I commute to school 5 days a week on jam packed trains. It is usually so packed I can’t free my hands to get a book out of my bag or even scratch my nose. It’s a long trip in and people watching at such close quarters is a little creepy so I tend to pass time checking out the advertising posters in the carriage and seeing how much of the Japanese I can actually understand. It’s been a pretty good way of brushing up on my Kanji character reading skills!
Advertising is a funny thing. Good advertising is obviously linked into your target market and a good cultural knowledge of that market hopefully leads to hooking your customers. Not being Japanese, there are times I find myself looking at some ads and thinking – Huh????? I don’t get it? I think it is a cultural misconnect.
The Japanese love Mascots, people dressed up in big over sized furry suits. A big blue furry thing reminiscent of cookie monster encourages me to join up with a certain internet provider and some green thing that may meant to be some kind of octopus or possibly and over sized prophylactic advertises a housing rental agency. Go figure? I think these mascots are considered to have The Kawaiiiiiiiii! factor or cute factor which doesn’t always hit the mark for me.
Kumamon is a prime example of marketing with a mascot. He started out as a mascot for a rural area of Kumamoto and is a big Black bear. He is a play on words as Kuma means bear in Japanese. He is actually a little cute and is a clever concept but now he is on every imaginable product, most of which have nothing to do with Kumamoto or a bear so why would that make me want to buy it? He is a brand in his own right with shops devoted to selling Kumamon merchandise. He even made the Asian Wall Street Journal! http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2013/06/28/the-branding-of-kumamon-the-bear-that-stole-japans-heart/
As you can imagine the train is full of business men and women, workers and students making the nightmare rush hour squeeze into work. What do these people think about on the crush into work? If these advertising posters are doing their job, infiltrating people’s sublimal thoughts and making them think about how to spend that hard earned cash, I would say most of them are thinking about knocking back a cold beer after attending a beauty clinic to be totally stripped of all the hair on the human body and the the bargain sale of the century. These 3 feats achieved, they return to their sparkling new 3DK mansion ( 3 rooms, dining Kitchen Apartment Building) which is landscaped, faces the sun and has an autolock lobby and gym.
Myself, not being a big drinker, not into self inflicted pain via hot wax or whole body exfoliation and unable to fit most of the clothes here in Japan and not in the market for real estate, fall well outside of their target markets. However I do read the adverts for Japanese practice and an effort to try and gain insight into the Japanese way of thinking which brings me to an intriguing poster I saw on the train the other day.
High Rise cemetery.
The catch phrase was ” Overflowing with luxury” The poster showed a formally well dressed lady and her daughter who were standing hand in hand looking very happy, in another shot the wee girl was standing in an expensive looking lobby at a grand piano and in the third, mother and daughter were standing in front of a small family altar saying a prayer.
At first I thought the very modern looking building, just 3 minutes walk from Shinjuku station, a major hub in central Tokyo, was an apartment complex but then realised the money being asked for “a room” was ridiculously cheap. I began to look closer. The building very modern in design has very small windows if any and no balconies. The price for a “personal type” was $10,000 dollars with a yearly maintenance fee of about $120 while a “family type” was about $18,000 with a yearly maintenance fee of about $200. Exchanges rates are loosely based on $1 = 100 yen. I recognised the kanji character for cemetery and suddenly clicked that this was a High Rise Cemetery right in the center of the city. Flashback to my dad whose standard joke as we drive past a cemetery anywhere is always ” haha we must be near the dead center of town”
I recently read Japan is over 70% mountains and 45% of Japan’s total population live in the major cities which comprise only 15% of Japan’s total land thus making land at a premium and with an steadily aging population undertaking businesses, cremation and ash internment related businesses are probably the boom areas in an otherwise flagging economy. So here we have it, an ingenious solution, a High rise cemetery which is overflowing in luxury! People purchase a small locker type grave in the building rather than face the huge expense of buying a land based plot.
Japanese Funerals and Funeral Rites
The Building is linked or possibly owned from what I can tell to a temple which provides all the necessary services and rites. This will all no doubt come at extra cost. Statistics from 2007 show that 99.81% of Japanese were cremated. The actual funeral will not only include extras such as the wake, the cremation, the plot / locker but a series of buddhist memorial services most commonly held on the 7th and 49th day after death. Day 49 is the day on which the ashes are formally interned. There are then memorial services held during the Obon festival, which honours the dead. Depending on how devout a family is and how long there are people who remember the dear departed, these can happen on the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 13th year after death and can even go on to 50 years later. It strikes me that death is indeed a lucrative business and the owners of this particular building really do have very quiet tenants and rather a captive audience.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_funeral offers a detailed look at Japanese funerals and customs.
Japanese Table Manners – One particular “No-no”!
How then do I jump from advertising to a high rise cemetery to finally 2 major faux pas to avoid when dining in Japan both at home and out. and what are these 2 horrendous faux pas to be avoided at all costs?
Japanese meals are usually served as a bowl of rice and soup to each person and then all the other dishes are on plates on the table and you serve your self from them. The big “no no” is if you see someone struggling with a piece of something as they try and get it to their plate using chopsticks, you should under no circumstances reach over with your chopsticks and help transfer it to the plate. You should also never pass or take food from someone’s chopsticks using your own chopsticks. You should pick the food up with your chopsticks and place it on their plate. After you have put it down they can use their chopsticks to pick it up. At no time should two pairs of chopsticks be on the same piece of food.
The Big “No-No”
As you eat and make amusing dinner conversation you may like to put your chopsticks down. You should never stick them upright in your rice. Instead please lay them horizontially on the table infrontof you. You will more than likely have a chopstick rest to do this on.
The reason for these two rules link back to the funeral rites and the cremation ceremony. After a body is cremated the family gathers and helps transfer the ashes to the urn. I was under the impression that ashes were exactly that, but apparently there are some quite large pieces of bone among the ashes. The family members carefully transfer these bones to the urn using large metal chopsticks. They sometimes with hold the same piece of bone with two sets of chopsticks or pass the bone from person to person before putting in the urn. It is this connection to death rites that makes the passing of food from Chopsticks to chopsticks a big social “no-no”. The chopsticks stuck in the bowl of rice is unacceptable because the Japanese have a tradition of making offerings of food to the deceased’s family altar. They sometimes place a bowl of rice at the altar and stick the chopsticks upright in it so the soul has something to eat with.
An interesting aside to the bone picking ceremony is the bones are carefully selected as pointed out by the expert on hand and placed in the urn from feet upwards to the head last as to ensure the dearly beloved is not upside down in the urn.
Myself, cremation yes, interned in a high rise in a city, no thanks! Mountain to sea for me.
Yoroshiku Onegai shimasu