I'm always looking for ways to improve my Japanese vocabulary and listening skills, and one of the great ways to do this is by watching Japanese dramas and movies!
I love anything with a good story and a bit of romance - a good rom com - and I thought I'd let you know about the interesting Japanese movies and tv dramas I've enjoyed recently! I'll list them in order of how much I enjoyed them, and I'll add the links to the English subtitled versions so that you can enjoy them too!
1. Love Lasts Forever: (恋はつづくよどこまでも, Koi wa Tsuzuku yo Doko Made mo)
Sakura is smitten by Doctor Tendo when he helps her at the scene of an accident!
This is a wonderful Japanese series that features an endearing protagonist - Nanase Sakura - as she pursues her dream of meeting up with her first love, Doctor Tendo Kairi, by training to be a nurse.
Sakura trains for five years, but when she finally meets her Sensei again on her first day of working at his Tokyo hospital, she discovers that he is known by the nursing staff as 'the Devil'!
Sakura attempts to win over scathing Tendo Sensei!
Tendo Sensei is brutal in his withering put-downs, and Sakura adopts a persistence and resilience in order to recover from her mistakes and hardships. Her caring friends at the Nursing Station nickname her 'Warrior Chick'!
Cardiologist Tendo is a tough nut to crack, owing to his previously broken heart.
This light-hearted rom-com follows the ups and downs of Sakura's relationship with him.
It's based on the storyline of a manga, and the camera work appears to mimic the style of manga artwork at times :)
Mone Kamishiraishi plays Nurse Sakura - you may remember her voice as she plays Mitsuha in the stellar animation Your Name, and it was nice to see Satoh Takeru again who played Ritsu in Hanbun Aoi.
So if you'd like to watch something warm-hearted and fun, with two wonderful actors playing the lead roles then I would definitely recommend that you settle down to watch the 10 episodes of Koi wa Tsuzuke yo Doko Made mo!
NHK asadora are popular morning dramas that run for six months at a time in an almost daily morning slot. Each episode is about fifteen minutes long, and it is easy to binge-watch a few episodes online at a time!
The title of this show, 'Dandan' (ダンダン) means 'thank you' in the Shimane dialect. The story begins in the town of Matsue in Shimane prefecture, and with the family of a college-age girl called Megumi.
Megumi is the daughter of a clam fisherman. She is an aspiring musician, and plays in a small band called Shijimijiru with her dear friends Kato and Shun.
Prominent in Matsue is the ancient grand shrine of Izumo Taisha, which is believed to be the oldest shrine in Japan. This shrine is where the gods return every autumn to discuss the following year's family and love relationships. This underpins the story, as it is centred on family, friendship, and love relationships, and the many difficulties that need to be overcome.
The Izumo Taisha shrine is where Megumi discovers that she has an almost identical twin sister called Nozomi. Nozomi has grown up in the sheltered environs of a Gion geisha house called Hanamura, with her mother who is a trained geisha. Nozomi is following in her mother's footsteps, and we meet her as a beautiful and elegant maiko. Her mother has a given geiko name of 'Hanayuki' (Snowflower), and Nozomi's given name is 'Yumehana' (Dreamflower).
The story follows the twin girls as they follow very different lives and it is largely based in Matsue and Kyoto. The Kyoto scenes are very interesting, as we see many of the daily details of a geisha house.
Inside the Geisha House
The geisha apply their white face makeup, while the dresser fixes the complicated maiko obi sashes. The maiko and geiko of Hanamura perform at the magnificent Miyako Odori which is held in Gion every April to coincide with the spring cherry blossom.
Maiko and Geisha Dances
Practising the kurokami dance
In 1871 the first expo in Japan was in Kyoto. The following year as part of the entertainment it was decided to have the Gion geisha perform to the public for the first time. The Gion geisha dancing is called kyomai. During Miyako Odori the dresser dresses up to thirty maiko and geiko, and works from morning till night. He helps them dress again after their performances as they leave to go to their parties. At the parties, maiko and geisha perform traditional dances and pour sake for their guests.
Yumehana performs the kurokami
The maiko dance training is very strict. Yumehana undertakes the training for the difficult erikae that is a maiko’s graduation ceremony to become a geiko.
Yumehana emerges as a geisha at her erikae
On kotohajime (December 13th) in Gion, Yumehana begins to prepare by asking the dance master to help her with her forthcoming erikae. Here she will perform the kurokami dance. It is a sad dance about a woman who falls in love with a man and is soon consumed by jealousy. It portrays the sadness of the woman who sleeps alone, and is a tragic tale of love and death. It has a certain symbolism because a geiko cannot have a partner.
I believe that the dance that I was lucky enough to see performed by a maiko in Kyoto was Gion Kouta, which is about celebrating the changing seasons in Kyoto and a maiko's beauty. (This maiko was astonishingly luminous and dazzling in the soft evening light!) We're playing a popular party game in the photo below!
It is very interesting to watch the special geisha and maiko dances being learned in this drama. Kimi ni ogi is one of the dances we see: it's a dance with two folding fans. There is a wonderful resource called Geisha-kai for watching short videos of many of the geisha and maiko dances of Kyoto: you can find it here!
The Maiko Debut
At the Hanamura geisha house we learn about the character Mika’s misedashi, which is her debut as a maiko, when she adopts the given name Hanaka. Her hair is done early in the morning at the salon. Her white face makeup is put on by her big sister geisha Hanatsuru. Three legs (prongs) are left on the nape of her neck which are not painted white.
After she’s dressed she’s accompanied by her male dresser on a tour around the Gion district to pay her respects to everyone. It’s like a ceremony where the whole town welcomes a new member of the family.
Gion Festivals, Traditions, and Superstitions
In the drama Dandan we learn about ancient Kyoto festivals such as the Gion Matsuri, and superstitions. Hanayuki catches the reflection of the Daimonji hilltop fire in a mirror compact, to trap a prayer there.
On December 31st the maiko and geisha do the rounds of the teahouses where they are invited throughout the year to say, 'Okotosan desu'. Okotosan means ‘it’s a busy time of year, isn’t it’, and in appreciation, the teahouses have a custom of giving them in return a fukudama (small gifts are wrapped inside a rather large pink white and gold ball). Fukudama are filled with small things that bring good fortune like the seven lucky gods; the Eto (zodiac animal figures of the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar); a small hand mirror (sugata kagami), or a small gold mallet which symbolises good fortune with money. It’s the custom to break the fukudama open after the temple bell rings in the New Year and before eating new year soba noodles.
A kimono is the maiko's working clothes for when she’s dancing and serving sake at parties. The designs for Yumehana and Hanayuki’s kimono are very different – they are chosen according to what looks good on them. The patterns of maiko kimono are chosen to shine when they dance, and for the relaxation of guests to look at when the maiko are sitting next to them. Kimono are changed according to the season. The maiko hair ornaments - kanzashi - change according to the flower season too.
The geisha house (okiya) mother chooses the kimono for the maiko and geisha under her care. They wear what she puts out for them and gradually they learn what looks best on them. The madam’s work is to preserve the traditions of the geisha house. She’s a mother who teaches many precious things to her ‘daughters’.
We learn about the difficulties of being a traditional Kyoto kimono maker. Much of the story of Dandan concerns the discontinuation of the precious, traditional ways of life in Kyoto, if young people choose a modern way of life instead. There is a great deal that could be lost.
The kimono maker and his furoshiki!
Dandan is a wonderful, immersive drama that balances the precious, routine ways of a warm-hearted family with the traditions and sacrifice of a life immersed in old Kyoto. Try it - I think you'll like it!
3. My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday: (ぼくは明日、昨日のきみとデートする, Boku wa Asu, Kinō no Kimi to Dēto Suru)
My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday
In this movie our hero Takatoshi, an arts undergraduate in Kyoto, falls in love at first sight with Emi while boarding a train for college. After an awkward first meeting, they promise to meet again in the following days. With the help of his friend, Takatoshi asks for a date with Emi, at the end of which he confesses his love for her.
Takatoshi notices that Emi is able to predict things that happen to him. She also cries disconsolately when he does something kind for her, and she always leaves before midnight. One night, Takatoshi discovers Emi's journal that she has purposefully left for him to read. In it are notes detailing their two different time definitions - much to Takatoshi's confusion Emi seems to travel through time backwards. She exists in a parallel universe, which means that as his time moves forward, her future is travelling in the opposite direction. As he becomes five years older, she becomes five years younger - and the reverse is true for Emi.
The story carries with it an echo of the legend of the star-crossed lovers of Tanabata. Takatoshi and Emi can only meet for one month at a time every five years. The only time in their lives that they can meet as adults is when they are both 20. There is such sadness in this: they both have a distant memory of being saved from a catastrophe as a child by the other as a 35-year old, and it is played out beautifully by the two central actors, Fukushi Sota and Komatsu Nana.
We hope you enjoy watching these three Japanese romantic dramas too! We always enjoy receiving your recommendations, so do let us know of the dramas you think we'd enjoy too!
If you've enjoyed reading this, do check out our other blogs such as this one on Kyoto in Spring and the Cherry Blossom Dances!
Thank you for reading, and see you again soon!
Cathy and Yukki
NHK Dandan screenshots