All posts by Reina Iino

Merry and Gay Pocky? Japan discovers LGBT marketing.

Glico (Pocky)  and the makers of Gogo no Kocha (Kirin) “afternoon tea” have teamed up to produce a special limited edition packaging for their products. Japan releases limited edition packages and flavors on a monthly basis. The Pocky flavor of the month is lemon, and it is supposed to match the new Gogo no Kocha flavor “teagurt” which is yogurt mixed with milk tea.

Pocky appears to be marketing to the LGBT population of Japan with their latest companion products. Tea-yogurt is unisex, asexual, or bisexual apparently.
Pocky appears to be marketing to the LGBT population of Japan with their latest companion products. Tea-yogurt is unisex, asexual, or bisexual apparently.

image image imageThe pocky package features a spring design with featuring a girl or a boy on the edge of the box. The idea is to buy these two products together, because when you hold the bottle of tea next to the Pocky box, the boy and the girl appear to be kissing, or in a flirty pose.

We discovered something amazing after we flipped the bottle of tea. On the reverse side, it has picture of the opposite gender– meaning you can make a boy kiss a boy and a girl kiss a girl. These products are gay and lesbian friendly! Are Glico and Gogo no Kocha sneakily marketing to same-sex couples? Or are they unaware that they made their packaging to include them.

Same-sex couples are slowly gaining recognition from the Japanese government. Last year, Tokyo’s Shibuya and Setagaya wards began issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples. Iga in Mie prefecture soon followed, becoming the third ward in Japan to allow same-sex couples to wed. The ban on dancing at Tokyo clubs was lifted. (Apparently this law was only enforced at gay bars.) Panasonic just recently made headlines for considering benefits for same-sex couples, which is a rare move for a huge mainstream corporation.

Japan is gradually(although slowly) becoming more accepting of gay rights. We hope this marketing campaign was intentional. It would be a shame if it was a mistake! Whoever gets the official answer from Kirin or Glico—wins a set of Teaghurt and Pocky!



Kono Makes A Discomforting Statement on The Comfort Women And Japan Diplomacy

Yohei Kono, the former speaker for the House of Representatives, spoke at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club last week, and pointed out that the comfort women issue (sex slaves of the Japanese troops in WWII) was not simply about Korea. Despite being one of the only Senior LDP former cabinet members to never have served as Prime Minister, he is known for the Kono Statement, which acknowledged that the comfort women (foreign and Japanese females who often served as sex slaves to the Japanese army) existed and that the Japanese Imperial Army may or may not have been involved. He served as foreign minister under Big Shintaro Abe, father of current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others for over 1,100 days, making him the fourth longest-serving postwar foreign minister. He came to speak on how the forcefully passed security bills are unconstitutional, but in the end also had some very relevant things to say about Japan’s failure to reconcile with the past and recognize its war crimes. Plus he gave the LDP and Little Abe a lesson in what is proper diplomacy.

Yohei Kono, former Foreign Minister of Japan, sets the record straight on comfort women, security bills, and Japan's diplomacy
Yohei Kono, former Foreign Minister of Japan, sets the record straight on comfort women, security bills, and Japan’s diplomacy. Click the picture for the full press conference.

He was there principally to discuss the recent security legislation and how its passage had circumvented checks and balances and that the new law itself was unconstitutional.

At the beginning of the press conference he was asked his thoughts about China’s submission of documents to UNESCO on the  The Nanking Massacre. He noted that it is definitely an established fact. “The question is how many people were killed—that’s not clear.  The UNESCO ‘memory of the world’ system is opaque. There should be better grounds for submission. To deny the massacre took place is undeniable, but we need accurate numbers and make sure that it’s an objective historical record.” He put in a final jab by noting, “The movement by the LDP to to stop sending money to UNESCO because they accepted the documents is embarrassing. It’s like the previous threats to pressure Japanese firms not to advertise with newspapers or magazines critical of the establishment.”
Here are some highlights of the press conference:

Q:*As a foreign minister, one of the problems that Japan has with neighboring countries, is it has never seems to have reconciled with their past history of oppression and terrible things through out the colonial wars. We know from the writings of Prime Minister Nakasone and the head of the Fujisake Group Shikanai Haruo that the comfort women system wasn’t just a Korean problem, it existed in Indonesia, it existed in other places that Japan was ruling, that there has never been a comprehensive study of the comfort women system across all of Asia. Would Japan benefit from doing a cooperative study with all the countries it used to colonize and look at this problem one more time and issue a report and if so, how would that best be done?

 K:*The comfort women existed through very wide area through out all of Asia, and this is something which I, myself do acknowledge. We have seen, for example in the case of the Netherlands, who conducted various independent studies into this issue and even went so far as to have court cases and also judgements in relation to this. Dutch foreign ministry has also made official announcements in regard to the existance or to the facts about the comfort women history. So of course the situation in each country and as it was occurring in each country at the time is different than the situation now. We do need to question about how such collaboration might actually be possible how this could really be done, but at the very least what can be said is that Japan should be treating these former comfort women who went through such cruel difficult situations in a more sincere way. Of course this is the role on a state to state level which should be done but also on a human to human level. This is necessary as well. We need to have much more value or sincerity being put into how the comfort women are being treated. As you say, a large scale or comprehensive regional study is perhaps one method. I’m not sure how this would be able to be implemented but this is a very important suggestion. How or what kind of steps could be taken to move forward in this, however is something that i can not comment on today.

Q:*In regards to the security legislation, particularly making the use of the right to collective self defence I would like to ask if you really believe that there is majority support of this within the LDP, and given whether there is a majority or not looking at the various exceptions, other than some exceptions such as Mr Murakami , we don’t really hear of other opinions from within the LDP. Not only technical issues such as the electro system or political funding and so on, but I would like to ask your opinion of this overall all LDP situation. We also see the situation of the media, for example, questions at the press club or press conferences from external reporters or freelancers are not being allowed. Also, despite our invitations from the FCCJ, the LDP is not coming here to present, which is quite different from your time in the LDP. I would like to ask your view about these fundamental changes in the party.
Kono: *There are many different reasons for this but there is one in particular which I would like to discuss, and this is indeed the single seat constituency system. I was also personally involved in the creation of this system, so this is something in which I have considered very much since then and actually have some concerns and am wondering how that has contributed to the difficult situation now. If we compare it to before for example, now that we have the case where only one Diet member is selected to represent an entire constituency, where as before there were 2 or 3 representatives coming from each of the localities, the districts as well. In the case beforehand we would see for example one person selected for their agricultural expertise, one for their economic expertise, one for welfare expertise, so people could select based upon the various different policies and different aspects in expertise of the people running in the election. There was more choice available before, however now in these single seat elections, this means that only one person can be selected to represent the people from there. This means that while there may be various different policies , peoples choices are being limited to only choosing based on the official party policies rather than individual polices of the person and their different expertise, which means there are less choice for the voters in the elections and for their representation.
*Translations are approximate rather than literal and based on the on the spot English translation. The Japanese differs from the official translation at points.



Former Prime Minister Murayama Tells Japan’s Leader Abe, “Study Up or Shut Up!”

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to make a statement today to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II. He said he will uphold the statements made previously on the subject, but people are concerned that he will downplay Japan’s previous apologies.

Former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who made the 50th anniversary statement on the war, spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan recently, expressing his concerns with Abe’s statement. There is worry that Abe may downplay the Murayama Statement, which apologizes to Korea and China for crimes committed in WWII. Abe has been making comments in attempts to downplay the Murayama Statement, as a result, more and more young people are paying attention to the statement and asking questions about it. Many of these young people have been born after the war, and it’s prompted them to start learning about Japan’s war history on their own.

Due to the fact that Abe is trying to go on the offensive and bulk up Japan’s military, Murayama thinks that there is great danger in the fact that Abe cannot acknowledge that crimes committed during the war were a mistake. Now with the upcoming 70th anniversary of the war, Murayama feels that it is a milestone year that Japan needs to acknowledge.

The Potsdam Declaration was a statement issued in 1945 that called for Japan’s surrender during World War II. It was essentially an ultimatum given to Japan by the U.S., U.K. and China stating that Japan must surrender or face consequences. When asked about the Potsdam Declaration, Abe said that he has “not read the Potsdam Declaration in detail” and he doesn’t believe that the war was a mistake.

Abe’s crusade to nullify or even destroy Japan’s post-pacifist constitution, which also gave the Japanese citizen “basic human rights”, is not given him any popularity points within the country as well as Japan’s neighboring countries. He is intent on destroying Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. Article 9 is a clause in the constitution outlawing Japan from using war as a means to settle disputes.

Japan has experienced peace for 70 years, which is an extraordinary thing. Japanese people are worried that the tensions with other countries will escalate if Abe continues to along this path.

Murayama noted, “We’re approaching 70th anniversary of the war, and Abe wants to issue his own statement on the war, and many people wonder how it will differ and what Abe wants to say. When I spoke, it was the 50th anniversary of the war, a very important milestone. It was a time when Japan was realizing it was a member of the Asian community. It was thought we should put an end to this lingering history. We should apologize for the errors we made, and vow never to repeat them.”

Murayama also noted that the security legislation Abe and the LDP is pushing through the Diet is considered unconstitutional by an overwhelming majority of scholars.

“If it is the decision of the cabinet to change the constitution (at will), this kind of action cannot be permitted. If you want to reinterpret the constitution, you must actually revise it, something people say is near-impossible.”

Referencing the growing protests to the security legislation, Murayama added, “It’s only natural Japanese have become angry. I’ve repeated how Japan has experienced peace for so many years. We need to study history.”

In that statement that we need to study history and his pointing out that Abe had not read or understood the Potsdam Declaration, Murayama seemed to be saying to his successor, “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. And if you knew your history, you’d make a proper apology. Get smart or shut up.” In many ways, the press conference was like a wise, cranky old teacher scolding a lazy student. However, will the lazy student listen?






Gudetama: The Lazy Egg That Japan Loves

Strange characters are not something new to Japan. Sanrio’s anthropomorphic egg, affectionately named “Gudetama” which literally translates to “Lazy Egg” in English is no exception. Gudetama’s cartoon is on in the mornings, and it only runs for about a minute and a half. Before the ending credits, the curtain closes on him and a group of kids say “itterasshai,” followed by a strange man in a full-body yellow suit dancing and wobbling around to the theme song. The character first appeared in 2013 and has been growing in popularity each years.

Gudetama also has many Japanese cultural references. He shows up in traditional Japanese dishes that contain egg. Examples include chuwanmushi, goya chanpuru, tamago-yaki, and and omu-rice. He shows his face when humans are about to eat him, similarly to the Mame-shiba character (a talking bean who has the face of a dog and tells the human a disturbing fact to make them lose their appetite and avoid getting eaten). The human is usually telling Gudetama “Gambatte” or “Do your best” and trying to motivate the lazy egg, who often responds with something like “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “I’m too tired.” Who would have thought that you could learn about Japanese culture from a complaining, complacent egg?

There is something surreal about Gudetama as well. No matter how many times he gets beaten, fried, poked, and eventually eaten, he reincarnates and returns to earth to spread his message of laziness, apathy, and occasionally having a good time. He’s the Buddha of eggs.

Due to the character’s popularity, a pop-up cafe has opened up in Solamachi, the shopping center under the Tokyo Sky Tree. It’s a very small space with bright yellow  walls decorated with Gudetama in his many different forms, doing what he does best: complaining.  The Gudetama Cafe features traditional Japanese egg dishes, takoyaki, musubi, and soda floats, all emblazoned with Gudetama’s distressed face on them.


I am quite adventurous when it comes to food, so I ordered the strangest item on the menu…the Gude-sen. The Gude-sen is a half boiled egg, bacon, cabbage, okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, and aonori seaweed piled onto a giant senbei (rice cracker). There are instructions (complete with pictures) on how to eat the Gude-Sen.

I also ordered a coffee float, of course with gude-tama’s face on the ice cream.

The sandwich was big, messy and difficult to eat, due to the fact that it was sandwiched between two very thin rice crackers. As soon as i bit into it, the crackers broke into several pieces. Despite being extremely messy, it was delicious! It tasted like okonomiyaki (a Japanese pizza of sorts)! I want to say it tasted better than it looked, but actually it looked quite good. Gudetama’s face was made from an edible plastic-like film. I unknowingly removed it from my drink…but i realized halfway through eating my sandwich, that it was edible. At least, I hope it was edible.

egg 2

The coffee float was what I expected, but they added little mango pearls in the bottom. I noticed the pearls on the menu, but I thought they were meant for the fruit-flavored floats. I didn’t think they would add something mango-flavored to black coffee. Surprisingly, they didn’t affect the taste of the coffee at all, and they didn’t absorb the coffee flavor. I think the yellow mango pearls were supposed to look like little eggs or yolks.

The cafe is only open until the end of July, so go while you have a chance. You can pick up assorted Gudetama merchandise as well. And unlike the fictional character, the food you eat there won’t talk to you, so you can enjoy it to your heart’s content… unless you’re a vegan.

cafe front

Japan’s Delightful 80-Hour Work Week

The start of the 80 hour work week. Stu has just made the last train home.
The start of the 80 hour work week. Stu has just gotten off  the last train home. Click on the photo above for the full video.

If you ever visit Tokyo, you cannot walk down the street or board a train without bumping into a
Salaryman. “Salaryman” is the Japanese-English term for male white-collar workers. The typical
salaryman spends roughly 13 hours per day inside a cubicle, averaging about 80 hours per
week. This does not include the mandatory after hours drinking required for them to bond with
their co-workers. They rarely have time to see their families and friends, let alone get enough
sleep. This is the reality for most of Japan’s white-collar workforce.

Foreign salarymen in Japan are no exception and are also expected to put in these long hours.
A British Youtuber going by the name of Stu in Tokyo recently posted a humorous yet real look
into his daily life as a salaryman. The video shows a timeline of each day with a counter for the
hours he has slept versus the hours he has worked. Almost every day is the same. He wakes
up around 7AM and makes breakfast, walks to the train…and the next scene is him rushing to
catch the last train before 11:20 PM, and then eating some convenience store food.

The video makes you think that he primarily eats granola but in fact he also eats the staple of
the salaryman diet, onigiri, or prepackaged rice balls. His favorite is Japanese style Tuna
Mayonnaise. He also makes time to workout before crashing for the night. He wakes up at the
same time the next day and the cycle repeats itself. In the end, the hours that he works double
the hours he sleeps every week.

The reason that he made the video was to show his friends and family a look into his life and
the reason why he has no free time. It ended up going viral on sites such as Reddit and
Youtube. It even caught the attention of CNN, landing him an interview. Stu’s job has its peak
seasons, so he only has to work like this for about two and a half months out of the year, unlike
the average salaryman who has to put in long hours all year. He is 25 years old but he says
being overworked hasn’t aged him…yet.

Stu’s company didn’t fire him either after the video went viral. Maybe it’s hard to find any
foreigner (or anyone) who is willing to work 78 hours a week with only 35 hours of sleep. With
the Abe administration getting ready to ban overtime on certain jobs with new pending
legislation, maybe soon everyone in Japan will get to live the exciting life of Stu.

The video is great entertainment but it also explains one of the mysteries of modern Japanese
life: why the population is going down and why people aren’t having children.
If your every waking hour is spent at work, when do people have the time or energy to meet
people, date, mate, or even procreate? The answer is: they don’t.