As most of you probably know, I teach at a local English-language kindergarten here in Kumamoto. More specifically, I do the afterschool English lessons for the little kids (chibikko) who are waiting to enter the kindergarten, or for older kids (who often have little siblings in the kindergarten). For the past two years, I've been sharing space with one of the kindergarten teachers -- this year with the recently married Mr. S. That changed recently, though. At the start of the school year, the student numbers shrank a bit (large graduating class), and one of the classrooms opened up. Eventually someone thought to suggest, "Why don't we give it to Michael?"
So, starting last week, I've got my very own classroom to look after. Which means I also have to take charge of cleaning it regularly, a situation that's taking some getting used to. It also means I spent a lot of time during the school's off-week making display materials to put on the walls. Anything in those pictures that looks handmade probably was.
As a reader mentioned in Culture Corner about two updates back, Square Enix has a special DSi bundle coming up for their SaGa 20th Anniversary spectacular. The new design bears the series' trademark logo, as well as a seal bearing the names and years of every entry in the series. It comes off pretty well, I think.
A few columns back, we had a look at Narisokonai Eiyuu-tan, aka "Heroic Failures." Last week, a play report was posted on the Dengeki website. Here's a recap: The world needs heroes. Unfortunately, what the player has to work with are a bunch of misfits plagued with neuroses and character flaws. The two choices of main character are apparently psychic, as the thoughts of their comrades (and sometimes enemies) float across the screen in battle, giving insight in how to handle them, and hopefully get them to shape up into something resembling real heroes.
Character interaction thus is a big factor in this title. Several of the conversations shown have multiple choice replies on the part of the main character, and it's implied that some responses may elicit very different reactions from people.
As has been mentioned before, this doesn't appear to be a very serious game. The two choices for main character are called Danish and Cornet (a popular type of donut in Japan). Other known characters include Pudding, Pita, Bread, Roll, Croque, Panini, and Muffin. If this game were ever to come to America, my bet for publisher would be NISA. It just seems to be their style. Also, I really wish I'd thought to put this one on my Halftime Report in place of Trinity Universe.
While the DS has become well known as a home for game ports, this next item is a bit special. It's not often that a mobile phone game gets a complete adaptation to the Nintendo handheld. Not a download, not a minor release, but a full port of the game to DS cartridge format. It's due out in December.
The game in question is Yggdra Unison ~ Holy Sword Adventure, a strategy game spinoff of Sting's Yggdra Union for GBA and PSP. Having never played the original game, I can't comment on how strongly this title connects into it, but Yggdra herself seems to take a starring role. Other characters, representing other sides (allies or enemies) in the conflict, include Milano the Silver Wolf, Emperor Garkasa, Undine Queen Emerone, and the traders Rosalie and Roswell. I'm assuming all these characters are carryovers from the first game as well.
From what can be seen of the game itself, it looks to maintain the original's variation on the Fire Emblem style of strategic gaming. The big gimmick for the game is "unison attacks" -- multi-unit combined attacks directed with the stylus. There may be other, deeper alterations made to the gameplay format, but if so they're not apparent from these scans and screens.
Be sure to check out their home page for more.
In other Sting news, they've got a new title on the horizon for the PSP. Hexyz Force is a game based on extremes and strong contrasts, which can easily be seen just by looking at the map. The world of Berge is a realm split in twain, one half always under the sun, the other half sitting in eternal night. Between the two sides lies the Rift, a barrier both mystical and topological, wherein dwell the most dangerous monsters the world has ever known.
So which side are we on? That's up to the player to decide, as there are main characters for both night and day in Berge. Cecilia Armacright is a priestess on the side of Day, while Levant von Schweitzer is a general among the armies of Night. Whichever side is chosen, the player must recruit and deploy warriors known as Hexyz who each possess a bit of divine power. The actual details of the story aren't talked about much in the Famitsu article, except that a balance between "preservation" and "destruction" is a major theme, and that decisions made in the final chapters of the game will have a major effect in how the ending plays out.
Last up this week is the newest from Nippon Ichi, Antifona no Seikahime - Tenshi no Score op. A, or as it's translated on our game page, Princess Antiphona's Hymn, Angel's Score op. A. I've got some problems with this translation, though, as a read through the game's background info makes it clear that Antiphona is a place, not a person. The title best translates as "Holy-Song Princess of Antiphona," but my prefered translation would be The Diva of Antiphona. Now that I think of it, I think the title we have is most likely the result of someone putting the original Japanese through an internet translator. Seriously, folks. Don't trust those things if you want anything understandable or credible.
What else is to be learned from Dengeki? First, while this game is not actually a sequel to the Marl Kingdom (aka Rhapsody) series, it might as well be. It has largely the same development staff working on it, and features the same sorts of musical numbers for which Nippon Ichi's original series was known. The story is set in a small village in the realm of Antiphona.
Our heroine du jour is Miabel, the music-obsessed youngest daughter of her family. On the eve of the great music rite, an event that occurs once every three centuries, the demon king Auros attacks, wrecking the music hall and kidnapping Miabel's older sister Lily. The demon goes on to destroy more music halls across Antiphona, and with them the power of music that the kingdom needs to defend itself. Joining forces with her friend Clara, Lily's classmate Ignatz, and the animated doll Clef, Miabel's out on a mission of rescue, filled with dungeons, danger, and showtunes.
Watch Out for the Editing!
I've accumulated a few more items that you can simultaneously enlighten me about and fill up space with, so let's go!
What is the difference between calling someone 'baka (yaro),' 'aho,' or 'orokana?' Am I leaving any means of disparaging someone's intellect out?
Well, bakayaro and aho translate better as "asshole" than anything else. Orokona is an adjective that literally means "foolish." But no, that's about it. When you get down to it, Japanese doesn't have a lot of variety in terms of cursewords.
Now, I expect Kumamoto's earthquake danger is a little lower than Tokyo's. But something tells me nowhere in Japan is free of the earthquake zone. What's the likelihood that you'll be experiencing a lot of ups and downs anytime soon?
You must have overlooked the frickin' huge volcanic caldera due east of me, or the over-active geothermal zone to the north and east of that, or the enthusiastically active volcanic (former) island to my south. If anything, central Kyushu is at higher risk for earthquakes than the Tokyo area. For all that, however, I've only experienced four earthquakes in my time here -- one magnitude 7, two magnitude 6's, and a magnitude 4 -- all in the same year. The magnitude 7 earthquake was off-shore, so I got shook-up in Hakata, but otherwise no problems. The sight of every window in every office building up and down the street oscillating was really neat, though. The two 6's happened early in the morning, within half an hour of each other, and nearly synced with my alarm clock and snooze button. The magnitude 4 happened while I was on the toilet in Miyazaki. Otherwise, not much to comment on that one.
None may know when the next quake happens, but I don't worry too much about it.
Compared to Social Security in the US or the pension plans of western Europe, how does the Japanese government deal with citizens who decide to stop working because of age? Are there any plans to increase whatever age government benefits begin thanks to the rapidly aging population?
Speaking of that, what's your observation of the age distribution in Japan? Would you say there are just as many old people compared to children, if not more?
Japan's pension plan requires a worker to put in money for 40 years, but a lot of salarymen keep going after that point simply because they don't know what to do with themselves otherwise. I think my girlfriend's dad retired three times before it finally stuck. Still, the government is encouraging older but still capable citizens to keep working in minor support jobs.
As I mentioned in a column a few months back, Kumamoto's apparent age distribution doesn't really match what you hear about the big cities. There are kids all over the place around here, and rarely just one to a family.
Is it true that women are not encouraged to work much in Japan? And if they did work more, would that require the same commitment to extra-long hours that men usually have to engage in?
In a few words, yes and yes. In the words of the one female candidate for prime minister last year, the glass ceiling in Japan is more of a steel curtain. Most companies still assume that women employees are going to leave and have children at some point, and so they're rarely put on the fast track for promotions. Lately, I've seen several talk shows feature women who went back into the workforce later in life and succeeded, as part of the growing arafo ("around forty," i.e. empowerment of middle-aged women) movement, however.
As a standard for comparison to all of us who learned English in school, how long does it take Japanese kids to become fluent in reading and writing their language?
That should do it for now.
Hm.. just in terms of grammar and composition, the average Japanese student should have it all down by the end of elementary school, junior high at the latest. If you're talking about the kanji, well, under the Japanese school system a student should know all the required symbols for everyday life by the end of high school. Even then, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of kanji that people never bother to learn because they're no longer considered useful. So of course, I've somehow learned several dozen of the useless ones over the course of my stay here. I blame video games.
That's not counting the non-essential Japanese language study, though. All students are required to study classical Japanese in high school in order to read major literary texts. These texts range from Edo-period works (equivalent to Jacobean English, complete with outmoded tense formations and noun cases), to the famed Genji Monogatari (equivalent to reading Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English). In other words, Japanese students have their work cut out for them.
As always, a pleasure.
I was wondering if you know of universities in Japan where summer internships are offered to foreign undergraduate students. I am an electrical engineering student and would love to spend a summer in Japan doing research. If you could give a few pointers of where to look or websites that would be great. Do you see many foreign students at undergraduate level?
I know that summer internship programs exist in this country, and a lot of them seem to be tied to specific schools in the US and Japan. I don't know which school you attend, but it wouldn't hurt to ask around and see if you might already have access to something. Looking through the internet, I find this one and this page has a few programs listed that might suit your interests. Also be sure to check out Asia Pacific University. Best of luck!
Another question. In your personal opinion, based only on RPG games, which system should I buy: XBOX 360 or PS3? There's Lost Oddyssey, Blue Dragon, Tales of Vesperia, Star Ocean 4 and FFXIII on 360 vs.. Valkyria Chronicles as the PS3 only, and FFXIII. Any other notable games on any side? Take into account the future of the console concerning RPGs.
PS: Like the column a lot. Keep up the good work!
Oh, I'm sure this is going to earn me some flack, but I'd go with PS3 myself. Then again, I'm in Japan, and most of the interesting games I've seen are going to that console. A lot of the good 360 games are US-made, and so I don't even start hearing about them until they're out in the States, most likely. Titles that spring to mind include Resonance of Fate, Last Rebellion, White Knight Chronicles, Demon's Souls, and of course Atelier Rorona, all of which I believe are PS3-exclusive. For that matter, Final Fantasy XIII is staying PS3-exclusive in Japan from what I've heard, and a lot of major 360 titles are going multi-platform as well.
It's great to hear from you, and good luck program-hunting!
Sorry for all the delays, folks! Trust me, it has been far more frustrating for me, constantly banging against roadblocks, than for you all a-waiting the next Japandemonium column. Hopefully, I'll have another one out some time in the middle of next week.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,