Tofugu » » History http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Thu, 23 Oct 2014 21:35:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Dealing with Disaster: Three Years After Fukushima http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/22/dealing-with-disaster-three-years-after-fukushima/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/22/dealing-with-disaster-three-years-after-fukushima/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:00:59 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=44543 Living in Tokyo, I don’t hear much about Fukushima’s disaster recovery. Three years after the disaster, Tohoku’s recovery only directly affects me through little donation boxes supermarkets and drug stores.

The actual situation in Tohoku however is rocky. To find out more, I took a little trip last month to the area to get a firsthand view of the so-called “recovery”.

Bear in mind that the 2011 disaster is actually a collection of two disasters affecting different parts of Tohoku. The first is the earthquake and tsunami which has caused damage particularly to the coastal areas of Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima. The second is the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, which had the greatest effect within Fukushima prefecture, resulting in forced evacuation areas due to nuclear radiation.

The first will be addressed in a different post. This article will deal with the second.

During my trip, I stopped over at a city in southeast Fukushima prefecture, Iwaki city, and through it I hope to raise the question: How much has Japan really recovered from the nuclear crisis in Fukushima?

Iwaki, Fukushima

view-from-iwaki-station-fukushima

View of the city from the station.

I myself arrived in Iwaki on a bright Saturday. I was expecting a lively mid-sized city. After all, Iwaki is the largest city in Fukushima prefecture in terms of population. It turns out it’s the largest in size as well and thus the population is spread thin.

Iwaki itself suffered from the earthquake. After Sendai, it had the second largest number of destroyed homes (40,000) and about 400 dead from landslides and the tsunami. While it originally had a direct link to Sendai through the Joban line of JR East, the nuclear radiation exclusion zone cut it in half. Train commuters now must take a long detour through the west using infrequent trains (about once every two hours) through central Fukushima prefecture to head northward.

train-signs-in-iwaki-station-fukushima

Signboard at Mito-station, south of Iwaki. The blanked out part probably says “Sendai”.

You wouldn’t know any of this if you just stumbled into the city by mistake. The area around Iwaki station is tranquil and pristine with many 5 story buildings. Walk 10 minutes away from the station and you’ll arrive at rows of houses with 2 stories with only small signs of urban decay.

Social Friction

temporary-housing-in-iwaki-fukushima

Photo by Daisuke TSUDA

Example of temporary housing for disaster victims.

Iwaki is one of the cities with the highest number of disaster evacuees in the nation. There is temporary housing within 20 minutes’ walk from the station. As of last year, the city was sheltering around 24,000 refugees from the disaster areas. These refugees mainly come from the evacuated area north of Iwaki, which is within the vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactor.

Three years after the disaster, some Iwaki residents feel the refugees have overstayed their welcome. Below I have translated a number of comments from Iwaki netizens on Twitter:

“The people living in the temporary housing are living in luxury. They’re getting money. They’re getting money if they don’t work so some go on overseas holidays or even buy expensive cars. They get rebates at convenience stores so they shop there. The convenience stores are crowded and with the population increasing, traffic congestion is getting worse. Iwaki citizens have no such privileges.”

“Like, the refugee-samas ride and crash expensive cars which they have never tried before and that is why there’s always traffic jams. I just wish they’d stop it! “

“This I can say this without any hesitation. There are some people suffering in the temporary housing but a majority are getting money without working; their children who see the adults not working become dysfunctional hikikomoris living through the internet and become useless people spending their time on Niconico douga”.

This has been reported on by NHK, Huffington Post Japan and Japan Times in English. The major complaints are that the influx of refugees has caused a shortage of doctors, an increase in rent prices, and traffic. Actually it seems that, at least on the internet, all sorts of stuff is being blamed on the disaster survivors.

refugees-go-home-graffiti-iwaki-fukushima

“Disaster Victims get Lost!”

 Things have gotten so bad, that there has even been anti-refugee graffiti, as seen above. This photo was taken in 2012 so you can be sure that the problem has been around for at least two years already. With a large portion of the evacuated municipalities still under quarantine and the slow recovery for those which evacuation orders have been rescinded, tensions are likely to continue mounting.

Fates of the Survivors

abandoned-namie-town-fukushima

Photo by Steve Herman

Namie Town, deserted immediately after the disaster. Even now, staying overnight is forbidden in all areas of the town.

A large number of refugees still can’t go home. A further number can only go back home on day trips. In these areas, staying overnight has been forbidden due to elevated levels of radiation. For some lucky ones, the evacuation orders have been rescinded. But the choice to return home isn’t as obvious or easy as you may think.

Let’s take the example of Kawauchi village, to the immediate north of Iwaki. The eastern part of the village is within 20 km of the Fukushima nuclear reactors. But as of the 25th last month, the majority of the evacuation orders have been rescinded and only a small part of the village is still under quarantine.

Nonetheless, the population has not returned. NHK reported that out of 2758 people registered with the village, only 1476 have returned. The returnees have been mostly elderly – the young have not been returning as willingly.

disaster-worker-clean-up-fukushima

Photo by Roger Jolly

Photo of decontamination works in Kawashima, 2012

NHK explains that there are three main reasons for the lack of young returnees. Firstly, fears about the radiation certainly remain. Secondly, education is a concern. Kawauchi’s high school students tended to commute to high schools in the towns to the east. Those are now ghost towns due to the radioactivity exclusion zone. The alternative has children take one hour bus rides to schools in the west – not very practical for anyone involved.

The third reason is financial. Many people in the area formerly worked in other towns to the East. NHK reports that 500 villagers lost their jobs due to the quarantine. The village is trying to attract new companies to provide jobs. However, it has so far only been able to attract 100 new job, many among these being low-paying, barely above minimum-wage positions. The NHK gives the example of a position in an agricultural factory which only pays 700 yen.

If you found yourself in their position, and had been living somewhere else for perhaps a year, would you choose to return?

Problems with Nuclear Energy

nuclear-reactor-japan-fukushima

Photo by Energy.Gov

Mihama Nuclear Reactor

The debate about Fukushima in the English media revolves around the pro vs. anti nuclear power debate. In Japan, however, where domestic power sources are scarce, another question is being asked: can the
country survive without nuclear power?

You can imagine how this looks. On one hand, energy prices have been sky high since the reactors were shut down and the business world is unhappy. On the other hand, Fukushima stands as a constant reminder of the dangers of nuclear energy. But there is another dimension here: Who exactly is for and against restarting the reactors?

You would think that the residents of towns and villages which host nuclear reactors who oppose the restarting the most. After all, it is them who have the most to lose. However, they also have the most to gain. The construction of nuclear power plants has often been linked with generous aid from electrical companies, and the nuclear power plants themselves do provide something highly in demand to rural Japan – jobs.

fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-reactor

Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant in 1999, 12 years before the accident.

This is why, instead of opposing the restart of the nuclear reactors, cities hosting them actually support it. The opposition comes from neighboring cities and towns who don’t gain as much from the economics of nuclear power but still have much to lose. NHK reports that the percentage supporting the restarting of power plants is above 50% for municipalities with nuclear plants and is clearly weaker in surrounding towns.

At the moment it is only the reactor’s hosting municipality which has to give permission for restart once they are certified “safe” by the authorities. With the government wanting to restart ASAP, Japan’s success in balancing the economic livelihood of people, responsibility, and safety remains to be seen.

Moving Forward

family-in-namie-returning-home

Photo by Steve Herman

Namie Town village returning to their shop in the day, April 2011.

Clearly, Fukushima prefecture has a long way to go. Decontamination is still in progress at a speed which many criticize as unsatisfactory. There is even a question as to whether the areas closest to the reactors will become the Japanese Chernobyl.

Next, we will be looking at the situation in the tsunami disaster areas – which offers a different set of problems. Things are going to be more personal in the next article. Unlike Fukushima, I’ve been able to visit some of the directly affected areas. And it is a very different situation on the ground.

Please do take a look!

Further Reading:

  • Link to synopsis of NHK Mito report.
  • Explanation about the compensation given to municipalities which host nuclear plants.
  • Transcript of NHK online report on the differences in support and opposition towards the restarting of the reactors

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

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Shunga: Japan’s Ancient Erotica http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/21/shunga-japans-ancient-erotica/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/21/shunga-japans-ancient-erotica/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 16:00:34 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=44409 Vending machines selling school girl’s panties?  Grown men reading pornographic comics in public?  Gender segregated train-cars to protect women from gropers? Ear-cleaning parlors with very happy-endings?  With situations like these making headlines, it comes as no surprise that Japan has earned a reputation for perverted culture.

My first foray into the world of anime left me with a similar impression.  At that time, action, comedy, and even children’s anime vhs tapes shared shelf-space with hentai titles.  I’d feel embarrassed looking past cartoon breasts and butts big enough to make Sir MixALot blush to find what I wanted.  Finally I’d spot Goku throwing a fireball next to a sailor-suited girl being molested by aliens, an R-18 sticker (un)cleverly affixed over her private bits.

Although Japan might get a raw deal when it comes to perversion, it’s not a recent development.  In fact, Japan has a long, rich history of erotic images.  The roots of pornographic manga and anime can be traced all the way back to the Edo era, during the shunga (or erotic woodblock printing) boom.

Recent lifts on shunga bans have opened the floodgates, allowing greater understand of the true meaning, uses, themes, and lasting impact of shunga.  But recent exhibits have refueled an age-old debate – what separates art from obscenity?

What Are Shunga?

the-great-wave-by-hokusai-art

The term shunga (春画) literally translates into “spring picture” but has little to do with the season, describing erotic prints that gained popularity during the Edo era.  Examples of shunga range from subtle adult situations to grossly – in both senses of the word – explicit imagery, and cover an array of subjects and themes.

Although shunga originated during the Heian period (794 to 1192 A.D.), a lack of technology made copying images painstaking and expensive.  As a result only the upper-classes had the luxury of owning pieces of art, shunga or otherwise.

The Edo era (1603 and 1868) saw the advent of woodblock printing which allowed for the mass production of quality images.  Through this technique artists carved images into wooden blocks which were coated with ink and pressed onto paper, leaving a print.   As technology improved, the mass production of images lead to greater availability, lower prices and therefore wider distribution of prints.

woodblock-ready-to-make-print

Photo by: David Monniaux

Chances are you have already seen what many consider the world’s most famous woodblock print in The Great Wave by Hokusai.  It may come as a surprise that such a renowned artist also gained notoriety for pornography. Many famous woodblock artists dabbled in shunga and Hokusai is no exception.

However artists weren’t in search of notoriety. Tim Clark, curator of a shunga exhibition at The British Museum explains, “We can be pretty sure that everybody in Japanese society, from the ruling class down to the ordinary townsperson used and enjoyed shunga.”  High demand for erotic prints meant shunga outsold other genres and artists simply migrated to the most profitable market.

Edo, the capitol city at the time, became the shunga boom’s epicenter.  In Masterclass: Understanding Shunga: A Guide to Japanese Erotic Art Majella Munro writes, “No indulgence or pleasure was unavailable within (Edo’s) precincts… from brothels to… huge quantities of porn, guidebooks, and other marketing paraphernalia”(p13).

Of course the images drove shunga’s popularity.  In his book Sex and the Floating World, Timon Screech explains, “Shunga… are rarely stories, and in most instances a page can reasonably stand alone.”  The scarcity of narrative driven shunga suggests plot took low priority on shunga customers’ lists.

Shunga’s Uses

shunga-books-on-display

Photo by: Bruno Cordioli

Why did Edo-era people buy shunga?  In Sex and the Floating World, Timon Screech gives the topic thorough investigation and the reasons range from the logical to the absurd.

Let’s start with the absurd – some shunga owners believed the erotic prints brought good luck.  Warriors carried the prints, convinced they warded off death.  In a sword carrying culture forged in the deadly violence of war, a society that continues to buy protection amulets today (probably of the non-erotic variety, though I’ve never opened one to find out), people tried anything to escape death’s cold grip.

As if that weren’t enough, shunga were also rumored to prevent fires.  Ota Nanpo, one shunga owner wrote, “If you collect these types of book, you will save yourself from destruction by fire” (Screech).  Combustable building materials and the use of fire as a source of heat and light made fires a constant problem in ancient Japan.  In a time predating fire insurance, responsible homeowners bought the next best thing – shunga.

Kunisada-An-Erotic-Guide-to-the-Bedchamber

One logical claim is that some owners used shunga as sexual guidebooks.  Luke Malone of vocative.com explains, “More detailed shunga were often used as sex guides and given as gifts to children from wealthy families.”  The erotic prints made perfect educational gifts for young people unpracticed in the arts of pleasure or old dogs looking to learn new tricks.

However, Screech believes the most common reason behind shunga’s widespread ownership and popularity is also the most obvious – the prints served as a source of self-pleasure.  He writes, “Erotica were intended for those who, as a result of constraints of time or finance, or their ethical stance, were unable to go (to the pleasure districts) often.”

It’s no coincidence that Edo, a “City of Bachelors” became the center of printing during the shunga boom.  Tokugawa law, which separated husbands from their wives and lovers, helped justify and popularize the ownership and use of shunga among both sexes.  Travel was difficult, couples could go months without reuniting.

Shunga helped separated couples pass the time (wink, wink) and provided a cheap and reusable alternative to the expensive red-light districts and pleasure quarters.  Screech writes, “Shunga ownership might be excused as only for interim use until the next authentic bout (of sex).”

Shunga’s Themes

Good Old-Fashioned Love

spring-pasttimes-shunga

Despite what those anime vhs covers of my youth led me to expect, most shunga depict affectionate love-making.  Ruth Styles of Dailymail.co.uk writes, “Most of the images, although explicit, are loving – even tender – and show the pleasure being shared out between men and women in equal measure.”

With Japan’s reputation for perversion, the affection these prints depict may come as a surprise.  Most shunga depict physical love between husbands and wives – or at least consenting adults.  But these tame depictions take a backseat to the striking, memorable impressions left by the less frequent, but more extreme shunga.

Fashion’s Finest

four-seasons-kunisida-shunga

Today’s viewers might assume the throes of passion left little time to undress, as many of shunga’s subjects remain fully clothed.   But at the time, flashy attire flaunted wealth and gained popularity with prostitutes and actors, giving fashion a “sexual power” that made it a shunga staple (Screech).  Japanvisitor.com writes, “It was the fine silks and sumptuous clothes of the geisha that made them the stuff of men’s dreams.”  Partially clothed bodies proved to be more provocative than the fully nude, so most shunga feature partially or even fully clothed subjects.

Homoerotic Over and Undertones

Moronobu-shunga

Heterosexual couples represented the norm in shunga, but they weren’t the rule.  Screech points out that during the Edo period, “‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’ were not fixed, distinct human types, rather they were understood as activities.”

Furthermore, nanshoku, or “traditional male love,” remained an enduring facet of Japanese society and Japan accepted homoerotic themes that would have otherwise been been dismissed as immoral by most Western culture at the time.

Gender Ambiguities

homosexuality-in-japan

Shunga’s art style makes differentiating the sexes no easy task.  “In shunga, male and female bodies appear virtually identical other than the genitals” (Screech).  The differentiation of Shunga’s male and female faces and bodies is made even more difficult by the subjects’ ambiguous, tumbleweed-like bodily entanglements.

The prominence of fashion added to the confusion.  Worn by both sexes, kimonos tended to hide bodily features and add to shunga’s rampant gender ambiguities.

To further complicate matters, cross-dressing actors and prostitutes also made their way into shunga.  Screech points out, “Indeed, Westerners routinely mistook the attractive boys (wakashu) for girls, as do many modern viewers.”

Onstage, adolescent boys played girl’s roles with great feminine effect. As evidence of nanshoku’s popularity, “boy prostitutes of the Edo period commonly dressed as girls” (Screech).  Shunga’s style and the era’s attitudes rendered gender identification in shunga difficult and ultimately unimportant.

The Depiction of Genitalia

Yet shunga provide an easy way (or should it be two easy ways?) to discern gender ambiguities through their depiction of male and female genitalia.  Many shunga feature shocking, at times grotesquely enlarged genitals.

In most cases, neither sex outshined the other – male and female subjects received equal embellishments and exaggerations.

Voyeurism

In what may have been an effort to the lighten guilt of viewers, voyeurism played a major role in shunga.  Most of the scenes took place indoors or surrounded by natural barriers, providing ample cover for naughty onlookers.  Viewers can ogle the images alongside third-parties depicted as men, women, children and even animals.

Screech explains, “By investing in the gaze in some other, non-human or humanoid form, artists could provide a point of entry into the picture for any viewer.”  When enjoying a print, a commoner might identify with the lower class peeping-tom looking in on a upperclass couple.  Conversely, the upperclass couple would identify with the subjects of the action.

Plot and Parody

Suzuki-Harunobu-Sexual-Misconduct-shunga

Although plot-driven shunga collections may have been rare, they did exist.  At times artists depicted or parodied scenes from the era’s popular stories, including The 47 RoninHakkenden: The Dog Warriors and even The Tale of Genji.  Screech cites a poem reacting to the eroticization of Genji:

Even Genji
can be poison
to young minds

Jippensha Ikku’s travel tale, Tōkaidōchū Hizakurige, inspired a whole series of travel prints by The Great Wave‘s creator Hokusai in The Fifty-three Stations of the Toukaidou (Screech).  Screech writes, “The entire preface to the book is a series of sexual puns, in this case nanshoku ones.”

Some shunga featured limerick-like poems.  The British Museum’s Tim Clark gives one example from Kitagawa Utamaro’s print Poem of the Pillow:

Its beak caught firmly in the clamshell,
the snipe cannot fly away,
on an autumn evening.

Other shunga featured animal puns, helping to excuse animal voyeurs – some more exotic than others.  Screech describes one exotic case, “Camels were called rakuda, which sounded like the casual expletive ‘raku da!’ (feels comfy).”

Even Enma, the lord of hell becomes a victim of parody.  In Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan, Gary P. Leupp describes one instance where Enma is so moved by a nanshoku painting that, “he immediately falls in love with the image and, in his excitement, tumbles down from his thrown…  The king of hell at once declares his determination to leave the netherworld for Japan, where he will seek out the actor and ‘share his pillow” (87).

Encounters of the Unique Kind

But shunga’s unique encounters didn’t end with camels or King Enma.  Japan’s colorful array of beasts, monsters and youkai also got in on the act.  Screech explains, “Folklore had it that some beasts (including tengu, kappa, even transforming males foxes) kidnapped human males for sexual pleasure.”

Once again Hokusai inked the most famous example in The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, a picture depicting a woman making love with two octopuses in what many consider the birth of “tentacle porn.”

Although most early shunga depict consensual encounters, some later examples take a darker tone.  “Actual rape becomes a shunga fetish,” Screech writes, “either by friends and relatives or by burglars and cut-throats.”

Even the human body can morphs and become the aggressor.  “In Kunisada’s use of the homunculus in his New Tale of the Welling Waters of 1827, Beanman must draw his sword to fight off a monster vagina that threatens to engulf him until, quelled, it surrenders to his bidding” (Screech).

Some of shunga’s unique encounters avoided the dark and extraordinary for more inquisitive tones.  The limited number of foreigners in Japan sparked curiosity and inspired some artists to depict non-Japanese subjects.  Ruth Styles explains, “And while most shunga do focus on ordinary Japanese people, the odd Dutch or Portuguese adventurer sometimes creeps in.”

Lasting Influence

hentai-manga-store

Photo by: Ignis

Have shunga left a lasting legacy?

I think I experienced one aspect of it as an innocent youth at the video shop.  Ancient shunga prove Japan’s interest in pornographic art – be it comics, cartoons or ancient shunga – is nothing new.

Industry giants feel the same way.  Luke Malone writes, “Toshio Maeda (widely considered to be the grandfather of erotic manga)… sees (erotic manga) as the modern iteration of an important cultural tradition (i.e. shunga).”

Calling hentai manga a “remnant” of shunga seems like an appropriate description.  Perhaps today’s tentacle, monster, demon, alien and robot pornography can be traced back to the days of anything-goes erotic prints.  Even Japan’s lolita and wakashu fetishes might find a root in shunga’s younger boy and girl subjects.

But shunga’s legacy need not be limited to extremes.  Most prints celebrated more subdued themes, like loving sex between consenting adults.  And these themes also enjoy continued popularity in Japan’s modern erotica.  They just don’t make headlines.

Perhaps Japan’s modern erotic media – including manga, anime, movies, video games – would not be socially acceptable or even legal today if it weren’t for the path blazed by Edo era shunga.

Obscenity?  Art?  Or Both?

peter-paul-rubens

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and time has been kind to peoples’ perceptions of shunga. Many of today’s viewers admire the prints as works of art.  Distinguished museums in the west, like The British Museum, have held popular exhibitions celebrating the medium.

Yet shunga continue to be considered obscene in Japan, their country of origin.

The recent arrest of the “vagina artist” Megumi Igarashi has helped stoked the debate – what separates art from obscenity?  Police arrested Ms. Igarashi, also known as Rokudenashi-ko (“A No-Good Girl”), for distributing 3d data for the replication of her vagina for artistic purposes.  The No-Good Girl’s art included a “no-good” kayak modeled after her vagina.

She presented her case at a press conference (video presented by The Japan Times):

I was charged with the crime of distributing obscene data…  The way that this word, ‘obscenity’ has been attached to the vagina makes it seem like some remote, unfamiliar object…  In Japan there is a tradition of festivals that celebrate sexual organs, and yet we also have this notion of obscenity.  I think my arrest was a symptom of this distorted notion of sexuality that exists in this country.

But it wasn’t always that way.  In fact, Western taboos shaped Japan’s attitudes and laws dealing with sex and nudity.  In her essay Shunga in the Meji Era: The End of a Tradtion? Rosina Buckland explains, “From 1872 onwards, the government undertook to regulate and control prostitution more strictly, as part of its project to “civilize” Japan in the view of Western nations.”  Laws banning shunga soon followed.

Despite its reputation for perversion, Japan takes a conservative stance when it comes to sexuality.  And although headline making situations exist, they do not represent the norm.  Tim Clark remarks, “Somehow ironically, (shunga) are more explicit than today’s Japanese pornography laws would allow.”  Strict laws outlaw displaying genitalia in media – a common element of Edo-era shunga.

In all likelihood, few Edo-era people purchased shunga for their artistic value.  During an era devoid of magazines, video, and the internet, shunga represented the equivalent of modern day pornography.  So it’s understandable that Japanese law considered shunga obscene.

Yet if few people question non-erotic woodblock prints’ validity as art, isn’t it hypocritical to treat their erotic counterparts differently?  After all both use the same method of production and depict imagery popular of the time period.

Is Ms. Igarashi’s kayak obscenity or art?  Should she have the right to make it and display it?  Should fans have the right to see it?  Where do we draw the line?  And who has the right to answer these questions, particularly when it comes to policies that affect others?

Perhaps American Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart put it best in the Jacobellis v. Ohio obscenity case when he said, “I know it (obscenity) when I see it.”  Individuals define obscenity by their own opinions and values – there is no clearcut definition.  And as we have seen in the case of shunga, one person’s art may be another person’s obscenity.

But one fact cannot be denied – art or not, shunga hold value as unique cultural artifacts.  And we can learn a lot from these primary sources that offer a peek into Edo era attitudes, interests, people and bedrooms.

One thing’s for sure, I’ll never look at hentai reading commuters on the train the same way again.  I might even sit a little bit closer to them.  They are not perverts, but misunderstood, safety-conscious citizens; heroes willing to tarnish their own images to protect themselves and everyone in the vicinity from fire.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[1280x1600] ∙ [2560x1600]

Sources

 

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Japanese Legal Loopholes: How Japan Looks Innocent While Breaking the Law http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/16/japanese-legal-loopholes-how-japan-looks-innocent-while-breaking-the-law/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/16/japanese-legal-loopholes-how-japan-looks-innocent-while-breaking-the-law/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 16:00:37 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42849 One of the big questions I asked myself while in Japan was “why?” Just “why.” Not the usual, little “why’s” that accompany a trip to a foreign nation like, “why are squatty potties so hard to use?” Rather, I couldn’t help being bombarded by bigger, more legalistic “why’s.” Why in a country where prostitution was illegal did I see signs and brochures for places like the “Love Action Club,” with catalogs of girls to choose from and a probably-quite-sketchy number you could call? Why, in a country where underage drinking is outlawed, are you almost never asked to verify your age?

It seemed to me that several laws in Japan are only very loosely enforced. I started to think that maybe Japan was posturingshowing the world that these laws existed and meeting the standards expected of them on the world stagebut to the native (and sometimes foreigners) there are pretty obvious areas where these laws are simply not enforced. Many governments, and Japan in particular, have a system in place for following their rules to the letter of the law, but will abuse specific wording or create exceptions to allow certain behaviors to slip through the cracks unchallenged. These loopholes seem to inform quite a few areas of Japanese life, so I wanted to dive into a few of the different types of loopholes and attempt to analyze the “why” of it all.

Types of Loopholes

uzumaki-manga

It’s probably too ambitious to attempt to look at all the myriad ways any one government may attempt to skirt laws, so I’m just going to point out some of the major ones in some of the most widely noticeable categories. If any of you fine, upstanding, Tofugu-loving folks would post other observed loopholes or personal anecdotes in the comments, that would be a great way to increase our understanding. That said, this is what I found:

Alcohol Loopholes

japanese-beer-case1

To understand that a double-standard exists with Japan’s enforcement of alcohol, one must compare it to their handling of another controlled substance, firearms. Gun control is so heavily monitored and enforced in Japan that it is almost baffling to a Westerner, especially when compared to the culturally more lax attitude to alcohol and tobacco. We can see that these cultural differences really do inform regulation: So in the United States, whose Constitution contains a “Right to Bear Arms,” firearm control is deemphasized. In Japanese culture, which stresses the importance of drinking between coworkers to seal business deals and foster bonds, it follows naturally that drinking laws would be similarly deemphasized. In Japan, where herds of salarymen stumble home each night, a law that penalizes people for being drunk in public would simply not work as it may in other societies. These are not yet loopholes, however. These are cultural differences in the creation of laws. The loopholes arise when dealing with a consequence of these cultural differences: underage drinking.

To quote a very relevant 2013 article by Koichi (go read it!), “the Japanese underage drinking law came into affect in 1922. It has been ignored ever since.” In 1922, when faced with the evidence that underage drinking was hazardous and being newly opened up to a global stage that had already made that behavior illegal (and, shoot, the U.S. was even in the middle of an outright alcohol prohibition), Japan caved to the pressure and implemented a similar law of their own. However, it wasn’t long before the Japanese underage drinking law became so unenforced that it really only existed on paper and not in practice. The Japanese law as written did not put any restrictions or penalties in place for vendors, machine or otherwise, that sold to underage persons. Nothing really changed.

Whaling Loopholes

whale-meat-poster

Japan’s loophole with whaling is the only loophole on this list that circumvents international law and as such has been heavily criticized by the global community. To understand why, we need to discuss the history of the law that Japan is evading: the International Whaling Commission’s 1982 moratorium on commercial whaling. Around the late 1970s, the anti-whaling movement was beginning to pick up steam around the world. Eventually these pressures bubbled into an international treaty that set out to ban all whaling, only allowing two exemptions: scientific whaling done for research, and aboriginal-subsistence whaling (for Inuits or other native groups that wouldn’t be able to adequately meet their food needs without the traditional food source). With whaling being an important part of native food and culture in Japan, there was a desire domestically to fight this legislation. Japan, along with Norway, Peru, and Russia (other countries with a significant degree of commercial whaling) launched formal objections to the moratorium. It wasn’t until the US threatened to reduce the Japanese fishing quota within American waters that Japan accepted the moratorium. In 1988, when the US reduced the Japanese fishing quota anyway (sort of a dick move), the Japanese were left to decide what to do in response. It was around this time they opted to employ something they had begun to get very good at usingloopholes.

The Japanese government started issuing ‘Scientific Whaling Permits’ left and right to allow their whaling to be carried out under the guise of lethal scientific research so that they could still meet the provisions of the moratorium. However, the way the whaling was handled did not significantly differentiate it from earlier commercial whaling practices; the meat is still sold to certain fishmongers and finds itself in classy Japanese restaurants after the “research” is conducted. Even in the cases where actual research is carried out, it is not often published in reputable scientific journals and would usually be a more feasible experiment if tagging and catch-and-release strategies were conducted instead of lethal harvesting. Not only that, but the research results typically revolve around how to increase the efficiency of whaling or to convince the global community to remove the moratorium. Seems legit.

Gambling Loopholes

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Betting on casino games, slot machines, mobile games, sports, and any other form of gambling with direct cash winnings is outlawed by chapter 23 of Japan’s criminal code. However, the law specifically builds in a handful of exceptions in order for some money to be made in the ridiculously lucrative gambling industry. For example, betting on horse races and certain motor sports is specifically exempted by the law. Additionally, prefectures and big cities can still sell lottery tickets and hold a variety of lottery events with direct cash payments without violating the law. However, for the most part this law is upheld to the letter. Yeah, that’s right, gambling is actually illegal in Japan. I guess that explains the absence of traditional casinos (for now). But still you wouldn’t think of gambling as illegal when looking at the prevalence of pachinko parlors. Surely, pachinko counts as a form of gambling, right? Not according to Japanese law, and trust me it has taken a fair amount of time and finagling for pachinko to reach the loophole-filled status that it currently enjoys.

Owning and operating a pachinko parlor isn’t illegal. Like the aforementioned horse racing, it has been specifically exempted by the law for significant cultural and historical purposes. The only thing that would make it illegal would be if there were direct cash payouts on site, and that’s exactly how pachinko proprietors skirt this law. At the parlors themselves, people will pay to sit down and play pachinko and their winnings are given to them in the form of gold tokens, metal balls, or something else innocuous. At the parlors, there are prize counters that contain all kinds of kitschy prizes like rice cookers, jewelry, handbags, chocolates, cigarettes, TVs, DVD players, etc. At first glance, the whole system just looks like a glorified version Chuck E. Cheese. The appeal is that you can simply exchange your winnings for a receipt at the prize counter instead of an awkward prize. You can then take that receipt to a winnings desk outside of the premises and turn it in for cash. These exchange stations are usually right next door and owned and operated by the same people as the pachinko parlor. Yet, because they didn’t give you a direct cash payout on site, and you actually had to walk a couple feet, there is zero infraction in the eyes of the law. Everyone involved in pachinko, including law enforcement, parlor employees, and most players are aware of exactly how this system works and how it skirts the laws. But they acknowledge that it’s basically just a legal way to gamble while following Japanese penal code.

Prostitution Loopholes

japanese-prostitution

Considering the tradition of mizuage among geisha, sexuality has played a major role in Japanese society. Prostitution in Japan was even a state-sponsored activity, with the government licensing and monitoring brothels until 1946 when this practice was banned. After the ban, prostitutes were no longer given guaranteed national contracts, but prostitution was still legal and widely practiced. Many brothels would use cafes or other legitimate businesses as fronts. Pressures from the domestic lobbying group, “The National Federation of the Brothel Trade,” which offered money and free brothel trips to politicians, made it very difficult for reform to reach the Japanese sex trade. It wasn’t until twelve years later in 1958 that the Anti-Prostitution Law was passed and actively enforced. With prostitution outlawed, it took many creative loopholes to keep brothels in operation.

The specific language of the Anti-Prostitution Law only forbids “vaginal sex in exchange for money”, which renders other sex acts permissible. Two of the most common modern variations on Japan’s brothels are fashion health (ファッションヘルス) facilities and soaplands (ソープランド). Fashion Health centers are typically advertised as massage parlors, but they offer much more than just massages. As a matter of fact, the only thing they can’t offer is vaginal sexual intercourse. In this case, the letter of the law is upheld.

Soaplands are merely advertised as locations where patrons will be bathed by partners of their choice. However, they offer much of the same services as brothels. In fact, they can often go a bit further and circumvent the prostitution law for their clients. This is where the most elaborate exploitation of a loophole can be seen. The specific wording of the law forbids only, “intercourse with an unspecified person in exchange for payment.” The key word here being: “unspecified.” Many soaplands, and a handful of other sexual services, have been able to operate legally in Japan by making the claim that the sexual act is being exchanged between people who have become acquainted and are no longer “unspecified”.

“Is it nonsense to deem that the couple fell in love while massaging at a soapland? Yes. But that is how things have operated inside the Japanese legal framework for over five decades,” says Kansai University professor Yoshikazu Nagai, who has extensively studied the modern Japanese sex industry.

These industries are well-regulated in Japan, they must report to police to register as one of the following designations: soaplands, fashion health massage parlors, call-girl businesses, strip clubs, love hotels, and adult shops, and are legally bound to only operate in the capacity of the category they choose. However, that doesn’t stop many of these industries from abusing the wording of the legislation which makes it impossible to criminalize these forms of prostitution. The semantic arguments have become so institutionalized that prostitution in many cases is essentially legal.

Child Pornography Loopholes

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Okay, here it is: we’re going to get a little heavy here. There’s no doubt that Japan really values the aesthetic of cuteness and that this naturally translates to the aesthetic of youth (It’s also a bit of a chicken/egg situation). In Japan, youth is beauty. This is why foreign models chosen to represent Japanese companies often need to fit a certain standard of youthful beauty that requires them to be between the ages of 13 to 16. It’s the reason yaeba teeth are popular, and it is the reason that the lolicon genre and fandom exist. For the unaware, lolicon is typically defined as “discourse or media in Japan focusing on the attraction to young or prepubescent girls.” We’ll add that this type of media is typically in the form of drawn or animated depictions of sexualized prepubescent girls as real-life depictions may violate Article 7 of the Japanese constitution that criminalizes the production of child pornography that was ratified in 1999 (They dragged their feet on that one). In Japan, possession and production of explicitly sexual cartoon lolicon is legal, although still contentious. It’s legal in Japan. No loopholes there. However, it gets a little blurrier when discussing non-simulated child pornography.

After 1999 child pornography was outlawed, but only on the following grounds, “production, transport, import and export, as well as possession of child pornography for the aforementioned purposes.” It became illegal to make and sell child pornography internationally. However, there were absolutely no consequences to those that owned it. None. They had simply to prove that they owned it for personal reasons and had no intention to produce, transport, import, or export it, and the law couldn’t touch them. It wasn’t until Wednesday, June 18th, of the year 2014 (I’m not even kidding) that Japanese lawmakers bowed to international pressures and passed a law making the mere possession of child pornography a crime that could result in a year in jail or an up to $10,000 fine. This, of course, left lolicon depictions untouched as they are considered important both economically and for freedom of expression. Has Japan finally moved closer to the international standard for regulating child pornography? The law provides Japanese citizens a year to dispose of any child pornography they possess before risking any prosecution. In this age of technological mass communication and information duplication, that is a pretty lenient loophole. It’s as if Japan doesn’t really want to prosecute child pornographers, instead providing a gentle slap on the wrist and saying, “Hey, you might want to get rid of that.”

Another blatant loophole that continues to blur enforcement of this law is media featuring Japanese junior idols, child models that usually start between the ages of 13 and 15. While the above types of child pornography are largely distributed in hushed tones and on the dark corners of the internet, junior idol magazines, photo books, and videos, can be purchased in legitimate storefronts across Japan. When I was in Osaka, I saw a shelf full of junior idol DVDs, mostly suggestive swimsuit modeling, that was literally across the aisle from shelves of hardcore hentai and sex toys. It’s extremely hard to imagine that those DVDs were being sold for an artistic purpose and not a pornographic one. There have been prosecutions of production companies whose junior models have crossed the vaguely defined line between child modeling and child pornography, resulting in several videos being removed from Amazon.jp’s online store. This is a start, but it hasn’t even slowed down the multimillion dollar junior idol industry.

About That “Why” Question

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Now that I’ve brought up this diverse list of loopholes in the Japanese government, you, dear reader, should have a few “why’s” in your mind as well. Many of the questions raised by this pattern of loophole flouting in Japanese politics do not have easy answers. Some have argued that the loopholes are exploited by the Japanese public and it is the ineffectiveness of the Japanese government’s enforcement of laws that allows loopholes to thrive. However, Japanese law enforcement seems to institutionalize and actively allow many of these loopholes, so I think differently. I speculate that one of the main reasons for this abundance of loopholes isn’t ineffective enforcement or even political corruption (though parts of it can certainly seem symptomatic). It seems to me that what Japan is really after is preservation of the status quo.

From whaling, to prostitution , to a lax drinking culture, to pachinko parlors, to retaining the legality of lolicon, the exceptions are typically made simply to maintain things as they have always been. In fact, it is my belief that many of the laws that these loopholes circumvent would not have been ratified if it weren’t for the intense pressure from the global community. Japan wants to appear as if it is matching expectations of behavior and etiquette with the Western world, while still enjoying certain behaviors that, while deemed inappropriate elsewhere, are considered core to the Japanese way of life.

These loopholes in laws serve a very similar role domestically. Instead of appeasing the moral sensibilities of those overseas, these laws can also appease Japanese citizens by assuring them that legislation has been passed that will protect them from problems like prostitution and underage drinking, when in reality nothing is truly being enforced. For instance, take this short anecdote from fellow Tofugu writer, Verity Lane:

“the prefecture knew that teachers were working too many hours, and they were being criticized. So they shortened the day by 10 minutes. The previous start time was 8:00. Now it’s 8:10. However, the schools didn’t change the time of the morning meeting (at 8:10) so teachers have to be in school by 8:00 anyway. Nothing changed, but there’s some proof that the prefecture ‘did something’ if anyone criticizes them about working hours again.”

This is a simple example, but it is very telling because it supports this observable pattern of many Japanese regulations making changes on paper, but not truly enforcing them, or else building in exemptions that render the law meaningless. It isn’t my purpose to deem whether these actions are ethical or unethical, but merely to bring this interesting idea to the forefront. I really look foreword to hearing the discussions and comments that this article will elicit. Have you observed these patterns in Japanese society? Where do you see other loopholes? And, let us not forget, why?

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources:

  • http://www.icap.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=tMW8of1JAgU%3D&tabid=199
  • http://www.cgeorgemuller.com/summary.htm
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whaling_in_Japan
  • http://www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20120815-the-big-business-of-japans-pachinko-parlours
  • http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gaming/the-secret-life-of-pachinko
  • http://neojaponisme.com/2008/11/17/why-japan-needed-prostitution/
  • http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2008/05/27/reference/law-bends-over-backward-to-allow-fuzoku/#.VCmnn8uM2Ul
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akasen
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_Japan
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junior_idol
  • http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/17/world/asia/japan-child-porn-law/index.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_pornography_laws_in_Japan

 

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The Standard of Japanese Female Beauty: Ono no Komachi and the Akita Bijin http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/10/the-standard-of-japanese-female-beauty-ono-no-komachi-and-the-akita-bijin/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/10/the-standard-of-japanese-female-beauty-ono-no-komachi-and-the-akita-bijin/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 16:00:52 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43890 Ono no Komachi 小野小町 was a poet of unparalleled beauty and renown. Not only was she one of the most famous and well respected poets of the early Heian Period 平安時代, the golden age of Japanese poetry, but the rumor and awe surrounding her beauty has left its mark on Japan to the present day.

A Legend is Born in Tohoku

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It is widely accepted that Ono no Komachi was born in Akita Prefecture 秋田県, when it was still known as Dewa 出羽国, in what is now Yuzawa City 湯沢市 around 834 AD. Her father Yoshisada was (most likely) the lord of Dewa at the time and sent his daughter to Heian-kyō 平安京 (modern day Kyoto). She was around twelve or thirteen when she went to serve in the Imperial Court. It is rumored that she had an older sister who was also sent to Kyoto, but she never reached the level of fame that her little sister attained.

During the Heian Period the Imperial Court was all about aesthetics. The two most significant were Miyabi 雅 (Refinement/Elegance/Courtliness) and Mono no aware 物の哀れ (Sensitivity). The former meant the removal of all things vulgar or absurd, and the latter was the ability to be moved by nature, a melancholy over the impermanence of things in this world.

For someone to be considered attractive in the Heian period they needed to be both refined, elegant, and sensitive. They expressed these qualities mainly through poetry. Poems were the primary form of communication between those at court, men wrote poems to men, women to other women, and of course, lovers and married couples wrote poems to one another.

Poetry competitions were held regularly, and the most sensitive poem that referenced proper seasonal and older poetic tropes would bring renown to its writer. Genji’s (of the Tale of Genji) charm came from his ability to feel, and his expression of those feelings through poetry. Heian aesthetic was also expressed through the way people dressed. Women had to wear long robes called jūnihitoe 十二単, or twelve layer robes. They were extremely complicated, colorful kimono that had numerous layers and could weigh almost forty-five pounds. The more layers, the more impressive. You certainly couldn’t put them on by yourself.

All of these qualities defined what beauty was to the Japanese nobility.

Poetry and Heartache

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Ono no Komachi had all of these qualities and she excelled in the world of the Heian court. While she was known for her skills at the koto, calligraphy, singing, and dancing, it was her poetry that brought her the most attention. She wrote mainly about love, and the poems she wrote to her many lovers actually help us to know when she was at court. Her most famous relationship was with Fukakusa no Shosho 深草少将. Her poetry is full of longing, heartache, and emotional intensity and the waka 和歌 style that people were using at the time fit her own perfectly.

As a side note: having many lovers was in no way considered to be a bad thing at this time. Men and women often had more than one lover, but that didn’t make the emotional strain when someone you had feelings for moved on to someone else hurt any less. Please do not mistake Ono no Komachi for some kind of concubine or anything out of the ordinary.

Here are five of my personal favorites:

Ima wa tote
Ware ni shigure no
Furiyukeba
Koto no ha sae zo
Utsuroinikeru

Omoitsutsu
Nureba yo hito no
Mietsuran
Yume to shiriseba
Samezaramashi o

Utatane ni
Koishiki hito o
Miteshi yori
Yume cho mono wa
Tanomisometeki

Ito semete
Koishiki toki wa
Mubatama no
Yoru no koromo o
Kaeshite zo kiru

Hito ni awan
Tsuki no naki ni wa
Omoiokite
Mune hashiribi ni
Kokoro yakeori

Now is the time
You think to leave me,
I am growing older
Your promises too
Are leaves of turning colors.

Was it that I fell asleep
Longing for him
That he appeared?
Had I known it was a dream
I should not have awakened.

In a doze I saw
The one I am longing for;
Since then
I have come to rely
On my dreams

When I long for him
Oppressed by the thoughts I have,
I wear my robe,
Jet black as the night,
Turned inside out.

On a moonless night
When I will not meet him,
I lie awake longing for him, my mind aflame
My heart burns amidst
The leaping fire in my breast

Even in translation, her passion seems to pulse through the page. Her poetry is so highly regarded that she is listed among the Rokkasen 六歌仙 (Japanese Poetry Immortals), as well as in the introduction to the Kokin Wakashū 古今和歌集 (also known as the Kokinshū), which contains the only surviving works by Ono no Komachi. She is also one of the Sanjūrokkasen 三十六歌仙 (the Thirty-six Immortals of Poetry) and the Nyōbōsanjūrokkasen 女房三十六歌仙 (Thirty-six Immortal Lady Poets).

Her poetry and her ability to fit within the aesthetic world of the Heian court were amazing. But what exactly is it that makes her so important? She’s had an even bigger impact on Japan than many people realize, especially in how people look at her supposed birthplace, present day Akita Prefecture.

Beauty Standards of the Akita Bijin

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From left to right: Ono no Komachi, Sotoori-hime, The Third Princess (Onna San No Miya/Nyōsan).

You may have heard the term Akita Bijin 秋田美人 before in Japan. It’s a term used for really beautiful women from Akita prefecture, and some other parts of Tohoku. There is a certain something that young women from that area seem to have, and when people talk about their ideal woman, or who the most beautiful women are in Japan, Akita Bijin may come up.

Here are the qualities an Akita Bijin is said to have:

  • white/pale skin
  • round face
  • straight brow
  • double eyelids
  • small nose
  • small mouth with full lips

This concept of beauty and the traits involved are all rumored to be qualities that Ono no Komachi had. She was the ideal, a perfect woman who came from far away to the capital to serve in court and her beauty was what everyone longed for.

Today you can hear people saying how good the rice in Akita is. “It’s so good for your skin,” they say. And the water is so fresh up there, drinking and soaking in it makes your skin so smooth and white. These were all things I heard firsthand when I told people I was going to Akita to study. So was it these natural resources that gave Ono no Komachi and other women their beauty? Water and rice?

There are other theories. This pale complexion is more likely from the fact that it snows in the Tohoku region. A lot. The summers are fairly short and the winters are excruciatingly long. This means that people aren’t getting a lot of sunlight, so of course they’re going to be pale compared to someone from Kyoto. In the 1960s, studies were done by a physician in Yuzawa City, measuring the whiteness of women’s skin. He found that a mix of the climate and geological environment were what made their skin so white. According to this study, 29.6% is the “whiteness” of Akita Bijins, while the Japanese average is 22.0%. Apparently this is a noticeable difference.

While the rice and the water may help, seeing as they’re actually pretty tasty, as well as the lack of sunlight, it’s more likely that Ono no Komachi’s legacy is the cause. Her looks were enhanced by her sensitivities and her poetry. Her pale skin and soft round face may have become popular more so because of her ability to fit within the aesthetic of the Heian court, than her looks themselves being attractive. In other words, the idea that her features were beautiful were a result, not a cause.

Theater Keeps the Legacy Alive

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Photo by lensonjapa

Writers have been using Ono no Komachi as their personification of beauty and poetic skill for over one thousand years. She has been used as the subject of seven Noh plays: Sotoba Komachi 卒塔婆小町Sekidera Komachi 関寺小町Ōmu Komachi 鸚鵡小町Sōshi Arai Komachi 草紙洗小町, Kayoi Komachi 小町, Amagoi Komachi 雨乞小町, and Kiyomizu Komachi 清水小町. Sometimes she appears as an old woman, destitute and lamenting over her former glory as a poet in court. Other times she comes back as the ghost of the beautiful woman she was, appearing to people and reciting her poetry. In every case she is remembered for her great beauty and masterful poetry. She also appears in four Kabuki plays: Tsumoru Koi Yuki no Aeki no To 積恋雪関扉, Saruhodoni koi non omoni 去程恋重荷, Rokkasen Sugata no Irodori 六歌仙容彩, and Waka no Toku Amagoi Komachi 和歌徳雨乞小町.

She also appeared in a manga that started in 2010 called Chōyaku Hyakunin isshu: Uta Koi 超訳百人一首 うた恋い, which is still being published. It’s all about, you guessed it, poetry exchanged between Heian nobility and love. The anime aired in 2012.

Komachi Branding

If you add Komachi to a product, it instantly becomes more marketable and hints at elegance.

Akita Komachi Rice

akita-bijin-rice

This rice not only takes Ono no Komachi’s namesake, but companies use her image for marketing as well. It’s easy to see how people think that the rice is what makes the girls of Akita so pretty when they use this kind of imagery. This rice isn’t what gave the original Ono no Komachi her beauty though, as this strain of rice didn’t exist before the 1980s.

Komachi Shinkansen

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Photo by Norio Nakayama

Created in 1997, the Komachi Shinkansen runs from Tokyo to Akita. The name was voted on by the public, second and third place were Obako おばこ and Tazawa たざわ respectively. The train was upgraded in 2013 and is one of the best ways to travel to Akita without flying directly to their airport.

Komachi Hot Spring and Hotel

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What better way to pamper yourself than in a hotel that has a bunch of hot springs. That Akita water is sure you make your skin soft and bouncy, just like Ono no Komachi. They don’t just have one big communal hot spring, mind you. They have huge public baths, seven open air baths, a mist sauna, and a sauna theater! They also have a theater called the Komachi Theater where different theater troupes put on performances. Check our their website for more.

A Parade of Beautiful Women

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She wouldn’t be a proper Japanese legend if she didn’t have her own festival! The Komachi Festival is held every year in her hometown of present day Yuzawa City’s Ono District on the second Sunday of June.

The festival involves seven girls picked from Yuzawa City who dress in traditional clothing and dedicate seven of Ono no Komachi’s poems at a shrine bearing her own name, Komachi-do. Below is an example of the seven poems that are dedicated:

七小町娘の朗詠歌

1. 花の色はうつりにけりないたづらに
我が見世にふるながめせしまに

2. いとせめて恋しきときはうばたまの
夜の衣をかえしてぞ着る

3. 思いつゝ寝ればや人の見えつらん
夢と知りせば党めざらましを

4. ちはやぶる神もみばさば立ちさわぎ
天の戸川の樋口あけたまえ

5. わびぬれば身をうき草の根をたえて
誘う水あらばいなんとぞ思ふ

6. 色も春もなつかしきかな蛙なく
井手のわたりの山吹の花

7. 面影のかわらで年のつもれかし
たとひ命にかぎりありとも

Quiet Retirement

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Ono no Komachi left court and returned to Yuzawa when she was in her mid-thirties and no one really knows what happened from there. While some plays suggest that she met old age in a state of poverty and slight madness over her lost loves, most scholars believe this to be false. There are grave sites dedicated to her dotted throughout Japan so no one really knows her true burial site either. They can be found in Miyagi, Fukushima, Shiga, Okayama, and Ibaraki prefectures, to name a few. There are even two in Kyoto. Regardless of where she went, she probably spent her remaining years in peace, unaware of her impact on the world of poetry and Japanese perceptions of beauty.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

Sources

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Yakan Chuugaku: The Japanese Night Time Junior High Where The Uneducated Learn To Read Good http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/08/yakan-chuugaku-the-japanese-night-time-junior-high-where-the-uneducated-learn-to-read-good/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/08/yakan-chuugaku-the-japanese-night-time-junior-high-where-the-uneducated-learn-to-read-good/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 16:00:51 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42131 In recent years, many people from different countries have been coming to Japan. Their reasons for studying Japanese are as various as their backgrounds. Due to this diversity, local governments have begun shifting their attention of language education to a wider age-range of non-native speakers, since these people aren’t all school-aged students, after all. However, there are still some learners that manage to slip from the clutches of even these education systems. Japanese Junior High Night Schools, or 夜間中学 (yakan-chuugaku), have been picking up the slack. They have actually been accepting these non-native students since after WWII, and the number of non-Japanese students in these classes has been rapidly increasing in recent years. In fact, now approximately 70% of the students are non-Japanese! Today, we’ll be learning about these nocturnal classrooms.

How To Get Into A Yakan-Chuugaku

yakanchuugaku2

Photo by gwaar

Yakan-chuugaku are public junior high night schools designed for those who were not able to complete their compulsory education. In Japan, compulsory education laws require six years of elementary and three years of junior high school. Although the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has just started discussions over a new system (which would unify elementary and junior high), one thing would remain the same: compulsory education will be 9 years with every child being required to complete this if they are between the ages of six (five in the new system) and fifteen.

Reality, however, is often quite different. Approximately one million people were unable to graduate due to many reasons, including poverty, mental illness, and even issues related to one’s own nationality. Those people are the individuals who get targeted by the junior high night schools.

While everyone who attends school in Japan should be sure to check their local requirements, as a general example I’ve cited the enrollment requirements for this type of school in Tokyo:

People who meet the following conditions are eligible to join a yakan-chuugaku:
1. Have not graduated from either elementary school or junior high school.
2. Living or working in Tokyo.
3. Must be 15 years of age or older.

The number of these schools is not adequate yet either. There are only 36 of these schools nationwide. 8 in Tokyo, 1 in Chiba, 6 in Kanagwa, 1 in Aichi, 11 in Osaka, 1 in Kyoto, 3 in Nara, 3 in Hyogo, and 2 in Hiroshima. Since they don’t exist in many prefectures, some people have to give up on getting fundamental education. Therefore, there is a movement towards trying to establish junior high night schools in every prefecture throughout Japan.

A Night School Junior High History Class

After WWII, poor children who could not attend classes during regular hours due to family responsibilities / work claimed their right to learn. In accordance with such a demand, schoolteachers temporarily organized an evening class for these students in Osaka in 1947, and that was the start of the junior high night school.

After that, the number of schools increased as well as the number of students. However, after the number of students peaked to over 5,000 in 1955, it decreased markedly because Japanese living standards improved and the educational infrastructure was better developed. Following this situation, the Japanese Administrative Management Agency even recommended that the Ministry of Education (now the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology) should end junior high night school classes as soon as possible, though it never actually happened.

Around this time, the age range of the students in these schools began expanding. It was originally opened for students that were of junior high school age, thus the name “junior high night school”. Yet, it was concluded that they should extend the right to attend these schools to those who missed school because of the war, or financial problems. This extension was also provided to the Korean people who had come to Japan and were so busy making a living that they were not able to go to school during working hours.

But, the number of Korean students began to fall in 1974. Instead, the number of Japanese orphans in China who had returned to Japan started increasing, especially starting in 1978 following the Japan-China Treaty of Peace And Friendship. Chinese students at the night schools reached 2,772 in 1980, and they continued as the majority group for a while.

In 1990, a law called “immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act” was established. This law made it easier for people that descended from Japanese expatriates, or 日系人 (Nikkeijin), to enter Japan. This caused the descendants of Japanese families from countries in South America, such as Brazil, Peru, and Argentina to increase in population. This resulted in more of these people registering for junior high night school, with student attendance reaching 3,424 in 1999.

The Curriculum Of Junior High Night School

yuukanchuugaku

Photo by gwaar

Students can enter the school anytime as long as they meet the requirements, although it’s difficult for non-Japanese students to obtain proof that they have not graduated from an elementary school or junior high school already, and therefore the qualification exam is not that rigorous.

Once they enter a school, it’s designed so that every student will study the entire junior high school curriculum. So, some schools have Japanese language classes for those who are not fluent in Japanese yet. Students are usually classified by their Japanese ability, age, and their purpose of studying. The classes cover everything from basic reading, writing, and arithmetic to all the other junior high school subjects. There are 4 classes in a typical day and each class is usually 40 minutes. The subjects covered in a regular class are usually Japanese, math, social science, science, English, music, art, health and physical education, industrial arts and home economics. The subjects of a Japanese language class are Japanese, music, physical education, art, industrial arts and home economics, and homeroom activities. Depending on the classroom you belong to, the allotment of the subjects above can differ as well. For example, a class with younger aged people tends to have a similar curriculum to that of a daytime school, whereas the classes with elderly people tend to focus more on studying Japanese.

Problems Awaiting Solution

immigrants

Photo by takomabibelot

Unlike education for children, the syllabus or learning objective of the education in junior high night schools is different depending on each learner, especially so for different generations. Even among the younger generations, those who are aiming at the next stage of education are more studious than others who are just there for the credits. There are also many more children who are here simply because of their parents’ jobs, so they are only interested in learning Japanese for daily conversation and show no interest in other subjects.

The situations of each student also varies greatly. Some students have opes of getting a job (or getting a better job) after graduating, whereas others are already working, or are living on welfare. Some students show up late every day, or have a lot of absences, due to their jobs or health conditions. It makes continuing their education very difficult. In addition, there are many different native languages to think about, lifestyles, and core values due to all the different home countries that these students come from. A teacher has to come up with ways for many different people to understand one subject. Sometimes personal curriculums have to be made, so it’s a tough job to have.

Since Japan is globalizing, we can expect the variety of students to increase in these junior high night schools as well. Perhaps this will cause more issues in these schools, and make it harder for these students to learn (not to mention harder for these teachers to teach), but all in all maybe it’s a good thing. It shows that Japan is becoming more diverse, even if it’s slowly, and as this increases it will force the government to come up with new solutions for these people.

Because it’s difficult to understand what these teachers, and students, go through, I found someone who teaches at one of these schools and interviewed her. We’ll be publishing that next week, so stay tuned.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

Sources:

  • 松崎運之助(1979)『夜間中学』白石書店
  • 原田明子(2003a)「夜間中学に在籍する日本語学習者の言語習得管理―学習環境とインターアクション行動の分析から―」 早稲田大学大学院 修士論文
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education
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Hell’s Bells: Gamers Steer Animal Crossing up a Silent Hill http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/03/hells-bells-gamers-steer-animal-crossing-up-a-silent-hill/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/03/hells-bells-gamers-steer-animal-crossing-up-a-silent-hill/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 16:00:55 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=44450 There’s no wrong way to play Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which, depending on the kind of person you are, can be extremely frustrating or tremendously liberating. In this Nintendo 3DS game, you are the new mayor and it’s your job to develop your town, but what that means exactly is largely up to you. You can spend your time paying off your debt to loan shark Tom Nook, collecting bugs, funding public works projects, filling your house entirely with toilets, and on and on.

But, if ambition levels are really high, your sunny town with its cutesy animal villagers can be transformed into a desolate nightmare where murder and mayhem run rampant. Really. At least, that’s what a growing number of Japanese players are doing. But their creations aren’t just towns with creepy atmospheres and gory garnish. These players are using Animal Crossing as a medium for telling unique narratives that borrow extensively from the Japanese horror genre.

We’ll take a tour through three of these creeptastic towns, dissecting their cultural elements and unearthing their Japanese horror roots. And don’t worry—you can hold my hand if you get scared.

Enter Diablo

animal-crossing-diablo-town

What’s cool about Animal Crossing: New Leaf is that it allows players to visit each other’s towns in “dreams” i.e. players explore what are essentially snapshots of other Animal Crossing towns using the 3DS’ Wi-Fi capabilities. They can interact with characters and objects, but they can’t permanently alter anything. (So sorry, you don’t get to maniacally level someone else’s trees.)

When your avatar “dreams” of the Japanese nightmare town でぃあぶる (Diablo), you arrive in your pajamas and are free to explore Diablo’s every nook and cranny, but the horror story to be uncovered here primarily takes place inside two large buildings. The first is modestly decorated with a number of small bedrooms. Canvases are set up everywhere you turn: This is some kind of artists’ retreat. But as you walk from room to room, you notice everyone’s been painting the same dark forest over and over. Look a little closer and you see a small, red-hooded figure in these paintings. She gets closer and closer in each painting, until finally she escapes her canvas confines entirely.

The red-hooded figure appears in the form of a smiling, red-hooded doll who sits behind the unsuspecting painters, ax lying on the floor nearby. One artist is missing, having left only a bloodied bed behind in his room and a painting of a red-hooded girl walking back through the forest. Look over the shoulder of one of the only still-surviving artists and you’ll see his half-finished painting of the same forest.

The other house in Diablo is where you’ll find the artist who summoned this evil red-hooded girl, either to curse her fellow artists or, if the high-quality art crammed inside her house is a clue, gain amazing artistic abilities for her own. (When you talk to her, she also laughs suspiciously. Never trust a suspicious katakana laugh.)

The creator of Diablo does lighten the mood with a weird joke, though. Walk around town long enough and you’ll run into Sanji. He’s the well-dressed cook and womanizer from One Piece, Japan’s best-selling manga and anime series about pirates. So there’s that.

Psyching You Out

the-ring-movie

Diablo’s narrative structure is simpler and its gore lighter than most of the other Animal Crossing nightmare towns I’ve ventured through, but I think that’s what makes it such a great example of suspense and psychological horror—two of contemporary Japanese horror’s biggest calling cards.

After the hyper-gore and violence of ’80s horror movies like the Guinea Pig film series, one of which was mistaken for a genuine snuff film by Charlie Sheen who then reported the filmmakers to the FBI (really!), the ’90s saw a stylistic shift in J-horror. Jay McRoy, author of Nightmare Japan: Contemporary Japanese Cinema, specifically points to Tsuruta Norio’s Scary True Stories as influencing many of the big names in the J-horror genre. (Instead of blood and guts, Norio went the other way and focused on disturbing creepiness, like ghostly figures with long black hair.)

Although there’s no typical black-haired vengeful ghost in Diablo, I think this nightmare town fits alongside movies like Ring and One Missed Call. Much like the characters in these movies, who must survive cursed videotapes and phones, the painters of Diablo are faced with canvases that a malevolent force uses to find and kill them. And the evil spirits in all these stories aren’t being too picky, acting as more of an apocalyptic force of evil. These horror stories aren’t about the individual being psychologically tortured per se; they’re more about the threat society itself is under from this unstoppable, wide-reaching attack – and they don’t need a lot of gore to get their point across. If you know what you’re doing a TV full of static or a half-finished painting of a forest is all you need to put your audience on edge.

The Animal Cannibals

animal-crossing-hitokui-town

At first blush, ひとくい (Hitokui) seems like a throwback to American horror film classics, like Silence of the Lambs and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Hitokui means “cannibalism,” after all, and when you wander into the basement of the town restaurant filled with cleavers in puddles of blood and empty baby cribs, it’s clear the chef (named Ed Gein) has been cooking with some unusual ingredients. (Every building in Hitokui is designed this way, with the ground floor appearing normal, almost eerily so, and basements and second floors acting as plot twists or scary reveals.)

But the on-the-nose town name proves to be semi-false advertising the deeper you go, and Hitokui’s narrative quickly reveals its classic Japanese horror roots. For example, when you wander into one of the buildings south of the town square, you find yourself at a Japanese funeral, complete with registry book, incense and floor cushions. There’s even a large bonfire downstairs where a cremation might be taking place later. Shide (Shinto paper amulets) cover the walls in many of the rooms, some of which are dripping with blood…

But maybe the most mysterious room in this building is upstairs, where the figure of a woman is using an old-fashioned spinning wheel. There are also four incense burners, four floor cushions, and four wardrobes in the room with her. (Four is associated with death in Japan, since both “four” and “death” can be pronounced the same way. Since there’s so much death in this room with her, she’s probably intended to be a ghost.) All of that, combined with the samurai suit in another room, makes me think the creator of Hitokui is referencing the “Black Hair” short from the 1965 horror anthology film Kwaidan (based on Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese horror stories.)

“Black Hair” is the story of a samurai, who leaves his wife for another, and when he realizes his first wife is his true love some time later, he comes back to find her toiling away at her loom. They happily reunite and spend the evening together, but when morning arrives, he wakes up to discover he’s lying next to her lifeless, rotting body. She’s been dead for months. Yikes.

The mastermind behind Hitokui is thematically prepping us for the final house in town, where things take a sharper turn toward the macabre. Outside, there’s a guy walking around with his head wrapped in bandages, who says, “にがさない…” which means, “There’s no escape…” Step inside the house itself and you see it’s set up like a doctor’s waiting room, but hidden behind the bookcase is a lab full of grotesque experiments.

Upstairs is a completely red room, which could be a nod to the Japanese urban legend about an Internet pop-up ad that references a red room before its viewer dies. (Those pop-up ads are the worst!) Most notable in this particular red room, besides all the kid toys, is the bloody outline of a body on the bed. Kodokushi or “lonely death” is the Japanese word for when a person dies alone, but isn’t discovered for a long time, leaving an outline behind once their body is removed.

And finally, in the basement is the figure of a bride imprisoned behind large stone pillars. Her prison is furnished nicely enough, and even includes a baby crib. Outside her cage is a stool for a visitor and on your way back out, it’s easy to spot the security camera fixed on her.

Vengeful Ghosts

lantern-obake

Despite its name, to me, Hitokui isn’t about cannibalism at all. Rather, it’s telling that most traditional of Japanese stories: a ghost story.

Ghosts are everywhere in Japanese literature and art, and they’ve been popular subjects pretty much no matter how far back in Japanese history you go. But ghosts are part of everyday life in Japan, too, from the yearly Obon Festival to small Jizo statues. There are different kinds of Japanese ghosts, but the ones most recognizable to Japanese and foreigner alike are yurei: pale women dressed in white with long black hair. Their modus operandi has changed over the course of history, but typically, they’re out for revenge, having been wronged in their lives or in the manner of their deaths.

And a typical yurei is depicted in Hitokui – remember the portrait of the deceased at the funeral? She has long black hair and ghostly pale skin. (She’s also crying bloody tears…) And besides the more obvious fact that there are a few skeletons buried in town and one of the characters you can interact with asks “What’s that behind you?” as though seeing a ghost, you are also given two outfits to choose between when you first arrive in town: a police officer’s uniform or a bridal gown. Not only does this add a cool “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” feel to Hitokui, but it is also as though you yourself are passing through Hitokui as a ghost. (Perhaps Hitokui’s law enforcement was killed while investigating the town’s mysteries and perhaps the bridal gown once belonged to the yurei herself – you’re playing as a shadow of what she once was.) Also there’s the nature of Animal Crossing’s Dream Suite itself – you can travel to and exist in these towns, but you can’t affect change.

Although not an exact retelling by any means, in my view, Hitokui is putting the Animal Crossing spin on the most famous of Japanese ghost stories: the story of Oiwa. The tale goes that Oiwa was married to a man named Iemon and together they had a child. One day, Iemon falls in love with another woman, but to be with her, he knows he needs to get rid of his current wife and kid. He tries poisoning Oiwa at first, but when that only manages to disfigure her, he kills Oiwa and their child outright. Naturally, Oiwa comes back to haunt him.

In this retelling, Oiwa is the deceased bride, whose funeral we see, whose child’s red bedroom we know once contained a body (presumably the kid’s), and who is now imprisoned in the basement of her old house. As a spin on the Oiwa story, there are hints that she might have been summoned to Hitokui, rather than appeared on her own (there’s a Satanic-esque sacrifice scene in the town church), but I do wonder if it’s not that Oiwa appeared as a yurei to punish her homicidal husband. Perhaps, a greater evil was summoned to combat her, but then once she was contained, this new evil didn’t leave and instead reigns over the town, perhaps cooking up the villagers in the local restaurant basement?

The Infamous Aika

animal-crossing-aika-town

Aika was the very first Animal Crossing nightmare town I heard about and its name inevitably gets invoked in pretty much any conversation about nightmare towns. Anecdotally, I would say it’s generally considered the gold standard and “The One” to check out.

So what’s going down in Aika town? Well, it’s really vague. (And in an interview with Nintendo Dream, the creator of Aika says she isn’t telling.)

Unlike other nightmare towns, Aika is very much designed to guide you through the town in a specific way. On the side of the river where you first appear, everything is Animal Crossing perfection. Roses bloom and golden fruit grows on all the trees. There’s only one house on this side of the river, and when you go in, you see what looks like a pretty happy family celebrating a little girl’s birthday. You figure out quickly that this little girl is Aika herself and when you talk to her she says: “おかあさん だいすき” or “I love you, Mommy.”

But then you cross the bridge to the other side of town and it’s a whole new setting. Rotting garbage litters the ground and all the grass is dead. When you see Aika again, she mixes up hiragana and katakana in her “I love you, Mommy” spiel. (And when you see her two more times after that, her speech continues to disturbingly worsen.) Inside the buildings themselves are pretty odd and abstract rooms, like one in which rows of dolls sit at a banquet and another that depicts the Genesis story (i.e. Adam and Eve) from the Bible.

The final house is identical to the first house we saw (the one with Aika’s birthday part), but now everyone is gone and garbage covers the floor. The TV is on, but it’s static. The grandfather clock’s hands point to 4 o’clock. Aika’s childish portraits of her family have everyone scrawled out in black except her. And if you walk down to the beach outside, you’ll find a pair of yellow shoes at the water’s edge. (In Japan, it’s common for people who are committing suicide, to take their shoes off and place them neatly together, the idea being that they’re crossing a threshold: from life to death.)

Getting Down with the Kaidan

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I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure what story is being told through Aika. I do think that the town is meant to represent Aika’s psyche rather than a physical town, that Aika had a troubled relationship with her mother, and that due to some horrible event, Aika’s entire family including herself was killed. The town of Aika goes deeper than Diablo (where you’re just a hapless witness) and Hitokui (where you’re an observing ghost), because in Aika, you’re becoming a part of the yurei herself.

I mentioned before that Aika seems to get the most buzz out of all the other nightmare towns, and I imagine it’s probably because the story being told is both detailed and vague, personal and distant. People want to see Aika for themselves and read about everyone else’s widely varying Aika theories, not to mention share their own. Little do they know that in some ways, they’re playing Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, or A Gathering of 100 Weird Tales, a Japanese story-telling game that can be traced back to as early as the 1600s.

The rules of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai are pretty simple. A group gathers and places one hundred lit candles in a circle. Each person takes turns telling a scary story, then extinguishes a candle at the story’s end. As more stories are told, the light fades and darkness gathers. Supposedly, once the last candle is extinguished, whatever terrible thing is lurking in the shadows will spring forth.

Enter Sandman

animal-crossing-horror-town-address

Aika, Hitokui, Diablo and all the other Animal Crossing nightmare towns shared online remind me of this old Japanese game. The point isn’t to figure out the “truth” behind Aika, say, but to come back with a spooky story to tell your friends. People swap these nightmare town stories back and forth across various websites, seeing who can tell the scariest one, and how many candle flames can go out before the game ends.

But, as Levar Burton would say, “you don’t have to take my word for it!” If you’d like to explore these towns for yourself and come up with your own theories and observations, their town dream codes are:

Diablo: 3200-0330-2755
Hitokui: 2600-1856-4772
Aika: 2600-0218-7298

If you don’t have a way to play Animal Crossing: New Leaf, there are plenty of YouTube videos featuring these three nightmare towns (and many, many more).

But if you’ve ventured into New Leaf nightmare towns before, tell me how you’ve interpreted these places. That way, we can continue the Japanese tradition of gathering darkness.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources:

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Kamaboko: A Pureed Fish Cake Fit For Celebration http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/01/kamaboko-a-pureed-fish-cake-fit-for-celebration/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/01/kamaboko-a-pureed-fish-cake-fit-for-celebration/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:01:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42120 What’s better than pureed fish made into a cake? Not much, I say. Kamaboko is exactly that, a traditional type of fish cake that is closely connected to Japanese celebrations, though slightly less now following the arrival of the Western cake. I took a trip to a kamaboko museum with Shoko, who wrote a great travel piece about it. So that you can further enjoy our experience at the kamaboko museum, I thought we could first learn about this traditional Japanese dish.

What Exactly Is Kamaboko?

kamaboko

Photo by Hajime NAKANO

Simply put, kamaboko is a variety of Japanese fish cake. It’s made from the meat of several kinds of fresh fish or reprocessed pureed white fish called surimi. It’s actually not all that hard to make, either. Fresh fish is mashed into a paste, some seasoning is added, and then it is formed and cooked. IT’s usually formed into a loaf-like shape, and then steamed on wooden boards until fully cooked and firm. It can actually be formed into many other shapes and sizes as well, and can also be cooked by boiling, broiling, or deep-frying it. It can be served chilled, in a noodle dish, in a hot soup (such as oden), or in a variety of other delicious ways.

kamaboko-deepfried

Photo by Takekazu Omi

kamaboko-ozoni

kamaboko-bento

Photo by gamene

In fact, if you are familiar with fake crab meat, often used in “California Rolls”, you may have had a type of kamaboko. This type of kamaboko is called kani-kama in Japan, which is an abbreviation of kani (crab) and kamaboko.

kani-kama

Photo by Samson Loo

Despite its delicious taste, it’s full of health benefits as well. It contains very little fat, relatively large amounts of nutrients, and a very large amount of well-balanced proteins. kamaboko includes a well-balanced array of amino acids, including all nine essential amino acids. A study conducted by Tokyo University’s Department of Food Science and Technology also found kamaboko to have anti-oxidative effects.

History Of Kamaboko

kamaboko-history

Photo by netagura

It’s unknown when exactly kamaboko was first made in history, but the first known record of it is in picture form found in a tome from the Heian period. With detailed sketches, the book, called 類聚雑要抄 (ruijuu-zatsuyoushou), primarily depicts the furnishings and costumes of nobility for traditional ceremonies and events. There is also an illustration of kamaboko placed on a bamboo skewer, which was served when 藤原忠実 (Fujiwara-no-tadazane) held a feast to celebrate his moving to a new house in 1115 AD. Discovering the year in which Fujiwara-no-tadazane moved into his new house gave Japan the idea for Kamaboko Day, which is now held on November 15. Get it? 1115AD = 11-15, November 15!

As it’s depicted in the book, early kamaboko was wrapped around the end of a bamboo stick. It’s said the name became 蒲鉾 (kama-boko), which literally means cattail-spear, because the look of it is resembles the head of the cattail (plant), which is called 蒲 (Gama) in Japanese. Speaking of cats, the early kamaboko was made from freshwater catfish, whereas nowadays it’s made from saltwater fish.

The Edo period was when kamaboko on a cedar plank appeared. In order to distinguish the two types of kamaboko, people started calling the original tube-shaped kamaboko 竹輪蒲鉾 (chikuwa-kamaboko), which literally means bamboo ring kamaboko and called the loaf-shaped one 板蒲鉾 (ita-kamaboko), which literally means plank kamaboko. Eventually, the name kamaboko fell off from the chikuwa version and that tube-shaped one was simply called chikuwa, whereas the loaf-shaped one took the name kamaboko.

The oldest remaining kamaboko company in Japan is 美濃屋吉兵衛商店 (Minoya-Kichibee-Shouten) and was established around 1550 AD. It is located near Odawara station in Kanagawa Prefecture. When Shoko and I visited the museum, we didn’t do a large enough preliminary investigation into Kamaboko and we missed this place as a result. My apologies!

There were also some distinctive differences between the kamaboko from the Kansai area (Western Japan including Kyoto and Osaka) and the Kanto area (Eastern Japan including Tokyo). In Kanto, kamaboko was steamed. In Kansai, it was grilled after being steamed. It’s believed that this difference arose because the main cities on Kansai (Kyoto and Osaka) were far from the sea, so they grilled it for preservation purposes. A well known saying “江戸は蒸し、京坂は焼き” (Edo wa mushi, Keihan wa yaki), meaning “Edo (now Tokyo) is steamed and Keihan (Kyoto and Osaka) is grilled” found its origins as a result of this difference. This phrase characterizes the stereotypical cooking styles of the two regions still practiced today. Kamaboko isn’t the only dish that follows that cooking trend – check out the regional differences in these products’ eels.

Celebrating With Kamaboko

kamaboko-celebration

In early kamaboko history, white fish was very expensive and kamaboko was considered a feast. Thus, it was used as a special gift or the type of food served at celebratory feasts. It is said that kamaboko was the favorite food of 豊臣秀頼 (Toyotomi Hideyori), who was the son and designated successor of 豊臣秀吉 (Toyotomi Hideyoshi), the general who first united all of Japan. It was also served as the final meal of 織田信長 (Oda Nobunaga), one of the three unifiers of pre-modern Japan, before he was killed by the 本能寺の変 (Honnō-ji no hen – the Honnō-ji Incident) in 1582.

In Samurai custom, the sea bream was considered as a bringer of good luck because it had a beautiful red color, which was thought to be a lucky color. Sea Bream was rare, had elegant taste, and its name 鯛 (tai) was a play on the word めでたい (medetai), which means happy or joyous. Therefore, the sea bream became essential for wedding celebrations, but only to those who could afford it. When a real fish was too expensive to buy, a picture or an imitation fish would be substituted in its place, and 細工蒲鉾 (saiku-kamaboko) or 飾り蒲鉾 (kazari-kamaboko), which means decorative kamaboko, was used for this. This custom can still be seen in several places throughout Japan.

For example, in Toyoama prefecture, people who are invited to join the wedding ceremony are given a big, decorative kamaboko shaped like a sea bream, a crane, a tortoise (a symbol of longevity) or Mt. Fuji. Then, when they return home, they cut it up and hand it out to their neighbors to inform them of the marriage. If it’s in the shape of a sea bream, a family gives away the head and body parts and keeps the tail as their own.

The Words Delivered From Kamaboko

kamaboko-shape

Photo by kazuh

Due to kamaboko’s large role in Japanese culture, there are various words in the Japanese language that are derived from kamaboko.

For example, we say 蒲鉾型 (kamaboko-gata) or “kamaboko-shaped”, to describe anything that is D-shaped. The arch-like barracks in military garrisons are sometimes called 蒲鉾兵舎 (kamaboko-heisha), which means Kamaboko barracks, as well. We also call the security vehicles of riot police Kamaboko because the style of the original riot police vehicles were similarly shaped. When you go bowling, if the oil used to make the lane more slippery is too thick in the middle and thin on the sides, it’s called 蒲鉾型レーン (kamaboko-gata-reen), which means kamaboko-shaped lane.

Or, there is the word かまとと (kamatoto), which means a girl who pretends to be sweet and innocent. This word was made up for this type of woman, especially a prostitute in from the Edo period, who would ask questions like, “Is this fish?” (fish is toto in old Japanese / sakana in current Japanese) while pointing at kamaboko and thus pretending that she knew nothing about the world. In the world of sumo, escaping from practice was also called kamaboko. Imagine a sumo wrestler trying to sneak out of camp, and while trying to avoid being seen, needing to put his back up against a wall – this conjured images of kamaboko on a cedar plank.

How To Eat Kamaboko

kamaboko-food

The Suzuhiro Museum we visited explained that the thickness and the temperature of kamaboko are important for getting the maximum taste out of it. When you eat kamaboko by itself, 12mm of thickness is ideal for enjoying the texture and flavor of the fish. When you want to use it as an ingredient, but still want a bit of its texture, you can thinly slice it. For example, if you slice it to 3mm, it can be a substitute for BACON! If you want to retain a lot of its flavor, cut it to around 15mm thick and add it to salad or other dishes.

The other important factor is temperature. Since it contains a lot of proteins, which can easily be denatured by heat, when you heat kamaboko in the wrong way it loses its nice texture and becomes quite hard. So, eating it at a cool temperature is the best, but if you really want to heat it, just heat up its surface at high heat very quickly and make sure the heat doesn’t make its way to the center of the kamaboko.

There is lot more to explore regarding kamaboko, especially in its ability to decorate food, but I’ll save that for the next time because I’m hungry for kamaboko, so I’ll need to begin my kamaboko hunt.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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The Japanese Name Satou And Its Rise To #1 http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/24/the-japanese-name-satou-and-its-rise-to-1/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/24/the-japanese-name-satou-and-its-rise-to-1/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 16:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42206 I’ve written quite a lot about Japanese family names recently. However, simply learning the kanji or pronunciation of names is quite boring, so I thought I’d write an article with the stories behind the most popular family name in Japan. Each name, however, has quite a long story. So today, we’re just going to explore the most popular one: 佐藤 (Satou).

You will learn not only what the root of Satou is and how it became the most popular in Japan, but also what people with the family name Satou think about their name as well as their experiences with their family name. Please note that learning the history of Japanese family names is essential to fully understand the stories in this article, so I suggest that you read the previous articles first.

If you are not that picky, or have read all the other articles already, then we are all set to go. Let’s talk about Satoooouuuu!

How 佐藤 (Satou) Became #1

number-one

Photo by Emran Kassim

The most popular family name in Japan is Satou. You’ve probably gathered that already. According to 名字由来net, around 2,055,000 Japanese people have this family name. Its most common way of reading it is さとう (satou), but there are others as well, such as さどう (Sadou), さとお (Satoo), さと (Sato), さいとう (Saitou), そとう (Sotou), さふじ (Safuji), and さとを (Satoo). Confusing, right? Welcome to Japanese names, I guess.

Satou used to be the second most popular name in Japan, but once computers started being used, more samples were able to be collected and this name was proven to be the most common. When people had to collect the samples manually, it must have been very difficult to gather and keep all of this information in an accurate way. Is it possible that a whole prefecture could have been missed? The name Satou is found in its highest concentration in rural Tohoku, in Northeastern Japan. When looking at the most popular name in each prefecture, it usually comprises 1-3% of the population. However, the name Satou in the Tohoku region (specifically Akita and yamagata Prefecture) is comprised of approximately 7% of the population. Why is it so surprisingly high? To reveal this mystery, we have to take a look into the roots of the name.

The Origin Of 佐藤 (Satou) Actually Begins As Another Name?

fujiwara-flute

The origin of 佐藤 (Satou) is actually found in another family name: 藤原氏 (Fujiwara-shi). As explained in the family name history article, an incredible number of people used 藤原 (Fujiwara) in the Heian period. It was inconvenient to call everyone Mr. Fujiwara, so people started making their own more distinctive family names by combining 藤原 (Fujiwara) with the name of the region they lived in or their occupation. 佐藤 (Satou) was one of them. In other words, it can be dismantled like this:

佐藤
佐 + 藤原

If that’s the case, what is this 佐 kanji? Actually, there are two meanings for 佐, and one is a job title and the other a regional name.

Job Title Satou

Let’s learn the roots of the job title first. Under the Ritsuryo Code in Japan, there were 4 main types of job titles in the provincial government: Kami, Suke, Jou, and Sakan. For some reason, each provincial office used different kanji for these titles, and 佐 was used in some offices for the position called Suke. Therefore, a person with the name Fujiwara at this position used “佐藤 (Satou)” as their name.

There was also a governmental post called 左衛門尉 (Saemonnojou) at the time, and a person with the name Fujiwara at this position combined 左 + 藤原 and named themselves 佐藤 (Satou).

Regional Name Satou

sano

Photo by no prev

As a regional name, there are several places tied to 佐. The most well known of these places is 佐野 (Sano) in Tochigi prefecture. A Fujiwara who lived here combined 佐 with 藤原 and called themselves 佐藤 (Satou). This place is also known for the legend in which 藤原秀郷 (Fujiwara no Hidesato) killed a giant centipede. It’s said that one of his grandchildren, named 左衛門尉公清 (Saemonnojou Kinkiyo), was the first person to use the name 佐藤 (Satou). His descendants all worked for the Imperial Court until 佐藤義清 (Satou Norikiyo) suddenly left the house to become a monk at the age of 23. He turned into quite the famous poet and renamed himself Saigyo Hoshi, but he ruined his family. Although his younger brother inherited the name 佐藤 (Satou), the lineage sank into history and became an unrecognized family.

The reason why so many 佐藤 (Satou) are in the Tohoku area is said to be due to 奥州藤原氏 (Oushuu Fujiwara-shi), a.k.a. the Northern Fujiwara. Oushuu Fujiwara-shi was a Japanese noble family that ruled the Tohoku region of Japan from the 12th to the 13th centuries as if it were their own realm. Some of the descendants that remained in the area are still known as Satou. Also, the Satou that were the descendants of the Oushuu Fujiwara-shi family based out of the 信夫 (Shinobu) region (currently Fukushima City in Fukushima prefecture) were so many in number that they needed to be called 信夫佐藤 (Shinobu-Satou). The Fujiwara family that lived in 佐渡 (Sado) in Niigata prefecture also started calling themselves 佐藤 (Satou). As you can see there are a lot of regional origins for the name Satou, but this doesn’t even scrape the surface. There are so many more (though you’ll just have to imagine them now).

Randomly Named 佐藤 (Satou)

Despite the the many various forms of Satou that there are today, not all of them came from the Heian Period. In Japan, people who didn’t have a family name during the Meiji era were forced to decide on their family name. At that time, Satou was one of the most commonly selected names.

So, whether it was from job titles and regional references, or just a bunch of people choosing Satou because they weren’t sure what to pick, Satou became the most popular Japanese family name of all time. With so many people having the same family name (who aren’t even related by blood), what do they think of their name? Are they proud? Let’s find out.

What People Named 佐藤 (Satou) Think Of Their Name

sato

According to みんなの苗字あるある (minnanomyoujiaruaru), people whose family name is 佐藤 (Satou) are proud that their name is the most popular in Japan, but they also encounter problems due to the fact that there are so many.

Since there is usually more than one Satou at school, most of them were distinguished by being called by something other than their family name. Many of them agree that being called by their first name is the best, but sometimes we are called 佐藤-A (Satou-A) or 佐藤-B (Satou-B). What’s worse is that people often distinguish us in ways like 頭良い方の佐藤 (Atamayoihouno Satou), which means “Smarter Satou” and “Not the Smarter Satou”, or 格好いい方の佐藤 (Kakkoiihouno Satou), which means “The Handsome Satou” and “Not the Handsome Satou”.

Many Satou have also experienced hearing someone shout, “Hey! Satou!” and when they turned around to respond, “Yeah?” they realized it was intended for a different Satou. Due the frequency that this happens, some Satou say that when they hear their name, they’ll wait to respond for a moment just to see be certain.

As some of you Japanese learners have probably already realized, 佐藤 (Satou) is the same pronunciation as sugar 砂糖 (Satou) in Japanese. Therefore, Satou people tend to be made fun of with puns on the word sugar. Some Satou say that they learned how to deal with other really lame jokes directed at them because of this. Speaking of puns, since the number 310 (San-tou) sounds similar to Satou, some 佐藤 (Satou) are very happy whenever they find the number alignment.

So, it’s all been about Satou today. I’m certain that the Japanese family name Satou has been carved into your memory by now. My family name is 鈴木 (Suzuki) used to be the most common name in Japan before computers messed everything up. So, I’m a little jealous of Satou now. Perhaps to make up for it I may explore the story behind Suzuki’s origins, but we’ll see. Until then, I’ll keep talking about how “sweet” the name Satou is.

What is the most common name in your country and what is the story behind it? Have you met someone named 佐藤 (Satou) before? Whatever you may have that relates to 佐藤 (Satou), please leave it as a comments below! Thank you and bye for now.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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References:

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The In-between Island: Tsushima and the Sō Pt 2 http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/22/the-in-between-island-tsushima-and-the-so-pt-2/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/22/the-in-between-island-tsushima-and-the-so-pt-2/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 16:00:40 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43675 If you haven’t read Part 1 in this series, make sure to go back and read it, before starting this one. Part 2 will make more sense and you won’t be missing out on all the cool drama, intrigue, cultural faux pas, and international conquest from Part 1!

Invasion

japanese-invasion-of-busan

In 1592 the invasion of Korea began. Ships set sail from northern Kyushu and stopped at Tsushima for final preparations. The Sō, having difficulty raising the 5,000 man quota Hideyoshi placed upon them, impressed a number of Koreans into service. On May 23, 1592, the first division of Hideyoshi’s army landed at Busan, commanded by Konishi Yukinaga and Sō Yoshitoshi. These 18,700 men were later joined by the other divisions, for an army totaling over 158,800. During the early stages of the campaign, the Japanese swiftly cut a swath through the Korean peninsula as they made their way to Seoul, defeating the Koreans at every turn.

Japan’s early success in the campaign could be attributed to a few factors. Firstly, the Japanese armies were more experienced and more efficiently organized than their Korean counterparts. Secondly, the Japanese were also much better equipped than the Koreans. Their melee weapons and armor were of a higher quality than the Koreans’, and more importantly, they possessed firearms.

japanese-samurai-muskets

Photo by alisdair

As mentioned in the last article, during one of the diplomatic missions prior to the war Sō Yoshitoshi had given the Korean king the gift of a musket. To their disadvantage, the Koreans chose not to try and replicate it. Though the Koreans did utilize a few types of cannon, the muskets used by the Japanese allowed for firepower combined with much greater mobility. When Chinese forces later joined the war, their use of muskets greatly enhanced the Koreans’ fighting capacity.

Quagmire

korean-turtle-ship

Photo by Feth

The one major advantage held by the Koreans was their navy. Had they been able to bring it to bear early on they might have prevented the advance of the Japanese. Unfortunately Korean politics once again hindered their military. However, after some time a resourceful Korean admiral named Yi Sun Sin was able to strategically bring their navy to bear. He used Korea’s superior ships (particular the famous armored turtle ships) to disrupt the Japanese supply line and occupy their forces long enough for Chinese aid to arrive.

Korea was a tributary state to China, but that relationship generally did not extend to military aid. Nonetheless, on this occasion China did eventually send in troops. Despite their initial successes, after the first year, the Korean campaign became a long, tedious occupation for the Japanese. Many commanders did not wish to remain in Korea, but dared not oppose Hideyoshi, whose power was well consolidated at home in Japan. With Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, his generals were finally free of their obligations and the processes of withdrawal and negotiation began.

A New Order

1280px-Sekigaharascreen

When Hideyoshi died, Japan was divided between those who supported his family and those who supported the Tokugawa family. The conflict culminated in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. The victorious Tokugawa clan became the ruling family of shoguns for the next 267 years.

Following the battle, they divided the various lords of Japan into three categories, from most privileged to least: shinpan daimyo (those related to the Tokugawa), fudai daimyo (those who allied or fought with the Tokugawa at the time of the Battle of Sekigahara), and tozama daimyo (“outside lords” who fought against them or did not ally with them prior to the battle). The Sō clan did not take a side during the battle, and was thus placed in the third category. Although being an outside lord was a disadvantage, by repairing their relations with Korea, the Sō were still able hold a uniquely powerful position.

Repairing Relations

Gyeongbokgung-KeunJeongJeon

Photo by blmtduddl

The Sō were able to repair their damaged relationship with Korea rather quickly. Though their first envoy following the war, sent in 1599, never returned, subsequent negotiations fared much better. In 1600, Yoshitoshi, returned 300 Koreans who had been held captive, as a goodwill gesture. Seoul responded by sending representatives to open talks. The Tokugawa tried to distance themselves from Hideyoshi’s invasion, saying they had never sent a single soldier overseas (technically true, though Tokugawa Ieyasu acted as a military advisor to Hideyoshi back home). The Tokugawa sent Yoshitoshi and the monk Genso to Korea on their behalf in 1603, after which several hundred more Korean captives were repatriated. By the following year Tsushima was once again trading (on a limited basis) with Korea.

Between 1601 and 1605 around 5,000 Korean prisoners were returned home. Throughout these negotiations, the Korean court dealt mainly with the Sō family and not the shogunate, once again highlighting the clan’s importance. One of the final conditions for restoring normal relations was official recognition from the “King of Japan,” by which they meant the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Titles were often a sticking point throughout the history of Japanese international diplomacy. “King” was the title by which the Chinese court generally recognized leaders of other large countries (Korea included), but by accepting that title the shogun would also be accepting that his status was lower than that of the Chinese emperor. When the Sō got word of this condition they knew it would be a problem, and they took the risk of forging letters from Ieyasu to the Korean king. It would seem that somehow they were never found out.

In 1609, the Treaty of Kiyu was signed, which allowed for limited trade with the Tokugawa under Sō supervision at Tsushima and Busan. In 1617 formal relations were established. Thus, the Sō recovered from the war, and became stronger than before.

Politics, Parades, and Profits

Korean-Embassy-Parade

Photo by PHGCOM

Once again, the Sō clan were gatekeepers of all official trade between Japan and Korea (and a lot more unofficial, but legal trade). Their position became all the more lucrative due to Tokugawa changes in foreign policy. By 1639 the shogunate had closed off most foreign trade. There were a few exceptions. One Dutch ship per year was allowed to dock at the tiny island of Dejima, off the coast of Nagasaki. Some Chinese ships were also allowed into Nagasaki. The Satsuma domain traded with the Ryukyu Kingdom (modern day Okinawa). However, Tsushima was the only route for Korean trade.

Another aspect of relations between Korea and Japan was occasional Korean processions to Edo. There were twelve such processions during the Edo period. The first procession in 1607, and the two that followed were at the invitation of the Japanese and included the repatriation of Korean captives from the war. The fourth was a celebration of prosperity, and the fifth a birthday celebration for the shogun. All those that followed were to celebrate the succession of a new shogun. As they say, “Ain’t no party like a shogun succession party.”

Processions departed from Busan, crossed the sea to Tsushima, then Kyushu, where they slowly made their way up to the capital, Edo. There were hundreds of people in the processions, many brightly costumed, playing music and dancing. The processions were quite the sight and attracted many spectators, most of whom would never have seen a foreigner before. Getting a foreign court to pay its respects to the shogun also boosted the prestige of the shogunate and of the Sō family.

Cutting Out the Middlemen

meiji-constitution-promulgation

All good things must come to an end, and with the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1867 and subsequent restoration of the emperor to power, change was on the way. After a bit of shuffling around, Tsushima became a part of Nagasaki prefecture in 1872, which it remains to this day. Like many former daimyo families the Sō were made members of the new peerage kazoku 華族. Under the usual standards, the head of the family should have been made a viscount due to the small income of Tsushima. However, in recognition of Tsushima’s special role in Korean relations, the head of the Sō family was given the higher title of count.

Still, with the introduction of steam ships and later, airplanes, Tsushima’s position became less and less valuable. What exactly became of the Sō family was unclear from my research. One of the last references to the family I found was to Count Sō Takeyuki, who was married by arrangement to Deokhye, the last princess of Korea, in 1931. The marriage was an unhappy one, and they divorced in 1953.

Princess-dukhye-and-takeyuki-so-1931

For a few years following World War II, Korea disputed Japan’s control of Tsushima, but then relinquished their claim. It is true that over the centuries the people of Tsushima had adopted a number of customs and a few words from Korea. However, their language had always been Japanese. Their lords had received seals and investiture from the Korean court it’s true, but if that constitutes a claim to the island, then by that logic Korea should belong to China.

Though Tsushima always played both sides to their advantage, they seemed to favor Japan a bit more. If nothing else, the history of Tsushima and its lords attests to the ambiguous nature of national identity in pre-modern East Asia.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

  • Beasley, W. G.. The Japanese Experience, a Short History of Japan. Berkeley: University of California, 1999.
  • Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Hideyoshi. Cambridge: Harvard University, 1982.
  • Cobbing, Andrew.  Kyushu: Gateway to Japan.  Kent: Global Oriental Ltd, 2009.
  • Ed. Hall, John Whitney. The Cambridge History of Japan. Vol 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1991.
  • Ed. Joshua A. Fogel. Sagacious Monks and Bloodthirsty Warriors; Chinese Views of Japan in the Ming-Qing Period. (Norwalk: Eastbridge, 2002),
  • Hawley, Samuel. The Imjin War. Berkeley: University of California, 2005.
  • Ed. Lee, Peter H.. Sourcebook of Korean Tradition, Vol I. New York: Columbia University, 1993.
  • 佐伯弘次。対馬と海峡の中世史。「東京:山川出版社、2008年」“Saeki, Koji. The Medieval History of Tsushima and the Straits. Tokyo: Yamakawa Shuppansha, 2008.”
  • So, Kwan-wai . Japanese Piracy in Ming China During the 16th Century. Michigan State University, 1975.
  • Swope, Kenneth M.. A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail; Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 2009.
  • Swope, Kenneth M.. “Crouching Tigers, Secret Weapons: Military Technology Employed During the Sino-Japanese-Korean War, 1592-1598.” The Journal of Military History, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan, 2005), 11-41.
  • Yu, Sŏngnyong. trns. Choi Byonghyon. The Book of Corrections, Reflections on the National Crisis during the Japanese Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 2002.
  • “Joseon Missions to Japan.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseon_missions_to_Japan
  • “Princess Deokhye.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Deokhye
  • “So Clan.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C5%8D_clan
  • “Tsushima Island.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsushima_Island
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JAPANESE GHOSTS!! Everything You Want to Know Explained by Zack Davisson http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/18/japanese-ghosts-everything-you-want-to-know-explained-by-zack-davisson/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/18/japanese-ghosts-everything-you-want-to-know-explained-by-zack-davisson/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 16:00:30 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43340 Ghost stories have been big in Japan for about as long as there’s been Japanese literature. When they were first written down in the Heian period, at the same time as the classic Tale of Genji, there were enough to fill a 33-volume collection. When the first printing press appeared in Japan around 1600, ghost stories were among the best-sellers.

But when it comes to writing about these stories, oddly, a Westerner has dominated this arena. If you go to a Japanese bookstore and ask for a book about ghosts, they’ll hand you the work of Lafcadio Hearn, renowned as the first major interpreter of Japan to the West after it opened to the outside world in the nineteenth century, and author of books including Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things and In Ghostly Japan.

Today, a modern day Lafcadio Hearn is picking up this ghostly torch. Zack Davisson is the author, translator, and folklorist following in Hearn’s footsteps. His book, Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost, is coming out in October. Tofugu got the chance to sit down with him and discuss Japanese ghosts, translation, and working for the godfather of horror manga, Mizuki Shigeru.

Q. Your book is based on your blog, which is called Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai. Can you explain the name of the blog?

Zack-Davisson-Blog-Header

Actually, both the blog and the book are based off my Master’s thesis Yūrei: A Study across Time and Media. I did the thesis first at the University of Sheffield, then the blog, and now the book!

The name Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai comes from a parlor game that was popular in Edo period Japan. It translates somewhat poorly as “A Gathering of a Telling of 100 Tales of Kaidan”. The basic way to play was to invite a bunch of friends over, light a hundred candles in a circle, then take turns telling spooky stories. You extinguished one candle with each tale, and the room got gradually dimmer. The tension built. With the final candle, the room was plunged into total darkness. Something was said to be waiting in the dark—the game was also a summoning ritual, you see. In practice, most people wimped out before the final candle. Most games of hyakumonogatari kaidankai ended with the 99th story.

It seemed like the perfect name when I started the blog—basically I was using it as a dumping ground for stories I had translated for my Master’s, and that fit the hyakumonogatari kaidankai theme. I’ve been told numerous times I should have named the blog something else—hyakumonogatari.com is hard to say and hard to remember, especially if you don’t speak Japanese. At the time I didn’t give it much thought: I honestly didn’t think anyone else would be reading. Now it’s too late, and I love the name so I am sticking with it!

Q. As you describe it, there were often no plots to these ghost stories, just a description of a weird thing that happened that did not “stink of literature.” So, basically Japanese people have always liked reality TV?

Ha! That is one way of looking at it! But yeah, telling a “true” story, something that actually happened to you, was much more exciting. That’s still true. No one sits around the campfire and swaps movie synopses. You want personal encounters to really freak people out.

And the stories were often short. After I translate them, there is sometimes no more than a paragraph or two, with little plot and lots of variations on the same stories. Like just this weekend, my wife and I were in the woods and we saw a strange flash in the sky. We would tell that at a local gathering, and then the story would pass from mouth-to-mouth and game-to-game, with details getting altered, locations changed, etc… Like modern urban legends.

Q. You say in your book that it’s important to know about Japanese ghosts if you’re interested in Japanese popular culture. Why is that?

yurei-and-vampire

It’s an important aspect of Japanese culture and history—more important than most people realize. After all, Japan is the most haunted country on earth. Yūrei are deeply bound into the country’s customs, religion, and entertainment. There is almost no aspect of Japanese culture not touched in some way by ghosts.

Even if you just want to watch some cool horror flicks or anime, or play some games—everything makes more sense when you understand yūrei; when you know the backstory behind the movie monster costume of white kimono, white face, and black hair.

After all, imagine watching a vampire flick without knowing what a vampire was. You wouldn’t have the slightest idea why these dead people sprouted pointed teeth and bit people, or why the heroes kept stabbing wood into them. You need context.

Q. When and how did the consistent description of yūrei begin? You say in your book that it was created as recently as the Edo period, during a renaissance of spooky tales.

In Japan’s prehistory, yūrei were invisible, more like forces of nature without personification. Things changed during the Heian period and contact with China. Yūrei became indistinguishable from human beings.  They could even get married and bear children after death. You can tell stories from the Heian period because they usually have a twist ending of someone being revealed as a yūrei. Probably the most famous of this kind is Botan Dōrō, where a man takes a woman to bed, and finds out later he was sleeping with a corpse.

Then came the Warring States period, which didn’t produce a lot of yūrei tales—people were too busy worrying about being killed for real to bother about ghost stories and horror.  But they made up for it in the Edo period.

During the peace of the Edo period, Japan rediscovered its love for ghosts and the weird. There was a kaidan renaissance, and the first of Japan’s yokai booms where the country became obsessed with the supernatural. That classic look of the yūrei—the white kimono, white face, and black hair, comes from the Edo period kaidan renaissance. It relates directly back to a painting from1750 by the artist Maruyama Okyo, who had a vision one day of his dead love Oyuki. He painted her picture—called The Ghost of Oyuki—which became the template for yūrei that you still see today.

Q. If people have seen even one J-horror flick, they’ve seen the ghost with long hair. What the heck is the deal with the long hair?

Baido_Ghost_of_Oiwa-woodblock-print

Hair—especially woman’s hair—was always thought to possess supernatural powers. Lafcadio Hearn wrote about it in his first Japan book Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan. But Kabuki theater is really behind the craziness of hair.  Kabuki loves extravagant, wild special effects, and would do all sorts of things with hair. Stage hands would hide under the floor boards and push up hair through the bottom to make it look like yūrei characters were swimming in oceans of hair. Movies are visual, like kabuki, so they picked up that effect and ran with it.

Q. One thing I was surprised to learn from your book was the role of kabuki, where ghost stories were big, and more gore was a plus. To be honest, I always thought of kabuki as one of those tedious classical Japanese entertainments that are only of interest to specialists. But you say it was actually theater for the masses. Tell us a little about ghosts in kabuki.

firday-the-13th-and-kabuki

Oh yeah, Kabuki was completely lowbrow mass entertainment.  During the Edo period, kabuki would have been the equivalent of Saw and Friday the 13th slasher flicks, full of blood and guts and cheap thrills. Kabuki also took those snippets of tales from hyakumonogatari kaidankai and sewed them together into legitimate stories. Kabuki writers introduced plot lines and structure and relationships. But it was always with an eye for thrills. The plays kept getting gorier and gorier until eventually the government had to step in and establish some limits.

It’s weird how that works. In his time, Shakespeare was lowbrow mass entertainment too. The theater was a place for laborers to let off some steam. Now both kabuki and Shakespeare are considered high art, something to be studied and mastered. It makes me wonder what people will think about slasher flicks five hundred years from now. Will we have Jason scholars debating the finer points of the Friday the 13th franchise?

Q. In your book you mention one significant difference between Japanese and western ghost lore: In the west it takes a lot to become a ghost – you need a really good reason to haunt. But in Japan, it’s harder to cross over into death, so even just forgetting to feed the cat is enough. Why?

Well, forgetting to feed the cat might have been artistic license on my part, but the rest is true. Humans aren’t born easily; we need some assistance coming into the world. In Japan, they believe you equally need some assistance getting out. Dying is not easy.

This belief has manifested in several different ways across Japanese history. From the Heian to the Edo periods, it sometimes involved professional “death midwives” called zenchishiki that helped people pass over to death. The belief was that whatever was your last thought at your moment of death, that is what you would become.  So the zenchishiki tried to get people to concentrate on Buddha, and to free their minds of attachments to life. In modern Japan, the belief involves a complicated funeral system of ritual and death anniversaries that can last up to a hundred years before a soul is well and truly settled in the afterlife.

Ritual plays a huge part in things. Anytime there is a series of mass deaths someone will perform a ritual to help ease their passage. At the end of WWII, Nambara Shigeru led The Ceremony to Console the Souls of the Battle Dead and Those Who Died at their Posts in an attempt to pacify the souls of those who died during the war. He was worried that, with Japan’s surrender, the yūrei would feel angry that they had died for nothing.

Q. This book is definitely not all about old fairy tales. You say the dead are very powerful in Japan – and very present, even now. Talk a little about the present effects of these beliefs, which might be seen when visiting Japan or in the popular culture, but are easy to miss.

Funazu-Yoshitoshiryakuga

This was right in my face when I landed in Japan. I arrived right when the country was gearing up for Obon—the Festival of the Dead. That is one of Japan’s most important holidays, with many people taking the entire week off to care for the dead. They go to family gravesites and wash them, they set out food and light candles for the dead so they can find their way home.  It’s something completely confusing if you don’t understand Japan’s relationship with yūrei.

Aside from the big production of Obon, the dead are present in a million little ways. Many homes have a butsudan in the living room, where the recently dead are said to reside. If you see the little Jizo statues all over the place those are usually prayers for dead children. Houses and apartments that are known to be haunted must be officially listed as such. And yūrei who have not been properly tended to is a constant worry. After the 2011 tsunami, you heard all sorts of stories of yūrei. Buddhist priests in the area set up little pop-up exorcism huts to pacify the souls of those killed. It is taken very seriously.

The deeper you get into Japanese culture, the more powerful and personal the connection to yūrei becomes. As an example, when I became serious about my girlfriend in Japan (now my wife), she said I would have to make a formal presentation to her father, and ask for permission to marry her. It didn’t matter that her father was long dead. I paid a formal visit to his grave to express my intentions about his daughter, and asked his blessing.

Q. I have a few questions about details of language, since we are into that here at Tofugu -

Ohhh … that’s going to be tricky! But I’ll do my best!

Q.  Obake or yūrei?

This is the tough one. Basically, obake means changing thing and yūrei translates as dim spirit. But that doesn’t really tell you anything. Over the years the nuances of the words have changed, and ask a hundred people and you’ll get a hundred answers about what constitutes an obake and what is a yūrei. For example, in the Meiji period, folklorist Yanagita Kunio said that obake haunt places, while yūrei haunt people. Other folklorists say that obake is more synonymous with yokai and can mean monsters and other phenomenon, while yūrei are specifically the souls of dead humans.

In practice, most Japanese people don’t split hairs over definitions. Freak them out with a ghost, and they are just as likely to shout “obake!” as “yūrei!” Either word does the trick.

Q. Kaidan?

mitsukuni-defying-the-skeleton-spectre-invoked-by-princess-takiyasha-woodblock-print

This is my favorite, and a famously tricky word to translate. The most literal possible interpretation of kaidan would be something like “a discussion or passing down of tales of the weird, strange or mysterious”. Personally, I prefer to either use the word as it stands, kaidan, or if I must put it into English I take a page from Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu who called his stories of the supernatural and sublime “weird tales”.

“Weird Tales” invokes both the nostalgia and the nuance of the type of story a reader can expect from kaidan.

Q. The stories in your book often end with “So they say.” Is that just a kaidan thing or a general folktale ending?

That is specific to the 12th century book Konjaku Monogatarishū, which was one of the first important collections of kaidan storytelling. Basically it was a little tagline at the end of each story assuring the reader that it was a true tale, and not something made up.

People translate it in various ways, like “So I heard it said, and so I am relating it to you.”  I prefer the simpler “So they say” version, which makes a nice little punctuation to the story.

Q. Last question about the book: Is it appearing in Japanese? I’d like to think that from now on the booksellers will now be recommending both Lafcadio Hearn and you.

zack-davisson

That would be cool! I honestly don’t know about translating the book into other languages. It really depends on how successful the English version is first. And I would love someone to recommend my book and Hearn’s the same breath. I deeply admire Lafcadio Hearn, and am a dedicated fan of his work!

Q. Okay, enough with the ghosts, let’s talk about you: How did you get interested in Japan and in yūrei?

My Japan interest started when I was a little kid—I think about 9 years old—and my mother took me to see Akira Kurosawa’s flick Seven Samurai at the local art theater. I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. It’s a little embarrassing, but in my 4th grade class photo I’m wearing a shirt that says “Japan” written in kanji. That was in 1981, I think.

My interest in yūrei comes from the same time. I’ve always loved the supernatural and fairy tales. My mother bought me this book series from TimeLife called Enchanted Worlds that was all about world folklore and monsters. The book on ghosts had a story called “The Wife’s Revenge” which was the story of Oiwa from Yotsuya Kaidan.

It wasn’t until I moved to Japan that my yūrei interest became full-blown. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.

Q. You’re translating Mizuki Shigeru’s huge Showa: A History of Japan, published by Drawn and Quarterly, two of which have appeared and the next one is coming out in November. How did this project come about?

showa-cover

There’s actually four volumes in the series. The last volume, Showa 1953-1989: A History of Japan, is scheduled to come out April 2015.

And I don’t know the details about how the project came about, other than how I got involved. I LOVE Mizuki Shigeru’s comics. My wife introduced me to them in Japan, and I quickly became his number one fan and English-language apostle. I had been trying for years to do English translations of his comics. I contacted several publishers, but most either thought Mizuki was too weird for an American audience, or they were interested but couldn’t get the rights.

When I saw Drawn & Quarterly had the license to his works, I basically just wrote them a letter talking about my passion for Mizuki’s work and how much I wanted to translate his comics. I offered to do a test translation to prove I was up for it, and they agreed to that and then hired me based on that.

Q. I’m curious why, of all his work, they chose to publish this – especially because, to be honest, I skip all the battle scenes looking for the next appearance of Nezumi Otoko, which is the sort of stuff he is more known for.

Again, I don’t honestly know. I can guess. Partly, I imagine it is because of the lack of familiarity with Mizuki’s work in the US.  Inside of Japan he is a god—he is Walt Disney-level famous, better known even than Hayao Miyazaki. Internationally, he is incredibly famous as well. His complete works have been translated into Spanish, French, Italian, German, and most of the Asian languages. But in English .. nothing. Even people obsessed with Japanese culture have this dead spot where Mizuki is concerned.

So I think from that standpoint his WWII comics, like Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths and Showa: A History of Japan, were safer bets. Comics about WWII have a built in recognition factor, especially when you have the human element where they are created by someone who actually fought in the war.

After all, it is much easier to pitch “Comic book autobiography about WWII by a Japanese soldier who fought in the South Pacific and lost his arm” than “Weird stories about Japanese monsters you have never heard of written and drawn by some old dude you have never heard of.”

At the time I thought it was a strange way to go, but now I see it was for the best. Onward to Our Noble Deaths raised Mizuki’s profile in the West and opened the doors for his other works.

Also, Mizuki is actively involved in what books he allows to be translated or not. He cares very much about his reputation as a scholar and an artist, and wants to be sure that a variety of his work is being showcased. He doesn’t want people to just cherry pick the fun stuff and overlook the things that he is really proud of, the things that might be a little more difficult to grasp.

Personally, I would love to translate his adaptation of Tono Monogatari. That is one of his most brilliant works. And his adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror, which would just be a hell of a lot of fun. But while I can make suggestions, it isn’t really my call.

Q. You also contributed the yokai glossary to the translation of Kitaro that Drawn and Quarterly published, and I understand you also did some editing and made some important contributions regarding the yokai names and sound effects?

KITARO-cover

Yep. Kitaro was already translated by the time I came on board, but I did some pick-up work, mainly the sound effects and such. Those are actually some of the most difficult things to translate. Japanese and English useonomatopoeia very differently, and there is no easy way to switch one for the other. Fortunately, I have a lifetime background in reading American comics so I have a mental library that I can pull from. The best part was coming up with the monster’s roar. I wanted something distinctive, so I wrote out a bunch of monster roars to see which one looked the best.

And I did have a hand in the names. The translation gave the yokai English names, so things like “Rat Man” instead of Nezumi Otoko, and “Sand-Throwing Hag” instead of “Sunakake Baba.” I was adamant that the yokai names should be kept in Japanese. I used the argument that no one calls Pikachu “Flash Mouse.” Even small kids deal with Japanese names just fine.

In the end that’s how the Yokai Glossary came about. I won my argument, and wrote up the glossary at the end to explain all the different monsters. That piece of Kitaro isn’t a translation, it’s all me. And it was SO fun to do!

Q. Of course the big crucial question about Kitaro: Do you know if there is going to be more? Or more of his other work that isn’t war related? D&Q also published his Onward Toward Our Noble Deaths – they seem to be obsessed with war stories. I want to see yokai!

The next book up is Hitler, so more war stories. And give the war stories a chance! They are actually very cool! I learned a lot translating Showa: A History of Japan—it’s important history that shouldn’t be forgotten. I’ll never forget what my wife said when she was reading it while I was working on it: “I finally understand why China hates Japan … “

But after Hitler … I can’t really spill the beans yet, but I will say that sometimes we all get exactly what we wanted. Look forward to that.

Q. Probably your most unexpected translation project: Mizuki is actually on Twitter and you translate some of his tweets. How did this get started? Have you ever communicated with him directly?

shigeru-mizuki-hamburger-eat

I just do that for fun—it isn’t an official thing. I think Mizuki is such a fascinating individual, so I like to share him with the English-speaking world. His twitter account is great. It’s almost entirely about what Mizuki is eating. Here you have one of the most famous and respected men in the entire country, and he shares Twitter pics of himself stuffing his face with a McDonald’s hamburger. How could you not want to share that?

And I have met Mizuki only once, at the World Yokai Conference in Kyoto. And that was very brief. No one really speaks to him directly, you usually go through his son, or with a contact at Mizuki Productions. I wrote him a letter when I started work on Showa about how honored I was to be translating his work. He didn’t answer, but I didn’t expect him to. He is 92 years old, after all!

Q. What else are you working on that our readers would be excited about?

Oh, lots! I just finished translating two comics by Satoshi Kon for Dark Horse, OPUS and Seraphim, which he worked on with Mamoru Oshii. Then the comic Wayward just came out from Image, which has met with a phenomenal response. I’m seriously blown away by how excited everyone is. I work on Wayward with Jim Zub, Steve Cummings, John Rauch, and Marshall Dillon, writing back-up essays for Wayward and doing in-depth Yokai Files for the monsters. If you are looking for yokai, that’s something you can’t miss. The pitch is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Japan” but that’s just the surface.

Then I have Hitler to get started on, and after that a few more secret things I can’t talk about yet, both in comics and books. I have a Lafcadio Hearn project I am working on, and something cool with an artist friend that we have been rolling around together. And maybe something with monster cats. But we’ll see.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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A Long History Of Japanese Names, Part II http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/17/a-long-history-of-japanese-names-part-ii/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/17/a-long-history-of-japanese-names-part-ii/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42085 In the the previous Japanese names article we learned the history of Japanese family names and about the complicated 氏姓 (Uji-Kabane) naming systems. Do you recall my mention of a new naming system, 名字 (Myouji/Azana), used by the samurai? Today we will be focusing our efforts on that particular naming system, which will cover the remainder of Japanese family name history. Are you ready? Okay, let’s set sail for the second part of our journey!

What’s in a 名字?

myouji

名字 means family name in Japanese and in modern times is pronounced “Myouji”. In the past, it was pronounced “Naazana”, which is believe to be a type of 字 (Azana in Japanese / Zì in Chinese), which was a formal nickname, of sorts. Historically in China, people had three elements to their name: 姓 or 氏 (family name), 諱 or 名 (First name – a.k.a. “true name”), and this 字 (Formal Nickname).

If you’re wondering why there would be a formal nickname, here is a brief explanation:

Since it was customary in ancient China to avoid calling a person of nobility or a deceased person by their (諱 or 名) true name, an 字 (Azana) was formally given to adult men and used instead of their given name. Originally, there was a difference between the kanji 諱 (Imina) and 名 (Na). The former was used for the dead and the latter was for the living. Later on, imina started being used for the living as well, but it was still the name a person had in death, so calling a man by his imina was considered extremely rude. All people practiced that courtesy, except the parents of that person, or that person’s lord/monarch/sovereign. Other than those few exceptions, people used another name, an 字 (azana), to refer to someone.

That custom was introduced by China to the other kanji using countries of Eastern Asia, including Japan.

The Beginning Of the 名字

Engishiki_Kujo_edition

As mentioned in the previous names article, after the Ritsuryo code began, 氏姓 (Uji-Kabane) gradually faded from use as family lineage and status became more important than the social status of the clan as a whole. During that time, 名字 (Naazana) started being used to distinguish the smaller groups within separate clans. For example, even if two people belonged to the clan 藤原 (Fujiwara), different levels of power and influence existed between the different lineages, such as the 藤原北家 (Fujiwarahokke) and the 藤原式家 (Fujiwarashikike). Moreover, even among the same lineage, some factions were born under influential lineages, such as the 道長 (Michinaga)-line and 頼通 (Yorimichi)-line inside the 藤原北家 (Fujiwarahokke). The names that people began using to differentiate themselves from others in the same clan are believed to have been namesakes from the places in which they were born.

When naazana began being used, it was called 号 (Gou) and was actually only used for one generation, meaning that it was not passed on to children. However, people eventually came to realize that calling a family by their actual family name was very practical. Thus, in the late Heian period, the naazana started being passed down to descendants as well. Different from the Chinese usage of official nicknames, which were used as replacements for first names, in Japan naazana were official nicknames used to replace a family name. There was an official nickname for first names in Japan, called 通称 (Tsuushou) which were used by the Samurai, but nobles just continued using their 諱 (Imina), which was their true first name. (By the way, the word nickname nowadays in Japan is pronounced as あだな (Adana) which is believed to have come from 字 (Azana).

Samurai And Their 名字

samurai

In the meantime, the Ritsuryo system collapsed and Samurai groups (known as 武士団/bushidan) started forming in order to manage the manors of noblemen, or even to protect the lands and assets that they had earned for themselves. In order to claim the right to own such lands, those samurai groups started using the land name as their naazana alongside their ujikabane, or clan name. In time, these naazana started being passed on to family members as well.

In the Kamakura period (1185-1333 AD) as the regions held by Samurai groups expanded, some powerful samurai groups found themselves in control of multiple territories. At the time, many samurai started dividing their assets to distribute to their children. Even if an illegitimate child inherited a territory from the family that it was not originally from, they changed their naazana to the name of the territory. Furthermore, they cultivated new lands and the overall area that was inhabited increased. Once they settled down in a particular place, they started using the name of the region as their family name. This caused the number of naazana used by the samurai to increase.

And, just as a reminder, they still had ujikabane at this time, too. For example, 新田義貞 (Nitta Yoshisada) and 脇屋義助 (Wakiya Yoshisuke) are brothers. Although they both have different naazana – 新田 (Nitta) and 脇谷 (Wakiya), their ujikabane was 源 (Minamoto). So their official names were 源義貞 (Minamoto-no-Yoshisada) and 源義助 (Minamoto-no-Yoshisuke). Since the ujikabane name was still considered to be their official name, it started being called 本姓 (Honsei), meaning true family name, around the Kamakura period.

Maybe you picked up on this already, but when a true family name was provided by the emperor, they added a の (no) between the official clan name and their first name. This way of reading them has been the same since the ujikabane system began. In other words, someone was only allowed to add the “no” in between their names if it was provided by the emperor. The naazana that people gave themselves, the ones that derived from the region they lived in, were not permitted this distinction.

名字 Comes To The Forefront

As stated above, samurai had official nicknames. Unlike the nobles, they tended to use that rather than their actual first names. Because of this, samurai had four parts to their name: a true family name (their clan root), and official family lineage name, an official nickname for their first name, and a first name.

When the Edo period came about (1603-1808 AD), the ways in which a true family name was used became very limited. They only used it on the occasion when they formally received an official rank by the emperor. They barely used it in their daily lives, though. So, the naazana that people used in that time began functioning in much the same way that our family names function today. During this period, the kanji 苗字 (myouji) assumed the role that the kanji 名字 used to serve because 苗 better signified the idea of a family blood line.

Since naazana were not names given by the emperor, anybody could have one, including commoners. This was true until the Edo Shogunate decided to disallow common people from having naazana, except for a few prominent families. Therefore, commoners entered another long period in which they were only allowed to have a first name.

Family Names In Meiji Period

meiji

For a while, the Meiji Government followed the Edo Shogunate’s ruling regarding myouji, yet their decisiveness on many policies often swayed. In 1868 the Meiji government decided to revoke the names that only a select group of commoners were allowed to have and banned them from having family names. In the same year, they also banned the Shogunate from bestowing family names to feudal lords or other people under their influence. This was done was to prove a point to the Shogunate. After this, they again allowed the policy to be open to interpretation and informed commoners that the government could issue them family names if they were to render their services to them.

When the Boshin War between the Shogunate and Meiji Governement ended in July of 1869, lands and people were returned to the Emperor. Accordingly, they reverted back to the former system of family naming, going from 苗字/名字 (Myouji) to 氏姓 (Ujikabane/Shisei) a.k.a. 本姓 (Honsei) . However, most of the people who were originally part of nobility became 藤原 (Fujiwara) and most of the people who were originally part of the samurai became 源 (Minamoto). Amazingly, 86.4% of Japanese family names became one of four names: 源 (Minamoto), 平 (Taira), 藤原 (Fujiwara), or 橘 (Tachibana). This system was not at all practical and it also didn’t fit with the times. It was revoked very quickly.

Establishing The Modern Legislation

In 1870, being led by the Ministry of Finance who was trying to modernize Japan, the policy for family names started to change course. The 平民苗字許可令 (Heiminmyoujikyokarei), which was a law allowing commoners to have family names, was officially announced on September 19. However, a lot of people were very suspicious of the law. It’s said that a common belief at the time was that they might have to pay tax if they decided to use a family name. As a result, very few people opted to have a family name. Monks also refused the policy claiming that by entering into priesthood they didn’t need a family name. Because of that, a law called 住職僧侶名字必称義務令 (Juushokusouryomyoujihisshougimurei), which forced monks to have a family name, was enforced in 1872.

Even after that, common people still hesitated to use family names. In response, the government created another law, 平民苗字必称義務令 (heiminmyoujihisshougimurei), which forced everyone to have family names and that went into effect February 13th, 1875. Due to having a family name being a kind of “duty”, we now have a “Family Name Day” in Japan (苗字制定記念日/Myoujiseiteikinenbi), which means “Commemoration Day for the establishment of family names.” Of course, this is celebrated on February 13th each year.

Between the two laws above, there were also some other changes to family name policy. For example in 1871, another law called 姓尸不称令 (Seishifushourei), was issued which banned the use of ujikabane, aka honsei. All the terminology was very confusing too, so they categorized 本姓 (Honsei) as “姓 (Sei)”, 氏 (Uji/Shi) and 名 (Naazana/Myouji) as “苗字(Myouji)”, and lastly, 姓 (Kabana) as “尸 (Shi).”

Furthermore, according to 太政官布告 (Daijoukanfukoku), which means Proclamation by the Grand Council of State, legally registered names became very difficult to have changed. Because of that, people questioned the government about the right to change their wife’s family name after marriage. Changing a woman’s family name to that of her husband’s family name was tradition at the time. In 1876, in response to this debate, the Daijoukanshirei decided that wives and husbands must keep their own family name and it can’t be changed following marriage. The system of husbands and wives keeping separate family names lasted until the 明治民法 (Meijiminpou – Meiji Civil Code) was enforced in 1898. At long last, we have reached the system of family naming that is used today.

The kanji for Myouji was 苗字, but after the simplification of the Japanese writing system following WWII, 苗 didn’t find itself on the new list of kanji, and 名字 became the popular usage. However, all four kanji 名字, 苗字, 氏, and 姓 are still used to indicate family names today. For example, as a legal term 氏 is used since it’s used in the Family Registration Act by the Ministry of Justice. In the education system, 名字 is used since the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Science decided to use it. In fortune telling, usually 姓 is used as a family name.

And Here We Are

Before the Meiji period, some people had family names passed on from their ancestors and others adopted the same family name as the most influential regional family. So entire communities actually shared the same name, but they did not share the same blood. After the Meiji period, people were suddenly forced to legally resister their family name. Some of them changed their traditional family names to one they favored, while others just made up their own names. Among those that were created, some of them were simply taken from a historically famous family, whose origins date back to ancient Japanese, so even if you encounter someone with a family name of a seemingly ancient past, it’s very likely that there are no blood ties.

Anyways, that right there is the long and complicated history of Japanese family names. Now that you know about it, it becomes no surprise that such a vast variety of names exist. I presume it’s very difficult to read or memorize Japanese family names for many of you, but don’t fret. It’s actually the same for us, native of Japanese. Just remember common family names and make an effort to remember the more unique ones whenever you come across someone with one. Before starting out on this article, I had no idea how long and rich the history of Japanese names was, but I’m certainly happy to have researched it. I found it fascinating and I hope you did too.

Do any of you have an interesting story that follows your family name, or its meaning? If you do, please share your story in the comments. Thank you!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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The Island Inbetween: Tsushima and the Sō Family http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/15/the-island-inbetween-tsushima-and-the-so-family/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/15/the-island-inbetween-tsushima-and-the-so-family/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 16:00:55 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42869 You may have never heard of the island of Tsushima, but for hundreds of years it was the door between Japan and Korea. Tsushima’s location was ideal for international trade, situated roughly fifty kilometers from the Korean peninsula and one-hundred and forty-seven kilometers from the Kyushu port of Hakata (today’s Fukuoka). For over four centuries, that trade was controlled by the ruling samurai family of Tsushima, the 宗.

tsushima-island-map

Beginning in 1392, the Sō acted as intermediaries between the Korean court and Japan’s Ashikaga shogunate. In much the same way that Japan at some times in history sent missions to China, exchanging gifts and engaging in trade, so too did the Sō send missions to Korea. From the Korean point of view this made Tsushima a tributary of their court, just as Korea was a tributary of China. Whether or not the Sō viewed the relationship in that way is unclear, but they were at least content to let Korea continue to think so. Typical items imported from Korea included skins, ginseng, honey, and cotton cloth.

Pirates and Peace

Korean-pirates

During the feudal period piracy was a problem. Though many pirates that plagued Korea and China did not come from Japan, some did, and they were called wakō 倭寇 (“Japanese pirates”) by their victims. In 1419, Korea sent a force of 17,285 men to Tsushima to eliminate a pirate base there. The Sō convinced them to leave when their mission was over, and restored relations with Korea. From that time, Korea left the responsibility for controlling such piracy in the hands of the Japanese. The Koreans also realized that while protocol might force them to deal with the Ashikaga shogunate, the piracy problem was better directed to the Sō. This is indicative of just how little authority the Ashikaga had left. By 1467 Japan had fallen into samurai civil war that would last for a century.

ship-boat

The Koreans managed to reduce piracy by legitimizing trade with not only the Sō and other Japanese daimyo, but with pirate leaders as well. In fact, the line between larger pirate fleets and those of lords was often quite blurred. On the Chinese tributary model, the Koreans endowed these leaders with titles and copper seals, and made trade agreements. The Sō benefited greatly from this system, becoming the channel through which all official Korean-Japanese trade passed. All ships on their way to Korea were required to stop at checkpoints on Tsushima, and any ship caught without the proper paperwork from the Sō were considered pirates. The Sō themselves were usually allowed to send fifty ships per year, received a large stipend from the Korean court, and were able to levy duties and fees on the ships and goods that came through Tsushima’s ports. This went on uninhibited until the 1580s when the unifier and leader of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (c. 1536-1598) planned to invade the mainland. It’s easy to see why the Sō were unhappy with this.

Sō Much for Diplomacy

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The reasoning behind Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s decision to invade the mainland remains unclear. His ultimate goal was China, but the “easiest” way to China was through Korea. To begin with, Hideyoshi tried a diplomatic approach, hoping that Korea would join him in his conquest of China. However, Hideyoshi’s attempts were not particularly tactful, beginning with a letter sent in 1587 requiring Korea’s submission and the dispatch of a “tribute mission” to Japan. This message was sent via Tsushima daimyo, Sō Yoshishige (1532-1588), who softened the tone of the message as much as possible into a request for a “goodwill mission.” Knowing that the message was still likely to incense the Koreans and wishing to distance his family from it, Yoshihige did not deliver the message personally.

Instead, it was delivered by a retainer of the Sō, Yutani Yasuhiro, whose diplomatic skills were lacking. As he made his way up the Korean peninsula to the court in Seoul Yasuhiro loudly demanded the best room in every inn. Furthermore, when some men assembled with their spears along the roadside, a long-standing custom meant to display Korea’s military power, Yasuhiro laughed at the shortness of their weapons. Finally, while dining at Sangju, “Yasuhiro commented on his host’s gray hair, wondering why a man who had never seen battle, but whiled away the hours with music and dancing girls, would ever turn gray.”

Needless to say, the mission was a complete diplomatic failure. Hideyoshi was so angered that he ordered the execution of Yasuhiro and his family. Unfortunately, Sō Yoshishige was also unable to escape Hideyoshi’s wrath. He was relieved of his position as lord of Tsushima, which was then bestowed upon his adopted son, Sō Yoshitoshi (1568-1615). Yoshitoshi was also the son-in-law of one of Hideyoshi’s top generals, and thus deemed more trustworthy.

A Fresh Approach

So-Yoshitoshi

Sō Yoshitoshi was only twenty when he was sent to deliver a letter from Hideyoshi to the Korean court and request that they send envoys to Japan. He was described by Yu Sŏngnyong (1542-1607), Korean prime minister, as “young, sharp, and ruthless.” Because of this “the Japanese who accompanied him were very afraid of him.” The Koreans requested the extradition of some of their countrymen who had traitorously helped pirates before fleeing the country and getting captured by the Japanese. Yoshitoshi did not object, and had a dozen captives delivered. The king was pleased with this response, and rewarded Yoshitoshi with a horse from the royal stables and a large banquet, and eventually envoys left with Yoshitoshi in April of 1590.

Before departing, Yoshitoshi presented the Korean court with the parting gifts of two peacocks, a spear, a sword, and the first musket to come into Korean possession. Why the Koreans chose not to attempt to replicate the musket was unclear. It was unfortunate; as such firearms would come to be vital assets to the Japanese forces during the war to come. As Yoshitoshi and the Korean envoys made their way to Hideyoshi’s court they stopped at Tsushima, Yoshitoshi’s home.

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Yoshitoshi insulted his guests by arriving late to a banquet, and by riding his palanquin all the way to the steps of the hall, rather than getting out at the gate. Yoshitoshi apologized by decapitating his palanquin bearers and presenting their heads to his guests. It was unclear whether Yoshitoshi committed this faux pas intentionally or accidentally. Most likely this was a cultural difference and Yoshitoshi had unknowingly made a mistake. Whatever the cause of the incident, Yoshitoshi was quick to rectify it. The episode shows how seriously Yoshitoshi took his family’s relations with the Korean court. He was probably even more careful considering that he was bringing the envoys to Hideyoshi, himself a man not above ordering the execution of those who failed him.

The Final Straw

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Photo by soul_flow

Unfortunately, Hideyoshi was not the most diplomatic individual, and the meeting that followed reflected this. The envoys were impressed with neither the simple meal they were given, nor the lack of decorum. They were even less impressed when Hideyoshi left the room and returned carrying his infant son, who proceeded to urinate on Hideyoshi. With that unceremonious ending, the audience which the Korean envoys had crossed the straits and then waited a further five months for, concluded. They did not even receive the letter from Hideyoshi they had been sent to acquire. For this, the envoys were forced to wait for some time. When Hideyoshi’s letter did arrive, the envoys were disturbed by its content.

“My object is to enter China, to spread the customs of our country to the four hundred and more provinces of that nation, and to establish there the government of our imperial city even unto all the ages. As your country has taken the lead and visited Japan, thus displaying deference, you need have no anxiety…On the day I enter China, I shall be leading my soldiers and shall review my military headquarters; then we shall renew our alliance. My wish is nothing other than that my name be known throughout the three countries [of Japan, China, and India].”

Though the envoys wanted a revised and rewritten letter, eventually they were convinced to return to Korea with the one they had been given. At the time there were two major political factions within the Korean court, each of the two envoys belonged to a different one, and unfortunately they let their alliances dictate their reports to the court. One advised that Hideyoshi was a serious threat, the other that he was not to be feared. The latter opinion was favored, and as a result little was done to build up Korea’s defenses. King Sonjo sent a reply to Hideyoshi declining to help any invasion of China and chastising him for such a reckless plan.
Sō Yoshitoshi tried three more times to convince Korea to allow the Japanese passage to China, but was unsuccessful. Soon the invasion of Korea was underway.

Next time! Invasion, reconciliation, peace, and an end to the role of the Sō as gatekeepers.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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