Tofugu » History http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Fri, 24 Apr 2015 16:47:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 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!

sanimalurai-1280
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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!

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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

meiji jinja

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

headlines

Photo by emdot

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

lawyer fortune

Photo by slgckgc

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

lawyer on tv

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?

stop button

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

judges gavel statue

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.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

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How to View a Japanese Sword Like a Pro http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/18/view-japanese-sword-like-pro/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/18/view-japanese-sword-like-pro/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48998 For most of us who get the chance to handle a finely crafted nihonto (日本刀 Japanese sword,) we couldn’t do much more than hold it cross-eyed and bleat out “nice sword.” Why some consider a Masamune on par with a da Vinci eludes us. Japanese swords are works of art, but to the untrained eye one […]

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For most of us who get the chance to handle a finely crafted nihonto (日本刀 Japanese sword,) we couldn’t do much more than hold it cross-eyed and bleat out “nice sword.” Why some consider a Masamune on par with a da Vinci eludes us. Japanese swords are works of art, but to the untrained eye one isn’t much different from another. While being able to properly appraise a sword can take a lifetime, fortunately, you can see what makes a sword unique just by knowing what to look for.

 Nihonto or Gunto?

how-to-view-a-japanese-sword

Photo by Keith Putnam

Gunto (軍刀, meaning either “saber” or “service sword”) were the swords of Japanese WWII officers. Although some gunto were either handcrafted or partially handcrafted, most were assembled in factories from standard bar stock. Telling a gunto from a high quality blade is usually easy. If you can read Japanese and know how to open the grip, the signature on the tang (the part of the blade inside the handle) will tell you exactly what it is. If you can’t do these things, it’s still not very difficult.

If the sword is in Japan it is definitely a nihonto. Since the mass-produced gunto have no artistic value, the Japanese government classifies them as weapons. Owning one is illegal in Japan. There have been cases of American gunto owners wanting to reunite a Japanese soldier’s sword with his family, but unfortunately the law makes that almost impossible. If you try to bring a gunto into the country, it will be confiscated and you will be deported as if you tried bringing in an AK-47.

If you’re not in Japan, though, one way to tell is the scabbard. Gunto are actually not based on katana, but an older kind of sword called a tachi. Tachi look pretty similar to katana, but were worn horizontally, edge-down behind a samurai’s back. Japanese WWII soldiers hung their swords at their hips, but edge-down from loops on the scabbard. So if the scabbard has hangers, it is probably a gunto. The cheapest gunto also have serial numbers on the blade, which immediately tells you they were mass produced.

Still, some WWII swords were family swords modified for military fittings. You would normally be able to tell them apart from the steel’s grain or the temper line, but unfortunately, most swords that made their way abroad are in such poor condition the metal’s features have faded. The only way to tell is the signature, which most people can’t read. It’s really too bad, because somewhere out there is a Japanese national treasure called the Honjo Masamune, which was taken by a G.I. and never recovered.

The Basics of Shape

a-japanese-sword-blade-on-display

Photo by Marco/Zac

Now that you know if it’s a nihonto or gunto, next is viewing the blade’s personality. Japanese swords have a lot of details that are hard to catch without proper lighting, so you need a good, strong light source.

It’s traditional to bow to a sword before a viewing, though if the occasion is informal it’ll probably look strange. First, hold it edge-up and push the hilt away from the scabbard with your thumb. Do not touch the metal. The acid in your fingerprint will cause rust. Slide the sword out along its back to make sure the scabbard doesn’t scratch the blade.

Once out, hold the sword upright at arm’s length and notice the curvature. For ancient blades, the placement of the curve affected its cutting power and how quickly it could be drawn. The point determined its piercing power, and could vary from long and curved to short and angular. The smith would also choose which kind of back to forge, from flat to three-sided. Appraisers would use all these features to tell which period and school of swordsmithing the sword came from, but if you’re just viewing a blade, it’s enough just to know these features exist.

The Basics of Steel

japanese-sword-embellishment

Photo by Charles Tilford

Nihonto are usually made from a high-carbon steel called “tamahagane (玉鋼).” Carbon makes steel hard, but it also makes it brittle. Tamahagane has so much carbon that a sword made from the untreated metal would shatter the first time it was used. There’s a common belief that a Japanese sword’s strength comes from folding it, but folding actually makes tamahagane softer, not harder. Each fold brings down the carbon content about .2 percent until it’s soft enough to withstand being used.

Below is a great example of the steel folding process.

The common image of a katana being folded thousands of times depends on what you consider a fold. If you count the actual amount of times the smith folds the steel, folding it a thousand times would drop the carbon content to zero, making the steel unfit for a sword. If you count the number of layers actually created in the metal, though, the number of “folds” grows exponentially. Either way, layering forms a distinctive pattern that appears after polishing. Waves, knots, and even wood-like patterns can be created depending on how the smith folds the billet. To view the grain, place a light above and behind you, then hold the blade horizontally.

Although tamahagane is crucial for making Japanese swords, it was almost lost to modern science. The steel is made in a smelter called a tatara, all of which ceased operations in 1945. Fortunately, in 1975 a society formed to preserve interest in nihonto and managed to revive tatara operations in Shimane prefecture. Smiths occasionally make their own metal, but most of Japan’s tamahagane is still being made by that very same tatara.

The Basics of the Temper Line

japanese-sword-hamon

Photo by Ian Armstrong

In the picture above you can clearly see the wavy line where the side of the steel near the edge is lighter than towards the rear. It’s called the hamon (刃文) or temper line, and it’s a Japanese sword’s most distinct feature. In manufactured swords it’s nothing more than a decoration, but the hamon of crafted swords is part of why katana are some of the best swords in the world. Japanese swords are forged from at least two steels. The rear of the sword is soft steel that acts as a shock absorber, while the edge is made of harder steel for cutting.

Before quenching (when the red hot blade is suddenly submerged in water) smiths coat it with a clay mixture to cool the edge slightly faster than the back. The difference is only a few thousandths of a second, but it turns the edge into an even harder kind of steel called martensite. It also creates the hamon. In ancient times, its main function was to create a powerful blade. Today, it’s an opportunity for the smith to express himself artistically.

Examine the hamon by pointing the sword just below your light source with the edge up. Moving it continuously should reveal a thin white line along the boundary between the steels. If the sword was well-made, you’ll also see any number of hataraki (働き) or special features within it, like cloudy patterns or “feet” that extend towards the edge. A lot of swords on the internet sport fake hamons, which, like gunto, probably won’t have any hataraki or patterns within the grain.

Smiths sometimes gamble with the hamon. At times they don’t use clay, but heat the edge and rear of the blade at different rates to create a natural pattern. A smith using this method has no control over the hamon’s appearance, but the natural quenching could create distinctive and beautiful patterns impossible with clay. While this can create stunning hamon, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Many nihonto admirers prefer to appreciate the smith’s hand in creating a distinctive hamon rather than one at random. Appearance is important, but hard work and effort is appreciated even more. A beautiful hamon made without clay is merely a matter of luck, after all, and not skill.

Bells and Whistles

japanese-sword-scabbard

Photo by Francios Serent

Making a blade takes months, but a sword takes even longer. The smith does a rough grinding and polishing after he finishes a blade, but then it’s sent to a professional sword polisher. The polisher uses a series of increasingly finer stones to bring out the steel’s details. Without a skilled polisher, the blade would just look like a featureless piece of metal.

Many collectors only care about the blade itself, so many new swords are only sheathed in a shirasa, a simple wooden scabbard. However, if the smith wants all the bells and whistles, he will send his creation to a scabbard maker. He might then himself make the tsuba (鐔, or guard,) habaki (ハバキ/ 鎺, or the small metal piece that fits the sword into the scabbard), and any engraving, or he can send it to individual specialists for each. Whether by the smith or another craftsman, each part of a Japanese sword has a lot of effort put into it, so take a moment to examine them in turn before you finish your viewing.

Viewing a Japanese Sword

japanese-sword-finished-with-hilt

Even if you can’t tell a Bizen from a Soshu blade, you can still look at a Japanese sword and understand what you’re seeing. It’s a lot like admiring the brushwork of a Van Gogh. Before you realize it’s there, you can only see the picture. But once you do, you can see the master’s hand at work.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources:

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Japan’s Wild Boar Problem http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/16/japans-wild-boar-problem/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/16/japans-wild-boar-problem/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47818 In the movie “Princess Mononoke,” a young warrior must save his village from a giant demon that has come rampaging out of the mountain forests.  After its death the beast is revealed to be a wild boar god, corrupted by an iron bullet lodged inside it.  Later on, an army of boars attack the humans […]

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In the movie “Princess Mononoke,” a young warrior must save his village from a giant demon that has come rampaging out of the mountain forests.  After its death the beast is revealed to be a wild boar god, corrupted by an iron bullet lodged inside it.  Later on, an army of boars attack the humans in an attempt to save the forest from their encroachment.

mononoke boar

Looking at the actual relationship between humans and boars in Japan, the film resonates all the more. In the last few years there has been an increase in boar-related incidents, such as attacks and the destruction of farmland. In this article I will look at the boar’s place in Japan and the causes of these recent problems.

Cultured Creatures

wild boar

The boar is native to many parts of Eurasia. The Japanese word is inoshishi 猪, though an older nickname is yamakujira (“mountain whale”). The Japanese boar (Sus scrofa leucomystax) is considered a subspecies of wild boar. They are found all over Kyushu, Shikoku, and Honshu, with another subspecies in the Ryukyu Islands.

The boar may not hold as strong an association with Japanese culture as, for example, the crane, dragon, or tanuki, but they have held on to their own little cultural spaces with the tenacity for which they’re known. Boar motifs have been found in pottery from the Jomon period.  When Japan adopted the Chinese calendar and zodiac in the seventh century, they altered the twelfth animal from the pig to the wild boar. This made sense as there would be no domestic pigs in Japan for centuries to come. Then again, there were no tigers or dragons either, so it may reflect the importance of the boar to the Japanese people.

Buddhist influence constrained the consumption of meat throughout Japan’s pre-modern history, but on the other hand, boar is pretty tasty. It was not a common meal, but was certainly on the menu from time to time. Still an uncommon food today, I had the chance to try it in Japan once, as a friend’s girlfriend’s dad had shot one, and her mom cooked it up. It was quite good, and I would describe it as tasting somewhere between pork and beef. In the Edo period (1600-1868), people put forward what seems the thinnest of excuses for eating meat by referring to it in floral terms. Venison was called momiji (maple), horse was sakura (cherry blossom), and boar was botan (peony).

At the same time, the boar was associated with another flower. The card game hanafuda developed during the Edo period, latest in a long line of card games adapted from the cards brought by Europeans in the sixteenth century.  There are twelve suits (one for each month), each with a particular flower, and some with lines of poems or animals.  The suit of the seventh month all have hagi (bush clover) and one of them features a boar as well.

For Naruto fans out there, hanafuda was also the inspiration for the names of Team Asuma. In the game,  the boar, deer, and butterfly cards are a strong hand, known as ino-shika-cho. Team Asuma consists of Ino, Shikamaru, and Choji. Like the cards, they work best together.

Boar-n to Be Wild

young wild boar

Photo by Marcus Saul

Both English and Japanese speakers have come up with equally cute names for boar piglets. In English, hunters call them squeakers. In the first year of their life they have stripes running the length of their bodies, so in Japan people sometimes call them uribō “melon boy.”

By the age of 8-15 months, males leave to lead mostly solitary lives, while females usually live in groups called sounders (in English). During mating season, males will travel long distances to find a sounder. Once found they will violently chase off any rivals, a task for which they are well equipped.  They can run up to 40 kph. Males can grow 5-10% larger than females and 20-30% heavier. Of course, males also have tusks, but during the breeding season the males form a layer of subcutaneous tissue to protect their organs during fighting. A male sometimes mates with up to 5-10 sows. The female’s gestation period is only a little over four months, and she usually has litters of 4-6, starting the cycle anew.  Boars can live 10-14 years, but most only survive to the age of 4-5.

Boars are omnivorous. They eat nuts, berries, seeds, leaves, bark, twigs, and shoots, and dig up roots and tubers. They also eat worms, bugs, fish, shellfish, rodents, bird eggs, snakes, lizards, frogs and carrion. In other words, they aren’t picky porkers.

Boarserkers

wild boar hunt print

Wild boars have always been a problem for Japanese farmers. They are known to eat crops and damage embankments by digging. In 2005, they were responsible for 26.1 percent of the 18.6 billion yen in crop damages by animals that year, topping the list. Some farmers erect knee-high fences of corrugated plastic or aluminum sheeting to protect their fields. However, this isn’t always effective.

In recent decades, and even more in the most recent one, boar attacks have increased. I was unable to find exact figures on the amount of attacks, so I wouldn’t want to exaggerate the problem, but all of my sources agree that they are on the rise. Let’s take a look at a few example cases:

Kobe, January, 2011: An elderly woman attempted to feed a boar, which bit off her finger. Feeding boars was actually made illegal nine years prior, but the penalties are minor and not well enforced.

Taishi, Hyogo Prefecture, April 6, 2013: Eight people, mostly senior citizens, were injured by a single, large boar. According to local police the animal first bit a woman in her yard, then headed east.  Tada Miyuki, 68, was talking with a friend on the street, when she was bowled over by the boar and broke two ribs. “The boar came almost out of nowhere, and before I knew it, it rushed toward me,” she said. Local authorities issued a warning to local residents, and later that day a boar suspected of being the culprit was found as roadkill nearby.

Kobe, June, 2014: Local media responded to sightings of a wild boar that attacked a teenage girl and an elderly man. In the video below, after knocking down a young woman, the boar then charges the cameraman. He does his best to avoid and fend off the boar, but sustains bites on both legs, requiring stitches. It was later found that the boar had four offspring, and the attacks were probably caused by motherly defensiveness. Authorities later disposed of the mother, with no word on what happened to the young.

Provoking the Piggies

boar warning sign

Historically, boars usually kept to the mountains and forests. What then, is the cause of the upturn in boar-on-human violence? The first reason for the increase in attacks is encroachment on boar territory by humans. In the past, most people lived on the plains where farming was easy, but now, with a much higher population, they are entering and developing boar turf more than ever, not so much for farming as for living.

Likewise, the boar population is increasing. Even restrained by Buddhist prohibitions on meat-eating, Japanese people hunted and ate boar more often in the past. Firearms are highly controlled in Japan, and I think it safe to say that demand for game meat decreased in the twentieth century, so hunting has dropped. In addition, climate change has affected the boar population.  Warmer winters have seen some boars producing two litters of young per year, rather than one. They also kept further south before because their short legs don’t do well in heavy snow, but with less snow they have been pushing northwards.

A reason that I haven’t seen cited, but have wondered about, is the lack of natural predators. Worldwide, wolves are the primary predator of boars, however, due to the introduction of rabies in the 18th century, encroachment, and overhunting; the last wolves in Japan went extinct in 1905. Not finding the relevant data, I can’t really say if this contributed to boar population growth, but I wonder.

Swine Solutions wild boar trap

There have been some responses to try and curb boar incidents. Feeding boars is illegal in some areas, but this can only be enforced so well, and boars will eat out of trash anyway. Another strategy would be to encourage more hunting. The overall number of hunters in Japan has fallen by half since the seventies and most of them are senior men. However, the number of women hunters in their 20s and 30s is holding steady, and even growing in Hokkaido. The Ministry of the Environment is actively trying to encourage young hunters to help control booming populations of both boar and deer. Still, it seems unlikely that hunting’s popularity will outstrip the boar reproduction rate anytime soon.

Boars can be dangerous, without a doubt, but they are just doing what they do. The burden lies on humans to find a way to rectify the harm they’ve done by destabilizing the environment in all the ways mentioned earlier. Hopefully, a way to achieve a balanced relationship is found before much more damage is done.

Bonus Wallpapers!

kawaiiinoshishi-1280
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Sources

  • http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/11/12/hunting-the-newest-growing-hobby-of-japanese-women/
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honshu_wolf
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_boar
  • http://factsanddetails.com/japan/cat26/sub164/item889.html
  • http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%82%A4%E3%83%8E%E3%82%B7%E3%82%B7
  • http://japanese.about.com/library/weekly/aa010307a.htm
  • http://www.japanprobe.com/2011/06/24/japans-wild-boar-problem/
  • http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/04/06/national/boar-rampage-leaves-eight-hurt-in-hyogo-town/#.VJ4rl14CB
  • http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/4-okayama-schools-serving-wild-boar-deer-as-part-of-lunch-program
  • http://qz.com/146514/wild-boars-and-deer-are-overrunning-japan-but-women-are-out-to-stop-them/

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Japan’s Sacrificial Lamb – The Okinawa Military Base Controversy http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/11/japans-sacrificial-lamb-okinawa-military-base-controversy/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/11/japans-sacrificial-lamb-okinawa-military-base-controversy/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47371 Despite its small size, Okinawa sure has giant problems. Due to its strategic location, Okinawa has struggled as a pawn in Japanese and US affairs since before World War II. Today, the independent kingdom turned prefecture houses the bulk of US military installations in Japan. For Okinawa, the situation brings a host of problems including increased crime and environmental damage. […]

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Despite its small size, Okinawa sure has giant problems. Due to its strategic location, Okinawa has struggled as a pawn in Japanese and US affairs since before World War II.

Today, the independent kingdom turned prefecture houses the bulk of US military installations in Japan. For Okinawa, the situation brings a host of problems including increased crime and environmental damage.

A history of resistance, including protests and even a riot, have done little to change Okinawa’s situation. However, its native population refuses to give up, voicing their frustrations in a recent local election that could change the face of Okinawa and its relationships with Japan and the US.

Why has controversy embroiled such a small group of islands? Can a single prefecture stave off the wills of two world powers? What does the future hold for the former Ryuku Kingdom, known today as Okinawa?

Okinawa Elects to Resist

Okinawa Military Base Controversy

Photo by Nathan Keirn

On November 16, Okinawans elected Takeshi Onaga as their new governor. Onaga’s election bears special significance because he opposes current Prime Minister Abe’s platform of continued US military presence in the prefecture. With the US planning to build a new military facility in Nago City, the time for Okinawa to act is now.

The election signifies Okinawa’s continued resistance to developments that guarantee US presence in the prefecture for decades to come. Matthew M. Burke and Chiyomi Sumida of Stars and Stripes write, “The former Naha mayor ran on a platform of blocking the move of flight operations from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in central Okinawa to an expanded Camp Schwab in the remote north, a move seen as pivotal to the U.S. realignment of forces in the region and mutual defense agreements.”

Onaga’s first order of business is blocking the construction of the new military facility. His next move would be limiting US presence in Okinawa or removing it altogether.

Although the US military expansion in Okinawa lacks resistance in Japan as a whole, local opposition has grown. “He (Onaga) defeated incumbent Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima by a huge margin — 100,000 more votes of 620,000 cast”(Burke). Onaga’s recent victory represent’s the people’s will, a majority of which want change.

With many Okinawans opposed to the US and the Japanese presence there, one might wonder how Okinawa ended up in its precarious situation in the first place.

A victim of its size and lack of power, Okinawa had no choice.

The Ryukyu Kingdom

Okinawa Military Base Controversy

Photo by Shogyoku

Prior to the seventeenth century Okinawa functioned as an independent nation known as The Ryukyu Kingdom. Extending south into the East China Sea, the distance of this string of islands from Japan protected it from Japanese interference for centuries.

Ryukyu’s earliest ties lay in the west, with its influential trade partner China. As a result, Ryukyu culture developed a distinct Chinese flavor. Although Ryukyu’s king pledged loyalty to the Chinese emperor, the kingdom remained an independent nation with control over its own destiny (OPN-LA).

Japan’s Satsuma han (feudal domains ruled by daimyo in the Edo period) changed that in 1609 when they invaded Amami, Ryukyu’s northern islands. Satsuma exploited Ryukyu, forcing its people into sugar production.

Islanders underwent a period that they refer to as ‘Sato Jigoku,’ or ‘Sugar Hell.’ The Amami islands… became integral to the growth of Satsuma’s economy and consequently to it’s growth in military strength. (OPN-LA)

However, with Satsuma concentrated in Amami, the rest of Ryukyu remained relatively free from interference and the kingdom’s trade relations with China continued.

The 1854 arrival of Commodore Perry’s infamous black ships would help bring any semblance of Ryukyu independence to an end. In Crossfire Couples, Chris Ames notes that Perry created the first US base in Ryukyu when he stopped there on his way to Tokyo Bay in 1853 (199). The site would serve as a docking and supply station and signified the US’s first footprint on the islands.

The first in a long and distressing history of US military abuses occurred soon after Perry’s arrival when seaman William Board attacked, and according to many sources raped, an elderly Ryukyu women (Ames 199).

Although Commodore Perry had little influence in Ryukyu itself, his arrival in Japan ushered in a period of modernization known as the Meiji era. The Meiji government’s goal to become a world power ended any semblance of Ryukyu independence. OPN-LA explains,

Japan felt the intense need to develop some form of geo-political buffer zone to protect itself from possible military encroachments by western powers. The Ryukyu Islands presented the perfect candidate for such protection, by providing some form of security on Japan’s southern front… Japan forced the annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879… ending the ruse of Ryukyuan sovereignty.

As an partially independent kingdom and trade-partner to China, Ryukyu represented a legal wrinkle that was ironed out in its transformation to Okinawa Prefecture. The prefecture has been forced to bend to the whims of Japanese and US interests ever since.

World War II Linchpin

Okinawa Military Base Controversy

Photo by W.wolny

Overshadowed by the commemoration of Iwo Jima and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Battle of Okinawa occupies a minor page in American historical lore. But it was a vicious battle.

Doug Bandow of Forbes explains,

The so-called ‘Typhoon of Steel,’ as the American invasion campaign was called, ran from April through June in 1945. Combat was brutal. Estimated civilian casualties ran up to 150,000.

The battle also saw astronomical military losses. In his book, Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs against Japan Samuel Walker writes,

The combined American casualties of 12,000 killed and missing and another 60,000 wounded far exceeded those of any other battle in the Pacific war… Japanese military forces suffered at least 70,000 deaths. (51)

Once occupied, US forces had planned to use Okinawa as a point of entry into Japan. But the Battle of Okinawa’s heavy casualties and the Japanese force’s refusal to surrender made the US second-guess its invasion plan, which was rendered unnecessary after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan’s subsequent surrender.

Although it did not serve the US as planned, Okinawa became a “veritable colony” (Bandow). The US military built installations as a measure to prevent a Japanese military resurgence (Sarantake 62). Okinawa remained under US occupation until 1972 when it was returned to Japan. The US military presence remained and continues today.

The former independent nation remains in a precarious position – under Japanese control and home to the US military. And despite resistance, neither world power wants to relinquish its position.

How Japan Benefits

Photo by BotMultichillT

Japan’s lack of allies and military power increases the significance of its alliance with the US. But Japan has to give in order to receive, and the US won’t lend its “services” without cooperation. In order to reap the benefits of US military presence, Japan must allow US bases on its soil. And for the small, resource-poor nation the benefits are many.

Japan lives in the shadows of neighboring world powers – China, Russia and North Korea. By allowing US bases on its soil, Japan gains vital military presence and protection. Any hostile action taken against Japan must be carefully considered thanks to the threat of instant US military retaliation.

US military presence in Japan may alleviate the worries of Japan’s neighbors as well. Doug Bandow writes that by preventing “a rearmed, resurgent Japan,”

The (US/Japan) alliance also eases Tokyo’s diplomatic burden, which otherwise would include reassuring neighbors still obsessed with Imperial Japan’s military depredations… It is a claim that even Japanese officials have used on occasion: protect us, since surely you don’t want the Imperial Japanese navy wandering the Pacific again.

Reliance on the US military eases the burden Japan would face if it had to maintain its own armed forces. Instead, those finances and resources can be focused elsewhere, providing economic relief.

How the US Benefits

The United States also enjoys its alliance with Japan. Located just outside the Asian mainland, bases in Japan give the US a military presence in East Asia. If the situation calls, the US can respond with immediate action.

By providing Japan with military protection, the US need not worry about Japan acting on its own. The partnership has been described as the “spear and shield.”Ankit Panda of The Diplomat explains,

The United States’ formidable offensive capabilities were the ‘spear’ to be paired with Japan’s ‘shield.’ After all, Japan, with its aptly named Self-Defense Forces, could hardly aspire to much more given the circumstances.

But the alliance isn’t all love and roses. No one wants a foreign military in their backyard, no matter how great the benefits might be. But what if there was a way Japan could enjoy the benefits of US military protection, without suffering the problems associated with military presence?

There is. And it’s called Okinawa.

Okinawa became mainland Japan’s sacrificial lamb. By allowing the US military to build most of its bases in Okinawa, Japan enjoys the advantages of US military presence without the disadvantages, which occur hundreds of miles south, far from the Japanese mainland.

Okinawa’s burden hasn’t gone unnoticed. “Although nearly six of ten Japanese is critical of the resulting burden on Okinawa,” Doug Bandow points out, “none of them wants another U.S. base near their neighborhood.”

The US has bases scattered throughout Japan but Okinawa houses the biggest concentration, earning it the moniker of “America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier”(Harumi Ozawa). Over half of the 47,000 US service personnel stationed in Japan according to AFP. And one Okinawa government website states that Okinawa is home to over thirty training facilities which translates into almost 74 percent of the overall US military presence in Japan.

And so Okinawa remains, a land torn between an independent tradition, Japanese control and US occupation.

Why Okinawa Wants the USA Out

Photo by LERK

Foreign military presence brings a host of problems to any location. But this is especially true in Okinawa, thanks to its small geographic size and large concentration of US bases.

Doug Bandow paints a picture of occupied Okinawa,

Long fences separate residents from property owned by their ancestors. Air bases crowd civilian neighborhoods. Prime beaches remain under U.S. military control. Thousands of young, aggressive foreign men transform local life—and often not for the good.

Okinawans must find it hard to consider the positives of military presence while confronted by the negative aspects in their everyday lives.

Military Accidents

Residents worry about military bases located near cities and residential areas. Aircraft bring noise pollution and the threat of major of accidents – a threat that has become an unsettling reality.

The worst accident occurred in 1959 when a military jet crashed into a local elementary school. “It was a major disaster,” Eiko Asato writes, “17 people were killed, 121 people were injured (wikipedia lists 210 injuries), 17 private houses, one public hall and three classrooms were completely burned.”

Another accident occurred in 2004 when a military helicopter crashed into a university. As recently as 2014 a helicopter crashed due to pilot error.

However aircraft pose less of a risk than frequent traffic crashes, which see nearly 200 fatal accidents a year (Burke). The most famous incident occurred in late 1970 when intoxicated military personnel struck an Okinawa man with their car. Building frustration exploded into attacks on military personnel and buildings that what would be known as the Koza riot.

Environmental Impact

The US military presence also has a sizable environmental impact. “Adding another military facility to Okinawa by destroying the beautiful water of Henoko is something we should never let happen” Onaga declared (Burke).

The military builds over pristine land and docks at Okinawa’s beautiful beaches. Construction even puts native species at risk, including the endangered dugong (Mitchell). Okinawa’s pristine beaches, mountains and forests act as an economic asset, attracting tourists and therefore outside money.

Crime

Instead of pleasure-seeking tourists with open pocketbooks, Okinawa brings in US military personnel. Unlike vacationers visiting by choice, soldiers stationed in Okinawa become bored, homesick and frustrated. At times these feelings escalate into aggression or crime.

According to an Okinawa government report on US military crime, traffic accidents make up the bulk of reported problems, with robbery accounting for most of the rest. But in regards to the US military, horrible acts of violence overshadow all other crimes and rape cases by military personnel have occurred with disgusting frequency over the years.

 Asato Eiko of the Transnational Institute reports,

According to a report entitled “Post-War Crimes against Women of Okinawa by US Soldiers” by the Association of Women in Action Against Military and Military Bases, the number of rape cases between 1945 and 1997 was about 180, of which 22 were committed against young women less than 20 years of age.

The disturbing trend first received major publicity in 1955, when a US soldier raped and murdered a six year old girl before disposing of her disfigured body. Outrage reached fever pitch when locals discovered that the crime would be handled by the US military and its courts. Thanks to extraterritorial rights perpetrators would avoid the local justice system and possible death penalty (Asato).

In 1995 the planned abduction and gang rape of a twelve year old girl again sparked outrage among Okinawa’s residents. In 2008 a marine Staff Sargent was convicted of sexually abusing a fourteen-year-old girl (Onishi). The most recent case occurred in 2012, when two soldiers making a brief stop in Okinawa robbed and raped a Japanese woman.

Military Efforts to Improve

The crimes and overall belligerent attitude taken by US military personnel have done nothing to help US, Japanese and Okinawan relations. However, the US military has taken preventative efforts after the 2012 incident. Travis J. Tritten of Stars and Stripes writes,

Strict new liberty and alcohol rules coincided with a historic drop last year (2013) in crimes committed by U.S. personnel on Okinawa… Okinawa-based troops were banned from all off-base drinking for the first half of 2013…. The Marine Corps leadership on Okinawa has also emphasized cultural awareness training for newly arriving service members.

Recent rules have decreased crime and other incidents. But how long will they last? The quick easing of drinking bans doesn’t bolster Okinawans’ confidence in the US military’s commitment to the changes.

The Trouble Continues

Photo by Nathan Keirn

As an elected official that promises to represent the will of those that voted for him, Onaga’s election has brought hope to many Okinawans.

“We’ll break through the wall that the Japanese and American government have put up,” Onaga declared (Johnston).

“It is against the spirit of democracy to ignore the consensus of the local public. It is outrageous for the government to ignore it,” law professor Hideki Shibutani of Rikkyo University in Tokyo said (Burke).

But not everyone wants the US military out.

Many Japanese believe that Japan needs the US military protection. Recent controversy over disputed islands has forced Japan to grow uneasy in the face of Chinese and Russian encroachment.

Some Okinawa residents hope the US base will bring economic opportunity to the struggling prefecture. Shop owners hope the military bases will bring business. Other unemployed residents hope it’ll bring construction jobs, among other opportunities (sbs.dateline).

Despite the noise caused by Onaga and his supporters, prior agreements will make it difficult to halt construction. Matthew M. Burke and Chiyomi Sumida write,

Despite the rhetoric, the Marine Corps and the Japanese government have said they remain committed to the relocation. Legal scholars said while there is a chance Onaga could block the move, it is slim.

Onaga’s recent election and ongoing protests have called renewed attention to the longstanding issues and human rights violations that have defined Okinawa’s tragic history. As the three-way dance continues we are left to wonder, will 2015 finally bring relief to Okinawa? Or will the people continue to be ignored?

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Japonism: How Japan Shaped Modern Art http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/06/japonism-japan-shaped-modern-art/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/06/japonism-japan-shaped-modern-art/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48092 Art is pretty awesome. One of the most awesome things about art is how it can bring people together. Throughout history, neighbouring peoples have constantly exchanged aesthetic ideas, inspiring the form and content of each others’ work. Art has consistently transcended political conflict, with even the bitterest of rivals sharing innovations. A prominent and relatively […]

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Art is pretty awesome.

One of the most awesome things about art is how it can bring people together. Throughout history, neighbouring peoples have constantly exchanged aesthetic ideas, inspiring the form and content of each others’ work. Art has consistently transcended political conflict, with even the bitterest of rivals sharing innovations.

Hiroshige_Rough_Sea_at_Shichirigahama_in_Sagami_Province_1852

A prominent and relatively recent example is the modern diffusion of Japanese art across the Western world. While Chinese art has been known in Europe since ancient times, the influence of East Asian aesthetics truly skyrocketed in the nineteenth century, when Japanese prints arrived en masse to shops across Western Europe. As we’ll see, many of the biggest names in the modern art scene received gigantic bites from the Japanese art bug.

Lines of Communication

nanban-southern-barbarian-art-japan

Direct European contact with Japan dates to the 16th century, with the arrival of Portuguese traders, followed by those of other European nations. Japan was thereby introduced to Christianity, as well as European technologies like ship-building and guns. Naturally, many works of Western art were also imported.

This initial phase of Euro-Japanese relations is known as the Nanban period, where “Nanban” means “southern barbarians”. The term “Nanban art” denotes Japanese art of this period that reflects Western influence, including works of painting, sculpture, and furniture. Yet barbarian influence was quite limited overall, leaving native Japanese aesthetics fully intact.

Meanwhile, works of Japanese art were carried back to Europe. The impact of such works on Western artists was significant, notably in the field of ceramics. But this phase of Japanese influence on the West was a mere trickle compared with the flood to come.

In the early 1600s, Japan’s affair with foreign traders seriously cooled off. The Tokugawa, who ruled the country for upwards of three centuries, were somewhat averse to contact with the outside world; anyone caught trying to leave the country, for instance, could be executed. With policies like this in place, European residents and trade flows, though not eradicated, became increasingly rare.

Gasshukoku_suishi_teitoku-gaki_Oral_statement_by_the_American_Navy_admiral

Then, in the late nineteenth century, America sent a group of friendly visiting-ships into Uraga Harbour. Using some very persuasive arguments, the Americans convinced Japan to re-open relations with the outside world. From this point onward, Japanese culture would radiate throughout the West.

So It Begins

Three_Seated_Ladies_with_Lanterns_Tea_Pot_Candle_Holder_and_Stringed_Instrument_-_Kitagawa_Utamaro-ukiyo-e

“Modern art”, which dates roughly from the late nineteenth century onward, sought to break away from traditional aesthetics in favour of novel means of expression. In search of fresh ideas, many modern artists looked to native artistic traditions around the world, from Sub-Saharan masks, to Mesoamerican temples, to Oceanic tiki sculptures. Modern networks of transportation and communication accelerated these waves of cultural fusion.

Japanese influence on Western art, often known as “Japonism”, manifested most vigorously in France (followed closely by England and the Netherlands), especially among painters of the impressionist movement. While inspiration was drawn from imported Japanese ceramics, bronzes, textiles, and fans, the foremost medium of influence was the woodblock print. Japanese prints, also known as ukiyo-e, had the advantage of cheap mass-production, making them universally accessible both at home and abroad.

So what form did this influence take, specifically? To start with, European artists often lifted distinctly Japanese imagery from ukiyo-e, grafting them into their own works. Cherry blossoms, lanterns, kimonos, and temples would be four primary examples.

More deeply, ukiyo-e helped reshape the techniques and guiding principles of Western art. The long-entrenched standard of realistic shading and perspective was finally overturned, partly due to Japanese prints. After all, while physical realism is a fine way of doing things, why should it be the only way? The upheavals of modern art were driven largely by the notion that art is about communicating ideas, and that in order to communicate a full range of ideas, one must be open to a full range of forms of expression.

Ukiyo-e typically feature prominent outlines (rooted in the Japanese reverence for calligraphy), and areas of flat, vibrant colour. Shadows are generally omitted altogether. Early modern artists realized that, far from hindering Japanese art, these unrealistic techniques could unlock unique aesthetic experiences.

A_colored_version_of_the_Big_wave_from_100_views_of_the_Fuji_2nd_volume

Woodblock printing was also influential in terms of composition; that is, the overall arrangement of a picture. Traditionally, Western artists laid out scenes carefully to achieve certain effects; Renaissance painters typically sought a balanced, harmonious arrangement, while Baroque painters often went for a sense of unrest and movement. Japanese artists took a more subtle, organic approach, opting for asymmetry, often with the principal figure or object positioned off-centre. Many ukiyo-e scenes are presented from a diagonal view, and figures are often partially “cut off” at the edge of the picture.

Traditionally, Western art was dominated by standard “appropriate” subjects, which generally meant either biblical or classical; while some artists did portray scenes of everyday life, these were widely considered inferior. Part of the great revolution of modern art was the elevation of everyday life to first-class artistic consideration. Modern artists grew fond of capturing urban life, including streets, parks, restaurants, and entertainment venues. This everyday focus was partly fueled by (guess who?) ukiyo-e, in which these very subjects had long been explored.

The_Meeting_Together_Miai_from_The_Marriage_Ceremonies_-_Suzuki_Harunobu-ukiyo-e-ukiyoe

Had enough background info yet? It’s time to roll out some concrete examples. And why don’t we look at ukiyo-e artists and modern Western painters side-by-side, to really bring out the influences and whatnot?

Suzuki Harunobu / Edgar Degas

Suzuki Harunobu is known as the founder of polychrome ukiyo-e. French artist Edgar Degas is considered one of the great founders of the impressionist movement. Both men are known for their many portrayals of women, whether at home, socializing, or as professional performers.

Kannazuki_Harunobu_Suzuki

This Harunobu print depicts a young couple at home; the man kneels, reading a scroll, while the woman stands at the doorway. In terms of ukiyo-e influence on early modern art, the most striking feature of this print is its composition. Note the abundance of diagonal lines, along with the sense we are looking down on the scene from a height. The overall arrangement is asymmetrical, with elements positioned in a plausibly natural manner.

Ludovic_Hal-Albert_Boulanger-Cav

This relatively simple painting illustrates Degas’ love of ukiyo-e style composition. The view is elevated and diagonal to the architecture, providing interesting diagonal lines. The scene is sharply asymmetrical, with the right-hand figure cut off by a wall, similar to the partially hidden woman in Harunobu’s print.

Impressionist painters, who seek to capture the overall impression of a momentary scene, don’t concern themselves with sharp, detailed realism. Some parts of impressionist paintings border on abstraction, such as the background behind the two gentlemen in Degas’ painting. Note that a similarly abstract background is found in the top left of the Harunobu print, behind the house.

Kitagawa Utamaro / Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt, arguably the greatest American impressionist painter, is known particularly for her portrayals of women, including mothers with children. Ukiyo-e artist Kitagawa Utamoro, whose work Cassatt collected, is known for these same subjects.

Yamanba_and_kintaro_sakazuki

Here we have a typical, everyday mother-child scene. Well okay, maybe not completely typical. The child is Kintarō, a popular Japanese folk hero with super strength, while the woman is Yama-uba, Kintarō’s “mountain witch” mother (biological or adoptive, depending on which version of the story you hear).

But still, it’s basically a mother-child scene. Note the warm psychological connection between the pair, as well as the close-up view (such that most of Yama-uba’s body is cut off) and the off-centre positioning.

Mary_Cassatt,_1902,_Reine_Lefebre_and_Margot_before_a_Window-painting

This Cassatt painting depicts a sensitive mother-child scene in typical sketchy impressionist style. Just like Kintarō and Yama-uba, the figures exchange an affectionate gaze; the child’s hands rest on her mother’s embracing arms, just as Kintarō’s left hand grasps his mother’s wrist. Like Yama-uba, this mother leans at a diagonal, only back instead of forward.

Utagawa Hiroshige / Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Hiroshige, known particularly for scenes of nature, was a master of capturing weather and the seasons. His work became a major influence for landscape painters of the impressionist movement.

Hiroshige,_The_station_Ejiri-ukiyoe

This print, which features a prominent figure over a landscape background, is from a series Hiroshige created while travelling along the Tōkaidō, the principal Japanese road of the age. Once again, diagonal lines are abundant, drawing the eye in criss-cross fashion across the picture. The mountain and tree are both cut off at the edges, and the colouring is mostly flat and contained within prominent outlines.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, painter and printmaker, is perhaps the most iconic ambassador of the bohemian artist lifestyle. His depictions of Paris night life and theatre drew partly from ukiyo-e, which often feature equivalent scenes of Japanese recreation, including kabuki theatre. Toulouse-Lautrec eagerly embraced the vivid colouring and dramatic curved forms of Japanese prints.

Lautrec_jane_avril_1899

In addition to the age-old art of painting, modern technology allowed a new medium to flourish: the poster. Toulouse-Lautrec is considered one of the leading figures in the “golden age” of poster advertising, which spanned the late nineteenth century. The actress in this Toulouse-Lautrec theatre advertisement, executed in bold outlines and flat colours, features a sinuous, diagonal posture that echoes the Hiroshige print above.

Katsushika Hokusai / Vincent Van Gogh

Hokusai is probably the most famous of ukiyo-e artists, due to his most famous work: The Great Wave, from a series of prints focusing on Mount Fuji. Along with landscapes and seascapes, Hokusai is known for his closeup studies of plants and animals. Landscapes were also among the favoured subjects of Van Gogh, the troubled Dutch artist, for whom ukiyo-e provided immense inspiration.

hokusai-woodblock-print-landscape

This print undulates with a gentle asymmetry, in the form of clustered houses and rolling hills. As usual, colours are few in number and flat in texture, with some parts of the scene left strategically uncoloured. Hills are evoked with simple outlines, rounded out with lateral sub-lines and vegetation.

Van_Gogh-The_Haystacks

Like Hokusai’s print, this Van Gogh painting features a rolling asymmetry of hills and vegetation, executed in a simple, bright colour scheme. The angled rows of haystacks lend the scene a vigorous bottom-left to top-right momentum. Outlines are thick, and there is little in the way of shading or shadows.

A Universal Language

Art of the late nineteenth century laid the foundation of modern art, which continues to this day. Even as the early twentieth century was ravaged by war, artistic endeavour pierced the darkness with lights of cooperation and understanding between kindred spirits across the world. Ukiyo-e was, and continues to be, very much one of those lights.

Art really is pretty awesome.

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