Tuesday, July 11, 2017

So Your Character is From Japan ... Featuring Mami Suzuki

It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's  So Your Character is from South Korea ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

I've been into Japan since I started watching anime as a teenager. Getting used to Eastern culture, took me a while, but now I love so many things Japanese, including the food, cultural traditions, J-pop, and I've even picked up some of the language from watching 200+ episodes of subbed anime. One of the countries that I really wanted to find this year was Japan, so I'm so happy to have found Mami!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

I’m Mami Suzuki. I was born in Osaka and grew up in the countryside of Nara. I also lived in Kyoto for about three years for my job. Afterwards, I moved to Ontario, Canada where I am currently working for Tofugu as a content researcher, blog writer, etc. Like a typical Japanese person, my hobby is my work…just because Tofugu is awesome and I love them so much. Aside from that, I like reading, drawing, and golfing (though I’m not very good at it). However, recently I have been so busy to do any of those since I am a working mother raising a little baby.
Website (Profile)//Twitter//Instagram

What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
I feel my country is unique in so many ways, but if I had to choose, I’d go with its four seasons and its food. Recently, a comedian named Atsugiri Jason (@atsugirijason) made a point that Japan isn’t the only country with four seasons, but how we celebrate and enjoy each season may differ. We have party underneath cherry blossoms in the spring and eat rice cake while looking at beautiful full moons during fall. How romantic. I like how dramatically the appearance of towns can change from seasons to season. 

As for the food, each region in Japan has their specialty and they are all unique. It’s really fun to travel around Japan trying different local foods. Many places have different specialties for each season and they use only the freshest ingredients. For example, in Nara where I grew up, spring is the season of Yamato tea, which has several times more vitamin C than matcha, and Ayu (sweet river fish). We have a lot of local veggies such as purple hot peppers during summer and golden gourds in the fall. In fall, the persimmons mature and you can enjoy sweet and sour strawberries in the winter.

Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka are super developed. If you lived there, you’d soon hear people refer to the suburban areas of those cities as “countryside”. When I say I was raised in the countryside, I mean actual countryside. I like big cities because they have so many fun places to visit and an abundance of restaurants and bars, but I love the deep, serene comfort of the countryside. In the countryside, I love how an image of people working in step-like fields on a sloped hill with a mountainous backdrop changes day to day. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my heart feels like it was cleansed whenever I go back there. 



Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
There are so many different foods in Japan, so it’s hard to narrow things down to a few favorite dishes. Yet, just recently my Japanese friends and I discussed what would be our last meal if we could choose. The dishes were, Hakata’s tonkotsu ramen, Yobuko’s squid sashimi, and two of us surprisingly chose the simplest of foods – rice. 

Squid Sashimi

Mochi (Rice Cake)

Hankata Tokutsu Ramen

It’s difficult to find super delicious rice outside of Japan, but there are so many in Japan. The most famous is Koshihikari from Niigata prefecture. We classify rice as 1st, 2nd, 3rd class and nonstandard. 1st to 3rd each contain 15% water, but the better class grains are usually bigger and more uniform the size and shape. There is a deliciousness ranking, which goes Special A, A, A’, B, and B’. They are ranked by smell, appearance, taste, gluten amount and firmness.  A’ is of typical taste, so you can imagine that 1st class Special A rice is just so delicious. The water quality and how you cook the rice is also important. You may not believe it, but rice alone can be so good and that’s why we would choose it as our last meal – Special A rice, specifically. 

Rice Types

Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
We often omit subjects, so you have to guess what people are talking about. Guessing, or assumption comprises a big portion of Japanese communication. We call it 空気を読む (kuuki o yomu), which literally means “to read the air.” We also have a lot of Japanese English that doesn't actually make sense in English. For example, we call an apartment “a mansion.” So, don’t get jealous when a Japanese university student says he lives in a “mansion.” It probably just means he is living in an apartment that doesn’t even have a bedroom. (That’s where I lived…my bed was in my living room). Lastly, Japan isn’t a huge country, but there are so many different dialects.

How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
This is a very vague and vast question. The first thing that comes to mind is that we usually have smaller kitchens than North American. When my mother came to visit me in Canada, she was surprised that four burners on the stove is the standard and she was jealous. I think she only has three. The other thing is that we close our bathroom doors when nobody is using it. It depends on the family I guess, but I see a lot of people in Canada leave them open. It is opposite in Japan and I’ve had a few embarrassing experiences here. If you want to know about the political differences between Japan and other countries, I’m not the right person for it. 

Japanese Prime Minister

Japanese Apartment

Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
- The Civil War:
Japan experienced a long period of instability and civil war from 1476 to 1603. Back then, samurai fought against each other for reign over the whole country. When they took over a region, they built a castle (or they seized a castle that was already built), which resulted in about 5,000 castles in Japan by the end of the period. Only some remain now, but it’s fun to travel around what still remains.

- The Meiji Restoration:
It ended feudalism, the Shogunate system and recovered Imperial prerogatives in the late 19th. This was a big turning point in Japan and helped lead the country towards modernization and industrialization.

- Great East Japan Earthquake:
I don't know if you can call it a historical event, but the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant meltdown in 2011 was a terrible disaster that I will never forget. People are still working on cooling down the nuclear power plant and apparently this has to continue on for quite a while longer. That’s sad that the only country that has experienced atomic bombs accepted nuclear as a power source and it caused another tragedy.

What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
I come across jokes or news about how all Japanese people eat dolphins, but they aren’t really common. In fact, I’ve never seen dolphin on a menu in any restaurant. Also, although there are sushi restaurants everywhere, it’s not a common home meal. I want people to stop thinking that all Japanese people can make sushi. I like eating sushi but I can’t make sushi. I’m sorry. Don’t expect a sushi party at my place.

Some stereotypes, such as that all Japanese people have a high aptitude for technology, they love manga and anime, or dress up crazily aren’t true, but it doesn’t bother me because it doesn't really affect me. I actually like the fact that Japanese can be unique.

What media portrays your country well, be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
I like Naomi Kawase’s movies that are set in Nara. I grew up in Nara and I don’t know a lot of other places in Japan, but it portrays Nara very well. Other than that, documentary films would do a good of it. The most famous modern Japanese writer is probably Haruki Murakami, but I’d say his novel doesn’t portray it very well. His is a bit unrealistic. There are a lot of his fans in Japan too, but it’s a bit too cheesy and too romantic for many. The fans who love “his world” are called Harukists.

Who are your top three favorite characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?

  • Mario: I like Mario games. I also like the famous Mario joke – “Don’t be racist! Be like Mario. He’s an Italian plumber created by Japanese people, who speaks English and looks like a Mexican."
  • Doraemon: I’ve loved Doraemon since I was a little. I don’t read the manga or watch the anime anymore, but I’d still nominate him as my favorite character. Good old Doraemon. I want your special tools.
  • Sento-kun: He is Japaense yuru-kyara who looks cute and gross at the same time. I cheer for him because I’m from Nara. 

Thank you, Mami, for this very informative post! I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. Come back next week for So Your Character is from Taiwan ...!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com.

Do you have any characters from Japan? Did this inspire you to write a Japanese character or set a book in Japan? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Mami? Be sure to thank her!

You may also like:

No comments:

Post a Comment