Tofugu » History http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Fri, 22 May 2015 14:21:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 The Taming of the Shroom: The Umamitastic World of Japanese Mushrooms http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/22/guide-japanese-mushrooms/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/22/guide-japanese-mushrooms/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49813 Mushrooms are an essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine, and there are so many varieties to choose from.  Hopefully this guide will make things a bit easier on you.  It will tell you what a mushroom is, their types and uses, as well as what makes them so darn delicious.  I couldn’t cover every mushroom that […]

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Mushrooms are an essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine, and there are so many varieties to choose from.  Hopefully this guide will make things a bit easier on you.  It will tell you what a mushroom is, their types and uses, as well as what makes them so darn delicious.  I couldn’t cover every mushroom that grows in Japan, but I tried to cover the types you can usually find for sale.  But before we start:

Warning: Do not go foraging for mushrooms unless you know what you’re doing.  That means you have lots of experience learning first-hand from another expert.  There are lots of tasty mushrooms out there, but there are also many that could give you a stomach ache or worse.  The vast majority of us should content ourselves with what’s available in stores.

What are Mushrooms and Why are They So Yummy?

what-is-a-mushroom-on-a-tree

A mushroom is, of course, a fungus.  More specifically, it is the fleshy, fruiting body of a fungus.  All mushroom are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms.  Mushrooms sometimes usually have stems and caps, and typically have gills.  Those are the little frills you see on the underside of a mushroom’s cap.  Those gills produce spores that, in turn, produce more fungi.  The mushroom is connected to more fungal structure embedded in its food source, whether that be the soil, a tree, or something else.

A big factor in the flavor of many mushrooms is their umami.  Umami basically means “deliciousness,” but was applied by scientist, Ikeda Kikunae, to mean a sort of rich, savory flavor.  Ikeda was studying the science behind the flavor, and discovered that glutamate was the cause.  Ikeda mainly used kombu dashi for his studies, and subsequent studies also looked at dried bonito flakes.  However, in 1957, Kuninaka Akira discovered that the ribonucleotide GMP found in shiitake mushrooms also gave an umami flavor.  Based on that research he later discovered that when ingredients rich in glutamate are combined with those with ribonucleotides, the resulting umami is stronger than each individual part.

Buna-shimeji (Hypsizygus tessellatus)

buna-shimeji-mushrooms

Photo by Andy

Buna-shimeji are fairly small mushrooms with white, long, often-curved stems and tan caps.  They taste bitter when raw, but this is replaced with a nutty flavor when cooked.  They have a firm, slightly crunchy texture.  They are good for most recipes.

Enokitake (Flammulina velutipes)

enoki-mushrooms

Photo by Wendell Smith

Enoki mushrooms are named after the tree on which they grow, which is known as the Chinese hackberry in English.  However, they also grow on other trees, like mulberry and persimmon trees.  In the supermarket, they are easily recognizable as dense clumps of small, white mushrooms with long, slender stems.  Cultivated enoki are grown in a dark, carbon dioxide-rich environment to keep them white and encourage long stem growth, respectively.  Wild enoki tend to be dark brown, with shorter, thicker stems.

Enoki don’t have a strong flavor, so they probably aren’t the best mushroom to take center stage in a dish.  They do have a relative crispness to them.  For these reasons, plus their small size, they are often used in soups and stews.  They could also be used in some side dishes or salads.

Eringi (Pleurotus eryngii)

eringi

Photo by David Loong

Eringi have many names in the West, perhaps most common being the King Oyster Mushroom.  Unlike most of the fungi in this article, it is not native to Japan. It was mass cultivated there in the early 1990s and has become quite popular since.  Eringi are rather large, with long, thick, meaty white stems, and relatively small tan caps.  They don’t have a lot of flavor raw, but when cooked the umami comes forward.  I find them particularly good when grilled.  Keep it simple and cook them over flame or in a pan with a bit of salt and pepper.

Magic Mushrooms

magic-mushrooms

Photo by Scott Darbey

Some mushrooms can have psychedelic effects on those who consume them.  There are a number of such mushrooms, but the most popular by far are from the genus Psilocybe.  They cause hallucinations due to two different chemicals: psilocybin and psilocin.

Japan is a country that tends to take drugs quite seriously (apart from alcohol and tobacco), so it’s surprising that before 2002 magic mushrooms were legal.  You could buy them in head shops, and apparently even in vending machines.  In 2002 they were made illegal, perhaps because of the World Cup that was played in Japan that year.  It’s thought that Japanese leaders changed the law in anticipation of an influx of foreign fans getting high and causing trouble.

Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

maitake-mushrooms

Photo by Brain Lioila

Maitake translates to “dancing mushroom.”  They don’t look like your stereotypical mushrooms.  They grow in a dense cluster and the stems flow into the frond-like caps, giving the whole cluster an appearance something like a head of cabbage.  The clusters can get quite large: over 40 kilograms (100 pounds)!  They have a woody, smoky flavor, but it isn’t as meaty as some other mushrooms.  They can be used in stir frying, simmering, roasting and other applications.

Matsutake (Tricholoma mastutake)

mastutake

Photo by 挪威 企鵝

Matsutake form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of certain tree species, most notably the Japanese Red Pine, hence the name matsutake (“pine mushroom”).  Matustake have long, thick stems and knob-like brown caps.  Due to the difficulty in finding them, they are quite expensive.  The average price is about $90 per kilogram, but matsutake found in Japan at the beginning of the season can go for up to $2,000 per kilogram!  Matsutake grown in the U.S. can be had for a much lower price sometimes.  If you get the chance to try them, one of the best ways to show off their flavor is in a simple rice bowl dish (matsutake gohan).

Nameko (Pholiota nameko)

nameko

Nameko are small and amber-brown.  They have a nutty flavor and a thin layer of gelatin on their caps, which forms a sort of glaze when cooking with them.  They are often used in miso soup, nabemono, and stir-fries.

nameko-saibai-kit

Photo by Akiko Ogata

Long popular in Japanese cuisine, nameko have recently gained notoriety in another field.  A trilogy of smart phone games called “Nameko Saibai Kit,” has become quite popular.  The goal of the game is to raise various types of anthropomorphic cartoon nameko.  Of course, with popularity comes merchandise, and you can find plenty of stuff featuring these cute little mushrooms.

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)

shiitake

Photo by tup wanders

Shiitake are named after the tree on whose dead logs they commonly grow, the Castanopsis cuspidate.  Shiitake is probably the most popular Japanese mushroom, both at home and abroad.  Who knows how long people have been collecting them in Japan, but somewhere along the line they discovered a method for cultivating them.  A shiitake bearing log would be placed next to freshly cut logs, allowing the fungus to spread to all of them.  They even found that damaging the bark of the new logs would improve the efficiency of mushroom multiplication.

logs-for-cultivating-shiitake

Photo by Brian Liloia

It’s easy to see why shiitake are so popular, as they are both flavorsome and versatile.  When cooked, they are aromatic and have a nice rich, woody flavor.  Due to this and their chewy, dense texture they make a great meat substitute.  Shiitake can also be bought dried, which actually intensifies their flavor and adds a bit of smokiness.  The applications of shiitake are many and varied, from stir fries to grilling, from simmering to soups and nabemono (and that’s just in Japanese cuisine).  I love making a shiitake nimono: simmering the mushrooms in dashi and soy sauce until the liquid reduces to almost nothing.  You’ll have a bowl full of concentrated umami.

Kinoko no Yama

kinoko-no-yama

Photo by Robyn Lee

Okay, so obviously these aren’t real mushrooms.  However, they have been a popular snack ever since Meiji launched them in 1975.  Their part milk, part dark chocolate caps sit atop crunchy biscuit stems, and make for an excellent combo.  No list of Japanese mushrooms is complete without them.

Mushroom Medicine

maitake-medicine

Photo by dbaronoss

Some mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.  For example, the fungus from maitake has long been used in China and Japan for enhancing the immune system.  Modern research has indicated that the entire maitake may be useful in this regard.  In addition, a 2009 study by Sloan-Kettering showed it to have anti-tumor effects.  It may also have hypoglycemic effects.

Shiitake mushrooms have also shown some promise in the fighting both cancer and viruses, but studies have not been conclusive.  Still, as long as you’re enjoying some mushroom cooking, it’s nice to think they might be helping you too.

How to Choose and Store Your Mushrooms

dried-mushrooms

Photo by Chiot’s Run

When selecting mushrooms at the store they should be dry, but not withered.  If they come plastic-wrapped, look out for condensation.  When storing them, sealing them in a paper bag is a good way to keep them from getting too wet or dry.  If you keep them in a plastic-wrapped tub, poking a few holes in the plastic is a good idea.  At any rate, you should use them within a few days.

You shouldn’t wash them until you’re about to use them.  Some say they shouldn’t be washed at all for fear of waterlogging them. Brush them instead.  A brush is fine, but time consuming, so a light wash should be fine.  If you don’t see any dirt on them, there shouldn’t be a need for either.

Let’s Put a Cap On This

shiitake-cap

Photo by Wendell Smith

What more is there to say?  Mushrooms are some tasty and versatile fungi.  Go forth and try as many kinds, in as many ways as possible!

Bonus Wallpapers!

Shrooms-1280
[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile]

Sources

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Have a Rice Day! Rice Cooker History, Features, Futures, and More http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/15/have-a-rice-day-rice-cooker-history-features-futures-and-more/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/15/have-a-rice-day-rice-cooker-history-features-futures-and-more/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=51857 My brother had warned me, “Once you go rice cooker, you don’t go back.” He was right. I had grown up in a household where we cooked rice in a pot, on our stovetop. In college I used a hotpot to the same effect. Then I came to Japan, where a small but mighty appliance forever changed my […]

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My brother had warned me, “Once you go rice cooker, you don’t go back.”

He was right.

I had grown up in a household where we cooked rice in a pot, on our stovetop. In college I used a hotpot to the same effect. Then I came to Japan, where a small but mighty appliance forever changed my cooking ways.

Although I had had a rice cooker at my disposal upon arrival in my Japanese apartment, I felt reluctant to use it. The kanji labeled buttons intimidated me. It did not appear intuitive.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why I worried. What was the worst that could happen? My rice turns to porridge? It took a visit from my brother to teach me the wise ways of the rice cooker.

Measure the rice. Dump it in. Wash it. Measure the water. Dump it in. Press the big red button. Go enjoy life until you hear “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Enjoy perfect rice every-time.

But that’s not all. New models push the limits of the term “rice cooker.” Equipped with features like magnetic fields, fuzzy logic and artificial intelligence, and with cooking versatility ranging from stew to bread, today’s rice cookers are the go-to kitchen appliance.

So forget the microwave and give your gas bill a break. Join us as we compare models and features and decide which rice cooker is best for you. If you’re still feeling reluctant, don’t be (like I was). Learn to stop worrying and love the rice cooker.

A Grainy History

Photo by TANAKA Juuyoh

Sometimes referred to as “denshi jaa” (電子ジャー) or “suihanki” (炊飯器) rice cookers were born out 0f Japan’s post-war revival. Before then, people cooked rice on kamado, large stoves made to accompany giant pots.

The nature of these stoves made controlling temperatures tricky and cooking delicious rice difficult. A short lyric attempted to make up for the lack of technology at the time. Kids Web Japan describes the old rhyme:

Hajime choro choro, naka pappa, butsu butsu iu koro hi o hiite, instructs the cook to begin at low heat, then increase the heat, and then lower the heat again when the inside of the pot begins to bubble.

The post-war period left companies scrambling for new commodities. With cash scarce, rice was also accepted as payment. War factories closed down and left Japan with plenty of electricity but few ways to utilize it. These two factors would soon lead to a rice cooking revolution.

At the time Sony focused on modifying and repairing radios built to strict wartime specifications (like limited stations), but looked to expand. How could they take advantage of the electrical productivity of a rice-fed nation like Japan?

The (first) electric rice cooker, made by merely interlocking aluminum electrodes which were connected to the bottom of a wooden tub, was a primitive product. The result depended heavily on the kind of rice used and the weight of the water. Tasty rice was a rarity, as the rice cooker produced mostly undercooked or overcooked rice. It was a memorable first failure.(Sony)

But Sony wasn’t the only company dreaming of a convenient rice cooking apparatus and thanks to competition, the quality of rice cookers improved. According to Kids Web Japan, Toshiba would release the first commercially successful rice cooker in 1955.

After much trial and error, the company came up with a method called “double-pot indirect cooking,” in which a cup of water was poured into the outer pot, and the machine automatically turned off when all of this water evaporated, signaling that the rice was ready. (Kidswebjapan)

Because of how they drastically altered the standard of living for households in the 1950’s, Japan dubbed the refrigerator, television and washing machine The Three Treasures. The rice cooker could have easily been declared the fourth. The convenient appliance became a cultural mainstay, offering safely cooked, delicious rice while rendering the more dangerous, inconsistent kamado obsolete.

Fuzzy Logic, A.I. and Rice Cookers of the Future

Photo by Alex Shultz

Competition between brands meant rice cookers would continue to improve. For example, “in 1960, the first rice cookers that could keep rice warm after it was cooked went on sale, as did some models with timers.”(Kidswebjapan)

Rice cooker technology continues to march into the future, cooking rice faster while bringing out the best taste. Old machines relied on simple mechanical settings, ignoring factors that are now considered like air pressure, weight, temperature and planetary alignment (okay, maybe not the last one).

Technological advancements have even made direct heating obsolete. Induction heating or “IH” (for those in-the-know) became the industry standard.

Here’s how an IH cooker works. An electric current is passed through coils around the pot. This produces a magnetic field, which in turn produces an electric current in the pot’s metal. Metal heats up when an electric current runs through it, so the entire pot quickly rises to a high temperature and cooks the rice evenly. (Kidswebjapan)

The next wave of machines incorporated computer chips and fuzzy logic. As  explains,

Fuzzy logic has to do with mathematical sets, or groups of items known as elements. In most mathematical sets, an element either belongs to the set or it doesn’t. For example, a sparrow would belong to a set of birds, but a bat wouldn’t. In fuzzy logic, though, elements can belong to sets in varying degrees. So since a bat has wings, it might belong to a set of birds — but only to a certain extent. Fuzzy logic is basically a way to program machines so they look at the world in a more human way, with degrees of truth.

Fuzzy logic allows rice cooker to make “judgement calls” based on collected data and rewards its owners with consistently delicious rice, despite life’s variables.

So what does the future of rice cookers hold? Perhaps we only have to look to sci-fi films, like The Terminator, 2001: Space Odyssey or Rojin Z for scary but delectable predictions. For example, Jordan Shapiro of Forbes contacted Zojirushi, the premier rice cooker producer, about their new lines of A.I. rice cookers. He reported,

 Zojirushi tells me that (its rice cooker) learns from each cooking experience so as to adjust to your cooking idiosyncrasies. I didn’t ask, so I’m not sure what rice cooking behaviors it “learns” from, but I imagine it could adjust to variables that may stay constant for each particular user: i.e. different brands of rice, the moisture in your climate, the particular chemistry of your water.

I’m hoping for a “smart” rice cooker I could control with a phone app. Or at least a talking rice cooker, similar to HAL from 2001 Space Odyssey that could create well balanced meals on its own. “Dave, your rice is ready. Please eat before it gets cold.”

Rice Cooker Features

Photo by esPose de

Size

Rice cookers come in various shapes and sizes. Choose a model that best fits your lifestyle. If you’re single, the smaller the better, no need for a family-sized behemoth. But if you have a family or plan on hosting parties, go big!

Choosing the Best Pot

Even the cooking pots vary. Some have chemically treated, nonstick surfaces to make cleaning easy. Aluminum is also a popular option. But if you want to avoid those surfaces, for their purported health detriments, go with a more natural option like steel or clay.

Programming and Settings

Of course, some rice cookers boast more features than others. Even those made strictly for cooking rice often feature multiple rice cooking settings. Making brown rice? Hit “brown.” Feeling under the weather and need some kayu rice porridge? Hit the special button. A clock and timer add to a cooker’s convenience. Other models even feature digital screens for detailed options and settings.

Timer

Why mention it twice? Because a timer is a rice cooker’s must-have feature. Set it before you go to bed to have fresh rice in the morning. Set it when you head off to work to have fresh rice waiting when you get home.

Multipurpose Versatility

Rice cookers now take cooking convenience to the next level and smash the excuse, “I don’t have time to cook.” You can steam some veggies, broccoli or barbecue some meat and have a healthy, fresh, affordable home cooked meal in minutes. And with some rice cookers, you can cook it all at the same time in the same appliance!

If you want to cook more than rice, you could take your chances with a standard “rice only” model, but its cooking settings and rice-centric fuzzy-logic might make for over cooked, mushy meals. But don’t fret, many of today’s “rice” cookers accommodate multipurpose needs. Special cooking settings make cooking soups, stews and even steaming vegetables and meats as easy as the push of a button.

Some rice cookers feature special steaming trays. Others double as crock pots and pressure cookers. With the help of a timer you can prepare all of your ingredients in the morning, set the timer and have a well balanced scrumptious meal waiting for you when you get home.

One of my current models, the Vitaclay 2-in-1 Rice N’ Slow Cooker, has special settings for making stew and soup (I can smell the tomato and chicken stew stewing as I write!).

Charm Points

On top of all of the shapes, sizes and technological advancements and features, rice cookers also feature charm. Although I love my Vitaclay, my Zojirushi takes the prize for charm.

For one, it has a convenient, self winding plug that stores internally and never gets in the way. There’s also a removable container to catch spill water from the lid. But best of all, the Zojirushi plays “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” when the rice is done.

The rice cooker universe is surprisingly vast. Please examine all the options (and read the next section) before buying one!

Rice Cooker Battle!

Photo by Eric Hunt

Now that we’ve covered the appliance’s history, technology and features it’s time to look at specific models. Which will come out on  top? You be the judge!

Zojirushi NP-NVC10/18

The Zojirushi NP-NVC10/18 is the top-of-the-line, rice connoisseur’s model.  The giant (15.4 x 10.1 x 8.6 inches, 13 pounds) NP-NVC10/18 flashes some bling in its a “platinum infused nonstick coating.” Apparently this coating makes for the best rice which is the NP-NVC10/18’s goal.

The model features both fuzzy-logic and AI and takes pressure into account. Settings allow users to make the rice as soft or hard as they prefer, and rice can even be toasted and crispy with the NP-NVC10/18’s “scorch” setting. The clock and timer means you can have your preferred style of rice when you want it.

The top of the line, this rice cooker comes in sizes and price ranges to match. If rice cookers equalled street cred, MC’s would be rhyming about the NP-NVC10/18 instead of spinners and medallions. Although it lacks versatility in terms of cooking foods other than rice, if you want awesome rice prepared nearly any way (brown, gabba brown, scorched, umami, sushi rice, or porridge), the NP-NVC10/18 is the model for you.

Panasonic SR-DE103 (13 X10 X8)

The Panasonic SR-DE103 is a well balanced model with a few extra features at a great price. Fuzzy logic helps the SR-DE103 alter the cooking time to net delicious rice every time. Although its choices in rice cooking settings pale in comparison to the NP-NVC10/18, it features a steam tray and steam and cake push-button settings that give it the edge in versatility. It’s also more compact (13 X10 X8 inches), making it easier to store.

With a timer that lets you have rice when you want it the Panasonic SR-DE103 offers what’s expected of a traditional rice cooker with a few convenient features. Priced under $100, the Panasonic SR-DE103 offers a high end cooker at a more affordable price.

Aroma Digital Rice Cooker and Food Steamer

The Aroma Digital Rice Cooker and Food Steamer offers easy, one button controls (white rice, brown rice, keep warm and steam). It comes in various sizes so you can choose one that suits your needs.

Like the Panasonic SR-DE103, the Aroma Digital features a black nonstick coated aluminum cooking pot. It also has a special “steam” setting that allows users to steam vegetables in the fitted tray while cooking rice. Take advantage of the timer to have balanced meals ready when you need them!

What’s the difference between the Aroma Digital and Panasonic SR-DE103? Size, shape and material. The Panasonic SR-DE103 is a rectangular plastic box. The Aroma Digital is a round, crock-pot styled rice cooker with a stainless steel shell (8.7 x 8.5 x 9.3 inches for the 8-cup model).

VitaClay VF7700-6 Chef

VitaClay’s claim to fame is its clay pot; a natural, stick-free alternative to most rice cooker pots’ artificial coatings. Although I love the clay pot, it can be a double edged sword. If you tend to drop things, the breakable clay pot might prove problematic. Although extra pots can be purchased online, it’ll cost you. But for the sure-handed readers out there, the clay pot is easy to clean and won’t pell after prolonged use like non-stick coated pots do. It also presents a nice aesthetic when it’s carried to the dining room table!

The VF7700-6 Chef encourages experimentation; its stew and soup settings work well in preparing curries, sauces, as well as ANY types of soups and stews. My only gripe is its lack of a steam tray. Like the Aroma Digital Rice Cooker, the VitaClay comes in a crock-pot styled shape.

Aroma Simply Stainless

As the Japanese-English phrase goes, sometimes “Simple is best.” And in the case of the Aroma Simply Stainless, it’s cheap too. This no-nonsense model features a lid, pot and plastic casing. A bare bones rice cooker, Aroma’s Simply Stainless line comes in three sizes and one touch simplicity. The pot is made from surgical-grade 304 stainless steel, so it’s a great option for those looking to avoid aluminum and chemically coated surfaces. The pot also boasts the ability to cook soups, stews, chili and oatmeal.

Although some reviews complain about steam and water spurting from the hole on the lid, the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Want a no-fuss, affordable and tiny rice cooker? The Aroma Simply Stainless is your best bet!

Not Just for White Rice Anymore

Photo by Rich

When I first arrived in Japan I asked a Japanese acquaintance, “Can I cook brown rice in my rice cooker?”

“Oh… you better not,” she warned.

Japanese take their white rice very seriously, and I’ve heard the myth repeated time and time again, “Rice Cookers are for white rice.” But nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve cooked brown rice, beans, and even fish and vegetables in a rice cooker only meant for rice. Slight odors and staining of the white plastic shell proved to be the only downsides.

Whether cooked through induction heating, fuzzy logic, or artificial intelligence, at its very core a rice cooker is a heated pot. Like some of the models mentioned above, many rice cookers are moving to multi-functionality. And taking advantage of these features can be simple and fun.

A simple Youtube search reveals all sorts of things that can be cooked in a rice cooker – from various types of rice to pasta, eggs, pancakes, cake and bread. Resources to help you become a cooking everything-other-than-rice rice-cooker master.

Karate Rice

A site offering tips on how to prepare the perfect rice as well as various rice-based dishes, Karate Rice proves anyone can cook for themselves. I recommend the “Japanese Sweet Potato and Rice” and “Rice Chili Stew.” Add extra garlic and cumin to the stew to give it more zing!

Ariel Knutson’s 21 Surprising Things You Can Make in a Rice Cooker

A less traditional collection of recipes that often abandons the rice altogether. Although Mac and Cheese is always popular, I love the Vegetable Frittata as a quick, well balanced meal. Just looking at the “Tofu and Asparagus’s” deep green asparagus, soft brown tofu cubes and rich broth made my mouth water.

The Bark.com

The Bark.com offers all sorts of articles aimed at dedicated dog lovers. It even features a recipe for dog food (though I’m considering trying it as people food) made in a rice cooker. Instead of cooking with a dog, cook for a dog!

The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook

With the subtitle, 250 No-Fail Recipes for Pilafs, Risottos, Polenta, Chilis, Soups, Porridges, Puddings, and More, Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufman’s book puts cooking within reach of even the most inept household chefs.

Learn to make risotto, chunky or smooth applesauce, tapioca pudding, and hot breakfast cereals. Although I haven’t run into any problems myself, reviewers say this book nets the best results with fuzzy-logic models.

Bask in the Glory of Well Cooked Rice!

More versatile than the name implies, rice-cookers are clean, safe, and super convenient! After not using one for most of my life, aside from the refrigerator it has become the most used appliance in my kitchen. I don’t even own a microwave, toaster or oven anymore and have no plans on investing in any of them. Don’t get me wrong, the rice cooker can’t outperform those appliances, but for me it’s an acceptable alternative.

Rice cookers make cooking easy.  Timers and extra features can make cooking convenient for even the busiest of people. Best of all, it’s easy to make healthy, well balanced meals. Plus experimenting with new recipes is fun and (usually) rewarding.

If you have a rice cooker to recommend or recipes or recipe websites, please comment below. Happy rice (and everything else) cooking to all!

Bonus Wallpapers!

RiceCookerAttack-1280
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Sources

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Kata and Kiai in Martial and Other Arts http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/13/kata-and-kiai/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/13/kata-and-kiai/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=51501 Hi-yah!  A stoic martial arts hero dramatically works his way through a series of deadly techniques handed down from generation to generation, punctuated by a fearsome shout.  It’s a familiar scene to any martial arts film buff, but what is the reality?  Both kata 型 (forms) and kiai 気合 (shouts) are a part of many […]

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Hi-yah!  A stoic martial arts hero dramatically works his way through a series of deadly techniques handed down from generation to generation, punctuated by a fearsome shout.  It’s a familiar scene to any martial arts film buff, but what is the reality?  Both kata 型 (forms) and kiai 気合 (shouts) are a part of many martial arts.  However, there’s often an air of mystique built up around both, so let’s have a go at separating fact from fiction.  There is practical thought behind these traditions, and we’ll see how their usefulness has spread outside of the dojo.

Form and Function

karate-kata

Learning through repetition and rote memorization has long been a favored method in East Asia, and kata are an extension of this.  By practicing the same series of movements again and again one builds muscle memory, so that, eventually, one can perform the technique well without conscious thought.  These concepts traveled from China to Japan and over time kata came to be used in martial arts like karate, kendo, aikido, and judo, to name a few.  There’s often an aura of antiquity around kata.  Whether explicitly expressed or not, there’s a feeling that masters have been handing down these forms for centuries.  The truth (as usual) is a bit more complicated.

Take karate for example.  It began as a blend of Okinawan and Chinese fighting styles.  Although it may go back farther, no one has been able to reliably trace karate any earlier than the early nineteenth century.  A lot of the exact Chinese connections have been lost, but it is possible to trace a few kata to their Chinese antecedents.  For example, the kata Sanchin can be traced to the Fujian White Crane Style, beyond a reasonable doubt, but that would still put its origins at about the mid to late eighteenth century.  There are many kata like this; ones that are old, but probably not ancient in the way people imagine.  Others are less than a century old.  Most of the masters responsible for bringing karate from Okinawa to the rest of Japan (and then the world) lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  To bring their art to a much larger audience, some of them invented new kata.  Some of these broke down or simplified older kata, while others were more original.  Likewise, most of the kata in judo were created by founder Kano Jigoro during the 20th century.

Non-Combative Kata

lady-kata-tea-ceremony

Photo by Todd Fong

There are also kata among non-martial Japanese traditions.  When studying abroad in Fukuoka a few years ago, I took a course on tea ceremony, part of which was learning to perform a bit of it ourselves.  Having some prior experience in karate, I began to notice that the routine of the tea ceremony was quite similar to practicing a kata.  In both cases, you build technique and muscle memory through repetition with strict attention to detail.  As you hone your skills there is room for the individual to shine through, to adapt the form to yourself without losing that which makes it the form. But you must learn the rules before you can bend them.  I voiced these sentiments in class and my tea sensei was inclined to agree.  Indeed, kata are part of training in both the tea ceremony and in kabuki, as well.

Kata For the 21st Century

matrix-kata-i-know-kung-fu

Though kata can be a way to preserve knowledge, they are also a way to sharpen skills, whether for fighting, pouring a cup of tea, or writing computer code.  That’s right, kata have found a place in the digital world.  Programmer and author, Dave Thomas (no, not the Wendy’s guy), probably coined the term “code kata.”  These code kata are basically code writing exercises or problems that can be practiced repeatedly with the goal of improving one’s programming skills.  Unfortunately, I know nothing about programming, so I can’t really comment on the details or effectiveness of these exercises, but I think it’s really cool that people are attempting to apply the concept to new skills.  I imagine there are other skills for which kata could be a useful learning method.

All About the Shout

scream-can-kiai

Photo by cenefil_

At its most basic the kiai is a shout, usually given in conjunction with executing an attack, such as a punch or kick.  A proper kiai originates in the diaphragm, not the throat, and emanates as a loud shout, with the shouter expelling as much air from their lungs as possible.  What sound your kiai makes doesn’t matter much, and there is a lot of individual variation, but there are some trends among different arts.  The kiai of most unarmed styles like karate tend to be short and sharp, while those in sword arts like kendo tend to be much longer. In fact, in kendo, the kiai is deemed so important that in a match points will not be awarded to a successful strike if there is no accompanying kiai.

Why kiai at all though?  Well, there are several practical reasons.

Firstly, doing kiai when practicing kata can help develop the proper coordination of movement and breathing, which is important in maximizing the efficiency of your movement and not tiring yourself out as quickly.  For this purpose making a sound is not strictly necessary, but doing so during a kata just emphasizes the point.  Secondly, getting all the air out of yourself voluntarily when you strike makes you less vulnerable to getting it knocked of you by a counterattack, which is much less pleasant.  For a similar reason, those who do jujutsu or judo are trained to kiai at the point of impact when they take a fall, and I can tell you from experience that it works pretty well.  Thirdly, a kiai can have the effect of intimidating an opponent.

However, some have taken this last possibility to an unbelievable level.  There has been much discussion over the existence and nature of ki 気 (the ki in kiai).  Perhaps the best translation is “energy,” but much like this English word, ki can be used in a variety of situations.  Trying to briefly define energy in a way that covers all of its possible uses is not so easy.  However, that does not necessitate the mystification of either word.  Having some experience in martial arts and in studying ancient Japanese and Chinese texts, in my opinion, most of the uses of the word ki within the martial arts/medical fields are related to breathing, physical/mental effort, blood circulation, biomechanics, perhaps bioelectricity, or some combination of the above. But all of these have been put under the blanket term ki.  Therefore, many of the things ascribed to ki are explicable through science.  In the cases where ki is credited with something supernatural, I would approach that with just as much skepticism as I would someone who claims to read auras or see ghosts.

Legends of Dubiousness

matsumura-sokon-is-great

There are a number of stories of martial arts masters able to employ the kiai in a near superhuman manner.  However, there is plenty of exaggeration in the martial arts world, so it’s best to take such stories with shaker of salt.  Funakoshi Gichin was the master perhaps most responsible for popularizing karate throughout Japan, and then the world.  In his memoir he dismisses claims of karate masters who can pierce through human flesh with their fingertips, saying that no amount of training will allow a person to exceed the bounds of human ability, but shortly thereafter he relates a story that arouses skepticism in me for those same reasons.

The story goes that well-known karate master Matsumura Sokon was challenged to a match by an engraver, who also happened to be skilled in karate.  The engraver tried to attack Matsumura twice, but each time was immobilized by the latter’s gaze alone.  The confused engraver realized he had lost, but was determined to finish the match to save face.  He attacked, but Matsumura gave a “great cry that sounded to the engraver like a thunderbolt,” and finding himself unable to move, the engraver made a final feeble attempt before falling to the ground.

A Lot of Hot Air

hot-air

Photo by dfbphotos

You may think such fantastic stories are a thing of the past, something that could only exist in a time before smartphone cameras and such, but no. There are still individuals purporting to be kiai masters with abilities beyond our perception.  Some of these people claim to be able to attack someone without touching them, in a Jedi-like manner.  I will admit to feeling a bit of schadenfreude when I see videos of people demonstrating to these kiai masters ample evidence to the contrary.  I give you Exhibit A, in which an MMA fighter takes up a kiai master’s offer of 5,000 dollars to anyone who can beat him.

As satisfying as that was, I think I like Exhibit B even better. Here we take a look at kiai master, George Dillman.

I think my favorite part of this video is watching Dillman jump through hoops trying to explain away the failure of his technique on a nonbeliever.  From his reaction, it seems that he is not cynically trying to fool his students, but believes in his own ki abilities.  Others who have analyzed dojos like this one, have theorized that they may be examples of both self-delusion in the master and a form of mass-delusion among the students.

Back to Reality

banshee-screams

Kata are great for developing technique, and if one analyzes them, the sequences can tell you some useful things for an actual fight, but to jump in the ring and start doing a kata from beginning to end is ridiculous (I’m looking at you “Karate Kid 3”).  Also, keep in mind that although they are a useful training tool, they are not the end-all, be-all of martial arts.  Likewise, they are practical uses for kiai, just not anything that would qualify you for the X-Men.  There are many reasons to do martial arts, but if practicality is of any concern to you, it’s good to keep your romanticism in check and think about what you are doing.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile]

Sources:

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25 Reasons To Join The JET Program (And 8 Reasons Not To) http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/08/25-reasons-to-join-the-jet-program-and-8-reasons-not-to/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/08/25-reasons-to-join-the-jet-program-and-8-reasons-not-to/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 13:01:33 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=51459 If you’re reading this, you must have some kind of interest in the JET Program. This isn’t a decision to be made lightly, though. As a JET alumni myself, I’ve experienced (and heard stories of) the incredibly positive aspects of the program, as well as the not so positive. You are packing up and moving to a […]

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If you’re reading this, you must have some kind of interest in the JET Program. This isn’t a decision to be made lightly, though. As a JET alumni myself, I’ve experienced (and heard stories of) the incredibly positive aspects of the program, as well as the not so positive. You are packing up and moving to a foreign country, after all. It’s important to do your research.

I’ve put together a list of pros and cons for going on JET. By pulling from my own experience, as well as the experience of many other JETs, I think I’ve come up with a pretty thorough resource. I hope it helps you to make a good decision for you.

A Note

This article is intended for those interested in the ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) position. JET also employs CIRs (Coordinator of International Relations) who work in Boards of Education and government offices. However, the CIR position requires at least N2 level Japanese and accounts for only 10% of JET participants. Less than 1% of JET participants are SEAs (Sports Exchange Advisors). ALTs make up 90%. All this to say, our focus will be on becoming an ALT in the JET Program.

Tangible Benefits

bright-temple-shrine-japan

Photo by sorimachi.tw

Free Trip to Japan

JET brings foreign people to Japan, so the plane ticket seems to go without saying. As “basic” as this sounds, it’s actually a perk JET has over other ALT programs. Most private ALT companies expect you to pay your own way into the country.

Be aware that flying with JET means you must return to the same airport you departed from. Aside from this it’s a free round trip international flight (with 1 to 5 years in between). A nice perk not offered by many other programs.

Job in Japan

One of the most stressful situations in life is finding a job. It’s doubly stressful when paired with moving your life to a new country and culture.

It’s possible to move to Japan without a job and find one once you get there. But consider the vast expense of moving to Japan. Then finding a place to live, and the costs associated. Finally add job searching.

You’ll probably find an English teaching job, but not having one set up beforehand adds a countdown to zero monies. Stress like that is the last thing you need while job searching.

Depending on the company, some ALT staffing agencies may not always have your best interest in mind. Their job is primarily to make money by keeping the Board of Education happy. This is not always the case, but keep it in mind when looking at alternatives to JET. JET places you in a job with the intention of keeping you there. Things will go wrong (we’ll get to that later), but at least the JET Program isn’t trying to make things difficult for you.

The fact that JET offers you employment in Japan may go without saying. But considering what it’s like to move across the globe without a job helps put into perspective what a major benefit this is.

Getting Set up

You’re flown to Japan and given a job. On top of that, JET sets you up with an apartment, a visa, a residence record, and a residence card. Most other English teaching programs should help with this as well, in varying degrees. However if you are coming to Japan on your own, all of these things rest on you.

Even with a good deal of Japanese under your belt, navigating the bureacracy required to secure an apartment, put the utilities in your name, set up a cell phone plan, get a visa, and register your residency would be daunting. Having a supervisor to get you on your feet in a matter of days relieves a lot of that hassle.

Apartment

JET sets you up with your living situation. This is a big deal considering how different home set-up in Japan is, compared to other countries. In most cases, you’ll take over your predecessor’s home, which diminishes the startup fees normally required for new apartments. This isn’t a guarantee though. You may need to have up to six times your monthly rent to pay in key money and other fees. Super expensive, but that’s just how apartments in Japan work.

Your JET apartment may not be a dream home, but it’s your own place in Japan. In most cases, it’s fully furnished and partially subsidized, though it could be only one of these or neither. You are free to leave and find your own apartment at your own expense (which is very possible, given the generous JET salary). Follow this guide if you take that route.

Don’t underestimate the benefit of having a place set up for you before you arrive. It’s a big stress reliever and a great way to feel that Japan is your home as soon as you land.

Lots of Support

You have a lot of bosses with varying degrees of power to help you. If one boss is not helpful, at least you have other avenues to explore when solving problems. Not all bosses help with the same things, so in certain situations, you’ll need to approach a certain boss.

School Supervisor (担当者)

This person will be your main go-to supervisor at school. They will be a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) who works at your school, a day-to-day coworker and one you will work with in class. You can go to them with school issues, classroom issues, Japanese culture issues, etiquette issues, and sometimes even issues outside of work.

Vice Principal

The Vice Principal is a supervisor as well and can help with a lot of things, but usually only when your School Supervisor directs you there. These are usually issues that the School Supervisor can’t handle on their own, thus they move up the chain of command.

Principal

The Principal is definitely your boss. If it’s a situation the Vice Principal can’t handle, it’s on to the Principal. Realistically, you won’t handle issues with Principal at all, if ever.

Board of Education or Prefectural Office Supervisor

CLAIR refers to this supervisor as your “supervisor”. Like, this is the supervisor for your JET contract and your number one go-to boss in just about every situation.

This person is someone who works at the office of your contracting organization. Your supervisor will be in charge of setting you up in your apartment, setting up utilities, registering you at all local government offices, registering you for health insurance, dealing with repairs in your apartment, opening your bank account, helping you find a doctor, giving you permission to take time off, evaluating your performance, helping you in case of emergency, and helping you to recontract to stay on JET at the end of each year.

Prefectural Advisor (PA)

You will most likely have two Prefectural Advisors (PA). These people are JET Program participants who work closely with the contracting organizations and Prefectural government. Their job is to confidentially counsel you in all issues you have on JET, including issues with your contracting organization. Because PAs are still performing their duties as JET participants, they have a more relatable perspective and may be able to mediate between you and your contracting organization. Bear in mind that PAs have limited power and may not be able to solve your problem. But no matter what, it’s nice to have an advocate who can be in your corner, even if the outcome doesn’t develop the way you like.

Edit:

After publishing this article, I learned that CLAIR had effectively removed the PA position from JET’s support network last year. PAs still exist, but they are barred from offering counseling or mediating in any way. I don’t know why the PA position is still in place if it’s been stripped of ability to act. The other supports are still in place, but the Prefectural Advisor was one of the most helpful and important sources of official support. The Association for JET (AJET) compiled a study on JET participants’ reactions to this change and presented it to CLAIR, MOFA, MEXT, and MIC. You can read it here. Hopefully this will turn things around, but we’ll see.

If you do go on JET, I would recommend you supplement the loss of PA support with other support organizations like the AJET Peer Support Group or the Tokyo English Life Line. They won’t be able to mediate with your contracting organization like PAs did, but at least they’ll be able to provide the counseling aspect.

Money

JET Program pay is very generous. The pay scale goes like this:

  • 1st year JETs – ¥3,360,000/yr
  • 2nd year JETs – ¥3,600,000/yr
  • 3rd year JETs – ¥3,900,000/yr
  • 4th and 5th year JETs – ¥3,960,000/yr

This is more than enough to pay rent, pay bills, buy meals, spend money, save money, and go on trips. You’re not only given the experience of living in Japan, but also the means to enjoy it!

Generally speaking, JET is the highest paying ALT gig there is, unless you join a company that has a pay scale in which your raises would eventually exceed ¥3,960,000 a year. However, this might take a few years of teaching, which would be a great goal for those wanting to live in Japan long term. But as far as starting salaries for ALT work go, JET can’t be beat.

Tax Exemption for 2 Years

On top of the high pay, you will most likely be tax exempt for the first two years. Many countries, including the U.S., have a tax treaty with Japan, wherein the money you earn for the first two years on JET is tax free. Check with your home country’s tax authority to find out if you qualify. You will still need to file taxes with your home country and your local Japanese government, but that’s a small price for two years of tax free pay.

Pay off Debts with That Money

Many JETs use their income situation as an opportunity to pay off student loans or other debts. This is a huge benefit considering the amount of time it usually takes people to pay off debts. You could pay off those student loans in 4 years rather than 30, and still having money to spend on vacations.

Many Insurances

As a member of the JET Program, you are automatically enrolled in 3 insurance plans to cover you in most imaginable cases. Many private ALT staffing companies try to get out of enrolling their employees into the National Health Insurance Program by claiming employees’ total work time per week as 29.5 hours. In reality ALTs in those companies work closer to 40.

With JET, you are enrolled in the mandatory National Health Insurance Program and two others as well. And all without any paperwork required. Below is a breakdown of the healthcare you would receive:

  • The National Health Insurance Program is the social healthcare program. The majority of Japan is enrolled and nearly every Japanese doctor accepts it. This plan covers 70% of your medical expenses, which includes doctor visits, treatment, medical supplies, operations, hospitalization, nursing, and transportation. Dependents are also covered under this plan and receive all the same benefits of the beneficiary. Dependent care differs in that they must pay 20% of hospitalization costs and 30% of out-patient care.
  • JET Accident Insurance covers whatever National Health Insurance doesn’t. Use it if it’s a situation you wouldn’t want to pay for out of pocket. It also covers you for up to one month at a time outside of Japan, in case you want to go on vacation or visit your home country.
  • Employment Insurance is your contribution to the Japanese unemployment fund. This allows you to collect unemployment if you remain in the country after JET and are unemployed for a time. This is an invaluable safety net for those who wish to reside in Japan long term and need to look for a job after JET.

Pension Fund (for retirement or unable to work due to injury)

Everyone working in Japan is required to put money away in the National Pension. It’s like America’s Social Security, except you get back the money you put in. This is used in case you are too ill to work, you die and need to leave money to family, or you retire in Japan. In the event you leave Japan without doing any of these things, you can apply for a refund of the majority of what you put in after you return to your home country.

Vacation

JET offers an incredible amount of time off, especially when compared with your Japanese co workers. The exact amount you get depends on what your contracting organization allows. The numbers below should be a close estimate to what you will get:

  • Vacation Days – 12-20 per year
  • Sick Days – 5-10 per year
  • Special Days – If you are a prefectural ALT, you may be entitled to a compensatory holiday (だいきゅう, 代休) if the number of work days in a month exceeds the number stated in your contract.

Language Practice

JET gives you an invaluable chance to take textbook Japanese and temper it into real, working fluency. Whether you know a lot or a little, it will get practiced into a smooth buttery flow. And studying on JET means real world application, which smashes the learnings into your brain.

Is it possible to live in Japan and not learn any Japanese? Definitely. But Japan offers so many opportunities for immersion that it’s the best place to reach benchmarks of fluency.

The JET Program Japanese Language Course

CLAIR offers its own Japanese Language Course to all JET participants free of charge. The course is split between Beginner/Intermediate Courses and the Translation and Interpretation Courses. You have to test into the Translation and Interpretation Courses, but the Beginner/Intermediate Courses are open as soon as you start JET.

In years past, the JET Program Japanese Language Course was administered with textbooks and CDs mailed to your contracting organization. However, in recent years it has become an online e-learning course.

You can read what JETs say about the course here. It may not ultimately be the best course for studying Japanese, but it’s worth trying. It teaches grammar and vocab based on situations you may encounter on JET and it’s free. If anything, it at least shows CLAIR’s pro-activeness in caring for your development.

International Work Experience

The ALT Job, which has its pros and cons, does offer a lot of opportunity to hone skills which look good on a resume. Chief among these is “international work experience,” which hiring managers love. To employers this usually means, adaptability, flexibility, and the ability to work with various personalities. If you know how to highlight this on a resume and in an interview, it can be the career strengthener you need to land a better job.

Enkai!

Enkai are one of the best perks of the job. You pay some money and go to a party with all your teachers. Eating and drinking ensues. You can only experience this by working in Japan, as enkai are only for those “in the group”. No spouses or family allowed.

Tatemae gets pushed to the side at these parties and you see a side of your co workers that you won’t see at school. After the fun, there’s more fun. Most enkai continue at the 二次会 (second party).

Enkai are fantastic and exclusive experience. Go to as many as you can.

Seminars

Yay! Sitting in chairs and listening! There’s not a whole ton of training involved on JET (see sections below), but you are offered some. There are several orientations before leaving for JET, one in Tokyo upon arrival, one before you finish JET, and in the middle of every year.

The Skill Development Conferences were the ones I found most helpful. They are conducted by host prefectures and all ALTs in the prefecture attend with one JTE from their school. This means open discussions and workshops with one of your JTEs, and getting to hear from other ALT/JTE teams from the region. Results will vary, but the potential is definitely there.

The CLAIR Grant for TEFL Certification

CLAIR offers grants for JETs to get Teaching English as Foreign Language (TEFL) Certification. This is great if you want to teach English in foreign countries as a career or want to get better at your job as an ALT. More info here.

A TEFL Certification will allow you to get better teaching jobs in Japan, including universities. Other countries in which English is not the native language open up as well. If you love your job as an ALT and want to travel Japan or the world, a TEFL Certification can help you achieve that goal.

Alumni Network

JET only lasts five years, so you will need to find another job at some point. This is where the JET Alumni Association (or JETAA) can be a big help. There are 52 chapters in 15 countries totaling over 25,000 members. No matter where you end up after JET, there should be a (relatively) nearby support base built in. Not only does this help with reverse culture shock, but JET Alumni are always eager to help a former JET get adjusted to their new home, whether it be in finding a new job or anything else.

Bike

Your contracting organization will most likely supply you with a bicycle while on JET. Maybe not, but 90% of the time you will get a bike. Hey kid! You wanna free bike? Why would you say no?

Foothold in the Country for Living Long Term

For those wanting to live in Japan long-term, this might be the number one reason to go on JET. You can get to Japan and live for a year or two while networking, job searching, and getting acclimated to your new life. Starting a career in a new country is difficult enough without having to blaze your own trail. JET gives you a solid base from which to start your career advancement operation.

Intangible Benefits

sakura-close-up

A Chance to Live on Your Own in a Foreign Country

It goes without saying that living in Japan is different than visiting. You’ll experience Japan as a relative insider, seeing both good and bad aspects of culture, society, religion, government, and daily life. You will also be largely on your own forcing you to become more resilient in a shorter amount of time than you might in your own country.

Dealing with Culture Shock (Initially Bad, Long Term Good)

Culture shock is a personal disorientation experienced when moving to new countries or environments. While on JET you will be forced to deal with it in varying degrees. This may not sound like a benefit, but it can be if dealt with correctly. If you can gain perspective and adjust in some ways, you’ll find it easier to cope during other transitional times. Not fun but certainly beneficial.

Learning More About Your Own Culture

Yes, I did say your own culture. Learning about and interacting with Japanese culture has the funny side effect of teaching you about your own. When confused or frustrated by the way things are done in Japan, eventually you’ll start to examine why those things bother you. This usually leads to an examination of your own values and/or the values of your home country. With a lot of these experiences and thinkings compounding on one another, you eventually gain a broader perspective of your own culture and why it functions the way it does.

Experience All Four Seasons in Japan

Recently in the Tofugu office, we had a fun argument about which season was the best. I said fall, while Koichi said winter, and Kristen said summer. Seasons in Japan are all wonderful (though fall is definitely the best). This is not so much due to weather, but rather the interesting and exciting ways Japan celebrates each season. Sakura viewing in spring, matsuris galore in summer, momiji hikes in the fall, and nabe at the kotatsu in winter. Living in Japan year round enables you to experience each season and discover reasons to love each one.

The People

It’s great to talk about mountains, temples, shrines, arcades, and konbinis. But none of these amazing Japanese things would exist without Japanese people to create them. The people you will meet in Japan are the best part of the experience.

A lot of guide books and travel sites say things like, “Japanese people are polite, kind, and hospitable.” I’m not arguing that but you’ll meet all kinds of characters that fall in line with and defy the stereotypes. There’s no telling what you’ll encounter when dealing with the cocktail of personalities that is humanity.

You’ll certainly always remember places you went and things you did, but people are what make experiences into adventures.

The Horcrux Effect

A fellow JET friend of mine likened her leaving Japan to a Horcrux from Harry Potter. For the uninitiated (muggles), a Horcrux is something a wizard can use to split their soul and attach a piece of it to an object, thus anchoring that piece of them to a certain place. This is the best description I’ve heard for living in and leaving places.

We all leave pieces of ourselves in the various places we’ve called home, and this is no different when living in Japan. When you leave, there are people, places, and memories that you’ll hold dearly. I’m not sure whether or not to call this a benefit. But it’s definitely a feeling, though bittersweet, that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Reasons Not to Go on JET

alone-in-japan

Photo by tokyoform

After reading the lists above, you may get the impression that JET is a perfectly positive organization offering a perfectly positive experience. Of course, this is not true or possible. JET has its share of pitfalls, miscommunications, and downright crappy situations. Some of these are due to Japanese culture and society conflicting with a JET participant’s worldview (ie. Culture Shock), while others may be administrative problems caused by JET or the Japanese school system itself. Below is an overview of cons to consider before jumping into JET with both feet.

Every Situation is Different (thus you can’t prepare for it)

This was the previous mantra of the JET Program, sometimes abbreviated as ESID. Though CLAIR no longer officially supports this catchphrase, it’s still a fact of life on JET. The organization is so large and sends ALTs to such disparate locales, it’s impossible for them to predict what will happen to you when and how. On some levels this is understandable, but it came to the point that CLAIR and other JET entities used this idea to deny responsibility or take action when there was a legitimate issue. While it’s encouraging to see this motto dropped, it’s probably still ingrained in the wiring of the organization.

In reality, JET and CLAIR are not god-like entities that can swing the hammer down any time a JET is in trouble. Part of the point of the program is being on your own in Japanese society. So you are, in essence, signing up for an experience in which the powers that send you have very little ability to help after you are deployed. You may have a great school with attentive students, or a difficult school full of street toughs. You may get Japanese co-workers who are thoughtful and caring, or indifferent and rude. You may get housed in a large 2 bedroom home or a tiny shoebox. More than likely, you’ll get a mix of good and bad elements to your JET experience (ie. Good teachers, bad students. Small home, close to train station, etc). JET drops you directly into Japanese life and Japanese life, like life anywhere, is complicated.

Culture Shock

Just a few sections up, I talked about the benefits of culture shock, but to get the benefits one must go through some real sucky times.

Most will go through culture shock and come out on the other end just fine. But it can be detrimental if you have a predisposition to depression or are in the middle of dealing with a tough life situation. It’s best to deal with those things first, learn some coping strategies, and then try coming to Japan. Adjusting to Japanese life takes some mental preparedness, so it’s best to defer if you aren’t ready.

Training Sucks

Rather, training in Japan is different. Japanese work culture is one of on the job training, wherein you jump in and learn the ropes as you go. If you’re coming from a Western country, you may be more used to being trained in what to do before being sent to do the job.

Neither approach is right necessarily, but going from one to the other can be frustrating. This is explained best in this article by Rochelle Kopp. In Japanese culture, training is seen as something that develops the self and therefore should be done on one’s own time. Thus, you should be ready to jump into your new job and roll with the punches until you get the hang of it.

You’ll Most Likely Get Put in the Inaka

The majority of JET participants are placed in the countryside of Japan (called “inaka” in Japanese). This could be a pro or con depending on your preferences. In general, inaka life means living far from train stations, having only a few shops in your town, being one of the only foreigners in your area, needing a car, and not having a whole lot to do after work. There is a lot of charm to living in the inaka, but we’re focusing on the negative here, so let’s not get too chipper.

Medical Situations

Japanese medical practice is a whole issue that is best covered in this article. The Japanese medical system will provide you with the care you need, though you may bump into a number of nuances and roadblocks that give you pause. Certain procedures that are common in the West may not be in Japan. Certain medications you are used to may not be available. Doctors are gods among men who cannot be questioned. The language barrier can feel especially daunting when it comes to medical Japanese. All in all, you will be fine in the Japanese medical system and you won’t pay much thanks to all your insurances (see above sections). But unfamiliarity with Japanese medical processes and the differences in medical practices may cause some frustration.

The Japanese School System Takes Some Getting Used To

Just as the Japanese medical system takes getting used to, so does the Japanese school system. The difference here is that the majority of your time on JET will be spent in this system.

Understanding the Japanese School System would take an entire article in itself, but the main things to remember are:

  • Kids are the center of the school, not the teachers: Kids stay in their homerooms and teachers go to them. This gives the students a sense that the classroom is their turf.
  • The school school is a group and that group must がんばります together: This is more of a dynamic of Japanese work culture, but the basic idea is that the group has to work together, and that means individual needs may get marginalized.
  • Japanese school is test focused: Japanese students have one goal: to get into a good college. To do this, they need to pass an entrance exam. And to get accepted to take the exam, they need to graduate from a good high school. And to graduate from a good high school, they need to test into a good high school. And to do all these things, Japanese students need to be good at taking tests. This can mean that some or most of the English lessons you teach have very little practical application.

These are just a few examples, but hopefully they should give you a good idea of how different the Japanese school system may feel.

You Are a Public Servant, Not Simply a Teacher

This means that you are bound by the same rules and obligations of other full-time government employees. As a public servant you may be asked to attend functions at the last minute, work on weekends, or stay late. Most schools choose not to ask their ALTs to do these things, but it is in your contract so be aware that your school or Board of Education has the right to rope you into a lot of extra work any time they choose.

The Answer to Some Questions Is “Just Do It Because That’s the Way It’s Done”.

In the West, we usually want to know why we are doing something before we do it. In Japan sometimes reasons may not be given as to why you need to do something.

For example, a friend of mine asked his Japanese neighbor about paying the NHK man who asks for money door-to-door.

The NHK is a government run public broadcasting service funded partly by the public. Instead of running telethons, the NHK simply goes door-to-door and insists on payment. As a person with a TV that receives NHK (all TVs in Japan do by default), you are expected to pay for the channel.

My friend told his Japanese neighbor that he didn’t pay the NHK man because he doesn’t watch NHK. The neighbor responded in shock. “You must pay the NHK man!”

When my friend asked why, the neighbor replied, “Because that’s what you do!” The real answer is that payment is required by law, but to the Japanese neighbor that wasn’t the issue. You just do it because you do it.

Several of your “why” questions on JET may be answered with “Because that’s the way it is” or “Because that’s the way it’s done.” This is especially frustrating when your questions are about things more serious than paying for public television.

Conclusion

fuji-and-sakura-together-at-last

Photo by skyseeker

JET is without a doubt a worthwhile program with a lot of flaws. There’s much to consider when deciding whether or not the JET Program is for you. You’ll want to talk it over with family and friends, make your own pros and cons list based on your life situation, and think about overall career goals. Keep in mind that life on JET is an adventure, and adventures are not constant excitement or good times. There’s a lot rough patches, boring spots, and downright frustrating obstacles. But peppered in there will be joys and ultimate rewards. An adventure is always a gamble, but hopefully worth it in the end.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Kanamara Matsuri: The Irony Behind the Infamous Japanese Penis Festival http://www.tofugu.com/2015/04/20/japanese-penis-festival/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/04/20/japanese-penis-festival/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48137 Last spring, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Tokyo, Japan. My study abroad program started in April, just in time for beautiful weather and cherry blossoms to greet us American college kids. Oh, and the infamous “Penis” Festival. If you’re in tune with all things unique in Japan, you may have heard about this […]

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Last spring, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Tokyo, Japan. My study abroad program started in April, just in time for beautiful weather and cherry blossoms to greet us American college kids.

Oh, and the infamous “Penis” Festival.

If you’re in tune with all things unique in Japan, you may have heard about this phallic matsuri. It has gained international recognition in the past few years thanks to wide coverage from news media, bloggers, and YouTubers.

I’d heard of the festival before, and seen the NSFW photos featuring participants carrying large, penis-shaped mikoshi (a palanquin carried around during festivals).

Being the college student I was, I thought it’d be a funny experience going to the festival with my friends. It seems very straightforward: it’s a festival, there’s a lot of penis effigies everywhere, and people are going to have a good time.

the-black-iron-penis

This matsuri ended up being one of the most mind-boggling and ironic things I attended during my time studying in Japan.

Most online sources present the festival as another “bizarre” thing to see in Japan. But when you look at the festival more closely, it’s a lot more complicated than you might think, and simply viewing it as a “Dick Festival” isn’t doing it much justice.

On one hand, the Penis Festival (known by its real name, the Kanamara Festival) has become over-commercialized comic relief for both locals and foreign visitors alike. It’s an attractive money-making venture, and seems to have lost its original, historical purpose.

But on the other hand, it’s hard to simply reject the festival completely when it promotes certain positive factors. While it is often marketed as a “weird” event to see and experience, this matsuri deserves a little more analysis, rather than pigeonholing it as just another “weird Japanese thing.”

The History of Kanamara, the Penis Festival

emperor-nintoku

Emperor Nintoku

The Penis Festival, also known as the Kanamara Festival, takes place annually on the first Sunday of April at Kanayama Shrine.

Kanayama Shrine is a smaller place of worship located within the grounds of yet another shrine Wakamiya-Hachimangu, and is located in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. It enshrines the legendary Emperor Nintoku (otherwise known as Oosagi-no-Mikoto).

The City of Kawasaki had some, but limited, information on the history behind the shrine and festival. Legend has it that when Shinto goddess Izanami no Mikoto gave birth to a fire god, she suffered great injuries on the lower half of her body. It’s said that Kanayamahiko-no-Kami and Kanayamahime-no-Kami, two gods enshrined at the Kanayama Shrine, healed Izanami’s injuries.

According to some sources, Kanayamahiko and Kanayamahime were both originally gods of mining and blacksmiths. But because of this myth involving Izanami, those seeking help with venereal diseases, fertility, safe childbirth, and matrimonial happiness began to pray to the two gods as well

Another tale involves a woman who had a demon living in her vagina who twice bit off the penises of her newlywed husbands. Finally, she went to a blacksmith who made her a steel penis upon which the demon broke its teeth, enabling her to live a normal life.

kawasaki-tokaido

From 53 Stations of the Tokaido (Hoeido edition): 2nd Station, Kawasaki

Beyond the myths, there’s also a historical reason behind the prayers for protection and happiness at Kanayama. The city of Kawasaki (where the shrine is located) was a stop for those who traveled along the Tokaido Road between Edo and cities in western parts of Japan. As a “pit stop” for travelers on the Tokaido, Kawasaki had “tea houses” that not only served as a rest stop for food and drink, but also as brothels where travelers could buy time with prostitutes. These prostitutes often visited the Kanayama Shrine as a way to pray for protection against venereal diseases, and it is said that they established the celebration of health and fertility at the Kanamara Festival.

Though there are differences in interpretation of the festival’s origins, one thing is clear: the shrine and the festival served a significant purpose for many who wished to promote good health, fertility, posterity, and happiness.

The Festival Today: Becoming a Tourists’ “Must See” 

kawasaki-daishi-station

Photo by mrmayat

As I mentioned, I had the chance to see this bizarre festival in person. My friends and I made a trip out in gloomy weather to the city of Kawasaki. The trains to the festival were packed with locals and foreign tourists alike.

Upon getting off at the station, I followed the throng of people outside, not sure where to head exactly. I walked around and followed the crowd for some time before finding a street that had been blocked off for a procession.

the-beginning-of-the-penis-festival

All of sudden, a black phallic mikoshi made its appearance, parading down the street in all its glory.

the-black-iron-penis-in-the-kanamara-festival

Then came the massive pink penis effigy named “Elizabeth”.

elizabeth-the-big-pink-penis

This “Elizabeth” effigy here is actually really interesting. It was donated by a drag queen club in Tokyo called “Elizabeth Kaikan” (エリザベス会館). Those who carry the effigy are “New Half”, or transgender females.

Participants were hard at work carrying Elizabeth and other penis mikoshi through the procession.

the-transgender-community-in-the-kanamara-festival

raining-on-the-penis-parade

Outside the procession, vendors and stores were selling phallic-shaped candies and goods. The prices were ridiculous, but that didn’t stop people from buying and licking overpriced, penis-shaped lollipops.

penis-lollipops-for-sale

The festival takes place near Kawasaki-Daishi, formally known as Heikenji, a Buddhist temple that’s quite famous as a popular hatsumode spot (first visit to a temple or shrine of the new year) during New Years. Things seemed a bit calmer here in Kawasaki-Daishi, where they also had a small festival with vendors that sold food, candy, and toys.

kawasaki-daishi

At this point, I mistakenly thought that Kawasaki-Daishi was the temple in charge of running the phallic fiesta. I was wrong. Continuing our walk through the area, we found a smaller shrine packed with people, including many drunk people.

crowded-kawasaki-daishi-temple

Wakamiya-Hachimangu, the shrine that encapsulates the shrine that holds the heart of penis paraders everywhere. Getting inside was a struggle with so many people packed inside.

penis-flag-in-japan

Kanayama Shrine, the real reason why this penis fest is taking place. We finally made it. Being 5’2″, I had difficulty maneuvering through the throng of people. After pushing and shoving my way to the center of the shrine, I found the black penis palanquin on display.

crowded-penis-festival-goers

At this point I was getting sick of everything, the festival, the weather, the drunkenness…

the-penis-mikoshi-at-rest

As far as I could tell, everyone, both locals and foreign tourists, were really enjoying this crazy festival.

Oh, the Irony

hooray-were-drunk

At first, I found the whole experience amusing. I felt as if I had seen something unique and interesting that I could talk about with my friends back home.

But as fatigue from maneuvering through the crowds of drunken tourists set in and I took time to reflect, I became distraught by the nature of the festival. I asked myself, “has the festival become a mere, commercialized tourist attraction? Does anyone care about its original purpose?” 

The more I mulled over what I had seen at the festival, the more I became conflicted with how the festival was carried out and viewed today.

In the past, the Kanamara Festival served something of a divine purpose for the locals, prostitutes, and visitors that paid their respects to the gods. In doing so, they prayed for conception, safe childbirth, protection from diseases, and the general happiness and welfare of the family. It seems disrespectful to take all these admirable hopes and prayers and boil them down to “dicks”.

In addition, the lost focus on fertility is doubly ironic given Japan’s declining birthrate. Fertility has been a critical social issue for Japan which has not seen improvement despite efforts and calls for better child-rearing environments and policies enabling women to work while raising a family.

Overpriced phallic goods permeated the streets as visitors, many who were drunk, acted obnoxiously in public. The festival, at least on the surface, appeared to preserve very little of its former meaning.

However as I did a little more research into this festival, I found some interesting high notes. Because the pink effigy, Elizabeth, was donated by a drag queen club, the Kanamara Festival is quite popular with the LGBTQ community. Transgender people carry Elizabeth in the parade, which represents a rare opportunity for those in the LBGTQ community to participate proudly and openly in conservative Japan.

In addition, the shrine donates the proceeds collected during the festival to HIV/AIDS research. So amidst all the materialism lies some good, which made it harder for me to assess this festival at first glance.

End

penis-face-attacks

Perhaps I’m overanalyzing things. After all, it’s a festival and festivals include people merrily celebrating with booze. The Kanamara Festival is no different than many other street parties held the world over. Also, the matsuri brings tourists into Kawasaki, which is great for any local economy in Japan, a country bogged down in recession.

But while media sources highlight this phallic fiesta as a quirky tourist attraction, this mindset easily overshadows a critical issue in Japanese society today. Rather than accepting it as another “bizarre thing that Japan does”, it’s worthwhile to reflect on the very human reasons Japanese people forged giant penises and hoisted them around in the first place.

For anyone planning to attend the festival, take some time to learn about the matsuri’s history, take notice of its acceptance of diverse groups of people, and donate to the charities collecting there. Perhaps then, carousing in a penis costume will feel a little more fruitful.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

All photos taken by author unless otherwise specified

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Samurai Nicknames, Monikers, Aliases, and Pseudonyms http://www.tofugu.com/2015/04/10/samurai-sobriquets/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/04/10/samurai-sobriquets/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49353 When I studied abroad in Japan I was not the only Adam in my program, so in an effort to differentiate my friends dubbed me “Megane,” due to my spectacular specs.  Nicknames are quite common in English speaking countries, and Japan is no different – well, maybe a little different.  Nicknames may be big in […]

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When I studied abroad in Japan I was not the only Adam in my program, so in an effort to differentiate my friends dubbed me “Megane,” due to my spectacular specs.  Nicknames are quite common in English speaking countries, and Japan is no different – well, maybe a little different.  Nicknames may be big in Japan, but verbal irony is not, so you’re not likely to have a portly pal named Slim, a big buddy named Tiny, or an unfortunate uncle named Lucky.  Still, Japan has a long history of nicknames, and some of the coolest were given to various samurai over the centuries.  This article will look at a few of the most interesting samurai nicknames, and examine their origins and significance.

God of War, Dragon of Echigo

uesugi kenshin

Let’s begin with a warlord of the Sengoku period (1467-1603), a century of samurai civil war.  Uesugi Kenshin (1530-1578), was lord of Echigo in northwestern Honshu (Japan’s largest island).  He was born into a vassal family of the Uesugi as Nagao Kagetora, but several battles and name changes later he had become Uesugi Kenshin, head of the clan.

bishamonten

Photo by Wally Gobetz

In fact, taking the name Kenshin was a religious move: sometime around 1559, he took Buddhist vows and the new name as well.  This hardly meant a retirement from the battlefield, despite Buddhism’s prohibitions against violence – there were many samurai like Kenshin, who became lay priests and carried on fighting as usual.  Befitting a warrior such as himself, Kenshin was a devotee of the war god, Bishamonten.  He even put the first character of the god’s name on his war standard.  Not only is Bishamonten a god of war, but he’s also one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune.  Why would war be associated with good luck?  Well, you’re lucky if you win the battle, and perhaps lucky if Bishamonten meted out justice in your favor, for he also punished evildoers.  Uesugi Kenshin’s devotion and martial prowess was such that some thought him an avatar of Bishamon and gave him the nickname gunjin 軍神 “God of War.”

ceiling dragon

Speaking of those battlefield skills, they also garnered Kenshin another nickname: Echigo no ryū 越後の龍 “the Dragon of Echigo.”  Dragons were also seen as guardians of wisdom, so perhaps Kenshin’s spiritual side had something to do with it.  There is another point of significance to the dragon.  More on that to follow.

The Tiger of Kai

takeda shingen

Takeda Shingen (1521-1573) was lord of Kai (roughly corresponding to modern Yamanashi Prefecture).  Shingen’s ferocity on the battlefield earned him the epithet Kai no tora 甲斐の虎 “the Tiger of Kai,” but there’s more to the story than that.  After Shingen conquered Shinano Province, which separated his home of Kai and Echigo, the former lords of Shinano went to the aforementioned Uesugi Kenshin for help.  What followed was a series of battles, most famously the five Battles of Kawanakajima, in 1553, 1554, 1557, 1561, and 1564.  One of the most iconic stories of the Sengoku period took place during the fourth battle, when Kenshin managed to burst into Shingen’s headquarters, but the Tiger manged to fend off the Dragon’s attack with his iron war fan long enough for a vassal to injure Kenshin’s horse and drive him away.

These frequent clashes were significant for the nicknames of the two warlords, and not only because they showcased their martial prowess, which are symbolically reflected in the dragon and tiger individually.  In a tradition tracing back to China, the dragon and tiger paired together were a symbol of eternal rivalry.  What better nicknames for two samurai who were always fighting without a decisive victor?  And the Chinese connection was all the more apt because both Kenshin and Shingen were avid readers of Chinese texts on strategy.

The Monkey, The Bald Rat

hideyoshi

When I stated in the introduction that Japan is not big on ironic nicknames, I didn’t mean that they are all positive.  Most of these warrior nicknames are in some way expressions of badassitude – but not so for the names Kinoshita Tokichiro got stuck with.

Who is Kinoshita Tokichiro?  You might know him better as Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), the man who basically ran Japan from 1585 to 1598. Hideyoshi was born into a common family with no surname, but as a young man took the name Kinoshita Tokichiro.  Due to the chaos of war and lack of central authority, the Sengoku period was a time when even men of humble origin could rise in the ranks if they had the abilities and drive necessary.  Kinoshita Tokichiro was such a man, and he literally worked his way up from the bottom – the feet, to be precise.  Around 1557, he became a sandal-bearer for Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), the young lord of Owari who would soon become one of the most powerful warlords and begin uniting Japan through conquest.  Kinoshita Tokichiro later change his name to Toyoyomi Hideyoshi, but his lord liked to call him kozaru “little monkey,” because of his facial features and skinny frame.

There’s also an extant letter from Nobunaga to Hideyoshi’s wife in which he reprimands Hideyoshi, calling him hage nezumi 禿げ鼠“bald rat,” which has always puzzled me a bit.  In most portraits of Hideyoshi, the top of his head was shaved, in a style popular among samurai of the time.  Given that many samurai had their domes shaved, it’s hard to say how Hideyoshi could have stood out as “bald.”  Maybe he was losing hair around the lower-back portion of his head?  It seems unlikely.

The One-Eyed Dragon

date masamune

Date Masamune (1567-1636) was lord of Sendai, in the northeast of Honshu.  He lost the sight in his right eye to smallpox as a child and later lost the eye itself, and though the exact circumstances are unknown, a few different stories were told.  Some say he pulled it out himself when it was pointed out as a potential weak spot in a fight; other versions say a retainer gouged it out for him. In any case, as a result he became known as the “One-Eyed Dragon” (dokuganryū 独眼竜).  All of this added up to a reputation of toughness, and I wouldn’t argue with that.  Still, it seems that Date Masamune was at least somewhat sensitive on the subject of his missing eye, for he requested at least one portrait be done with both eyes intact.

The Dog Shogun

tokugawa tsunayoshi

This case is a bit strange, for the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646-1709), earned the title of “the Dog Shogun” not by showing exemplary loyalty or fierceness, but by being an animal rights advocate.  That said, the name was not meant to be a compliment.  Tsunayoshi took spiritual matters seriously (if not logically), and decided that because he was born in the year of the Dog, he should do something to protect his canine citizens.

He issued several edicts known as the Edicts on Compassion for Living Things (生類憐みの令 Shōruiawareminorei) that instructed the people of Edo to protect the many stray and diseased dogs roaming the capital city.  Due in part to these edicts, in 1695 there were so many strays that people noted the smell.  One man was executed for hurting a dog.  As a result people were not pleased with these edicts, and dubbed Tsunayoshi with the title Inu-kubō  犬公方 “the Dog Shogun.”  Ultimately, these problems were alleviated by deporting over 50,000 dogs to kennels in the suburbs – although even then, the fish and rice they were fed was paid for by tax money.

The Demon Lieutenant

demon battle

Photo by Stuart Rankin

More than one Japanese general was called a demon for terrifying their enemies, but I’ve chosen to focus on a leader who earned the name by instilling just as much fear in his own men.  Hijikata Toshizo (1835-1869) lived through the waning days of the Tokugawa shogunate and of the samurai class.  He became the lieutenant or vice-commander (fukuchō) of the Shinsengumi, a police-like corps of samurai assigned to keep order in Kyoto on behalf of the shogun from 1864 to 1869, when some who wanted to restore the emperor to power were carrying out assassinations in the streets and plotting revolution.

Hijikata was responsible for penning the Shinsengumi’s stringent code of conduct.  Under these rules, members were not allowed to leave the group, raise money for “selfish purposes,” or fight for personal reasons, among other things.  Hijikata rigidly enforced these rules and the punishment for breaking them was committing ritual suicide (seppuku).  For example, while visiting his mistress one member was wounded from behind by another of the woman’s lovers.  He was found by a fellow Shinsengumi member who helped him back to headquarters, where he was ordered to commit seppuku.  It’s no surprise that Hijikata Toshizo came to be called the “Demon Lieutenant” (oni no fukuchō 鬼の副長).

A Samurai By Any Other Name

roses

Nicknames may be seen as trivial, and perhaps they are, but they can tell us things about the person who bears them. What’s more, they can tell us things about the people and cultures from which the names spring: what they value, what they disparage, what they find funny, and what symbols are important to them.  I’ve only touched on a few samurai nicknames here.  There are plenty more out there.  What’s your favorite samurai nickname?  Do you have a Japanese nickname yourself?  Let us know in the comments.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

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Katsuobushi, The Dried Fish You Didn’t Know You Loved http://www.tofugu.com/2015/04/03/katsuobushi-the-dried-fish-you-didnt-know-you-loved/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/04/03/katsuobushi-the-dried-fish-you-didnt-know-you-loved/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=50282 This probably doesn’t look tasty to you. After all, it looks like a chunk of dirty wood: Photo by Andy King50 With the above pic in mind, try not to freak out when I have to tell you, if you love Japanese food, you’ve eaten that thing many, many times. It’s a dried fermented fish product called […]

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This probably doesn’t look tasty to you. After all, it looks like a chunk of dirty wood:

katsuobushi-block-looks-like-wood

Photo by Andy King50

With the above pic in mind, try not to freak out when I have to tell you, if you love Japanese food, you’ve eaten that thing many, many times. It’s a dried fermented fish product called katsuobushi, and its flavor is the backbone of traditional Japanese cooking.

Katsuobushi is probably familiar to you in a different form: those papery-looking fish flakes sprinkled on top of cold tofu or okonomiyaki. But it has a less visible, very important role as a main ingredient in dashi, the broth used in traditional Japanese food. Unlike the soup stock used in most other countries, dashi takes only minutes to make – but that’s only after the weeks or months it takes to produce katsuobushi.

Like many traditional foods and crafts, old-fashioned ways of using katsuobushi have been replaced by modern shortcuts in many homes, but the real thing is still hanging on and even spreading across the world.

Start with A Fish

katsuobushi-blocks-dried-in-a-pile

Katsuobushi is made from a fish called skipjack tuna or bonito in English. It’s katsuo in Japanese, reflected in its Latin name, Katsuwonus pelamis. As with any food with a long history, there are different types and many regional variations in how it’s produced, but for the most traditional and elaborate kind, here’s basically how it goes:

The fish is cut into four fillets and simmered for a couple hours, then deboned. Each fillet is then smeared with fish paste to fill in all the cracks and lines left where the bones were, giving it a smooth surface. Then it’s smoked for about a month.

After that, the hardened hunk of fish is shaved to make sure the shape is perfect, and then sprayed with mold. No, really, it’s okay – after all, many Japanese foods involve our little one-celled friends. In fact the mold used is related to kōji, the microorganism used to make sake, miso, and soy sauce – we wouldn’t have Japanese food without it. The moldy fillets then spend about six months cycling between resting in a humid fermentation room and being dried in the sunlight. The result is what you see above.

Nowadays only a very small percentage of katsuobushi goes through that entire process. The simpler kind, called arabushi, is simply smoked for thirty days. As we see with many other foods and drinks like cheese and wine, the longer aging and fermentation processes are reserved for the most expensive, high-quality product, which goes under various names including hongarebushi, karebushi and shiagebushi.

Now What?

katsuobushi-on-a-slicing-drawer

You can’t just bite into a hunk of katsuobushi. Although I can’t confirm this, I heard on an NHK TV show that katsuobushi holds the Guinness record for world’s hardest food. If that’s not true, it ought to be. This is why the form we’re most familiar with is those flakes, because you’ve got to shave the hardened fish into paper-thin pieces to use it. The traditional device for producing the flakes by hand, a wooden box with a sharp blade on top and drawers to catch the shavings, is called a kezuriki, pictured above.

The flakes are eaten in many ways – on top of okonomiyaki (where they dance around from the heat), on top of takoyaki, on top of cold tofu, and inside of rice balls. But their most fundamental use is for dashi stock, which is used to make miso soup and is an ingredient in many traditional dishes. You may not know what dashi tastes like plain, but Japanese food wouldn’t taste like Japanese food without it.

The most basic dashi is made of kombu seaweed and katsuobushi flakes. There are variations on how to do this, but basically, you soak a piece of kombu for while, then simmer it for ten minutes or so. Then turn off the heat and add the katsuobushi. The dashi is done once the flakes sink to the bottom of the pan (from half a minute to a few minutes, depending on who you read).

I always thought it was interesting and surprising that making dashi goes so quickly. Western soup stocks take hours of simmering to develop flavor, which made me wonder how the Japanese figured out how to make it so easily? But now I know the truth that dashi takes MUCH longer to make – it’s just that the majority of the time is taken up in the production of the main ingredient long before it gets to your kitchen.

Why So Good?

okonomiyaki-with-katsuobushi

Something like katsuobushi has been around since maybe the eighth century, with the first evidence of smoke-dying in the late 1600s and the fermentation process entering the picture about a century later. Various legends tell of some brave soul who found some dried, smoked katsuobushi that had gotten moldy, decided to eat it anyway, and discovered that it had become even more delicious.

But why? In my fridge, mold makes stuff worse, not better. What’s going on? Here are some of the effects of mold in the process of making katsuobushi, according to the Tokyo Foundation:

1. Mold consumes the moisture in the meat to sustain itself, thus accelerating desiccation.

2. Mold has the ability to decompose fat, ridding the meat of both its fat and smell and converting the fat into soluble fatty acids. The process also takes the edge off the taste, enhancing the savor and aroma.

3. Mold breaks down proteins into amino acids and other nitrogenous compounds, which also increase savor (umami).

4. The coating of mold keeps off other microorganisms.

5. Mold breaks down the neutral fat and increases free fatty acids, resulting in a clear soup when katsuobushi shavings are boiled.

The result of all this is crazy full of umami. Umami is a trendy foodie concept now, but it’s actually pretty old – and it originally came from Japan. In fact, dashi itself is where the concept comes from.

You may have heard that there are four primary tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. But it’s generally recognized now that there’s a fifth: umami, which is the flavor of savory, meaty things. One reason dashi has become central to Japanese cuisine is that it helps impart that kind of rich flavor to meatless dishes based on soy, vegetables, and fish.

In fact umami was first identified in 1908 by a Japanese scientist named Kikunae Ikeda who was thinking about why dashi had that meaty flavor. His analysis identified a component of kombu seaweed that he decided to call umami from the Japanese word umai, “delicious.” (Ikeda built an empire on that work: basically he had discovered MSG, which he sold under the name Ajinomoto, now a giant food and chemical corporation.)

The combination of ingredients in dashi, because of the inosinic acid in katsuobushi and glutamic acid in kombu, have a synergistic effect that more than doubles that umami effect.

“One plus one becomes three or more on the umami scale,” as one chef puts it.

katsuobushi-is-expensive-sometimes

Photo by tokyofoodcast

Still, the very highest quality katsuobushi is about more than just a couple of molecules. There are subtle variations in flavor, with resulting differences in price (like in the photo above) and individual and regional preferences. Supposedly many cooks in fancy Kyoto restaurants prefer what’s called Satsuma type made in Makurazaki in Kagoshima Prefecture. And individuals have individual preferences as well – dashi that tastes like mom made it can be a big deal. On my first trip to Japan, a friend took me to an udon place where she waxed ecstatic about the flavor of the dashi, a subtlety that was completely lost on me. And she’s clearly not alone – it’s even a trope you can find in fiction, like in a drama that I’ve written about elsewhere, where the proprietor of an old restaurant says she’ll have to shut down if their traditional katsuobushi maker goes out of business, because their food would never be the same without it.

Modern Cheats

katsuobushi-flakes

Photo by Julie Frost

It’s no surprise that such a complicated food would be the target of modernizers. If you’ve ever bought katsuobushi yourself, you probably bought it already shaved. That’s a modern development, if you count the early 20th century as modern – which is fair to say given how long katsuobushi has been around. Before that, everyone had to have one of those shaver thingies to make the flakes themselves. The shop that’s said to have first started selling katsuobushi in flake form in the early Showa era is still in business at Tsuskiji Market: Akiyama Shouten, which was founded in 1916.

It’s also worth noting that nearly all of that pre-shaved katsuobushi in packets is the kind that’s produced the fast way, by just smoking, not the kind that’s fermented for six months. You’re not going to find the best quality product in packet form, same as how you won’t find the finest aged Parmigiano cheese pre-grated in a cardboard box with a shaker top.

It still counts as making dashi from scratch if you start with a packet of shavings, though, and you should try it because it’s really easy. But of course nowadays there are even shorter shortcuts. Given how fast it is to make dashi I’m a little ashamed to say that sometimes I use these little tea-bag things that have the seaweed and fish and other ingredients in them, which you just pop into a pot of boiling water and steep for a while. They’re really not bad though, compared to the fact that you can also buy dried instant granules and liquid concentrate. Can we all agree that there’s no excuse for that? At least use the tea bag thingies, okay?

Not Dead Yet

katsuobushi-flakes-for-sale-in-bins

Photo by Sophie

Although there are worries about the preservation of Japanese traditional food culture and few people shave their own bonito flakes at home anymore, production of katsuobushi has actually been rising. And despite my own sad feelings about instant dashi granules, the reason for this increase is precisely the demand for its use in processed foods – not just convenient forms of dashi but entirely pre-made dishes like instant miso soup.

And while the majority of production is the simpler arabushi, there are producers committed to preserving the handmade product. One city, Yaezu, Shizuoka, where katsuobushi production is a major industry, has designated the art of making it the traditional way as a living cultural treasure.

Not only that, people are starting to make it overseas. This year, the first katsuobushi plant in France is supposed to begin production. The idea for the plant started when some visiting producers tasted a bowl of miso soup in Paris and were shocked at its lack of umami flavor. They discovered that the reason was that the French couldn’t get the fancy kind of katsuobushi from Japan because EU rules prohibited the import of moldy foods. So they decided to build a plant to make it locally. Another chef is reported to be planning to make his own for an udon shop in Switzerland.

A famous American chef is even extending the technique to non-fish. David Chang of Momofuku in Los Angeles, who’s known for being into fermenting anything he can get his hands on, has invented butabushi, processing pork in a similar way. Chang seems to be another brave man in the history of fermented foods, judging from tales of the initial attempts:

Pork loin is steamed, smoked and “left to rot.” The first time he made it, it was “a technicolor weird thing” covered with mold. “I wondered, am I dying as I’m breathing this in?'” But when cut into, it was the same amber as katsuobushi, and just as delicious, according to Chang.

He had a hard time replicating it at first but eventually even got a scientific journal article out of documenting the process, which included having the DNA sequence of the mold analyzed.

At the end of the day, katsuobushi seems to be doing all right. People are preserving the old ways as well as changing with the times. And I’ll raise a cup of miso soup to that. But not one made with granules.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

The post Katsuobushi, The Dried Fish You Didn’t Know You Loved appeared first on Tofugu.

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Juri and Prostitution in Ryukyu http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/20/juri-and-prostitution-in-ryukyu/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/20/juri-and-prostitution-in-ryukyu/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48664 Prior to 1609, Ryukyu (modern day Okinawa prefecture) was an independent kingdom, but in that year the Shimazu clan of Satsuma (in southern Kyushu) successfully invaded. The Shimazu left the Ryukyuan monarchy in place, letting them remain semi-autonomous so they could get a piece of the Sino-Ryukyuan trade. That remained the state of affairs until […]

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Prior to 1609, Ryukyu (modern day Okinawa prefecture) was an independent kingdom, but in that year the Shimazu clan of Satsuma (in southern Kyushu) successfully invaded. The Shimazu left the Ryukyuan monarchy in place, letting them remain semi-autonomous so they could get a piece of the Sino-Ryukyuan trade. That remained the state of affairs until Japan officially annexed them in the 1870s.

Everyone has heard that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, so it should be no surprise that it was present in the Ryukyu Kingdom. The general term for prostitutes in Ryukyu was juri, usually written 尾類. Unfortunately, pictures of juri are quite scarce, and I could not find any that would do them any justice, which is a shame because the way prostitution was conducted in this time and place was different than that of Edo. Let’s take a look at the lives of these women and how they fit, or failed to fit, into Ryukyuan society.

Raising the Red Lantern

juri-ryukyu-ladies-of-the-evening-red-lanturns

Photo by: Akira Asakura

Sources on prostitution in the kingdom before the seventeenth century seem scarce. Though women certainly sold themselves prior to the Satsuma invasion of 1609, their numbers increased thereafter. Many were from rural villages which they fled due to a life made harsher by the annual tribute demanded by Satsuma. Most plied their trade in Naha, the kingdom’s chief international port, in the sections most frequented by Chinese visitors. Their favorite haunt appeared to be Tsuji 辻, a section of Naha near the Tenshikan, the official lodging of Chinese envoys. Due to its proximity to the Tenshikan and the port, there were people from Ryukyu, China, and Satsuma of all classes frequently coming and going, making it an ideal location to attract customers. Uncontrolled prostitution came to be such a problem that in 1672 the royal government had the pleasure quarters of Tsuji and Nakajima constructed, the prostitutes scattered about the city were moved to these quarters. There was also a third pleasure quarter, Watanji, the construction date of which is uncertain.

Until the Meiji period there were no inns or restaurants as such in Okinawa, so brothels often functioned in those capacities as well as tending to more intimate needs. One might invite a friend there for a meal, or hold a party or meeting there. Some sources assert that the pleasure quarters were a place where people came and went without caring about class. This is something often claimed in regards to the pleasure quarters of Japan as well. This appears to be based largely on the fact that men of any class would be served, that samurai were required to check their swords at the door, and that though they were at the top of the normal social hierarchy, in the red-light district a wealthy merchant might hold more sway than they would. Still, though its importance may have been reduced, that does not mean Yoshiwara and its ilk were classless havens for the men who visited. Given that prostitution in Ryukyu was being systematized at a time when the government was also attempting to indoctrinate society with Confucian ideas of hierarchy, it would be somewhat surprising if class was completely absent from their pleasure quarters.

Sold into Service

juri-ryukyu-ladies-of-the-evening-sad-woman

Photo by: Yuxuan Wang

It’s important remember that even today sex trafficking remains a problem all over the world. Past or present, though we may not always be able to put names or faces to the women who have been exploited in the sex trade, it makes their situations no less tragic. In Ryukyu girls were usually sold at around the age of ten to anmā (the madams of the brothels), either through intermediaries or by brokers. When anmā told middlemen their terms and wishes regarding a girl’s age, price, etc. when an appropriate girl appeared he would promptly take her to the anmā. There the girl and the person considering taking her on would live together for about a week. During that time the anma would observe her behavior and appearance, investigate her lineage, and receive a doctor’s diagnosis, provide official papers determining the girls price, and before long plans were made to take charge of the girl.

juri-ryukyu-ladies-of-the-evening-sanshin

Photo by: bopo

These girls were known as kōingwa, chikanēngwa, or juri nu kūga. They were taught etiquette and traditional arts such as dancing, playing the koto and the sanshin (the Okinawan predecessor of the shamisen). It is unclear to what extent juri may have been literate. Those that came from peasant backgrounds probably could not read, but those from upper class families may have had the ability. The girls survived on meager fare, boiled barley and rice, pickles, and a thin soup. They generally slept somewhere like the kitchen, until they took their first customer around the age of fourteen or fifteen, at which time they were given their own room. This may sound like a harsh existence, which it was. However, one must keep in mind that it may not have been that different than the living conditions of most Ryukyuan peasants. The girls were then known as anmāsūtē for two or three years, during which time the anmā handled their clients and financial matters. When a girl turned eighteen she received a courtesan’s license, becoming a full-fledged juri. From then on she was expected to earn enough to pay monthly rent for her room and furnishings, and to begin paying off her ransom. Once her ransom was paid, she became free to either return to her home village or continue as a prostitute. Some women went on to acquire the necessary license and become anmā themselves, continuing the cycle.

Some prostitutes became chimijuri, or mistresses to a single patron. In this case she could come and go between her patron’s home and the pleasure quarter. If a husband was having trouble producing an heir, his wife might even encourage such a relationship. In such cases if a son was born he might be adopted into his father’s household (however, as shall be explained shortly, this sort of adoption was perhaps the government’s biggest problem with prostitution). Otherwise, sons of juri would sometimes return to the home village of his mother, while daughters born while the mother’s ransom remained unpaid usually became juri themselves. On the other hand, the children of anmā were free, though some chose to become juri of their own accord.

Not the Norm

juri-ryukyu-ladies-of-the-evening-tomb

Juri occupied an awkward position, and not only because of the disapproval some people had for their occupation. There were two roles held in common by nearly all Ryukyuan women, which therefore represented what it meant to be a woman in that society. The first of these was giving birth to, and raising children. While some juri raised the children born of their liaisons, boys were often treated differently by being sent to be raised by their mother’s family. In either case it was not a family structure that accorded with either Okinawan practice or the Confucian idea of a family (one in which maintenance of the male line was of great importance) that was becoming the norm. The second was that every married Ryukyuan woman would become the spiritual head of her household (if not upon marriage, then when her mother-in-law passed away). This role was also denied to juri. The sources were unclear on how juri participated in religion or whether or not they were buried in their parents’ family tomb. In these ways they did not conform to the norms expected of women in either Ryukyuan practice or Confucian teachings. They also disrupted the class system, either because they themselves had come from upper class families to such low position, or because they were consorting with men of the upper class, and even bearing their children. Their irregularities within the social order did not go unnoticed by those in power. The royal government saw fit to regulate prostitution beyond the official systematization that began with the designation of official pleasure quarters.

Controlling the Chaos

juri-ryukyu-ladies-of-the-evening-Naha-Siseibyo

Photo by: 663highland

The first to address prostitution with policy appeared to be Shō Shōken, a government official who ordered the establishment of official pleasure quarters, as mentioned above. He also issued laws to prohibit the upper class from patronizing prostitutes and to restrict the movements of juri as well. However, neither of these regulations was strictly enforced. In the time of Sai On (1682-1761), another influential government minister, upper class patronage of prostitution continued to be a problem. It was described in 1725 in the following way in the Kyūyō, the official history of the kingdom:

Prostitutes wreak havoc on great ethics, [lying with] countless people in a single night…. A thousand seeds in one womb make it difficult to discern [the father of any children]. Among customers who have taken such children as their own, many have been mistaken. This practice, therefore, has been forbidden. In recent years, the number of violators of this law has grown large. Those [offspring of prostitutes] who have disrupted the legitimate line of succession by having been entered into household registers are to be expunged and made commoners…

Informed by a Confucian worldview of a strict social hierarchy and the importance of maintaining a household’s male line, the Ryukyuans condemned prostitution when the relationship between man and woman transgressed class barriers. The fact that they did not conform to Confucian norms of a woman’s role was part of this as well. The act of selling sex itself was not seen as evil in the way it was in the West, based on the judgment of a disapproving omniscient deity. The muddling of class divisions became such a concern for the royal government that in 1747 the Sanshikan, on which Sai On held a seat, issued the following proclamation:

Memorial

As regards the daughters of the gentry who are sometimes sold into prostitution by their relatives due to poverty, I can hear people’s reasons for making them courtesans, but the loss of the gentry’s fidelity to principle is a very bad thing that in the end will be the undoing of the country’s laws. Hereafter, those daughters of the gentry who are made into courtesans shall adopt the genealogy of their owner and become commoners. The leaders of all communities should go out and firmly pronounce this, so that its principles will be obeyed. That is all.

The Sanshikan

When they are told the above, its intent will be grasped, and should be firmly announced within the group.

Greater Community Seat

Community Leaders

 

These two declarations support the view that the main issue Sai On and other officials of his era had with prostitution was its distorting effects on the lineages of upper class families which distinguished them in the social hierarchy. The government’s attempts to prevent the upper class from patronizing prostitutes were ineffective, and so their solution was to make all prostitutes and their descendants into commoners.

The Genie That Won’t Be Bottled

juri-ryukyu-ladies-of-the-evening-bottle-smaller
Photo by: Fg2

Thus one can see that the Ryukyuan government saw the construction of official pleasure quarters with licensed prostitutes as the appropriate way of handling the sex trade. The Ryukyuan government had a strong concern with the preservation of upper class family lineages. This was why systematization and control were deemed necessary. Subsequently, when unlicensed prostitutes undermined that system the government took action to force them into it. Of course, this was a perfect solution for no one. That still eludes governments today.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

  • Okinawa daihyakka jiten. 4 vols. Edited by Okinawa daihyakka jiten kankō jimukyoku. Naha: Okinawa taimususha, 1983
  • Okinawa kenshi. Vol. 22. Naha: Ryūkyū Seigu, 1965
  • Smits, Gregory. Visions of Ryukyu. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999

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The Meaning of 国 http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/11/meaning-%e5%9b%bd/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/11/meaning-%e5%9b%bd/#comments Wed, 11 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48300 Kuni can be a troublesome word.  Full of ambiguity, it can be translated as country, nation, state, or kingdom.  For native English speakers, the confusion is compounded by the distinctions between those words in English, which are not always clear.  Some compound words containing kuni (sometimes read koku) also defy clear definition.  Some come loaded with […]

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Kuni can be a troublesome word.  Full of ambiguity, it can be translated as country, nation, state, or kingdom.  For native English speakers, the confusion is compounded by the distinctions between those words in English, which are not always clear.  Some compound words containing kuni (sometimes read koku) also defy clear definition.  Some come loaded with historical or political connotations.  Here, let’s delve into realms etymological, historical, and political in an attempt to better understand a word we may have learned, but not given much thought.

Confounding Kanji

a mess o kanji

Photo by Stuart Rankin

Starting by looking at the kanji for kuni, keep in mind that Chinese characters are somewhat ideographic.  This is the original character for kuni, used in Chinese and in Japanese for many centuries:

 國

The outer square may look like the character for mouth 口, but in fact it is a nearly identical character (no longer in common Japanese usage) meaning “erect,” “proud,” or “upright.”  In print or type they look indistinguishable to me, though when written with a brush there is a subtle difference.

Aside from the character’s standalone definition, it is often used to enclose other radicals, sometimes words whose meanings are connected to a concept of walls, borders, or enclosures: for example, garden 園, arrest 囚, and surround 囲.  Of course if we’re talking about kuni as a country or state, then those things have borders.

Inside the outer square is the character  或.  It can mean: 1. or, either, else; 2. perhaps, maybe; 3. someone, somebody, some people.  I’m not sure how much bearing the first two definitions have on the meaning of kuni, but the third makes sense.  A kuni can be seen as some people enclosed within borders, although of course that would be a pretty broad definition.

However, a different character is used for kuni in modern Japanese:

There’s the same outer enclosure, but inside is the character 玉.  This character’s most explicit meanings are jade, jewel or ball, though it is used in many ways to refer to things that are round, shiny, and/or pretty.  However, in some contexts, it can represent the emperor or king.  The usual character for king, 王, is quite similar, and jade was often symbolic of royalty in China.  One Japanese example that shows their parallels is the traditional chess-like game of shogi, where the king equivalents for each side are labeled 王将 “king general” and 玉将 “jade general,” respectively.  At any rate, it’s easy to see how in pre-modern East Asia a country could be seen as a king and his borders.

English Etymology Excursus

united nations flags

Before delving further into the origins and meanings of kuni I think it best to take a look at the deeper meanings of some of its most common English translations.  The common usage of these words may not always get across the more precise meanings of these (especially the meanings they imply to historians).  I think the most relevant words for us to look at are country, nation, state, and nation-state.

In English, the word country usually refers to a region of land defined by geographical features or political boundaries.  Today “country” is often synonymous with a sovereign state.  A state is the set of governing and supportive institutions that have sovereignty over a definite territory and population.  Still, there are cases, such as those of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, where an area that is not a sovereign state is called a country.  Of course country can also refer to the country(side) or a general sort of native land.

A nation denotes a people who are believed to or deemed to share common customs, religion, language, origins, ancestry or history.  The term nation-state is used when the bounds of a government coincide with the range of the people it governs, who share some of the qualities mentioned above.  Some states could also be labeled multinational, though the distinctions of what constitutes particular nations can be unclear sometimes.  The prevailing scholarly view has been that nations are a product of modernity that began to emerge around late 18th century and have really taken off since.  However, some argue that there are older examples.  Among the various views on the matter, there are some that put forward the idea that China, Korea, and Japan were nations by the time of the European Middle Ages.

Straight to the Sino-Source

china map 5BC

Photo by Yug

Many people have heard China called “the Middle Kingdom,” a translation of the word for China, zhongguo 中國.  However, originally zhongguo referred to multiple “central states,” during the Spring and Autumn period (771-476 BCE) and the aptly named Warring States period (475-221 BCE).  These were originally smaller city-states, but expanded and fought until the leader of the state of Qin finally managed, through conquest, to unify these former states under his rule.  It is from Qin, that we get the English name China.  From China’s history we can see that guo could be just as multifaceted a term for them as kuni was for Japan.

Conflicting Kuni Connotations

map of feudal japan

Photo by maproom.org

Things get even trickier when looking at the Japanese era from 1467 to 1603 known as the Sengoku period (sengoku jidai).  It was a time when both emperor and shogun had lost authority and regional lords vied with one another to defend and expand their territories.  The tricky part is that the term used for these lords’ territories was kuni.  This was a designation that originated from legal system of the Kamakura period (1185-1333).  In that sense, kuni could be thought of as provinces, but by the Sengoku period they were largely operating as sovereign states.  Thus, Japan, which we call a kuni today, was made up of many largely independent kuni.

I did a little informal polling of some of my Japanese friends to see how they interpreted the term “sengoku jidai.” Interestingly, two told me that the image they associated with those words was of a single kuni (Japan) divided by civil war, but two other friends told me that to them it connoted the idea of many smaller kuni fighting one another.  It would seem that the term is vague even for them, but without much consequence for the average person.  As another friend told me, they didn’t cover the Sengoku period much in school, but if pressed the first impression would be an association with the Sengoku Musou video games.

At any rate, I think interpreting the kuni in Sengoku period as referring to the smaller divisions accords better with history.  There was a sense of the traditional authority of the emperor, but during this period that authority was extremely limited.  For the most part, kuni were their own little sovereign states.  There appears to have been some sense of bond from sharing a common language, and many common traditions, but there was also great cultural diversity, and a Japanese nationality would not be fully realized for some time to come.

Dissecting the National Body

japanese constitution ceremony

There are many compound words that include the charater kuni, and kokutai 国体 is another one with ambiguous meanings.  Kokutai literally means “national body,” but depending on the context and the translator can have meanings such as “system of government,” “sovereignty,” “national identity/essence/character,” and “national polity/body politic/national entity.”  The word has its origin in China, where its first known usages are found in two books from the 2nd century BCE and 1st century CE, respectively.  In the former, the word is used as a metaphor meaning the “embodiment of the country,” while the latter tome uses it to mean “laws and governance.”

The word kokutai began to take on importance in Japan during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), due to Neo-Confucian scholars like Aizawa Seishisai (1782-1863), who popularized it in his 1825 book, Shinron.  Seishisai was head of the Mito School, which supported restoring the emperor to power.  Seishisai idealized imperial rule as a perfect unity of religion and government.  In his work, kokutai is vague, but seems to mean something like “national structure.”

During the Meiji period, after the nominal restoration of imperial power, ideas of kokutai developed and diverged.  Kato Hiroyuki (1836-1916), in his Kokutai shinron, drew a distinction between kokutai 国体 and seitai 政体. To him, kokutai was the national essence of Japan, made of eternal elements drawn from tradition and focused on the emperor.  On the other hand, seitai was the form of the government which had changed over time.  Thus, it was okay to adopt a western form of government, as long as the emperor was there the kokutai would remain unchanged.

Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) took a different approach to kokutai, and believed it was not a uniquely Japanese phenomenon.  He thought every nation had its own kokutai, and that Japan’s did not depend on the purported divine descent of the emperor.  When the Meiji Constitution was created in 1889, it accorded more with Kato’s views.

Throughout the subsequent Taisho era Japan grew more nationalistic and militaristic, and the notion of kokutai took on more and more of a mystical aura revolving around the emperor.  This continued into the Showa period, when a committee of professors was appointed to better define kokutai.  In 1937, they issued Kokutai no Hongi (“Cardinal Principles of the National Body”), which taught that everyone was part of the state.  The principles in this pamphlet were spread throughout the education system and society, and both the word kokutai and its spirit were widely featured in propaganda.  Following World War II, the Allied General Headquarters prohibited circulation of Kokutai no Hongi, and the importance of kokutai faded, though some argue that traces of it are still evident in Japanese society.

What’s in a Name?

japan stair

Photo by Ryo Mukae

All of this analysis of a single character may seem a bit esoteric or even pointless.  While a won’t be shutting myself away to meditate upon the mysteries of the word kuni for the rest of my days, I do think it’s beneficial to reflect upon the words we use sometimes.  Particularly for those who study history, the distinction between nation, state, and country can be important in many instances.  When one reads in Japanese, the vagaries of translation and of the Japanese language itself add another step or two on the path to understanding, another chance to misstep.  The better we understand the words we use, the less chance there is of falling.  There’s a lot more nuance to kuni and its English translations than I was able to touch on here, so I encourage you to check it out.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

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Choosing the Best Yokai Books for You http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/04/choosing-the-best-yokai-books-for-you/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/04/choosing-the-best-yokai-books-for-you/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48677 Yokai are about to hit America big time with the introduction of the anime Yokai Watch. But as a Tofugu reader, you’re the sort of person who has probably already encountered many of these creatures from Japanese folklore – in the manga you read, in the anime you watch, or if you’ve traveled to Japan […]

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Yokai are about to hit America big time with the introduction of the anime Yokai Watch. But as a Tofugu reader, you’re the sort of person who has probably already encountered many of these creatures from Japanese folklore – in the manga you read, in the anime you watch, or if you’ve traveled to Japan and wondered why there are so many fox statues at shrines you visited.

Until fairly recently there weren’t a lot of references available in English on this fascinating part of Japanese culture, unless you wanted to plow through academic articles. Now there are enough books to choose from that you might want some ideas on where to start. But what are the best yokai books for you and your busy schedule? Read on to get the low down on what each book offers and how it will meet your yokai needs.

Illustrated Field Guides

Best Yokai Books

Images courtesy of Matthew Meyer

The first thing you’ll learn when you begin reading about yokai is that there are a LOT of them. At least since the Edo period, Japanese people have felt the need for books full of descriptions of yokai, kind of like field guides to birds or flowers or fish. We 21st-century English speakers can now enjoy two very nice books along these lines. Both are interesting to sit down and read from cover to cover, and both are also well-organized references. Grab one of these when you want more background on a creature you read about in manga, or when it’s late at night and there’s an uncanny noise coming from you bathroom…

Best Yokai Books

If you’re coming to yokai from an interest in Japanese pop culture, the yokai book with a writing and art style that will likely appeal to you is Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt. The authors specialize in translating and localizing Japanese manga, anime, and games, as faithful Tofugu readers will know from reading my recent interview with Matt Alt.

This is a team that’s steeped in Japanese pop and traditional culture and experienced at conveying both in English, so you can trust them for accuracy and understandability. But more than anything else, this book is the most fun of all of the choices. Come on, it’s a survival guide. How can it not be?

With brightly colored illustrations and cleverly divided categories like “Annoying Neighbors” and “Gruesome Gourmets,” each yokai profile starts with a list of basic characteristics and is written in short sections – useful for when you’re suddenly in front of a strange child offering tofu (do NOT eat it, and especially not if it’s decorated with a maple leaf).

Note that if you bought this book when it first came out, it’s since been reissued by Tuttle. So if you are buying it now, lucky you, you get additional material and more color illustrations.

Best Yokai Books

If you prefer your art in a style that reflects more traditional sensibilities, check out artist Matthew Meyer’s The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, which is where the illustrations at the top of this section come from. His book is also a compendium of illustrated yokai profiles, but whereas Yokai Attack! is a bit frenetic (and I mean that in the nicest possible way), the style here is more serene. Starting with alternate names, habitats, and diets, each profile lays out a straightforward description of the yokai’s behavior. There no defense tips as such in this one, but you’ll be prepared to ID many of the strange Japanese creatures you might encounter.

Night Parade is definitely informative but its real strong point is the art. If you like old ukiyo-e prints, I highly recommend you check out Matthew’s modern take on them. I’m clearly not the only one who feels this way – Meyer raised over $18,000 from his fans on Kickstarter to publish this book and over $27,000 for the forthcoming volume, The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits.

Intro to Yokai Geekery

Best Yokai Books

If you read those books and love them and feel like you need more, you may be a potential yokai geek. If so, the newly published The Book of Yōkai by Michael Dylan Foster is a good next step.

English-speaking yokai aficianados have been looking forward to this book, as the author is well known for a previous book that I’ll discuss below. While meant for a general audience, it’s still a book written by a university professor and published by a university press, so consider that when the back cover copy calls it a “delightful and accessible narrative.” That might well be the reaction of someone who spends most of their time reading academic journals, but probably less so if you’re coming to this from the two books discussed above.

But hey, if you want to move on from fun descriptions of monsters to more depth, it’s not going to be all fun and games. This book delves into the history of yokai, who wrote about them, when, and deep thoughts about how they’re created and the role they play in the culture at various times in history. The downside of this scholarly material is that you’re going to read a fair number of un-delightful sentences along the lines of “there are also positive portrayals of the yamamba in which she is a deific and beneficial presence.”

The upside is that it’s worth working your way through the academic jargon, both for the sake of the information, and because there are observations throughout this book that are enlightening and even a few that are actually fairly delightful. For example, early on when the author discusses how yokai are often personifications that explain strange things that happen, he uses the example of the nurikabe, whose name means “plaster wall,” and whose particular trick is making it impossible for you to walk any farther. He compares it to the marathon runner’s expression “hitting the wall” and then considers the explanations behind the two. The nurikabe gives that feeling a personality, blaming it on a particular character, basically. The scientist would blame it on a chemical process in the body. So, he asks, is the nurikabe just a story made up by people who are ignorant of biology?

We could just as well say that “glycogen depletion” is how people who know nothing about yokai explain the experience of meeting a yokai! In some ways, in fact, this might be the most persuasive explanation – after all, I can draw a picture of a nurikabe, but I have no idea where to begin with glycogen.

That whole discussion is enough to make me forgive him using a lot of 25-dollar words where simpler ones would do.

Whatever the issues of style, if you want to become a real yokai geek, you want this book. You’ll learn all the big names in yokai-ology, and his encyclopedic section describing specific yokai is very different from the two books above. Illustrated with original line drawings and black-and-white art reproductions, it is way less of a visual feast, but what you get instead is more history, more variations on the stories, discussions of different references, and so on.

Bottom line: This is not the book to grab when you encounter a creature licking your ceiling and you’re too frightened care whether Toriyama Seiken created the tenjooname in his 1784 book or it was based in local folklore about the stains on the ceilings of old houses. Once the lights are on, though, and you are ready for some serious study, this is the way to go.

Old School

Best Yokai Books

All the books so far are basically “Modern Authors Explain Yokai To You”, and if you can only read English, you are mostly stuck with that. But if you are heading down the path to yokai geekery, there are at least a few older books you can delve into.

If you want to experience the old folklore with no intermediary between you and the old folk, The Legends of Tono is a classic collection from the early 20th century and recently published in a new English translation. I haven’t read this one yet, but it comes highly recommended by Matt Alt as it contains lots of yokai stories as directly collected by folklorist Kunio Yanagita.

If you have never read this sort of original, unedited folklore, be warned that it doesn’t often have the sort of character and plot development we expect from modern entertainment. Don’t be surprised when sometimes the whole tale is just a description of some weird thing that happened to someone, like that time you swear you put your glasses down on the table and later found them in another room so you’re sure a poltergeist moved them… Still, what you’ll get here are old stories as they were originally told without anyone telling you what to think about them, and that’s pretty cool.

Best Yokai Books

Another classic author you should know about, if you want to go deeper into this subject, is Lafcadio Hearn. One of the first writers to interpret Japan to the outside world when the country opened to foreigners in the late nineteenth century, Hearn never uses the word yokai, but was the first to describe some of them in English.

Books written in Hearn’s time can sometimes be tough going for 21st century readers – we’re used to a style that gets to the point quickly and efficiently. However, I haven’t had this reaction to Hearn’s writing, as I might with other authors of the era. On the contrary, his writing gives me the feeling of being in touch with his time period, but in a quite enjoyable and readable way.

I’m running out of room here, so for examples I’ll point you to the many excerpts from his Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan that I couldn’t resist quoting in my article on kitsune, the Japanese fox yokai.

His work is old enough to be out of copyright, so you can check it out for free or very inexpensively – his books Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, In Ghostly Japan, and Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan can be found on Google Books online and in free or cheap Kindle versions on Amazon. (Be warned that the free Kindle books don’t always have all the navigation possibilities that you are used to.)

Off the Deep End

Best Yokai Books

Michael Dylan Foster’s earlier book, Pandemonium and Parade, should not be anyone’s first reference on the subject, and is tough to get through unless you love to read the sort of academic writing that contains phrases like “discourse is always heteroglossic.” But if you already have some decent background knowledge and want to delve deeper into the cultural role and history of yokai, it’s pretty much required reading.

There are also specialized books about particular categories of yokai. One that is quite accessible is Zack Davisson’s forthcoming Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost (read Tofugu’s interview with him about the book here.)

Most of these are far more academic in nature, which also means they tend to be crazy expensive, so one exception that’s worth noting is Japanese Demon Lore: Oni from Ancient Times to the Present by Noriko T. Reider, which is available legally for free at this link.

By the way, speaking of (nearly) free, for 99 cents on Kindle you can get John Paul Catton’s Unofficial Guide to Japanese Mythology, the only book I have come across that includes (presumably) tongue-in-cheek analyses of whether certain yokai could exist. If you’d be intrigued by an explanation for the tengu’s long nose based on a mathematical calculation of its weight-to-wingspan ratio and resultant oxygen intake needs, this is the book for you.

Still Wanting More?

Best Yokai Books

Yokai are as much about art as they are about stories – many seem to have been born in the minds of artists rather than in the words of folktales. Since you can appreciate the art in a book even if you can’t read the language, there are more options here than I have room to go into, but one excellent one that’s available in English is Yokai Museum: The Art of Japanese Supernatural Beings from YUMOTO Koichi collection. It’s also not crazy expensive for a full color art book.

If you’ve gone as far as reading all these books, you might want to join like-minded people online. There is the obakeforums.com discussion board,  and there is a Yokai Attack! Facebook group, where you will get expert answers to just about any question about yokai (including “hey guys what’s a good yokai book I might not know about?,” so many thanks to everyone there who gave me suggestions.)

A couple of members there have collected bibliographies that are particularly useful if you want to read more of the academic writing about yokai in English (here and here).

Once you start reading about yokai, you’ll start to realize that they are everywhere in Japan, from mascots to traditional art to all forms of storytelling. And while people don’t exactly believe they are real anymore, there are a lot of cases where it seems like people don’t exactly believe that they aren’t real either. As The Book of Yōkai says:

One common Japanese phrase in the discussion of yōkai is hanshin-hangī, which means “half-belief/half doubt.” The appeal of this phrase is that it does not call for a decision one way or the other but combines two halves into a whole… Perhaps the question is not whether people believe in yokai but why we require a yes-or-no answer in the first place.

I don’t know about you, but what I do need a yes-or-no answer for is whether or not I need to memorize those survival tips. Better get reading, just in case…

All the books!

Yokai Attack!: Amazon

The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: Amazon

The Book of Yokai: Amazon

The Legends of Tono: Amazon

Kwaidan: Amazon

In Ghostly Japan: Amazon

Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan: Amazon

Pandemonium and Parade: Amazon

Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost: Amazon

Japanese Demon Lore: Oni from Ancient Times to the Present: FREE!

John Paul Catton’s Unofficial Guide to Japanese Mythology: Amazon

Yokai Museum: The Art of Japanese Supernatural Beings from YUMOTO Koichi collection: Amazon

Bonus Wallpapers!

PickTheYokaiBook-1280
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Hideo Nomo, Baseball Rebel With a Cause http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/27/hideo-nomo-baseball-rebel-cause/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/27/hideo-nomo-baseball-rebel-cause/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47950 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of Masanori Murakami’s Major League Baseball debut. Sent to the San Francisco Giants farm system for developmental purposes, Murakami sparkled when he took the mound in the minor leagues. Giants brass took notice and Masanori took the field against The Mets at Shea Stadium in 1964, becoming Major League Baseball’s first Japanese player. […]

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2014 marked the 50th anniversary of Masanori Murakami’s Major League Baseball debut. Sent to the San Francisco Giants farm system for developmental purposes, Murakami sparkled when he took the mound in the minor leagues. Giants brass took notice and Masanori took the field against The Mets at Shea Stadium in 1964, becoming Major League Baseball’s first Japanese player.

But instead of a flourishing career in the majors, Murakami found himself in an ugly tug-of-war between teams and country that would prevent Japanese players from coming to the US for years to come.

That is… until Hideo Nomo stormed into Major League Baseball and changed things forever.

Masanori Murakami Opens The Door

Photo by Dave Glass

It was only intended as a temporary, developmental trip. When the Nankai Hawks lent a handful of players to the San Francisco Giants, no one predicted it would spark an international incident.

And it was all thanks to Murakami’s success on the mound. The pitcher shined in the closing nine games of the 1964 season, posting a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings pitched. Robert Whiting commented, “No Japanese had gotten this much favorable attention in the continental United States since Kyu Sakamoto’s improbable (and misnamed) hit single ‘Sukiyaki‘.”

According to the contract stipulations, the Giants could sign one of the loaned Japanese players by awarding Nankai a fee of $10,000. Murakami signed the contract. The Giants wired Nankai the money and considered it a done deal – Murakami would take the field for the Giants come 1965.

Faced with losing a budding star, Nankai met with Murakami during his winter vacation in Japan. If he joined the Giants, they threatened, he’d never play baseball in Japan again. With additional pressure from his father, Murakami signed on with the Nankai Hawks for the 1965 season.

Murakami now had contractual obligations with two separate teams in two separate countries. Something had to give.

Of Culture and Contracts

Photo by delphinmedia

The root of the Murakami dispute lay in Nankai’s contract with The Giants. The Giants viewed the contract as a literal, binding agreement; every word was chosen with care. The $10,000 stipulation existed in the contract and therefore had to be honored.

Nankai managment, however, took a Japanese view of the contract. Robert Whiting explains,

The Japanese believed more in the spirit of the contract than the letter, that the purpose of a contract was to ensure that both sides benefitted. Since situations changed the parties… should not be locked in by mere words… What was most important was mutual understanding and the cultivation of ningen kankei , or human relationships.

Nankai stated the organization had accepted the $10,000 as a bonus for Murakami’s contribution to the Giant’s season. When the Giants refused to bend, Nankai resorted to other explanations. First they claimed the signature on Murakami’s release was a forgery. Next they flaunted a “home sick” clause that allowed a player to return to Japan due to difficultly to adjusting to American life. But Murakami’s success the previous season and signing of a new contract made that claim hard to swallow.

MLB (Major League Baseball) teams feared that Murakami’s disregard of contract would set dangerous precedent. What if other players followed suit? NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) teams harbored similar fears. Would other players follow Murakami’s example, abandoning the Japanese league for the MLB?

Yushi Uchimura, the Japanese commissioner took control. After mulling over the problem, “(Uchimura) came to the conclusion the (Nankai) Hawks had been careless in their dealings with the American team”.

In a compromise that balanced the spirit of ningen kanei with the expectation of binding contracts, Uchimura decided to allow Murakami to play for the Giants for the 1965 season. At season’s end Murakami would rejoin the Nankai Hawks and remain in Japan for the rest of his career.

At first US commissioner Ford Frick refused. But the sides finally came to an agreement when Murakami was allowed to choose whether to stay with the Giants or return to Japan at season’s end.

Murakami picked up where he left off for the Giants, mounting a successful 1965 campaign. Although he intended to stay in the US, pressure from his father and the Japanese media, who dubbed him a greedy traitor, gave him a change of heart. Murakami returned to Japan where he finished out an unremarkable career with one notable season in 1969 when he posted a 18-4 record with a 2.38 ERA.

The Murakami fiasco would sour US and Japanese baseball relations for decades. “As a result of the trans-Pacific tiff over Murakami, the U.S. and Japan commissioners has signed something called the United States-Japanese [sic] Player Contract Agreement… in which both sides pledged to respect each other’s baseball conventions.”

Free Agency: MLB Players Fight Back

curt flood

Photo by Dman41689

Until 1969, US and Japanese baseball teams enjoyed similar rights over players. Allen Barra of The Atlantic explains,

In 1969, players were still bound to a team for life by the so-called reserve clause. Simply put, a player was a team’s property. Unless the team chose to trade him or release him, his first big-league team would be his only big-league team for his entire career. A player’s only recourse was retirement.

Then the Cardinals attempted to trade Curt Flood against his will. Infuriated by players’ lack of rights, Flood sued hoping to benefit himself as well as future players. Due to a unconstitutional antitrust pardon granted to MLB, Flood would never benefit from his efforts. But his case would eventually see victory, giving birth to free agency.

In 1976, four years after Flood’s initial lawsuit, pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally became baseball’s first free agents. Free to negotiate with other teams, a player could weigh his options and accept the contract offer that best suited his needs. The media and fans vilified Flood, accusing him of destroying baseball. Allen Barra writes,

Prophets of doom and gloom about the future of the game could be seen on every sports page, but in the end, the Players Association worked out things with management, and salaries sky-rocketed—along with profits, it turned out, as fans liked the exciting new era of free agency and the players it brought to their teams.

…Meanwhile Back In Japan

Photo by kamon

Yet in Japan things went on as usual. Teams maintained control over their players, pay remained low and players had little say in their futures. Although players earned the right to strike, it wasn’t a step they were willing to take. Robert Whiting explains,

Indeed, the majority of players in Japan continued to speak not only of team loyalty… but also a feeling of responsibility to the parent company, the stadium food vendors, the parking-lot attendants, the transportation companies and other individuals and businesses dependent on professional baseball who would suffer economically in the event of work stoppage.

Although MLB teams are associated with the cities in which the play, Japanese teams are attached to their sponsoring companies. From the Yomiuri Giants to the Softbank Hawks, Japanese teams exist to advertise their respective sponsors.

In the US, players sought to take their share of their team’s profits. But Japanese teams made less profits (if any) from their clubs and therefore had less to offer players. The Economist reports, “Almost all (Japanese teams) lose money.” Unlike their American counterparts, most Japanese clubs fail to take advantage of “broadcasting rights, merchandising, sponsorship and internet distribution. Accordingly, the average salary for a Japanese player is around $500,000, compared with $3m in America.”

A team built and supported by a cooperate media giant, the Yomiuri Giants are the major exception. And when free agency finally hit NPB, it came at the whim of Giants’ brass who hoped to fill their team with established talent. Unlike in the MLB, the change did little in way of players’ rights.

Robert Whiting explains, “Players could only become free agents after ten full years of service on the parent team… the salaries of free-agent signees would be limited to only 150 percent of their previous season’s pay.” Player agents were banned from the negotiation process.

Despite a culture of loyalty, sooner or later Japanese stars were bound to be attracted to the salaries and challenge MLB offered. It was only a matter of someone standing up to the established system.

Enter the Rabble Rouser

Photo by RichardMcCoy

With his unconventional corkscrew windup, Hideo Nomo always marched to the beat of his own taiko. For example, when one of the nation’s top high school coaches rejected Nomo because of his windup, Nomo joined a relatively unknown team and thrived. And when colleges refused to draft him, Nomo joined Japan’s farm league. Both choices paid dividends, allowing Nomo to perfect his unique throwing style.

A successful 1988 Olympic campaign prompted Nomo’s drafting into the NPB in 1989. The Kintetsu Buffaloes offered him a record contract. “Nomo said yes,” Whiting recalls, “but only on condition that the Buffaloes promise not to change his form.”

It was money well spent as Nomo went on to become the league’s premier pitcher. But Nomo’s rebellious nature continued to show. When Kintestu struck an exclusive deal with the Mizuno sporting goods brand, Nomo donned Nike cleats to the NPN all-star series. Nomo’s refusal to compromise would eventually spell the end of his career in Japan.

In 1994 Kintestu brought in the strict, old-fashioned Keishi Suzuki as manager. Suzuki’s reputation for overworking pitchers proved true and Nomo paid the price with a shoulder injury. The last straw came when Suzuki demanded that Nomo, practice and play through injury. A firm believer in the rest and recovery practices afforded pitchers in the MLB, Nomo set his sights on America.

Enter Don Nomura, an agent waiting for a Japanese player to challenge the system. Nomura uncovered NPB’s voluntary retirement clause, Nomo’s key to leaving Japan. Under the clause, “a voluntarily retired player, under Japanese contract was obligated to return (from retirement) to his former team only as long as he stayed in Japan… A player who went on voluntary retired list in NPB would thus essentially be free to play in the US.”

When Kintestu declined Nomo’s request for an unprecedented three-year, $9 million contract, he announced his retirement from NPB. To the chagrin of Kintetsu, the media, and fans, Nomo signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers and left for the player-friendly pastures of the MLB.

Walk this Way

Nomo became a sensation; he won games, he sold merchandise, he (once again) proved Japanese players could survive and even thrive in the MLB.

A media and society that once criticized him now embraced him as a successful countryman on the world stage. Japanese media outlets paid large sums for interviews, providing the opportunity for Nomo to criticize the Japanese game. He condemned its treatment of players, particularly the managers that cut pitchers’ careers short through overuse and ignoring injuries.

Nomomania hit both the US and Japan. Eric Nusbaum recalls,

He went into his ritual windup, summoning pitches from a place no one else had access to. He walked back from the mound, keeping his eyes on the grass. He disappeared from the public eye between starts. They called him the Tornado, but he was quiet and still, even at the center of a storm of tchochkes and sellout crowds at Dodger Stadium and kids who were mesmerized by his windup, his forkball, and even his name. We said it a lot. Nomo, Nomo, Nomo.

Nomo’s success and the loophole he exploited paved the way for other Japanese players. At home Japanese stars felt like big fish in a little pond, and for many a bigger challenge beckoned. Some, like Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui would find similar success, becoming celebrities at home and abroad. Others, like Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Hideki Irabu, wouldn’t fare so well.

But no matter the degree of success, Japanese players have Hideo Nomo to thank for the opportunity to play overseas. Nomo’s unique windup symbolized his unique spirit. Like Curt Flood, Hideo Nomo was a man willing to break cultural and contractual moulds for the better opportunity of all.

The Ruin of Japanese Baseball?

Photo by ぽこ太郎

Just as US media and fans bemoaned the advent of free agency brought on by Curt Flood, Japan’s baseball pundits and media outlets declared Nomo’s move to the MLB the death-knell of Japanese baseball. With players free to leave NPB, many believed the league would become nothing more than a minor league feeding system for MLB.

These worries inspired the posting system. Under this 1998 arrangement, Japanese teams “post” a player as eligible to play in MLB and declare a “posting fee” or negotiation price. If an MLB team and player reach a contract agreement, that MLB team must pay the posting fee to the NPB team as well as the player’s salary. In other words, NPB team’s receive this posting fee as compensation for the player.

Although the posting system provided relief for NPB, it was also seen as a strike against players’ rights. Teams posted the player and declared the posting fee which added an undesirable expense for MLB teams hoping to sign NPB players.

Only long-time veterans could forgo posting. After nine years in NPB a player was free to negotiate freely.

Continued Success

Photo by ilovemypit

With two World Baseball Classic victories, Japanese baseball looks stronger than ever. The posting system has protected the NPB and the feared exodus of talent never came to fruition. As of 2014 twenty NPB players have used the posting system, yet among those twenty, only fourteen are Japanese, the others being foreigners who came up through Japanese teams’ youth recruitment systems.

Fresh off a magnificent season where he won a record-breaking 25 consecutive games in NPB, Masahiro Tanaka became the latest player to take advantage of the system, signing with MLB’s Yankees for big money in 2013. Only time will tell if Tanaka can reach Nomo’s success, but thanks to the rebel pitcher, Japanese players like Tanaka continue to challenge baseball’s best in MLB.

In 2014, fifty years after Murakami became the first Japanese player to play in MLB, Nomo continued blazing his revolutionary path, becoming the first Japanese player inducted into the leagues’s baseball hall of fame. Today Nomo’s career has come full circle as the retired pitcher “lead(s) an industrial league team in the Osaka region of Japan, called Nomo Baseball Club, which gives non-drafted (semi-professional) players an opportunity to compete” (Gandy).

But it’s unlikely any prospect will impact baseball like the uncharacteristically stubborn Nomo who broke with cultural norms, blazing his own path to success in the United States, a path other Japanese players felt inspired to follow.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

 

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Don’t Get Sued! Libel, Slander, and Defamation Laws in Japan http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/20/dont-get-sued-libel-slander-defamation-laws-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/20/dont-get-sued-libel-slander-defamation-laws-japan/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48993 Scandal erupted back in 2007 when a Japanese weekly magazine, Shukan Gendai, reported that Asashoryu, a grand champion sumo wrestler, had bought his way to the top, paying off opponents in exchange for winning matches, and that he wasn’t the only sumo wrestler to do so. The Japan Sumo Association conducted its own internal investigation, […]

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Scandal erupted back in 2007 when a Japanese weekly magazine, Shukan Gendai, reported that Asashoryu, a grand champion sumo wrestler, had bought his way to the top, paying off opponents in exchange for winning matches, and that he wasn’t the only sumo wrestler to do so. The Japan Sumo Association conducted its own internal investigation, found no evidence of match fixing, and took Shukan Gendai’s publisher, Kodansha, to court for damaging the JSA’s reputation—and won to the tune of over 40 million yen, the biggest amount ever awarded in a Japanese libel case surrounding a magazine article.

But the thing is, Shukan Gendai’s reporting was sound. Matches were being fixed. (Albeit, to this day it’s unknown if Asahoryu was a part of this bout-fixing, but other sumo wrestlers involved in the case have since come forward.) And if this case happened in the United States or another developed country, things would have probably turned out way differently. But defamation laws and how they’re interpreted shift and change depending on what country you’re standing in and where that country’s society places cultural value.

You don’t need to be a lawyer to appreciate a few slander and libel cases, and in fact, knowing a little bit more about defamation laws in Japan will boost your own cultural understanding and may even save you from seeing the inside of a courtroom. (See? Who needs law school when you have Tofugu?)

First, A Little History

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Japan has some serious literary cred when it comes to its poetry and prose, both of which can be traced back centuries. But Japan’s press didn’t really gain its footing until the Meiji era, when, in an attempt to bring Japan up to speed with the West, the Meiji government started encouraging common Japanese people to become more informed about current events. A knowledgeable citizenry is always a rad idea, but in this case, it also resulted in a press that was basically another arm of the government, and a tool for the government to disseminate whatever information it wanted.

Fast-forward and things changed again for Japan’s press when, in the aftermath of World War II, General MacArthur and his American staff drafted a new constitution for Japan, which is still in use to this day. Reading the Japanese Constitution, it’s pretty obvious that MacArthur and his team drew heavily on the United States Constitution. So it probably comes as no surprise that freedom of speech is pretty open-ended in the Japanese Constitution as well. But with that open-endedness comes a lot of room for interpretation, and that’s where culture can really come into play. For example, Japanese courts are much more inclined to protect and focus on reputation than United States courts. A United States court is going to be concerned about whether the statements in question subject the plaintiff to intense ridicule or public hatred; a Japanese court will tend to focus on whether the statements in question reduce the respect of the plaintiff in his or her community.

Slander vs. Libel

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But before I get into more of the nitty-gritty of Japan’s defamation laws, let’s toss up some definitions real quick. Defamation is the act of saying something untrue about someone else in order to harm their reputation and can be divided into two subcategories: slander and libel. Slander is defamation that’s spoken, and libel is defamation that’s printed. (Simple, no? Though as a point of interest, Japanese law doesn’t make a distinction between libel and slander.)

Exactly what can count as defamation and who can sue for it changes depending on which country’s law book you’re using. For example, in the United States, once you’re dead, you can no longer seek legal protection from slander or libel. People can say anything they like about you, true or not, because your reputation and societal standing aren’t worth anything once you’re a corpse. Japanese corpses, however, can still protect their good name and reputation under the law, so long as what’s being said about them is false.

Defamation can also be divided another way: Is the allegedly defamed person in the public or private sphere? Defamation laws act a little differently depending on whether the plaintiff is a private citizen or a public figure, because your expectation of privacy is going to differ depending on where you stand in your community.

So, let’s say you’re David Beckham, soccer star and husband of Posh Spice. And a magazine, let’s say In Touch Weekly, publishes an article about you having an affair with a prostitute. And let’s say you then sue that magazine for libel, because the story is false. As a public figure, David Beckham lost his case, because he couldn’t prove “actual malice.” By malice, I don’t mean that the magazine was twirling its moustache, plotting to destroy David Beckham’s reputation. “Actual malice”, in legalese, is knowing that a statement is false but saying/publishing it anyway, or acting with reckless disregard for the truth. This is very hard for plaintiffs to prove, so most cases in the US turn out the way David Beckham’s did.

But in Japan, David Beckham probably wouldn’t have gotten as raw a deal and he definitely wouldn’t have been required to prove there was “actual malice” behind the published story. Instead, Japan would have put the onus on the publication to prove that their statements about David Beckham were a matter of public interest, were only made with the sole purpose of advancing public interest, and were true. (Remember the Japan Sumo Association suing Kodansha for that story about bout-fixing in sumo? Kodansha was required to prove those same things in court and failed.)

The Truth Won’t Set You Free

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But what happens if you’re just a regular person, someone who doesn’t even have more than a hundred followers on Twitter? I’m not a lawyer (or a person who has a lot of Twitter clout), but in my layperson research, a defamation case against a private citizen in the United States mostly boils down to one question: Is what Person A saying about Person B true?

Good to know the truth is always a defense, right? Well, in Japanese libel and slander cases, the truth won’t necessarily help you. Instead, it all comes down to reputation. (The Japanese word for defamation, meiyokison or 名誉毀損, when broken down, literally means “damaged honor”.) Even if a published statement is 100% true, it can still be considered defamatory if it irrevocably hurts the subject’s reputation and oftentimes the question of truth doesn’t really enter the equation. For example, in 2012 a Japanese man discovered that when he put his name into the Google search bar, it autocompleted results that implied he had a criminal record, and this man argued these autocomplete search results were severely damaging his reputation. Some sources strongly implied this man really did have a criminal past, others said that he was innocent. But it didn’t really matter either way—the Japanese court ordered Google to remove the autocomplete terms, which they did.

So You’re Being Sued

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Okay, so what happens if you’re the one being sued for defamation in Japan? Well, if you’re a weekly magazine, this really isn’t so bad. In fact, this is probably a consequence you’ve already accepted in exchange for printing a really juicy, salacious story that’s going to sell a whole lot of magazine issues. Being sued is all part of publishing life in Japan, because it’s relatively easy for a plaintiff to make a successful case and there usually isn’t a huge amount of money involved anyway. This is in pretty steep contrast to the United States, where defamation cases might be settled for millions of dollars. In Japan, you won’t typically get a lot of yen for your trouble. It’s a question of pride, not money.

Things can get bad, though, if you’re being brought up on a criminal charge, and you could be facing a jail sentence of up to three years. Again, it’s about losing reputation and respect. In the United States, defamation cases are only civil cases, with no jail time for the defendant. (Just a big check to write.) In Japan, defamation can be a civil case or a criminal case, depending on how the plaintiff wants to go about things. (Are they out for cash or are they out for blood?)

Injunction, What’s Your Function?

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But sometimes it’s not enough that there’s a payout or a prison sentence. Japanese publications also face the occasional injunction. An injunction, in this context, is a court order demanding that a publication not print or distribute a particular story or fact. In the United States, injunctions (theoretically) don’t happen: the media can be held responsible after something’s been published, but not before. In Japan, an injunction is fair game if it will irrevocably damage someone’s reputation. (At this point, you may be sensing a theme here.)

For a better sense of how this whole injunction thing works in the name of libel, I present Hoppo Journal Co. v. Japan. In 1979, a Supreme Court allowed an injunction against an article about Kozo Igarashi, a local mayor planning to run for governor of Hokkaido. Igarashi’s lawyers argued that Hoppo Journal had written defamatory statements about Igarashi that, if widely released, would severely damage Igarashi’s reputation. To be fair, I wouldn’t like it if a magazine article said I was a “cockroach” and “an ugly character hiding behind a beautiful mask,” like the Hoppo Journal said of Igarashi, but I would also argue that few of Hoppo Journal’s readers probably took this language literally. Still, the court thought otherwise, and Hoppo Journal had to pull its article about Igarashi, the masked cockroach running for governor of Hokkaido.

Court Is Adjourned

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Freedom of speech and press is a closely held right and ideal in most countries, and Japan especially has a very liberal ruling on free speech built right into their constitution: “Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.” That’s actually a way broader free speech law than a lot of other developed countries have. (Canada, what’s up with the whole “reasonable limits” on your “rights and freedoms” thing, eh? And England, why the crazy intense libel laws, huh? Though to be fair, the United States has its own dubious free speech baggage. See: WikiLeaks.)

But Japan is also a country with a constitution that’s extremely close to that of the United States. (Hence why I compared Japan law to United States law. Also, I’m American and this is what we do.) Yet, for better or worse, Japan interprets its open-ended free speech laws in ways that a United States court never would. We don’t necessarily think about it, but laws like those for libel and slander interpret culture into action and it’s pretty clear how Japanese courts use defamation law to best meet Japanese culture. Maybe samurai aren’t falling on their swords anymore, but reputation and social standing are still meaningful things in Japan, and their effects are far-reaching, right down to how Google autocorrects your name.

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Sources

The post Don’t Get Sued! Libel, Slander, and Defamation Laws in Japan appeared first on Tofugu.

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