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Friday, Nov. 10, 2000


Ogre mothers-in-law and other interesting people

They say that the Japanese publishing industry is in a bad way, and soon print media will disappear forever. My guess is there's nothing to worry about. Not as long as the josei shukanshi (women's weekly magazines) are around to brighten our spirits and enlighten our minds.

The josei shukanshi are the heartiest of print institutions -- the bitchy, Other Woman of Japanese journalism. Though women wrinkle their noses in contempt, they have always loved these mags like a sister or a staunch and loyal girlfriend.

On a bad day, nothing is more uplifting or rejuvenating. They give you the courage to say yes to life, be it the saddest of times. See, already I'm starting to talk like one of the many hundreds of midashi (headlines) shower down from ads on commuters each day in any train car.

While shukanshi ads are about the ugliest, busiest, most chaotic things ever to go through a printing press, there's no denying that they hold a certain power.

What other magazines promise articles that run to the tune of: "Shizuka, gekiyase (Shizuka becomes super-slim)," "Aa, miira ni natta wagako (Oh, my child was mummified)," and wedge underneath these sentences a picture of baked beans with the caption: "Kantan biiru no otomo (Easy-to-cook beer accompaniment dishes)."

All around these headlines are other headlines in vomit pink and bile green, shouting out all the traditional shukanshi neta (topics): rikon (divorce) among the rich and famous, kekkon (marriage) among the rich and famous, shussan (childbirth) in the Imperial Family and all kinds of patent daietto (diets).

Read them and you will know all the little things that make this country go round, like how sumo wrestler Takanohana's mom ditched her husband (stable master Fujishima) to run off with a younger guy but returned to the house after "sanjikan no misshitsu settoku (three hours of persuasion in a locked room)."

We have the shukanshi writers to thank for creative sentences like that, not to mention made-up terms like gekibutori (extreme fattening), chokageki-ai (super-duper passionate love), gekikara-ai (passionately spicy love) and a whole lot more. Never let it be said that the Japanese are bland. As far as the shukanshi are concerned, we're sizzling.

My personal headline favorites are the shutome-neta (mother-in-law topics), always a big hit in this country. Words like onishuto (ogre mother-in-law), hakko-yome (unhappy brides), nisetai-gekito (twin family battles in a single house) reveal that for all the modernization, some things just refuse to change. According to the shukanshi, the only good mother-in-law is the kind that has been cremated and buried deep in a cemetery.

The ones that are alive and kicking spend their days thinking of strange ways to torment the hated bride and these range from: "Aa, mimizu ippai o yome ni! (Oh, she made the bride eat a bowl of worms!)" and "Mugon denwa sankagetsu (Three months of silent phone calls to the bride)" to "Watashi wa hyakkai ibirikorosareta (I was bullied to death 100 times)."

One bizarre headline claimed: "Onishuto ni hadaka ni sare, sakasa zuri! (The ogre mother-in-law stripped the bride naked and hung her upside down)." Really, who needs Stephen King with such reading material hanging before our eyes? And let's not forget that right underneath that headline is a photo of baked beans with the caption: "Easy-to-cook snacks and munchies!"

But at least the mags never pretend to be anything more than what they are, which is lowdown, junkie fun -- the print equivalent of Bazooka Bubblegum.

The true thugs of the print world are the supotsu shimbun (sports newspapers) which aspire to real journalism and then turn around to spit on their own claim. While sports is the major topic, they will turn to any old story at the slightest excuse and carry the most outrageous headlines.

Unlike the shukanshi, sports papers have no ads and are displayed in a sly, strategic way in station kiosks. At a glance, all you can read is "Biito Takeshi shi (Beat Takeshi dead)."

Oh my god, really? And you buy the paper and realize that it's actually "Biito Takeshi shinuhodo waratta (Beat Takeshi laughed until he thought he was gonna die)."

Elsewhere in the world, people go to prison for lesser offenses.

Life would be awfully dull without either the shukanshi or the supotsu shimbun, but if I had to choose, I'd opt for the women's mags.

First off, I'll never learn the recipe for baked beans otherwise. Second, I happen to know a true story about a bride and hope to sell it to them one of these days.

You see, this bride had to spread herself with mayonnaise, eat a bowl of worms, then jump nak . . .

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