Jun 9, 2014

Famous Blasians in Japan

What is a Blasian, you say? Blasian is an amalgamation of "black" and "Asian." It is usually understood to mean a person of black (African, Caribbean, Afro-Latin@, etc.) and Asian descent, usually having one black or Asian parent, but this can apply to parents who have mixed Asian or Black heritage as well. For example, someone with a Chinese grandmother can still be considered Blasian. A Blasian can also be a black person who is not of Asian descent, but has immersed themselves in an Asian culture in some way, be it by marrying an Asian person, living in an Asian country and mastering the language or fully integrating into the culture, or any black person who has some deep, profound connection to an Asian culture in anyway. The Blasian Narrative is a great blog for a primer on all things Blasian.

Other terms are used, like the more humorous "blackanese," "Blindian" to describe pairings of African descended peoples and Indians, or Afro-Asian, or more culture specific terms like "Afro-Chinese."

In Japan, with the ever increasing rate of international marriages and a growing African, Caribbean and African-American population, more and more Blasians are on the rise. In fact, quite a few can be found in the entertainment industry. In this post, I will profile some of the well known and the lesser known. I certainly cannot speak on what it is like to be a Blasian in Japan at all. This is simply an introductory post to Blasians in the entertainment industry.

First, we have the most well known:


Crystal Kay



Does she need an introduction or an explanation? I think not. But to give a primer, Crystal was actually born to a Zainichi Korean mother and an African American father. She began her career in the music industry in her teens and has found great success since. However, in more recent years her star in Japan has faded a bit and she has struggled to retain relevancy despite having one of the best voices in the industry. Random J has done some great posts analyzing her career and her downfalls. She has recently attempted to launch a music career in the US.
Crystal Kay Profile (Japanese)

Jero

Jero is a "Yonbun no ichi" or 1/4 Japanese, by way of having a Japanese grandmother. It was because of his grandmother that he grew to love the traditional music of Japan, Enka. Jero went on to pursue a successful career as an Enka singer, all the while staying true to his on urban style. He isn't too hard on the eyes, either. *ahem*
Jero official website

Thelma Aoyama



She is a successful RnB singer of Japanese and Afro-Trinidadian descent.  She has enjoyed a successful music career, once even achieving the feat of having the most digitally downloaded single as determined by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Aoyama Thelma official site


Here are some that are fairly well known in Japan, but may not be to fans overseas:
EXILE's Nesmith, Mendi, and ELLY

Mendi

Nesmith
ELLY

Surprisingly, the hugely popular Japanese supergroup EXILE has a number of Blasian members. Nesmith is the product of an African-American father and Japanese mother, while Mendi has both Japanese and Nigerian heritage, along with a very iconic, 90s inspired hairstyle. ELLY's heritage is similar to Nesmith's, with an African-American father and Japanese mother. Nesmith and ELLY were both born and raised in Japan, while Mendi was born in New Jersey and moved to Japan at an early age.
I couldn't find any official websites or blogs for any of them.




Anthony



Unless you are a hardcore viewer of Japanese variety, you most likely have not heard of him. Anthony is a comedian who appears on Japanese television quite a bit. Though his Japanese heritage is not so evident based on his appearance, he was born and raised in Japan, is fluent in Japanese and barely speaks English. He is a member of the comedian team "Matenrou."
Information about Anthony (Japanese)
The following is a video of one of Anthony's appearances on television:




Aisha



Well on her way to be the next Crystal Kay, she is best known for singing one of the theme songs for Naruto Shippuden, "Kono Koe Karashite." She is a native of Yokohama, just like Crystal Kay. She has released a mini album.
Aisha official website


Blasians not of Japanese decent:

As I said, to qualify as Blasian, one does not have to be of Asian descent. The following are Blasians who may not be Japanese, but have almost fully assimilated themselves as native Japanese and gained national recognition.

Bobby Ologun



Who would've thought that one of the most famous and recognizable comedians in Japan would be a Nigerian man? Bobby Ologun, or simply Bobby as he is affectionately known, originally came to Japan with his father to work. He began to appear randomly on Japanese television shows, playing the part of a foreigner who doesn't speak Japanese very well. He is great at acting, since his Japanese is native level fluent! If you need some inspiration and motivation for your Japanese, it's this man right here. Of course, living in the country and having a Japanese wife is bound to help, but you have to respect the man's skill at the language. He has even managed to perfect his comedy to suit the Japanese sense of humor, which certainly isn't easy for a foreigner to do. He is a household name and has even made a movie about his life. He has been a regular on several Japanese shows, including "Sekai no Hatte Made Itte Q!" (one of my personal favorites). It is difficult enough for native Japanese to become regulars on variety shows, and this man has done it. He has also appeared on tv multiple times with his adorable Blasian children. Ologun is also a naturalized Japanese citizen, so legally, he is Japanese!
Bobby Ologun official blog

Dante Carver



Dante Carver shot to fame appearing in several Japanese commercials and became a household name. He has since appeared on television multiple times and even appeared in a couple of movies. Unlike Bobby, his Japanese isn't quite fluent, but he will certainly get there.
Dante Carver official Twitter

Chris Hart



He is the man with the golden voice. Chris Hart sang his way into the hearts of many Japanese by doing renditions of classic Japanese love songs. He became so huge that he even managed to perform on the Kohaku Uta Gassen, being one of the very few non-Asian foreigners to do so. This is quite a feat, considering that Korean performers were banned the same year. He recently released a hit album and has had the honor to grace the stage with industry legends such as SMAP. Can you say jealous? If only I could sing...LOL
Chris Hart Official website


Prisca Molotsi



I am including her because this list is so void of black women! It seems that it's mostly men doing big things in Japan for the Blasians. Puriska is not quite a household name, but she has done lots of variety appearances and is a regular on the popular show, "Nebu and Imoto's Sekai Bandzuke." She is a native of South Africa and is also a singer. She has quite an eccentric personality, and an even more interesting accent. She is married to a Japanese man and has one son.
Prisca Molotsi website

Bonus Clip: Prisca singing to Sakurai Sho (lucky!!!):




As you can see, black people are certainly making a mark in the Japanese entertainment. With the plethora of European/White descended "hafu talento," it certainly is refreshing to see some brown people on Japanese tv and in the public eye in general. If I missed out on any, let me know in the comments! I would certainly love to know more about Blasians in Japan.


May 7, 2014

Why I have Fallen Out of Love with the Heisig Method

Anyone who is learning Japanese knows how difficult it can be to tackle the behemoth monster that is kanji. There are so many different methods for learning kanji, but there really is no "right" method. In essence, there is no "right" method for learning anything. Everyone has their own unique style of learning. Therefore, not all tried and true methods will be suitable for every person. The same concept applies to kanji. The old fashioned method of writing them down over and over again is constantly berated as inefficient by seasoned language learners, but for many people (entire countries for instance) learn kanji. In the Japanese learning circle, Remembering the Kanji by James W. Heisig is basically seen as the bible of kanji learning. You have no doubt heard of the book or have been recommended the book. I have had a long and arduous relationship with this book, and here I will detail it to you.




When I first heard of Remembering the Kanji, I thought it was the dumbest thing ever. Why learn kanji and not even learn how to read them? What's the point? I tried working through the first few pages and basically gave up. A year or so later, I was burned out on learning kanji, having already learned quite a few from The Basic Kanji book and mobile apps. I wanted a way to learn kanji, and to learn it fast. So, I turned back to ye olde Heisig method. I made an account on kanji.koohii.com and started grinding. At my peak I was learning 100 new kanji a day, give or take a couple of days where I slipped. Finally, I finished the book. Honestly, making my way through this book was not fun at all. It was quite tortuous. Everyday was 100 new kanji, 100 new stories, and 200 or so reviews.

The stories form Remembering the Kanji themselves were grueling. On top of the kanji keyword, I had to think of a story and remember that story. The story, of course, had to somehow correlate with the keywords assigned to the kanji components and the keyword to kanji itself. The keywords given in the book do not entirely represent the meaning of the kanji or the components at all. They are for the most part placeholders assigned by Heisig that represent the pictorial figure of the kanji. For example,乙  for some bizarre reason becomes "fish guts" despite the fact that the actual meaning of the kanji is "duplicate; strange; the latter; witty." This meaning is assigned because it supposedly looks like a hook used to catch fish. Many critics of the book agree that the keyword choice in the book is exceptionally poor. The book also encourages the readers to appoint their own personal keyword to many of the components. So the component for"person" becomes something like "Mr. T," or your next door neighbor Raul or whatever. All kanji will thus have stories relating to Mr. T. Yeah. 

Given the fact that many of the components have absolutely nothing to with each other, you really have to be creative to think of your own story. For me, it was time consuming enough to do the reviews and learn the new components, so I just used kanji.koohii.com for user-written stories. I can only imagine that most of these users were men, because a lot these stories were downright disgusting. Many of them contained sexual innuendo of some sort for the most arbitrary kanji. Sometimes I wondered if the users were just trolling, because some stories just made no sense. I had to report so many inappropriate stories it was ridiculous. For example, let's take a look at some of the stories for the kanji "penetrate" (徹):

Ha! In this frame, a bunch of taskmasters are lined up to penetrate the kids they raise/bring up! I'm thinking of some priests and choir boys.

The Flash and the taskmaster penetrate the kids they bring up (from both sides).

Penetrate her with your column after you remove the finger.

The stories for the kanji "grope" follow this same pattern.

Yeah. On top of that, some of the stories were more like novels. There were unnecessarily long winded for just one kanji. Sometimes I didn't even bother with the story because the ones available were so asinine or too long and I just couldn't think of one that I knew would stick. Also, most of the stories are just not good for visualizing the kanji at all. I would seriously sit there and try to visualize the kanji using the story, and most of the time it just didn't work. With some kanji it is easy, but those kanji are few and fare between. 

Nonetheless, I finished the book. Did I learn lots of kanji? Yes. But honestly, I also learned kanji just fine using The Basic Kanji Book and just writing them over and over again. One thing I do like about the book is how it introduces the compounds and uses them as building blocks for kanji.  What I did not like were the silly keywords like "Spiderman" and the random stories that go along with them. In the end, you're not even supposed to remember the stories, but the stories are supposed to help you recall the kanji. Instead of using visual memory to recall the kanji, you use your active memory to recall them. 

The Remembering the Kanji method is supposed to be much less grueling that using rote memory and writing them repeatedly. But is it? If you decide not to use Kanji Koohii, making connections with the keywords, components and kanji to think of a story can be pretty tiresome. The book stops providing stories about halfway through and just provides the kanji, whatever new components and the keyword. 

I started hating the Remembering the Kanji method and ended up not really liking it much more. There are people who swear by the Heisg method and have learned the entire lexicon of kanji using it. There are others who learned the old fashioned way. Others used some other method to learn. I think what made me stick to the method was the prestige it had and the fact that so many well seasoned learners of the language used it and stuck by it. In the end, it really isn't for me.  No matter what you do, learning kanji really isn't fun at all and there is just going to be some rote memorization and repetition. What matters really is finding a method that works for you and sticking to it. If it's Heisig, great. If it's something else, also great. Will I recommend Remembering the Kanji to aspiring Japanese learners? Yes, because it may be what works for them, even though I now somewhat despise it. 

The only way to know if something works is to try it yourself. I would say to not be swayed by debates on forums and what the current big language guru says. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, everyone has their own unique way of learning. You just have to find it. 

May 6, 2014

Read Free Raw Manga in Japanese from Your Phone!

For the cash-strapped Japanese language enthusiast, finding free, legal resources for raw manga in Japanese can be quite the challenge. Luckily, there is an app just for you! I came across the app while playing ひまつぶクエスト.  Usually I ignore ads that appear at the bottom of the screen while playing games, but since this once said "free manga", I had to check it out. And luckily I did!

On the app コミコ or Comico, you can gain access to a plethora of raw manga, all for free! Now, these aren't manga by big name artists, but as an occasional reader of indie comics, these are quite entertaining. I have only checked out a few of the comics so far, but the manga offered have some great artwork. And it's free, so you really can't complain. Commenting is also enabled, so why not use the opportunity to try out your Japanese? You can download Comico from the iTunes app store, the Google Play store, or just check out the website. And if you are looking for more sources of raw manga in Japanese, then you can check out my other blog post which lists a variety of sites, here.