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Peter: Top Five Pop Culture Things you need to know about Japan. Welcome back to our All About Japanese series.
Natsuko: Konnichiwa, Natsuko desu.
Peter: Today, on JapanesePod101.com, we bring you the Japan of today.
Natsuko: That's right. Japanese Pop Culture.
Peter: So this is a little record of Japanese Pop Culture in 2009. Natsuko-san, let's start with music.
Natsuko: Okay.
Peter: Now, Japan has the second largest music industry in the world.
Natsuko: Wow! Next to the United States?
Peter: Next to the US.
Natsuko: I didn't know that. And, I bet a lot of people didn't know that.
Peter: Before I found out it was the second largest industry, I had a couple hints, but I just didn't realize it.
Natsuko: What do you mean?
Peter: Well, I listen to a lot of different music and in a lot of the hip-hop songs you would hear them make references to Los Angeles, New York…
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: ...and Japan.
Natsuko: Oh, really?
Peter: Yeah. And I never, kind of, got that. But then it made total sense.
Natsuko: Oh, I see.
Peter: They sell a lot of records in Japan.
Natsuko: So we are the second largest customers.
Peter: Yes.
Natsuko: Naruhodo.
Peter: Now, pop music is really popular in Japan.
Natsuko: Yes. We have groups like Dorīmuzu Kamu Turū…
Peter: Dreams Come True.
Natsuko: …and Sazan Ōru Sutāzu…
Peter: Southern All-Stars.
Natsuko: …that manage to retain their popularity over the years. We also have female solo artists that are popular. To name a few, we have Hamasaki Ayumi…
Peter: Ayumi Hamasaki
Natsuko: …Amuro Namie…
Peter: Namie Amuro.
Natsuko: …and Utada Hikaru.
Peter: Hikaru Utada.
Peter: So what I did was, I just reversed the names, because in natural, native Japanese it's normal to give the last name first. Natsuko-san, how about on the male side?
Natsuko: Yes. On the male side, a lot of singers and idols come from a talent agency known as Johnny's Entertainment. They produce lots of groups that become very popular. The most popular is a group called SMAP. You will see them everywhere in Japan.
Peter: Everywhere meaning billboards, magazines, TV shows.
Natsuko: Yes. And in ads.
Peter: They're national idols that everyone knows.
Natsuko: The thing about performers who come out of this agency is that they do a little bit of everything: singing, dancing, acting. So they are well-rounded performers in that sense.
Peter: Yeah. It's kind of interesting to see them on TV. A lot of times they are asked to do things like quizzes or challenges or different things, like cooking. And, they seem, they excel at a lot of different things.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: Now. Natsuko-san. Who is your favorite pop star?
Natsuko: Ah. I haven't been following the trend for a long time so I think my information is rather out-dated, but I used to like Sazan Ōru Sutāzu very much, when I was a student. But they are still popular and that's amazing.
Peter: Yeah. Especially in Japan where, usually, where the change of pace is so fast.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: It's very different from the US where a song will chart for many months
Natsuko: Uh-huh.
Peter: In Japan, it's usually very fast.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: The churn of new songs and old songs.
Natsuko: And how about you, Peter?
Peter: I'm, kind, of, similar to you. I think we are the wrong two people for this particular episode regarding music. But I haven't actively been listening to J-Pop for quite some time. When I first came it was an amazing, amazing study tool.
Natsuko : Really?
Peter: I would listen to the many different songs and I liked the band Luna Sea.
Natsuko: Oh, yes.
Peter: But, so much has changed and these days I haven't really caught up, I haven't really kept up with J-Pop. But, luckily, along with music, movies are really popular in Japan.
Natsuko: Yes. Lots of people watch and enjoy Hollywood movies. But, actually, recently, Japanese movies have been seeing a boom in popularity.
Peter: Apparently, the annual box-office revenue from domestic movies hit an all-time high in 2008.
Natsuko: Yeah. That year, a movie called Gake no Ue no Ponyo...
Peter: Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea.
Natsuko: ...was the highest grossing film.
Peter: The latest work by world-renowned animation director Hayao Miyazaki.
Natsuko: Miyazaki Hayao, almost all of his films become big hits.
Peter: Yes, that's almost a guarantee and this film was no exception. Many of our listeners are probably familiar with his other works. Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away were two of his masterpieces.
Natsuko: Spirited Away. I think the Japanese title was Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi. But it won an Academy Award, didn't it?
Peter: Yup. The first Japanese animated film to win one.
Natsuko: Speaking of Academy Awards, this year, in 2009, the Japanese film Departures, or Okuribito, won the Academy Award for best foreign language film
Peter: So, it looks like Japanese the films are starting to gain more recognition, both inside and outside Japan. Although, people inside Japan have known for a long time that the Japanese film industry makes many interesting movies.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: One more interesting thing about the Hollywood movies. Most of the showings here are not dubbed over. They play them in English with Japanese sub-titles. It's rather quite interesting, too, because sometimes when I go with my Japanese friends, I say, "Do you want to go, would you like to see the dubbed version?" And they always want to see the subtitled version.
Natsuko: We're kind of used to reading the sub-titles. And, also, it's a good way to learn English.
Peter: I think that's the mind-set, yeah.
Natsuko: Okay. How about television? I get the impression that television in Japan is quite different from TV shows in the West.
Peter: I think you could say that. To give an example, Japan has an endless number of variety shows. I don't even think this genre exists in America.
Natsuko: Oh, really?
Peter: I think it gets it's name from they do many different types of things, so it's a variety.
Natsuko: Yes, exactly.
Peter: And what are some types of things that take place on a variety show?
Natsuko: Like a comedy show, or try to do something interesting.
Peter: Different challenges?
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: And it seems like they have a panel of people or it's centered around a few people. The show has some hosts and then the guests on the show compete in different things or do different skits.
Natsuko: Yes. Sometimes they play games, sometimes they just talk about some topical things.
Peter: Variety shows...
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: ...very popular and, kind of, dominated by a few major stars.
Natsuko: Yes, maybe. And quiz shows are also popular.
Peter: That's another show you'll see a lot of. I think the Japanese really love quizzes.
Natsuko: They do.
Peter: They'll have quizzes about everything: History, Society, Science, Math, Pop Culture.
Natsuko: Right. Dramas are another popular genre. Now, of course, there are dramas in the West, but I think the style is really different.
Peter: Very different. Japanese dramas are relatively short, for one thing.
Natsuko: They only last for one season, so, about ten to twelve episodes, and then it's done.
Peter: It's almost like an extended mini-series back home.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: Usually, dramas in the West run for as long as they are popular. They'll keep coming back, season after season.
Natsuko: And there are a handful that have done more than one season in Japan. But they are pretty rare. And nearly all Japanese dramas have a clear-cut beginning and end.
Peter: Yeah. I have mixed feelings about this. Sometimes it's nice, you know, it's short and sweet, and they go out on top. But other times, like, you want more of them. But, I think there's a trend in Japan. Again, the churn is very, very fast. You know, dramas won't last very long. And this is, kind of, extended throughout, scales across, the entertainment industry.
Natsuko: So that's why our information becomes out-dated very quickly.
Peter: Now, Western dramas are also popular in Japan. Right?
Natsuko: Yes. And you can see them on TV or even rent the DVDs. Some popular ones are Twenty-Four, Prison Break, Lost and Heroes.
Peter: When you watch Japanese TV, you'll probably see a lot of foreigners who are famous in Japan. Now, this is interesting, because some of them aren't even known in their home country, just in Japan.
Natsuko: One example is Jero, an African-American, enka singer.
Peter: His real name is Jerome White, Jr., and he's from Pennsylvania in the US, and he's made it big here singing enka, which is traditional Japanese pop music.
Natsuko: Enka is normally popular among older people in Japan, but Jero is really young, still in his twenties.
Peter: Yeah, and he's gained a lot of media attention. He was even in the Kohaku, year-ending singing contest, that we talked about many times before.
Natsuko: And Korean stars have also become really popular since about five years ago. A Korean drama called Fuyu no sonata.
Peter: Winter Sonata.
Natsuko: ...was aired on Japanese TV and two leads known as Pe Yonjun, and Che Jiu, in Japanese, became big stars in Japan.
Peter: Ah, yes. The Hanryū, or Korean boom. Hanryū is a termed coined that refers to the popularity of Korean pop culture in Japan. Now, the fact they came up with a word for it, kind of, tells you how popular it is.
Natsuko: Yes. They even made up a word. So these days, more and more Korean actors and pop singers are experiencing fame in Japan.
Peter: How about the world of sports?
Natsuko: There are many popular foreigners in the world of sports, too.
Peter: Even in Sumo, which is interesting, because it's very Japanese, very traditional.
Natsuko: In Sumo there are, Kotoōshū, a small wrestler from Bulgaria, and Asashōryū, he's a small wrestler from Mongolia, and many Mongolian wrestlers are doing very well.
Peter: Very well. So let's take a look at the flip-side. How about Japanese men and women who are well-known abroad.
Natsuko: Well, in entertainment, we have Watanabe Ken...
Peter: Ken Watanabe.
Natsuko: ...who is an actor. Do you remember what movies he's been in?
Peter: He was in The Last Samurai, right, with Tom Cruise?
Natsuko: That's right, he got a lot of Academy Award nominations for that role. And, more recently, he was in Iōjima Kara no Tegami...
Peter: Or, Letters from Iwo Jima.
Natsuko: ...a film about World War II that was directed by Clint Eastwood.
Peter: So a lot of people in the West know of his roles in these movies, but he's been very famous in Japan for quite some time.
Natsuko: Yes. He's a really popular actor. There are famous Japanese people in a lot of different fields. In film, there is filmmaker, Kitano Takeshi.
Peter: Takeshi Kitano.
Natsuko: In literature, there is contemporary author Murakami Haruki.
Peter: Haruki Murakami.
Natsuko: And in the fashion world, there is designer Miyake Issei .
Peter: Issei Miyake. Now, if you're unsure about who any of these people are, there is some more information about them in the write up. So make sure to check that out.
Natsuko: There are also a lot of famous Japanese sports figures.
Peter: A lot of them are baseball players. Baseball is, arguably, the most popular sport in Japan.
Natsuko: Right. Japan has professional leagues, but there are quite a few Japanese baseball players that participate in the major leagues in America.
Peter: The most famous example is, probably, Ichiro. America went through Ichiro fever at one point. And, actually, he's still quite popular, now.
Natsuko: If you follow baseball, you might know his name.
Peter: There are also a few famous names in figure skating too.
Natsuko: Arakawa Shizuka...
Peter: Shizuka Arakawa.
Natsuko: ...is one. She got a gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics. These days you hear a lot about Asada Mao.
Peter: Mao Asada .
Natsuko: She's currently ranked third in the world.
Peter: So that's a little bit about Japanese Pop Culture as of this date in history.
Natsuko: Please join us next time for more information on Japan and Japanese at JapanesePod101.com.
Peter: See you next time.
Natsuko: Ja mata ne!