May 30, 2019

Summer Basho

Hakuho—shaping up as the most dominant sumo wrestler in history—sat out the 2019 Summer Basho with an arm injury, leaving fellow Mongolian Kakuryu as the only participating yokuzuna. Alas, with a 11-4 record, Kakuryu did not distinguish himself, leaving the door open for Asanoyama, a middle-ranked maegashira, to pick up the Emperor's Cup with twelve wins.


In any case, the 2019 Summer Basho will mostly be remembered for President Trump's participation in the awards ceremony (which was totally in keeping with the spirit of sumo awards ceremonies).

But it was the bouts of two other wrestlers that held my attention.


A previous winner of the Emperor's Cup, Georgian Tochinoshin (six-foot-six and 357 pounds) had been demoted after a two-tourney losing streak. He needed ten wins to regain his second-to-highest ozeki rank. He got win number ten on the penultimate day, concluding the tourney 10-5. If he can stay healthy (knees are a big problem for these big guys), I can see him winning again.

Ranking in sumo is similar to promotion and relegation in soccer.


At five-foot-six and 210 pounds, Enho debuted as the smallest wrestler in the makuuchi division, giving up six inches and at least 150 pounds to almost every opponent he faced. He started strong but got beaten up pretty badly the second week and finished with a 7-8 record. Still, an impressive enough performance to stay in the makuuchi. I hope to see him in the Nagoya Basho.


The manga and anime series Hinomaru Sumo features a protagonist who is too short for professional sumo and must earn an exemption by winning the high school national championship. The manga started in 2014 so reality has caught up with fiction. Though Enho (barely) meets the height requirement, he's a good example of what it means for sumo to have no weight classes.

The Summer Basho makuuchi bouts can be viewed at the NHK World website.

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May 23, 2019

Watching Japanese in English

I noted previously that localized programming is the province of NHK World, with English-speaking hosts and subtitled or dubbed content. Prime-time news aside, TV Japan ("NHK World Premium") localizes little of its content. There are a few exceptions, starting with sumo.


When I first started watching TV Japan, it devoted two hours of NHK coverage to the makuuchi sumo bouts every afternoon during the tournaments, along with the nightly wrap-up shows. Now it's limited to one wrap-up broadcast and two hours of live coverage at 1:00 AM MDT.

But sumo is obviously a big draw internationally. During the fifteen-day tournaments, NHK World carries the thirty-minute wrap-up show four times a day and live coverage on weekends.

On TV Japan, a subtitled version of the weekly Taiga drama is broadcast on Saturday afternoon. Cool Japan is the same on NHK World and TV Japan. The international members of the studio panel all speak (often impressively fluent) English. The Japanese is subtitled.

On NHK World, domestic NHK documentary series like The Professionals are show with the on-screen Japanese subtitled and the off-screen narration redone in English, which works fine. Infotainment shows like The Mark of Beauty and Lunch On are dubbed in their entirety.

While the documentary segments of The Mark of Beauty work okay dubbed, when a charismatic actor like Masao Kusakari hosts a program, even if he's only on screen for about five minutes total, I want to hear Masao Kusakari, not a dub.


Especially with shows like Lunch On and Somewhere Street, though never shown on screen, the narrator is a participating character in the show, which requires decent acting skills and a well-translated script. Otherwise the dub can sounded forced and overacted or too cute.

It's a lot easier to overlook hits and misses in subtitles than in dubs. And subtitles don't color the quality of the original voice acting.

As you might imagine, I'm not a fan of dubbing. The same goes for languages I don't understand. I mean, one of the great things about watching Inspector Montalbano is just listening to Luca Zingaretti take on the role of the great Sicilian cop. It'd be a crime to dub him!

Unless, like Jackie Chan, he dubbed himself. Though I will admit that Disney and GKids often do a very good job. Having the heft in Hollywood to recruit quality actors and quality writers really makes a difference.

In any case, Japanese beginners will be more comfortable with NHK World. But if you are serious about learning Japanese, a good first step is getting out of your comfort zone with TV Japan or dLibrary Japan. And NHK Radio. Along with, of course, a whole lot of subtitled anime.

Related sites

dLibrary Japan
NHK Radio
NHK World
TV Japan

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May 16, 2019

Twelve Kingdoms on Crunchyroll

Crunchyroll is streaming the anime series originally broadcast on NHK in 2002 and 2003. Crunchyroll acquired the rights from Discotek Media, which will release a Blu-ray edition later this month. The Discotek Media license is limited to North America. The series is also available on Amazon (dub only) and AsianCrush (I don't know what regions).

Netflix still has the series on DVD.

The NHK adaptation audaciously tried to cover all of the books in print at the time. But 45 episodes are not nearly enough to do the material justice. As a result, the sped-up storylines overlap (Taiki gets an early mention devoid of context), plot elements and characters are mixed and matched, while others are invented out of whole cloth.

To get an idea of how fast the narrative is paced, Rakushun shows up in episode 5, too early in the hero's journey for Youko to convincingly hit her physical and metaphysical "abyss." The plotting at that point instead turns on the invented elements.

Sugimoto makes a compelling proxy for both Suzu and the monkey. In fact, she's got an interesting enough arc to justify her own isekai series. She just doesn't belong in this one (beyond chapter 3 of Shadow of the Moon).


On the other hand, I have no idea what Asano is doing there as he hardly does anything. I imagine some marketing executive insisted on giving Youko a male classmate to broaden the demographic appeal. Unfortunately, the presence of these characters dilutes the dramatic impact of Youko's moral transformation.

And there are still three more books to go plus a couple of short stories.

In any case, the NHK series makes for a decent sort of Cliff's Notes guide. In the process, it leaves plenty of room for future (more faithful) adaptations. As with the remake of Space Battleship Yamato26 episodes for Shadow of the Moon and 26 episodes for A Thousand Leagues of Wind would be a nice start.

For historical fantasy world building on a similar scale, with a similar setting (though derived from medieval Korea rather than from China) and a similar main character arc, I recommend Yona of the Dawn. It is not an isekai series and I can't say how closely it tracks the original manga.

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May 09, 2019

TV Japan and NHK World

Much of the programming on NHK World and TV Japan is repurposed from NHK's two terrestrial channels, NHK G ("general") and NHK ETV ("educational"), and its satellite network. Along with original content created specifically for NHK World and TV Japan by the Japan International Broadcasting Company (JIB).

JIB "produces English-language programs about Japan and Asia for an international audience." It is majority-owned by NHK with outside investors such as Microsoft and Mizuho Bank. The most prominent entry in the lineup is NHK Newsline, broadcast on NHK World at the top of every hour and delivered by English-speaking anchors.

Aside from the news, NHK World's programming revolves around a six-hour block that repeats four times a day, with most episodes rerunning several times a week. The net result is only a few hours of original programming every day, in addition to the sumo coverage and documentary specials.

One of NHK World's big draws is its sumo tournament coverage, provided on a time-delayed basis during the week and live on the weekends. The same English-language commentary is available on TV Japan using the SAP option.

NHK World's sister network is TV Japan, branded "NHK World Premium" outside North America. It is a subscription Japanese-language service that draws more heavily from NHK G and the NHK satellite network. The news is directly sourced from domestic Japanese broadcasts. There are very few reruns and repeats in the schedule.

Along with NHK's flagship Taiga and Asadora dramas, TV Japan carries NHK's scripted dramas, documentaries, and edutainment shows, along with a curated selection of popular shows from Japan's commercial networks. The higher-brow stuff, mind you, but not necessarily that high brow. Shows that regularly top the ratings.

NHK takes that "general" seriously and works hard to appeal to an audience larger than, for example, PBS. In Japan, it's not unusual for NHK to win its time slot.

In North America, TV Japan tries to maintain a consistent programming grid that approximates the prime time lineup in Japan. So, for example, the Sunday Taiga drama is broadcast at 8:00 PM in Japan and 8:00 PM EST in the United States (6:00 PM MST).

News is mostly the live NHK feed, though it may be time-shifted an hour or two depending on Daylight Saving Time and other factors. That means Good Morning Japan (early edition) comes on at 3:00 PM MDT and at 5:00 PM MDT (late edition).

Other than some subtitled movies and anime, TV Japan localizes very little of its content. This allows TV Japan to carry a wide slate of domestic programming soon after being broadcast in Japan and sometimes live. If you're a Japanese beginner, you'll be more comfortable with NHK World.

NHK World is a free public service. In Northern Utah, NHK World is broadcast over-the-air on UEN 9.4. Thirty-minute NHK World segments are carried on the PBS subchannels as well. NHK World is available on Roku and other streaming devices.

TV Japan has significantly expanded its distribution network in the past year. It is available on DirecTV (satellite) and Xfinity (cable), and via local cable and IPTV providers. But it has also become less affordable as a standalone option.

TV Japan isn't available on Sling International, DirecTV Now, or Xfinity Instant TV. I can only hope that TV Japan is holding back the streaming rights because it intends to launch a live streaming service like HBO Now. The pieces are already in place.

NHK Cosmomedia has NHK World up and running as a live streaming service, with apps for Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV and Android. The only new feature TV Japan would need is a program guide. All the functionality is there. Video-on-demand services like dLibrary Japan actually require a more complex interface.

dLibrary Japan is a video-on-demand service for content that NHK Cosmomedia originally licensed for TV Japan. At $9.99/month, it's pricier than anime services like Crunchyroll, but more affordable than TV Japan.

NHK's 2018–2019 Corporate Profile (PDF in English) provides a colorfully illustrated overview of the organization.

Related sites

dLibrary Japan
jibTV
NHK World
TV Japan

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May 02, 2019

Happy Reiwa 1!

Japan's first imperial succession from a living emperor in more than two centuries made for a uniquely celebratory atmosphere. In Japan, midnight on April 30 was like New Year's Eve at Times Square. A countdown, fireworks, and great good cheer.

The new era has arrived!

I was working in Japan in January 1989. The mood was gray and somber. Emperor Hirohito had been on his death bed for months. The press macabrely reported every blood transfusion he received. A lot of blood transfusions. Happy times it was not.

The reign of Emperor Akihito commenced on 8 January 1989 and ended on 30 April 2019 in the year Heisei 31. On 1 May 2019, Crown Prince Naruhito inherited the Imperial Regalia and the Office of Emperor, marking the start of the Reiwa era.

Naruhito is Japan's fifth emperor since the 1868 Meiji Restoration moved the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo and restored de jure imperial rule. He is the 126th emperor of Japan, the oldest continuous and hereditary monarchy in the world.

Granted, beginning with Emperor Jimmu (reigned 660–585 BC), a "direct descendant" of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, the first nine emperors are "presumed legendary." Emperor Kinmei (reigned 539–571 AD) was the first with "historical verifiability."

Mutsuhito (1867) Meiji era
Yoshihito (1912) Taisho era
Hirohito (1926) Showa era
Akihito (1989) Heisei era
Naruhito (2019) Reiwa era

In Japanese, an emperor's given name is not used in public. As a result, imperial references differ depending on whether you are, for example, watching NHK in Japanese or English. In English, Emperor Naruhito is referred to as "Emperor Naruhito."

In Japanese, while alive, the emperor is "Tennou Heika (天皇陛下) or "His Imperial Majesty the Emperor." Emperor Akihito is now Joukou (上皇) or "Emperor Emeritus." Posthumously, an emperor is referred to by his era name.

As with the several months that elapse between the election an American president and the inauguration, the formal enthronement ceremony is scheduled for October. If you're the head of state of a country with formal diplomatic relations with Japan, you're invited.

Since the Meiji era, (male) Japanese politicians have worn the English morning coat on formal occasions.


In a historical first, Satsuki Katayama, a member of Prime Minister Abe's cabinet, became the first woman to attend an enthronement ceremony. She wore a kimono.

Related posts

The last year of Heisei
The name of the new era

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