Tag Archives: japan

Japan Is Apparently Struggling to Meet Its Ninja Quota

There are a lot of reasons to visit Japan—the food, the fashion, the eclectic city streets of Tokyo—but now some are worried that the demand for ninjas has gotten so high that there aren't enough of them to entertain the influx of people visiting the country, the Telegraph reports.

Back in the day, ninjas were a legendary warrior force in Japan. According to the Independent, they were often recruited to work as spies or assassins, dishing out their distinct brand of violence using throwing stars or poisoned darts. Working as a ninja in Japan today is a lot more of a PR gig but still requires a special skill set in the art of ancient ninjutsu—unarmed combat, acrobatics, and sword fighting.

Apparently, some people who manage these entertaining ninja squads say that they're just not seeing these basic skills in many of their applicants and the demand has gotten out of control.

"With the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan on the increase, the value of ninja as tourism content has increased," Takatsugu Aoki, manager of the Tokugawa Ieyasu and Hattori Hanzo Ninja Squad, told a local Japanese newspaper. "There are more employment choices while ninja shows held across the country have become popular, not to mention other attractions."

Aoki's squad has seen a major drop in applicants since 2016, when more than 230 people applied to join its seven-person ninja team. The gig was advertised globally and boasted a salary of $1,600 a month. So far this year, the squad has received only 22 applications, and Aoki believes competition is partially to blame.

"I feel there is a ninja shortage," he said.

Coming Out to My Twin Brother Ruined Our Relationship

Gengoroh Tagame is often cited as Japan's most influential gay manga artist. Called the "Tom of Finland of Japan," Tagame has been working as a full-time, openly gay erotica artist since 1994. His work has been described as "Mishima meets Mapplethorpe," combining a meticulously drawn manga style with boundary-pushing themes of bear culture, bondage, S&M, and sexual abuse.

The 53-year-old artist's latest and easily most mainstream title, My Brother's Husband, Volume 1, comes out next week in English from Pantheon. Featuring Tagame's signature draughtsmanship, cinematic visual storytelling, and hypermasculine beefcake characters, the graphic novel is a beautiful, stirring, and deeply human work.

The story follows Yaichi, a terse single father, and his bubbly, inquisitive daughter Kana. When Yaichi's estranged twin brother dies, his husband, a mesomorphic Canadian named Mike Flanagan, arrives at Yaichi and Kana's doorstep. His twin's husband brings with him new and subversive ideas, like marriage between two men (in Japan, same-sex marriage is still illegal), that challenge Yaichi's more traditional values.

In the excerpt below, "Silhouettes," Yaichi spends the day with Mike, sharing the places of his and his brother's childhood, when he comes to a sudden, painful revelation. The panels read from the "right-most side"—right to left—as is customary in Japanese written language.

—James Yeh, culture editor

From My Brother's Husband

From MY BROTHER'S HUSBAND: Volume 1 by Gengoroh Tagame, translated by Anne Ishii. Copyright © 2014 by Gengoroh Tagame. Translation copyright © 2017 by Anne Ishii. Reprinted by permission of Pantheon Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. All rights reserved.

‘Sympathy’ Offers a Literary Take on Instagram and Intimacy

Sympathy opens with what must be the most intense description of an Instagram follow request ever committed to print. Alice Hare, the 23-year-old narrator, relates the agony of waiting to be granted access to a private account. She aches for that pale grey "requested" button to give way to its more reassuring successor; to confirm that she's "following." With this, the stage is set for a contemporary tale of obsession.

It feels as though the world has been waiting for a literary take on the photo-sharing app. Who among us hasn't been queasy after a bout of girl crush stalking, or that very particular self-aware frustration when unable to find the right angle for a selfie? Not posting would be like having a margarita without the salt. What makes Sympathy such a standout in its approach to social media is a move way from Black Mirror-style satire and, instead, a smart and lyrical evocation of that murky emotional terrain between our online and offline selves.

The novel, written by 28-year-old London native Olivia Sudjic, has already been praised by the likes of British editor Diana Athill and is one of the most talked about debuts of the year. We meet in a cafe near my apartment, which I've chosen specifically for its Instagrammable properties: millennial pink tables and food served on pastel plates. It's the kind place I imagine Sympathy's characters might post about, tagging the location like a breadcrumb to be found.

Alice, the book's lead, is living in limbo after graduating from college, and in search of a "single, coherent narrative" about her origins (something her adoptive English mother has been unable to supply.) After striking up a correspondence with her sick grandmother, Alice travels to New York to help out during Silvia's cancer treatment. Once there, she becomes increasingly obsessed with a Japanese writer and Instagram cool-girl named Mizuko, and Alice detects odd parallels between their life stories. Any similarities that might not be present between the pair, Alice is able to manufacture, mining Mizuko's online presence for likes and interests with which to furnish her own personality. When Alice orchestrates a "chance" encounter with the writer—all thanks to geotags—Mizuko is unable to see that what feels like a happy coincidence is anything but.

Olivia Sudjic portrait at Cafe Miami by Imogen Freeland

Olivia Sudjic portrait at Cafe Miami, Clapton, by Imogen Freeland

Full of wry humor and sharp observations, Sympathy explores the ways we struggle to fully understand an experience that is not our own. We relate to others—as we must—through our own limited perspective. In this era of hyper-connectivity, the illusion of sympathy is everywhere, but are we really connecting in the way that we imagine ourselves to be?

Sudjic describes how, at 25, she'd tried a few different jobs and found herself working at a branding consultancy, but the idea that would evolve into Sympathy had already begun brewing. She decided to take a six-month sabbatical. "Of course, what happened is that I didn't write anything," she says. "Suddenly I had all this free time. I just freaked out."

Nearing the end of the six months, Sudjic's boss told her that they'd given her job to someone else, but that she was welcome to take a role in the Dubai office. "There was nothing like the threat of having to leave London to light a fire under my ass!"

"Throughout history, the tools we make end up shaping us."

She wrote the bulk of the book in three months in a self-confessed "fever dream," fitting for a novel rife with mysterious illnesses, identity slippages, and swift, feverish descents down social media's rabbit holes. The narrative's non-linear structure imitates the feeling of scrolling through an Instagram feed, where past and present co-exist and a #TBT might pop up at any time. It was meticulously plotted, so that Sudjic's writing space looked more like "a crime scene" than an author's desk. "It just felt like a much more authentic way of storytelling according to the way modern minds work," she says.

Surprisingly for a book that reads like The Talented Mr. Ripley for the 21st Century, Sudjic says that she initially conceived it as a historical novel about a 17th century "medicine" called Powder of Sympathy. "I'm quite glad now that I can talk about this historical element, because it guards against the idea that this book is only about now. I feel like there are these age-old human frailties that technology can take advantage of. The point is that, throughout history, the tools we make end up shaping us."

Alice's character being shaped by life online is immediately evident. "I was interested in how the internet sees you," Sudjic says. "To a machine, you're viewed as this collection of metadata; the things you like and click on, what you've spent time doing." What's most specific in Alice's characterization are the traits that can be easily understood by our devices: locations she visits, the amount of time she spends walking around the city, and the sights she captures through the lens of her iPhone. 

Despite the first person narration, Alice's inner-psyche remains blurry, mimicking the way someone is seen by a browser's internal algorithms. Later in the novel, strange coincidences begin to occur that mirror how a Facebook advert might anticipate a user's needs. "These things that we think are all about choice are actually being predicted, nudged, and shaped. What we get access to online, the links that float to the top of our searches—that's all colored by information we often don't even realize we've given out."

"The digital apparatus we have with which to affect change slightly tricks us into feeling like we're more powerful than we are, and actually, we're quite passive."

Sudjic compares buying a smart phone to a kind of Faustian pact: "There's this trade off between privacy and convenience." She points me to the novel's epigraph, a line from Alice Through the Looking Glass, in which Alice tells the Red Queen, "I wouldn't mind being a pawn, if only I might join." It is exactly this bargain we enter into when we share information about ourselves online. I ask whether Olivia was nervous about writing Alice as a character who, though the driving force of the novel, is quite passive—a pawn—when it comes to her interactions IRL. "She is passive, but I feel like that passivity is what a lot of our generation is coping with. The digital apparatus we have with which to effect change slightly tricks us into feeling like we're more powerful than we are, and actually, we're quite passive."

It's proof of Sudjic's electric talent that Alice's voice remains captivating, even as she seems to become a conduit for other people's experiences (her boyfriend Dwight's, for instance.) Alice is simultaneously relatable and inscrutable, sympathetic, caustic, and infuriating all at the same time. Of course she is—she's a 23-year-old trying to figure out her place in the world.

Acutely aware of the difference in the ways male and female novelists are asked to promote their books, Sudjic says she fought hard to keep the novel's original title. "I just thought, if Franzen can do it, I can. Men seem to have ownership of those one word titles. Also, I couldn't believe that it hadn't already been used, given what novels, from their genesis, are supposed to be about."

We discuss the first American novel, The Power of Sympathy: "It was about how we can over-identify with characters and it can lead us astray morally." Sudjic was drawn to the idea that novels used to be a slightly perilous moral undertaking. "Now novels are good and it's Instagram that's bad. Every single time a new format comes up for identifying with other people, we all throw up our hands thinking it's a disaster."

For Alice and Mizuko, it just might be.

Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic is published by ONE/Pushkin Press on the May 4, via Pushkin Press. Also available on audible.co.uk.

Follow Kate Loftus O'Brien on Twitter. 

This Sick Video Drone Is the Future of Inescapable Advertising 

Advertisers have found ways to bombard us with promotions no matter what we’re doing: watching TV, checking social media, and even when streaming music. But the future of advertising could be even more invasive when the next public event you attend is full of flying video drones projecting inescapable video…


Japan’s Scientists Believe They’ll Be the First to Reach Earth’s Mantle

Once again, scientists are looking inward to explore the next frontier. Researchers at Japan’s Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) announced this week that an excavation is planned in which the team will attempt to successfully drill all the way through Earth’s crust for the first time in history.