Why are Japanese always asking your blood type?


In my Sept. 20 column in The Japan Times, I fielded a good question: why the heck are Japanese always asking your blood type? For the full explanation, read the column but the short answer is they want to know more about you; many Japanese believe you can tell someone’s personality by their blood type.

To whit, this depiction of the personality types:


(translation,  from right to left; I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.)

Type A: What the f***? Don’t go putting lemon on everyone’s fried chicken!!

Type B: But it tastes better with lemon!

Type O: I’m fine either way.

Type B: Parsley is soooo delicious!

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New textbook in the works: “Working in Japan”


Here’s the front cover of the new English-learning textbook I’m working on, to be published by Cengage Learning Japan later this year. It features video interviews with 14 professionals who work in Japan, representing all sort of occupations and nationalities.

I’ll be speaking about the project — “Preparing Students for the Global Job Market with Work-focused English” — with co-author John Rucynski at the Japan Association of College English Teachers convention in Hiroshima on Aug. 29. We start at 9 am (!) in Room 434. I can’t promise donuts and coffee, but you can get a sample textbook and DVD. For details, check the JACET convention program.

I’ll post updates on the textbook as they’re ready. In the meantime, I’ll happily field inquiries from professors and instructors interested in using the textbook from next spring. This is my second textbook with John. We also did Surprising Japan for Shohakusha.

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Talk Tanuki to Me: CWAJ Luncheon Sept. 10


If you’re in Tokyo on Wednesday Sept. 10, why not pop by the Tokyo American Club for my talk to the College Women’s Association of Japan? I’ll be talking about my “So, What the Heck is That?” column in The Japan Times, and more than a decade of trying to unravel the little mysteries of life in Japan.

I was planning to stick to lady-like topics — this is a ladies’ luncheon, after all. But the organizers explicitly asked me to touch on those tanuki statues you see outside traditional restaurants and shops, the ones with a certain over-sized body part! These statues were the topic of one of my columns way back in 2008.

A good time will be had by all. For details and reservations, hit this page on the CWAJ website. Everyone is welcome, including men and non-members! Reserve by Sept. 2.

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Why I Love My Work (Part 1)

I must have the best job in the world — some days it really feels like that. Like the day last month when I got to watch while three of Japan’s top photographers reviewed several thousand works by up-and-coming young photographers from around the world.

Photographers Hosoe Eikoh, Moriyama Daido and Seto Masato reviewing entries for the 2014 "Young Portfolio"

Photographers Hosoe Eikoh, Moriyama Daido and Seto Masato reviewing entries for the 2014 “Young Portfolio”

I was there to research an article for Artscape Japan. They were there to select photographs for the “Young Portfolio” of the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts.

watching photographer Daido Moriyama judge photographs by young photographers from around the world.

Watching as photographer Daido Moriyama critiques works by young photographers from around the world.

My expression may be serious but I was feeling like the luckiest fly on the wall as I listened to their comments and observed how they look at photographs. It was quite an education.

If you’re in Tokyo Aug. 9-24, please PLEASE stop by the the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography to see the “Young Portfolio” exhibit. Admission is free, the museum is well air-conditioned, and they’ll even send you home with a mini-catalog with all the photographs — a great tool for following the artists later.

As a little preview, here’s one image from the exhibition:

Hanne van der Woude (Netherlands), "MC1R (Natural Red Hair) -- Monica" (2007)

Hanne van der Woude (Netherlands), “MC1R (Natural Red Hair) — Monica” (2007)

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How to become an organ donor in Japan


In my July 19 column in The Japan Times, I wrote about the low rate of organ donation in Japan, and explained how to become an organ donor. The easiest way is to download the English-language version of the organ donation decision card which looks like this:


You can also download a brochure in English that is helpful in making a decision and filling out the card. Basically, if you circle “1”, you are consenting to nōshigo zōki teikyō 脳死後臓器提供 (organ donation following brain death) as well as shinteigo zōki teikyō 心止後臓器提供 (donating after cardiac death). Circling “2” indicates you consent only to donation after cardiac death, and if you circle “3,” it means you do not wish to donate
at all.

The Japanese version of the card, which is called a zōki teikyō ishi hyōji kādo 臓器提供意思表示カード looks like this:


It’s possible to register one’s intentions online but only in Japanese. The process is a bit onerous but it’s the best option for people who don’t want to donate because potential donations are always checked against this national register. As of June 2014, 124,731 people have registered; of those, about 7,500 people, or about 6 percent, do not wish to donate organs.

Japan has adopted the “green ribbon” as a symbol for organ donation. Some 30,000 taxis in Tokyo are supporting the drive for organ donation by carrying the “green ribbon” decals for free. Normally, it costs 1,000 yen/per month/per car to advertise on a Tokyo taxi. (How about that for an interesting statistic?)


For more information on organ donation in Japan, visit the Japan Organ Transplant Network’s English webpage.

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Is the banner better? You vote!


Those of you with eagle eyes may have already noticed I’ve got a new photo at the top of my blog. (If you hadn’t before, you have now.) Let’s call this #1. To refresh your memory, this is the original photo:


To be honest, the photo wasn’t anything I put any thought into. I needed a “featured photo,” in WordPress-speak, and used what I happened to have, which was a video grab from a program I made for NHK World back in 2009. It had potential — nice color, pretty Japanese setting, taken with a good camera — but because I don’t know diddly about photos, it got posted as a pixelated mess.

Over the years, a few readers complained about it. One, upon meeting me in person for the first time, commented: “Don’t take this the wrong way but you’re better looking than the photo on your blog would suggest.” Not long after, another long-time reader,
Jeffrey Friedl, who contributed some very snazzy photos for an article about Japanese candles for my column in The Japan Times, said he found the pixelated photo so grating that he’d happily take a new one for me, if only I’d get myself down to where he lives. (Kyoto? Twist my arm.)

I did, and we had a lot of fun doing a shoot together. To hear Jeffrey’s side of the story, and see more of the photos he so kindly and skillfully produced, check out his account of the photo shoot. We’ve selected a few of those photos to present here, in the ridiculously long and skinny shape WordPress demands:

Photo Shoot with Alice Gordenker in Kyoto

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Public-bath art for the private bathroom


In my May 20 column in the Japan Times, I wrote about public baths in Japan, and more specifically about a specialty bath called the “denki-buro” 電気風呂, or “electricity bath.” For the shocking details, I suggest you read the article. And/or check out another first-hand report by a very funny blogger.

Here, I’m going to plug another attraction of the sentō 銭湯 (public bath) — the charmingly cheesy hand-painted murals that adorn the wall over the tubs in many public baths. Mt. Fuji figures prominently in a high percentage of these works of art.


As does water, for perhaps obvious reasons.


It is perhaps a sad sign of the times that these special scenes, which formerly could only be seen by visiting one of the fewer than 5,000 public bathhouses still remaining in Japan, can now be ordered online for any home bathroom.


To install one, you just wet the wall and roll your poster out.


I couldn’t find any English-language sites offering bath posters, but Little Oasis, which just opened in April, bills itself as the “only company in Japan specializing in posters for the bath.” You can have any photo turned into a bath poster. Prices start at 5,000 yen for the B2 size and 6,000 yen for the B1 size.

Today, there are only two artists left specializing in public-bath art: Nakajima Morio 中島盛夫, pictured below…


…and Maruyama Kiyoto 丸山清人.


For more on bath art, check out this article in English about Hayakawa Toshimitsu, 早川 利光, a bathhouse mural painter who passed away in 2009.

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