Well, last weekend was the start of Daylight Savings Time for much of the world, but not here in Japan. The Japanese have never really gotten behind the basic concept. During the Reconstruction, it was imposed upon them by the American forces, but they got rid of it as soon as possible once sovereignty was restored.
I once had it explained to me in terms of work ethic. For many foreigners, a job is something you do quickly, do well, and then get over with. If you finish early, then that's great. For Japanese, the work ethic is all about showing dedication to one's work. I've seen some good, dedicated offices in Japan, and everyone worked together like a well-oiled machine. I've seen far more not-so-well organized offices in Japan, and in those, the work ethic of dedication has turned more into a game of one-upsmanship. A friend of mine, for example, works at a local school, and is technically supposed to leave at 5:00. I say technically, because no one ever actually leaves the school at that time. It's not because there's still work to do (though that is sometimes true). It's because no one wants to be the first person to walk out the door, and thus appear less dedicated to the job.
In the worst scenarios I've heard tell of, very little actual work gets done in the office, but everyone's there for 10 hours a day just to give the appearance of being busy. Anyone who actually does the work quickly and tries to go home early is socially reprimanded by his or her co-workers for being "selfish." JET participants sometimes get the short end of the stick here as well, since their program mandates how long they have to stay at work every day, but they often don't have enough work to justify being there. The end result is that they get to sit in an office for a few hours a day playing solitaire on the computer. Another friend of mine was infamous for his hour-and-a-half "trips to the post office."
The Japanese insistence on absolute dedication to the job has had other social side-effects. Women are still strongly discouraged from advancing in some companies, because it's expected that they'll have children, and thus not be able to devote all their energy to their work. Salaryman husbands may only see their children for a few hours a week, which puts more pressure on the wives and strains the marriage overall.
But, getting back to the topic of Daylight Savings, here's where it ties in: Japanese salarymen may see coming home before sunset as a lack of dedication. Many wouldn't know what to do with free time even if they had any. If a salaryman leaves the office early, then it's not uncommon for him to be found lying back in his car, listening to the radio with the engine running and the A/C on full-blast. And really, doesn't that just miss the point?
It's not so strange to see art books given as special gifts for game reservations these days. Muramasa - The Demon Blade, strangely-styled game that it is, has decided to put its own spin on this. The word for today is emaki, or picture-scroll. This isn't a scroll you roll up, but rather a long, folded series of illustrations that was a common form of artistic medium in the Edo Period. Muramasa's emaki contains concept art and game illustrations for various characters and enemies throughout the game, and measures in at 1m 70cm in length. That's just under 5 foot 7 inches long, for the non-metric folks in the audience.
Marvelous Entertainment has certainly made the most of its Harvest Moon franchise in the past, bringing the series to as many platforms and media as possible. This time around, they're putting a new spin on things with Harvest Moon Presents: Little Shop on the Farm, a spin-off title produced exclusively for Wii-Ware.
Little Shop maintains some staples of the series, such as crop management and social interaction, but the focus of the game is Clover Town's newest smoothie and ice cream shop, run by the player. Every day, the player must navigate the picture-book town environs, making social contacts and gathering the ingredients necessary to keep the sweets coming.
The big draw in this title is the mini-games. Every item comes with its own special activity or game, all of which look to require the wii-mote in one way or another. For those who like to show off, the shop can be decorated in a variety of ways, then photographed and uploaded for others to see.
Okay, so it's even less of an RPG than the usual Harvest Moon title, but it's cute, don't you think?
It's been a while since we saw anything of Chronicles of Dungeon Maker -- Nanatama. The story as it is: the isolated northern village of Kreta has of late been plagued by monsters coming from ruins in the nearby forest. This, coupled with a number of mysterious disappearances, has brought the Hero in to investigate. Gifted with the power to alter the underground labyrinth in any way he desires, he must delve its secrets and free those held captive in mysterious orbs.
I don't think this has been mentioned, but the word "nanatama" can have two meanings: "seven gems" or "seven souls." Not coincidentally, the latest scans show seven characters including the Hero. Fyr, Leo, and Rose have already been mentioned in the column, and I apparently missed Bernhardt the Dwarf's first appearance some time back. The new ally this time around is Aoi the Kunoichi, and a shadowy teaser for someone named Ruki brings the cast to seven. I'm still not sure what to make of the graphics style, except to say that it's... interesting. Not necessarily to my taste, but interesting.
Yesterday, Atelier Annie, the newest in the Atelier game series, was out in stores. Being the Gust fanboy that I am, I picked up a copy of my own. To refresh your memory, here are a few screen shots.
I've also started a game blog for this one, so keep an eye on that if you're interested.
I'm your pilot, Claude Rains, and your copilot, Harvey the Rabbit
Mr. Gaijin, I presume. The Culture Corner seems sparse of late, and I shall endeavor to supply you with a bit of content.
Silly question: why is Hokkaido only one prefecture, while Shikoku has ... four? Do you know of any reason this should be?
Mostly historical reasons. Kyushu, for example, is called "Nine Provinces" because for about a thousand years, it was nine political units. Three were divided and merged in the Meiji Period to form the current seven prefectures. Shikoku means "Four Kingdoms," and really used to be four semi-independent states. Hokkaido, on the other hand, was for a long time controlled by the native Ainu tribes, with only a few Japanese settlements along the southern edge. Japan didn't take full control of the island until the late 19th century, when there was fear that the Tsar would try to expand his power out of Vladivostok. The reason it's still one prefecture (originally three, then merged in the 1870s, never separated) is because it's still got the lowest population density of any prefecture in the country.
Political question: is Taro Aso as loathed as I seem to detect? What are his chances for lasting until the general election is called, and if he can't make it who looks like a successor?
In a word, yes. 10% approval rating, I think it was. Unfortunately, the Japanese political machine is hard for anyone outside the system to predict, so we shall just have to wait and see.
Technical question: never having seen one, I'm curious how a Japanese keyboard deals with the alphabet. Did Japanese keyboards have to wait until computers were able to store the characters in their memory?
Nowadays, the keyboards are designed to work with Latin letters, though there's often an option to switch to kana typing instead. There's an extra button to the right of the space bar that toggles kanji, while there's another button on the top left that switches the keyboard back to Latin mode. Not coincidentally, I've taught myself to hit the space bar only with the left thumb whenever I'm typing on a Japanese computer. It saves some sanity in the long run.
Gaming question: what did I miss by not importing a WonderSwan?
Good question. A lot of the WonderSwan games that were actually good got ported to different systems, or came from different systems in the first place. Still, there's a unique Atelier game for WSC, and the improved version of the original Romancing SaGa. Unfortunately, all the good games are difficult to find for that system.
Culture question: what happens when the need to dub major product coming into Japan runs into, say, the insane improv skills of Robin Williams?
I don't have any more right now. Hope this is enough.
Don't know about Robin Williams, but I have to say that the voice actor who played Eddy Murphy's part in the Shrek series did a really good job. Like any other translation job, it depends on the writers, though. Is the writer good enough to find a compromise between the original content and something that makes sense? For big productions, yes, usually.
Facing the Inevitable
Hello there! I read your column frequently, but I've never written before. I am graduating from college this year and have been considering working through AEON or GEOS upon leaving school. I've done loads of research and am still unable to understand how the income (as well as municipal and prefecture) taxes will potentially apply to me. Could you possibly share your experiences regarding this matter? Any assistance you provide will be greatly appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to read my message!
For taxes, there are potentially three that apply: US federal, Japanese federal, and Japanese municipal. US federal income tax for people working abroad has a certain threshold. If you make less than this amount, then you don't need to worry about it. Eikaiwa work like Aeon or GEOS is far below that threshold. Japanese federal taxes should all be handled through your employer, so no worries. As for municipal taxes, those are different for each city, township, or county you might live in. If you're not planning on staying in Japan for a long time, then odds are you won't be in any one place long enough to get stuck with them.
Well, I've got a massive headache today, but school is almost out for the month. The new school year starts in April (remember your Persona 3, people!), so things should get more interesting then.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,