Tofugu » People http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:00:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 How To Cope When Japan Isn’t Perfect http://www.tofugu.com/2014/11/24/crisis-in-japan-how-to-cope-when-things-go-wrong/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/11/24/crisis-in-japan-how-to-cope-when-things-go-wrong/#respond Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:00:54 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=45939 Life is life wherever it happens. Even if your dream of living in Japan has come true, you can still be blindsided by awful things sometimes. Bad things happen everywhere, but living in a foreign country can add an extra layer of challenge on top. During my time in Japan on the JET Programme, I […]

The post How To Cope When Japan Isn’t Perfect appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Life is life wherever it happens. Even if your dream of living in Japan has come true, you can still be blindsided by awful things sometimes. Bad things happen everywhere, but living in a foreign country can add an extra layer of challenge on top. During my time in Japan on the JET Programme, I faced plenty of troubles, the worst of which was a bus accident during my commute which caused severe injury to my face (I’ll just say that the name “safety bar” is deeply ironic.) The accident was ugly and tangled me up in medical, insurance, workplace exploitation, compensation, and legal issues. This, on top of the everyday stresses of living in Japan, certainly took a toll on my mental well-being. Though my physical injury is not yet completely healed, I’ve been able to deal with the practical, mental, and emotional aspects of the accident thanks to the support I received. So it feels only right to share what I learned while dealing with these troubles. A few of my solutions will only apply to JETs, but others will help anyone who lives in Japan. But no matter your situation, I hope my experiences can do something to help you cope with crises in Japan.

Culture Shock

jizou-statue

Photo by Joel

Culture shock is the disorienting, overwhelming feeling that often affects people living in a foreign countries. It’s the most common problem faced by foreigners moving to Japan. I don’t think I know anyone who didn’t get a touch of it. Culture shock has many causes including, language barriers, information overload, social stress, and change in diet. There are four stages, sometimes called 1) Honeymoon, 2) Frustration, 3) Adjustment, and 4) Mastery.

One of the main causes of culture shock in Japan is people’s expectations before they arrive. As Buckaroo Banzai once said, “No matter where you go, there you are.” Going to Japan might change your life, but it’s not going to change you. For some people this can be hard to accept. You’ll be taking your strengths and weaknesses with you. Keep this in mind when comparing your life in Japan with life back home. Other people have difficulties caused by excess expectations of Japan itself. If you arrive in Japan thinking you’re going to be living in an anime, you’re going to have a difficult time and miss out on the good things about the real Japan. Tempering your expectations and approaching Japan with a fresh mind can help.

However, even the best preparations won’t prevent culture shock completely. I knew a guy who proved that culture shock can happen to anyone. He had studied in Japan, was fluent in Japanese, and had Japanese heritage. Yet even he got stuck in the dreaded stage 2 of Culture shock. In some ways it was worse for him because he didn’t recognise what it was for a long time.

Recognising culture shock is the first step to dealing with it. If you’ve been feeling down, angry, sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or too little, unmotivated to study Japanese, or found yourself frustrated at Japan you might have culture shock. Even if you’ve been living in Japan for a long while, you can still experience it. Unfortunately going though culture shock once is no guarantee that you won’t go through it again. It is a cycle. I went through the cycle several times in three years, and had to learn to keep an eye on myself.

Coping with Culture Shock

carousel

Photo by Pank Seleen

Thankfully, once you’ve recognised that you’re being culture shocked, there are some practical things you can do to help you feel better. Compare your eating, drinking and socialising habits with how they were back home. Then try to reclaim the things which made you happy in your home country. If you drank less at home, try to drink less in Japan. If you got more sleep, try to get more sleep. Do and eat things that remind you of home. But, as with all of this advice, don’t go to extremes. I knew someone who moved into an apartment that their JET predecessor had been living in. The new JET found a room full of American drinks and candy. Every time his predecessor had seen a bottle of Coca-cola or a snickers, he’d bought it because it reminded him of home. He hadn’t eaten them though, just kept them as a shrine to America. So snacks from home are good, but don’t take it too far. In fact, when dealing with culture shock, moderation should be your watch word.

Exercise can seem like the last thing you want to do when suffering culture shock, but it really helps. Even just going for a walk can be good for you. Get out of your house and connect with people. They will be your lifelines when things are roughest. You might feel watched if you go out for a jog, but don’t let this get you down. People are going to comment on the things you do. The sooner you can come to terms with it, the better you’ll feel. Just put in some headphones and get in the zone.

Try to eat well too. Fruit can be expensive in Japan, but indulge yourself sometimes, or try tinned fruit, which is cheaper but still healthy. Don’t live entirely on kombini meals. Yes, they are convenient, but they are also loaded with stuff that will ruin your energy. Getting to grips with Japanese cooking is not only healthier, but learning about Japanese food will also make you feel more confident when you walk into the supermarket, which will help in making Japan a home for you. When I first arrived I felt overwhelmed by all the unknown packets and bottles. For my first three months I only bought food which had pictures of what it was on the package. Going shopping was a big frustration for me. I tackled this by researching more about Japanese food. Cookpad is a great Japanese home-cooking recipe site in both English and Japanese.

Learning more Japanese is another good way to battle culture shock. If you are having frustrations in an area of your life, focus your studies on that area to overcome them. I used to dread going to the post office. It stressed me out until I sat down and crammed some vocabulary. This wasn’t an instant cure for my culture shock, but being able to regain some control helped bring me out of my stage 2 slump.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, talk to someone. This can be hard for some people, but remember talking to people is a sign of strength and decisive action. Luckily we live in the future, so even long distance video calls are possible and cheap or free! Talk to people back home. Getting a perspective from outside Japan can help, as well as reminding yourself that there is a place beyond Japan.

However, don’t get trapped only talking to friends and family outside of Japan, some of whom might want you to come home sooner than you’d like. Sometimes this means talking to other foreigners in Japan who might have gone through similar things. Be wary of “stage 2 parties” though. This is where lots of expats get together and moan about Japan. It’s fine to let off steam, but don’t let that sort of thing suck you down further. Try to get a wide range of perspectives, foreign and Japanese.

However, there may be some times when you feel as if you have no one to talk to at all.

Lifelines

woman-on-telephone

Photo by 黃毛 a.k.a. YELLOW

Fear not! There is always someone for you to talk to! If you are a JET you can call the AJET Peer Support Group (PSG.) This is a telephone service that runs from 8pm to 7am every night of the year. If you call 050-5534-5566 or Skype AJETPSG (for free!) you will get through to a member of PSG. They are trained listeners who also point you in the direction of all sorts of resources; medical, legal, counseling and more. All of the members are drawn from the JET community, so they will understand the sorts of problems you are going through. You don’t have to tell them your name and they have a strict confidentiality policy so they will never tell your employer or anyone else anything you say to them. The only exception to this is if they feel you are in danger of hurting yourself. Then they will take any steps necessary to ensure your safety.

Don’t think that you have to be in a really serious situation to call them though. While they are trained to deal with severe problems, you can also call them for any reason at all. If you are undecided about recontracting, it can be very useful to bounce ideas off someone. If you’re having difficult times at work, they can help you think of ways to improve your situation. If you want to talk about personal issues, they will give you a non-judgmental space to express yourself. They don’t work for the JET Programme, they work for JETs. You’re not going to hear the usual official lines from them and they won’t just say, “Every Situation is Different.”

If you do need to hear the official lines though, then calling the JET Line, which lets you speak to one of the Programme coordinators at CLAIR in Tokyo, is the way to go. The line operates Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 17:45. You can reach it on 03-5213-1729. I had a mixed experience calling the JET Line.The first response I got from the JET line was the basic “Every Situation is Different,” which didn’t address my problems. My Prefectural Advisor, who was herself a fantastic source of support and an angel in human form, encouraged me to call again after the problems got worse. The second time I called, the JET Line was much more effective. The JET Line spoke with my Contracting Organisation on my behalf. After that my Board of Education slowly began to change the situation. You should keep in mind though, that as a JET, you are employed by your Contracting Organisation, not CLAIR. The JET Programme can’t do more than put pressure on your employer to improve your situation. JET acts as an agency, placing you with employers, but does not directly employ you.

There is often a feeling in the JET community that we should put up with a lot because we are lucky to be here. While I agree that JETs should try their best to adapt to cultural differences, foods and so on, that doesn’t mean we should let ourselves be exploited. JET is a large programme, and there are going to be problems in it. Things like the JET Line and the Prefectural Advisers system are mechanisms to fix those problems. Take advantage of them when necessary. It’s not failure to ask for help.

Workplace Problems

gundam-battle

Photo by ancorena

The English teaching market outside of JET has its own problems. There are a lot of dodgy businesses out there. Even respectable businesses can turn nasty if you get sick. I had a friend who was fired but not fired because she got a lung infection. Her doctor told her she needed rest to recover fully. Her employer just told her not to come back, but that she wasn’t being fired, so they wouldn’t pay her severance. Of course, this is illegal under Japanese law. If you find yourself in a situation like this, call your local Labour Standards Bureau. They will provide a free mediation service between you and your employer. Some offices have English speaking staff. This option is not open to you if you are a JET or other kind of public servant, only if you are employed by a private company. There are also unions which defend the rights of foreign workers and language teachers in Japan and may be able to offer you advice and legal counsel.

Wherever you work, take some time to read through Japan’s Labour Standards laws. They are surprisingly generous to workers in some cases. Of course, this won’t be much comfort if you’re working for a black company, but it’s still good to know the ground you are fighting on.

Support

support-groups

Photo by Emran Kassim

If you aren’t a JET, there are also people for you to call. TELL (Tokyo English Life Line – www.telljp.com) operates a phone service across Japan. The number is 03-5774-0992 and the line is open from 9am to 11pm daily. They offer support to anyone going through a hard time in Japan, as well as dealing with emergency calls and providing information. Their directory (www.bluejava.com/tell/index.html) is also a great place to look for contacts to other services that could help you with a specific problem, covering everything from counseling services to housing disputes. TELL also offers a face to face counseling service, based in Tokyo and Yokohama (www.telljp.com/index.php?/en/counseling) .

Living in Japan, particularly taking part in workplace drinking culture can cause problems for some people. There are some familiar support organisations that also operate in Japan. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous (www.aatokyo.org), Al-Anon (www.al-anontokyo.org) for friends and family of alcoholic, and Over-eaters Anonymous (www.oaintokyo.org). There is also JHelp which offers emergency assistance across Japan. If you live in Tokyo, you can get help from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Foreign Residents’ Advisory Center. These organisations can provide you with support in English.

Don’t forget that you can also contact your Embassy. After I was unable to get the forms I needed to claim an accident insurance payment from my employer, I called the British Embassy in Tokyo. The staff was incredibly helpful. They contacted my employer and were able to get me the forms. Of all the people I called following my accident, the British Embassy were the most compassionate and helpful. The US Embassy also provides a useful list of sources of help in Japan.

Finding Different Perspectives

fuji-in-the-bg

Photo by Adam Sharron

Life in Japan can be stressful. It is easy to fall into the trap of blaming Japan for all your problems. Take a moment to consider which of your problems are really caused by Japan specifically and which could happen to you anywhere.

Personally, after the traffic accident that left me severely injured, I was very angry at Japan. It took me time to realise that accidents happen all over the world. It wasn’t Japan as a whole I needed to be angry with.

We can never know what would have happened if we’d made the choice not to come to Japan. All we can do is face reality as best we can. That doesn’t mean rolling over and accepting our fate though. While I came to terms with the accident, I still fought to get the compensation I was entitled to and for change in my commuting situation so that the same sort of accident wouldn’t happen again.

Dealing with problems in Japan requires a fine understanding of what you need to adapt to and what you need to fight to change. It’s tough, so don’t beat yourself up if you fail sometimes. Just take a breath and get the help you need.

Bonus Wallpapers!

whoa-5120
[Phone – 640×1136]

The post How To Cope When Japan Isn’t Perfect appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/11/24/crisis-in-japan-how-to-cope-when-things-go-wrong/feed/ 0
Shunga: Japan’s Ancient Erotica http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/21/shunga-japans-ancient-erotica/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/21/shunga-japans-ancient-erotica/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 16:00:34 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=44409 Vending machines selling school girl’s panties?  Grown men reading pornographic comics in public?  Gender segregated train-cars to protect women from gropers? Ear-cleaning parlors with very happy-endings?  With situations like these making headlines, it comes as no surprise that Japan has earned a reputation for perverted culture. My first foray into the world of anime left me with a similar […]

The post Shunga: Japan’s Ancient Erotica appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Vending machines selling school girl’s panties?  Grown men reading pornographic comics in public?  Gender segregated train-cars to protect women from gropers? Ear-cleaning parlors with very happy-endings?  With situations like these making headlines, it comes as no surprise that Japan has earned a reputation for perverted culture.

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

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

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

What Are Shunga?

the-great-wave-by-hokusai-art

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

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

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

woodblock-ready-to-make-print

Photo by: David Monniaux

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

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

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

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

Shunga’s Uses

shunga-books-on-display

Photo by: Bruno Cordioli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shunga’s Themes

Good Old-Fashioned Love

spring-pasttimes-shunga

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

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

Fashion’s Finest

four-seasons-kunisida-shunga

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

Homoerotic Over and Undertones

Moronobu-shunga

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

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

Gender Ambiguities

homosexuality-in-japan

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

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

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

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

The Depiction of Genitalia

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

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

Voyeurism

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

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

Plot and Parody

Suzuki-Harunobu-Sexual-Misconduct-shunga

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

Even Genji
can be poison
to young minds

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

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

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

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

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

Encounters of the Unique Kind

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

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

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

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

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

Lasting Influence

hentai-manga-store

Photo by: Ignis

Have shunga left a lasting legacy?

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

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

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

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

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

Obscenity?  Art?  Or Both?

peter-paul-rubens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

shunga-1280
[1280×1600] ∙ [2560×1600]

Sources

 

The post Shunga: Japan’s Ancient Erotica appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/21/shunga-japans-ancient-erotica/feed/ 12
The Life Of A Junior High Night School Teacher http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/20/the-life-of-a-junior-high-night-school-teacher/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/20/the-life-of-a-junior-high-night-school-teacher/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 16:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42187 Last week, we learned what a junior high night school was and, as I mentioned, today we are going to hear from a teacher of one of those schools. The person I interviewed just started as a junior high night school teacher last April, so she is in the middle of figuring out what this […]

The post The Life Of A Junior High Night School Teacher appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Last week, we learned what a junior high night school was and, as I mentioned, today we are going to hear from a teacher of one of those schools. The person I interviewed just started as a junior high night school teacher last April, so she is in the middle of figuring out what this job is like. In other words, we can get her fresh impressions of this type of school.

(Please note that at the request of the interviewee, we are keeping this person’s identity a secret.)

nightschool-01

1. What is a public junior high night school?

It’s a public school for those who were not able to complete their compulsory education. Although there are different requirements depending on the location, it’s open to both Japanese and non-Japanese people.

2. How many night schools are in Japan?

36 Schools.

3. Are there any regional features among junior high night schools?

In recent years, the majority of students have been non-Japanese people. Depending on which region of Japan you look at, the ethnic majority in any given school varies greatly. For example, the school I work for is located in Tokyo, near Shibuya. Until 5 years ago, the majority of students were Japanese orphans from China who had returned to Japan, but in the past 2-3 years the number of Nepalese students has been increasing. We currently have 61 students in total and over 20 of them are Nepalese.

The majorities even change from school to school in Tokyo alone. I’ve heard that one of the eight schools in Tokyo has a lot of Brazilian students. Knowledge of these schools often spreads by word of mouth among certain communities, and that seems to explain the increases of certain ethnicities in certain schools. Since the location of our school is very close to Shibuya, teenage students or ones in their early twenties tend to come to our school. It is also known that there are a lot of Korean students in Osaka and a lot of Burakumin students in Nara.

4. What does a night school teacher do?

It’s basically the same as what a daytime schoolteacher does. The only thing that differs from daytime teachers is how to approach the students. Since many of the students can’t understand Japanese very well, we have to be creative with lessons. For example, we often draw illustrations or do charts more than writing. Some teachers also use tablets to search for words in a student’s native languages when they don’t understand during the class.

5. What is the difference between day and night schools?

The duties are the same. The difference is the time of the lessons and students, and their level of Japanese language skill determines which class they’re in. Other than that, it’s basically the same. We have school trips, school lunches, and classroom cleaning time just like ordinary schools do. We have sport festivals including volleyball and basketball tournaments.

The eight junior high night schools in Tokyo compete against each other in those tournaments. One unique eventwe have, since there are so many non-Japanese people, is an “International Foods Exchange Party” where everyone brings their own country’s cuisines. As for school hours, the first class starts at 5:30pm and the last one ends at 9pm. Before the classes begin, we open a self-learning room at around 3pm, so the students who want to study can feel free to come earlier and study. We also have activity clubs set up before and after classes. Depending on the club, it lasts for 30 minutes to an hour a day and they are held 2 to 3 times a week.

6. Do night schoolteachers communicate with daytime schoolteachers?

Although we use the same building, there is an atmosphere as though we teach in different schools. We don’t avoid communicating with each other, but since the school time and curriculum is completely different, we don’t communicate very often. It’s difficult to work at both daytime and night schools, so we just do our own jobs. Perhaps we would talk more if some event was held that encouraged communication, but nobody has really found it necessary.

I work as the volleyball coach for the daytime school students, but I prepare for classes on weekdays so I can only attend their games on weekends. There is a fulltime coach from the daytime school, as well. I just help out. Since it would often take up your weekends, not many night school teachers get involved in such things either.

nightschool-02

7. What subjects do you teach?

Math and Japanese. In our junior high night school, the proficiency level of each student determines which classroom they are placed in. The lowest level classroom presents grade one content, such as doing addition on a piece of paper, learning words, kanji, and reading comprehension of grade 1 level material. The highest-level class presents content typical of the third year of junior high school.

I teach grade 2 Japanese and third year junior high math. What I just described was for regular curriculum classrooms. In my school, there are Japanese classes for non-Japanese people outside of just the classes following a regular curriculum. Since such classes are for those who barely understand any Japanese at all, the curriculum focuses on Japanese as a second language and it includes practical activities, such as physical education, home economics, and art. Only students in a regular curriculum classrooms learn math, science, or social studies.

8. What are your typical hours?

Even though classes are held from 5:30pm to 9:30pm, I work from 1pm to 9:30pm.

9. What’s the best thing about being a night school teacher?

Each classroom only has 3 to 10 students. Since they are small classrooms, the time and focus that a teacher can direct towards any one student is much larger. The ages of the students are also close to mine, so we are all friendly. Students often speak to teachers in a positive and polite way. There are also older students, as well as multinational students, so teachers are often able to learn a lot from them and about their respective countries. We can learn what it is really like to live in other countries and not just from what is reported in the news. I got more interested in the world outside of Japan after working here.

10. What’s the worst thing about being a night school teacher?

It is very difficult to convey to students the nuance of things that are uniquely Japanese. Particles and onomatopoeia are particularly tough. For example, there was a sentence “ツルツルして滑りやすい。(tsurutsurushite suberiyasui)” and my student asked me what “tsurutsuru” meant. I explained that it is onomatopoeia for “slippery” or “smooth”, but that suberiyasui also means slippery. For those who don’t understand both Japanese and English, it was very difficult for me to explain. Also, there are so many cultural differences that it’s not only difficult to teach the Japanese language, but also our mindset, our conduct and our manners. Those things are very difficult for me. The worst thing is, however, that there are many students who cannot attend due to their jobs or their family problems, and most of them withdraw from school. There are also some students who cannot really be involved with events or activities outside of usual classes and I think that is a shame.

11. What’s the funniest story you have from being a night school teacher?

On June 8, there was a volleyball tournament among the eight junior high night schools in Tokyo, and our school won. It was really fun for all of them and I was so happy for my students. We practiced three times a week after night school on top of the 3 days of special practice before the tournament. Both students and teachers had been practicing so hard so they could win, so we were very happy to get the result we did. Students who didn’t play in the game did a really good job of cheering for our team too. They were such exciting games. When the other school took the first set, the teams’ mood went way down, but all the teachers and students only cheered louder and they were able to get their minds right again. When we won, students were doing the victory dance and I thought it was a very international show of a good emotion because Japanese students don’t usually dance. Anyways, getting that win was a really good moment that shows what can happen when we all come together and work towards the same goal.

12. I imagine being a night school teacher gives you some free time during the day. What do you do during the day?

Just ordinary private errands. I don’t do anything specific. My workday is 8 hours long, so I basically have the same free time as the other people working in offices.

13. What do you think are the best aspects of the Japanese education system?

I think Japanese education is very tolerant. It’s certainly fantastic that we are this devoted to and enthusiastic about the education of non-Japanese people.

14. What are the worst things about the Japanese education system?

I haven’t found any, yet.

15. Why are kids going to school at night instead of during the day?

It’s not their choice. Our students are people who can’t meet the requirements of daytime school, so they just come to night school instead.

They are Japanese people who couldn’t complete their junior high school education for some reason. The reasons are various. Some couldn’t go due to illness, or their parents didn’t let them go to school. We have a student whose parents didn’t let them go to school, and he tried to work after their death, but couldn’t find a job because he had no education. Then he came to night school. Others stop going to school because they’re being bullied, or because of their parents’ death. There is also a student who was raised in a religious group and had never been enrolled in Japanese compulsory education, but then he came to night school after he became an adult.

Non-Japanese students have various reasons too. Some of them had to move to several new countries due to their parent’s job and couldn’t finish the junior high school education in their own country. Others just grew up in a country that didn’t have a proper educational system. Some students actually came to Japan when they were under the age of 15 and went to daytime school for a while, but they couldn’t get along with people or make any friends, or they gave up studying there because they didn’t understand Japanese very well. Later on, they decided to come to night school to complete their compulsory education.

nightschool-03

16. Who are your students?

In my current class I teach one person from Bangladesh, one from Thailand, one from the Philippines, and one from Nepal. Four of them are teenagers and one is in his 40’s.

17. Why are international students increasing?

The rapprochement reached between Japan and China in 1972 increased the number of Japanese orphans in China returning to Japan, and they and their families became the majority of students. Since the late 1970’s, Indo-Chinese refugees increased. Since the 1990’s, non-Japanese people increased in Japan as a result of people’s jobs, or due to the increase in international marriage, and their kids and family members started coming to night school. After that, there was a time when Afghan refugees increased as well.

When times change, as reflected by international situations and the internationalization of Japan, the students have gradually changed along with them.

18. Can you tell us about a student you’ve helped a lot?

I’ve just started this job, so I haven’t had any specific student yet.

19. Are there any specific problems that international students have?

They are uncertain of their likelihood of staying in Japan. (If they are not sure how long they can stay in Japan, it can discourage them from studying.)

20. Is there anything else you want to say about your job?

While teaching non-Japanese students, I’ve learned that foreign workers have helped Japan a lot. We don’t just pay them for the work they do. They are supporting Japanese society. With the rapid decline of the birthrate, we have to treat such workers really well. I think Japan will come to rely on foreign workers more and more in the future. Therefore, offering education to non-Japanese people who play an important role as citizens in Japan, teaching them not only general knowledge but also Japanese manners and conduct, is very important too, I think.

Night school was originally aimed at Japanese people who could not study because of the war, but now most of the students are non-Japanese people. In our school, only 4 students are Japanese. Our students are as varied as their historical backgrounds. I think it is essential to offer a great education to non-Japanese people right now because if they learn a lot at our night school and enjoy themselves while doing it, they might come to think really fondly of Japan and then one day repay Japan for its kindness. They might work hard for Japan, or they might become a great bridge between Japan and their own countries. Right now, my students all like Japan. Being kind to each other – It is in this way, I believe we can foster great international relationships.

Bonus Wallpapers!

teachinganon-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

The post The Life Of A Junior High Night School Teacher appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/20/the-life-of-a-junior-high-night-school-teacher/feed/ 8
Yakan Chuugaku: The Japanese Night Time Junior High Where The Uneducated Learn To Read Good http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/08/yakan-chuugaku-the-japanese-night-time-junior-high-where-the-uneducated-learn-to-read-good/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/08/yakan-chuugaku-the-japanese-night-time-junior-high-where-the-uneducated-learn-to-read-good/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 16:00:51 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42131 In recent years, many people from different countries have been coming to Japan. Their reasons for studying Japanese are as various as their backgrounds. Due to this diversity, local governments have begun shifting their attention of language education to a wider age-range of non-native speakers, since these people aren’t all school-aged students, after all. However, […]

The post Yakan Chuugaku: The Japanese Night Time Junior High Where The Uneducated Learn To Read Good appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
In recent years, many people from different countries have been coming to Japan. Their reasons for studying Japanese are as various as their backgrounds. Due to this diversity, local governments have begun shifting their attention of language education to a wider age-range of non-native speakers, since these people aren’t all school-aged students, after all. However, there are still some learners that manage to slip from the clutches of even these education systems. Japanese Junior High Night Schools, or 夜間中学 (yakan-chuugaku), have been picking up the slack. They have actually been accepting these non-native students since after WWII, and the number of non-Japanese students in these classes has been rapidly increasing in recent years. In fact, now approximately 70% of the students are non-Japanese! Today, we’ll be learning about these nocturnal classrooms.

How To Get Into A Yakan-Chuugaku

yakanchuugaku2

Photo by gwaar

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

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

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

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

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

A Night School Junior High History Class

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

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

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

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

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

The Curriculum Of Junior High Night School

yuukanchuugaku

Photo by gwaar

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

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

Problems Awaiting Solution

immigrants

Photo by takomabibelot

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

cheatingobaachan-700
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

Sources:

  • 松崎運之助(1979)『夜間中学』白石書店
  • 原田明子(2003a)「夜間中学に在籍する日本語学習者の言語習得管理―学習環境とインターアクション行動の分析から―」 早稲田大学大学院 修士論文
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education

The post Yakan Chuugaku: The Japanese Night Time Junior High Where The Uneducated Learn To Read Good appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/08/yakan-chuugaku-the-japanese-night-time-junior-high-where-the-uneducated-learn-to-read-good/feed/ 10
How to Spice up Your ALT Lessons with the Nine Intelligences! http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/06/how-to-spice-up-your-alt-lessons-with-the-nine-intelligences/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/06/how-to-spice-up-your-alt-lessons-with-the-nine-intelligences/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 16:00:24 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43714 The Nine Intelligences: by itself the term sounds like an elite spy group or a color-coded hero team. “Gentlemen, we’re clearly in over our heads.  The world is in danger.  Only The Nine Intelligences can save us now!” Although the nine intelligences aren’t a super hero team, they saved me on countless occasions – only under totally different circumstances.  Boring […]

The post How to Spice up Your ALT Lessons with the Nine Intelligences! appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
The Nine Intelligences: by itself the term sounds like an elite spy group or a color-coded hero team.

“Gentlemen, we’re clearly in over our heads.  The world is in danger.  Only The Nine Intelligences can save us now!”

Although the nine intelligences aren’t a super hero team, they saved me on countless occasions – only under totally different circumstances.  Boring textbook have you cornered?  Give them a call!  No ideas on how to teach a topic?  They can lend a hand!

Like a secret weapon, I call upon this educational theory in times of trouble. When my mind goes blank, the creativity well runs dry and lesson plan ideas are few and far between.

Although originally intended to quantify learning styles and help all students find success in the classroom, the nine intelligences - part of Multiple Intelligence Theory - can also be used to add variety to lesson plans.  And since the the theory can be applied to any age group, in any subject – all teachers, regardless of their situations, can benefit from using it.

History

broken-pencil-test-nine-intelligences

Photo by: Josh Davis

The real hero, Harvard professor Howard Gardner, formulated Multiple Intelligence Theory in the 1970s and published his findings in the groundbreaking book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences in 1983.   And he hasn’t looked back since, defending and refining his theory to this day.

According to Mr. Gardner, Multiple Intelligence Theory started as a response to the introduction of IQ tests, uniform curriculums, and other “one dimensional” educational practices – particularly those that aimed to gauge intelligence.  Mr. Gardner writes:

Some years ago it occurred to me that this supposed rational (of a single, quantifiable intelligence) was completely unfair.  The uniform school picks out and is addressed to a certain kind of mind…  But to the extent that your mind works differently… school is certainly not fair to you (5).

Gardner contends that since individuals’ strengths and weaknesses vary, everyone thinks and learns differently.  As a result, uniform tests and curriculums fail to accurately measure a student’s true intelligence and capabilities.  He implored his readers:

Let your thoughts run freely over the capabilities of human beings…  Your mind may turn to a brilliant chess player, the world-class violinist, and the champion athlete… Are the chess player, violinist, and athlete ‘intelligent’ in these pursuits?  If they are, then why do our tests of ‘intelligence’ fail to identify them?… What allows them to achieve such astounding feats?  In general, why does the contemporary construct of intelligence fail to take into account large areas of human endeavor? (6).

Gardner challenged contemporary ideas of intelligence by considering successful, evidently intelligent people that scored low on the tests – or more accurately, that the tests had failed to recognize.  He contended that  people were intelligent in different ways, ways the tests and “uniform schools” failed to evaluate or perceive.

I believe that human cognitive competence is better described in terms of set abilities, talents, or mental skills, which I call intelligences.  All normal individuals possess each of these skills to some extent; individuals differ in the degree of skill and in the nature of their combination. (6)

Gardner quantified these intelligences in multiple intelligence theory.  Although Gardner’s original theory featured only seven intelligences, he later expanded the count to nine.  As an ever evolving theory, Gardner contends that if discovered, more intelligences can be added.

Without Further Ado: The Nine Intelligences

the-nine-intelligences-chart-wheel-of-knowledge

Photo by: Linda Hartley

Gardner’s original seven intelligences included visual-spatial, body-kinesthetic, musical, intra-personal, interpersonal, linguistic, and logical-mathematical categories.  Years later he added naturalist and existential intelligences to make a total of nine intelligences.  Multiple intelligence theory devotee Dr. Thomas Armstrong provides a concise summary of the nine intelligences, which I have streamlined for this article, in his book, “Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom.”

Visual-Spacial Intelligence: the ability to think in three dimensions, graphic and artistic skills, and an active imagination. Sailors, pilots, sculptors, painters, and architects all exhibit spatial intelligence. Young adults with this kind of intelligence may be fascinated with mazes or jigsaw puzzles, or spend free time drawing.

Body-Kinesthetic Intelligence: the capacity to manipulate objects and use a variety of physical skills. This intelligence also involves a sense of timing and the perfection of skills through mind–body union. Athletes, dancers, surgeons, and craftspeople exhibit well-developed bodily kinesthetic intelligence.

Musical Intelligence: the capacity to discern pitch, rhythm, timbre, and tone. This intelligence enables us to recognize, create, reproduce, and reflect on music. Interestingly, mathematical and musical intelligences may share common thinking processes. Young adults with this kind of intelligence are usually singing or drumming to themselves.

Interpersonal Intelligence: the ability to understand and interact effectively with others. It involves communication, sensitivity to the moods and temperaments of others, and the ability to entertain multiple perspectives. Teachers, social workers, and politicians exhibit interpersonal intelligence. Young adults with this kind of intelligence are leaders among their peers, are good at communicating, and understand others’ feelings and motives.

Intrapersonal Intelligence: the capacity to understand oneself and one’s thoughts and feelings. Intra-personal intelligence involves not only an appreciation of the self, but also of the human condition. It is evident in psychologist, spiritual leaders, and philosophers. These young adults may be shy but aware of their own feelings and are self-motivated.

Linguistic Intelligence: the ability to use language to express complex meanings. Linguistic intelligence allows us to understand the order and meaning of words and to reflect on our use of language. It’s the most widely shared human competence and is evident in poets, novelists, journalists, and effective public speakers. Young adults with this kind of intelligence enjoy writing, reading, telling stories or doing crossword puzzles.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: the ability to calculate, consider propositions and hypotheses, and carry out complete mathematical operations. It enables us to perceive relationships and connections and to use abstract, symbolic thought and sequential reasoning skills. This intelligence is important for mathematicians, scientists, and detectives. Young adults with logical intelligence are interested in patterns, categories, arithmetic problems, strategy games and experiments.

Naturalist Intelligence: the ability to discriminate among living things as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world. This ability lends itself to botanists and chefs,but is also speculated that much of our consumer society exploits the naturalist intelligences.

Existential Intelligence: the ninth and final intelligence (not pictured in the chart above) regards sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why do we die, and how did we get here.  This intelligence also concerns cultures and religions.  This intelligence might be attributed to philosophers, theologians and life coaches.” (6-7)

Multiple intelligence theory asserts that individuals possess “the full range of intelligences” but no two people share the same “intellectual profile,” or mix of skills in each category, which is shaped by both genetics and life experience.

Furthermore, possession of an intelligence does not guarantee its use.  In fact, thanks to uniform testing and curriculums, some individuals may never discover their intellectual strengths – which makes incorporating Multiple Intelligence Theory into the classroom all the more important.

The Secret Spice

secret-spice-nine-intelligences

Inherently positive and empowering, multiple intelligence theory believes all students can succeed.  Instead of molding students to a curriculum or test, the theory encourages students to explore, learn about themselves and take advantage of their individual strengths, talents and interests.

By incorporating the theory into lessons, educators acknowledge and activate intelligences, providing students with opportunities to discover their own strengths and talents.

Once students recognize their strengths and weaknesses, they can take responsibility in their own learning – taking advantage of their strengths while improving weaknesses.  The first taste of success gives lifelong “failures” invaluable and refreshing confidence, leading to increased motivation and (in theory) more success.

Although multiple intelligence theory benefits students, it also makes teacher’s lives easier, acting as a simple, convenient tool for adding variety to a lesson.  And I find it especially useful in the English classroom as an ALT in Japan.  With so much to gain, educators should call upon the nine intelligences whenever necessary!

And there’s no situation more necessary than lesson planning.   Dull lessons act as classroom kryptonite, stripping students of their will to learn, sucking away everyone’s energy, and destroying any chance of a positive atmosphere.  Multiple intelligence theory became my secret spice, the flavor that added extra zing to my lesson plans.  Whether applied to lessons created from scratch or those based on a textbook, Gardner’s theory always helps to mix things up.

Classroom Examples

nine-intelligences-in-ALT-teaching

During my time as a high school teacher I taped a list of the nine intelligences to my desk.  Always a glance away, they became impossible to forget.  When my mind went blank I knew where to look. Like the magic eight-ball, the list held an answer.

At times a lesson topic and intelligence would mesh perfectly.  Other times combining intelligences and topics would be a fun, creative challenge.  Creating warm-ups and activities to go along with textbook topics had been difficult, but The Nine Intelligences changed that.  Here are some examples.

The musical intelligence sparked the use of Bill Haley’s song Rock Around the Clock to introduce time – afterwards students had no trouble remembering the term o’clock.

In honor of Halloween, the naturalist intelligence inspired pumpkin carving which also sparked the visual-spatial thinkers’ artistic abilities.  Students reviewed face words and experienced another culture first hand.  A week later we displayed their work at the school culture festival.

The body-kinesthetic intelligence made boring activities into fun games by adding movement.  In one case, student pairs had match questions and answers.  To make the activity more interesting I posted the sentences on the classroom walls.  Students walked around the classroom, reading and remembering the questions and answers. Back at their desks they wrote down and then matched the questions with the corresponding answers.

In reading class I simplified a fable’s dialogue and students activated linguistic and body-kinesthetic intelligences by performing the story in the classroom.  The performance assured they understood the story’s content, something that was later proven when they took a test on the unit.

I incorporated existential intelligence into a cultural lesson about the Amish societies of the United States.  Students not only contemplated different religious beliefs but the reasoning, challenges and consequences of lifestyle choices.

In elementary school I incorporated the logical-mathematical intelligence into a dice game.  Two students faced off, each casting a giant die.  The first to add up the rolled numbers and say the answer in English would earn the team a point.

In kindergarten we played a game that activated interpersonal intelligence.  First we chose a category. In this case, we chose fruit.  Next, with students unable to see my paper, I wrote down four types of fruit in English.  Student teams then chose four fruit, hoping to match my choices.  Each correct match earned one point.  Students not only considered what choices I would make (“Sensei said he likes strawberries, maybe he’ll choose that!”), but had to cooperate with group members when making their choices.

As time passed, incorporating different intelligences into lessons became natural.  Variety within a single lesson is just as important as variety between separate lesson plans.  I added opportunities for music, art and movement – venues for learning I had neglected.  I started integrating multiple  intelligences, using one for a warm-up activity, a different one for main activity and then another for the conclusion.

The lessons surprised students with their variety and originality.  The lessons surprised me because they worked.  Multiple intelligence theory became my secret spice – the heroes that made adding that variety to lessons (almost) as simple as glancing at a list.

Value In The Face of Criticism

teaching-science-with-nine-intelligences-in-japan

Photo by: John F. Williams

Every hero team has an adversary or rival. In the nine intelligence’s case, it’s The General Intelligence Factor or Spearman’s g.  Dating back to the early 1900’s, Charles Spearman sought a universal way to measure intelligence.  His studies eventually spawned IQ tests which sowed the seeds of standardized testing and unified curriculums.  Spearman concluded that with proper testing, anyone’s intelligence, regardless of strengths and weaknesses, could be determined and assigned an accurate value, called “g” (Brand and Kane).

Proponents of Spearman’s theory point out that multiple intelligence theory is not research based and therefore doesn’t produce quantifiable hard data (Armstrong 194).  Its effectiveness is difficult to gauge.

Other claim multiple intelligence theory “dumbs down curriculum.”  According to these critics, lessons incorporating music, art, and hands-on activities don’t produce solid, measurable results and thus have no place in a serious curriculum.  Furthermore, these lessons pose the danger of giving students a false sense of accomplishment, making students feel smart and capable – even if they are not. (Armstrong 194)

Spearman’s g and Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory seem to oppose one another.  But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Competition between the theories will (hopefully) lead to improvements in education.

Yet, incorporating multiple intelligence theory into lessons doesn’t need to undermine the goals of standardized testing and curriculums.  As my examples show, educators can incorporate the nine intelligences into a standard curriculum.  The two theories can coexist.

Nine Intelligences! Assemble!

nine-intelligences-in-japan-avengers

Photo by Pat Loika

Whatever the case, multiple intelligence theory has too many benefits to ignore.  To argue over a lack of hard data is to miss the theory’s point – education needs to address its learners’ diversity.

For me the theory became a useful, convenient tool for adding diversity to lessons.  But the nine intelligences, my secret spices, those lesson-saving heroes add up to more than just a convenient “trick.”

As an English teacher it pleases me to see students do well on tests.  But engineering lessons that awaken students that “hate,” “don’t understand” or “have no need for” English provides the most satisfying experience of all.

By harnessing the nine intelligences, I’ve been able to reach the unreachable, inspire the uninspired, motivate the unmotivated, and English the “unEnglishable” (is that a flash of linguistic intelligence there or a lack thereof?).  For students that have never tasted success, that have never been given the opportunity to discover or use their talents in the classroom, sometimes a little variety is all it takes.

Bonus Wallpapers!

nineintelligences-700
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

Sources

  • Armstrong, Thomas. Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom. 3rd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2009. Print.
  • Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons. New York: Basic, 2006. Print.
  • Kane, Harrison, and Chris Brand. The Importance of Spearman’s g As a Psychometric, Social, and Educational Construct. The Occidental Quarterly v3.n1 (Spring 2003).

The post How to Spice up Your ALT Lessons with the Nine Intelligences! appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/06/how-to-spice-up-your-alt-lessons-with-the-nine-intelligences/feed/ 11
10 Not-Japanese Foods Lost in Translation http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/02/10-not-japanese-foods-lost-in-translation/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/02/10-not-japanese-foods-lost-in-translation/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 16:00:30 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42879 Food is a great way to share culture, but sometimes it can be difficult. Like any other art, certain cultures value certain traits more than others. What’s delicious to one may be disgusting to another. Add difficulty obtaining ingredients due to price, season, or general scarcity, combined with differences in cooking techniques, and even food […]

The post 10 Not-Japanese Foods Lost in Translation appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Food is a great way to share culture, but sometimes it can be difficult. Like any other art, certain cultures value certain traits more than others. What’s delicious to one may be disgusting to another. Add difficulty obtaining ingredients due to price, season, or general scarcity, combined with differences in cooking techniques, and even food itself can become lost in translation.

Thus, this list. While Japan is often accused of having “weird” food, it’s simply a reinterpretation based on local culture. Often we can still find the spirit of the original dish, and hopefully, by discussing some of the origins, we can see how even our own local favorite “ethnic” food might have been adapted for our own culture’s taste buds.

1. Pizza

japanese-pizza-corn-and-mayo

Photo by Takeshi Kiriya

The first time I visited Japan, my family friends thought it would be good to give me something “American” for dinner, to help my stomach adjust to the long flight, lack of sleep, and different weather. What I got was a mayonnaise, corn, “sausage” pizza (wait for my section on sausage). I’d never had any of those ingredients on a pizza since, well, we don’t really do that in the states. I was going to say it was “wrong”, but despite not liking sushi at the time, I immediately thought of California rolls and a Japanese friend I knew who had complained about fake Japanese food. Rather than shutting my mouth, I accepted the difference and tried to embrace it. I didn’t really enjoy it that time, but future adventures went much better.

I feel like pizza is a good place for us to start, because it is one food I feel like is both universal and also…not. For those unaware, there are actually guidelines for what a real Neapolitan pizza is. That’s pretty hardcore, not just because a government would outline what allows a food to be called by a certain name, but also because it dictates the region the ingredients must come from. It certainly makes it hard for even Americans to say they’ve had the “real” thing, but maybe that’s okay.

A wise geek has mentioned that pizza is the people’s food and, in the old days, was pretty much just dough, cheese, and whatever you had around. In fact, the tomato part of pizza came from America, so while it was created in Italy, its current form is rather modern. In that sense, we shouldn’t be too surprised when Japanese people use toppings like shrimp, canned tuna, avocado, seaweed, or even squid ink on their pizza.

I know there are some well known differences between the two regions’ pizza styles on the web, but from people I know, the big differences for modern Italian pizza when compared to American pizza (which can be applied to most Japanese pizzas too) are the consistently thinner, wood-fire baked crust, less but fresher tomato sauce or just chopped tomato, lighter amount of cheese, and fewer toppings, especially in terms of the kinds of meat you can use. Pepperoni isn’t a kind of meat in Italy because it’s the name of a bell pepper in Italy; the meat is an American creation with a confusing name for real Italians.

In that sense, both Japanese pizza and American pizza are odd but normal. Odd in that an Italian weaned on Neapolitan pizza may be surprised that corn is the most popular pizza topping in some Japanese pizza places. But that’s okay since, much like the creation of pizza, the spirit of using American vegetables is still being upheld. Oh, and using whatever’s around and delicious as a topping. Or something like that. It’s normal to use local ingredients, and that’s where we’ll rest this debate.

 2. Cheese

eating-cheese-from-japan

Photo by Ran Zwigenberg

The above photo exemplifies most of the cheese you will find in Japan without visiting an import store: heavily processed, plastic wrapped cheese with no specific name. Honestly, whenever presented with these non-Kraft singles, I ask people what kind of cheese it is. Most people look at the package, and then I list a few names, like gouda and cheddar, which can be found at import stores or some really nice super markets. Then they laugh and usually answer “mild.” Which is a pretty friendly way of saying, “This doesn’t have a taste and may just be tofu mixed with plastic.”

As a processed cheese, it’s probably at least a type of what we’d call “American cheese.” Oh, there’s cheese in there, but there’s so many other ingredients that, even by American standards, you can’t really call it cheese. This is important because, although cheese is popular in America, we don’t eat “raw” cheese, cheese that’s been made from unpasteurized milk. The pasteurization process is supposed to make the cheese safe from certain bacteria, but it also changes the flavor, which is why you’ll often hear French people dissing American cheese.

Of course, this assumes you like the taste of cheese. There’s a reason that Japan uses a lot of processed cheese: it’s pretty much a fatty, spoiled milk byproduct. How many readers can actually say they like stinky cheeses like limburger? Keeping in mind that Japan’s Buddhist influences upheld a ban on eating (most) four-legged animals until 1867, and that cattle were work animals before this, Japan’s history with cheese may seem short. However, despite the fact that it wasn’t really popular until the Meiji era, cheese actually was present in Japan around 700 AD from China. Obviously it didn’t do so well, since most cheese in Japan is very  processed and/or very mild these days.

3. Mexican Food

taco-rice

Photo by Hajime NAKANO

This one’s probably a bit tame and decently well known: takoraisu (or Taco Rice). It’s “Mexican” food made in Okinawa that’s popular with foreigners. I personally can barely stand the stuff. The “salsa” usually tastes like a sweet, slightly spicy ketchup. It doesn’t always include cheese, and sometimes uses cabbage instead of lettuce. However, most tacos Americans know (including myself!) are actually Tex-mex, so you can blame this one on America. Why? Two big hints if you look at a recipe for takoraisu: cumin and beef.

Mexican chefs from Mexico have noted that real Mexican food usually doesn’t have beef or cumin. For meat, most Mexican people eat a lot of chicken and pork, unless they live very far north or are ranchers. Cumin, on the other hand, is another “northern” ingredient. Cumin is relatively new to Mexican cooking, being imported from India via the US or England.

In this sense, I can understand why some Japanese “Mexican” food is just so different from some of the better Mexican food I’ve had (made by Mexicans who moved to the states or Mexican-Americans who try to uphold their parents’ culture). As some Mexicans might tell you, American Mexican food can be rather mild to suit American tastes that may not be able to handle as much heat. Transferred again to Japan, where, despite having spice-loving neighbors like China and Korea, spicy food isn’t very popular. So some of the changes make sense. On the plus side though, Japanese people will use more white cheese like traditional Mexican cooking does. However when you have food that actually includes a tortilla, like burritos, corn tortillas are replaced with wheat.

4. Corn Dogs

american-dog

Photo by Bing

In Japan, it’s called an “American dog,” but sadly, it’s yet another food Americans can’t exactly claim; corn dogs were created by German immigrants to Texas who wanted to sell more sausages. While the stick may have come later, the original recipe did, in fact, use corn meal, which is a bit odd considering that older Germans have told me they grew up thinking of corn as animal feed unfit for human consumption. Heck, my old German teacher freaked out her German roommates when she was studying abroad and they found her eating a big can of something they only expected pigs to eat. Oddly enough, though Germans aren’t traditionally corn eaters, they do eat some now, and as per one of my friends from college, Germans now eat corn on pizza.

So what’s the big deal? Even though they love corn, Japanese use wheat flour for American dogs. Don’t ask why, since I’ve yet to find out, but corn meal just isn’t made out here. No one can tell me why.

5. Sausage

japanese-sausage

Photo by kagawa_ymg

I know I’ve mentioned her before, but I met a German sausage enthusiast in Japan. I hadn’t had a decent sausage in awhile, and she was hurt concerning the reactions to her food. Most people were saying her bratwurst were too spicy, and she kept trying to assure me that it was a traditional, mild recipe, so I picked one up. I’ve had sausage at least made by Germans who love their food heritage in the states, but aside from the small size (most food gets smaller in Japan), the taste was the same: juicy coarse cut meat and just enough pepper to let you know it’s there.

As I said earlier, Japanese people aren’t good with spicy. They’re more into mild tastes, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to say that the first Japanese “sausage” I tried tasted more like a hot dog. Nothing wrong with hot dogs, but don’t exactly blame this on America. While popular in the states, its origins lie in Austria.

Hot dogs are a mildly spiced (if at all) type of sausage that are made of finely chopped meat (if meat is used), whereas other sausages tend to be more spiced with coarse cuts of meat. In addition, hot dogs are pre-cooked, while sausages can be sold raw. The “sausage” I’ve had on several pizzas in Japan were certainly pre-cooked, lightly spiced, and used finely chopped meat, much like that fish sausage/hot dog above.

To be frank, I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of sausage in Japan outside of Tokyo, including at Oktoberfests. Again, using the above description, a lot of what is labelled as “sausage” here is very mild, pre-cooked, and finely chopped. It’s not bad at all, but it’s not what I’m used to getting when I think of sausage.

6. Bacon

japanese-bacon

Koichi spoke about this, so I’ll try to expand on what he’s brought to the fight so far. Bacon can actually be a little flexible from country to country, but at it’s core, it’s meat cured either in a brine or through dry packing, usually with salt and can be smoked or boiled. Usually it’s pork, but the location of where on the pig it originates from varies. Americans love their pork belly bacon, while Canadian bacon is taken from the back of the animal. Oddly enough, the Canadians have bacon from other parts of the animal, as do Europeans. I guess that’s why we’re a bit picky about bacon.

Those who have eaten Japanese bacon are sometimes confused and upset by the taste though. When cut into cubes and grilled over a fire, it’s not bad, but it often reminds people of ham. While, like America, Japan uses pork belly for bacon, Japanese bacon is pre-cooked, meaning you can eat it right from the bag. Americans reading this might have made the connection by now, but if not, it’s similar to ham in the states, which undergoes a decent amount of curing, cooking, or general processing so that few hams Americans encounter are truly “raw.”

As a bonus, “ham” in Japanese is totally different from English. While our hams are usually pork thighs (or sometimes turkey), in Japan, it’s pretty much just processed meat, not just from pigs. It includes prosciutto, but sliced chicken breast has been called “ham” by some of my Japanese co-workers.

7. Curry

japanese-curry-rice

Photo by ekkun

This one’s a bit tough, since, like pizza, it’s become very international. At the same time, it’s been an Indian staple for thousands of years, and at the very least, it’s traditionally made with ginger, turmeric, and garlic with some rice on the side. The Japanese have the bare basics down, but their version is pretty different from what I expect from Indian curry. This time, though, we can blame the Brits, who introduced curry after the opening of Japan. Although Buddhism was passed down to Japan from India, curry was somehow left behind. It was the British who gave curry a ride to the land of the rising sun. Oddly enough though, Japanese curry’s claim to fame is a roux, a traditionally French technique.

Now, I could just say, “It’s milder and uses a roux,” but that seems a bit too simplistic. Instead, let’s first compare ingredients from the above link. Indian curry uses many more spices than Japanese curry. Japanese curry, conversely, uses several fruits and meats, as well as udon noodles as ingredients. It’s not that Indian curry doesn’t use other ingredients, but it’s usually more about the spice and uses fewer ingredients. Speaking  as someone who’s tried the lifestyle and has a sibling who still upholds it, Indian curry is also more vegetarian friendly than Japanese curry. Still, if you think this is a bit too broad, let’s go with a recipe comparison.

This was a bit tough, since even the most home-made Japanese curry recipes at least use pre-mixed spices like garam masala, but I just found a comparable recipe that also used it and other similar ingredients. Both recipes are for a kind of butter chicken curry. Starting with the garam masala, the Indian recipe uses 1/4 less than the Japanese version, but also uses more of a variety of spices: cinnamon, cloves, chili powder, fenugreek leaf powder, and ginger, but no cayenne like the Japanese version. Both use tomato, but the Japanese version uses ketchup or tomato paste, while the Indian one uses a puree. The Indian version has more tomato, but the Japanese one also uses tonkatsu sauce, so we already can see the Japanese one will be sweeter. The Indian recipe uses honey, but the Japanese version uses a whole apple. Finally, both use dairy to help keep things cool, but the Indian recipe uses butter and cream while the Japanese just uses butter. I think you can see how things differ.

8. Char siu

chashu-pork-ramen

Now this is something I really miss from less Americanized Chinese places (and Hawaiian restaurants): char siu, a Cantonese method of cooking (traditionally) pork. Think barbecue, both in cooking method and in taste: it’s a bit salty, a bit sweet, smokey, and delicious. For some reason, the Japanese changed it. You may now know it as “chashu,” and while the change happened centuries ago, the name similarity is enough that even a foreigner to both Chinese and Japanese culture (like me) is able to hear the similarities between the two and make the connection.

In Japan, instead of using a nice fire, the pork (just loin) is rolled, braised, and lacks five spice and sugar. Oh, and the modern day food coloring addition. It’s certainly less colorful, but still rather good, despite the name taunting those of us who know its origins. Chashu’s pretty good on it’s own, which is why it’s ramen’s best friend, but not everyone agrees with the changes.

9. Cheesecake

japanese-souffle-cake

Photo by loving.baking

Just looking at this picture makes me a little sad. It’s not that Japanese people can’t make cheesecakes, nor that souffle cheesecakes are bad (hint:they’re not!). But the cheesecake made in Japan really is nothing like what I’m used to. I think of cheesecake as a rather decadent dessert. In Japan, it’s…. not. If you go by a basic definition, what Japan makes is certainly cheesecakes. However, what I like in the states is called “baked cheesecake.” For me, it’d be like buying “baked bread.” I see it as the food’s default state. No, in Japan, cheesecake here often seems to be something different.

Finally, we have a food that at least I feel comfortable enough to call “American,” and not because it naturally grows there! Cream cheese is actually an American food, being made by failing to recreate Neufchâtel cheese to make something richer and creamer. While other cheeses are used in other countries, Japan’s cheesecake is described as seeming a bit plasticky, probably due to the way it emulsifies its ingredients. Cornstarch and flour aren’t ingredients I think of being in cheesecake (unless it’s made by a cheap restaurant or used in the crust), but the very first recipe on a popular Japanese recipe site uses it for a “baked cheesecake.” This makes the cheesecake less dense and less sweet, but that’s not the first thing Japan does differently.

“Rare” cheesecake is what we’d call “no bake” cheesecake in the states. This recipe’s no-bake cheesecake method is pretty much what I’m used to. Yeah, it’s a bit less “cheesecake” and uses cream, but it’s still pretty rich. In Japan, they sometimes use gelatin, yogurt, or milk. Once again, these make the cheesecake less dense and less sweet, which is fine, but certainly not what my American stomach craves when it thinks cheesecake.

The most different style cheesecake, though, is the souffle. A simple google search will result in recipes that constantly call it “Japanese Souffle Cheesecake” because, well, it really is a Japanese creation. Again looking to popular Japanese recipes, we see not only substitutions to cut back on the cream cheese (such as using whipping or sour cream), but the addition of yogurt and use of cake flour. While this is a light, fluffy, subtle cake sure to please someone with a delicate palate. However, those with a carnal desire for unadulterated American cheesecake will certainly be in for an unpleasant surprise. Just see if there is any “baked cheesecake” and live with the fact that it’ll be milder than what you’re used to.

10. Western Breakfast

japanese-pancakes-and-waffles2

Photo by Robyn Lee and David Woo

Just searching Google in Japanese for waffles and pancakes will visually show you the difference, but for those too lazy to click the link, here’s the hint: they’re desserts. While I know many Americans joke about this, I think if you want to a restaurant and saw pancakes or waffles on the dessert menu, you’d be pretty confused. I know I was the first time I played Tomodachi Life in English and found both foods in the dessert section, and one looking much smaller than I’d anticipated.

Pancakes are sometimes a little sweet. Fruit and whipped cream aren’t that uncommon, but if you look at the Japanese Google results, you see far more of that than maple syrup, butter, and bacon being served along side a stack of pancakes. It isn’t entirely sweet in Japan though. No, I’m not talking about savory crepes. While I haven’t tried them, I was assured they were becoming popular. One site shows things like curry pancakes, tomato pancakes, Christmas cake pancakes, and cheese fondue pancakes. It’s also got the more traditional variety we’re used to, but the Japanese pancakes certainly make use of local tastes to experiment with the form.

Waffles, on the other hand, seem much more limited to sweets. I’ve been told you can find American style waffles in some places, but overall, Japanese waffles are more like soft cookies, which is exactly how they appear in Tomodachi Life. While you may imagine Belgian waffles as the definition of waffles, those are actually American waffles based on Belgian styles (notice the s!). Despite sometimes calling them “Belgian Waffles,” Japanese waffles are more similar to Liège waffles, a (real) Belgian style waffle that’s richer and denser than what Americans eat (and oddly, the opposite translation of the Japanese cheesecake!).

Now, while these are both a bit in between for Americans, any style is pretty acceptable, since historically, both pancakes and waffles played both sides, with early pancakes using cheese sometimes and early waffles using orange blossom water.

Bon Appétit

cocos-viking-food

Photo by toshisyung

So, there you have it! Ten foods pulled from around the globe, translated differently in Japanese culture than what you might have expected which, perhaps, in turn, you didn’t realize was different from it’s original. Hopefully with this in mind, the next time you try another country’s version of a pizza or pancake, you remember just how far the recipe’s come from its humble origins!

Bonus Wallpapers!

10nonjapanesefoods-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

The post 10 Not-Japanese Foods Lost in Translation appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/02/10-not-japanese-foods-lost-in-translation/feed/ 71
So You Want To Be A Japanese Translator? Starring Susanna Fessler http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/30/so-you-want-to-be-a-japanese-translator-starring-susanna-fessler/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/30/so-you-want-to-be-a-japanese-translator-starring-susanna-fessler/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 16:00:23 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43103 Here at Tofugu we get countless emails from people who want to be Japanese translators. While my own experiences are limited, I thought there would be no better person to ask than my former Japanese literature professor and university advisor, Dr. Susanna Fessler. She was nice enough to hop on Skype and answer all of my questions regarding literary […]

The post So You Want To Be A Japanese Translator? Starring Susanna Fessler appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Here at Tofugu we get countless emails from people who want to be Japanese translators. While my own experiences are limited, I thought there would be no better person to ask than my former Japanese literature professor and university advisor, Dr. Susanna Fessler. She was nice enough to hop on Skype and answer all of my questions regarding literary and freelance translation, and interpretation. This is the written version of that conversation, so please pardon the casual tone and enjoy this unfiltered interview!

Q. What is your name and where do you currently work?

My name is Susanna Fessler and I’m a professor in the East Asian Studies Department at the University at Albany, I’ve been there for twenty years.

Fessler, Susanna_0149

Q. What kind of translation work have you done?

What I do is largely literary translation. I have done commercial, or what they call technical translation, it’s been a very long time since I’ve done it. I did it back when I was in graduate school on sort of a freelance basis. I can’t remember how many jobs I had – a few, I was in the midwest. And I also spent a summer being a technical translator in a car parts factory in Ohio for a subsidiary of Honda. They were just setting up production and they had a staff of about a dozen Japanese management and about a dozen Americans and they had a huge problem because the Japanese didn’t really speak English and the Americans didn’t really speak Japanese and they were trying to get their factory set up so they hired me to come in and both interpret and translate.

Q. How many years have you been working the the world of translation?

I guess all told, about twenty-five years, on and off since grad school.

Q. How did you become interested in being a translator?

Well, when I was doing technical translation I was in it for the money, I’ll just be perfectly honest about that (laughs). Technical translation is not something – I don’t know anybody who does it because they find it edifying – but it pays well. And what often happens is you’ll find that technical translators do that to put food on the table, but then they’ll also be really interested in literary translation because it’s the literary translation that is edifying.

Now in my case, I did the technical translation to make the money, and since I have pretty much stopped doing that. Sometimes I’ll get a query through the department or something but usually I’m not interested, or I can’t do it cause there’s a time conflict or something like that. So I just pass it on. But you’ll also find, if you talk to a lot of people who do translation, that in the world of,literary translation almost everyone, with maybe the exception of one or two people in Japanese to English translation, is not really a professional translator. They are probably like me; they are professors. They do translation on the side, so to speak. In academia, it depends on the institution but in a lot of places they kind of frown upon translation as research activity. They’ll say, Oh it doesn’t “count” – count toward the research portfolio that you have to build in order to get promoted and to get tenure. And so what pattern you’ll find is that a lot of literary translators start out as professors but they don’t really do literary translation until after they’ve gotten tenure. At that point they’re safe, that job is safe,  and they can go do that translation and it’s not going to be held against them when they come up for promotion further on. And I very much fit that pattern.

2635608241_a4cffe51c7_b

Photo by Guwashi999

So my first two books were monographs, and then I got tenure, and then I remember chatting with another professor, who’s been my mentor since I came here, and I said, you know I have this opportunity to do this literary translation, I really want to do it, but I know everyone says, oh translation doesn’t count, but he said don’t worry about it, you’ve got tenure now you can do whatever the hell you wanna do (laughs). So that’s what I did, you know, I did that translation. Then that led to the next project, which is another translation, which I’ve just finished, and I’m not sure what the next project’s going to be, I’m kind of torn. I was asked if I wanted to do another translation and I’m just not sure. Maybe that’ll be like, the project after the next project.

Q. What was the very first thing you translated?

That goes way way way far back. I translated a short story when I was a sophomore in college. It was a story by Enchi Fumiko and the title of it is “Korosu” as in the verb “to kill” and it was published in this rinky dink little publication that the East Asian Studies Department at Oberlin College puts out called Ao Tung. So that was my sophomore year and in a way it was kind of like what you were doing last semester. It was my first foray into anything like that, it was an independent study, they call it something different at Oberlin, but that’s what it was. And so I worked with a professor and you know, I picked out the short story, and then I spent the semester effectively with Nelson’s chained to my ankle (laughs) and just sat there and, you know, worked and worked and worked at it.

Q. What would you say someone needs to do to professionally translate literature? Do they have to become a professor to do it? Or is there a different path?

You know there isn’t something you have to do, there is that standard path that I just described, but there are some people who are not professors who translate. They’re few and far between, usually they’re independently wealthy so they don’t have to worry about it, right? Obviously, you have to develop the language skills and you have to develop the research skills. You have to be an excellent writer in your own language. If you’re doing Japanese to English, your English has to be really good. There’s a website – I was thinking about this as I was madly peddling home today – that I have passed onto a couple of different people and I can’t remember if I passed it onto you. It’s called something like, So You Want To Be a Translator. It’s written as part of a blog by a woman who does Japanese – English translation. I don’t think it would be too hard to find if you do some judicious googling. And I thought she had some really good advice, she had like four or five points about what you need to do, and I’ve already reiterated three of those I think, in terms of developing research skills and language skills, and I think one of the other things she points out is that when you translate something, you become an expert in it. Especially when you’re doing technical translation. So you actually have to learn about that thing. That really rang true to me too when I was working in the car parts factory, that was a factory that produced rack and pinion steering components. About which I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, right? I didn’t know the English for half the things in that factory, but I learned really fast. And so later on I knew a lot more about that production process. Or, I did a small job translating some newspaper articles from the industrial glass world. And I didn’t know anything about industrial glass production, but I learned a lot doing that too.

2994043188_6eae154892_o

Photo by Roger Wollstadt

So for technical translation you do have to become that expert, but you know in literary translation you have to become an expert too, in that you have to find the voice of the author, and try and reproduce that. So you create a specific persona, or if it’s a work of fiction where you have dialogue and things like that, then you know the different characters have to develop that voice. You can’t just do a sort of mechanical kind of translation, it doesn’t really work very well.

There is at least one training road that one can take. That list of people that I contacted for you were all part of the British Centre for Literary Translation. I don’t think there’s anything like that in the United States. It’s located at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, in the UK. And every summer they run a workshop where they get people together who are interested in literary translation and they have different language groups each year. The year I went, which was about five years ago, there were, I think, six different groups and Japanese was one of them. In each group there were about ten participants, and in addition to the ten participants, this is the really cool part, they bring in contemporary authors. They have the author there, and they have someone who has worked with the author as a literary translator, and they run the sessions. So for a week, all day, everyday, you’re sitting in this room with a contemporary author and a bunch of other translators, and looking really closely at various passages that that author has written and deciding how it would be translated well into the target language, and in my case it was English.

The author that was there my year was Tawada Yōko, whose work I’m not a big fan of, I gotta say, but she is a very famous writer. And I met some really cool people, and had some fascinating conversations, and got to see other people’s methods and learning how to translate, or doing the process of translation. One of the things I learned that week was that there isn’t one method that’s right and we all have our different approaches. For me, it’s kind of, I don’t know what the right word is, it’s kind of organic. I do it sentence by sentence, I read a whole sentence, and I sort of turn it around in my brain or my gut, and then spit something out. Other people would mull over bits and pieces of sentences and then put them together. It really differed. And then we had all kinds of discussions about finding that voice, what I was saying earlier.

There were things I hadn’t anticipated, like in that room we had people from New Zealand, and the UK, and Canada, and the United States, and India, and we all had our own idea of what English should be. So what sounded natural to one person didn’t sound natural to the other one, and then all kinds of fascinating things came out of that session. So for example, I can’t remember if I told you this story or not, there was a passage where there was a noun, and of course in Japanese it’s just a noun, it’s not singular or plural, but in English we had to make that decision – whether it was singular or plural, and it made all the difference in the world. It was one of those discussions that could have gone on forever, except that the author was sitting right there! She said, “Oh that’s an interesting questions I never thought about it that. Like mm, what if I made it this way-” No no no, you can’t change your mind you have to just tell us what you intended (laughs).

So anyway, to my knowledge thats one of the few actual training places that one can learn literary translation. I have noticed the phenomenon of courses at the university level being taught on translation increasingly in the world and I have no idea how that works, because they’re not language specific. I can’t imagine how I would teach that class. I know people are interested in the topic, but I think it has to be language specific, and it would really have to be a very high level course to fly, I think. You know, you can’t have people who are in first year language or second year language struggling with texts.

Q. So what does a recent grad do to become a translator? You’ve just graduated and you have all this language knowledge that’s kind of there, how do you get where you need to be?

4734391321_9121ff4992_b

Photo by Jessie Jacobson

Well if what you want to do it be a literary translator, then you go participate in the BCLT thing in the summer maybe (laughs). And if that’s all you want to do then, either you’re going to have to live hand and mouth, or you have to be independently wealthy for a very long time before you can get your foot in the door. Because in the literary world most publishers these days are not interested in publishing older stuff, they only want to publish new stuff. So I can’t say, oh I just discovered this new novel, or this novel by Natsume Sōseki that nobody knew existed and let’s publish it. People would say, forget it man, the guy died in 1916, who cares? Even though he was one of the great writers of his generation.

For the most part you’re working with authors who have current contracts with publishers, and so you have to work with the publisher and the author. So the authors get a say in who they want to translate their work and sometimes that goes really well and sometimes it just doesn’t. And the more famous the author is, usually the more cantankerous they are, you know, they can be really picky. If there is somebody who isn’t really well known, then they’re probably going to be more flexible.

Sometimes presses can be friendly and sometimes they can just be kinda standoffish. Most of the presses that do literary translations are university presses. And so if you’re competing in that pool, you’re competing with professors. There are a few presses, like Kodansha has kind of pulled out of the game, but for a long time Kodansha International was sort of one of the key players, Tuttle, obviously, is also still there, does a lot of translation. But they often let stuff fall out of print, and then it might just die a quiet death.

I work with a publisher – it’s a one man gig – so there’s one person working in the office and he does most everything. He lives in Fukuoka, and his love is books, and so he just wants more stuff to be translated. So he’s got a nice website and he’ll say if you’re interested in translating they actually have a process that you can go through. They have an application if you’re interested in publishing with them, and they will ask you to pick one of, I think it’s ten different things they have on their website to translate, and send it in as a sample. If they think you’re competent and there’s hope there, then you can start talking with them about it.

The guy’s name is Edward Lipsett. I don’t know how Edward deals with current authors. In my case, the guy I translate is dead, and has been dead for more than fifty years, so everything is public domain, we don’t have to worry about copyright or anything like that. But when you’re working with more current authors, then that’s where the publisher has to get involved. But Edward, I think he tries to contact the authors and says, you know we have somebody who’s interested in translating your work, would you be interested, or he talks to the publishers of the original Japanese and then tries to get them onboard. So there’s a big negotiation process, but you kind of have to, as the translator yourself, you have to first show that you’re competent, that you have something to offer, and getting to that point isn’t super easy.

Now, how do you get to that point? One way is by doing technical translation, and getting comfortable with that process. How do you do that? Well, it’s like looking for any job. You have to send a resume out to a whole bunch of different places. It’s like opening the phone book and looking under translation, because most technical translation is done through an intermediary, middle-man party. So Company A needs a document translated, they contact the translation office, and then the translation office farms that out to the appropriate person. So it’s never a full time job, where you get a salary. Unless you’re one of the very few people who does it full time, for say, Toyota is always the example we use, it’s not only Toyota, but you know huge companies like that actually do employ a few people full time. But often those people they employ full time are specialized, like they do law, or something like that. I would never take a law job. It’s too scary. I don’t know that vocabulary and I can’t learn it fast enough to be safe. Like, I don’t want to expose somebody to a lawsuit (laughs).

Q. So if someone wanted to work for one of those big companies, they should definitely have some kind of specialization. Like if you want to work for an automotive company you should know about that? Or medicine, etc.?

Right, so that’s one way to get your foot in that door. Talking to some of the people at the BCLT event who actually have worked for Toyota in the past, they say that what often happens is you simply do a couple jobs, a couple freelance jobs, and they really like your work, and so then you’re their go to person, and the middleman maybe gets cut out or something like that. But it takes a long time to be that go to person.

And the competition is, well Japanese to English not as great as lots of other languages, but it’s still there. One of the problems with translation, if you move out of the sort of musty world that I’m in and into stuff like video games and manga and anime, is that there is a large crowd of people out there who are willing, and who do, translate game scripts and web pages and all those kinds of things for free, for fun. And you know, you can’t compete with free when you’re talking about what you’re going to charge for something. So that’s why I keep saying it’s just not lucrative. I think in total I’ve made like, maybe $150 from my translation (laughs), from the book that I published in 2009. And I’ll probably make about that much money from the one that I’m publishing right now. So I just do it because I enjoy it, and it’s a fun, fascinating challenge, and it dovetails with my research.

Q. So it really has to be something that you’re passionate about, that you want to do because you want to do it, and not, “I want to be rich, I’m going to translate,” that’s not going to work out for you?

8463683689_23d1da43d6_k

Photo by epSos .de

I don’t think anybody gets rich doing it. At all. I’m curious, so for example, Jay Rubin, who is now retired, who’s my daisempai, if you will. He had the same advisor in graduate school as I did, he was the first generation and I was the last generation, We both worked under McClellan, and McClellen was, you know, one of these demigods of translation. So a lot of the students that he produced then went on to do translation. So Jay did a number of different translations and now in his glorious retirement, is one of the go to people for translations of Murakami Haruki. So Murakami Haruki has two translators and Jay is one of them. I’m not sure how much money he makes on that. I don’t think he does it for the money, I’m sure he has a nice pension (laughs). But I’m sure he’s making more, because Murakami Haruki, I’m sure he’s making more than I am. No question about that.

Yeah, if there’s a name that everyone knows now, it’s Murakami Haruki.

Yeah, exactly, well those books sell. I mean the reason I don’t make money is because my books don’t sell. Quite literally every year, maybe two or three copies sell, and that’s okay, I don’t care. But you know, I don’t depend on it to make money, that’s for sure.

I should also say, the cousin of translation is interpreting.

Q. Have you ever done interpreting, or do you stay away from it?

For the most part, I stay away from it, but at the car parts factory I did it. But it was exhausting, it was absolutely exhausting. Translating I can sit and do all day, I mean I get tired, but the mental work involved in interpreting, especially because I was a first year graduate student, and at that point I had been studying Japanese for six years, on and off, and there was just a ton of stuff that I didn’t know. So it was really very nervous making too. There was a lot of zangyō because they were just setting up everything, you know. And inevitably, half the time you ran overtime. And it was an hour commute one way, in summer, in a car that had no air conditioning. It’s the one time in my life when I’ve come close to falling asleep at the wheel.

But after three months I was so glad that it was ending. I was just exhausted. I wanted to go back to school and do something different. I can’t imagine interpreting for a long period of time, unless you were raised bilingually. It’s just really hard.

Q. What exactly did you do? Did you follow some people around and help them talk to each other?

Yeah, basically. Like I said, they were setting up the production line, so I would go and interpret for, usually it was the management, who was explaining to the Americans what needed to be done. Or it was an assembly line and they were doing it according to this sort of long standing Japanese tradition where you train everybody for every station, so that if someone’s out sick one day, production doesn’t stop. So they had to train all the Americans in all the different stations. Like okay, today we’re doing chrome plating, or whatever.

So there was stuff like that, and then I would kind of follow people around. One day we had someone come, an American subcontractor who needed to check out some of the air conditioning units that are on the roof of the factory, it was a flat roof, right? So the management was really funny, it was almost all men in this factory, there were like two women in the office, and then everybody else was male. And then there was me. They realized that they needed help with this and they said well, we’re not going to ask you to climb up on the roof and I said why not? I’m not afraid of heights (laughs). And so I just followed them up the ladder, and you know, did whatever I could do to explain things.

You’re just going to have to be intrepid about it, and say okay, I’ll take this challenge or that challenge. But they were nice, they realized that I had my limitations as somebody who’d only studied the language for six years, but my price was right. I was only charging – this was 1988 – I was only charging $10/hr, well 10 to 15, it was cheap compared to anybody else. I think they felt like they were getting their money’s worth, and I felt like they were getting their money’s worth too, so I didn’t feel too bad about it. I wasn’t like, oh my God, I’m an impostor I don’t really speak Japanese (laughs). That kind of thing.

Once in a while the department, even now gets a call, they’re looking for, and the people, they’re like folks over at RPI or whatever, they’re always looking for interpreters. They’re never looking for translators. And often its legal or court proceedings or some management muckity muck is coming into town and they need someone to help in a meeting, and I just think, no I’m not going there. You know? I would mess that up. If it were a hundred year old Meiji Japanese maybe, but I don’t know that stuff, right? So I just kind of pass it on.

Q. So from when you started learning Japanese to when you got your first job, it had been six years?

Yeah.

Q. Was that off and on studying or was it hardcore, everyday studying?

6820209341_6e7ee3f555_b

Photo by Nomadic Lass

Well my first year I was a high school exchange student, so I lived with a host family in Kyushu, and I attended a regular school, and I went with no Japanese whatsoever. So that was a really inefficient but intense learning experience. And then I returned to the United States and studied Japanese at college for two years and then I went back to Japan for my junior year abroad, again another study abroad program living with a host family. That one was a little more like the UAlbany program, so I was attending language classes but then English language classes on Japan at the same time. So it was less intense than my high school experience.

Then I came back to the United States and there was really nothing, there was no Japanese left for me to do in my last semester. I graduated mid-year in January because I’d brought in some credits when I first went into college, so I wasn’t doing Japanese that senior year in any serious way. I was tutoring some undergrads, but that was about it. And that was a year that I studied Mandarin. Then the year after I graduated I went to China for a year and I was teaching English and studying Mandarin, but my roommate was Japanese and she doesn’t speak any English, and she had no interest in learning English. So actually I got to use a lot of Japanese that year that I was in China, so I sort of still consider that a year of study.

Then I came back to the States, I’ve lost track of how many years I’ve covered now, and I spent a year in graduate school in Ohio State in Japanese Languages and Literatures. It was the summer after that year that I had the job at the car parts factory. So, what is that, six or seven years.

Q. Our readers really want to know what level of the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) you need to be able to pass before you start being a translator.

You know the JLPT is one piece of the bigger puzzle. So just because you pass JLPT 1 does not mean that you’ll be a good translator and just because you failed JLPT 1 doesn’t mean that you can’t be a good translator. Because translating is deliberative. JLPT is timed and restrictive – you can’t use a dictionary, you just have to read and spit, or listen and spit, right?

The skills the JLPT tests are really not the same skills as translating, so I could give some kid in EAJ202 (Intermediate Japanese) who’s motivated, a bunch of dictionaries and a page of Japanese, and I could expect that person to produce something. It might even be something really good as long as they’re not too stuck on a particular grammar point, and it’s not in classical Japanese or anything like that. If I give them as much time as they need, and all the reference works, that’s a really, really different mental process.

You know if you walk into a situation where you’re trying to sell yourself as a translator and you say, well I passed the JLPT 1, people are just going to look at you like “so what”, I think. They’re going to ask you to produce an example of your work. That’s really sort of the first key thing.

I had a student who, two years before he graduated, somebody asked me, a friend of a friend, asked me if I could help with a translation, Japanese to English, and I thought, you know, I don’t want to work for the friend of a friend – it was actually the boyfriend of a friend. Like that could be good or it could be really bad. And so I said, how about I just give this to an advanced student, what do you think? He said I don’t care, he was not ready to pay the professional going rate, which is like $30/hr, it’s just ridiculous how much the super professionals do for technical translating. So there’s sort of this sub-world where if you’re not super professional but you’re good enough and you charge less, then you know, maybe you can get that job.

279625345_412cdf3ef2_b

Photo by Nic McPhee

So anyway I knew this student was looking for translation work and he didn’t need anything full time, so I asked him if he was willing to give it a shot, and he said well yeah, sure what the heck, right? And he just knuckled down and actually ended up working with one other student because it was a rush job, but they got it done and the guy was happy. It wasn’t perfect, but it was what he needed. They were actually translating a patent, again law stuff, God I hate that, so boring. So they translated the document. He was happy and the student was happy and the student emails me and says, “Uh how much am I supposed to charge this guy, I’ve never done this before” (laughs). And I said oo, well uh… (laughs).

Anyway how did I get there, where was I going with that? Oh! Right, what are your skills. So this student at the time was, he had tried to take the JLPT, just 2, and just barely didn’t pass. But does that mean that he couldn’t do that job? Absolutely not. He had the document, he had dictionaries, he had the research skills that he needed because he’d taken 205 (Japanese Research and Bibliographic Methods) and he just, you know, he did it. I think those skills have continued on for him in, at masters program too, but going back to that webpage I was mentioning earlier you know, So You Want To Be a Translator, I think that woman also mentions that just having a language skill – it’s part of what you need but it’s not the answer.

So I would hesitate to tell anybody that, oh you have to do JLPT 1 or something because I worry that people are going to bust their butt to pass JLPT 1 and then they’re going to discover that there’s no golden path down to Emerald City. And they’ll feel very betrayed and angry and unhappy.

Q. So if people say, but no, there’s gotta be something you have to pass, there really isn’t anything?

That’s right, I mean it’s really establishing a good reputation, doing good work, doing it in a timely fashion. Um.. what else..

So starting off as a freelancer so that you have something to build up a resume with -

Exactly. You can say, here is an example of the work that I did for, you know, building a portfolio for this company or for that company. You might say how long it took you to turn it around. You want to think about how much you’re going to charge as a freelancer. Those rates change over time because of inflation. You don’t want to undercut the whole market and then try and raise your prices because people will freak out about it, and you’ll kind of get a bad reputation. But like I was saying earlier, you kind of want to charge what you think is the right value for what you’re producing. So if you don’t have confidence about your Japanese then don’t feel bad about having a lower price (laughs).

One of the other things is that translators have to be good communicators not just in the process of translating but also in working with the clients because clients often will come to you – they’re blind, right? – they have this document that they can’t read, it just looks like chicken scratches to them, but they think the document’s important. And you’d be surprised how often it isn’t. When you’re doing a freelance job you’re usually charging by the word, that’s usually how they do it, 10 cents, 15 cents, 20 cents a word, something like that, right? Which I like because it means there’s no time pressure, you’re not charging by the hour, it’s not like a lawyer. But in any event, if you discovered that the document is not what the client thinks it is, and you go back to them and say, you know I don’t think you want to pay me for this, then that puts you in a really good place. Okay, maybe you lost that job, but they’re really happy that you were honest about it. Because the other option is that you translate the whole thing, and then you charge them out the wazoo for it, and it’s a piece of crap for them. They’re never going to come back to you because they’ll think, ah we wasted so much money.

11220931254_e62e1593ba_k

Photo by reynermedia

I’ve had that happen twice. I was asked to transcribe – well, I was sent an audio recording of a meeting. It was a meeting that had taken place, I think in Detroit, and most of the meeting was in English, because it was between two Americans and two Japanese. But in the course of the meeting the two Japanese guys occasionally said something to each other in Japanese and the American’s were like, convinced that they were sharing like industry secrets or something like that. So they wanted a translation of what these guys said so they sent me the audio tape and the first fifteen minutes of the meeting there’s no Japanese at all, and I’m sitting there listening, like when’s it going to show up, what’s going to happen? And then when they did start speaking a little bit of Japanese, it had absolutely nothing to do with the content of the meeting. It was stuff like, I wonder when lunch is going to be, or I need to use the bathroom where do you think it is? You know, stuff like that. And so as soon as I realized that I contacted the translation agency and I said, we can’t charge these people for this. I’ll be perfectly honest, I’ll tell you, I’ll summarize what it is, I’ll sign off on it that that’s what it is and I’m not trying to cover anything up, but it would just be wrong Because I would have ended up charging like $500 for, “Where’s the bathroom?” (laughs) “Are we allowed to smoke in here?”

So I think it’s really good reputation builder as a translator to provide that kind of evaluation service – to look at the thing you’re asked to translate and verify yeah, it really is worth your money for me to do this. You don’t get paid for that but it’s easy to do. It’s easy to glance at a document and, translating it take a lot of work, but just glancing at a document to say okay I know what it is.

The one exception I suppose was when I was working in the glass industry, industrial glass production, that was also in Michigan, and they would occasionally send me newspaper articles from a trade journal and ask me to translate what was in the articles. And I did that, this is where I learned, for example, what float glass is. I didn’t even know what float glass was in English. I’d look at it and think, there are no industry secrets here, just none. Like I don’t recognize anything here that looks like it’s a gem, but the American’s were so concerned that the Japanese glass industry was doing stuff that wasn’t coming through the language barrier. So they just wanted to keep their finger on the pulse of what was being published in those Japanese trade journals. I said okay fine, I don’t see why you want this translated but it’s your money, you know? Whatever, I’ll translate it.

Q. Is there anything when you’re translating that is particularly difficult or you dislike coming across?

Certainly when you’re interpreting you don’t have any leisure time to think about what you’re going to say. And I was never trained as an interpreter, I always found taking on the voice of the person when I was interpreting really hard, so I’d always end up doing something awkward, like, “He says, yadayadayada” as opposed to just “yadayadayada”. But that’s interpreting it’s not translating.

Um, translating. God, I wish I had been a translator in the age of the internet. So many things… Because if you were caught without your dictionary, there was nothing, you know? There was no internet, there was no wikipedia, there was no google. And you just kinda have to fly by the seat of your pants.

And then dialect can be frustrating.

Q. We did have some people asking how you’re supposed to prepare yourself to translate dialect and colloquialisms without going to Japan and living in the areas that use them.

7975041104_93a68b5983_h

Photo by Luke Ma

You really can’t. If you’re translating, you have to learn that dialect or read it a lot and get a feel for it. Nowadays you can google a lot of stuff so it makes it much easier. It used to be you had to buy a specialized dictionary.

Another thing that I ran into in the car parts factory, and I never would have anticipate it, was a generational difference. So the younger managers tended to use gairaigo (外来語) and the older managers would use some sort of, you know, hyōjun (標準) something. So for example, we had the chrome plating, right? Of the rack and pinion steering components. The younger guys called it pureteingu (プレーティング), and the older guys called it mekki (鍍金), which is the Japanese word for chrome plating. So in a way I was kind of learning two different vocabularies within the Japanese realm because there was that generational difference.

The thing is, when you’re translating you can’t be a word connoisseur, you have to kinda be a word garbage disposal (laughs). You have to take whatever is thrown your way and you can’t say, well people don’t say that, or whatever. Whatever is there on the page, you’re responsible for rendering in the target language, so you can’t get indignant about it. You can get frustrated (laughs), but you can’t get indignant about it.

It’s a lot easier now I think, because media has made language so much more standardized. Television and the radio and the internet. So if you’re dealing with someone from, you know, your generation from Hokkaido, you’re probably not going to run into big language differences compared to somebody from Kyushu. You’re all going to have the same slang because you’re all in the same generation and you’re all looking at the same media. And when those older generations die out, then those old differences I think will lessen to some extent.

So I guess the good news is, it’s getting easier. It’s not impossible to do those things without the internet but it’s just much more time consuming. I think translation has become a much faster industry now, because we can find the answers to things so much more quickly.

Q. One person said that they don’t know whether to translate literal meanings or cultural equivalencies and what situations would be better for one over the other.

I would tend to agree with translating the cultural thing and not literal. Literal sounds bad and awkward, so to me the best translation is something that does not read like a translation, and if you’re just doing literal stuff, you can’t get there. This is one of the reason’s that I love McClellen’s translation of Kokoro, because it really reads as if the novel were written in English in the first place. And a good example kind of a cousin of that, if you will, is Memoirs of a Geisha. Have you read it? I tried to read it, I couldn’t get past page three (laughs), but I guess the reason I didn’t want to go past page three was because as I was reading it, you know, ostensibly it’s supposed to be translation, but as you’re reading you know it isn’t. It’s just, there’s so many places that are not a translation.

11153303693_68fc5072b9_k

Photo by Norio NAKAYAMA

That’s neither here nor there, but anyway you want to represent the culture but you don’t want to get too slangy, or too specific to your own generation. So if I am reading along in a translation and I see a expression like “It’s the bee’s knees” I think to myself, well you know my grandparents might have said that, but nobody said that anymore (laughs). There was probably a better choice than doing that.

Now technical translation, yeah, absolutely just be technical. But literary translation, it’s a whole other situation. Somebody’s not paying you just to get the meanings of the words, someone’s paying you to transform a work of art. So what you produce should be artful, it shouldn’t be clunky.

There is an article I wrote, originally for the journal that the BCLT produces, about the challenge of translating catholicism and catholic terms in that translation that I did in 2009. So you’ve got somebody who is a scholar of Buddhism, but it’s somebody who was very well versed and familiar with the catholic tradition, but he had to convey specific ideas to his Japanese audience, and so he had to decide what words he was going to use. And then when I was translating it back into English I had to decide how specific I wanted to be or how general, because he’s never super specific. There’s this huge vocabulary associated with catholicism, and I wasn’t raised in a catholic tradition, so this was a big learning experience for me. Thank God there’s a catholic dictionary, and thank goodness Professor DeBlasi, who was raised in the catholic tradition, has his office right next to mine so I was constantly asking him for answers.

So when Anesaki was trying to convey these ideas in Japanese, he would do so but not with these really specific terms that got only used in catholicism. It seemed wrong to me to use those specific terms when I was translating in English, back into English. But you know I had to put some thought into it, so you can look at that article and you’ll see specific examples of choices I had to make. What do you call the Virgin Mary, how do you translate that? That kind of thing.

Q. How long did that whole book project take?

A book like that takes me about four years. I don’t remember exactly when I started Hanatsumi Nikki, but Teiunshū, which is the one I just finished, I know I started that in the summer of 2010. To be honest, it was largely done by the summer of 2013, but then it had to go through the copy editor and then back to me for changes, and we’ve been piddling around on this thing since last October. But just today I got the postcard in the mail that I’m going to scan and send a digital copy of to my editor in Fukuoka and that’s going to be the cover of the book, so that’s the last step. He said as soon as you get that to me, we should be able to get it up on amazon.

Ooh, exciting!

Yeah, it’s like, I came home today and I looked at the mail and I was like, yes! It’s here, I gotta scan it!

So it took… yeah, but you’ve got to remember, I’ve got a day job, right? So the really active time that I spend working on the project most certainly was not three or four years. Really active time, I would say a year, and actually, I asked Jay about this, Jay Rubin, how long does it take you to do a Murakami Haruki novel, now that he’s retired and had no other day job to do, and he said it’s about a year.

Wow, they’re so long though!

I know! But if you’re not doing anything else, you know.

Yeah, I guess so, but doesn’t he want to sit around and smell flowers or something? Like enjoy his nice leisure time now that he’s retired?

Well, you know translating for me, and I think a lot of people, is the kind of mental activity where you have to get into a zone. You can’t just pick it up for ten minutes and then walk away. It’s not like answering your email, something you can do while you’re standing at the airport gate, or whatever. So for me the summer is the best time to get that work done, cause I’m not teaching.

Q. So if someone had a really hard time concentrating and prefers to be doing twenty different things at once, this probably wouldn’t be the best thing for them?

Right. Technical translating, not so bad, cause who cares if you have a consistent voice or anything like that, right? But especially a sustained piece of fiction, or a sustained narrative, there’s all kinds of stuff, not just the voice that you have to keep in your head, so details that were six chapters earlier, specific terms that might get used, or whatever. You have to keep all that in your head so that you’re consistent later on. Cause as a translator you’re constantly making decisions, how am I going to translate this particular word? And then once you decide it, it’s a little bit like that lecture I did in 205 when I was talking about style, and I said you know, you can choose whatever style you want, but once you choose it, you have to stick with it. You have to be consistent, you can’t change midstream. That’s a lot of what translating is like, and I know from personal experience, I’ll work really intensely on something over the summer and then I’ll have to set it aside for a couple months and getting back into it is really hard. Then I’ll discover, as I have in the past few months doing fine copy editing and things like that, that there are places where I was not consistent. Thank goodness for search and replace, because then you can go back and fix stuff. But only when I’m reading it in one sitting do I catch those inconsistencies, and I don’t sit down and reread the whole thing every time I want to work on it. It’s only when I’m doing the copy editing that that happened.

Q. Do you have any fun stories about when you were translating and you made a mistake or something like that?

Let’s see, when I was doing Hanatsumi Nikki, it was right at the very beginning, in the opening pages. He’s in Switzerland, and this was before I’d done a lot of research on him, I hadn’t been looking of photographs of him or anything like that. He’s in a carriage, this is like 1908, there’s no automobiles, there’s horse carriages. He’s in a horse carriage in Switzerland and he’s going through the Gotthard Pass and they hit a rock or something and the carriage topples over and he falls into the snow, and he laughs about it. He says, oh I had all this snow on my hige, and I translated hige as beard.

3000619798_8a0ea4f538_b

Photo by warrenski

It wasn’t until much later, I was looking at photographs of him and then looking back at my translation and I realized he never had a beard, he only had a mustache. Ever. In his life. Of course, hige can mean mustache also, right? So I wasn’t really sure (laughs) but then I fixed it and I thought, well I’m glad I caught that, cause somebody else would say, what? Beard?!

Okay, two more stories. When I started that project I had read Hanatsumi Nikki in order to do part of my second book, and that’s how it got on my radar in the first place. I was really just not familiar at all with Anesaki’s work, but I put it on the back burner and thought I gotta come back to that, so then I come back to it and if you look at the kanji that he uses to write his name (姉崎), it could be Anezaki or it could be Anesaki. So it’s a difference between a Z or and S, and I just thought Z sounded a little more like what it would be, and I hadn’t done due diligence to make sure that was right. So it’s still the beginning stages of this research project and I can’t remember if I posted it to H-Japan, somehow I got involved in a listserv discussion and his name had come up.

Eventually, I got an email from somebody who provided some answers and then said, oh by the way the name it’s not spelled with a Z, it’s definitely spelled with an S. I thought, oh how do you know? And then the next sentence said, “I know this because he was my grandfather.” And I thought, holy shit! (laughs). So then I felt like this punk, this irreverent punk, you know? I wrote this very polite, very nice email, and actually I still correspond with that grandson, and another grandson, I met another grandson in Japan. There’s more than that in that generation, but those two are both former professors, retired professors and have shared a lot of family knowledge with me about Anesaki, which has been great, but I was just so surprised when I got this email, like oh yeah he was my grandfather. Wow okay, you’re absolutely right, I’m not going to argue with you about that one. So that was that.

What was the third story… oh, this is an example, it kinda goes back to what I was saying where you catch things only if you’re looking at the full project. This happened two weeks ago. The very last changes I made to the manuscript before I said to the editor, please, please just publish the damn thing cause I could keep changing it for the rest of my life.

In the original, he visits all kinds of churches in Europe and when he’s describing the architecture, he uses the word (塔), the one that gets used for stupa, like in a Buddhist temple. So he uses that kanji 塔 for everything in the architecture, the physical architecture of buildings and I never thought about it until I was rereading it for the umpteenth time that a on a church could be a steeple, but it could also be a tower, like York Minster. One of the reasons I went to England last summer was because I wanted to see in person a lot of these places that he had visited in England. So York Minster, for example, does not have steeples, it has two towers. So first of all, we’ve got that problem of steeple versus tower, and the other problem is , as I was saying earlier, you know it’s not singular or plural, it just is.

3487341610_4323c73e43_b

Photo by andy

I suddenly realized that I had translated as steeple for a building that didn’t have one, it only had a tower The only reason it all came together for me is because we had finally finished the layout and we had put the photographs where they belonged in the manuscript, and there’s the photograph of the church building and it’s clear there’s no steeple. So in that context, it looks like I’m an idiot because I’ve translated it as steeple. I had to do a search and replace and make sure that every building that where I had said steeple, there really was one, thank God for the internet again because I could go and I could find photographs of these building and also make sure that singulars and plurals were correct. Sometimes there’s one tower, sometimes there’s two towers.

So now that’s all been cleaned up, but that goes to that point that when you’re translating, you have to do a lot of research. Because authors, they kind of assume that you know what you’re doing and they also, they’re not responsible for the problems of your target language – like it requires singulars or plurals, and they’re not responsible for those cultural differences, like the difference between a steeple and a tower, right? But in English, if you don’t fix that, if you don’t specify, it’s just wrong. So you have to provide – to answer to that other question – you do have to provide that cultural stuff. You know, what if I just called a a tower every single time? That’s going to be an awful translation and it’s going to be inaccurate.

Especially if you have a picture reference right there for them to see.

Yeah, so there was another case in a scene where Anesaki says that a priest is wearing the hat of a priest, and my editor, who was very persnickety, said oh well it should be called a miter, cause that’s the hat that priest’s wear. And I got back to her and I said that’s a good point, but you know what there’s more than one priest’s hat in catholicism, it could be a miter, it could be this other thing, we don’t know, we’re just going to have to leave it as a priest’s hat (laughs). So you’ve got to do tons of research.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a former classmate of mine in graduate school, he’s now a professor at Binghamton, David Stahl. When he was a graduate student at Yale, he helped out a friend, a Japanese friend of his, who had gotten a contract to translate from English to Japanese a Stephen King novel. Now, I’m not a huge Stephen King fan, I don’t read Stephen King, I don’t know if you do, but apparently these novels are just chock full of all kinds of cultural references. This poor person in Japan was struggling, and so she would do a basic translation and then she’d send Dave all these questions, what does King mean about this, what does this mean in English, what are all these things? And Dave said half the time he didn’t know even though he’s a native English speaker.

So when you’re the translator, the text is unforgiving, you can’t fudge it, and literary translation frowns upon footnotes. Now mine have footnotes because it’s an annotated translation, but that’s a very small wedge of a bigger world. In most cases translating presses don’t want footnotes, so you don’t have that as an out, you have to figure out how to do it in the translation itself.

Which can be so hard if something isn’t clear.

Yes, exactly.

So you have to think in your head, I have to make this clear, but how can I do that? I can’t leave it out either.

Right. You have to say, I have to make it clear and what that requires, more often than you’d like is you and only you are stuck having to make a tough decision. You have to say, okay, I’m just going to pull the trigger on this one, it’s singular, or something like that. Or, I’m going to pull the trigger on this one, it’s a beard not a mustache, because there’s nobody there to answer that question.

I think especially when we come out of being a student, we’re so used to saying “I don’t know the answer I’ll go ask somebody else,” and once you get into that world you can’t do that anymore. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat at my desk and thought, who can I ask- I can’t ask anybody (laughs). I just have to make this decision myself.

You know what was really good training for me was being department chair and then later university senate chair because you’re in a lot of situations like that where you consult with folks but eventually you are the one that has to make a decision and you just have to be comfortable with doing that. It’s not always the right decision, but you know, you do it, and you own it.

Q. Would you say that you enjoy what you do? And what kind of person would you say you need to be to enjoy translating works of literature?

I do enjoy it. It’s like a big mystery puzzle. Not all of it is fun, I hate copy editing, I’m so glad it’s over now, but the initial process is really cool, it’s like writing a book, actually, in that you have this really big project with lots of moving parts and I find putting it all together really satisfying. I like organization, I like being organized, I like organizing stuff, and I love reading a sentence in Japanese and rendering it into English that sounds natural. There’s something really organically pleasing about that and the more you do it the more comfortable you become with that process.

109403306_26c1db655c_b

I guess the only frustrating thing about it to me is that sometimes people will say, how do you do that?, and I don’t know how to teach how to do that. I try, you know, I teach EAJ410 and I teach EAJ411 (Readings in Modern Japanese Literature) and we talk a lot about translating, thats the main focus of those courses, but I still don’t feel like I know how to teach somebody how to do it. So I guess that’s the hard part for me. I wish I could, because I enjoy it, but I guess not everybody would. Not everybody would find that fun.

I wouldn’t be a professor of literature if I didn’t enjoy language and the beauty of language, and sometimes I’ll read a poem or a passage that I just find really moving and wonderful. So that’s the cool stuff, that’s the really cool stuff.

So other than just being passionate about literature, it helps if you like organization and those types of things?

Yeah, I mean one of the problems with the younger generation, my kids are such great examples of this, is that they live in a world of thirty seconds. My youngest son has a disgusting addiction to youtube and if he watches too much youtube, he starts to act like youtube. In other words, he can only stay focused for a very short period of time. You know, my generation, the people would complain about the kids watching too much television and having short attention spans, but I think it’s sort of accelerated right now, and the process of translating anything, even a short story, it’s not a short focus thing. It’s a project that requires serious attention and concentration and kind of getting lost in that particular text and I don’t think people do that very much anymore. I don’t see very many folks in the classroom who love reading, there’s a few, but most of them see reading as a chore, and I don’t think they get lost in a book the way that I like to do.

My kids, I don’t want to trash them too much, but they’re not here, they’re off at boy scout camp enjoying the rain, and not playing on youtube which is wonderful (laughs). My kids can get lost in a book and it’s fascinating because they’re very critical of their classmates who don’t read and who can’t find pleasure in reading. So I’m glad that they’ve discovered that but I think those concentration skills that you need for translation are closely associated with reading a longer text.

And if someone wants to translate they should probably already be reading that kind of stuff all the time. If you don’t like reading, there’s no reason to want to be a translator.

Oh, definitely. When I was started working on Anesaki I started reading more history of the early twentieth century and also trying to read fiction from the early twentieth century just to get a feel for how people spoke. One of the things that I didn’t do until later, but I did do it was, Anesaki also published in English, so I wanted to read his English writing to get a feel for what that sounded like, although I wasn’t absolutely sure that would be right, because of course you would have an editor. So what you see on the page might not exactly be what he would have been writing in the first place, it was his third or fourth language. Turns out his English actually was excellent. I went into the Harvard archives two months ago and found some letters that he had written to a former Harvard professor and the English is almost flawless, it’s fascinating.

Q. Last Question! Is there anything that you’d like to say to someone who wants to be where you are today? Or if a student came up to you in school and said, I want to be just like you, help me, what do I do?

4112607536_753c3f1cb5_o

Photo by takako tominaga

Uhm… It’s hard because I do have students who come and they want to translate, they want to be in Japanese studies, but their incentives are never the same as mine. In other words, they’re not interested in Meiji literature, they’re interested in anime and manga and video games, and I’m not really sure what the path is to get into that realm. I think it’s tough, I think it’s really tough. It’s not super easy in Meiji literature either, but I think it’s different in anime and manga.

I guess the advice that I have for people who, if they want to go into academia, I usually say, well first of all, be absolutely sure that’s what you want to do. Understand what it involves, how much time commitment there is, understand what your life will be like, because you see me in the classroom, but you don’t see the other two thirds of my life as a professor so here let me tell you what that’s like. And you really have to be the person who loves books and who loves being surrounded by books. You know, sure I watch TV and movies, I’m not some sort of nun or something (laughs), but you do it because you enjoy it, not because somebody gives you those assignments. You also absolutely have to be a self-starter. I think as an undergraduate you become very used to being given assignments, because that’s how we structure undergraduate education, but if you move onto graduate school and beyond there, then you absolutely have to be a self-starter. You have to be the kind of person who can set personal deadlines and meet them, because otherwise it’s just not going to happen.

I think a lot of people want guidance, there’s nothing wrong with wanting guidance, but in the world beyond that undergraduate education it may not be there. You’ll get advice, but you’re not going to have someone saying you have to do X, Y, and Z.

It’s not like becoming a doctor or a lawyer. It’s not like there’s translation school. It’s not medical school, it’s not law school, it’s not professional guild. There’s a couple fringe organizations on those sorts of things but that’s it. This is not systematized.

Another thing for people who are interesting in translating is to join organizations like that, especially if they’re free, what have you go to lose? If they publish a newsletter, absolutely read those newsletters. If it’s literary translation, then the British Centre for Literary Translation’s journal, I think would be really helpful because it raises all kinds of interesting issues and problems with literary translation. It’s not going to get you a job, but at least it’s going to get you familiar with the industry and know what the professionals are talking about. It’s a pretty small world, they actually kind of get to know each other.

There’s also a few translation prizes. There is one that kind of comes and goes. It’s actually sponsored by the Ministry of Education in Japan. They provide a list of works that they would like to see translated and they’re always current fiction, and the languages that they’re interested having it translated into, and people submit their translations and then there’s a small cash award. It’s like $2000 or something like that to the winner, and then they list the winners every year and then those works actually get published.

So entering contests like that may also help people get a feel for the process, they’re probably not going to win, but at least get a feel for the process and then when the contest is over, they can compare what they produced to whatever the winning translation is and probably have a much better feel for what is considered a high quality translation. They’re not usually super widely advertised, the trick is finding them. I bet if you googled “translation prize” and then threw in Japanese, you might find some other stuff.

Even Kurodahan doesn’t do it every year, there were a couple years where they didn’t do it. What happened with MEXT, with the Ministry of Education, they got some big government grant that paid for the whole thing. I’m not sure how long that grant ran, that’s why I said it comes and goes, I’m not sure if it’s still active right now. It’s usually a short story that you’re translating, it’s not a novel or anything like that.

The stuff that, for example Kurodahan has, they say all translators are required to translate at least one sample from our trial translation, and then they provide you with a PDF of those. And I’ll tell you that Edward chose those things carefully, it’s not random stuff, each one, I think there’s thirty one pages in that PDF, I don’t know how many works there are. Each one presents it’s own challenges, so older vocabulary that might be a little trickier to parse, for example, dialect, in some of them. You get a choice, you have various things that you can translate, but they do it so that they can kind of weed out the riffraff, if you will (laughs). I’m lucky I don’t have to mess with it because I’m already a known entity with them. I can just call Edward and say, I want to publish this, publish it.

Well I think that’s it. Thank you so much for answering all of our questions!

You’re welcome! It was fun!

Works by Susanna Fessler:

Want to know more about translation? Check out our other interviews.

Bonus Wallpapers!

susannafessler-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

The post So You Want To Be A Japanese Translator? Starring Susanna Fessler appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/30/so-you-want-to-be-a-japanese-translator-starring-susanna-fessler/feed/ 17
Interview with Medama-Sensei: The Racism-Battling Monk of YouTube http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/25/interview-with-medama-sensei/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/25/interview-with-medama-sensei/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 16:00:48 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=40647 “In a couple of days, I will be gone for 1 year to become a buddhist monk in a forest monastery” is the Twitter post from last year that explained why one of my favorite Japan-video-makers had been absent on Youtube for a while. His name is Miki Dezaki, or Medama-Sensei online, and he made a […]

The post Interview with Medama-Sensei: The Racism-Battling Monk of YouTube appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
“In a couple of days, I will be gone for 1 year to become a buddhist monk in a forest monastery” is the Twitter post from last year that explained why one of my favorite Japan-video-makers had been absent on Youtube for a while. His name is Miki Dezaki, or Medama-Sensei online, and he made a variety of videos, mostly during his time as an ALT in the JET Program. You’ve probably seen his stuff – a lot of the videos are funny, some of them are serious, and one even brought a bit of nasty attention from right-wing Japan nationalists.

The JET Program is a career option many Tofugu readers consider and pursue, and we write about it a lot. Since Miki spent five years on the program, as well as a bit of time in the international media spotlight, his insight seemed like something worth sharing. Also,going from the JET participant to monk-in-training is a rare career shift, and I wanted to hear how that went. I learned a lot from his experiences and I think you will too.

Some Background

miki-dezaki

The interview questions and some of Miki’s answers will make more sense with a bit of background, so let me tell you, in short, about Miki’s career.

Miki went to university in the U.S. as a physiology pre-med student. Seeing stressed-out doctors in his field of interest, he took up meditation during his sophomore year. Meditation changed his outlook on life and made him consider becoming a monk.

He studied abroad during his junior year at Hiroshima University and eventually decided not to go to med school. He applied for and recieved JET placement as an assistant language teacher (ALT) in Yamanashi prefecture, and after a few years transferred to an Okinawan school system.

Inspired by his experiences in Okinawa, Miki made youtube videos. His ‘Racism in Japan’ video sparked the attention of a persistent group of Japanese nationalists and brought him a lot of attention, even internationally. Shortly thereafter, he pursued his plan of training to be a monk in southeast Asia. Earlier this year, he returned to the U.S. to be with family and is contemplating grad school in Japan.

The Interview

I interviewed Miki over Skype, so the Q&A content is very conversational.

JET

Q: What made you decide to apply for JET?

jet-program-logo

I lived in Hiroshima for a year– decided I wasn’t going to go to medical school because I’d already decided to become a monk. I was going to give myself five years, see if after five years I was still interested. You know, if I didn’t meet an amazing girl or find my passion in life, or something else that would pull me away from being a monk. On top of that, it was a good time to pay off my school loans.

And, I was super interested in teaching Japanese kids. I love Japan, I love the Japanese students, I love Japanese people… and that’s why it killed me so much to teach there. Because it almost feels like the school system’s failing them. I’m sure I would feel the same way if I were teaching in America. It’s just, you see it so clearly. You’re like, okay, this teaching methodology is not working. Why are we doing this? Why are we wasting our kids’ time? Seeing a lot of that stuff, it really kind of– I was actually depressed for a whole year, the first year I was in the JET program. I was in a kind of hard school –Everybody’s school is different –but I was in a hard school because the teachers were really domineering… I didn’t like that. I didn’t like seeing that. They were yelling at the kids all the time.

If you teach on JET, I recommend trying to get into elementary or high school– I’ve taught at all levels. Elementary school tires you out, but you get so much energy from these kids. They are so happy, and the place is so wonderful– it’s so bright. High school is great because it’s like, people starting to move towards their actual futures. They have a lot of dreams and hopes and stuff like that. But the junior high school is like… it was hard for me. Basically, I chose to be a JET teacher because I wanted to teach Japanese kids stuff I’ve learned. I saw them strugglling so much. I thought I could help them a lot. In the end, I think I did help as much as I could. I did my best.

Q: What are your thoughts on English curriculum and the education system?

The way I see it is, the Japanese government doesn’t care if Japanese people can speak English. They use English as a measuring stick to get people into college, basically, and their efforts to help English education by making it more mandatory …  It’s so half- what would you say- half-ass or, chuto-hanpa, is what we say in Japanese.

So, it’s like it doesn’t help at all. In my mind, everything that the Monbu-kagaku-sho does with English education seems to be just like tatemae. It makes the parents talk about it and say, “Oh, look, our government’s trying to really help us.” And I was like, no they’re not. They don’t care, to be honest. And that’s my opinion, but I can say that, now that I’m not a JET.

So if you’re thinking of trying to change the Japanese education system, you’re gonna be really depressed like I was. [laughter]

Videos

Q: You made the Racism in Japan video at the end of your JET experience. What made you want to create that video?

medama-sensei-video

[The] last lesson [I taught in] my JET career was racism and discrimination in general, and I used examples from Japan so that it hit home to them. [Japanese people] always think it’s an American problem, so the only reason I used those examples for the students was just to get them to feel like, “Oh okay, this is something that is close to me.” Especially because I was in Okinawa and this really was close to them, and they didn’t even realize when they hear these stories about their grandmother and grandfather being treated poorly by the Japanese soldiers and stuff like that, they didn’t make the connection that that was discrimination. When I said that to them, they were like “Whoa, okay,” you know?

So, I did that lesson, and I was really shocked because the kyoutou sensei (教頭先生, vice principal) came in and watched. After the lesson, she was like, “This lesson should be taught to every single kid in Japan.”  That gave me so much confidence. I got to teach it to all students in the school –to 900 students.

Basically the lesson was how discriminatory thoughts are developed through the media and your parents and wars and stuff like that. Then I gave examples from Japan and America, and I talked about how we could possibly make this better. The examples I gave in the Racism in Japan video– That was probably like a 4-5 minute video. That’s all I talked about as far as examples in Japan in my class. So I talked about those things and the rest of the 45 minutes I talked about discrimination in general. So people thought I was saying that Japan is the worst country in the world. People thought my lesson to the students was about criticising Japan and teaching my students how bad Japan was, or how discriminatory and racist it was, whereas that was like five minutes of my whole lecture.

So anyway, I did the lesson, it was really successful, everyone loved it, no complaints from parents or anybody. The students would come up to me and be like, “That was amazing, Thank you so much, that really opened my eyes,” because not only did I cover skin color discrimination, I covered discrimination based on sexual orientation and I showed them my “Gay in Japan” video.

Have you seen the Ohayou Ojisan video? He is basically a super famous guy but all he does is say hello to people, and people think he’s like the biggest weirdo in the world. I interviewed him and he was  really intelligent and speaks really good English and everybody was so shocked by that. I was like, “Look at how much you’ve discriminated against this guy without even ever talking to him. You’ve only heard stuff about him, ” and so that was a big lesson to them. They were like “Yeah, we totally did. We thought that he was a total creep and weirdo, because my mom told me that,” and when you see him on screen, he seems like the nicest guy in the world. So that was my lesson.

Q: So when did you make the video? And how did the attention, especially the negative attention, affect you?

I go home to America, feeling pretty good, and then I felt like I just needed to share this with the world because it got such a good response. I released that video Feb 14– I left to be a monk March 1. Between those two weeks, I did not sleep at all. I was trying to respond to people who were commenting, who were super angry, getting emails. Every morning I would get a couple emails from my past coworkers telling me to take the video down. People were saying things like, “The Kyouikuchou (教育長, Superintendent of Education) is super pissed, he’s coming to the school. The government might cut the JET program because of this.” And I was like, what? Just from my video? They were like, “This is serious. We’re getting calls every single day from these nationalists, telling us to take down the video.”

And I was online, looking at all these blogs the nationalists were posting, and it was all my information, where I worked, where I lived, really kind of creepy stuff. Meanwhile, I’m working full-time, trying to close up shop, pass my work on to someone else, and packing my life for a year to be a monk in Asia. I was the most stressed out person in the world in those two weeks.

As a monk, I realized how jaded I had become by it. I had grown this thick skin… somehow it really kind of deeply affected how I could feel — I didn’t feel innocent anymore. I didn’t have this innocent joy anymore. It was like, “Man this is hard. Life is hard.”

I felt a little betrayed by the teachers who were doing this to me. Like, “Okay, you guys are willing to call me and stress me out, and it’s all because of these people you don’t even know, these crazy nationalist people … and you guys can’t stand up for what you believe in at all just because you don’t want to deal with it. And I would tell them, look as teachers, as educators, I kind of expect more from you, to be honest. To try to censor another person’s voice is not a good message that you’re giving to your students.

Q: I hear that it takes a lot of work to be a teacher in Japan– I thought it’s supposed to be a really respected position.

They’re so afraid, I don’t understand why, but they’re so afraid of causing any more trouble, I guess. They’ll wait until other people get my back, and then they’ll go in. Even if they want to, they’re hesitant to do that first.

I had a very strong kind of belief that freedom of speech is very important and I don’t know if they believe that.

Q: If people can celebrate that ideal– freedom of speech– shouldn’t it be okay to disagree?

But Japanese culture is a lot of keeping secrets and “We shouldn’t talk about those things,” like, “Let’s not talk about all the war atrocities we’ve committed, we’ll just forget about ‘em, it’s not a big deal.” It’s bad to generalize, but people don’t want to talk about that stuff. I understand that, it brings up a lot of guilt and past emotions. It’s like, what can you do about it? You’re gonna talk about it now and what’s gonna happen? Nothing; it’s in the past. That’s their mentality about it and it kind of makes sense too. Why keep opening the wound? I mean, Americans love to do that. I think, we expect something like what Germany did– where they’re  totally super sorry. But that’s not gonna happen with Japan.

In the Ministry of Education there is a man who was actually one of the high officers that conducted all the tests in Unit 731. So obviously, he doesn’t want that stuff in the textbooks. I know that sounds like conspiracy stuff, but it’s true.

Can I recommend a documentary? The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On. It’s amazing. It’s about this other thing that just shows you the Japanese attitude about war and about what they did and how they’re dealing with it now. They’re like, “Oh that’s just in the past, let’s not talk about it.” I think every Japanese person should watch it.

Readers, I watched it and learned a lot. That link has English subtitles (CC), by the way.

Meditation/Buddhism

Q: As a monk, you had a very established physical location to do your meditations. How do you do that in other places?

miki-dezaki-as-a-monk

My technique is – it’s not my own creation, you know, people have known about this for centuries. It’s more of a mindful living type of technique. I still do sitting meditation and walking meditation, but I think the most useful practice that you can have is being mindful all the time. And what I mean by that is, as I’m talking to you, I am aware of my feet, I’m aware of how my hands are moving right now, I’m aware of, you know, how my voice sounds right now and how my chest feels and my stomach… This is the type of awareness that you try to develop, so that you can be aware all of the time. And watching your mind as you’re doing this stuff, so not only are you feeling the sensations in your body but you’re also aware of the thoughts in your mind as you’re doing anything.

I think it’s a very difficult practice and I’m not a master at it — it’s something that I’m constantly trying to develop more and more because it’s so easy to get distracted by things in daily life. So when I was a monk, yes, I sat in meditation for probably like –when I wasn’t doing intensive meditation– a regular day was probably like seven or eight hours of mediation.

Q: Continuously?

No no no, like one hour, then break, and then one hour and then break. But in between those breaks, a lot of people just, “Psh!”, let it go- but the most important thing is, from the time that you stop sitting mediation to the next sitting meditation or walking meditation you are trying to keep that continuity of mindfulness or awareness. So, that’s what I’m doing, since the time I left the temple. I’m trying to keep that continuity of awareness even as I’m helping my father or talking to you or whatever. That, I think, is my main practice. Sitting meditation is important, but this kind of meditation is much more important to me. Not only does it help you to become aware of your surroundings and what’s happening but it helps you to make better choices in your life and actions and stuff like that.

One very important aspect of this practice is mindful speech. So, I really try not to say harsh words now, like cuss words. I really try not to gossip, I try not to criticize, you know. And this is all very difficult for an American person, especially for [me, being] very analytical. So this is just being aware of that stuff, and it’s a very difficult practice.

Q: In an interview with the Yoshi Didn’t podcast, you said that becoming a monk was something you’d thought about doing for five years. How did that decision process work?

Five or six seriously, but I had been meditating for ten years. When I was a pre-med student, I met a lot of doctors, and I could see how stressed out they were, so I was like, “Okay, I need to learn how to deal with stress.” It just so happened I found this “Free Meditation for Stress” class at my university. It was like once a week. And you know, at the beginning, you just kind of like, just sit and kind of relax, I guess.

And then… at one point, probably like two months after I started, I had this incredible experience. I was just doing breathing meditation and all of a sudden my whole body like disappeared basically, and my ego and thoughts just went away, and I was like the embodiment of love and compassion. It was the most amazing, happiest moment of my entire life. After I came out of the meditation, I was like, “This is what, not only am I looking for, this is what everybody in life is looking for,” I think. I was so content. I was 100% content. I didn’t need anything at that point. I was full of love and I loved everything – you know, not just my family, but every thing, every being. And the more I did meditation, it kind of developed. It just kind of made sense to me: if I had the capability to love everything, then why not become a monk?

Q: So it wasn’t a faith-based decision?

Maybe I should consider myself a Buddhist, because I was a monk, but I don’t have that much faith, you know? There are people that have really strong faith; they almost look up to the Buddha as a god, which — he wasn’t meant to be that way, but some people take him that way. For me, it’s more like this super interesting journey into my mind and to learn about myself. And I really believe if you have inner peace, that will permeate and radiate out of you and you can affect people that way. I don’t think you can fight for peace when you’re super pissed off at other people.

Reflection

reflection-in-japan-house

Photo by Scott Lin

After the interview, I contacted Miki again for updates. There was one: “I reached out to some of my former co-workers,” he wrote, “and I am really happy to say that we were able to put this stuff behind us and continue our friendship.”

Again, I write a big thank you to Medama Sensei for taking the time to share his experiences: THANK YOU!

I’m on the JET Program now and can concur, from my limited experience, that racism definitely seems to be an “only outside of Japan” problem in the minds of many Japanese people I’ve met, children and adults alike.

Thankfully, the atmosphere around English education, at least, is an ever-evolving part of curriculum policies — not just in Japan –and so I’m having a much more optimistic experience on that front, and so are most other ALTs that I know. If you’re considering using English-teaching as a career ticket to Japan, the good news is that you will definitely learn about Japan if you get that job. In doing so, however, you may be challenged in a lot of the ways this interview brought to light. I hope this Q&A has been informative and helpful, but if it wasn’t, I hope you’ll leave your questions or thoughts in the comments section to help bring everything together!

Bonus Wallpapers!

medamasensei-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

The post Interview with Medama-Sensei: The Racism-Battling Monk of YouTube appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/25/interview-with-medama-sensei/feed/ 28
The Japanese Name Satou And Its Rise To #1 http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/24/the-japanese-name-satou-and-its-rise-to-1/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/24/the-japanese-name-satou-and-its-rise-to-1/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 16:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42206 I’ve written quite a lot about Japanese family names recently. However, simply learning the kanji or pronunciation of names is quite boring, so I thought I’d write an article with the stories behind the most popular family name in Japan. Each name, however, has quite a long story. So today, we’re just going to explore […]

The post The Japanese Name Satou And Its Rise To #1 appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
I’ve written quite a lot about Japanese family names recently. However, simply learning the kanji or pronunciation of names is quite boring, so I thought I’d write an article with the stories behind the most popular family name in Japan. Each name, however, has quite a long story. So today, we’re just going to explore the most popular one: 佐藤 (Satou).

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

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

How 佐藤 (Satou) Became #1

number-one

Photo by Emran Kassim

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

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

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

fujiwara-flute

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

佐藤
佐 + 藤原

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

Job Title Satou

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

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

Regional Name Satou

sano

Photo by no prev

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

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

Randomly Named 佐藤 (Satou)

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

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

What People Named 佐藤 (Satou) Think Of Their Name

sato

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

satou-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

References:

The post The Japanese Name Satou And Its Rise To #1 appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/24/the-japanese-name-satou-and-its-rise-to-1/feed/ 32
The In-between Island: Tsushima and the Sō Pt 2 http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/22/the-in-between-island-tsushima-and-the-so-pt-2/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/22/the-in-between-island-tsushima-and-the-so-pt-2/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 16:00:40 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43675 If you haven’t read Part 1 in this series, make sure to go back and read it, before starting this one. Part 2 will make more sense and you won’t be missing out on all the cool drama, intrigue, cultural faux pas, and international conquest from Part 1! Invasion In 1592 the invasion of Korea […]

The post The In-between Island: Tsushima and the Sō Pt 2 appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
If you haven’t read Part 1 in this series, make sure to go back and read it, before starting this one. Part 2 will make more sense and you won’t be missing out on all the cool drama, intrigue, cultural faux pas, and international conquest from Part 1!

Invasion

japanese-invasion-of-busan

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

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

japanese-samurai-muskets

Photo by alisdair

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

Quagmire

korean-turtle-ship

Photo by Feth

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

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

A New Order

1280px-Sekigaharascreen

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

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

Repairing Relations

Gyeongbokgung-KeunJeongJeon

Photo by blmtduddl

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

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

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

Politics, Parades, and Profits

Korean-Embassy-Parade

Photo by PHGCOM

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

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

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

Cutting Out the Middlemen

meiji-constitution-promulgation

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

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

Princess-dukhye-and-takeyuki-so-1931

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

tsushimapt2-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

Sources

  • Beasley, W. G.. The Japanese Experience, a Short History of Japan. Berkeley: University of California, 1999.
  • Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Hideyoshi. Cambridge: Harvard University, 1982.
  • Cobbing, Andrew.  Kyushu: Gateway to Japan.  Kent: Global Oriental Ltd, 2009.
  • Ed. Hall, John Whitney. The Cambridge History of Japan. Vol 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1991.
  • Ed. Joshua A. Fogel. Sagacious Monks and Bloodthirsty Warriors; Chinese Views of Japan in the Ming-Qing Period. (Norwalk: Eastbridge, 2002),
  • Hawley, Samuel. The Imjin War. Berkeley: University of California, 2005.
  • Ed. Lee, Peter H.. Sourcebook of Korean Tradition, Vol I. New York: Columbia University, 1993.
  • 佐伯弘次。対馬と海峡の中世史。「東京:山川出版社、2008年」“Saeki, Koji. The Medieval History of Tsushima and the Straits. Tokyo: Yamakawa Shuppansha, 2008.”
  • So, Kwan-wai . Japanese Piracy in Ming China During the 16th Century. Michigan State University, 1975.
  • Swope, Kenneth M.. A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail; Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 2009.
  • Swope, Kenneth M.. “Crouching Tigers, Secret Weapons: Military Technology Employed During the Sino-Japanese-Korean War, 1592-1598.” The Journal of Military History, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan, 2005), 11-41.
  • Yu, Sŏngnyong. trns. Choi Byonghyon. The Book of Corrections, Reflections on the National Crisis during the Japanese Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 2002.
  • “Joseon Missions to Japan.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseon_missions_to_Japan
  • “Princess Deokhye.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Deokhye
  • “So Clan.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C5%8D_clan
  • “Tsushima Island.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsushima_Island

The post The In-between Island: Tsushima and the Sō Pt 2 appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/22/the-in-between-island-tsushima-and-the-so-pt-2/feed/ 3
A Long History Of Japanese Names, Part II http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/17/a-long-history-of-japanese-names-part-ii/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/17/a-long-history-of-japanese-names-part-ii/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42085 In the the previous Japanese names article we learned the history of Japanese family names and about the complicated 氏姓 (Uji-Kabane) naming systems. Do you recall my mention of a new naming system, 名字 (Myouji/Azana), used by the samurai? Today we will be focusing our efforts on that particular naming system, which will cover the […]

The post A Long History Of Japanese Names, Part II appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
In the the previous Japanese names article we learned the history of Japanese family names and about the complicated 氏姓 (Uji-Kabane) naming systems. Do you recall my mention of a new naming system, 名字 (Myouji/Azana), used by the samurai? Today we will be focusing our efforts on that particular naming system, which will cover the remainder of Japanese family name history. Are you ready? Okay, let’s set sail for the second part of our journey!

What’s in a 名字?

myouji

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

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

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

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

The Beginning Of the 名字

Engishiki_Kujo_edition

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

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

Samurai And Their 名字

samurai

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

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

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

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

名字 Comes To The Forefront

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

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

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

Family Names In Meiji Period

meiji

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

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

Establishing The Modern Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

And Here We Are

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

myouji-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

The post A Long History Of Japanese Names, Part II appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/17/a-long-history-of-japanese-names-part-ii/feed/ 16
The Island Inbetween: Tsushima and the Sō Family http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/15/the-island-inbetween-tsushima-and-the-so-family/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/15/the-island-inbetween-tsushima-and-the-so-family/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 16:00:55 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42869 You may have never heard of the island of Tsushima, but for hundreds of years it was the door between Japan and Korea. Tsushima’s location was ideal for international trade, situated roughly fifty kilometers from the Korean peninsula and one-hundred and forty-seven kilometers from the Kyushu port of Hakata (today’s Fukuoka). For over four centuries, […]

The post The Island Inbetween: Tsushima and the Sō Family appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
You may have never heard of the island of Tsushima, but for hundreds of years it was the door between Japan and Korea. Tsushima’s location was ideal for international trade, situated roughly fifty kilometers from the Korean peninsula and one-hundred and forty-seven kilometers from the Kyushu port of Hakata (today’s Fukuoka). For over four centuries, that trade was controlled by the ruling samurai family of Tsushima, the 宗.

tsushima-island-map

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

Pirates and Peace

Korean-pirates

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

ship-boat

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

Sō Much for Diplomacy

statue-kumamoto

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

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

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

A Fresh Approach

So-Yoshitoshi

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

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

okayama-castle-palanquin

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

The Final Straw

osaka-castle-in-the-rain

Photo by soul_flow

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

tsushima-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

The post The Island Inbetween: Tsushima and the Sō Family appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/15/the-island-inbetween-tsushima-and-the-so-family/feed/ 2