Tofugu » Culture http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Sat, 29 Aug 2015 02:32:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 20 Differences Between Japanese and Western Schools http://www.tofugu.com/2015/08/26/differences-between-japanese-and-american-schools/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/08/26/differences-between-japanese-and-american-schools/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=53345 The majority of your time on JET will be spent at one or more schools. While differences in culture and daily life will likely be quirky and interesting, differences in the education system stand to shock you most of all. The more you know about these differences before you arrive for your first day of […]

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The majority of your time on JET will be spent at one or more schools. While differences in culture and daily life will likely be quirky and interesting, differences in the education system stand to shock you most of all.

The more you know about these differences before you arrive for your first day of work, the less shocking those differences will be and the more smooth your transition. There will be a steep learning curve no matter what, so why not take some time to educate yourself and decrease the incline?

Please note that things listed here are what you’ll most likely encounter at your placement on JET. There are always exceptions. But these are generally the kinds of situations you’ll encounter.

Students

Transportation

country-road-leading-to-a-japanese-school

Photo by 鈴木 宏一

There are no school buses as some may be used to in their home countries. Students tend to live close to the school which they attend, so walking and biking is the way 99% of kids will arrive for a day of study.

High school is another story. Because students test into upper secondary education, they may or may not live in the same town as their high school. Thus many students may come by bus or train. Driving to school is not an option as the legal driving age in Japan is 18 and even after obtaining a driver’s license, students aren’t supposed to drive to school.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

If you’re in the same town as one of the schools you’re teaching at, you’ll likely be walking or biking to work alongside your students. If you take public transit to a high school outside your town, you may be sitting on the bus or train near your students.

Entrance Exams and Cram School

japanese high schools students pass college entrance exams

Photo by Chris73

To get a good job in Japan, you need to go to a good university. To get into a good university, you need to pass that university’s entrance exams. The universities you can apply for depend on the high school you attended. To get into a good high school, you need pass the high school entrance exams. And prep for those usually start in junior high, but can start much earlier.

The most common form of prep comes in the for of cram schools or 塾 (juku). These are after school schools where kids pay money for extra education in a particular subject or for help in passing important exams. They especially come into play when students are trying to pass entrance exams.

Cram schools have a lot of critics and proponents. But the fact is they are major part of the Japanese educational landscape and how it functions.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

This won’t affect you directly, but it will affect what you teach. The intense focus on testing touches all parts of education culture in Japan. Though you likely won’t be helping any of your students with entrance exams directly, you will be surrounded with the test-centric mindset. This can impact how students respond to your lessons, what your JTEs want you to teach, and more.

Behavior and Discipline

bosozoku-yanki-cosplay

Photo by Mike

Most peoples’ image of the Japanese classroom is one of quiet studiousness and respect for authority. Those who research online may find horror stories of chaotic classrooms with Mad Max-esque social structures. The truth is somewhere in between. As I mentioned before, my school leaned toward the difficult side. But even I had classes full of well-behaved kids. Most schools will have a mixture of both. Kids are kids all over the world, which means you can expect a range of personalities with a touch of childish behavior in each.

How misbehaving students are dealt with in Japan is often the subject of debate. While on JET, I heard this common story: Because the Japanese constitution states that “no child shall be denied an education” (Article 26), teachers are not allowed to send children out of the classroom. I’ve never been able to find evidence proving this idea. But I certainly never saw teachers send students out (maybe because disruptive kids would eventually leave on their own to go smoke).

Either way, discipline is up to the Japanese teacher. Sometimes they’ll control the class and sometimes they won’t (or can’t). There’s also a different standard as to what is considered “bad behavior” so a student’s sleeping may get on your nerves, while your JTE isn’t bothered by it at all.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

This is by far the greatest source of tension for visiting ALTs. Seeing behavior that wouldn’t fly in your home country go unpunished (or unaddressed) can be infuriating, especially if that bad behavior is directed at you. Try talking with JTEs or your supervisor and frankly tell them your feelings about the situation. Tell them why the situation frustrates you and ask them to help you understand the Japanese mindset behind discipline in your school.

Truthfully, there’s no hard and fast rules to coping with this difficult subject. What you’ll likely find is that behavior and the mood of the school shift throughout the year. Good classes get rowdy, bad students become your favorites, and the whole group dynamic is in constant flux. Expect major cultural differences in this area and do your best to communicate honestly with trusted coworkers when you need help.

Failing Grades

ice-cream-that-fell-on-the-ground

Photo by Caro Wallis

One of the biggest shocks I had was discovering that students at the elementary and junior high school levels can’t fail a grade. They will always be advanced to the next grade regardless of test scores or attendance. Or so I was told by many ALTs. I never saw hard evidence of this, like a student’s actual report card. Even the wikipedia article that makes this claim lists no sources. But I did attend the graduation where all the yankis who never came to class got their diplomas. That’s some kind of evidence, I suppose.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

Coming from the U.S. where fear of failing kept me studying hard, this policy really boggled my mind. A lot of other ALTs I knew were confused and shocked by this as well. A real “does not compute” kind of feeling. Especially when a student that’s been driving you nuts and not doing any work gets the graduate with those that worked hard.

But for better or worse, this is another thing that you have no control over and is best to let go. It’s been part of the Japanese way of doing school for a while and it’s probably not going to change any time soon. Really, with the education systems focus on entrance exams, it kind of makes sense. Passing on to the next grade isn’t what advances your academic career. Passing entrance exams does. In theory, someone who did no work at school, but studied hard at cram school could pass the entrance exams and get into a good high school. Conversely, someone who does great in school could still fail the entrance exams and not be able to advance academically.

Also the practical upside is that no student, no matter how difficult, will be a thorn in your side year after year.

Teachers

Teachers’ Room

teachers-room-at-a-japanese-school

Photo by MC MasterChef

As mentioned above, the classroom belongs to the students and even the homeroom teacher doesn’t have a desk there. The home base for all teachers is the teachers’ room, a safe haven for lesson planning and decompression, most of the time. In theory, students aren’t allowed in the teachers’ room without permission, but this depends on the school. Schools with large numbers of rowdy students may have trouble keeping said students out, though they’ll certainly try.

Tofugu’s own Rich calls the teachers’ room his favorite part of the Japanese school system:

This room helps foster a sense of camaraderie and cooperation. Daily morning meetings allow a chance for announcements and make sure all staff members catch up on the latest events, problems, and concerns.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

At first, the teachers’ room can feel a bit weird for those of us from cultures where cubicles and personal space are the norm, but the camaraderie Rich mentions is mostly due to the open setup.

Though the teachers’ room has stresses of its own, it’s a retreat from the stresses of student activity. That said, it’s not like the fabled “teachers’ lounge” in the U.S. where no student may tread. Students sometimes visit, with and without permission. Be ready for visits of curiosity and annoyance from certain kids. Some can be fun while others less so. You are still on duty while at school, so handling these situations is part of your job. Talk with your supervisor if you’re having trouble with too many visits at your desk.

Teacher Rotation

lady-cleaning-an-empty-japanese-classroom

Teachers in your home country most likely work at and for a particular school. To change schools would be their choice. In Japan, however, teachers work either for the municipal or prefectural boards of education. This means that their positions are subject to change every year when the school year ends in March. A teacher could be at school for one year, ten years, or more. It all depends on the particular BOE and their secret ways, which are many and, well, secret.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

Teacher rotation is tough for the ALT who may already have a tough time forming bonds in Japan as it is. If a certain JTE is great to work with, they may not be around the next year. Conversely, if a certain JTE makes for difficult collaboration, you may not have to deal with them your whole time on JET. This is certainly a mixed blessing that will keep you on your toes and constantly meeting new people.

Organization

Uniforms and Dress Code

japanese-high-school-students-leaving-school

Photo by Ryo FUKAsawa

At the elementary level, uniforms are not required. Private schools may have uniforms at this age, but most elementary students have dress codes rather than uniforms. The closest thing elementary kids have to a uniform is their cute yellow hats and hard shell randoseru backpacks.

Junior high is the beginning of the iconic Japanese school uniform, with dark jackets and pants for the boys and sailor shirts and skirts for the girls. This continues into high school, though the uniforms may be more stylish to attract higher level applicants.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

Not much besides a difference in culture. Your dress will be dictated by your school and contracting organization. It could be as informal as polo shirts and blouses or as formal as suits. The practical aspects of the uniform won’t affect you. But the idea behind it, the concept of uniformity, most certainly will.

The School Year

cherry-blossom-branch-in-japan

Photo by きうこ

If you’re coming to JET from the U.S like I was, the “back to school” season may conjure memories of falling orange leaves, crisp weather, and those waning summer days. Not so in Japan. School starts in springtime. The Japanese school year begins in April and runs through March of the following year. An example schedule is as follows:

  • First Term – early April to late July
  • Summer Break – late July to late August (usually 6 weeks)
  • Second Term – early September to late December
  • Winter Break – late December to early January (usually 2 weeks)
  • Third Term – early January to late March
  • Spring Break – late March to early April (usually 1 week)

And the cycle continues…

Bear in mind that the above is an example of the norm, but exact start and end times vary throughout the country due to weather and other factors. Still, it’s very likely that your school’s schedule will look something like this one.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

As a JET Program participant, you’ll arrive in Japan in late summer when the school year is halfway over. You’ll certainly be welcomed in some capacity, but you’re essentially jumping into a race that everyone else has been running for 5 months. This can make your transition a little more complicated. Bear this in mind as you start your new life. Be patient with yourself and your host environment as you get situated.

Grade Levels

japanese-homeroom-class-door-with-number-plate

Photo by Ippei Suzuki

Grade levels in Japan more or less correspond to those in other countries, with slight variations:

  • Elementary School: 1-6
  • Junior High School: 1-3
  • High School: 1-3

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

There isn’t a whole lot of adjusting to do in this area. It’s just good information to know. Knowing Japanese grade levels will simply give you an idea of the range of English levels you’ll be dealing with as a teacher. Junior and High school both have half the range as Elementary, which is wider. 

Classrooms

empty-japanese-classroom

Photo by ajari

Classrooms belong to the students, plain and simple. Rather than move around from class to class, as is the norm in the U.S., students stay in their homeroom and teachers of various subjects come to them. The exceptions are P.E., home economics, music, certain science classes, or any subject that requires more than desk for learning to take place.

Students generally spend all years at a given school with the same group of classmates. This homeroom resides in one room, cleans that room, eats in that room, and sometimes even decorates it. This system has it pros and cons, but the end result is that school groups become a family in and of themselves.

Each class has a homeroom teacher who is expected to be involved in their students’ lives, almost like a surrogate parent. This includes home visits during which the teacher meets each student and their parents.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

The “family” element of Japanese homerooms can be a lot like real families: functional and empowering or dysfunctional and detrimental (or some mixture of both). The classroom is the student’s turf, so gaining control can depend heavily on what kind of “family” you’re entering into. This doesn’t mean certain classes are “hopeless,” rather more focus on engagement may be required. This can lead to enhanced bonding with the JTE of that classroom and other rewards not offered by more compliant classes.

Footwear

shoe-lockers-at-a-a-japanese-school

Photo by Tokyo Times

The no-shoes-in-the-house custom extends to school where every student has their own locker or cubby for shoes right at the entrance. (No locker for books though. Students keep all books and personal effects with them in their homerooms.)

Besides the normal indoor school shoes, there’s usually a gym shoe requirement as well to keep those shiny wooden planks their squeakiest.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

You’ll also have to take off your outdoor shoes off before coming into work. Buy a comfy pair of school shoes since you’ll be wearing them 8+ hours a day. Don’t be afraid to drop some cash on an Amazon purchase for the perfect footwear. I started my JET career with a cheap pair of $20 school shoes and paid the price within a month. Get something with a lot of support. Your spine will thank you.

A minor annoyance you may run into is being unable to exit school from any doorway but the one you came in. It probably won’t happen often, but eventually you’ll need to talk to a teacher who is out on the athletic field and your outdoor shoes will be at the other end of the building.

Activities

Lunch Time

japanese-boy-eating-lunch-at-school

Photo by Chris Lewis

Japanese schools don’t have cafeterias and students eat in their homerooms. They eat either school provided lunch called 給食 (kyuushoku) or bring a bento from home.

Junk food is not allowed at school, not even juice. This didn’t stop my rowdy students from munching kombini snacks out of their backpacks, so don’t be too surprised if you see this rule broken from time to time.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

The no junk food rule extends to teachers while students are in the building. This is the same line of thinking that keeps AC off in the teacher’s room during summer. It can be frustrating if you come from a culture where teachers enjoy privileges students don’t. Even if you don’t understand the reasoning, try to accept it as one of those things that just is the way it is (and sneak matcha kit kats from your desk when no one is looking).

Cleaning Time

broom-and-dustpan-in-the-corner-of-a-japanese-classroom

Japanese schools don’t have janitors. Instead they set aside time for students to clean the building. This is called お掃除 (osouji). It’s the Pikmin approach to cleanliness. While the thoroughness of the cleaning depends on the individual student, it can’t be denied that the practice in itself is a good bonding experience that (most likely) teaches responsibility. Plus, the school usually plays wacky music around this time, which is a nice mood change.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

You may or may not be asked or expected to participate in cleaning time, but give it a try anyway. It’s one of those things that makes you feel better despite not wanting to do it. Not to mention, cleaning time gives you a nice break from the teacher persona and lets you have a little more fun with your students.

Club Activities

kids-practicing-kendo-at-a-japanese-school

A good slogan for Japanese schools would be “Come for the compulsory education, stay for the club activities.” Whatever the students’ feelings toward classes are, club activities are a different story. Long after school ends, clubs continue for kids to run, play, build, compete, and do anything but study. The school becomes a different place after classes end. And staying to experience it is worth your time.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

You don’t have to try out for these clubs and they aren’t about competing or beating other teams. They’re more for self-improvement and togetherness. Thus, you joining a club shouldn’t be because you’re an expert who will help the team, but rather because your participation in a team will help you build skills and relationships.

If you do choose to join a club, however, be clear about how many times you intend to visit. If you visit once, it will be assumed you’re in it for good. That means every day after school and some weekends. It’s okay to visit once a week, or however you choose. Just be clear with the teacher of the club and the club members that you’ll be committing a predetermined amount of time.

School Festivals

japanese-elementary-school-sports-day

Japanese schools have two main festivals a year: Sports Day and the Culture Festival. There may be more but these are the two you’ll most likely encounter.

  • Sports Day: Usually held in in late summer, Sports Day or 運動会 (undoukai) is a full day or two of relay races, long jumps, and various other events. It’s a great chance for friendly competition and group bonding.
  • Culture Festival: This festival is a bit more nebulous as it’s defined by MEXT as “[an event] which aims to use the results of everyday learning to heighten motivation.” It also goes by the names, Daily Life Exhibition, Learning Exhibition, and School Festival. Classrooms are transformed into cafes or stops for activities. Students perform. Food can happen. Almost anything goes at a culture festival as long as it’s nice and heightens motivation.
  • Chorus Concert: Students singing. Oh, those singing students. That’s about it.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

Not much besides some days off work, organizing events, and participating in them. Festivals are a welcome break from the teaching routine. Plus there’s usually enkai after!

Enkai

japanese-school-teachers-at-an-enkai-drinking-party

This has nothing to do with students and everything to do with you. Enkai are arguably one of the greatest benefits of being a teacher and you’ll want to go to as many as possible.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

Eating, drinking, and karaoke. Enkai are essential morale boosting and bond forming experiences for teachers. If you’re feeling disconnected at your school, go to an enkai. It won’t fix all your problems, but it’ll certainly help a lot. At the very least you’ll get some great food and drink.

Enkai can be expensive, up to and exceeding ¥10,000. If there are many in a row, it can be tempting to start ducking out. If you really can’t afford it, by all means decline. But the JET salary is rather generous, and the money you save won’t be worth the experiences you’ll miss out on. Enkai are exclusive to those in a particular company, restricting even spouses of coworkers. If you’re invited to an enkai, you are part of a group and the more group stuff you do, the easier it is to function in that group.

Ceremonies

japanese-school-entrance-ceremony

Who doesn’t like a good ceremony? Japan certainly doesn’t not love them a whole damn lot. There are usually ceremonies at the open and close of each trimester. But none are more grandiose than the big two: the Entrance and Graduation Ceremonies.

The Entrance Ceremony or 入学式 (nyuugakushiki) is a momentous day for students, but more so for parents. Older students will help younger students find their classrooms where they meet their homeroom teacher and classmates. Parents congregate in the gym where the students eventually come back to join them. Then the ceremonies begin: speeches, songs, school song, more speeches, speeches, and then perhaps even a speech. Parents usually eat up the entire day snapping pictures and fixing hairs. Though probably dryer than ceremonies in western countries, the opening ceremony is not unlike mandatory school gatherings elsewhere, and this similarity is interesting to note for the visiting ALT.

Graduation Ceremony or 卒業式 (sotsugyoushiki) is much like the Entrance Ceremony but more serious. Again, there will be the school song, the national anthem, other songs, and lots of speeches. Of course, students will get up to receive their diplomas and a good deal of crying will ensue in various pockets of the gymnasium. This is probably the best ceremony because emotions are high, making it less dry and more meaningful.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

For opening and closing ceremonies during the school year, it means sitting through speeches in the gymnasium. For opening and graduation ceremonies, it means experiencing a very important cultural part of Japanese life. Yes, it’s still speeches and songs but they’re speeches and songs that mean a lot to the people involved.

As a side note, pay attention to homeroom teachers sitting near you or try to sit as far away from them as you can. During certain parts of ceremonies, homeroom teachers may sit and stand over and over, which might fake you out prompting you to stand when you’re not supposed to.

When it comes to the music of the ceremony, try and learn your school song. Every school in Japan has a song. It’s fun to sing along with the teachers and students and gives a greater sense of belonging if you take the effort to learn it. My school was pretty difficult to integrate into and I found learning the school song a pretty helpful step towards feeling more motivated in my job.

Machines and Contraptions

Toilets

japanese-floor-toilet-in-japan

Photo by eric_abert

There are usually large restrooms on each floor in varying degrees of modernity. Floor toilets are most common, though the teacher’s bathroom may feature a western style toilet.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

If you need to go while teaching on the third floor, far from the teachers’ bathroom, it may mean toiletting with students. Floor toilets may seem intimidating or weird at first, but the position it forces you to be in is actually more natural for the human body than sitting upright.

Heating and Cooling

kids-in-front-of-a-kerosene-heater-at-a-Japanese-school

Japanese schools don’t usually have AC, though there are pushes here and there to have it added. There may be heating and cooling units in the teachers’ room, but this doesn’t make it a comfort sanctuary. If your school does have AC, it can’t be used until after the students leave, as teachers are expected to endure the same conditions students do. If your students are gone and it’s June 29th, you’re still out of luck. AC use is dictated by your BOE, and schools generally aren’t allowed to use it until July 1. This has everything to do with the “cool biz” campaign started in 2005 to reduce the amount of electricity used in Japan during the summer. The upside is every day in summer is casual Friday!

Schools may or may not have heat. If they do, it will be in the form of kerosene heaters in each classroom, which requires the opening of windows to keep everyone from suffocating on fumes. This may seem counterintuitive, but keeping the windows open has a second purpose: ensuring that cold and flu germs get flushed out into the open air rather than swirling around inside. There’s a lot of pros and cons to this open window winter practice, but it’s common throughout East Asia so it’s not likely to change any time soon.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

This may mean a lot or very little depending on how you personally deal with hot and cold. Chances are you handle one of these well and the other not so much.

Coping with the heat means casual (but not too casual) wear every day of the week. It’s actually a nice break from the otherwise formal atmosphere. The whole school takes on a relaxed feel. The downside, of course, is it’s really REALLY hot. The second upside is taking part in Japan’s heat-enduring culture. It may feel terrible at first, but you won’t be the only one. It sucks to be hot when everyone else is comfy in their Escalades. But it’s strangely refreshing when everyone is enduring the heat together.

Coping with the cold means dressing in layers. I personally hate cold so the first month of winter with open windows was torture. But once I learned to layer from top to bottom (thermal shirts and leggings), winter actually became pretty nice. There’s also a cold enduring culture in Japan as well, which will bond you to your students and coworkers.

Tech

Differences Between Japanese and American Schools old computers

Photo by Mandias

Schools in Japan tend not to have much built in tech for the classroom, though some prefectures are experimenting with mixed results. The teachers’ room should have one or two computers, some printers, copiers, and fax machines. But that will likely be the extent of your school’s futuristic powers. The only tech in the Japanese classroom is the kind you bring with you.

Despite everything I just wrote, I will contradict it by saying that my school, while being severely inaka and low performing, had computers and projectors in every classroom. As the old and hated saying goes, every situation is different.

Tech Side Note: If you’re really lucky your school will have a room with a giant console dedicated to recording audio cassettes. Those things are awesome.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

The burden of implementing slideshows, videos, audio, and other media rests on you. But even if you have an iPad to bring to class, the screen is only so big and it may not be something you want to pass around. This means that your lessons will end up analog. It’s definitely frustrating for the more tech-reliant (pointing at myself here). But constraints, though not fun, foster creativity.

Understanding Differences Between Japanese and American Schools

Differences Between Japanese and American Schools sunset and cherry blossoms

Photo by Suki Tamba

Though Japanese schools may sometimes feel upside down and backwards, the truth is they are part of a flawed and fully functional system that successfully prepares 10,000,000 human beings a year for real life. Bear in mind that while some things could stand improvement, most things work fine and are simply different. What’s more, some things in the Japanese classroom may be better than those in other countries. Consider this anecdote from American psychologist, Jim Stigler.

While visiting a classroom in Japan, Stigler observed Japanese students trying to draw a 3D cube with varying degrees of success. The teacher chose a boy who was struggling and had him come to the board to draw his cube. After an imperfect attempt, the teacher asked the class if he had done it correctly. They answered, “no.”

Stigler was terrified for the boy, but the boy didn’t get upset. Instead he continued throughout the rest of the class, after which the teacher asked again if he had gotten the cube right. The class answered, “yes” and the student returned to his seat triumphant.

What happened? Stigler explains:

I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart. It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.

The boy was allowed to struggle without judgment. These realizations can be hard to recognize without a psychology professor to point them out. But keep an eye out for them and keep reading about Japan and Japanese education during your time on JET. Understanding these things makes for much easier living. You don’t always have to agree, but it helps to know the ideas behind the realities you’re living in.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources:

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Tsukemono! The Wonderful World of Japanese Pickles http://www.tofugu.com/2015/08/14/tsukemono-the-wonderful-world-of-japanese-pickles/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/08/14/tsukemono-the-wonderful-world-of-japanese-pickles/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=55653 When we think of pickles in the US, it’s mostly the spear along with our sandwich or the slices on a burger. When I was growing up we had two types, sweet and sour. And maybe there were some pickled beets in the fridge that I refused to eat. Little did I know the riches I […]

The post Tsukemono! The Wonderful World of Japanese Pickles appeared first on Tofugu.

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When we think of pickles in the US, it’s mostly the spear along with our sandwich or the slices on a burger. When I was growing up we had two types, sweet and sour. And maybe there were some pickled beets in the fridge that I refused to eat. Little did I know the riches I was missing elsewhere in the world.

In Japan, they’ll pickle anything that’s not moving. All kinds of things are pickled in different ways, creating healthy side dishes that add variety to traditional meals based on rice.

If you’ve never been to Japan, you may have seen a couple of these in restaurants (That pickled ginger with your sushi is one of them). But when you get there, you’ll find all kinds of mysterious things on little dishes with your fancy dinner and tucked in your convenience store bento. Come along with Tofugu on a journey through the wonderful world of Japanese pickles and find out what all those amazing little tidbits are about.

Many Ways to Get In A Pickle

japanese-pickles-tsukemono-at-a-local-grocery-store-in-japan

Photo by Tokyo Times

Tsukemono 漬物 is the Japanese word for pickles, derived from tsuke “soaked” and mono “things.” You’ll see that most of the Japanese names for different types end in -zuke, which is the same word as tsuke when it undergoes rendaku in the second part of a compound word.

But “soaked” is far from the only way that pickles are made. Yes, some are made in liquids like vinegar, but other methods will probably surprise you.

Shio-zuke – salt pickles

The original and simplest, there are a couple of different ways of making salt pickles.

In one method, the vegetables are sprinkled with salt – although the word “sprinkled” may be misleading given how much salt is used – and put in a container. They’re covered with a weight or lid that presses down on them, which makes sure the salt penetrates. (Nowadays you can buy plastic containers that come with a pickle press). The salt makes the water content of the vegetables seep out by osmosis, so the container needs regular attention to drain the liquid.

Removing the water from the vegetable concentrates the flavor, and with less water, the vegetables are less susceptible to rotting. Salt pickles can take varied length of time. There’s a version that you just leave overnight. Another one is measured in months. Pickled plums, for example, are supposed to be left in the salt for the whole rainy season. The longer the pickling time, the more intense the flavors.

In the other method, vegetables are put in salt water in an airtight container. As Kikkoman describes it, “in this environment, the enzymes in the ingredients break down the food’s components into very different and flavorful substances.” That sounds a little scary to me actually but it’s nothing compared to our next example….

Nuka-zuke – rice bran pickles

Rice bran pickles are made by laying vegetables down in a specially prepared bed of rice bran. Boiled salt water is mixed with the bran. Then, similar to sourdough bread, you add some of the bed from an old batch that contains microbes to get the lactic acid fermentation process going. It must be mixed up regularly, traditionally with your bare hands, to keep all the little microbes growing and healthy.

japanese-pickles-tsukemono-radish-in-rice-bran

Photo by Max Wheeler

I’ve never had the privilege of getting close to one of these beds (although I’ve seen them displayed in shops). But The Black Moon says this is how you know when it’s ready: “After a week or so the pickling medium should have a heady aroma and look like damp sand.”

Some rice bran pickling beds have been passed down for generations. It’s an astonishing thought in a century where everything in the supermarket has an expiration date printed on it. Like salt pickles, vegetables can be left in briefly or for a long time, up to several months, with different flavor results.

Kasu-zuke – sake lees pickle

Sake lees is the solids left over after sake, which is made from rice, is filtered. Like rice bran, instead of being discarded, people figured out how to use it to make pickles. Also cured for a variety of lengths of time from a few days to several years, they may actually be slightly alcoholic. Kampai!

Koji-zuke – koji pickles

You probably have never heard of koji, but Japanese food wouldn’t exist without it. It’s a microbe (let’s not call it mold, that sounds so unappetizing!). This little one-celled friend is responsible for soy sauce, miso, and sake, and it’s even been proposed that it should be called Japan’s National Fungus. Koji is mixed with rice to start the fermentation process that results in those fundamental products. And this koji mash can also be used to make pickles. These are somewhat sweet because koji produces amylase, an enzyme that produces sugar from the starch in rice.

And the rest….

Pickles are also made using soy sauce, miso, and vinegar. The most familiar to us, vinegar pickles are not usually for long-term storage. This is because Japanese vinegar is low in acid. I make one regularly with vinegar and a little soy sauce and sugar. Eaten fresh it’s more like a little side salad. Leftovers the next day are more pickle-y.

What’s that? You’d like to try the recipe yourself? No problem. Here it is.

Recipe for quick pickled cucumber:

Use pickling cucumbers or another type with the minimum of seeds – they have a better texture. If you have to use a regular American cuke, scoop all the seeds out.

  1. Slice cucumber and cut slices in quarters or halves. Finely shred some gingerroot.
  2. For a large cuke, mix 1/4 c soy sauce, 1/4 c rice vinegar and about a tablespoon of sugar. (Start there and experiment – you can go up to 2 T next time if you want it sweeter.)
  3. Mix it all up and refrigerate for an hour or two or three before serving. It’s also good but different the next day.

(Adapted from a recipe by Harumi Kurihara)

Tsukemono’s Little One-Celled Friends: Fermentation and Microbes

japanese-pickles-tsukemono-man-with-a-glass

Some of these methods may seem weird to us. In our culture, we think food will spoil if left out of the refrigerator for five minutes. How can it possibly be a good idea to put vegetables in a tub of rice bran and leave them there, at room temperature, sometimes for months? And those pots of rice bran have been passed down for generations! And people mix them with their bare hands! Why aren’t people dying of food poisoning left and right?

Because these methods actually preserve food: They encourage good microbes, which keep out the bad microbes that make you sick.

In the US, fermentation is the new cool hipster foodie thing. There’s a kombucha bar at my Whole Foods and a stand at my local farmers market selling kimchee and sauerkraut. Maybe we’re finally starting to catch up. But Japanese cuisine always been all about the fermentation. As mentioned earlier, miso and soy sauce, both fundamental to Japanese cooking, are produced by fermentation. And aside from those quick vinegar pickles that are more like salads, most of the pickling processes involve fermentation too.

Preserving vegetables this way not only made them last longer when there was no refrigeration, some methods even made them healthier. Some types of pickles aid digestion. Rice bran pickles are high in B vitamins – a vitamin that the Japanese diet was short on when it was based mostly on white rice. Rather than throw away the B-vitamin-rich rice bran after it’s removed while making the white rice, pickling with it adds these vitamins back into the diet.

Famous Japanese Pickles

japanese-pickles-tsukemono-umeboshi-in-a-basket

Photo by Shigemi.j

Japanese people make pickles out of almost every vegetable in so many ways that we could never list all the combinations. There are local specialties and all kinds of ingredients added for flavor. From herbs and citrus fruits to ingredients that add umami like kombu seaweed, bonito, and shiitake mushroom.

japanese-pickles-tsukemono-hanging-daikon-radish

Photo by Sushicam

But there are a few pickles that you’ll see everywhere:

  • Umeboshi is the Japanese plum, salt-pickled then dried in the sun. They come in a variety of sizes and different textures. They’re colored with red shiso (an herb) and are intensely sour. You’ll see them in bento and inside onigiri rice balls (careful, because they still have the pit). They’re said to have been made for over a thousand years, and to have an antibacterial effect that keeps the other foods in your bento fresh.
  • Gari is the pickled ginger you get with sushi. It’s a simple vinegar pickle. And in case you didn’t know, you’re supposed to eat it between pieces of sushi to cleanse your palate so you can appreciate the different flavors of each kind of fish. Young ginger naturally turns pink when pickled. But the bright pink kind you’ll often see is made with artificial dye.
  • Takuan is rice-bran pickled daikon radish.  It’s usually served in half-moon slices, and makes a good vegetarian sushi roll filling. Manufactured takuan is also often dyed nowadays, to a bright yellow color. Traditionally it’s dried in the sun before being pickled, which can make a pretty awesome photo.
  • Beni shōga is ginger in little red strips. You probably seen these on top of yakisoba or takoyaki. It’s pickled in the vinegar used to make umeboshi pickled plums. So its bright red color ought to come from the red shiso leaves. Sadly, today it is also usually artificially dyed.

How to Approach a Strange Tsukemono

japanese-pickles-tsukemono-on-a-dish

Photo by Ruth and Dave

The earliest pickles were vegetables preserved in salt. One legend of the origin of tsukemono places it at Kayatsu Shrine in Nagoya. The shrine is now nicknamed Tsukemono Jinja and home to a festival celebrating the occasion each August. It’s said that the local people there traditionally made offerings of salt harvested from the sea and the vegetables from the first harvest. Because the offerings spoiled quickly, someone came up with the idea to combine them together in a barrel.

The result was a fermented product, which lasted a longer time. This was considered a gift from the gods, and with good reason. Before refrigeration, and greenhouses, and flying produce all around the world from places where seasons are different, there weren’t a lot of vegetables around in the winter. Pickles were the answer. They preserved spring and summer’s bounty for the cold time of year.

Now we can buy all kinds of fresh produce at any time of year. So they’re no longer necessary for providing vitamins and fiber when they’re out of season. But Japanese cuisine developed to include them, so a traditional meal doesn’t make sense without them. In fact, just rice, soup, and pickles count as a complete traditional Japanese meal.

Japanese food is often stereotyped as having delicate, subtle flavors. That may fool you into taking a huge mouthful of pickle, which could be a shock. Think of them more like a condiment. And remember that Japanese cuisine is based around a bowl of rice. Rice is indeed a subtle (some would say bland) food, and there’s nothing like a little bit of pickle to kick it up a notch when you take a mouthful of rice.

If you watch Japanese cooking shows, you’ll often see them taste something and say “this makes me want to eat a lot of rice.” That’s tsukemono in a nutshell. Oh, and that’s supposed to be a good thing.

Aside from their flavor, don’t forget how important presentation is to Japanese food. Tsukemono in their varied colors add eye appeal as well.

Japanese Pickles Today

japanese-pickles-tsukemono-vendor-in-japan

Photo by anjuli ayer

Pickles used to be made by hand in each household, and each tasted a little different. Your mom’s rice bran pickles really were different from everyone else’s, because the microbes on her hands were different. Now, homemade pickles are usually lighter kinds that only take an hour or a day or two to make. Most people go to the store and buy the more labor-intensive kinds.

japanese-pickles-tsukemono-ingredients-from-store-bought

As noted above, manufactured pickles are often made with artificial dyes. Read the ingredients on the packaged ones. You’ll find they are about as similar to traditionally made pickles as instant ramen is to a real local ramen shop. Remember that many of these pickles take days or weeks or even months to make in the old-fashioned way. So commercial ones take a lot of shortcuts.

However, you can still find traditional stores specializing in handmade pickles, which may have hundreds of kinds. You should look for them when you’re in Japan, because even if you don’t buy anything, it’s as much a true traditional Japanese sight as any temple or rock garden.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources:

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From Katana to Rocket Launchers: The Unique Weapons of Ancient Japan http://www.tofugu.com/2015/08/07/katana-rocket-launchers-unique-weapons-ancient-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/08/07/katana-rocket-launchers-unique-weapons-ancient-japan/#comments Fri, 07 Aug 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=45391 When I imagine a samurai, I envision a warrior with a sword. And not just any sword, but the world-renowned Japanese katana – a curved blade engineered for cutting down foes with supreme efficiency. A Japanese battlefield conjures up more variety, with spearman and archers entering the mix. However, Japan’s ancient warriors also plied less glamorous, lesser-known and therefore possibly more […]

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When I imagine a samurai, I envision a warrior with a sword. And not just any sword, but the world-renowned Japanese katana – a curved blade engineered for cutting down foes with supreme efficiency. A Japanese battlefield conjures up more variety, with spearman and archers entering the mix.

However, Japan’s ancient warriors also plied less glamorous, lesser-known and therefore possibly more interesting weaponry. Implements like the jutte and kusurigama allowed users to defend and combat the katana. Fans, smoking pipes and other weapons disguised as everyday items meant one had to be wary at all times. Other weapons, like rocket launchers, seem more fit for manga than actual battlefields.

Tofugu covered Japan’s Secret Weapons of World War II. Next we’ll delve deeper into Japan’s tradition of unique implements of violence, protection, and destruction by exploring weapons used long before the modern era. Dive into our comprehensive list of Japanese weapons from the Edo period and before.

Japan’s Famous Blades – The Katana

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Katana

Photo by Rama

Japan’s most famous weapon needs little introduction. Japanese blacksmiths’ method of repeatedly heating and folding the steel made a katana’s sharpness and strength unique among the world’s swords. Strong enough to be used defensively but sharp enough to cut through limbs, the katana earned the reputation as the soul of the samurai – a reputation that lasted long after the samurai abandoned the sword for the pen.

Japan’s Not-So-Famous Blades – Tekkan and Hachiwari

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tekkan

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Hachiwari

At first glance, the tekkan and hachiwari may not look impressive. The dull, heavy blades served as striking weapons made for hitting armor-clad enemies with maximum impact. Sergei Mol explains, “The tekkan was specifically developed (for use) against opponents wearing armor and is therefore necessarily heavy so that it can be used against the armor’s weak points” (64).

Also dull and heavy, hachiwari resemble the tekkan but employ a short hook at the base which may have been used to hook an opponent’s armor or to gain leverage to pry the armor apart (Cunningham). Instead of the katana’s deadly finesse, the tekkan and hachiwari aimed for heavy-handed disarmament.

Fans of War – Gunsen, Tessen, and Gunbai

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Gusen

Photo by BrokenSphere

In ancient Japan even implements intended to provide relief from summer’s heat and humidity became weapons. But the gunsen and tessen, foldable fans reinforced by metal plating, were only relied on as a last resort (Deal 167). Police officers and night watchmen used these blunt, nonlethal instruments to beat perpetrators into submission (Cunnigham).

The subtle, but mighty fan could even defeat entire armies. Battlefield commanders carried fans as symbols of rank, but these large, solid “gunbai” also served as means of communication to deployed forces. Visible from long distances, motioning the fan directed actions on the battlefield. Today sumo referees use gunbai to alert viewers to the victors in sumo matches.

Smoke Your Enemies – Kiseru Battle Pipes

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kiseru

Image from Brooklyn Museum

Imagine you’re a pilgrim wandering the hillsides of ancient Japan. Weary from the long journey, you decide to take a break under a tree’s shady branches. Just when kick back to enjoy a puff from your trusty pipe, some ruffians show up demanding money. What do you do?

If you’re a badass, you beat those inconsiderate jerks with your pipe. Although not all were designed for fighting, a glance at pipe’s size and weight might give away its user’s intent. “Many pipes were made of metal and were… three to four feet long. Several edicts point to the fact that such pipes were used in brawls… Some pipes were fitted with regular guards, just like swords” (Ratti 323). Battle pipes became so common, martial arts schools devised techniques in their use (Cunnigham).

The Sickle – Kama

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kama

Photo by Katorisi

According to legend, the kama started out as a farming implement, used to cut grass and crops. However, Don Cunningham believes that the kama evolved from the jingama, a similar sickle used for clearing campsites. Either way, the weapon gained popularity among low-ranking bushi and could be used for cutting and slashing.

The Ten-thousand Power Chain – Manriki-kusari

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Manriku

Although the manriki-kusari (sometimes called fundo-kusari or weighted chain) gained fame as a ninja weapon, police officers actually adopted the weapon to disarm and capture criminals (Cunningham). No matter the wielder, the versatile weapon had many advantages. The collapsable chain could be rolled up, concealed and easily transported. It could be used for climbing, restraining an enemy, and could be wrapped around body parts for extra protection ( Mol 125).

In battle, a user could shorten his grip and taylor the length as a situation called for. Once in motion, a manriki-kusari moved at speeds that rendered it invisible. An experienced practitioner could swing the chain around himself to keep opponents at bay. Thanks to its weighted end, the manriki-kusari doubled as a projectile; its metal weight could be thrown to strike opponents. Yet unlike other throwing weapons like darts or knives which had to be retrieved to be used again, the manriki-kusari’s weight returned to the hand of its wielder via its attached chain.

The manriki-kusari could also ensnare and immobilize an opponent’s weapon. The swinging chain could not be cut by a blade and would instead wrap around it, making it particularly affective against the katana (Mol 125). Once the chain entangled an opponent’s weapon a skilled user could disarm an opponent.

But manriki-kusari had disadvantages too. A difficult weapon to master, a manriki-kusari user could injure himself with the flying weight. Despite its adjustable nature, the manriki-kusari proved weakest in confined spaces like crowded or wooded areas where the chain could not be swung freely, limiting its power (Mol 125).

The Best of Both Worlds – Kusarigama

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kusarigama

Photo by Worldantiques

Law enforcement also made regular use of kusarigama, which combined the manrikigusari and kama (Cunningham). Enemies could be kept at bay by the swinging weighted chain and then slashed with the blade in close combat.

The Japanese Mace – Chigiriki

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Chigiriki

Made of wood or metal, this staff featured a weight attached to a chain at the top that was used to trip, strike, or disarm an opponent (Campbell 63). With the chain concealed within the shaft, chigiriki could be disguised as an ordinary walking stick or staff.

Death From Afar – Yumi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Yumi

Photo by Fukutaro

The original samurai weapon, the Japanese bow has a long and storied history. Isolation from other cultures allowed Japan to develop its own unique archery tools and techniques.

Japan’s oldest hunting an ceremonial bows date back to 10,000 BCE (Friday). Without the wood binding technology of other countries, Japan developed very long wooden bows, some over 2.5 meters, to maximize their power (Friday 69). A low grip developed to account for the bow’s length, its use from horseback, or to achieve maximum power. “Whatever the reason for its initial adoption,” Friday writes, “gripping the bow two thirds of the way down its length maximizes its rebound power and minimizes fatigue to the archer far better than the more familiar centered grip” (70).

Thanks technological limitations, Japan developed an innovative bow with a distinct shooting style that predated the katana, matchlock or rocket-launcher.

 Death From Not-So-Afar – Fukiya

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Fukiya

Image from Golgo 13

Fukiya are, without a doubt, ninja weapons, as depicted in the 17th century Mansenshukai ninja scrolls (sportsfukiya.net). Blow-darts made little noise, were easy to transport and could double as flutes, pipes, or breathing straws. In a pinch bamboo or paper could be used as substitutes. Poisoning the darts made the weapon extra effective.

But Fukiya weren’t solely used as weapons. The tube could launch notes and messages to allies. Hunters also used fukiya to fell birds.

Today Fukiya has evolved into an international sport, similar to archery (fukiya.net). Capable distances range from 10 to 90 meters. Practitioners list the weapons simplicity as one of its charms.

Fire Arrows and Bohiya

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Bohiya

Photo by Worldantiques

Fire arrows and miniature rockets called bohiya could wreak havoc on wooden buildings, fortifications and naval vessels. Although originally fired by bow, the Japan’s introduction to gunpowder and firearm technology lead to portable, ignition-powered arrow launchers resembling rifles (wiki). “The incendiary material on the fire arrows was made from rope that had been waterproofed by boiling it in a mixture of water, the ashes of burnt cedar leaves, and a certain iron substance, all wrapped in paper with a fuse… During one seas battle we read of bohiya ‘falling like rain’ “(Pirates, 31).

Bombs Away – Horokubiya

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Horokubiya

Also used in naval combat, horokubiya mimicked a Chinese technique that encased explosives in iron, ceramics or paper. The bombs were filled with gunpowder and metal shards (Pirates 31). According to Stephen Turnbull’s Fighting Ships of the Far East these bombs would be launched from a rope spun overhead or via handheld catapults resembling lacrosse sticks (40-41).

Samurai Rocket Launchers – Hiya Taihou

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Hiya

Photo by Worldantiques

That’s right, ancient Japan even had its own rocket launchers. In the mid-1500’s, Portuguese firearms inspired Japanese to build their own guns and an evolved form of fire-arrows launched from portable, gun-like firearms. Mini-cannons called hiya taihou battered enemy troops and fortifications with explosive rockets made of thick wooden shafts and metal tops (wiki).

Firearms – Tanegashima (Japanese Matchlock)

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Matchlock

Photo by ryochiji

At the end of the 16th century Japan made some of the world’s best firearms. And when the West had given up the matchlock for newer technology, Japan continued to innovate, even devising ways to protect the ignition mechanism from rain. The short stock and elegant style became a trademark of Japanese firearms (Ebrey).

Despite the katana’s prominent place in Japanese warrior imagery, projectile weapons always served an important place on the battlefield and firearms proved no exception. Warlords took advantage of firearms lethal power and matchlocks became a lethal force on Japanese battlefields.

Throwing Death – Shuriken

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Shuriken

Photo by kaex0r

Widely known as throwing, ninja, or Chinese stars, Turnbull translates the term as “hand-hidden blade” (Ninja 61). Although they came in various shapes and sizes, the classic throwing star with multiple points spun in flight and therefore required less skill to throw than long throwing knives or other shapes.

Can You Dig It? – Kunai

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kunai

Photo by alelag

Kunai are dagger-like throwing weapons made famous in ninja anime like Naruto. However, the flat, trowel-like kunai made a better tool than projectile. Ninja used kunai for scaling and digging holes into the wattle, daub and plaster of castle walls (Ninja AD 61).

 Watch Your Step – Testubishi or Makibishi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Makibishi

Black Belt Magazine dubbed these weapons “thorns of surprise.” Small metal spikes resembling children’s jacks, testubishi were thrown on the ground to slow opponents down and prevent chase. Spikes were long and sharp enough to penetrate thin soles wore at the time. As writer Tiko Yamashita points out, “They could also be wielded offensively in a counterattack.” Wielders had to plan ahead, however, as the little spikes could become a disadvantage to the thrower as well.

Death In the Palm of Your Hand – Yawara

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Yawara

Photo by Evan-Amos

Sometimes called kubotan, yawara are small grip weapons that fit in the palm of one’s hand. Though they may be pointed, yawara usually have blunt ends at each side made for striking an opponent and proved especially effective on pressure points (Nardi). Rounded or hexagonal, a yawara’s greatest advantage lied in gripping the weapon, which strengthened its user’s punch and prevented hand breaks (Gambordella).

Not Just For Falling Trees – Ono

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Ono

Photo by Worldantiques

Japan’s stone axes predate those of iron and steel and made ono a preferred weapon of Japan’s ancient yamabushi or warrior monks. “The yamabushi used these pole-axes (some six feet tall) in the thick of battle, whirling them around at varying heights; or in individual encounters” (Ratti 322).

Not Just For Fighting Fires – Tobiguchi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tobiguchi

Photo by Fg2

This axe-like tool acted more like a hook and was used to clear debris away from burning buildings. “Even during a fire it was important to be armed… and one had to be prepared for the possibility of someone taking advantage of the situation and attacking” (Mol 103). As proof of their use as weaponry, some Tobiguchi featured a hook to aid disarmament. The fire tool known as “kite beak” earned the nickname “kenkatobi” (喧嘩鳶) or “fighting kite” as it popularity among commoners (Mol 104).

The Long and Short Of It- Bo and Jo

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Bo

Image from IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Dating back to the prehistoric aborigine, “the bo, or long wooden staff, is the most archaic of weaponry in Japan”(Lowry 21). Warriors took advantage of a bo’s length, striking from afar or swinging it around to ward off enemies.

Bo come in many shapes and sizes. For example, the maru-bo is round while the hakaku-bo hexagonal. While the average bo measured 5 to 6 feet or about the height of its user, the shorter jo’s length was dictated by the wielder’s preference. “The humble jo seems quite plebeian. And yet, the jo possesses many of the attributes of all three of these revered arms: the striking stroke of the katana, the thrusting reach of the spear, and the reversible striking power and indestructibility of the bo” (Lowry 21).

Kanabo

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kanabo

Photo by mamboo

The most lethal looking of the “bo” family, the metal spiked kanabo came shaped like a bo or tapered like a bat (Brown) and specialized in bludgeoning enemies. Perhaps that’s why it’s the preferred weapon of Japanese oni, a type of demon or ogre that frequents Japanese folktales. In fact, the image of an oni with kanabo is so powerful it became immortalized in a kotowaza (proverb), “oni with an iron club” (鬼に金棒 or Oni ni Kanabo) which meant invincibility.

Not Just For Nails – Otsuchi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Otsuchi

Photo by Bejnar

The giant battle hammer was used as a battering ram and probably smashed down more doors, gates and walls than enemies (Pauley 131).

Rise to New Heights – Kyoketsu-shoge

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kyoketsu

Photo by Budoka720

The kyoketsu-shoge consists of a hooked dagger attached to a rope with a ring-shaped weight at the end. The double edged dagger could be used for stabbing while the ring swung overhead and distracted or ensnared the enemy (Mol 121).

Disarmament – Jutte

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Jutte

Photo by renfield kuroda

Since only top ranking police officers could carry swords, lower ranking police officers relied on alternative weaponry like the versatile jutte. The jutte could deflect sword attacks and disarm a suspect with minimal injuries. Jutte required close proximity to be useful, but once in range the weapon could strike, entangle the clothes, restrain and even throw enemies (Cunningham).

While many claim the kagi or hook of the jutte could be used to entrap a sword blade, David Cunningham believes the kagi served to “prevent (the jutte) from slipping through the wearer’s obi (belt). The kagi may have also been used to entangle the clothes or fingers of an opponent” (67). Common among the era’s police officers, the jutte came to symbolize the job.

Restraint – Sasumata

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Sasumata

This long pole could entrap perpetrators with the u-shaped fork at its end. The pole’s protruding spikes entangled a suspect’s clothes, aiding capture. But sasumata weren’t limited to subduing criminals and “firefighters used similar tools to hold up ladders or manipulate buildings’ beams and other structures” (Cunningham 96). Today spike-less, smooth sasumata survive as restraining tools that can still be found in Japanese elementary schools, used to pacify rampaging children (an extreme rarity).

Rope-a-Dope Edo Style – Torinawa

Police used special ropes called torinawa to arrest subdued criminal suspects. “Cord loops or metal rings were often used instead of actual knots to bind the suspect… Binding someone without employing knots apparently avoided the disgrace associated with bondage” (Cunningham). Like chain weapons, versatile torinawa were easy to transport and could be hidden under the belt or robe of an officer.

The Ladies’ Choice – Naginata

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Naginata

Photo by Alton

Although used by both sexes, naginata became the standard weapon of upperclass female warriors. Also known as “the woman’s spear,” women of the ruling classes practiced and often mastered the weapon (Ratti 247). Although it resembles a spear, a naginata’s curved blade allows for sword-like strikes instead of simple stabbing motions (Ratti 247).

Climbing Claws – Shukou & Ashikou

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Ashiko

Shukou and ashikou are short spikes worn over the hands or feet. Although meant for climbing, in a pinch they could double as weapons.

Claws of Death – Tekko-kagi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tekkokagi

Photo by Sevar

Worn over the hands, tekko-kagi’s protruding metal claws could be used for scraping and striking. Descriptions of the techniques vary. Serge Mol explains one practice where the user wields a dagger in one hand and wears a tekko-kagi on the other. The claw allowed users to slash and defend with natural hand motions. With proper technique, even katana could be ensnared, disarmed or broken.

 Death Rings – Kakute

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kakute

Photo by Hyakuraiju

Contrary to intuition, users wore these rings with their spikes hidden in their palms as the kakute’s main advantage lay in its grip. One ring would be worn on the middle finger while a second ring could be placed in the thumb. Serge Mol writes, “The main purpose of the weapon was to gain a firm hold on an opponent, with the teeth digging into pressure points to cause pain… The surprise effect of this weapon would cause an opponent to lose concentration, making follow-up techniques easier” (111). Like tekko, kakute could be dipped in poison for added effectiveness (Levy 67).

Cat Scratch Fever – Nekote

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Nekotte

Image from SNK’s King of Fighters

These sharp, claw-like weapons fit over the finger tips and could be dipped in poison for lethal results (Levy 67).

Okinawa’s Weapons

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Okinawa Weapons

In 1609, Japan occupied Okinawa and outlawed conventional weapons to prevent rebellion. These limits inspired creativity and lead to weaponless karate and kobudo, Okinawa’s unique weaponry (Yamashitra 23).

Tinbe Rochin

Okinawa’s tinbe rochin, a short spear and shield combo, differs from Japan’s shieldless, bladed warrior culture. “The usage is more akin to a combination of Zulu fighting and European sword and small shield fighting” (rkagb). The vine, cane, metal, or turtle shell shield parried attacks, allowing users to counter opponents with upward strikes from a short spear (rkagb). Unlike the agricultural, fishing and Okinawa’s other tool-based weapons, the tinbe rochin harkens back to the kingdom’s ancient battle culture.

Danger Sticks – Nunchaku

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Okinawa Nanchaku

Image from Enter the Dragon

One of the most famous, glorified and downright cool weapons, legend has it that nunchaku originated as a grain pounding tool in Okinawa. Constructed by connecting two sticks with a rope or chain, nunchaku could be swung around the body for defense or wiped outwards to strike an enemy.The short sticks and foldable chain meant nunchaku could be tucked away for secrecy and easy transport.

Three Pronged Attack – Sai

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Sai

The heavy, three pronged sai traces its roots back to ancient China (rkagb). Okinawan sai are often used in pairs, though a third may be carried to replace one that has been thrown (Seiler 29). Similar to the jutte and due to their widely spaced prongs, sai made effective defense against longer weapons like bo and katana.

Side-handle Baton – Tonfa

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tonfa

Photo by Yo

This straight wooden rod with a short, perpendicular handle started as a digging tool, cookery hook, or as the handle to a grain grinding stone (Nishiuchi). Practitioners use the tonfa as a defensive guard and striking weapon. Masters could wield the weapon in a fluid spinning motion, relying on its “centripetal force,” akin to nunchaku. Tonfa are thought to have influenced the shape of modern police batons.

Paddle Your Foes – Eku Bo

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period eku

Another classic instance of a trade tool becoming a weapon, the eku bo or fisherman’s oar was about six feet in length. Eku bo techniques resembled those of a standard bo staff, but the wide, heavy end made the eku bo unbalanced and more difficult to master (wiki).

Knuckle Dusters – Tekki and Tekko

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tekko

Image by chris 論

In western terms tekki and tekko would be described as brass knuckles, but I prefer the term “knuckle duster.” Two similar theories explain the weapon’s origin, both involving horses.

The International Ryukyu Karate Research Society explains that “the use of the tekko appears to have originated when bushi in Okinawa used the shoes of their horses as a make-shift weapon to defend themselves against a surprise attack” (McCarthy). However, others describe the weapons as “iron stirrups gripped by the straight bar so that the curved upper portion wraps around the knuckles of the fist” (Seiler 36).

Although tekki made speedy striking weapons, they also offered defense against weapon strikes. However, their small surface area and closeness to the hand meant users had to be precise (and brave) to rely on tekki for defensive techniques (Seiler 36).

Death By Hoe – Kuwa

What originated as a simple farming hoe, the kuwa consists of two parts, the long handle and the blade. “When holding a kuwa with the butt-end facing your opponent and the heavy metal end to the rear, the metal actually serves as a fulcrum and helps increase the speed and dynamics of the shaft. What results is a tool that can keep pace even with fast weapons, but can then follow up with punishing, heavy blows”(Ikikaiway). Although the blade dealt maximum damage, a strike with the blunt side of the blade could stun an enemy. The blade could also be used as a hook, to trip opponents.

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Complete!

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Arsenal

Photo by T. Enami

Japan’s ancient fighting weapons ranged from working class tools like the kuwa and kama, to those created with deadly intent like the kanabo and katana. Jutte, sasumata, and other weapons meant to subdue opponents proved necessity is the mother of invention.

The overall variety of Japanese weapons inspires the imagination and continues to spark interest in ancient Japanese battle culture. Funny that Japan, a country that takes pride (for the most part) in its peaceful, safe reputation has such a weaponed, violent heritage.

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Sources:

  • Brown, Nathan Robert. The Mythology of Grimm: The Fairy Tale and Folklore Roots of the Popular TV Show.
  • Campbell, Sid. Exotic Weapons of the Ninja
  • Cunningham, Don. Samurai Weapons: Tools of the Warrior
  • Deal, William E. Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan
  • Demura, Fumio. Nunchaku: Karate Weapon of Self-defense
  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, and Anne Walthall. Pre-modern East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History
  • Friday, Karl F. Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan
  • Levy, Joel. Ninja: The Shadow Warrior
  • Lowry, Dave. Jo, Art of the Japanese Short Staff
  • Mol, Serge. Classical Weaponry of Japan: Special Weapons and Tactics of the Martial Arts
  • Nardi, Thomas. The Yawara Stick. Black Belt Magazine: Aug 1989.
  • Pauley, Daniel C. Pauley’s Guide: A Dictionary of Japanese Martial Arts and Culture
  • Ratti, Oscar, and Adele Westbrook. Secrets of the Samurai: A Survey of the Martial Arts of Feudal Japan
  • Seiler, Kevin L., Seller, Donald J. Karate-Do
  • Turnbull, Stephen R., and Wayne Reynolds. Fighting Ships of the Far East
  • Turnbull, Stephen Richard, and Wayne Reynolds. Ninja, AD 1460-1650
  • Turnbull, Stephen R., and Richard Hook. Pirate of the Far East 811-1639
  • Yamashita, Tadashi. Advanced Tonfa: Japanese Weapon of Self-defense
  • Yamashita, Tiko. Thorns. Black Belt Magazine, June 1990.
  • Fukiya.net
  • Mastering the Yawara.
  • Tonfa History and Selection
  • Kuwa – Okinawan Hoe (And Tool of Self Defense!)
  • ISBA Japan Branch
  • International Ryukyu Karate Research Society
  • Weapons of Ryukyu Kobujutsu: Tinbe-Rochin.
  • Eku
  • Bo-hiya

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Umbrellas in Japanese Culture http://www.tofugu.com/2015/08/05/umbrellas-in-japanese-culture/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/08/05/umbrellas-in-japanese-culture/#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=54681 For longer than humankind has had words to complain about it, rain has been drenching us. Trees and caves provided adequate shelter for our ancestors. Over time they even built roofs to protect their heads from the soaking assaults of the heavens. Still, finding shelter from the rain meant you were stuck in one place until it […]

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For longer than humankind has had words to complain about it, rain has been drenching us. Trees and caves provided adequate shelter for our ancestors. Over time they even built roofs to protect their heads from the soaking assaults of the heavens. Still, finding shelter from the rain meant you were stuck in one place until it relented. That is until some clever fellow had the idea of putting a roof on a stick and carrying it with him! With this new umbrella technology, people could roam wherever they pleased, safe in the knowledge that they would not be drenched.

Umbrellas have long been a feature in the daily life of Japan, and in its mirror, Japanese art. Let’s take a stroll together down the puddle-strewn alleys of umbrella history. Mi kasa es su kasa (mega  bonus bilingual pun points).

From Paper to Plastic

umbrellas-in-japanese-culture-girl-with-baby-photograph-meiji

Photo by A. Davey

Oil-paper umbrellas were a variety invented in China which spread to many neighboring countries. No one knows exactly when umbrellas were invented, but it’s thought they came to Japan via Korea during the Asuka period (538-710).

At first umbrellas were such a luxury item that they also had spiritual significance. But over the centuries some changes were made, and by the Edo period umbrellas were much more common. Still, a lot of craft went into making umbrellas.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), if you were a samurai short on dough, making umbrellas at home and selling them was an acceptable way to make extra cash. Umbrellas also became a common feature of visual and performing arts (more on that later).

From the Meiji period onward, and particularly after World War II, traditional umbrellas were eclipsed by Western style ones. Post WWII, the plastic tablecloths used by occupation forces inspired the founders of the White Rose company, who created the world’s first plastic umbrella. They took a while to catch on, but catch on they did. This trend continued to the point that 500 yen plastic convenience store umbrella are found all over Japan.

Today most of these are made in China, and White Rose is the only Japanese company still making plastic umbrellas. There are now very few artisans making traditional umbrellas, mostly in Kyoto, Yodoe, and Gifu Prefecture.

An Umbrella for Every Occasion

umbrellas-in-japanese-culture-girl-in-umbrella-snow

The Japanese word for umbrellas is kasa 傘. The kanji has four of the kanji for person 人under what one can imagine to be an umbrella. Isn’t that cute? The word for the traditional paper umbrellas is wagasa 和傘, or “Japanese umbrella.” However, there are several types.

  • Bangasa 番傘 are bigger heavier umbrellas, typically used by men.
  • Higasa日傘, or “sun umbrellas” are not oiled and only used for shade.
  • Honshiki nodategasa 本式野点傘 are large and used for outdoor events like an outdoor tea ceremony.
  • Ja no me kasa蛇の目傘, or “snake’s eye umbrellas,” are named for their pattern of concentric rings that we might call a bull’s eye. They are often lighter, with fewer ribs, and are usually used by women.
  • Maigasa 舞傘 are also light and used for dancing. In fact, maigasa may just be a name applied to higasa when they are being used for dancing.

One may also hear umbrellas referred to by their place of origin, such as Kyo wagasa or Gifu wagasa.

Umbrella Tech

how-wagasa-work-diagram-umbrellas-in-japanese-culture

Photo by JoshuSasori

Wagasa differ from Western umbrellas in some important ways. The most obvious of these is the counterintuitive decision to make wagasa with paper, a less than water-proof material. But the paper is coated with oil, armoring them quite nicely against the rain.

Wagasa also open differently than Western umbrellas. They have 30-70 bamboo ribs which spread as the umbrella is opened, unfurling the paper (which is attached along the length of the large outer ribs) along with it. Western ones open with the tension of the metal ribs forcing the covering open, and the two are usually only attached at key points.

These differences mean that the ribs of an open wagasa remain straight, while those of a Western umbrella curve, creating a dome. Finally, closed wagasa stand handle-down, rather than handle-up like Western umbrellas.

Construction

making-a-japanese-umbrella-umbrellas-in-japanese-culture

Photo by Magnus Manske

To begin, the artisan prepares the materials. Next they attach the bamboo frame to the opening/closing structure. This means fitting the many ribs into what is essentially a wooden ring with notches cut into it, and then threading all the ribs together at that base. Then a large piece of washi (traditional paper) is cut and glued to the ribs.

After drying, the paper is colored and decorated before being coated with linseed oil for waterproofing. It must then dry again for a few days or a couple weeks. Finally, a few other parts or decoration are attached.

Umbrellas in Japanese Culture

Theater

kabuki-umbrellas-in-japanese-culture

In the kabuki play “Sukeroku,” which premiered in 1713, the titular character sports unique makeup, a purple headband, and ja no me umbrella. A bit of a playboy, he uses it for keeping his hair stylish while traversing the streets of Yoshiwara.

There are quite a few umbrella dances, some of which are featured in kabuki plays, or are inspired by said kabuki dances. Other umbrella dances can be seen at some festivals. For example, in Tottori you can see an umbrella dance every August. Coinciding with O-Bon, the Shan Shan Matsuri features a parade of dancers with rainbow umbrellas. Apparently it began as a way to pray for rain. Last year they made the Guinness Book of World Records for “Largest Umbrella Dance,” with 1,688 participants.

Stories

kasa-obake-umbrellas-in-japanese-culture

Wagasa are finely crafted, beautifully decorated tools. If taken care of they could last decades. But when an umbrella survives for a hundred years it might become something…else.

Sprouting two arms and a single eye and leg, an umbrella can become a kasa obake or karakasa kozo. These are examples of tsukumogami: objects of daily life that have reached a great age and become animated. Kasa obake are not particularly harmful, but a little mischievous, and may give you a lick.

It also has a lesser known cousin, the hone karakasa or “bone umbrella.” It is a tattered umbrella that takes to the sky on wet, windy days. It is an omen of bad weather.

Art

sudden-show-in-summer-umbrellas-in-japanese-culture

Being a common feature of everyday life, and an aesthetically pleasing one at that, umbrellas can be seen in many woodblock prints. Whether in the hands of actors, geisha, or ordinary townsfolk, there are a lot of ukiyo-e featuring umbrellas. Here’s a few:

girl-with-umbrellas-in-japanese-culture

“Komachi Praying for Rain,” (c. 1810) by Toyokuni

couple-in-the-snow-umbrellas-in-japanese-culture

“Couple Under An Umbrella in the Snow,” (c.1750-1770) by Suzuki Harunobu (1724-1770).

nude-with-a-japanese-umbrella-umbrellas-in-japanese-culture

Japanese umbrellas even found their way into the paintings of Western artists, like this one by Aimé Morot (1850-1913).

Modern Culture

ninja-in-the-rain-umbrellas-in-japanese-history

Just the gentle pitter patter of the rain on my umbrella is enough to make me smile. But perhaps you’re looking for more.

How about a ninja in the rain? I saw this guy at Kumamoto Castle, and also picked up my own katana shaped umbrella, complete with samurai family crests. You can read a bit more about these anachronistic combos of awesome: umbrella katanas.

Not enough, you say? Then I give you the UnBrella, invented by Hiroshi Kajimoto. The inside opens to become the outside, keeping your pants or whatever dry when it’s closed. It also stands on its own.

upside-down-umbrella-japan-umbrellas-in-japanese-culture

Still not enough? Last October, OK Go released the video for their song, “I Won’t Let You Down,” filmed in Japan with hundreds of umbrella wielding extras. I don’t know if the band members were aware of Japan’s umbrella history, though they are on record as being inspired by Singin’ In the Rain and the now-famous Robot Restaurant. Filmed in one take, it still took four days to get it right, partly because of rain. Even though the humans had plenty of umbrellas, the weather postponed their use of personal mobility units and drones.

If that doesn’t brighten your rainy day, then you’re just a wet blanket.

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Sources:

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4 Foreigners in Traditional Japanese Roles http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/29/4-foreigners-with-traditional-jobs-in-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/29/4-foreigners-with-traditional-jobs-in-japan/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=54757 When you think of Japan, certain traditionally日本的 (typically Japanese) things spring to mind. There are some things so ingrained in Japanese culture and history that you can’t help but picture a Japanese person in association with them. And this includes traditionally Japanese jobs. However, in modern Japanese society, there are certain foreigners who have found a way […]

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When you think of Japan, certain traditionally日本的 (typically Japanese) things spring to mind. There are some things so ingrained in Japanese culture and history that you can’t help but picture a Japanese person in association with them. And this includes traditionally Japanese jobs.

However, in modern Japanese society, there are certain foreigners who have found a way to make a name for themselves even in traditional jobs in Japan. Despite the worldview that some areas are reserved for native-born Japanese people, these local celebrities have proven otherwise.

Rakugo

traditional jobs in japan for foreigners rakugo

Rakugo is a form of Japanese comedic storytelling dating back to the 9th century. It was originally called karukuchi (軽口), meaning “talkative.” But texts describing it have also called it otoshibanashi (落し噺), meaning “falling discourse.” The term rakugo (落語) literally means “fallen words,” and was first used during the Meiji Era.

During a rakugo performance, a lone performer sits onstage and tells a story. And it can last several hours. The only props allowed are a paper fan (扇子) and a small cloth (手拭). Rakugo performers, or Rakugoka, cannot leave the seiza position throughout the entire story. And since rakugo is performed solo, the rakugoka must do all the voices of the characters, including dialogue, with only slight changes in tone and pitch to show who’s speaking. Thus, rakugo has been described by Professor Noriko Watanabe as “a sitcom with one person playing all the parts.”

Rakugo was invented by Buddhist monks as early as the 9th century. Its written tradition can be traced back to the collection of stories Uji Shūi Monogatari. The monks used rakugo as a way to make their sermons seem more interesting and to better relate to their constituents. It eventually spread throughout Japan.

Modern rakugoka must be accepted as apprentices to rakugo masters before they can perform. And there are only two rakugo training centers in Japan. After observing their master and practicing the art, a rakugo apprentice can have their professional debut. They eventually finish their apprenticeship to become a full-fledged rakugoka.

In the history of rakugo, only three foreign rakugoka have been considered true professionals. The first was known as Kairakutei Black. Born Henry James Black in Australia in 1858, he lived in Japan from the time he was three years old. Black started out telling jokes and stories to people outside his father’s publishing company. He became the first foreign rakugoka after a master took a liking to him. Black became a rakugoka against his family’s wishes. He eventually severed all ties and was adopted by a Japanese family and took Japanese nationality. Black died on September 19th, 1923, and is buried in Yokohama Foreign Cemetery.

Bill Crowley is another foreigner who was able to become a professional rakugoka. He was assisted by Katsura Shijaku II, but never became an official apprentice. As a part of the HOE International performing troupe, Crowley worked alongside several other foreign aspiring rakugoka. Crowley was also a pioneer in the field of English-language rakugo, positing that the universality of the experiences described in rakugo stories bolsters its appeal across languages.

Besides Bill Crowley, the only foreign rakugoka currently performing is Katsura Sunshine. Born Gregory Robic in Toronto on April 6th, 1970, Sunshine originally studied classics at the University of Toronto. He came to Japan to study Noh and Kabuki, and worked as an English teacher at Daigakushorin International Language Academy. In 2008, he became an apprentice to Katsura Sanshi (now called Katsura Bunshi VI). Sunshine received his rakugo name in rakugo tradition, taking his master’s last name and a part of his first. He combined the “san” from “Sanshi” with the character for “shine,” pronouncing it “sunshine.” Sunshine debuted in Singapore in 2009, and completed his three-year apprenticeship in November of 2012. Sunshine is the first ever foreign professional rakugoka in the Osaka-based Kamigata tradition. Kairakutei Black was an Edo-style rakugoka.

Sunshine lives in Ise City, where he regularly performs at his own rakugo theater, Ise Kawasaki Kikitei. He also has performed in Singapore, the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, France, Australia, Sri Lanka, and Hong Kong. Sunshine appears often on Japanese television, and even performs rakugo in English in the West.

Sunshine has remarked that audiences often tell him that they are either amazed by how fluent and native-like his Japanese is, or that his Japanese isn’t nearly good enough for rakugo. So he says that reactions to his performances balance out in the middle.

Sumo

traditional jobs in japan for foreigners the great sumo

We can’t talk about traditional Japan and not mention sumo. Sumo is one of the oldest Japanese sports, but its exact origins are not clear. One theory is that sumo is the result of influences from other Asian countries. Mongolian wrestling (Bökh), Chinese wrestling (Shuai jiao摔跤), and Korean wrestling (Ssireum씨름), are all similar to sumo, and none has a definitively known creator or creation date. So it is highly possible that one of these other forms of wrestling is the parent sport of sumo.

Another theory is that sumo is based on ancient Shinto rituals. Representatives would wrestle with kami. Defeating the spirit meant a successful harvest was assured. The salt used to purify the ring before a match also has roots in Shintoism. The ring came from the 16th century, when Oda Nobunaga organized a nationwide sumo tournament, requiring an official ring and stands for spectators. Matches were held on the grounds of a shrine or temple until sumo become a professional sport during the Tokugawa period.

The first professional sumo rikishi were actually rōnin, masterless samurai who needed a new form of income. Professional tournaments began in 1684, taking place primarily in Tokyo during the Edo era. But Kansai had its own sumo, with Osaka functioning as Japan’s original sumo capital. In 1926, Osaka sumo merged with Tokyo sumo, and the Ryōgoku Kokugikan stadium in Tokyo became the new exclusive venue for sumo matches.

Sumo is still a celebrated sport of Japan, though a series of controversies and scandals concerning hazing, match-fixing, and even murder, have shaken the public’s faith in recent years.

Despite traditional roots, many foreigners have had great success in sumo. Akebono Tarō, born Chad Haaheo Rowan in 1969 in Hawaii, became the first non-Japanese-born wrestler ever to become the yokozuna, the highest rank in sumo. Since then, five other foreigners have become yokozuna, chief among them Hakuhō Shō. Hakuhō was originally known as Mönkhbatyn Dayaajargal, born March 11th, 1985 in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Hakuhō’s father was a darkhan (the equivalent of a yokozuna) in Mongolian wrestling, and even won the silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Despite this, Hakuhō’s father discouraged him from wrestling because he considered his son too small. When he was 15, Hakuhō was invited to come to Japan by Kyokushūzan, another Mongolian sumo. But Hakuhō was only 137 lbs, far too light to be an effective rikishi. Thus, no stable was willing to accept him until Kyokushūzan intervened and convinced the Miyagino stable to take him in. In 2001, Hakuhō made his professional debut in Osaka. Though he lacked real wrestling experience, Hakuhō climbed the ranks and grew bigger and bigger. He eventually reached 6’4” and 346 lbs.

Hakuhō was promoted to ōzeki, the rank just below yokozuna, in March 2006 a few weeks after turning 21. He was the fourth-youngest wrestler to reach ōzeki in modern sumo history. In 2007, Hakuhō became the third ever foreign-born yokozuna after winning two consecutive tournaments, one with a perfect 15-0 record.

Hakuhō is still an active yokozuna. He holds records for the most wins in a calendar year, the most undefeated tournament championships, the second longest winning streak in sumo history, and the second most wins of all time in the top division.

Sumo Association chairman Kitanoumi, a former yokozuna himself, has commented that “Nobody can touch Hakuhō… I’d like to see him go for 40 titles. If he keeps going the way he is, that’s a possibility.”

Enka

traditional jobs in japan for foreigners enka

Photo by Shinya ICHINOHE

Before AKB-48 and Arashi, there was a different kind of music that defined Japan; enka.

The term “enka” was first used to describe a series of “songs” from the Meiji era. These songs were actually political speeches in protest of the Meiji government. But strict laws against political dissent meant that people could not deliver speeches. So they found a loophole by singing their thoughts instead. Thus, enka was born.

As time went on, enka evolved, incorporating both traditional instruments like shakuhachi and shamisen, as well as more modern instruments like violins, guitars, and other percussion.

During the 1940s, jazz became popular in postwar Japan, which helped start the careers of many enka singers. Kasuga Hachirō is considered the first modern enka singer. His 1954 hit “Otomi-san” sold 500,000 copies in six months, and eventually went on to sell over one million copies. Enka’s popularity continued well into the 1990s, even beating out Elvis Presley in Japan. However, with Kasuga’s death in 1991, enka began losing out to more modern music like J-pop.

Younger Japanese people were not impressed by enka, and preferred more Western style music. But during the early 2000s, a new form of “hybrid enka” emerged. This new form is a cross between traditional enka and hip-hop, rap, and rock. Enka suddenly saw a resurgence in popularity.

The first non-Japanese enka singer was Sarbjit Singh Chadha, an Indian man. He released an enka album in 1975 that sold over 150,000 copies. In 2002, Yolanda Tasico became the first enka singer from the Philippines who released several singles in Japan.

In recent years, the most popular foreign enka singer has been Jero, an American. Born Jerome Charles White, Jr. in Pittsburg, PA in 1981, his maternal grandfather was an African-American who met his Japanese wife during his time as a serviceman during WWII. They had a daughter, Harumi, and eventually moved back to his hometown of Pittsburgh. Since Jero’s parents divorced when he was young, his grandmother helped raise him. This instilled in him a strong sense of Japanese culture and identity. She was the one who introduced him to enka. He began singing at the age of six, and by the time he was ten he could sing hits by great enka artists.

Jero studied Japanese all throughout high school and college. He moved to Japan after graduating with a degree in information technology from the University of Pittsburgh. He worked as an English teacher and computer engineer, but still wanted to become a professional enka singer. He’d promised his grandmother that he would one day perform at the annual Kōhaku Uta Gassen song show. Unfortunately, she died in 2005, just three years before his single “Umiyuki” was released. It entered the Japanese charts at number 4, cementing Jero as an enka professional, as well as the first black enka singer ever. He won the Best New Artist Award in the 50th Japan Record Awards on December 30th, 2008. He finally fulfilled the promise he made to his grandmother when he performed at the 59th Kōhaku Uta Gassen.

Although his lyrics are those of traditional enka, Jero’s performances are influenced by hip-hop. He wears jerseys, sneakers, and baseball caps instead of the kimono that enka singers usually wear. His traditional lyrics appeal to the nostalgia of older fans, while his modern image appeals to younger fans. Jero tours both in Japan and in the US, bringing enka across the Pacific.

Ukiyo-e

traditional jobs in japan for foreigners the great wave

Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings. Their production began in the Edo era, when Japan began urbanization. They primarily depict beautiful women, famous theater actors, sumo wrestlers, and traditional Japanese folk tales. Rather than have a single artist create their own carvings and prints, production of ukiyo-e was often divided into three parts.

  1. A carver who would create the woodblock.
  2. A printer would ink the woodblock and press the image onto paper.
  3. A publisher would finance the operation and distribute the finished products.

Modern ukiyo-e are usually not produced in the traditional woodblock and carving method. Rather they incorporate modern techniques like screen printing, etching, mezzotint, and other multimedia platforms.

Despite the evolution of ukiyo-e production, there is an artist in Japan who continues to use the traditional carving and printing methods. Originally from Toronto, David Bull first became interested in ukiyo-e when he visited a local gallery featuring woodblock prints. He became intrigued with the production process, and moved to Japan in 1986 with his Japanese wife. Bull is self-taught, and learned by studying the works of great ukiyo-e artists from the Edo era.

“My teachers were the long-gone workers from 100 years ago,” Bull said, “and I had to learn everything from scratch.”

Although ukiyo-e production is traditionally done by three people, Bull does everything. He designs, carves, prints, and publishes his own works. His works are made in series, often taking years to complete. His first series, Hyakunin Isshu (one hundred poems from one hundred poets), consists of 100 prints depicting classical Japanese poets, and took him ten years to complete, producing ten prints per year. In recent years, Bull has begun teaching young aspiring artists his techniques in addition to his solo craftsmanship, and operates with others as the Ukiyo-e Heroes production team.

Traditional Jobs in Japan Aren’t Only for the Japanese

traditional jobs in japan for foreigners sumida river hiroshige

Japan has a reputation for being a very insular country, one where a foreigner can never quite feel like they fit in. Some people say that only a native-born Japanese can adequately understand the nuances of Japanese traditions. However, history has proven that you don’t have to be born Japanese to appreciate, and even master, some of Japan’s most ancient and treasured cultural phenomena. Foreigners from other Asian countries and even Westerners who spent the bulk of their lives ignorant of Japanese culture have found their way into Japanese society, and continue to flourish today. Something that is traditionally Japanese doesn’t require a Japanese person to keep it authentic.

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Sources:

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Badass Chicks in Japanese History: Queen Himiko http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/06/badass-chicks-japanese-history-queen-himiko/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/06/badass-chicks-japanese-history-queen-himiko/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47318 When you were a wee one, did you dream of being a doctor or a lawyer when you grew up? Or maybe something even more ambitious like an astronaut? How about a shamaness-queen? Almost 2000 years ago, Queen Himiko of Yamatai raised the bar for women everywhere when she was crowned high priestess and supreme […]

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When you were a wee one, did you dream of being a doctor or a lawyer when you grew up? Or maybe something even more ambitious like an astronaut? How about a shamaness-queen? Almost 2000 years ago, Queen Himiko of Yamatai raised the bar for women everywhere when she was crowned high priestess and supreme ruler of her kingdom. As the political and religious leader of the proto-Japanese federation of Yamatai, she was beloved at home for her peaceful rule and respected abroad for her diplomatic savvy.

Himiko (also known as Pimiko) is not just any old badass chick in Japanese history. She holds the distinct honor of being the first badass chick in Japanese history. In fact, she’s the first named and confirmed (male or female) figure in Japanese history, period. Most people on earth who lived and died during the 3rd century have been rendered anonymous by temporal and cultural distance. But not Himiko. According to a recent survey by the Ministry of Education and Sciences, 99% of Japanese schoolchildren recognize and can identify her. Like Oprah or Madonna, Himiko’s on a first name basis with the Japanese general public. Meanwhile, she continues to fuel intense debate among amateurs and scholars alike concerning the exact location of her kingdom, a debate that more or less hinges on the location of her grave.

Before Japan Was Japan

queen-himiko-kofun-scenery

Photo by Saigen Jiro

Himiko’s reign roughly spanned the first half of the 3rd century, long before the Japanese islands were the single political entity that we now call Japan. Rather, the archipelago was scattered with hundreds of “countries” or clan-nations linked into regional confederations. Agricultural communes had started giving way to diversified kingdoms. Political power became increasingly consolidated and social status increasingly stratified. Historians and archeologists often refer to these decades as a “transitional era” between the Yayoi (300BC-300AD) and Kofun (250-538AD) periods—hence the overlap in dates.

What qualified someone to rule one of these emerging kingdoms? Well, it helped if you were on speaking terms with the gods, or at least could convince other people that you were. As in many other ancient (and not so ancient) societies, religious authority was linked to spiritual authority in 3rd century Japan. Luckily for Himiko, female shamans were highly regarded in the folk religion and proto-Shintoism of the time, considered to be capable of banishing pesky malignant spirits on the one hand and speaking on behalf of divine spirits on the other. Since women had equal access to the spiritual realm, they also had access to the political realm. So far from being the shamaness-queen, Himiko was likely one of many shamaness-queens.

queen-himiko-kofun

Another quirky characteristic of the times lent its name to the Kofun Period. At their most basic, kofun are big piles of dirt. Impressively big piles of dirt shaped like keyholes. First constructed in the mid-3rd century, these large earthen mounds served as mausoleums for deceased rulers. They began to appear in the Kyoto-Osaka-Nara region and then spread throughout the archipelago in tandem with the increasing dominance of the Yamato clan. Over 5,200 have been identified so far in a variety of standardized shapes and uniformly staggering sizes. Himiko may have received one of the first such burials. Stay tuned for more about that.

“Queen of Wa Friendly to Wei”

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The little we know about the life and times of Himiko has been gleaned from a combination of written Chinese (and Korean) histories along with archeological verification. Before the Japanese began to record their own history, the Chinese did everyone the favor of writing some of it for them. The History of the Kingdom of Wei (297 AD) stands alone as the first written source about Japan. However, at that time Chinese historians relegated information about the “Land of Wa” (their name for Japan) and its peoples to the flattering “Accounts of the Eastern Barbarians” section of their histories, almost as an afterthought. At any rate, it’s got lots of juicy information about Himiko and her kingdom. Later Chinese dynastic histories reiterated and confirmed the information included in this first history, and the oldest surviving Korean text (Historical Records of the Three Kingdoms, 1145 AD) briefly describes Himiko’s relationship with the Korean peninsula. Collectively, this is what they can tell us:

During the second half of the 2nd century (ca. 147-190 AD), the lack of a capable leader plunged the Land of Wa into political turmoil and violent upheaval. Finally, in 190 AD the unmarried shamaness Himiko was chosen by the people to rule. Installed in a palace with armed guards and watch towers, she was served by “1,000” female attendants while her “brother” acted as a medium of communication, transmitting her instructions and pronouncements to the outside world. After ascending to the throne, Himiko went on to restore order and maintain peace like a boss for the next 50 or 60 years.

In addition to upholding her religious duties, Himiko presided over more than 100 “countries” that acknowledged her as their ruler. But she didn’t just stay in her own backyard. On behalf of the entire federation of Yamatai, Himiko dispatched diplomatic missions to China at least four times during her reign. In recognition of her legitimacy, the Chinese Wei Dynasty bestowed upon her the title “Queen of Wa Friendly to Wei” along with a nifty golden seal and over 100 ceremonial bronze mirrors. I know that might not seem very exciting now, but back then mirrors were THE ULTIMATE status symbol. A decent stash of mirrors could turn you into the coolest kid on the block.

Unfortunately, the party couldn’t last forever. In 248, Queen Himiko died. Some uppity dude reportedly attempted to succeed the throne in the wake of Himiko’s death, but his reign was heavily resisted and short-lived. According to Chinese sources, order was restored again only once the 13-year-old Queen Iyo took the throne—who just so happened to be a relative of Himiko. I guess badassery ran in the family.

But that’s not all. In Himiko’s honor “a great mound was raised, more than a hundred paces in diameter” and 100 of her attendants, um, euphemistically “followed her to the grave.” The aforementioned “great mound” was almost certainly one of the first kofun ever erected. Just a few years ago in 2009, a group of Japanese archeologists claimed that they had identified Himiko’s tomb as the Hashihaka Kofun in Sakurai City near Nara. Radiocarbon-dated artifacts found on the periphery of the Hashihaka Kofun date to between 240 and 260 AD. In other words, the time of Himiko’s death. Unfortunately, the Imperial Household Agency has designated Hashihaka a royal tomb and thereby forbids further excavation, so we may never know with certainty.

Himiko’s Legacy: From Hero to Zero and Back

queen-himiko-statue

Truth be told, Himiko didn’t have much of a legacy until the late Edo period (1600-1868). How did such badassery go unrecognized for so long? Well, in large part this is because she was conspicuously snubbed in the first Japanese texts, the mythic Kojiki (712) and the mytho-history Nihongi (720). Neither Himiko nor her kingdom are mentioned in either, despite the fact that the writers of the Nihongi clearly reference and cite the Chinese histories where she appears. Did they just skip those pages or something? Scholars attribute this blindness to the fact that the 8th century Japanese ruling house was consciously emulating patriarchal Chinese ideals and institutions. And this ideological framework didn’t leave much room for the existence of shamaness-queens. Meanwhile, the Japanese adoption of Buddhism and Confucianism didn’t do much to elevate the status of women, either. So in the interest of looking cool by Chinese standards, the Japanese court just decided to pretend Himiko and her ilk hadn’t existed.

Luckily, she wasn’t permanently erased. Queen Himiko and her kingdom of Yamatai resurfaced during the Edo period with the work of philosopher-statesman Arai Hakuseki and scholar Motoori Norinaga. Between the two of them, they started one of the oldest and most heated controversies in Japanese scholarship: where was Himiko’s kingdom of Yamatai? Hakuseki rejected the Japanese histories as inaccurate, threw his weight behind the veracity of the Chinese records, and claimed that Himiko’s country of Yamatai had been in the heart of Japan—the Kyoto-Osaka-Nara region known as the Kinai Plain. Norinaga, on the other hand, rejected the Chinese histories as inaccurate, upheld the veracity of the Japanese histories, and went so far as to claim that Himiko’s kingdom of Yamatai had merely fooled the Chinese government into thinking that they were the ruling clan.

Norinaga’s view became dominant throughout the ensuing decades from the Meiji era through the end of World War II. During this time questions about Himiko’s kingdom became tangled with the nationalist-imperialist politics of the day. With the emperor enshrined as divine, rejecting the ancient Japanese histories could be viewed as an attack on the imperial system in general—and some historians who refused to conform lost everything at the hands of censorship laws. One such professor was Naka Michiyo, who from 1878 until the end of his life continually criticized the chronology of the ancient histories and disproved Norinaga’s claims about Yamatai.

In the post-war era, historians and archeologists picked up where Naka Michiyo left off, digging into the ancient texts as well as various archeological sites. Between 1955 and 1964, a series of archeological discoveries ignited the debate about the location of Yamatai—including the excavation of a tomb near Kyoto with numerous bronze mirrors possibly dating from the 3rd century. The 1960s through the early 1970s witnessed what the media proclaimed as a “Yamatai boom” as the debate became a national obsession ping-ponging between claims for Kyushu and the Kinai. Suddenly everyone was clamoring to claim Himiko.

Himiko Today: Town Mascot, Role Model, X-Rated Fantasy?

queen-himiko-manga

Photo by geraldford

In life Himiko was a religious and political leader. In death she’s become just about everything else. As a historical figure, she’s turned out to be remarkably pliable, probably because so little is known about her and the little that is known about her creates such fertile soil for the imagination. As a result, she’s been repurposed and repackaged in all sorts of ways. For example…

Thanks to the debate over the location of Yamatai, several cities in Japan claim her as a sort of town mascot. In Kyushu, there are statues of her outside Kanzaki Station, near Miyazaki Takachiho Gorge, and on the grounds of the Himiko Shrine in Hayato.

The city of Yoshinogari holds an annual bonfire festival that climaxes with the appearance of a costumed “Himiko” and a Kyushu brewery released “Himiko Fantasia” shochu.

Over in the Kinai region, Sakurai City (where Hashihaka Kofun is located) features Himiko on signs, online, and in person (well, at least a person in a mascot costume). City leaders have created online Himiko-themed anime shorts, and there’s a municipal webpage devoted to her called “Himiko-chan’s Page.”

As a role model Himiko can symbolize female power, innate occult abilities, national origins, and even good eating habits. No kidding, she’s the poster girl for a school campaign that urges students “to chew your food as thoroughly Queen Himiko did” in order to improve digestion and tooth health.

You can even be crowned “Queen Himiko” by participating in one of a number of Queen Himiko Contests, which are more or less beauty pageants. Women 18 and older are eligible to compete for a substantial cash prize on the basis of their charm and appearance—which is a bit depressing when you consider Queen Himiko’s historical worth probably had nothing to do with her ability to put on eyeliner.

badass-chicks-in-japanese-history-himiko-mascot
Sakurai City Mascot

Himiko has also served as the inspiration for characters in numerous films, novels, manga, anime, and video games. A powerful and dignified Himiko rules with authority and grace in the 1967 bestseller “Maboroshi no Yamatotaikoku.” The 2008 film version of the book starred a venerated Japanese actress as Himiko, and her image in the role was selected for a set of commemorative stamps by the Japanese government.

And then for something entirely different, an irresponsibly promiscuous, Himiko meets her downfall in the 1974 film drama “Himiko” directed by Masahiro Shinoda.

In addition to a symbol of female power (whether for good or ill), Himiko has also been used as a tool for political critique. The first book of manga maven Osamu Tezuka’s acclaimed Phoenix series depicts a vain, power-hungry Himiko as the first of many vain, power-hungry rulers throughout Japanese, and world history—“power leads to corruption” being the main theme that Tezuka pursues throughout the rest of the series. And one of Kobayashi Yoshinori’s political cartoons features Himiko in order to argue for changing the imperial succession laws to allow for the throning of an empress.

Himiko pops up all over the place. A Himiko clone appears in the manga Afterschool Charisma and in the anime Shangri-la. The 2013 Tomb Raider video game reboot features a menacing Himiko as its primary antagonist. The Legend of Himiko encompasses an anime, manga, and video game series that appeals to pre-teen girl power sensibilities. And for the 18+ set, Taniguchi Chika’s erotic manga series aimed at women stars none other than Queen Himiko in various X-rated adventures. So whether you’re looking for a despotic villain, a role model, a symbol of national or local identity, a naïve shrine attendant, or a sexual fantasy, there’s a Himiko out there for you.

What’s So Great About Queen Himiko?

queen-himiko-book-cover

Photo by 皇なつき

Himiko ruled a kingdom 2000 years ago, fuels a bunch of debate about said kingdom, and continues to get a lot of face time in modern Japan in the form of statues and stamps and just about everything else. As impressive as all that is, what makes Himiko noteworthy is that she wasn’t unique in her time. In the earliest periods of Japanese history, women more generally had public authority, economic power, and spiritual prestige. The historical figure Himiko is merely representative of the heights of the political and religious leadership that women in Japan held prior to the importation of Chinese, Buddhist, and Confucian ideology. And even after these patriarchal influences first took root, it was many decades (centuries, even) before ideology and practice fully merged (if indeed they ever did).

In other words, Himiko was not an anomaly. She was merely the first notable ancestor of a strong tradition of female religious leaders (a la miko priestesses in Shinto) and political leaders (a la empresses) in Japanese history. Over time women’s roles may have devolved from active initiators to assistants in both spiritual and secular realms. But Himiko serves as a shining example that symbolically reflects the many other (now anonymous) women who were also leaders in their communities.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources:

  • “History of the Kingdom of Wei (Wei zhi) ca. 297 C.E.” Translated by Tsunoda Ryusaku (Sources of Japanese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600; 2001)
  • “Gendered Interpretations of Female Rule: The Case of Himiko, Ruler of Yamatai” by Akiko Yoshie, Hitomi Tonomura, and Azumi Ann Takata (U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal; 2013)
  • Japan Emerging: Premodern History to 1850 by Karl Friday (2012)
  • “In Pursuit of Himiko: Postwar Archaeology and the Location of Yamatai” by Walter Edwards (Monumenta Nipponica; Spring 1996)
  • “Rebranding Himiko, the Shaman Queen of Ancient History” by Laura Miller (Mechademia; 2014)

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A Japanese Citizen Studying “Abroad” in Her Own Country http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/03/homesick-during-study-abroad-in-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/03/homesick-during-study-abroad-in-japan/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=52955 Just a couple weeks ago, I graduated college. I’ve been going through a whirlwind of emotions, good-byes and transitions into the “real world.” At the same time, I’ve been reflecting on my past 4 years as an undergrad. There are a lot of things that college grads easily remember. The friends we made, the countless all-nighters, silly (and perhaps stupid) shenanigans. But for […]

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Just a couple weeks ago, I graduated college. I’ve been going through a whirlwind of emotions, good-byes and transitions into the “real world.” At the same time, I’ve been reflecting on my past 4 years as an undergrad.

There are a lot of things that college grads easily remember. The friends we made, the countless all-nighters, silly (and perhaps stupid) shenanigans. But for some, study abroad tends to be the most memorable and most life-changing experience. I’m included in this. I studied abroad in Tokyo, Japan. Or as my friends call it, I “studied at home.”

I am Japanese. I was born in Japan and raised there for part of my life. I speak the language fluently and visited my home country countless times. So why did I decide to study “abroad” there?

Why Study Abroad in Japan?

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I originally planned to study abroad in China. I wanted to continue working on my Chinese and take classes related to international affairs. A visit to Tokyo during my spring break in 2013 changed this.

My family often visits Japan during the summer or winter. So it was the first time in 12 years that I was going to see Japan in its springtime glory.

And boy, was it amazing.

It was probably the weather– scratch that, it was the weather. There was something so memorable about the sunny days with cherry blossoms in full bloom. The locals hosted ohanami (cherry blossom viewing parties) everywhere. Everyone looked happy, basking in the sun, drinking and enjoying themselves under the pink-petaled flowers so iconic to my country. Everything looked and felt so different. This wasn’t the “hot, humid and sticky summer” Japan or the “cold, icy winter storm” Japan that I was familiar with.

Springtime Japan gave me the idea, “why not study here?” My writing and reading skills definitely needed intensive work. I rarely wrote Japanese, aside from the text messages I exchanged with my parents. Aside from occasional glances at the Japanese news, I rarely read Japanese in college. I had also received approval to pursue my thesis research on immigration in Japan. Why not conduct field studies during my time abroad?

Last and most importantly, I had the strong desire to explore and see Japan beyond the concrete, busy metropolis of Tokyo.

Enamored with spring and filled academic goals, I decided to change my study abroad destination to Tokyo. My parents were pleased to have their daughter back in her birthplace and studying her own language and culture. As the day of departure approached, my head was filled with all sorts of dreams about exploring Tokyo, and going beyond the city to other regions of Japan.

But things didn’t go as planned.

Homesick During Study Abroad in Japan

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Photo by Tracy Lee

Most study abroad programs (if they’re anything like my university’s) are full of orientations. Each session consists of discussion on everything and anything we might need to know before we leave. Once we get to our destination, they orient us even more. Much of it is very necessary, like understanding the school system, knowing what to do if you get sick, etc. Our Tokyo study abroad group had an extensive session on the psychological aspects of study abroad. Specifically, the struggles of adapting to a new environment and the homesickness that often comes along with it.

I’ll be completely honest here: I was naive when it came to these homesickness orientations. I am Japanese. I speak the language fluently, and had visited Japan many times. Homesickness was the last thing on my mind. “Why would I feel homesick in my own country?” I thought to myself. “There’s no way I could feel confused.”

Looking back, I want to slap that clueless girl in the face and tell her to straighten up. In reality, I felt like a total foreigner in my own country, for at least the first month of my study abroad.

Lifestyle changes hit me hard, both physically and mentally. As I commuted an hour and a half to get to school, shifting through the crowded streets of Tokyo, I began to question the mass media harping on about Japan’s population decline. I was physically and mentally exhausted by the hustle and bustle. How did locals manage to live with this every day? After a few weeks of post-arrival euphoria, I was sick of being in the concrete jungle.

Communication Struggle

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I never imagined communication would be an issue. I understood what everyone was saying, and I was able to ask for help whenever I needed it. But for the first couple weeks, I couldn’t communicate “smoothly,” for a lack of better term.

Conversations felt strained and misunderstandings were common, especially with other Japanese students my age. Perhaps this was because I was unaware of how Japanese young adults talked with each another. For much of my life, my parents were the only Japanese people I spoke the language to.

There was a particular time when I was speaking with another Japanese girl in a club I had joined. I was speaking formally with everyone, ending all my sentences with “~desu” and “~masu.” Finally, the girl looked a bit offended and asked, “Why are you talking like that?”

I didn’t know that speaking formally is weird when the other person isn’t your sempai. She and I were in the same grade, and I created a weird “wall” between us. All because I didn’t know how to converse with people my age.

Because I was raised in the American education system, the concept of sempai-kouhai was hard for me to grasp. How do you determine if someone’s a sempai? Is it physical age, or is it grade? Is it the amount of experience they have on a particular activity? Or is it the position within a specific organization (i.e. clubs)?

Can’t I just talk formally to everyone? Oh wait, that builds an “invisible wall” around you. So why can’t we just talk informally to everyone, then?  Right, because it’s disrespectful.

Identity Issues

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Identity issue was a little more complex for me to dissect and understand. It bothered me for weeks. Whenever I interacted with other Japanese students my age, they were confused.

“So you’re American?”
“No, I’m Japanese. I was born here, but raised there.”
“So you’re Jun-Japa?! (純ジャパ) Why are you studying here then?!”

At various school functions where local and international students interacted, many of them regarded me as an “American student.” But once we began to converse in Japanese (as any study abroad student should), they began to question my real identity. To them I was what they call a Jun-Japa (純ジャパ)– pure Japanese. But this Jun-Japa was NOT speaking and acting Japanese.

At times, I think this dual identity strained conversations and relationship-building. There I was, a Japanese national, who spoke and understood Japanese. But I didn’t look or act the part.

I spoke English better than Japanese, and donned the typical American college kid attire of T-shirt and jeans. I looked so different from the local Japanese girls and their impeccable appearance.

Maybe the “American side” of me was coming out a little strong in Japan, confusing both me and everyone else.

I also had trouble communicating with Japanese people outside school. Should I act American or Japanese? How do Japanese people my age act anyway? What does it even mean to be American?

Figuring It Out

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I didn’t think it was be possible. But there I was, completely lost like a stranger in my own country. As exaggerated as it sounds, I began questioning my identity. Was I too Americanized to be considered as a “Japanese girl?”

Looking back, I realize that I was comparing Japan to the country that I visited when I was younger. Visiting Japan for just a month is far different from actually living and studying there for 4 months.

Perhaps it was because I didn’t take the thought of homesickness seriously. Maybe it was because I was reading Murakami’s Norwegian Wood (the most depressing sh*t ever). Nothing made sense and I became sad at the most random moments. Within weeks of starting my study abroad, I was missing the comforts of California, my university, and my friends and family. I quickly became frustrated, sad, and angry.

Shaking It All Off

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Photo by きこう

For me, the first step to overcoming this sense of frustration was admitting I was naive. Yes, Japan was my birthplace. But for a girl who’s lived over half of her life abroad with little contact to a large Japanese community, Japan was a brand-new country. I had to take it in little by little, and stop comparing it to the country I had visited so often in the past.

I had to think about why I was struggling to live in Tokyo. I had to consider different approaches. I was tired of the concrete jungle, yes. But I hadn’t considered Tokyo to be more than it’s famous locations. Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro can be fun, but I hadn’t given other neighborhoods a chance. I ended up exploring the less-crowded spots, like quiet residential neighborhoods and the homely shitamachi (下町) areas. I often found solace just walking around these areas and finding little new things here and there.

I found great relief in talking about my issues with other study abroad students. It turns out most of us had felt pretty “out of place” at certain times during our time in Tokyo. We shared about times we felt bad, times when we felt good, and how we adjusted to the society. Just talking with others and learning that I wasn’t the only one feeling like total crap was reassuring.

I decided to go beyond my school’s campus and meet Japanese people doing interesting things. I took an internship at a journal publisher. I learned a lot from the editor-in-chief and other Japanese interns. I got a sense of what it was like to work along other Japanese people.

I even managed to catch up with some old friends– including ones I haven’t seen in 14 years! I also got to meet with students from other universities doing some really interesting projects.

Besides these, time and a whole lot of napping helped. There would be days I felt super energetic and ready to go explore. And then there were days when I felt too frustrated and just wanted to go home and nap.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made it go away. But little by little the feeling of being “lost” dissipated. It took time to come to terms with all the different people, sites, and ideas that I was seeing every day. But eventually I felt pretty situated in the country I once called “home.”

Rewards from the Journey

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Me at the highest point in Japan, Mt. Fuji

Everything got better after the initial “slump.” And looking back, there’s a whole lot I have to thank Japan for.

My writing and reading definitely improved. I was surrounded by the language wherever I went. Not only was I speaking Japanese on a daily basis, but I was writing and reading a lot in class. I read Japanese newspapers daily. I was surrounded by Japanese ads on the trains and came home to a share house where Japanese was the common language. The effects of daily language engagement are still with me. It’s overstated, but being completely immersed in the language kicks up your skills.

I think the people I met and befriended, whether they were Japanese or from other countries, my time abroad special. I encountered people of all ages, employment, and personal backgrounds. It was always interesting to see how they viewed Japan, how they viewed America, and exchange thoughts on all kinds of topics, silly and serious.

I got to travel and explore Tokyo and beyond. I think I had somehow always tied “Tokyo=busy” and “Japan=Tokyo” to my psyche. But Japan can’t be defined by its capital alone. In a sense, I got a better view of the country in its entirety, not limiting myself to certain ideas or images that I grew up with.

But most importantly, I learned how the “familiar” can feel “foreign.” I realized my identity was not something that could be clearly defined. I was Japanese by citizenship and ethnicity. But because of my upbringing, I can’t completely associate myself with Japanese culture. All in all, I got comfortable living in this “gray” zone, mixing languages and cultures of the two countries that are a part of my identity.

In a sense, my time abroad gave me an idea of what it really means to be “open-minded.” We all claim to be welcoming of new ideas, people and values. But it’s not until we’re placed in a foreign situation that we realize how capable we are of embracing “foreignness.” For me personally, it turned out I was a little more stubborn than I thought. It took a little more time and thought for me to accept the ways my own country.

This summer, I’ll return to Tokyo, this time for an indefinite period and to work as a shakai-jin (社会人, “Member of society”). Hopefully I’ll be a little wiser this time around. Though I’ll expect to feel like a “stranger” sometimes, perhaps I’ll learn to move better with the pushes and pulls and find my place in this crazy but amazing country.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[Desktop ∙ 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ∙ [Mobile]

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Anime’s Great Deception – The Difference Between Anime and Cartoons http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/01/animes-great-deception-difference-anime-cartoons/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/01/animes-great-deception-difference-anime-cartoons/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=51850 Even as a child, I sensed something different about cartoons like Robotech and Voltron. Compared to other shows, they struck me as serious, dramatic and stylish. Each episode contributed to a longer narrative and when something changed, it remained that way for the rest of the series. The straight-lined art affected me me in a way other cartoons’ softer, rounded styles never did. Something […]

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Even as a child, I sensed something different about cartoons like Robotech and Voltron. Compared to other shows, they struck me as serious, dramatic and stylish. Each episode contributed to a longer narrative and when something changed, it remained that way for the rest of the series. The straight-lined art affected me me in a way other cartoons’ softer, rounded styles never did.

Something was different, though I couldn’t put my finger on it.

At the time I didn’t know these cartoons came from Japan, where they had different titles, and occasionally different narratives. I didn’t know that one day I’d become a fan of the medium, a style of cartoon called anime.

Anime differed from standard Western cartoons. Back then anime fans would tell you, Japanese anime is better. Cartoons are “kids’ stuff.” With complicated stories, deep character development and themes fit for adults, anime eschews the label of cartoon and makes claims on being a higher art-form.

Of course anime’s visuals fuel its purported pedigree. Fans laud anime for its detailed art, style and fluid animation. Wait… fluid animation?!

嘘つき! (Uso tsuki! Liar!)

In reality, what set anime apart from other styles is its deliberate lack of fluidity and use of limited-animation. By ignoring the era’s animation standards, animation studio Mushi Pro revolutionized the medium.

And by taking advantage of two factors – television’s access to Japanese households and the popular manga series Astro Boy – Mushi Pro created both Japan’s first anime as well as its first anime boom. Mushi Pro’s ingenuity created a controversial style of animation that lacked animation and this deceptive style and marketing tradition continues today.

Anime’s Success Ingredient 1: Television

Image from Always Sanchōme no Yūhi

Television’s proliferation in Japanese households provided the access anime needed to reach its audience.

Japan’s post-war era saw furious physical reconstruction and economic growth. Mass and personal transportation made commuting possible and helped cities grow. With a rebuilt infrastructure, Japan’s economic boom hit full swing.

After prices leveled out and necessities became readily available, households had more spending money than ever before. Affordable commodities like refrigerators, rice cookers and washing machines made life more comfortable. The economic growth continued.

For the first time, average people could afford the extravagant. Television ownership boomed. “In 1960, 55 percent of households owned a TV set, by 1964, TV ownership had grown to 95 percent, owing… to the crown prince’s televised wedding in 1959 and the 1964 Olympics” (Steinberg). Widespread TV ownership gave broadcasters access to nearly every household and allowed the country’s first anime series to take Japan by storm.

Anime’s Success Ingredient 2: Astro Boy

Difference Between Anime and Cartoons

Image from Astro Boy

As we learned in Michael Richey’s Anime Before It Was ‘Anime’, Japanese animation dates back to the early 1900’s. But pre-war productions are best described as cartoons, not anime. Richey explains, “Anime, as we all know it now, began with Osamu Tezuka’s style and production methods and everyone in Japan following his lead.”

Prior to Osamu’s Astro Boy (鉄腕アトム, Tetsuwan Atomu), animation occupied a marginal position in Japan’s cultural consciousness. Japanese studios faced limitations that made competition with foreign studios impossible. Meager budgets meant Japanese studios faced an uphill battle against foreign features’ financing, sound and color (Hu).

Although the need for wartime propaganda fueled the production of pro-war cartoons like Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors (1945), the war effort, government censorship and widespread destruction stifled Japan’s manga and animation industries.

After the war, Japan’s movie studios looked to beautiful animation from abroad for inspiration. Fully-animated features from China and the US provided the blueprint. Instead of forging their own path, Toei, Toho and other Japanese studios sought to imitate their foreign rivals.

As a result, Japan’s studios produced theatrical features. Despite Japan’s intense post-war recovery, animation remained too time consuming and too cost prohibitive for television. But Astro Boy‘s 1963 debut changed everything.

“Manga god” Tezuka Osamu aimed to do the impossible and conquer the television market. His animation company Mushi Pro ignored the era’s animation philosophies, goals and influences. When all was said and done, Mushi Pro’s Astro Boy anime rocketed to popularity and sparked a paradigm shift in Japan’s animation industry.

Forging a New Path

Difference Between Anime and Cartoons

Image from Sakigake! Cromartie High School

In the West “anime” means “animation from Japan.” Myanimelist.net, a Western anime and manga databasing site, refuses to list a series unless it’s Japanese (to the chagrin of Avatar: the Last Airbender fans).

However, the average Japanese person considers all forms of animation to be “anime,” regardless of style or country of origin. I’ve even heard live action series like Kamen Rider, Metal Heroes and Super Sentai referred to as “anime” in conversation.

But industry insiders and purists (Hayao Miyazaki for example) define “anime” as a “limited-animation” style popularized by Japanese studios. Envisioned by Tezuka Osamu, limited-animation techniques lowered production costs while speeding up the production process, making animation feasible for television broadcast.

Difference Between Anime and Cartoons

The full animation made famous by Disney and embraced by Japan’s studios used too many cels (the transparent sheets artists drew and painted images onto, then layered and photographed to make a frame of animation), required too large a staff and took too much time to make its production suitable or even possible for TV.

However, Osamu realized animation need not be fluid or fully animated to be enjoyed by audiences. After all, by flashing still images in rapid succession, even live action films create a flase illusion of motion.

Film theorist Christian Metz explains,

Motion… is always perceived as real. Since motion is never a tangible thing… there is no difference between the perception of motion in everyday life and the perception of motion onscreen. (Steinberg)

Mushi Pro, Osamu’s studio, developed a style of “moving manga” noted for its “limited” animation. Associate animation professor at Kyoto Seika University Nobuyuki Tsugata writes, “From the start Tezuka… intentionally created anime, not animation.” (Steinberg)

As the first television anime, Astro Boy reused cels, relied on visual and audio tricks and used fewer frames of animation to create an illusion of full motion.

Mushi Pro’s Yamamoto Eiichi explained, “In the end we completely did away with the techniques of full-animation. Then we adopted the completely new technique of making the manga frame the basis for the shot, moving only a section of this frame.” (Steinberg)

Audiences loved the result. Astro Boy became the first official “anime” and gave birth to the popular, marketable style than continued through the likes of Tetsujin-28Neon Genesis Evangelion, and onward.

The Difference Between Anime and Cartoons

Difference Between Anime and Cartoons

Photo from Giovanni’s Island

Through Astro Boy, Mushi Pro created a style of animation that relied on stillness, giving their anime a specific style and nuanced definition. Nobuyuki Tsugata explains the result,

Anime is an animation form that 1) is cel based 2) uses various time and labor saving devices that give it a lower cel count… and 3) has a strong tendency toward the development of complex human relationships, stories and worlds. (Steinberg)

Marc Steinberg adds three tenets to the list, 4) anime is organized around distribution outlets (like TV and DVD) 5) it is character-centric 6) it is inherently transmedial.”

Miyazaki Hayao’s Studio Ghlibli, rejects anime’s style and techniques. In The Anime Machine, Thomas LaMarre recalls how Studio Ghibli documentaries and exhibitions

almost completely exclude those forms of Japanese animation that commonly fall under the rubric anime. Clearly the goal… is to shore up a lineage of Japanese animation (called manga film) that stands in contrast to anime.

By refusing to call his films “anime,” Miyazaki draws a definitive line between anime and other forms of animation (Steinberg).

Limited-Animation’s Definitive Techniques

making naruto

What techniques made Astro Boy, the first televised anime possible, and why? Some sped up production. Others cut costs. Although each technique served a convenient purpose, the following techniques created anime’s appealing and striking style.

1) Three Frame Shooting

Full-animation features twelve to eighteen unique images per second. The result is smooth, fluid, “life-like” motion. Limited-animation uses significantly fewer frames. On average, anime studios employ eight images per second, but fewer frames can be used (Steinberg).

Mushi Production staff “got away with only fifteen hundred to eighteen hundred drawings per twenty-five minute episode… The same program length done in full-animation would require around ten times that, or eighteen thousand drawings.” (Steinberg)

Although less fluid, anime maintained the illusion of motion. Three-frame shooting cut production costs and time and became an anime standard.

2) Stop-Images

In cases of location and crowd shots or facial close-ups, Mushi Pro employed a single, still image.By blocking or obscuring a character’s mouth, animators even utilize stop-images in scenes where characters speak. When cast among the rhythm of other shots, accompanied by music, sound-effects or narration, the image’s stillness goes unnoticed.

3) Pull cels

When a character or object crosses the frame at a fixed distance, animators found redrawing or fully-animating the image redundant.

Instead, animators move the single animation cel across the background. One cel does the work of many, saving time and money. Although the character or object appears to move, it is a still image. Once again animators create motion despite a lack of true, fluid animation.

4) Repetition

The technique of repetition relies on the reuse of cels or animated sequences within a single sequence. For example, a running character maybe reuse the same “running” cels several times while the background scrolls to create the illusion.

5) Sectioning

In sectioning, parts of a shot are animated while others are stop-images. In the picture above, Astro Boy’s body is a single, fixed cel. His arm is a separate image that the animators manipulate to create motion.

6) Cel Banking

Cel banking involves reusing the same animation cels and therefore same animated sequence (Steinberg). For example, a single Astro Boy flying sequence might be reused throughout the series’ production. When cel banked sequences are viewed in succession, the trick becomes obvious. But disguising their reuse with rhythm or different backgrounds creates the illusion of original movement despite repeated viewings.

6) Lip-Synching

Through lip-synching, mouth cels are animated over a static face. Audiences focus on the mouth and dialogue while ignoring the still image. Short shot length and rhythm hide the fact that only the mouth moves. Just as face cels could be banked and reused, animators used these mouth animations again and again.

8) Short Shot Length

Short shots and editing rhythm don’t give audiences time to realize images lack animation. Quick cuts create rhythm and hide static images, creating the illusion of animation.

9) Special Effects Layers

Special effects layers are cels placed over a still image to create onscreen effects without full-animation. Beads of sweat dripping down a character’s face, tears, rain, the sparkle of an eye, and the pulse of a vein all create the illusion of animation. Effects appear and move as a pull cel (sweat rolling down a face) or in repetition (falling rain).

10) Camera Movement

Camera techniques also help fake movement. Pulling away, zooming in, panning across a shot, or fading in or out creates a sensation of movement without actual animation. Animators couple the shots with narrative or other sounds to further distract viewers and complete the illusion.

Mushi Pro did not invent these techniques. The studio’s influences include animated television commercials, Hanna Barbera cartoons, and Japanese traditional theater. But Mushi Pro mixed old techniques with the new and created a stylized form of animation fit for television production.

The Virtues of Limited-Animation

deception.08

Limited-animation succeeded by decreasing production time and costs – two factors vital for television broadcasting. Here’s how.

The reuse of animation cels lowered costs by decreasing the need for supplies like blank cels and paint. Animators spent less time drawing and coloring since limited-animation used fewer unique images. These factors allowed studios to meet television’s high paced production.

Studios based anime series off of preexisting manga which meant staff spent less time and effort on development since plots, story boards and dialogue had already been planned out. Basing anime on manga also provided pre-established exposure and fan-bases that original series lacked.

For a full-animation production, high level artists spent countless hours drawing and redrawing characters frame by frame. The costly process consumed time and resources. By utilizing techniques that saved time and money, limited-animation streamlined the animation process with industrial efficiency.

Limited-animation removed some of the artistry from the production process. Studios outsourced episodes and in-between animation cels to other studios or unskilled labor. The strategy allowed for faster, cheaper production. Although the practice has come under fire, outsourcing has been a common practice since the dawn of anime. In fact, Mushi Pro outsourced production of the original Astro Boy series, relying on Studio Zero and P Production to produce some episodes (Brubaker).

By ignoring the animation industry’s original goals, Mushi Pro’s Astro Boy proved animation could be produced for television. From its reuse of animation cels to its reliance on manga and outsourcing, limited-animation makes production faster, cheaper, and more efficient.

Limited-Animation’s Unlimited Style

Image from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Limited-animation’s time and cost cutting techniques lead, whether intentional or not, to anime’s definitive style. Marc Steinberg explains,

Unlike the full-animation of Disney, limited-animation relies on the minimization of movement, the extensive use of still images and unique rhythms of movement and immobility… We must think of limited-animation not in terms of immobility but rather in terms of the very mobility of the still image… a different kind of movement or dynamism.

Limited-animation’s lack of movement empowered static images; anime’s style struck audiences in ways full-animation never did:

Instead of (creating) fluid cinematic movement across the screen or within a world, limited-animation allows bodies to leap from field to field, from image to image, and even from medium to medium. (Lamarre)

In other words, limited-animation’s deliberate cuts and rhythm of images creates sensations absent from traditional fluid animation. While full-animation can be beautiful and breathtaking, limited-animation trills viewers with stylized editing, bold still-shots, cool poses and dramatic effects.

Image from Dragon Ball Z

Moreover, static images make characters recognizable by their silhouette or trademark poses. Limited-animation favors character and graphic design over actual animation.Thomas LaMarre explains,

As limited-animation deemphasized full-animation of characters, it increasingly stressed character design, and the degree of detail and the density of information became as important as line, implied depth, and implied mass… Limited-animation tends toward the production of “soulful bodies,” that is, bodies where spiritual, emotional, or psychological qualities appear inscribed on the surface.

Character details, like hair styles, outfits, and accessories, allow viewers to draw conclusions about characters with just a glance. The trend of character design and reliance on superficial imagery like cat ears and eye patches has fueled the moe (萌え, pronounced [mo.e]) boom.

Image from Astro Boy (live action)

Anime reproduces manga in ways live action cannot. Animation studios recreate a manga’s style, angles and at times exact panels for their animated versions. Marc Steinberg writes, “The same character, in the same drawing style and in the same poses, now inhabited manga and anime alike – not to mention the other media forms to which the character image migrated.”

Image from Bakemonogatari

Limited-animation’s inherent style created striking, recognizable and stylized imagery. Anime series recreated manga in ways live action and fully-animated productions did not. And so limited-animation’s limits became the style’s greatest strength!

Synergy: A Marketing Dream Come True

Image from Gintama

Limited-animation lends itself to “synergy” or a “product mix” between media and consumerism (Lomash). Television anime reaches a wide audience and creates new fan-bases for pre-established manga and characters. Fans take pride in supporting their beloved series through consumption. Anime’s market synergy crosses mediums including film, games, music, figures and accessories.

Anime’s still images offer potent marketing synergy. Character silhouettes warrant instant recognition and cheap reproduction (Harvey). Character poses, logos (like One Piece‘s logos) and other trademark characteristics (official straw hats) lend themselves to brand recognition. Steinberg states,

The dynamic immobility of the image and centrality of the character are also what have allowed anime to forge connections with toys, stickers, chocolates and other media-commodities, developing the media mix and its modes of consumption that are so essential to anime’s own commercial success – and survival.

Anime-inspired products allow characters to inhabit fans’ everyday lives. Steinberg recalled the success of Astro Boy sticker campaigns, “The Atomu image was suddenly able to accompany young fans in all areas of their lives, always there to remind them of their favorite character and his narrative world.”

By purchasing merchandise, fans gained ownership and grew closer to a series. Character goods gave added value to everyday objects. With the addition of a character image or logo, boring commodities like notebooks, pencils and toothbrushes become special. Applicable items like stickers and patches mean fans can customize and synergize anything (Steinberg)

Fans’ love for marketable characters proved more profitable than the love for intangible narratives and stories. Since the Astro Boy boom, popular anime characters have come to saturate Japan, inundating all facets of life.

Would “Anime” By Any Other Name Look as Sweet?

To some, anime’s popularity and marketing synergy pale in the face of “low quality” animation. Full-animation purists, like the old Toei Studios and Miyazaki, resisted the new wave of Japanese animation. Their features feature the full movement of characters. These studios took honor and pride in smooth, fluid animation. They sought to “produce the ‘illusion of life.” (Steinberg)

Astro Boy‘s popularity shocked them all. Astro Boy and its successors flaunted their lack of realism. Animation critic Joji Hayashi contends, “limited-animation does not try to hide from the spectator the fact that it is an unreal image.” (Steinberg) Although anime’s techniques create an illusion of motion, it does not try to emulate reality as full-animation does.

The debate continues today. Miyazaki and other full-animation purists connect animation to reality. In a recent interview Miyazaki bemoaned the current state of anime. Otaku are ruining the industry, he said, by creating stylized and therefore unrealistic character driven works.

But animation expert Roger Noake counters,

There is a danger in confusing full-animation with good animation. At its best it can be excellent. But if full-animation is used as the norm by which all other animation is judged, this can promote a cruel and narrow attitude (Hu).

Not all full-animation is “good.” At times full-animation looks so real it becomes surreal, even unnatural and awkward. In extreme cases like rotoscoping, a technique of tracing live film footage, the resulting movement is so fluid that it can actually be distracting.

Beauty Lies in the Perception of the Beholder

Image from Astro Boy

Although limited-animation may not better represent reality, it may better represent our perception of reality: the way humans observe, process and remember information.

Do we notice and process every detail in everyday life? Selective attention theorists say no. “Individuals have a tendency to orient themselves toward, or process information from only one part of the environment with the exclusion of other parts. “(Beneli)

In fact, human perception didn’t develop to create photographic representations of the surrounding world. Daniel Simmon explains,

The goal of vision isn’t to build a photograph…of the world in your mind… The goal of vision is to make sense of the meaning of the world around you.”

This quote suggests limited-animation’s lack of motion and details eases our understanding of characters, narratives, and themes. Although full-animation mimics reality in detail and fluidity, limited-animation tunes into human perception by focusing on the raw, concentrated meaning of the world around us; albeit fictitious, animated worlds.

The Grand Illusion

But does that even matter? Dismissing any animation does a disservice to the medium. Who says animation has to be fluid? Or realistic? Or entertaining? (Oh right, Miyazaki does.) Animation’s greatest strength lies in its lack of rules, versatility and in its ability to tackle an endless variety of subject matter.

When live-action faced technological limits, animation broke the shackles of filming reality. Unlike those films, animation made anything imaginable possible. And when full-animation’s limits hindered television production, Tezuka Osamu and Mushi Pro had the insight to create animation by eliminating animation. Their methods for producing cheaper anime at a fast pace became the industry standard and the striking style has gained a fanbase around the world.

Researching this article has proven a double-edged sword. Although I loved learning about the animation process, I will never view anime the same way again. The knowledge has highlighted moments of pull-cels, sectioning and reuse have received highlights. Instead of enjoying the illusion, I notice techniques.

Yet my newfound sensitivity makes little difference; anime’s striking style, great characters and cool narratives overcome all. Despite acknowledging the deception, I can’t help but enjoy and appreciate it. As Marc Steinberg says, a book, comic or DVD has almost no value as an object: “Value is in the consumption, the enjoyment.”

Bonus Wallpapers!

AstroBoyPuppetShow-1280
[Desktop ∙ 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ∙ [Mobile]

Sources

  • Allain, Paul. The Art of Stillness: The Theatre Practice of Tadashi Suzuki.
  • Beneli, Iris. Selective Attention and Arousal
  • Brubaker, Charles. The Lost Astro Boy Episode.
  • Harvey, Chris. Silhouette 64 Success Secrets
  • Hollingworth, Andrew. “Visual Memory for Natural Scenes: Evidence from Change Detection and Visual Search.” Visual Cognition 14.4-8 (2006): 781-807.
  • Hu, Tze-yue G. Frames of Anime: Culture and Image-Building.
  • LaMarre, Thomas. The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation.
  • Lomash, Sukul, and P. K. Mishra. Business Policy and Strategic Management.
  • Richie, Donald, and Paul Schrader. A Hundred Years of Japanese Film A Concise History, with a Selective Guide to DVDs and Videos.
  • Say, Allen. Kamishibai Man.
  • Steinberg, Marc. Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan.
  • Wikipedians. Anime and Manga.

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Ashigaru – Japan’s Overlooked And Underappreciated Warriors http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/29/ashigaru-japans-overlooked-and-underappreciated-warriors/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/29/ashigaru-japans-overlooked-and-underappreciated-warriors/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=53480 Samurai get too much credit. Japan’s foot soldiers, the ashigaru, started as nothing more than farmers pulled from the fields to swell a daimyo’s army. Yet as time passed they became a professional fighting force included in the samurai caste. Stories like to depict Japanese wars filled with samurai sword duels. But the truth is that […]

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Samurai get too much credit. Japan’s foot soldiers, the ashigaru, started as nothing more than farmers pulled from the fields to swell a daimyo’s army. Yet as time passed they became a professional fighting force included in the samurai caste. Stories like to depict Japanese wars filled with samurai sword duels. But the truth is that samurai themselves lamented the rise of “ashigaru warfare” as the humble foot soldier stole their thunder.

The Origins of Ashigaru

ashigaru-peasant-farmer

Ashigaru were foot soldiers that made up an extremely large but historically silent part of ancient Japan’s armies. Understanding them, though, first requires a look into the origins of samurai. The image most of the world has actually comes from the final, dying days of the warrior class. It was only after Japan was unified and its civil wars ended that samurai became master swordsman. In the earliest days of Japanese warfare, samurai served primarily as mounted archers. The earliest accounts don’t even mention swords, but instead judge samurai by how well they could use a bow.

War on foot was primarily carried out by conscripted farmers. They were an untrained bunch, though, and the weapons they used were either farming tools or those looted off dead samurai. Not considered soldiers so much as fodder, they were neither outfitted nor paid. Compensation came in the form of loot, which turned out to be substantial. Being an ashigaru proved far more lucrative than being a simple farmer. This led to large numbers of vagabond fighters tagging along with samurai armies.

The Shady Years

ashigaru-kyoto-onin-war

Peasants quickly realized that fighting wars could make them wealthier than working the land, and many simply give up farming to become full time fighters. Another kind of ashigaru was born, one who prowled the edges of the battlefield joining whichever side seemed more likely to win. They were mercenaries, unreliable and unruly. Their rate of enlistment was as high as their rate of desertion. Many of them didn’t even know where they were or which side they were on. As long as it was the winning side and there was money to be made, it didn’t matter.

This unscrupulous brawler gave the ashigaru a shady image, which was cemented when they burned down the area that was to become Kyoto during the Onin War. They were branded as a dangerous, almost criminal element. Samurai tolerated them only because they were necessary for war. This is why we never hear about them except in the background of tales about samurai. Japanese writers were more interested in writing about the noble warrior class than peasant mercenaries.

But Japanese warfare was heating up and ashigaru had become proto-soldiers. The samurai were always a well-trained fighting force, but once large numbers of ashigaru mercenaries entered the fray, warfare intensified. The ashigaru were now semi-professional, and somewhat competent in a variety of weapons. One of which, the uchigatana, would help forge samurai into what they later became.

Early accounts had samurai battles being private duels that moved through a series of weapons and ended in hand to hand brawling. While these stories were certainly exaggerated, what we can clearly see was that they didn’t have any special preference for swords. Katana actually evolved from an ashigaru weapon called an uchigatana. It was essentially a cheap, disposable katana. Uchigatana were worn like the typical katana we know today, at the hip. So they could be both drawn and used to strike in the same motion.

Samurai, meanwhile, had been using a different type of sword called a tachi, which was worn on the back. Drawing and striking required two separate motions. As Japanese warfare began to become more fierce, samurai needed a faster sword. They quickly adopted the ashigaru uchigatana, which later evolved into “the soul of the samurai.”

An Upwardly Mobile Class

ashigaru-Battle-of-Nagashino

As daimyo’s campaigns became increasingly lengthy, victory didn’t favor the bold, but the rich. Wealthier rulers grew even more powerful because they had enough resources to keep men both at war and at home tilling the fields. The transformation of ashigaru from vagabond to professional soldier began when rulers started preferring full-time soldiers to seasonal ones..

As daimyo relied more and more on ashigaru, they began outfitting them with better weapons. Most notably, they were trained in the use of bows so they could meet an enemy’s calvary charge with a volley of fire. But now that bows were in the hands of commoners, the image of samurai as elite archers disappeared. It was much to the dismay of many samurai philosophers, who called the change of tactics “ashigaru warfare.”

Another weapon ashigaru had in common with the samurai was the spear. Samurai actually fought with spears long before they even touched their swords. They were actually told not to have a favored weapon, since they would have to rely on many throughout a battle. There is evidence that at times even the upper ranks of samurai fell to a skilled ashigaru spearman, who likely received a promotion to samurai upon presenting his master with their head. Ashigaru spear units were particularly prevalent due to the cheapness and effectiveness of the weapon.

Since ashigaru were using the same weapons as samurai, they started receiving some of the same extensive training. The fighting prowess of some ashigaru became so well regarded that the more elite members even served on daimyos’ personal guard. Their skills rapidly closed in on and at times even surpassed the samurai. One famed general boasted that he could make 10 ashigaru fight like 100 samurai. These ashigaru commanders were called “ashigaru taicho.” Despite having command over mere commoners, they were listed among the elite of Japan’s generals. Ashigaru came not only to be recognized as valuable assets of war, but the first step for commoners wanting to become full-fledged samurai.

Ashigaru and Guns

taneshima-gun-used-by-ashigaru

Photo by PHGCOM

The samurai hated guns. The rifles Japan had received from abroad offended Japan’s warrior class. The idea that anyone, even a lowly peasant, could kill a fully-trained samurai with only the twitch of a finger was an insult. Even the bow was preferred to guns since it took years of training to master. Guns, on the other hand, took only a few days to learn.

But daimyo saw the potential of guns, and were more concerned with securing victories then cultivating their servants’ honor. They quickly absorbed firearms into their armies. Given the samurai’s hatred of the “crude” weapon, when guns were introduced to Japan they were deemed peasant fare, and largely placed in the hands of the ashigaru.

To say firearms were the deciding factor in ending Japan’s seemingly endless civil wars would be an overstatement. But without them it isn’t likely Oda Nobunaga would have been able to put down his rivals to succeed in unifying Japan. They played a key role in his battle against rival daimyo Takeda Shingen’s feared calvary force. Their battle was a turning point for the ambitious, young Nobunaga’s quest for power. He had incorporated firearm-equipped ashigaru into his front lines, who met the mounted charge of Takeda’s samurai with a volley of rifle fire. It broke the Takeda charge, allowing Nobunaga’s forces to eventually win the battle, but also making rifle-wielding ashigaru a critical part of the fighting.

The Ashigaru Who Became Master of Japan

ashigaru-toyotomi-hideyoshi

Photo by Victor Lee

The most notable ashigaru was Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who rose from humble peasantry to become the undisputed master of Japan. Hideyoshi was the adopted son of an ashigaru under Oda Nobunaga, the unifier of Japan. Though it’s somewhat disputed, it’s said that Hideyoshi was Nobunaga’s sandal bearer. Regardless of his exact position, though, he rose to become one of Nobunaga’s generals after a series of successes.

After his master’s death, Hideyoshi supported his grandson’s succession, though he was actually only grabbing power for himself. After a series of conflicts he eventually succeeded in putting down his rivals, and assumed Nobunaga’s place as the master of Japan. Although the system wasn’t designed to allow peasantry to climb to the very height of political and military power, it happened. Being an ashigaru was the one avenue that the son of a farmer could become the most powerful man in Japan. All it took was talent, a lot of ambition, and a little political scheming.

At this point, though, things changed for the ashigaru. Hideyoshi feared another commoner rising to take his place one day, so he kicked the ladder out from under any potential usurpers by freezing Japan’s class system. The result, though, was that any fighting man was now considered a samurai. Under Hideyoshi, ashigaru had officially joined the warrior class. Though there were different ranks that determined benefits like like pay and land ownership, as time elapsed, there was no distinguishing between ashigaru and higher ranks of samurai. The line separating them had grown too thin.

The Rise to Samurai

ashigaru-the-battle-of-sekigahara

While samurai get all the glory, the ashigaru were fighting alongside them from the very beginning. Centuries of battle had transformed them from conscripted farmers into fighters of, at times, equal skill. Eventually, it came to the point it is now. When we say the word “samurai,” we don’t realize that we’re also saying “ashigaru.”

Bonus Wallpapers!

Ashigaru-1280
[Desktop ∙ 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ∙ [Mobile]

Sources:

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The Epic Diplomacy of Winter Sonata in Japan http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/26/epic-diplomacy-winter-sonata-in-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/26/epic-diplomacy-winter-sonata-in-japan/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=52909 It’s no secret that Japan and Korea have a strained relationship. It wasn’t even 20 years ago that Korea lifted their ban on Japanese media (it was partially lifted in 1998, and fully lifted in 2004). While they aren’t the best of friends at present, they have definitely warmed up to each other. Kind of. Politically, […]

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It’s no secret that Japan and Korea have a strained relationship. It wasn’t even 20 years ago that Korea lifted their ban on Japanese media (it was partially lifted in 1998, and fully lifted in 2004). While they aren’t the best of friends at present, they have definitely warmed up to each other. Kind of.

Politically, Japan and Korea are still at a stand-off, disputing island territories, bemoaning past colonization, and inflating their nationalistic tendencies. The recent China-Japan-Korea talks are attempting to put bandages on historical wounds. Many were surprised that the meeting was planned at all.

Yet, culture-wise, Korea is making waves all over Asia, especially Japan. Where traditional politics failed, Korean pop culture has succeeded. K-dramas have persuaded Japanese people to take an interest in Korean history and culture. This “Korean Wave” all started with a love story and an actor named Bae Yon Joon.

The Beginnings of the Korean Wave in Japan

Winter Sonata in Japan

After a devastating civil war and rough transition into democracy, South Korea wanted to boost its economy . Through various government-aided plans, Korea began developing its soft power in the forms of technology and pop culture. The country was very successful, exploding in popularity in all of Asia and even as far as Iran and France. Yet, Japan still wasn’t on board. There were two reasons for this:

  1. The aforementioned frostiness between the two.
  2. Japan was not interested in Asian pop culture. They aligned themselves more with Western pop culture and found their fix with American, French, and Italian imports. They just weren’t interested in the rest of Asia.

Japan didn’t want what Korea was selling and, conversely, Korea wasn’t selling. Winter Sonata, in particular, was actually aimed at the Filipino audience.

On top of this, Korea’s grudge against Japan gave them no incentive to market to them. Their wartime past led to Korea banning all forms of Japanese pop culture until 1998. They wouldn’t even allow children to use Japanese mechanical pencils.

Despite all this, Winter Sonata was released in Japan. And it took off big time. Yoon Suk Ho, director of the drama, was stunned. Japan had a nationwide crush on the male lead. Japanese women were suddenly convinced that Korean men make good boyfriends. Interest in Korean culture and history spiked.

It was so popular that it even got adapted into an anime, manga, and two separate musicals. The anime was voiced by the original cast (in Korean) with Japanese subtitles. Later a Japanese version voiced with Japanese actors was made. A musical adaptation toured throughout Japan in cities like Tokyo, Sapporo, and Osaka before heading to Korea. For the 10th year anniversary, a new musical was created by prominent Korean musical theatre stars and composers, renewing the Winter Sonata fervor.

Bae Yon Joon, the male lead and superhunk from Winter Sonata, created a $2.3 billion rise in business between Japan and South Korea. Tourism from Japan to Korea rose 40 percent. Even the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi said, “I will make great efforts so that I will be as popular as Yon-sama.”  You know you’re popular when a PM wants to be like you.

The Winter Sonata Breakdown

winter-sonata-on-bike-junsang-yujin

To understand why Winter Sonata was a success in Japan, you have to know the plot. Japan took an interest in Korean culture and Korean family politics because of how vital family structure is to the Korean household. Japan has a similar family structure, a familiarity which helped the show succeed. Seeing Koreans place importance on values that Japanese people also hold dear highlighted the similarities between the two cultures.

Furthermore, the romance in Winter Sonata is chaste, with only 2 kisses (closed-mouth!) in the whole series. The drama centers around the idea of a first love. Many claim that Winter Sonata’s nostalgia factor led to its popularity with middle-aged Japanese housewives.

The Bae Yon Joon character was also pivotal for the show’s success. He was seen as manly, yet sensitive and caring. He had deep affection for his love interest and respect for his mother, but was also intelligent and successful in his career.

Below is a spoiler-laden synopsis for those who want to better understand the story’s effect on Japan without sitting through 20+ hours of show:

Jun-Sang (played by Bae Yon Joon), the main character, moves to a rural city in South Korea. He is a talented, introverted student and is welcomed by his classmates. His mother refuses to tell him about his biological father and he begins to to have an identity crisis.

Jun-Sang develops a friendship with his classmate Yu-Jin. The friendship soon turns into…romance! Suddenly, Jun-Sang gets into a terrible accident, suffering brain-damage and memory loss. His mother, upset by the pain her son has suffered, takes him to a psychologist who erases the memories of his painful childhood. She renames him Lee Min-Hyeong, telling everyone that Jun-Sang passed away. They move to the United States and Min-Hyeong becomes a successful architect.

Min-Hyeong’s work takes him back to Korea where Yu-Jin sees him on the street, thus igniting the feelings of her first love. Min-Hyeong has no memory of his life in Korea and therefore doesn’t recognize Yu-Jin. This sets up the rest of the drama and suspense, as Min-Hyeong recovers his childhood memories and falls back in love with Yu-Jin.

Japan, Post-Sonata

kcon-korean-wave-fest

Photo by Peter Kaminski

After Winter Sonata, the Korean Wave, which was already going strong in the rest of Asia, finally took off in Japan. Interest in Korean restaurants boomed. Travel to Korea from Japan increased. Winter Sonata’s filming locations enjoyed special attention, of course. Korean language schools received record numbers of members. There was an estimated $4 billion increase in trade between Japan and Korea. More and more Korean celebrities became famous in Japan, a market that is usually off-limits to foreign talent.

Kpop groups like Big Band and 2NE1 gained superstar status. Dramas like Coffee Prince, Brilliant Legacy, and You’re Beautiful followed Winter Sonata’s legacy and became hit TV shows.

However, after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, nationalism took root in Japan. Korean pop culture began disappearing from the mainstream. Although the programs and hype had fallen to a whisper, fans remained.  The Korean Wave became a niche interest amidst the nationalist movement. The Dokdo/Takeshima island dispute only further riled up the nationalism within Japan and Korea, thrusting politics upon celebrities and placing Korean idols in an awkward position. Either they distance themselves from the dispute and anger their Korean fans (and “betray” their roots) or side with Korea and Dokdo and no longer be marketable in Japan. Seriously, no win-win situation. World War II disputes (especially the heated topic of comfort women) flared up again, raising tempers and reigniting decades-old tension. Anti-Korean protests took place outside Fuji TV station and there was a decrease in the availability of Korean programming. The Korean wave seemed to slow to a mere trickle.

But after a few years lying low, the wave began to surge anew. In 2014, a Korean drama went primetime in Japan for the first time. Iris broke out of K-drama’s daytime TV status, and competed with primetime Japanese shows.

Just a few months ago on April 22, 2015, KCON The Korean Wave Fest was held in Japan with over 15,000 in attendance. This is the first time such a large celebration of Korean culture was held in Japan. The audience, primarily young people, celebrated Korean food, cosmetics, fashion, tech, and industry. Fans took part in mini dance competitions, copying idols’ iconic dance videos. Attendees learned Hangeul (the Korean writing system) to make signs for their favorite stars. Fans were even allowed to leave letters and notes in boxes for performers.

The Winter Sonata in Japan Continues

winter-sonata-pachinko-machine

The cultural exchange between Japan and Korea has done wonders for the relationship between the two. A decade ago, Korea had just fully lifted the import of Japanese products. Now they are hosting a Korean culture convention in Japan with thousands of attendees. Healthy tourism, business, and entertainment trade continues to strengthen the soft power of their relationship.

The Korean Wave is not just about pop culture and trading fandoms. It influenced the politics and attitudes of entire countries. Most importantly it improved the relationship of two nations whose animosity seemed too deep to overcome. Such wonderfully positive things springing from middle-aged Japanese women and their crush on a hunky actor.

Bonus Wallpapers!

KoizumiWinterSonata-1280
[Desktop ・ 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile 1 / 2]

Sources:

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What Is a Butsudan? And Why Are People Paying $630,000 for Them? http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/24/what-is-a-butsudan-and-why-are-people-paying-630000-for-them/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/24/what-is-a-butsudan-and-why-are-people-paying-630000-for-them/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42268 Have you ever been to a temple in Japan and thought, “I wish I had some of this amazingness in my house?” Then the Japanese butsudan (仏壇) is for you. A butsudan is a small, household Buddhist shrine. Its exterior often resembles a simple cabinet, with two outward opening doors. Of course, they can also exhibit more […]

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Have you ever been to a temple in Japan and thought, “I wish I had some of this amazingness in my house?” Then the Japanese butsudan (仏壇) is for you.

A butsudan is a small, household Buddhist shrine. Its exterior often resembles a simple cabinet, with two outward opening doors. Of course, they can also exhibit more elaborate and elegant, designs.

The inside is what makes the butsudan so special. It houses a religious icon, namely a Buddhist statue or image. The name-tablets of one’s ancestors are harmoniously positioned alongside it. A plethora of religious items called butsugu are also arranged inside.

The butsudan is actually unique to Japan. No other Buddhist countries partake in this practice (except some Mongolians). Because there are so many temples in other Asian countries, people don’t need to make altars in their homes.

Wait a minute. There are a lot temples in Japan too! Why do Japanese people need an altar in their own homes? When did this custom start? Let’s uncover the mystery of the Japanese butsudan.

What Is a Butsudan?

japanese-emperor-tenmu

The butsudan actually has its origins in ancient India. Practitioners of early Buddhism made a platforms of mud and venerated gods there. It wasn’t long before roofs were added to shelter the platforms from rain and wind. It’s said that this is the origin of temples.

Buddhism eventually made its way to Japan via China, where it took off.

On March 27, 685, the Japanese Emperor Tenmu issued an edict. It stated that each family in every country (pretty presumptious of him, eh?) must make a Buddhist altar that holds a statue of Buddha and the Buddhist scriptures and conduct prayer and memorial services in front of it.

The 27th day of each month was designated as “Butsudan Day” by the Zen-Nihon-Shuukyou-Yougu-Kyoudoukumiai (全日本宗教用具協同組合), which literally means “Japan’s Religious Utensil Dealer Cooperative.”

And that’s where butsudan came from. Right?

Wrong!

The current butsudan is not directly descended from the above-mentioned imperial edict. So how did the current butsudan come to be? There are actually two theories.

#1: The Nobility’s Private Buddha Statue Hall

byoudouin-phoenix-hall

Photo by 663Highland

Some of the nobility had their own 持仏堂 (jubitsudou). This a private place where a Buddha statue and ancestor tablets were kept. During the Nara period, the arrangement of items was set up in a small building outside of the house. However, it only began to be placed inside the house during the Heian period.

For example, Fujiwara-no-Yorimichi (藤原頼通, 992 – 1074) had Byoudouin-Hououdou (平等院鳳凰堂, Phoenix Hall of Byodoin temple). Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満, 1368-1394) had Rokuonji (鹿苑寺, Kinkakuji temple). These massive complexes acted as their own personal jibutsudou.

According to famed historian Takeda Choshu (竹田聴洲, 1916 – 1980), the above mentioned jibutsudou was  eventually made into the smaller butsuma (仏間), which means “a room for Buddha.” It was further reduced into what we now know to be a butsudan, so that it could be put indoors.

#2: Soul Shelf

soul-shelf-what-is-a-butsudan

Photo by kani kani

Tamadana (魂棚) literally means a soul shelf. In practice, it is an altar to greet spirits of ancestors and the recently deceased during Obon. While its shape varies by region and period, one example is a board affixed to four upright corner pillars made of bamboo or wood. With this image in mind, it’s not surprising to learn that people often used tea tables instead.

The father of native Japanese folklorists, Yanagida Kunio (柳田國男, 1875 – 1962), claims that the tamadana birthed the modern bustudan. It transitioned from its temporary Bon festival usage to a place of permanent installation and eventually became the butsudan.

Although there are two theories, the first theory is regarded as the more likely of the two.

The Spread of Butsudan

rennyo-the-creator-of-butsudan

Photo by Joe Jones

In the Muromachi period (1336 – 1537), the eighth head of Hongan-ji temple was named Rennyo (蓮如).  He restored the Jodo Shinshu sect and gave his followers scrolls with the script namuamidabutsu (南無阿弥陀仏), which is an homage to the Buddha of infinite light and life. He encouraged them to enshrine the scrolls in their own butsudan.

When they made their own butsudan, they imitated what was found in the head temple of their respective sect and made it out of gold. This paved the way for the current kin-butsudan, which literally means golden butsudan.

The Jodo Shinshu sect set many standard rules regarding the butsudan. Even now, the sect says the principal image of a butsudan should be a hanging scroll acquired from the head temple of a family’s ancestral temple.

Eventually, butsudan spread outside the Jodo Shinshu sect as family mortuary tablets became common.

In the Edo period, the Shogunate created a system called terauke-seido (寺請制度 ) in which a Buddhist temples certified people as members of their temple. This new system forced individuals to choose a specific temple for their family and support it. To demonstrate membership to the temple, each family had to install a household butsudan for morning and evening worship. Additionally, they were asked to invite a family temple priest to hold memorial services to commemorate the anniversaries of their ancestors’ deaths.

This custom became widespread among commoners and the butsudan became an integral part of Japanese family life.

What Goes in a Butsudan

butsudan-in-a-home-gold

The arrangement and types of items in and around the butsudan vary depending on sect and the size of butsudan.

A butsudan usually has doors with an embellishment of a temple gate and three stairs. The highest stair is called shumidan (須弥壇) and is reserved for the most important butsudan item, specifically a Buddha statue. The area above shumidan is called kyuuden (宮殿) and is considered the holy place. It is the area within the butsudan that must be occupied by the Buddha statue, which tipically rests on the shumidan. Alternatively there could be an image of Buddha placed on the back wall of the butsudan, occupying the holy place.

An accompanying statue or image of Buddha is placed on one side of the butsudan and the founder of the respective sect is placed on the other side. There is a vast array of items (butsugu) that could be placed in the butsudan. But it would take up a lot of space in this article, so I’ll skip those today.

What Doesn’t Go in a Butsudan

no-lottery-tickets-japanese-in-the-butsusdan

While there are many things inside a butsudan, there are also some things that don’t belong.

“Officially,” photographs should not be placed inside. Neither should certificates, trophies, or lottery tickets because a butsudan is not a place to expect benefits. Despite this, many people put these things in their butsudan. In fact, my family in Japan places stuff like this in their butsudan all the time.

I once asked my mom why we place things like that in our butsudan, and she said it was to let our ancestors know how we are doing. Although I’m not sure if my ancestors can actually see that stuff, I guess it can’t be completely wrong since the butsudan is used to pray to your ancestors anyway.

How Much Does a Butsudan Cost?

japanese-kinbutusudan-butsudan-buddhist-alter-in-japan-gold

Photo by Gnsin

According to research conducted by いい仏壇.com in June, 2011, most people pay between 100,000 to 500,000 yen for their butsudan (about US $1,000 – $5,000). While not the majority, a staggering 20% people paid over 500,000 yen for theirs. Even more impressive is that 1.2% of the people paid over 2,000,000 yen.

Niconico Douga’s Butsudan Incident

niconico-official-logo

Considering only one percent of people pay more than 2 million yen for a butsudan, 63 million yen seems completely ludicrous!

Someone on Niconico Douga, a Japanese video sharing website, bought a butsudan for 63,000,000 yen (about $630,000)!

This incident occurred on August 7, 2008. It went for a price never before seen. Before this, the product which made the most money on the Niconico Douga online market was Hatsune Miku vocaloid software which sold for 28,900,000 yen. Of course, this is an aggregated price of everyone who ever bought that product, so naturally it would be that high.

The butsudan not only broke the record and doubled that number, it did it with one sale. Everyone thought that the overpriced butsudan was a joke. More surprisingly, the exact same butsudan was sold again the next day for the same price!  This, of course, became huge news.

Niconico market only counted it as a sale after the product was shipped. This was to make sure it wasn’t a fake order. Letting the time lapse on the site’s cancelation/shipping agreement makes this a possibility.

Once it was shipped, the sale of those two butsudans was finalized.

On August 11, one more was sold, as well as a 62,000,000 yen butsudan. On August 15, another one was sold. The world never ceases to amaze.

However, on August 18, the butsudan shop which originally posted the butsudan in question, announced they filed a police report about fake orders. They wanted to identify the criminal and demand compensation. The following day, two more 63,000,000 yen butsudan were sold. The butsudan posting was deleted on August, 24th. It seems likely that they could have all been fake orders, but nobody knows if every single one was. It’s possible that some of them were jokes and others, likely fewer, were real. At any rate, even if one was real, buying such an expensive item online is pretty ridiculous.

Best Place to Buy Butsudan?

butsudan-in-a-home-expensive

No matter the price of the butsudan, buying one online is pretty crazy. We’re talking artisan craftsmanship here. These things are gorgeous and ornate. Not something you really want shipped in a box.

There are lots of places to buy butsudan in Japan. But probably the most unique is in Kanagawa. You can buy butsudan in a drive-thru. No, マクド didn’t start selling butsudan. This is a real place where you can shop for butsudan from your car.

I went there to explore this unique butsudanery (not a real word, but it sounds nice). Check out the travel post later this week. Until then…

Bonus Wallpapers!

Butsudan-5120
[Desktop ∙ 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ∙ [Mobile 1 / 2]

Sources:

  • 国史大辞典編集委員会 『国史大辞典』第7巻、吉川弘文館、1986年
  • 日本歴史大辞典編集委員会 『日本歴史大辞典』第5巻、河出書房新社、1985年
  • 「お仏壇とは」(鎌倉新書サイト)
  • いい仏壇.com
  • ニコニコ大百科
  • Niconico Market Listings

 

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Jet Program Culture Shock Part 1: Defining Culture Shock http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/23/jet-program-culture-shock-part-1-defining-culture-shock/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/23/jet-program-culture-shock-part-1-defining-culture-shock/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=53317 As you get ready to depart for JET, you’ll be researching a lot of things. Preparing for a new life takes a lot of work. In articles, handouts, guidebooks, and seminars you’ll come across a scary term: culture shock. You’ll definitely be told that it’s unavoidable and not very fun. Let me tell you two things: It’s […]

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As you get ready to depart for JET, you’ll be researching a lot of things. Preparing for a new life takes a lot of work. In articles, handouts, guidebooks, and seminars you’ll come across a scary term: culture shock.

You’ll definitely be told that it’s unavoidable and not very fun. Let me tell you two things:

  • It’s unavoidable
  • It’s not very fun

Now let me tell you a third thing:

  • It’s manageable and beneficial

Educating yourself about what culture shock is, preparing for it, and coping with it makes the situation a lot easier. Today we’ll start with defining culture shock.

What is Culture Shock?

Jet-Program-Culture-Shock-apartment-in-japan

Culture shock is often described as a “personal disorientation” that accompanies transition into a new culture. This is technically accurate, but it makes the experience sound like something felt after getting off a carnival ride. Disorientation implies a feeling you can identify, whereas culture shock usually arises unnoticed and fades over time.

Put simply, it’s the stress of transition. But the transition is taking place in nearly all areas of a person’s life at the same time.

Symptoms of Culture Shock

jet-program-culture-shock-sad-dog

Photo by Tim Dawson

Recognizing culture shock is one its major challenges. Even self-aware people can have trouble. Symptoms are a major clue. These are things like:

  • Anger
  • Boredom
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Intense homesickness
  • Panic attacks
  • Loss of motivation
  • Excessive amounts of time spent on insular activities such as sleeping or watching TV
  • Loss of self-confidence
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Associating only with other JETs or foreigners
  • Withdrawal
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts

Though this may look like a nightmare list from a pharmaceutical commercial, don’t fret. Few JETs will experience all or the most severe of these symptoms. Though the majority experience several symptoms at one time.

Symptoms can happen gradually, increasing in intensity. Also, you’ll experience cultural frustrations. These may feel the same as culture shock, but the feeling dissipates when the cause of the frustration is resolved. Because of this, culture shock is hard to self-diagnose.

The Two Components of Culture Shock

jet-program-culture-shock-alleyway-in-japan-japanese

Photo by mrhayata

Dr. Bruce La Brack has an excellent explanation as to why culture shock occurs:

Culture shock arises as a result of cumulative, largely puzzling encounters resulting in equally negative perceptions. For that reason, the “shock” is deceptively gradual. Those who enter another country with an attitude of what anthropologists call “naive realism” the view that everyone sees the world essentially as they do are susceptible to being quickly disabused of that idea as reality sets in. If the naive realist also holds an ethnocentric belief that his or her cultural ways are preferable and superior to all others, the likelihood of some kind of conflict escalates enormously.

From this description, we can break down culture shock into two ingredients:

  1. The cultural values of the JET, which they use to assess communicative acts.
  2. The cultural values of the host nation which are used in all communicative acts, including those received by the JET.

We all use our own cultural values, preconceived notions, personal attitudes, and other ideas to determine how to react in a given situation. The majority of the time, this is easy in our home countries. The messages we receive from people, media, and even the physical landscape at home tend to agree with our cultural values.

Sometimes though, we encounter a situation that doesn’t agree with our cultural values, and we have to choose how to react. These are misunderstandings.

Consider how often misunderstandings happen between people of the same culture. How much more will they happen between people of different cultures? The low number of matching cultural values causes the likelihood of misunderstanding to increase.

Recognize, however, that misunderstandings come in all shapes and sizes. They range from severe to benign. Many JETs spend years in Japan and only encounter a few severe misunderstandings. So the shock doesn’t come from a few horrible catastrophes. The awesome KumamotoJET website posits that it’s more like a continuous drip. A JET encounters the same benign, but possibly annoying or inconvenient cultural differences over and over. The shocks accumulate. This is why negative culture shock doesn’t happen right away. The amount of shocks needs time to build before entering the second phase.

Phases of Culture Shock

jet-program-culture-shock-roller-coaster

Photo by elston

Culture shock is usually broken down into phases. Depending on the source, it can be between 3 and 5. The most commonly used breakdown has four:

  • Honeymoon: This is the phase experienced when you first arrive in Japan. Everything is new and exciting. Even the smallest things seem fascinating. Those who have been to Japan before still feel excitement about their new life and job.
  • Frustration and Hostility: This stage is what people call “culture shock.” Though in reality it’s the low point of the culture shock cycle. Eventually the newness of exciting things runs out. You are left with the newness of different things, but no excitement. The situation may not necessarily be good or bad, but its differentness presents a challenge as you try to adjust. This adjustment naturally includes miscommunications, mistakes, roadblocks, and frustrations. These events tend to highlight the difference between Japan’s way of thinking and doing things and your own. All these differences and transitions introduce the symptoms listed above.
  • Adjustment: Gradually you adjust to the differentness of Japan. After passing through a lot of new and difficult situations, you learn how to navigate them better the second and third time around. This forms routines like those you had in your home country. Soon, many of the negative symptoms of culture shock disappear.
  • Accommodation and/or Biculturalism: This is an ambiguous and debatable stage. It’s a stage beyond adjustment in which you feel at home in Japan. When it happens is hard to say, because the four stages of culture shock tend to repeat. The term “biculturalism” seems to suggest a personal achievement of balance between integration into Japanese culture and retention of your personal identity.

Since culture shock is different for everyone, it’s hard to know when you’ll experience what stage. Many factors are involved, like how much you prepared beforehand, your personal values, your preconceived ideas about Japan, the negative experiences you face in Japan, and much more.

These four stages are actually a cycle. Many who have lived in Japan (or elsewhere) for 10 to 20 years report experiencing stage 2 symptoms of culture shock from time to time. Is it always as severe as the first time around? That depends on the person, but more than likely not.

The reason for culture shock’s cyclical nature has a lot to do with the foreign experience. A visiting person has many things to learn when integrating into a new culture. At the same time, it’s necessary to retain parts of their identity. Adjusting to a host culture means becoming as like the host people as possible. The immigrant has to craft a new self. But the old self is still an important part of them. It would be unhealthy to deny or suppress where you came from.

Thus, living in Japan for many years can still present frustrations. Even though your new bilcultural self accepts the new home, there will always be your old self that clashes with certain aspects of it. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s just the nature of being a bicultural person.

You’ve Experienced Culture Shock Before

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Photo by The Muuj

Hopefully all this hasn’t gotten you apprehensive about your new life in Japan. Culture shock is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, you’ve probably experienced it before. Maybe you just didn’t have a name for it.

Culture shock is actually a subset of a larger idea called transition shock. It has the same stages and symptoms as culture shock, but it’s felt in varying degrees depending on the transition. Because of this, I think it’s fair to call any transition a “culture” shock. Most transitions involve lifestyle changes and new groups of people with which to integrate.

  • If you’ve ever moved to a new place, you’ve experienced culture shock.
  • If you’ve ever changed schools or gone off to college, you’ve experienced culture shock.
  • If you’ve ever started a new job, you’ve experienced culture shock.
  • If you’ve ever met a group of people you didn’t know before, even that is a type of miniature culture shock.

Though you may not have noticed or don’t remember, you probably experienced a brief period loneliness, nervousness, self-consciousness, or even depression during a transition. These times might have been easier to deal with than moving to a new country because your language and cultural structure didn’t change.

But even with a new language and culture to learn, the basic idea is still the same. You need to adjust and adjusting takes time. In Japan it will take more time than it did during other transitions, but it will happen. You’ve done it before. You can do it again.

JET Program Culture Shock Defined. Now What?

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Photo by Montaplex

As you get ready to leave for JET, prepare for culture shock but don’t fear it. Treat it the way you would (should!) treat failure. Not something to loathe, dread, or hate. But rather something to learn from. Steer into it. This may seem scary, but it ultimately offers a lot more control. Like losing control of your car on ice, steer into the slide rather than away. Instead of losing control of the vehicle, you get it back. It may not be the kind of control you’d prefer, but it’s a better and more resilient control than you would have otherwise.

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