The kawaii menace

Via Wonderduck, a discussion of cuteness and Japan:

“Where cute goes determines the future of Japan,” [Nobuyoshi Kurita, sociology professor at Musashi University in Tokyo] said, adding that Japan’s cute offerings may one day command the respect of luxury goods from Europe. “If it succeeds, Japan’s future will be bright. If it doesn’t, then Japan may disappear.”

I think the truth may be more frightening that that, and the danger is not to Japan. Many years ago, Philip K. Dick wrote an account of “The War with the Fnools,” in which the Earth was invaded by ruthless aliens disguised as two-foot-tall real estate salesmen. Few took them seriously, and humanity barely survived. The Japanese, in their quest for world domination, have adopted a variation of the Fnoolian strategy, gambling that no one would see any threat in such a pathologically cute culture. Don’t be fooled. Beware the kawaii.


This week’s really bad idea

On June 17, Amusement Cafe St. Grace Court opened in Akihabara. This cafe features “nuns” as waitresses, and rather than greeting customers with “Welcome home, Master,” which is a common welcome at maid cafes, the “sisters” welcome customers with the phrase, “Lost Lambs, welcome to Grace Court”. The cafe’s background music is Gospel-styled. Pictures of the cafe, the waitresses and their uniforms are available here.

I have no problem with catgirls, but a “Nun” café? Um, no.



Sen-no-Rikyu, the 16th Century tea master who is most responsible for development of distinctively Japanese way of art of tea, lived and died at Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto. His tea house still stands there. Tea was a form of celebration during a banquet in China, but in Japan, Sen-no-Rikyu and his predecessors refined tea as a unique form of communication and the tea house as a minimal conceptual space. In a war-torn period of cultural flux, Daitoku-ji became the center of activity, and Sen-no-Rikyu became this new culture’s main voice.

His tea house had a distinct entry called “nijiri-guchi,” build so small that a guest would have to bow and take his sword off. It is no coincidence (but a historic fact ignored by most in Japan) that one of his closest confidants, one of his wives, was one of the first converts to Christianity, the fruit of an influx of missionaries into Japan in the 15th and 16th centuries. He went to observe a mass being celebrated in Kyoto with his wife. There he saw the Eucharist being celebrated, with a cup representing Christ’s blood being passed around. This experience affirmed his vision for tea. His tea would be an art form: and this art of communication equalized any who would stand in his presence, whether a shogun or a farmer, male or female. As a cup filled with green tea was passed, his tearoom would become a place of Shalom. Five of his seven closest disciples were Christians. They were exiled by Shogun Hideyoshi who gave power and prestige to Sen-no-Rikyu, but who later hardened his heart. Hideyoshi realized, quite correctly, that the egalitarian nature of tea would be dangerous to his power, and he became, by no coincidence either, one of the greatest enemies of Christianity in history, ordering the execution of thousands of believers, and closing the country for several centuries. He ordered Rikyu to commit Seppuku at the end, the most cruel art form of suicide, at the very tea house of Shalom.

From Fallen Towers and the Art of Tea.

Update: Makoto Fujimura, the author of “Fallen Towers and the Art of Tea,” has a blog.


Fake is better

More Japanese strangeness:

Only 1.4 percent of Japan’s 127 million people are Christians, but Christian-style ceremonies now account for three-quarters of Japanese weddings. To meet market demand, bridal companies in recent years have largely dispensed with the niceties of providing a pastor with a seminary education, keeping the requirements simple: a man from an English-speaking country who will show up on time, remember his lines, not mix up names and perform the ceremony in 20 minutes.

And this:

As Japan produces fewer children and more retirees, toymakers are designing new dolls designed not for the young but for the lonely and elderly—companions which can sleep next to them and offer caring words they may never hear otherwise.

Talking toys have become such a hit that some elderly people have embraced them as substitutes for the children who have grown old and deserted entire neighborhoods in the rapidly greying country.

(Via Amy Welborn.)


Why anime is being spirited away:

… reality often bites as animators reach their thirties, by which time they typically earn around a third of the average pay for Japanese their age and at lower hourly rates than supermarket clerks.

Yoshitaka Ogata of the Anime Union, which campaigns for better working conditions, says: “However keen they are when they come in, the reality is that they cannot live on the pay. There are animators with 10 years’ experience on less than £11,000 a year. In the end, they have to quit.”

More and more animation work is now outsourced to cheaper countries such as South Korea, China and India. This has led to a hollowing out of talent in Japan and the end of the in-house production system, where people mastered each element of the process as they worked their way up from the bottom.