For the better part of 250 years, i.e. the Edo Period of Japanese history, there was so little contact between most Japanese and the outside world that a lot of things that have both eastern and western equivalents, such as clothing and food items, developed in very different directions. When the country finally opened up to outside trade, this caused quite a few headaches for merchants around Japan.
The thing is, a lot of new items came to Japan -- items which technically had names in Japanese, but were so different from what the Japanese knew that confusion ensued. This lead to a lot of retroactive name-changing in the 19th century, for both Japanese and foreign goods. The most common way to do this was just to tack a simple prefix to the original word. The current term for this sort of thing is retronym.
The first word in today's title, wagashi, is an example. Originally, kashi was just candy. Any sort of sweet in Japan would be listed as kashi. Then western desserts hit the markets, and they were completely different from their Japanese counterparts. For one thing, Japanese sweets use pounded rice paste and sweetened beans in many combinations, while western sweets of the same time period were almost pure sugar. To Japanese, the excess of sugar was a surprise and a bit of a turn-off. The merchants quickly learned that it paid to distinguish between the foreign and domestic candies. So, Japanese candy got the symbol wa (or "harmonious") added to the front, while western candy got you (the symbol for "ocean") added.
Since then, lots of different items in Japan have had either or both of those prefixes used: wagutsu (Japanese-style inside shoes), youfuku (western-style clothes), washoku (traditional Japanese meals), youbun (Western word used in Japanese), youhatsu (western-style hairdressing), etc.
If a word uses one of these prefixes, it doesn't necessarily follow that it also uses the opposite prefix as well. The second word in the title is an example of this. Younashi is the word for European pear, while a Japanese pear is just called nashi. They're just pears, I can hear you think. How different could they be? Very. A Japanese pear is round, like an apple. It doesn't soften nearly as much as it ripens, and almost always has to be cut into smaller pieces before eating. Not to mention that it's crispy. And then there's the skin. European pears may have a smooth, almost waxy texture to them, but Japanese pears have skin that's more akin to sandpaper than anything else.
And that's our random Japanese lesson for the week. On with the column!
Some people are just born to be heroes. Courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent -- you know, the kind of person who helps others just because he's a nice guy and it's the right thing to do. This is not a game about that kind of hero. The PSP's upcoming Narisokonai Eiyuu-tan, possibly translatable as "Heroic Failures", holds very true to its title, with a womanizer, a narcissist, and a habitual slacker (among others) taking center stage. It's up to the player to lead this motley bunch of not-quite heroes on the usual sort of epic quest, but it won't be easy. Each character has to be brought to trust the leader enough to follow orders. Lack of trust means absolute disaster in battle, with the characters each doing their own thing, often badly.
You can often tell how serious an RPG is trying to be story-wise by what the designers choose to name the characters. In these scans, we meet: Bred, Roll, Croque, and Panini. I'm not counting on this one being a serious, intellectual story, but now I'm getting an urge to go by my local deli.
In other news, Record of the Agarest War, the Compile Heart / Red Company / Idea Factory TRPG released originally on the PS3 (later on XBox 360), has spawned a sequel. At the moment, Record of the Agarest War Zero has only been announced for the PS3.
While I cannot say anything on the story (it doesn't say much in the article, and I know nothing of the first game's plot), it does mention that the socializing and generational aspects of the original game continue in the sequel. The Hero has to actively pursue social contact with a variety of heroines (Social Links!) in order to determine who the next generation of main character will be. Most of the contact seems to be in the "Free Intention" sections of the game, where you can just wander around town and talk to people.
And of course, since this game has strong dating sim elements, there will be all sorts of gratuitous cut shots involving girls eating bananas.
There's a very specific art style in Japan called ukiyoe that originated as woodprints. Aside from more realistic subject matter, there were a lot of prints done of more fantastical animals and folkloric monsters.
Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke, whose wonderfully philosophical title does not translate well into English ("Conquering the Road to Belief in One's Own Virtues"), is an isometric action/puzzle that makes extensive use of ukiyoe styles. It is somehow based on a Flash game, Cursor*10, that is mentioned several times in one of the designer interviews on Famitsu's homepage. I would imagine this means that each stage is a frantic dash to get to the goal before time runs out, surpassing various puzzles and monsters along the way, and that the player will probably run out of ninja pretty quickly.
The game screens show a large variety of Japanese monsters, all of which come from ukiyoe prints that I have personally seen. It almost seems a shame that this is a straight-up action title instead of an RPG, though it does have the "RPG-ish elements" thing going on with the ability to level up attack, defense, and typical ninja skills like shadow-double and transformation.
The important thing to note, however, is that ninja continue to rock.
So, we have a new Shining Force game on the horizon. Anyone excited? Yes? What if I were to tell you it's only for arcade console release? Disappointed, Yes? At least it gives us something to chew over at Japandemonium, but I think everyone can agree that it's an odd decision for a game company to make.
Time to tantalize!
So here's the deal. A long, long time ago, there was an ancient civilization called Istoria, which made its home on the floating gardens of Eden. The people of Istoria have long since vanished, but the floating island remains full of unexplored, monster-infested ruins. Somewhere in all the rubble lies the secret to the Istorians' great success -- the almost mythical Shining Force, aka the Grand MacGuffin of the series. The player takes the role of a typical treasure hunter, trying to glean something of value from the relics of the past. On the story side, there's a winged little Sleeping Beauty named Lilith who lends her magical powers to support you.
The game will use the pre-existing Amusement Linkage Live Network (ALL.net) system, set up in 2004 by the main arcade game publishers (Namco, Sega, etc.). The system has long been used to allow national high score rankings or long-distance bouts between fighting game enthusiasts, as well as a score of other gaming network features. The game operates similar to how the fighting games work -- the player has an identifying card that stores pertinent information and allows the arcade console to find that player's data on the national servers, which is how a game with plot progression could be possible in this format. The game allows for four-player cooperative play, similar to raids in MMORPGs.
It won't be in the game centers until the end of this year, so we'll just have to keep our eyes open for more information in the meantime.
Older Video Game Soundtracks
Heya, this is a response to one of the letters you got this week. One of your readers wanted to know what a good place for finding old video game soundtracks. I'd recommend Tower Records in Shibuya. They seemed to have practically every OST ever printed. If I recall correctly, their anime and game soundtracks are on the 6th floor.
You hear that, JuMeSyn? Add that to the itinerary, if and when you finally come and visit!
Golden Week begins next weekend, and there's a separate holiday in the middle of the week as well, so if you all don't see me here on Friday, then life just got in the way of everything. There should still be a column, though. I'm just hedging my bets.
In other news, just started re-reading one of my Kodansha light novels for the fourth or fifth time. I love the art on these, and they look interesting enough, but they've evolved into a sort of litmus test for me to see how much my command of written Japanese has improved over the course of a year. I've already gotten a lot farther into the book than I had the previous time, so maybe I'll actually finish it this time around!
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,