meaning they’re probably sold out… Which sucks, because I would definitely buy these suckers again.

They had a very mature, kind of sophisticated taste about them, most of the flavors dealing with an alcoholic beverages, like brandy, vodka, and more. Very quality, creamy, and light stuff. If I can ever find a link that sells these, rest assured, I’ll be posting.

All in all, I had a fun time at the Expo, contributing to the heavily-marketed Japanese Valentine’s Day. I’ve noticed that, to Japan, Valentine’s Day is really money-oriented, rather than the more traditional Western representation of a “holiday of love”. (Taking it a bit further, White Day can also be observed as another “Japanization of Western culture”, as it created the day – pessimistically speaking – to make some more money.)

However, when you think about it, gift-giving has ALWAYS been a big part of Japanese culture to begin with. And as a consumer, I think the products they deliver are very creative, and the holiday can be a lot of fun; especially the giving part. And with Mister Donuts, I mean, who can complain?

Laundry in Japan: the Hitachi NW-6MY Washing Machine

Hello, all! I hope you’ve been doing lots of things that make you happy. What’s one thing that makes me happy? (Don’t laugh.) Doing laundry.

As you’ve probably already guessed, doing laundry in Japan is very different from laundry in America, but not by much. My apartment doesn’t have its own drier, meaning I gotta go oldschool and hang my stuff outside on the balcony to dry. Which is fun and meditative, actually. Especially looking out over the nice, city view I have here on the 8th floor. Or especially while listening to music, or the TV on in Japanese for extra listening practice.

I want to introduce you to my meditative process that is laundry out here in Osaka.

The washing machine I have in my apartment is a Hitachi NW-6MY, so this tutorial will be showcasing this guy.

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He’s a good, hard-working washing machine. 10/10 washing machine.

The Process:

After tossing all (or most, whatever fits) of your laundry in the machine, it’s detergent time. I love the Ariel detergent; it has a distinct, fresh scent about it, and it’s mega affordable, too. Another cool thing with Ariel is that after buying a bottle, you can then follow up with buying bagged refills, which are nice and cheap.

 

For the Hitachi NW-6MY, you’re gonna put the detergent in this little slot here.

Then it’s time to start the machine! You’re gonna want to press Power Supply On (電源:切/入), and there should be a ding and the lights should come on the left side. Then hit the Start button (これっきりボタン:スタート/一時停止), and you’re good to go.

 

A quick explanation from the left:

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Water Amount (水量), Wash (洗い), Rinse (すすぎ), Dehydration (脱水), Water Drain (お湯取). For 9 minutes, it will Wash. For 2 cycles, it will Rinse. Then for 6 minutes, it’ll do a Dehydration cycle, not unlike the American machines I used back in Illinois.

Sometime during the 2 Rinse cycles, however, here’s where I pause the machine to get my Laundry Softner in. The Pause button (これっきりボタン:スタート/一時停止) is the same as the Start button. Quick note: the Hitachi NW-6MY has an automatic lock everytime you close the door of the machine. So depending on the timing of the cycle, it might be locked, but just be patient, and it’ll unlock.

 

For softener, I use Laundrin’ Tokyo Laundry Softener. As much as I hate to admit it (my boyfriend kind of hooked me to this), it really does help get the extra smell out. Especially after the wonderful boyfriend had done some running or had futsal practice sometime during his day.

Again, the same place you put your detergent, just pour this stuff in there too. The amount doesn’t have to be precise.

Once the laundry’s done, the washing machine beeps a few times, letting me know I gotta take that stuff out to dry. This is the most time-consuming part, but depending on the weather, this is also my favorite and most meditative.

 

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Also, see this cute, pink cat towel I got there? “It’s TAACHAN!” I bought this at my local Loft at Umeda, Osaka. It was on sale. I couldn’t resist Taachan. I found the link, in case you want to check out some more Taachan specials. ロフト・ターチャン検索

And now, enter the one-question Q & A session!

Q: Does laundry need to be done every day?
A: Almost every day for me, but definitely depends on the family, the size of their house, and size of their washing machine. I have a few working theories on this one, but here are my two-cents. First, the Japanese washing machines are a lot smaller than the American-made ones. Meaning that there’s only so much laundry that can fit. Meaning that it needs to be done a lot more often.

Second, because the laundry needs to be hung up outside, it usually takes up to a full day to get dry, wearable clothes, amiright? But depending on the weather or overall humidity, it can take longer, amiright? Meaning that they’ll be taking up limited space on the highly-limited balcony (or in and hung up around the limited space in my house), on limited drying racks, with limited clips and limited hangers. Meaning that doing laundry in advance is always a good move, anyway, so the new dirty stuff isn’t waiting around for space to open up.

Third, not all Japanese households do this (some of my host families did, but others didn’t), but after showering, my boyfriend uses his towel once and then immediately throws it in the wash. I prefer to hang mine up to dry and then use it the next day (I mean, how dirty can it get?), but regardless, and needless to say, with a towel-usage style such as this one, laundry tends to pile up really quick. Even with just two people in a tiny apartment.

Anyway, those are my two cents worth. I hope I was able to give you a peek into the laundry world of Japan with the Hitachi NW-6MY. Thanks for reading, I know this one was a long one.