Tofugu » People http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Mon, 25 May 2015 13:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 A Day in the Life of a Japanese Monk http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/21/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-japanese-monk/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/21/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-japanese-monk/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=45497 Last year I wrote an article called “The Real Japanese Monk’s Guide To Buddhism In Japan.” At the end of it I said that we would one day explore a real Japanese monk’s day-to-day life. It took a while, but that day has finally arrived. We are finally diving into the intricacies of a the monk life in […]

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Last year I wrote an article called “The Real Japanese Monk’s Guide To Buddhism In Japan.” At the end of it I said that we would one day explore a real Japanese monk’s day-to-day life. It took a while, but that day has finally arrived. We are finally diving into the intricacies of a the monk life in Japan.

I interviewed the same helpful monk from my article last year, Yugaku Ikawa of Daihisen Tatsunoji Temple in Yagyu, Nara. He belongs to a Japanese group of Shingon Buddhists from the Koyasan Shingon-shu sect. The lives of monks from different sects will differ. Even monks from within the same sect are likely to take slightly different paths because each region often has different habits, and monks who have different ranks and/or titles have different responsibilities. Even so, this interview is a great way begin understanding the lives of Japanese monks. I hope you enjoy it!

A Note from Yugaku Ikawa

There are three different types of temples: 観光寺 (かんこうでら/kankou-dera), temples for sightseeing, 御祈祷寺 (ごきとうでら/gokitou-dera), temples for praying, and 檀家寺 (だんかでら/danka-dera), temples for supporters. My temple is a danka-dera. To wrap your head around the idea of danka-dera, imagine Twitter. My temple is a twitter account. I have some followers who like my temple. They are called 檀家 (だんか/danka) or 檀家さん (だんかさん/danka-san) and they provide support to maintain my temple. In return, I assist with their worship for their Buddha and ancestors’ souls.

With this in mind, I’ll walk you through my life as the monk of a danka-dera.

An Ordinary Day

Morning

buddha-statue-altar-of-worship

Photo by kumazoo_jp

5:00am

Good morning! I get up around 5 am, then worship. I read sutra to the Buddha statue in my temple and pray for the peace of the day. It’s like a greeting to Buddhist Gods.

6:00am

I clean my house and altar room.

6:30am

I offer rice and tea to the Buddha statue.

7:00am

I eat breakfast and prepare for the day. My breakfast is usually a banana and yogurt, since my stomach is not that strong. But in principal it should be shojin ryori (monk’s vegetarian diet). Although it’s vegetarian, there are five vegetables called 五辛 (ごしん/goshin) or 五葷 (ごくん/gokun) that are prohibited for monks to eat: green onions, garlic, Chinese chives, scallions, and hajikami, which means both ginger and Japanese sansho pepper. Why? Because they act as aphrodisiacs and are too good for building energy. We are supposed to be calm all the time.

Daytime

HOUJI-SERVICE

Photo by S.R.I.M.I.N.

If there are no funerals that day, I visit the homes of my danka-san (supporters) for worship. There are two types of worship. One is called 月参り (つきまいり/tsukimairi), which is a monthly worship on monthly anniversaries of each family member’s death. I usually visit five to ten places for tsukimairi in a given day. Each tsukimairi usually takes about 10 minutes. The other is called 法事 (ほうじ/houji), which is a Buddhist memorial service which almost all family members attend. These is conducted on the first, third, seventh, thirteenth, seventeenth, twenty-third, twenty-seventh, thirty-third and fiftieth anniversary of a family member’s death. Each houji memorial service takes about an hour.

At a houji memorial service, I not only do worship but also preach a Buddhist sermon. Then I visit the grave and worship there too. When I offer houji memorial services, I usually eat lunch with the family while remembering the deceased and sharing stories about them. At these times, I eat meat and drink alcohol if they are offered because it is rude to refuse.

Evening

shojin-ryori

At whatever time I return from my day’s activities, I start the evening worship. The length of the worship is about a half hour to an hour. Afterward I clean for about twenty minutes. When all the work is done, I have something tasty for dinner though originally monks are supposed to fast during this meal.

Overall, I do 法務 (ほうむ/houmu), which are Buddhist clerical duties, early morning and evening. Later on I do 檀務(だんむ/danmu), which are worship services for the temple’s supporters, during the day time.

Wakes and Funerals

buddhist-wooden-grave-markers

Photo by Tod McQuillin

When somebody passes away, I get a phone call. It can be midnight or early morning. When I get the phone call, I visit the home of the deceased to offer Makura-kyo (also referred to as makura-gyo), which is one of the services held immediately after a person’s death. This is done to offer the first sutra chanting for the first time after death in order to keep the soul of the deceased from wandering before the funeral ceremony starts. Even if I already have other plans for the day, the funeral takes priority, so I ask those involved with my predetermined plans to kindly reschedule. If there are two funerals happening at the same time or some other unavoidable circumstance comes up, I will ask another monk from a different temple to help. Private plans are of course cancelled.

After finishing the makura-kyo ceremony, I have a meeting with the family about how they wish to conduct the wake (viewing) and the funeral and what kind of worship they would like to be performed. The wake is sometimes held the night a person passes, but it can be the next night too. Before the ceremony, I have to write 塔婆 (とうば/touba), which is a wooden grave tablet, and 墓標 (ぼひょう/bohyou), which is a grave-postmark. After the funeral, the family cremates the body and I go with them for a memorial service there, but I leave before they collect the bones. Finally, the family buries the remains on a later date, usually on the forty-ninth day after the person’s death, which is when the Buddhist services for the repose of soul are held.

Obon And Ohigan

obon-lanterns

Photo by Matthew Hine

Obon is the Japanese ritual ceremony that welcomes the souls of ancestors from heaven and to sends them off again. Ohigan is a equinoctial week in which Buddhist services are performed. There are ohigan in both spring and autumn.

I always do the early morning and evening worship and cleaning, but the daytime shift is very different and much busier during these seasons. At these times, all of the supporters want worship services so I have to visit a lot of places. I usually visit about 30 to 40 places a day, and sometimes up to 50. I get so busy that I can only offer 5 to 10 minutes of worship during this season, though I wish I could offer longer ones.

My area is a small countryside town, so my temple’s supporters are all in the same area. The supporters of city temples could be all over the place, so they probably wouldn’t be able to visit as many supporters as I do (probably 10 to 15 places a day). For both ohigan, I also hold memorial services for the people who died during the war on top of the memorial services held at each house.

And We Do It All Again Tomorrow!

And that’s an average day in the life of a Japanese monk! Did you find it interesting? Did you find any parts that you want to learn more about? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

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

Form and Function

karate-kata

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

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

Non-Combative Kata

lady-kata-tea-ceremony

Photo by Todd Fong

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

Kata For the 21st Century

matrix-kata-i-know-kung-fu

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

All About the Shout

scream-can-kiai

Photo by cenefil_

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

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

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

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

Legends of Dubiousness

matsumura-sokon-is-great

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

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

A Lot of Hot Air

hot-air

Photo by dfbphotos

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

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

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

Back to Reality

banshee-screams

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources:

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

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

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

A Note

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

Tangible Benefits

bright-temple-shrine-japan

Photo by sorimachi.tw

Free Trip to Japan

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

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

Job in Japan

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Set up

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

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

Apartment

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

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

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

Lots of Support

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

School Supervisor (担当者)

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

Vice Principal

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

Principal

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

Board of Education or Prefectural Office Supervisor

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

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

Prefectural Advisor (PA)

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

Edit:

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

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

Money

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

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

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

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

Tax Exemption for 2 Years

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

Pay off Debts with That Money

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

Many Insurances

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

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

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

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

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

Vacation

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

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

Language Practice

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

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

The JET Program Japanese Language Course

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

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

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

International Work Experience

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

Enkai!

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

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

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

Seminars

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

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

The CLAIR Grant for TEFL Certification

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

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

Alumni Network

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

Bike

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

Foothold in the Country for Living Long Term

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

Intangible Benefits

sakura-close-up

A Chance to Live on Your Own in a Foreign Country

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

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

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

Learning More About Your Own Culture

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

Experience All Four Seasons in Japan

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

The People

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

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

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

The Horcrux Effect

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

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

Reasons Not to Go on JET

alone-in-japan

Photo by tokyoform

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

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

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

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

Culture Shock

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

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

Training Sucks

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

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

You’ll Most Likely Get Put in the Inaka

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

Medical Situations

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

The Japanese School System Takes Some Getting Used To

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

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

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

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

You Are a Public Servant, Not Simply a Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

fuji-and-sakura-together-at-last

Photo by skyseeker

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

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Interview with Sarah Feinerman from Design Festa http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/04/interview-with-sarah-feinerman-from-design-festa/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/04/interview-with-sarah-feinerman-from-design-festa/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=51467 International Art Event Design Festa is an explosion of creativity that happens twice a year at Japan’s largest convention center, Tokyo Big Sight. It’s the largest art event of its kind in Asia, so big that it recently spawned a sister event, GAKUTEN, to give extra space an attention to student artists who participated in the […]

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International Art Event Design Festa is an explosion of creativity that happens twice a year at Japan’s largest convention center, Tokyo Big Sight. It’s the largest art event of its kind in Asia, so big that it recently spawned a sister event, GAKUTEN, to give extra space an attention to student artists who participated in the original Design Festa event. On top of this, Design Festa owns and runs a gallery year round, at their headquarters. And all this is organized by 18 people.

One of those 18 is California native, Sarah Feinerman, the overseas public relations coordinator who has been helping people find art and helping art find people since 2013.  Tofugu was fortunate to get some of her time and learn about inner workings of Japan’s largest and most vibrant art organization.

Becoming Part of the Team

sarah-and-group-in-staff

Q. How did you get to Japan initially?

I graduated from college and then came straight to Japan at 20 years old. At the time I was the only person I knew who had never traveled abroad. I had never studied Japanese, opening my first textbook on the plane from San Francisco to Tokyo.

I was brought over as an ALT, and on my first day into work I found out the contract my company had with a Board of Education in Miaygi had actually been cancelled. This is not a rare situation, as independent dispatch companies like mine play a high-stakes game of supply vs. demand every spring and there are always people who arrive for work from overseas only to find they don’t have a job anymore, due to no fault of their own. Under normal circumstances I would have been put back on my plane and flown home to San Diego, but there just so happened to be a small town in Tochigi that was too poor to keep their status as a town (they would be transformed into Moka City 18 months after I arrived) or to keep their expensive, government-issued non-Japanese English teacher. I had five elementary schools and three middle schools to teach simultaneously, but I had a job, and came to adore Ninomiya Town.

Q. What were you doing before Design Festa?

I was convinced that the only job for a non-Japanese person with no special skills in Japan was English teaching, so that’s what I did and that’s what got me out here. I spent 3 and a half years working at kindergartens, elementary schools and middle schools in Tochigi, Fukushima and Ibaraki, then an additional two years at an English conversation school in Chiba. I moved every year for my first six years in the country, but it never really felt like I was working at my job–I was tolerating it. My students were great, but I was no teacher. I was finally in talks to be transferred from the classroom to the head office at the conversation school that employed me when along came Design Festa.

tokyo-big-sight-full-of-df-patrons

Q. How did you get your job with Design Festa?

When I first moved to Chiba for the English conversation school job, the company had a system where new potential teachers were all put together in a guest house. You went through training and test classes and if you showed potential you were officially hired.

My neighbor in the guest house was a social type who would intentionally look up events and happenings in the area, and he invited me to Design Festa. I am not a social type. I had very little interest in going anywhere with someone I didn’t know and I have no idea why I went, but I did.

My first Design Festa was in May of 2011 at vol.33, which I attended as a visitor. I had attended several anime conventions in California (again: nerd), and I absolutely love, love, love the atmosphere of a convention hall. Thousands of people all passionate about the same thing all together in a place where you don’t have to feel embarrassed to say what you like, to express what you like, because everyone else feels the same way and wants to meet you. They’re glad you’re there with them. I felt like I’d come home–or, as I’d later say in my interview with the Director of Design Festa, I felt the emotion of “tadaima.”

I have no artistic abilities whatsoever, but my best friend in the world is an illustrator in San Francisco. I harassed her into sending me posters, postcards, prints, keychains, pin badges–anything we could come up with–and in November of 2011 I was an official Design Festa vol.34 exhibitor.

I exhibited and sold her work at volumes 34, 35 and 36, making me more than familiar with the Design Festa website, the application process and the documentation sent out to English-speaking exhibitors.

Being the English nerd that I am, all of the…interesting grammar in the official documentation kind of depressed me. I am quite a fan of Japanese-English, spoken, written or otherwise, but I loved Design Festa and I wanted it to put its best foot forward. I wanted it to impress other people as much as it impressed me, and I felt that the unusual application of English that its organizers used was selling it short.

I was also kind of confused–I knew that Comic Market, the giant anime, manga, and doujinshi fair also held at Tokyo Big Sight was organized entirely by volunteers, and assumed Design Festa operated in the same way. If I’d known it was an actual company I never would have done what I did: emailing them in June of 2012 offering to correct their English-language website purely on a volunteer basis. It was an offer I’d made before to one or two lolita fashion export shops, but no one ever took me up on the offer. So I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t hear back.

It wasn’t until September that I came across the response from the Director of Design Festa in my spam folder–and he was offering me a job. I thought I’d ruined everything by ignoring his email for three months, but I responded anyway in a flurry of apologies, and he assured me the position was still open. From January 2013 to March I worked two jobs, five days a week teaching English conversation in Chiba and twice a week at Design Festa in Harajuku, and I was a full time employee by April.

My first event as a staff member was Design Festa vol.37.

sarah-at-vol-37

Q. What are the responsibilities of your job?

I’m officially the overseas media public relations coordinator, but like most people in the company I do a little of everything. Translation for the websites and official documents for exhibitors is a big part of what I do, in addition to arranging TV spots, magazine features, and other collaborations with English-language media. Thanks to my graphic design background I’ve been able to take on the responsibilities of all our foreign-language advertising materials from copywriting to photography to design. I’ve also been learning video editing on the fly, interviewing exhibitors during Design Festa and GAKUTEN events and then creating event report videos, artist interview compilations and, from this year, monthly features of artists and exhibitions at Design Festa Gallery. We also have relationships with several foreign embassies to whom I represent the company. Everyone assists with the day-to-day running of the art gallery that the Design Festa office is located in.

design-festa-staff

Q. How many people do you work with?

International Art Event Design Festa, the largest art and performance convention in all of Asia, if not the world, welcomes nearly 60,000 visitors and 12,000 artists to each of its biannual events. This monster of an art and music festival has no comparison anywhere inside or outside of Japan, and it is run entirely by 18 people.

International Art Event Design Festa

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Q. How does your job change when Festa time rolls around? With 60,000 visitors you must be pretty busy.

The very electricity in the air changes as Design Festa draws near. I personally shift to helping prepare paperwork, checking, re-checking and re-re-checking English language signage and documentation, taking phone and email inquiries from English-speaking exhibitors and visitors, sending out invitations to foreign embassies and the media and other exciting things. The Friday before Design Festa weekend is always the most fantastically hectic, where we pack up computers, signs, equipment, flyers and a million other things to transfer to Tokyo Big Sight. I’m not sure how much I can give away, but by the end of the first day of Design Festa, a good portion of the staff members you’ll see won’t have slept for over 24 hours.

drummer-man-hair-bot-guy

Q. That all sounds so exciting and, as you said, “electric.” Are there any unexpected roadblocks or funny stories that come out of this frantic time?

I ended up with an orphaned school desk once, but that was a lot funnier at the time than it is in retrospect. We can’t leave Tokyo Big Sight until almost midnight on the Sunday of the event (with everyone back at work at 10am on Monday), and everyone has been dead on their feet for hours by then. There was a school desk we’d brought from the gallery that we’d forgotten to load onto the moving truck.

For some reason it was hilarious.

I go to and from the venue with my car stuffed with as many people who are too exhausted to take the train as it can hold, and that night one of my senpai made the trip back home with an upside down school desk in his lap. Then it sat in my parking spot for a few weeks. One of my neighbors asked if they could have it, but I eventually got it back to the gallery in one piece. Poor little desk.

group-of-artists-at-Design-Festa

Q. How many different countries are represented at Design Festa on average?

We have a pretty steady average of over 20 different countries represented at every Design Festa event, but we’re always trying to attract talent from outside of Japan. We offer exhibitor support in English, Korean, and Chinese in addition to Japanese, and I started studying French last year in hopes that we might one day be able to help non-Japanese artists in a fifth language as well. This year is particularly exciting as we have the normal mixture of overseas exhibitors in the 3,500 booths of the Booth Area, but also non-Japanese live bands in our Live Music Area and non-Japanese performers in both the Theater Space and on the Show Stage.

two-guys-with-sculptures

Q. What kind of art is exhibited at Design Festa?

Design Festa is a fantastically abstract affair, so this is going to be a terribly vague answer, but literally anything is welcome at the Design Festa event. We perform no screenings and we have no process for artists to submit their work for any sort of approval. As organizers we know as much about what will arise at Design Festa as our visitors, and the only thing to expect really is the unexpected. Our one and only rule is that an exhibitor’s work be entirely original, so fan art, cosplay of copyrighted characters and the like can’t be displayed. If you want to go somewhere where the only rule is “You must have something no one has ever done before,” Design Festa is that place.

Fashion design, music, live painting, dance, illustration, swordplay, photography, bondage, film, taxidermy, installations, body painting, graphic design, accessory design, figurine design–if it is a thing that exists, there is a good chance you will find it at Design Festa.

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Q. Since anything that is a thing can show up at Design Festa, do you ever find yourself saying, “Wow. I didn’t know that was a thing!”

Every time. One of my favorites was a girl who drew pictures in ketchup on top of omurice. Her exhibition was 200 pictures of 200 different omurice ketchup pictures. She had people vote on their favorites to later announce the “Best Om” on her website.

I also really liked a lady who made silver accessories based on Japanese mythological creatures. There was another girl who took rulers, video game controllers and other generic things and turned them into adorable bracelets, necklaces and earrings. The “sushi lover” illustrator had work unlike anything I’d ever seen before, too–and these were all exhibitors just from vol.40.

Q. What kinds of things do exhibitors at Design Festa go on to do? Is it a good place to get your art noticed?

Exhibitors often launch their own brands and online shops and/or go on to become successful bands and geinoujin. The Design Festa event is a fantastic opportunity in that its potential is only limited by how you use it. Some independent artists have no other place they can meet and greet with their fans in person, while newer artists have an audience of thousands to whom they can introduce themselves while simultaneously making connections with others in their field.

I interviewed a Taiwanese artist last year who was displaying work they created for a job they got when they were approached by a company at the previous Design Festa event. I heard secondhand of an American artist who paid for their flight to and from Japan and hotel fees with profits made from selling their work at Design Festa.

Design Festa is a fantastic place to get your art noticed, not only by the general public but also by your fellow artists, performers, photographers, cinematographers, fashion designers and more, who can be just as (if not more) important to an artist’s success than their audience. A significant percentage of our Design Festa Gallery exhibition groups consists of artists who met one another at Design Festa and joined forces to support each another in other independent exhibitions.

design-festa-buy-exhibitor

Q. Can you buy some of the art at Design Festa?

My personal favorite thing about Design Festa: we charge no commission fees. Visitors are welcome and encouraged to purchase the art and designs they find, as 100% of all profits goes directly to the creator. There will always be work that is display-only, but beginning a conversation with an exhibitor about what they have for sale is a perfect opportunity to discover a new favorite artist and make a new friend.

nyanco-and-mico-creator-aico

Q. What are your favorite things to see at Design Festa?

I am a huge fan of designs described as “yurui” in Japanese, a word for which I haven’t yet found a suitable English translation. They’re very simple, often strange…they could almost be described as generic if there wasn’t something bizarre about them that makes them anything but.

One of my absolute favorite designers is the creator of Nyanco & Mico, who participates at every Design Festa event as well as exhibiting at Design Festa Gallery. I buy something every single time, not because I feel obligated as a repeat customer, but because she always has something that she’s never had before and that I can’t get enough of. She is one of our growing Design Festa success stories, and a great example of the “yurui” design aesthetic that I can’t help but love.

I also have a wall in my apartment almost completely covered in postcards. It seems like a bland sort of item to indulge in, but 100 yen postcards can be found all over Design Festa and exhibitions at Design Festa Gallery. They’re a great way to affordably support local and overseas artists you love. I suppose there are probably people who send them to friends, but I prefer wallpapering my personal spaces in a mix of the fantastic illustrations and photographs that can be found nowhere else but Design Festa.

GAKUTEN

gakuten-entrance

Q. Why was GAKUTEN started?

After twenty years of wildly successful Design Festa events, we managed to outgrow our venue. Unfortunately Tokyo Big Sight is the largest convention center in Japan, leaving us with very few options to continue growing. We decided to focus our efforts on our exhibitors in need of the greatest amount of support: student artists.

GAKUTEN exhibitors are not limited to college students though: to the contrary they vary in age from 8 years old to age 64 and include adults pursuing the study of an instrument, language, or craft in their free time, retirees attending classes at community centers, elementary school, middle school, high school students and more.

gakuten-students

Q. What separates GAKUTEN from Design Festa?

Design Festa is for amateurs and professionals, individuals and companies, the general public and established artists to buy, sell and perform. GAKUTEN is for networking: an opportunity for technical schools to reach out to the community alongside universities and students to step outside their classrooms for the first time to get real, unfiltered feedback from an audience.

GAKUTEN is an opportunity I would have done anything for when I was a student, and we are doing our best to meet all the needs of up and coming student artists who need more personalization and support than what can be offered at Design Festa due to its sheer size. Buying, selling, and performances still happen, but fashion designers have the increased visibility of the GAKUTEN Fashion Avenue. Impromptu performance groups, performance artists and sculptors have the more personalized option of the Installation Area. Universities and technical schools have the entirely unique Campus Area. GAKUTEN, like its student artists, is growing and evolving all the time.

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Q. Because GAKUTEN is newer, what dreams to you have for it personally?

Personally, I want GAKUTEN to be the place non-Japanese students go when they’re thinking about attending school in Japan and want to know what kind of options are available to them. I want it to be where students of all levels of schooling go because the experience and feedback they get working with the public at GAKUTEN is something they can get nowhere else. I want it to be where large companies and small business owners go to find talent for their future ventures and where, therefore, students go to get job offers. I very strongly believe that GAKUTEN’s potential is endless, simply because it has never been tried before, just like things were when Design Festa was founded over twenty years ago.

Advice and an Ever Changing Gallery

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Q. What advice do you have for our readers who may want to get a job in Japan one day?

You have to adapt. You don’t have to agree with everything or even anything, but you have to be flexible. It sounds like common sense that everyone applies in any workplace in any country, but everything that can be different is different in Japan, and everything from the good to the bad can feel like it’s being magnified threefold. It can feel like you’re the only one who sees a problem that should be glaringly obvious, that you’re the only one that can’t understand something that shouldn’t make any sense and that you’re the only one laughing at something that should be hilarious. That last one in particular–I’m the only one who thinks I’m funny.

But it’s not impossible, and it’s not even necessarily harder just because it’s Japan. It’s just different.

It’s not you being in Japan that makes getting and holding a job hard or easy, it’s being you in Japan and what you do with it.

Q. What advice do you have for young artists who may want to come to Japan to exhibit their art or get an art career started?

Talk to anyone–everyone. When exhibiting on my friend’s behalf at Design Festa I constantly had other artists coming up to introduce themselves, to try and discuss the art with me and give me business cards. After each event my friend would get a surge of emails from people looking to form a group for an exhibition at some gallery and asking where her next event would be so they could meet up again. A Japanese friend of mine brought her silver accessories to Design Festa, met up with an American glass accessory designer and now, years later, he’s the reason she’s fluent in English and she’s doing English to Japanese translation for a huge company. Accessory design was always a hobby for her, but there is no telling where the people you meet will take you whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional.

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Q. Any advice to those applying to exhibit at Design Festa?

Be ready to talk! That is another one of the things I love about the event. When I was an exhibitor, it suddenly didn’t matter that I was a confused blonde girl surrounded by people who didn’t speak my language. The staff, my fellow exhibitors and the visitors all acted like me being there was the most natural thing in the world. People would “koe kakeru”–reach out, I guess, you could say in English–without the slightest hesitation, and that doesn’t always happen when you’re an obviously-non-Japanese-person in Japan. I was there with them, I was a part of them. I exchanged candies with my booth neighbors along with “yoroshiku onegaishimasu” in the morning, we watched each other’s spaces when we stepped out for lunch in the afternoon and we helped each other clean up our spaces at night.

Design Festa is two days of belonging, and that is amazing no matter who you are.

But yes: talking.

Before Design Festa I was working at an English conversation school, as I’ve mentioned, and one of the tasks assigned to teachers from time to time was handing out flyers for the school at the train station during down time. My first time with those flyers went horribly, as I tend to be crippled by shyness when thrust in front of strangers. Then there was Design Festa. I only exhibited for one of the two event days, but it was eight hours of greeting, explaining things to and befriending people I’d never seen before.

When I was back on the street with my conversation school flyers the next week, I gave out every last one. It was a skill I’d never known I needed and had no idea how to gain even if I did, and Design Festa made it possible.

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Q. What do you like to do when you’re not shaping the future of Japan’s greatest artistic organization?

Study French! An unusually large percentage of the non-Japanese visitors that come to Design Festa Gallery are from French-speaking countries, and I dream of being able to one day guide them through our exhibition rooms in French. I went to a language school in Montpellier (my first time to a country that isn’t Japan or the U.S.) earlier this year. I study with a teacher via Skype once a week and independently whenever I can. It would probably be easier if I lived in a French-speaking country, but I’m too much in love with Design Festa to imagine myself ever being anywhere else.

Q. What’s the most magical Japanese food?

Katsudon is love. Tempura-don and oyakodon are similarly made of magic. The invention of “meat and vegetables on rice” is the greatest in the history of man.

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Q. What’s the one question you wish people would ask you, but never do? (then answer it!)

So if Design Festa is continuing to grow as the largest art and performance festival in Asia and GAKUTEN is aiming to become one of the single greatest support systems for student artists, what even is Design Festa Gallery?

Design Festa Gallery is a collaboration of Design Festa artists, GAKUTEN artists and an increasingly large variety of students, teachers, amateurs, professionals, individuals and companies. It is a constantly evolving art village, a hotbed of originality and creative expression but, above all, a community. It is one of the largest galleries of its kind and brings people from all over the world together on a daily basis, with creators and fans, tourists and local artists, contemporary and traditional mediums all coming together into one of the most diverse melting pots on earth.

The Design Festa event is like my home and Design Festa Gallery is like the neighborhood where I grew up. Every day I walk into work to find 20 different exhibition rooms of people and things I’ve never seen before, and it’s completely amazing, every single time.

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Q. Anything you want to say to the Tofugu friends and readers?

This has been an awful lot of words trying to put across something that really can’t be explained. I’m a shamelessly biased source, but I truly believe that Design Festa is something everyone should experience at least once. Words, pictures, and video can help you get a general idea of what goes on, but you’ve really got to be immersed–surrounded, caught up and swept away–to really understand what Design Festa is about and what can be accomplished by the tens of thousands of people there.

Create & Participate

Big thanks to Sarah for her time and informative answers. Be sure to check out the incomparable Design Festa and GAKUTEN event experiences at Tokyo Big Sight. The next event dates are:

Design Festa

GAKUTEN

Design Festa Gallery Access

If you can’t make it to a Design Festa organized event, the Design Festa Gallery is open year round in Harajuku.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Exploring Shueisha (and an Interview with a Manga Editor!) http://www.tofugu.com/2015/04/27/exploring-shueisha-and-an-interview-with-a-manga-editor/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/04/27/exploring-shueisha-and-an-interview-with-a-manga-editor/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=45942 Recently, I interviewed a manga scriptwriter named Araki Joh, the author of several best selling manga series published by Shueisha, the publishing house behind the Jump line of manga. If you’re not familiar with Jump manga, you may be familiar with some of their titles like Dragon Ball, Naruto, and One Piece (the top 3 bestselling […]

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Recently, I interviewed a manga scriptwriter named Araki Joh, the author of several best selling manga series published by Shueisha, the publishing house behind the Jump line of manga. If you’re not familiar with Jump manga, you may be familiar with some of their titles like Dragon Ball, Naruto, and One Piece (the top 3 bestselling manga of all time).

After answering all my questions, Araki Joh extended his generosity even further by inviting me to the Shueisha building in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo to see the editors’ room. Not only did I get a tour of part of the building and the editors’ room, I also got an interview with Araki Joh’s editor and learned a lot about how manga gets published.

Buckle up for a part-travel, part-interview hybrid adventure. Let’s go see some manga magic!

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This is the Shueisha building located in Jinbocho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Its modern design suits the progressive city. The white and blue in the glass exterior both mimics the sky and helps reflect it.

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There is actually a gallery on the first floor, which is open to everyone during the week from 9:30a.m. to 5:30p.m. Sadly, I didn’t really have much time to check it out, because I was on official business. But if you’re a manga fan visiting the Tokyo area, be sure to pop in for a visit.

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I only got to take a couple pictures of the gallery from the street side window. As you can see, there are a few framed manga drawings and awesome character statues. Too bad that rope is keeping us from posing next to JoJo and Chopper.

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Okay, it’s time to go inside! There is a reception area past this door and you need an appointment to go upstairs. But because I was with Araki Joh, I didn’t need to check in and, thus, there are no pictures of it. Did you really want to see pictures of a desk?

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I was given access to two floors of the building. I was immediately impressed with how thick the walls were with familiar faces.

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Naruto…

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Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure…

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And Haikyuu! were some of the highlights. They were all fun to look at and gave the offices a unique energy. You could feel that Japan’s greatest manga flows through this place.

Finally, it was time to enter the editors’ room.

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Ta-Da! As you might notice, the majority of the employees here are male. I only saw one woman, who was in a part time position, working on this floor.

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While most everyone diligently attended to their duties, I found this guy reading manga with his legs up.

“Really?” I jealously, but quietly, exclaimed. This surprised me at first, but I was soon told that it’s all part of being an editor. What a nice perk!

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Adding to the flavor of the office was a gallery of former Grand Jump covers.

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All the covers on the gallery wall started out this way. The cover artist must first prepare a few ideas to choose from.

Do you think you have what it takes to be a manga editor? Take a minute to look over the sketches, then see which one was selected here.

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If editors get any rare and valuable down time, they can choose from a huge library of manga to kick back and relax with. While this may seem like a lot manga to you and me, there’s actually a whole ton more in another room.

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Because most mangaka (manga artists) work from home, I felt fortunate to come across a mangaka working on his storyboards. (A wild mangaka appeared!)

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When mangaka are finished with their pages, they bring them into the office for publication. The completed pieces look like this. They are much more extraordinary and expressive than the printed versions, don’t you think?

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After the pages are submitted, designers put finishing touches on the manga drawings. These guys decide where to place dialogue and which colors and fonts to use.

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Check out the before and after. The designers added a lot of information and style to the finished product. Once the designers are done with the drawings, the files are sent to a print shop.

Interview Time!

After the tour, I got an exclusive interview with a manga editor at Shueisha who worked with Araki Joh. He asked to remain anonymous, so imagine him as a mysterious hero of the manga editing world. I hope you enjoy it!

Q. What does a manga editor do?

First, we conduct meetings with manga writers. Once a script is completed, we take it to a manga artist. When the manga drawings are finished, we take it to a print shop and they make a sample for us to proofread. If we are happy with the final product, we give the go ahead to start printing the magazine.

I’m an editor for Grand Jump, which is published every two weeks, so we have really fast turnaround and it can be very hectic. Just imagine what it must be like for editors doing weekly publications.

And, of course, we attend company meetings as well.

Q. Could you tell me how to become a manga editor?

There are three big steps involved in getting a desk inside a manga company.

First, you fill out an “entry sheet” and send it to us. So many people want to join Shueisha and this is our first method of screening. If your entry sheet is accepted, you can move on to the next step, which is an exam. The exam is pretty long (about four hours) and it contains current topics, common knowledge, Japanese literature, English, Kanji, and an essay. After passing this exam, you will have to make your way through a couple interviews.

Once past this entire process, only a select few will be asked to join our company. Even if you make it that far, management decides which department you’ll work for, so you’ll need a bit of luck to become a manga editor.

Anyway, that’s the process, but you shouldn’t think of how to get into the company you want to work for. Instead, you should think of what you would want to work on if you were actually employed there. That helps you relax, and helps you figure out what you really want to do and why you want to become a manga editor.

Q. What is the best part of being a manga editor?

We share a sense of achievement and joy when a manga becomes a hit. The feeling is stronger for a manga that has both a scriptwriter and a manga artist, because those make me feel as if I played a larger role in creating the story. It would be truly wonderful to help lift a writer and/or manga artist up from obscurity, like what happened with the manga “Bakuman.” But I haven’t experienced that yet.

Q. What is the worst part about being a manga editor?

We have to wait for scripts and manga to arrive on our desks and sometimes they don’t come on time. I have to wait and wait and wait and wait, and if it still hasn’t come, it feels almost as if I’ve been betrayed.

Since I’ve grown up a little bit and come to respect the creative process, I understand that it’s just the way things are in this job, but it can still be a bit frustrating at times.

Q. What are the some of the manga you’ve worked on?

I worked as an editor for girls’ manga before moving to Grand Jump, but I haven’t worked on any famous manga other than Bartender.

Q. Which was your favorite?

Sorry, I don’t have a lot of choices to pick from. As you’ve probably guessed, it’s Bartender. Although it became a hit, it was not an easy journey. We worked so hard together, though that’s not to say I haven’t worked hard on other manga.

After Bartender, I worked on a manga called “Hotaru – Yuigon Bengoshi Masaki Jimusho” and it didn’t do as well, so it ended pretty quickly. I still think it would have become much more popular and the story would have developed quite nicely if it lasted a little longer.

Q. Since you’re an editor, I imagine that sometimes you have to tell an author that you need to cut something or add something. Is this difficult to do?

It depends on the author, but it’s difficult in terms of word choice and timing. When the authors don’t have much confidence, they ask for advice from us. If I have known an author for a long time, I figure out what they want, what they are trying to say, or what they are asking of me a lot quicker, so it’s easier than working with authors that are less familiar with me.

Q. If somebody wanted to be come a manga editor, what should they do?

Read a lot of manga. As you can see in the pictures above, reading is a pivotal part of the job. You should read it as if you were the creator and think about how you would make the story better. You should also know of a lot of manga writers and artists and think about if one of them would make a better fit for the specific manga you’re reading.

We need as much information as possible about a manga when we ask writers and artists to write and draw for our magazine. Famous people don’t usually just write for a magazine out of nowhere, but getting a great piece of work out of them is also part of our job. At the very least, we read every major manga magazine currently published when it’s released.

In addition, you should also try to reflect on the reasons why a manga inspired or moved you a great deal. Especially try to remember the ones that drew you in and affected you when you were a child. The most useful skill when working in the manga industry is your sensitivity to recognizing why particular thoughts and emotions were cultivated from those books. Hence, what you read today becomes tomorrow’s ink.

Access

If you want to go to the Shueisha Gallery on the first floor of the Shueisha building, you can visit it on weekdays from 9:30a to 5:30p.

Address: 3-13, Jinbo cho, Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Hours: 9:30a to 5:30p, Monday-Friday
Access: 2 minute walk from Toei Shinjuku Line, Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line “Jinbo cho” station
Website: http://www.shueisha.co.jp/museum/

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

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

Oh, and the infamous “Penis” Festival.

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

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

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

the-black-iron-penis

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

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

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

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

The History of Kanamara, the Penis Festival

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Emperor Nintoku

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by mrmayat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, the Irony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

All photos taken by author unless otherwise specified

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Interview with Araki Joh, the Best Selling Writer of Japan’s Most Intoxicating Manga http://www.tofugu.com/2015/04/13/interview-with-araki-joh-the-best-selling-writer-of-japans-most-intoxicating-manga/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/04/13/interview-with-araki-joh-the-best-selling-writer-of-japans-most-intoxicating-manga/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=45751 Manga and alcohol are a wonderful mix. Sadly, few artists explored this pairing before Araki Joh wrote the manga, “Sommelier,” in 1996. It is the story of a Japanese wine connoisseur living in France and was eventually retold as a television drama starring Goro Inagaki of SMAP. Joh’s other smash-hit, “Bartender,” was made into a drama starring […]

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Manga and alcohol are a wonderful mix. Sadly, few artists explored this pairing before Araki Joh wrote the manga, “Sommelier,” in 1996. It is the story of a Japanese wine connoisseur living in France and was eventually retold as a television drama starring Goro Inagaki of SMAP. Joh’s other smash-hit, “Bartender,” was made into a drama starring Arashi’s Masaki Aiba, and an anime. His writing is not restricted to one genre or medium, though, and in each genre he works in, he uses different pen names: Arajin (“Aladdin” in Japanese), Joh Mizuki, and Akira Ito.

Tofugu was fortunate enough to get a one-on-one interview with one of Japan’s most successful manga writers. Let’s uncork this bottle of knowledge and savor the insight.

Araki Joh. Occupation: Manga Writer

Araki-Joh-the-Manga-Writer

Pen Name: Araki Joh
Age: Secret
Bibliography: Sommelier (4 million books sold), Bartender (3.5 million books sold), Sommelière (1 million books sold), Bartender à Paris , Bartender à Tokyo, Hono no Ryorinin: Shu Tomitoku (meaning “Cook of Fire: Shu Tomitoku”)

Q. How did you become a manga writer?

I began my writing career as a copywriter for magazines while attending Rikkyo University. One day, my friend, who was a manga editor at the time, asked me to try writing a manga script, and I just tried it out. I didn’t have any training or practice in writing scripts for manga, so I had to carve out my own way of doing it. The first thing I did was write out the script of an existing manga for practice. I chose Osamu Tezuka’s “Black Jack.” I always recommend this method to anyone who wants to become a manga writer, because it taught me how to cut panels in manga and what kinds of lines are striking and memorable. That’s how I changed careers and became a manga writer.

Q. What do you mean by “cutting panels in manga”?

One manga story can span a period of months or years, or even entire lifetimes. If you write every single incident, the manga will be a ridiculous number of pages long. So you have to decide what to omit, in other words, decide which panels to cut.

Scriptwriting requires not only skills of omission but also of emphasis. For example, when “a hand” is drawn by itself, it’s emphasized, right? It’s a simple thing, but there is usually a meaning behind it. I learned things like this while practicing by myself.

It’s often said, “one punch line for one theme.” I used to be a copywriter, so each line of dialogue in my script is advertising copy, and I craft entire stories around the one line of copy I want to write most. Sometimes the storyline is decided first, but other times I come up with the punch line first. The latter is my pattern for success. Once the punch line and the  featured drink are nailed down, to me it means that one story is completed. It takes quite a while to find a good one though, and I struggle with it a lot, like I am right now. (Mami’s note: At the time of the interview, he was trying to decide a theme for his next story about bar tending.)

writing-manga-computer

Q. You said you didn’t have training, but do manga writers usually have some training beforehand?

It depends because there are so many styles for manga scripts. The most important thing in writing manga is to convey clear images to a manga artist, and as long as the script does this, the style doesn’t matter. For example, one famous manga writer, Kazuo Koike, who wrote the script for “Lone Wolf and Cub”, handwrites his scripts in pencil. When he wants to emphasize a word or a phrase, he writes it bigger and presses down to make strong, bold letters. It may not sound professional, but it’s fine as long as it conveys his image to the manga artist. Thus, some people have training, but others just find their own way.

Q. What was your first story about?

Initially, I wrote stories about dogs. I recommend this to new scriptwriters too, but it’s important to write something you are really interested in at the time. When I was 40, I got a dog for the first time in my life and it was a big part of my life at that time. There are lots of emotional moments involved in owning dogs, right? Thus, I decided to write about dogs.

If you are interested in something, you can add details and reality to the story, so I recommend people write about something they know and are interested in. On top of this, it’s even better to make it unique. If your story is about something that somebody has already written, it has to be really good to conquer the existing stories of the same topic. If yours is the first story written of that type, there’s an added advantage that its flaws won’t stand out as much.

The Life of a Manga Writer

Araki-joh-at-work-at-home

Q. What does a manga writer do?

The job of a manga scriptwriter is to write scripts that can convey images clearly to the manga artist.

As for the process, personally I write the script and have meetings with the editor. After that, the manga artist draws a rough storyboard (it’s called “ネーム” in Japanese). If the editor approves it, the artist begins work on the final version. Although some scriptwriters check the storyboard each time, I usually don’t check it except at the very beginning of a new series. When a new series starts, the manga artist hasn’t had a chance to get used to my writing and I want to make sure that he or she captures the right images. Some do, but I don’t allow manga artists to change my words at all. If allowed, most of them end up making too many changes without permission, so I just say, “don’t change a single word or phrase” from the beginning.

manga-name-storyboards

Q. What is it like being a manga writer?

I’ve never worked as a salaryman, so I can’t really compare it to other jobs. I’ve been writing since I was 18. I was a magazine copywriter for 10 years, and then became a manga writer, though there was a period where my copywriting career and my manga writing career overlapped. It’s a difficult question. A manga writer is a scenario writer, after all. It’s basically the same as being a film or TV screenwriter.

There is a big difference between manga and films, though. For films, there is a director, right? For manga, sometimes I take a part as a director, other times the editor does, and other times the manga artist does. The power relationships among the three of us change continuously.

Q. What is the best part of your job?

When the manga I write becomes a big hit! It’s like winning lottery. You can buy a Ferrari with cash! LOL (←He told me to make sure to write lol.)

Making movies cost a lot, but manga can be published quickly and the reaction comes back quickly too. If I answer seriously, I think the best part of my job is that manga doesn’t sell because of the “name”. To put it simply, people buy pictures or novels or watch movies because of the name of the author or director, right? However, manga doesn’t work that way. Even for the author of “One Piece”, if he wrote lame stories for three months, readers would leave him. In this sense, readers don’t buy manga just for the author’s name.

The manga world is so strict and severe that the content has to maintain high quality and the reactions of readers are very quick. I think that’s the best part of my job.

car1

Q. What do you think is the worst part?

There is no non-hard part. I always tell the manga artist I’m working with to work so hard that their blood drips from every panel of the manga. Like I said, if we relax our guard even a little bit, readers leave us, so we have to make sure that our work is really enjoyable. We struggle a lot to create each story, yet there’s a lot of joy in this struggle. When I finally find the story’s theme after a long time, I feel as if it broadens my world and shows me my way. My view turns from cloudy to clear as if God lighted the path. I really like that moment. Honestly, we have big struggles almost every time, but we haven’t shit our pants yet. We somehow get over the struggle every time and it works out.

The absolute hardest part is making the seventh story. One volume of manga usually contains 7 stories. We put most of our effort into the first and last volumes because they really determine whether or not readers continue to read the next book or not. I had a really hard time coming up with the stories for the seventh story of both Sommelier and Bartender, but they both turned out to be the best stories in each series.

Bartender

bartender-manga-cover-big-baby

Q. What’s the storyline of Bartender in your own words?

It’s not a story about drinks (cocktails or alcohol). It’s a story about people whose lives revolve around drinks. Simply put, it’s a story about a bartender, and people with problems who find respite through interacting with him. I can’t say anything more.

Q. How did you get started working on Bartender?

Just because I like alcohol. As I said before, you should write something you would be good at writing. I always focus my writing on people, so the topic can be anything as long as it’s a good setting to depict human drama.

Q. In Japan, it seems like there’s a lot of manga about food or drink helping people. Why do you think this is?

I think we should think separately of the category (food or drink) and story line (helping people).

As for helping people, first consider the difference between chess and shogi (Japanese chess), which represents the difference between Western manga and Japanese manga. You can’t re-use enemy’s chessman you take in chess, whereas you can re-use an enemy’s piece in shogi. What this means is that a good guy usually just fights against a bad guy and wins in Western manga, whereas in Japanese manga a good guy wins against a bad guy and the bad guy often becomes a companion of the good guy. This applies not only to mainstream adventure/fighting manga but also to stories for adults, like mine. If you have read my manga, you probably already know, but there are not simply “bad” people in my stories because all people have good and bad aspects. When you see a person from different standpoints, he/she can look like either a good person or a bad person. I believe Japanese people like to save those “bad” people or people with problems, and that is why there are a lot of manga about helping people.

As for food and drinks, you might say they are popular because Japanese people are very studious. For example, there are only about 300 sommeliers in France, but after my manga “Sommelier” became a hit, the number of sommeliers in Japan rose to about 30,000. People like learning new things and manga is a very useful gateway for beginners to start studying something. Therefore, there are many manga with a lot of information packed in them. In fact, many people actually don’t read manga without such elements. It’s often said that readers want a reason to buy books. What this means is that adult readers only buy manga that they’ll want to keep in their homes and read over and over again. Thus, manga has to be enjoyable and informational.

This is especially important for manga that has a scriptwriter. If it’s a manga that the manga artist can write and draw by himself/herself, we aren’t needed. Manga artists don’t have time to go and collect materials and sources for stories, so we, manga writers, do it for them to add some educational spice to the stories. The reason why food-themed manga are written so much is simply because it’s easier for readers to try out what they learn. They can read manga and then make the foods or go to eat the foods in a restaurant. They can use the information right away. It’s the same with drink manga.

I recently wrote a script about a lawyer who specializes in writing wills, but it didn’t become popular. I think the reason why it wasn’t popular was because I chose the wrong category. Given the ages of the target audience, a story of a divorce lawyer might have been much more interesting, though it’s too late for that now. When a manga contains information that readers want, and also if the story is enjoyable, it will be a hit. Everybody likes eating tasty foods and stories about foods are written a lot.

Q. Japanese people also seem to like the “genius” character, like the bartender in Bartender. Why do you think this is?

That’s an interesting question. It don’t think Japanese people necessarily like or dislike the “genius’ character. It’s just that any kind of drama needs a hero to be mainstream. That is why main characters are usually “genius” or have a “special power”. Yet, those special elements don’t make a good character. Adding generosity or even weakness makes the character much more interesting. I think American characters tend to be “genius” or “have special powers”, like Superman, more than Japanese characters though.

The Ins and Outs of a Manga Career

manga-pages-araki-joh

Q. Why do you have so many pen names?

I use Joh Araki for stylish manga, but I write other manga too. So when I write a yakuza manga, for example, that pen name doesn’t really match the image of the story, so I use a different one. After I write a clean, stylish story, I sometimes want to write something crazy as stress relief. This is pretty much a tradition for Japanese manga creators. For example, Machiko Hasegawa, the author of “Sazae-san”, wrote “Ijiwaru-baasan” (Mean Grandma) alongside the warm and funny Sazae family story. I think people get tired of writing only “nice” stories.

Q. What is your favorite Manga of all time / why?

Osamu Tezuka’s manga. I practiced writing using his works and learned a lot, including how great he was. If I wrote his manga, they would be double the length, because he is a master of cutting panels.

Q. What is your process for coming up with a story?

There are two processes. One is where I come up with the punch line first, and then shape the story around that line. Other times I get a vague idea and just pursue it. The latter takes quite a while to shape though.

manga-research-araki-joh

Q. Is there any language that you have to be careful about using when writing a Japanese manga script?

The reality of the language. The dialogue of teenagers and the dialogue of middle-aged guys is very different. I try to make them sound real. I try to make them easier to understand too. I also remain aware of the look of the dialogue. Since it’s manga, the dialogue itself is a characters on each page. If the kanji ratio is too high, it can make readers tired. Thus, I try to maintain a good balance of hiragana and kanji. But there are times when I intentionally use difficult kanji to capture the reader’s attention.

Q. What is the most important element for creating a great story?

I create each story by bleeding from soul. I actually told this to the manga artist of bartender, Kenji Nagatomo, to make him more serious about creating our story. Then he told me, “I’ve actually got an ulcer and I’m bleeding from my stomach right now.”

Q. Any funny stories about your job?

I heard some guys talking to girls at a bar about the drinks they were drinking, and what they said were exact quotes from my books. Of course, they didn’t realize that I was there, but I felt happy when I heard it.

more-manga-pages-from-araki-joh

Q. Can you tell us a story about your job that you’ve never told anyone?

I can’t tell them, but they are all woven into my stories.

Q. If someone wants to become a manga scriptwriter, what should they do?

You don’t need to like manga or know about manga. All you need is a message you want to convey to people, or some feeling that you want to shape into words or pictures. Although it’s still hard to be a manga artist or writer for famous magazines, there’s a better chance of you getting your manga story published than you do getting a script turned into a movie, because of the cost of film production. In that sense, it’s an easier challenge. So, the most important thing is to have strong interests and to try living your life in line with those interests. Find something you really like, and then you will find material to write about. There are foreign manga artists working for Japanese manga magazines too, so there are possibilities.

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

When I go to a bar, I sometimes encounter bartenders or sommelier who say they chose their career after reading my manga. If their drinks are good, it’s wonderful. But if they serve me a bad drink, I feel bad that my manga led them the wrong way, though I can’t tell them. I shout in my mind, “It’s not too late! Change your career! Noooo!” LOL! Of course, I appreciate the fact that they liked my manga enough to choose a career based on it.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile 1 / 2 / 3]

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Becoming a Father in Japan http://www.tofugu.com/2015/04/01/becoming-a-father-in-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/04/01/becoming-a-father-in-japan/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=50088 Her water broke at three o’clock in the morning. I’d been born two weeks early myself so I expected this. I put on yesterday’s clothes and picked up the suitcase that was waiting in the corner. We had to be prepared since Japanese mothers are usually expected to provide for themselves (toiletries, towels, pajamas, etc.) […]

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Her water broke at three o’clock in the morning.

I’d been born two weeks early myself so I expected this. I put on yesterday’s clothes and picked up the suitcase that was waiting in the corner. We had to be prepared since Japanese mothers are usually expected to provide for themselves (toiletries, towels, pajamas, etc.) during their often week-long hospital stay after birth.

The hospital doesn’t provide any amenities, but a week long recovery in the hospital is something a lot of the world’s mommies could only dream of. At the end of my wife’s visit, the hospital even gave her a special three star meal to celebrate. Prenatal services are also top-notch in Japan, with many cities offering expecting mothers free childcare and delivery classes. I remember my wife leafing through a special baby handbook city hall gave us, which thoughtfully included color photos of healthy baby poop. We’re well prepared.

I email the in-laws and tell them it’s time. I do this on my iPhone because the Japanese keypad is easier to use than a Japanese keyboard for me. Japanese mom and dad speak absolutely no English and I’ll be counting on Apple’s built-in dictionary for translating those especially difficult kanji.

My wife swears she’s not in any pain. She spends the ride to the hospital sitting on her knees because she doesn’t want to leak on the seat. I can’t believe she’s not in pain.

“My mother was the same way,” she explains. “She didn’t go into labor for hours after her water broke.”

At the hospital we’re told labor would start in 10 to 16 hours. We’re a bit sore about being woken up at three o’clock just to have to wait around till night, but I suppose that’s how it is. I make it a point to ask if I can be there during the delivery, since some Japanese hospitals don’t allow fathers in either the delivery or labor room. Even in the Japanese medical profession there are some surprisingly old-fashioned beliefs, and daddies not having much to do with baby stuff is one. Fortunately, our hospital says it’s okay for me to be there when my wife starts screaming.

By the early morning the nervous excitement’s worn off and we both would rather her start labor sooner than later because waiting for it’s driving us crazy.

Waiting

waiting-in-the-waiting-room

Photo by Craig Sunter

Since the baby won’t be arriving anytime soon we both decide I should go back to the apartment to rest for the delivery. Just as I nod off, my alarm clock tells me it’s time to get ready for work. That reminds me that I hadn’t told them I won’t be coming in, so I shoot them an email. When that’s finished my wife mails asking if I’m awake yet. Shouldn’t have left in the first place, I realize. I eat lunch on my way back to the hospital.

She’s been put in a shared room. Hospitals often put mothers-to-be in shared rooms with nothing but curtains sectioning off beds. Private rooms are more expensive, and while the cost of labor is partially reimbursed by the Japanese national healthcare system, it’s a standard lump sum of 420,000 yen. (When all was said and done we paid about 60,000 yen out-of-pocket, which is about 500 US dollars.)

Anyway, my thrifty wife didn’t want to spend the extra cash and opted for the shared room. Behind the privacy of our curtain, I keep her mind off things the best I can, mostly by drawing funny pictures on my iPad. I wish I could have thought of something better, but funny pictures is the best I can manage. But you know what? That’s okay. I kept a smile on her face between nurse visits–visits that are making me worry I don’t have enough Japanese for this.

Pain

in-pain-so-much-pain

Photo by Racchio

The pain starts. At first it’s not so bad. Then it is. And it only gets worse because less than three percent of Japanese women get an epidural or any sort of pain relief during birth. Part of it is a lack of obstetricians and anesthesiologists. Childbirth is a risky field with unexpected working hours, and a lot of medical students are opting for easier lines of work like cosmetic surgery. Several years ago things were so bad that some women, called “birthing refugees,” had to roam the hospitals looking for a doctor to deliver their babies. Epidurals also require an anesthesiologist, which there just aren’t enough of on hand to administer a shot to a woman in labor while a heart surgery might be going on down the hall.

They move my wife to the labor room on the opposite side of the hospital so her screams won’t terrify the other women. I think of it as Purgatory, and the doctor or nurse or whoever she is starts checking in more often. She keeps giving my wife what I think is advice but I can’t tell. My Japanese medical vocabulary is sadly lacking. At one point she points between her eyebrows and says something about “wrinkle” and “scream.” Days later, my wife told me she was saying that screaming gives you wrinkles.

I see her massaging my wife’s lower back. Once she’s gone I keep it up, but am informed I’m doing it wrong. “Do it like she did, in circles.” She’s speaking in all Japanese now. This I expected, but now I’m worried I won’t be able to understand the next thing she says. Fortunately for me she isn’t saying much between screams.

All this pain, though, is supposedly a good thing. The other reason most hospitals don’t offer epidurals is that the pain of childbirth is thought to be a virtue that creates good mothers. Beliefs like embracing suffering are slowly going the way of the samurai in the face of modernity, but like fathers not needing to be there for their wives during childbirth, some old habits die hard in Japan. My wife had chosen this hospital because it looked attendant to her needs, but that service still didn’t include pain relief.

A lot is going through my mind, like what I can say to make her feel better. I quickly give up on that idea though. There’s not a word in English or Japanese that will make this easier. Mostly, I just think that I won’t ever, ever stop massaging her back.

Labor

scream-cat-screams

Photo by Mingo Hagen

The nurse/doctor comes back again once the sound of a good mommy-in-the-making gets too shrill. She says more things I can’t understand and I’m starting to feel really bad that I don’t study Japanese as much as I should. Conversational Japanese is fine, but I’m turning out to be woefully unprepared for how much medical-speak this is involving. I do understand that she is counting the time between contractions and telling my wife to go “huuuuu” instead of scream.

So I’m massaging and she’s huuing and the nurse/doctor is telling her something else I don’t understand but it’s okay because I want this woman to deliver my baby. She has professional written all over her, carved in steel with a diamond-tipped ice pick. At this point I’m sure she’s a doctor. (I was wrong about that, actually. She was a midwife.)

My wife is huuing like a panicked barn owl vacuumed through a pipe organ and after a few hours the contractions are close enough that Purgatory ends. The midwife collects my wife and throws me a smock.

“Put it on,” she says. Finally some Japanese I understand.

I do, and she looks annoyed when I try to help her carry my wife to the delivery room. That’s her job, not mine.

She points to the side of the delivery chair. “Stand here and don’t move.”

My wife is happy to be in this room. In Japanese: “We’re here. In this room. It’s almost over!”

I lie and tell her she’s right, not saying that I think the bad stuff is just getting started. My own mother had said they’d put me behind her so I wouldn’t be able to see what’s going on. In Japan, if they let you into the delivery room at all, they put you beside her. Some hospitals even drape a cloth around the delivery chair so only the doctor can see what’s going on. The woman, meanwhile, is stuck behind it not being able to see anything, not even how many people are in the room.

I can’t massage her back anymore so I settle for her neck. I want to be useful, so I’m massaging anything I can.

“There’s a needle in my arm, Nathan. Stop touching it,” says my wife in Japanese. The midwife had put an IV in her arm.

“Yes….there’s a needle,” repeats the midwife. “Stop touching it.”

Idiot! They put an IV in her arm! Why are you massaging the needle? So, frantically determined not to be dead weight,  I massage her neck instead.

Suddenly the midwife looks concerned and calls down the hall for a nurse who isn’t there. Just as suddenly this hospital feels oddly empty.

“Push that button,” she orders me.

There’s a button hanging above the delivery seat. Pressing it brings a nurse that looks far too casual for my taste. The midwife tells her to “go get doctor so-and-so.”

Itai!” My wife screams, it hurts. “Itai…”

I get real quiet and let the midwife work. I wish I could understand what was happening and I promise myself I’ll study Japanese harder when all this is over. Mostly, now that things are bad enough to need doctor so-and-so, I’m just hoping my life isn’t turning into some bad soap opera. I remind myself that Japan has one of the lowest maternal death rates in the world, coming in at 11th in 2010, with western countries like the US coming in at 39th and the UK 23rd respectively. Still, 11th place was 6.8 deaths per 100,000 women, which feels very high when it’s your wife who needs a doctor who isn’t there.

Fatherhood

baby-and-daddy-in-the-ocean

Photo by JeffS

Baby’s head turns into a head and shoulders and I remember hearing that the shoulders are the hardest part. He comes out with limbs covered with a yellowish membrane attached to his skin. I think it might even be his skin. I remember watching a documentary about how some babies are born inside-out. I don’t want an inside-out baby. The midwife doesn’t look concerned, but this ice-woman-cometh wouldn’t have flinched if the baby came out with two heads screaming “banzai!” so that doesn’t mean anything.

While the nurse is cleaning him off the midwife asks my wife if she wants to see something. I get the feeling that something is the afterbirth. She says “yes” and I can’t look away as the the pan of gore is couriered over. The midwife explains how the boundary between her and the baby was like a liver. My lovely wife is fascinated.

Baby comes back without that yellow film on him just as doctor so-and-so finally shows up. They ask me to wait outside. As I leave I see doctor so-and-so sewing my wife up and realize what happened. Once I do, a thought flutters through my head about that whole afterbirth scene. It reads: why did you go on about the ins and outs of afterbirth instead of stopping the blood from pouring out of my wife’s body? Later, I learn it’s because of legal red tape. Japanese midwives can only perform medical interventions in the case of dire emergencies. Apparently that wasn’t one. It makes me wonder why a doctor wasn’t there in the first place.

So there I am, waiting in the lobby for some cosmic shift inside of my soul strata–something to turn on or even something to turn off, but so far there’s no plate tectonics. I had a child, but I didn’t feel like a father. I’d seen on TV there was supposed to be some magical moment when an angel waves an invisible wand over your head and everything falls into place inside you. But in real life becoming a father mentally and spiritually isn’t as easy as falling into a hole. It’s climbing a mountain.

Doctor so-and-so comes out and offers a smiley “Congratulations.”

“Is my wife okay?”

He nods and explains what happened. I don’t understand because he’s communicating in the High Speech, medical Japanese, but frankly I’m just glad he’s polite enough to do so.

As we’ve mentioned before at Tofugu, medicine is not a service industry in Japan. Japan has a strong social hierarchy and doctors are near the top of the totem pole. Unfortunately, that means some doctors think they’re Doctor House. I’ve had a particularly nasty one even call me an idiot before. While most doctors here are great and old farts like the one I saw are rare, even now we’re switching doctors about a foot problem my son has because our current one refuses to tell us what’s wrong. In his mind, he’s the doctor and that’s his domain, not ours.

After the doctor finishes his explanation I just tell him “thank you” because I already know what happened anyway. That’s one thing about communicating in Japan. Even if you don’t understand half of what someone’s saying, common sense can make up for a lot of what’s missing. The midwife pokes her head out and says I can come back in now. My wife is holding the baby.

“You okay?”

“Tsukareta.” She’s tired. “Here, hold him.”

And there, as I hold my son, the father inside me flickers to life.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources

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Getting Famous in Japan the One Direction Way http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/27/getting-famous-japan-one-direction-way/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/27/getting-famous-japan-one-direction-way/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49772 Japan is a popular target market for pop singers that want to take their fame internationally, particularly, it seems, when it comes to debuting in Asia. Is it because of the infectious fan base? Is it because the fandom of Asian pop music has not gone unnoticed? There are numerous stars who try, working to […]

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Japan is a popular target market for pop singers that want to take their fame internationally, particularly, it seems, when it comes to debuting in Asia. Is it because of the infectious fan base? Is it because the fandom of Asian pop music has not gone unnoticed? There are numerous stars who try, working to organize tour dates and scheduling media appearances in Japan, but are met with a relatively low breakout success rate. The ones who succeed are those who understand that while Japan is a big market, it is also a very different one. The most recent and relevant example of this: British boy band sensation, One Direction.

First, let’s characterize J-pop

akb48-has-way-too-many-members-and-its-ridic

Japan is the second largest music market in the world, just behind the United States with a retail value of over 3 billion dollars back in 2013. The Japanese market is dominated by (surprise!) Japanese artists. Japanese pop, or J-pop, is a genre that entered the musical mainstream of Japan in the 1990s, and was coined by the Japanese media in order to distinguish itself from foreign music. Japanese musical idols (or アイドル /aidoru) are a significant part of this music market, with girl groups and boy bands regularly topping charts. Some well known examples are Arashi, SMAP, Morning Musume, and, of course, the wildly popular, AKB48, who currently holds the Guinness World Record for being the “Pop group with the greatest number of members”.

For those unfamiliar with the idol culture in Japan, typically they are are young stars and starlets who are promoted as being particularly cute, manufactured to be a universal role model for everyone. They aim to play a wide range of roles as media personalities, and must have a perfect public image so as to be good examples to young people. As a consequence, a unique characteristic of J-pop is “cutesey” music, and the female artists’ subtle fusion of sexuality and child-like traits.

Another characteristic of J-Pop stars is that they have appearances that span a variety of media. In SMAP for example, group members appeared on at least ten regularly scheduled music and variety shows in the mid-90s. This added to their individual personalities and group persona. At present, they have their own weekly variety program called SMAPxSMAP, which has been airing every Monday since 1996. In addition, individual members also appear in many commercials and television dramas (Any Kimura Takuya fans out there?) Similarly, another aforementioned group, Arashi, also went on to have their own variety show as well, as well as stand out actors such as Matsumoto Jun, well known for his role on Hanayori Dango (Boys over Flowers).

This omnipresence is important for pop stardom in Japan because it creates a sense of intimacy between the artist and the fans. Since J-pop has a focus on marketing effectiveness, the fans are key. Between a curated connection with the fans and the branding of these pop stars as good-looking talents who are also portrayed as emotionally sensitive and caring (as is successfully done through constant media presence), fan-directed marketing is a huge driver for success.

The Stars of the Moment

Japan the One Direction

How, then, does One Direction fit into this world? The British band probably needs no introduction. They are the poster children for boy band pop today, and if the name doesn’t sound familiar, this song probably does:

Or this one:

In a nutshell, they are an English-Irish pop boy band based in London who came to fame from the British Television show The X Factor. They were propelled to success with the help of social media, which we will see is an integral part of their popularity in Japan.

In January 2013, One Direction (1D) touched down in Japan for the first time, donning traditional Japanese red happi coats that had “One Direction” written in katakana on the lapels. What can be assumed as a conscious homage to the Beatles from the 1960s, it was a smart choice for the boy band that was in Tokyo for a short, packed schedule of fan events and media appearances. Harry Styles tends to be the heartthrob of this boy band, but in Japan, it seems as though Niall, from Ireland, is the most popular. In an interview, Harry Styles stated that “In Japan Niall [is the most popular]. Because he’s got the blonde hair they go crazy for him.” Niall’s response was simply that “They’ve never seen people like me before. Little Irish people coming in with dyed hair and dancing,” which probably speaks more to the stereotypical Japanese affinity for things of novelty.

Branding in Japan

Japan the One Direction

The header image from onedirection.jp

The finale of 1D’s Take Me Home Tour had a recorded audience of about 12,000 Japanese fans, which might be considered underwhelming for those who are used to performing for thousands and thousands of shrieking adolescents. But in the eyes of industry veterans, it was quite a showing. For every performer like The Beatles, Lady Gaga, and now One-Direction, there are numerous international acts that gets met in Japan with widespread indifference. Shows being cancelled, as both Kanye West and Selena Gomez have experienced, are not a surprising result.

Instead of letting themselves succumb to that same fate, 1D had a slower launch into Japan, duly noting the market at the time. Their arrival into Japan for media appearances mentioned above, gave Japan just enough to keep buzzing nationwide about this up and coming music group and their newly announced Japan tour.

But what really got the Japanese media’s attention was Sony Music Japan’s branding of the group. This was the start of the official Japanese Facebook and Twitter accounts, which showed translations of the members’ social media. Their first record had a delayed release in Japan but their sophomore album “Take Me Home” was positioned for a simultaneous release. And an even bigger social media innovation was to provide them with what most J-pop acts have: their own fan club.

January 2013 marked the establishment of One Direction Club Japan, which was the group’s only official fan club anywhere at the time. Members would pay approximately 5,000 Yen annually for enrollment which would come with perks such as first choice concert tickets, the opportunity to buy fan-only merchandise, and other special accesses. Even as social media’s influence in Japan grows, official fan clubs like this continue to be integral to J-Pop fandom. It’s the maintaining of that omnipresence that we talked about before. Having a fan club like this becomes smart for international artists since they are only in Japan for a few days out of each year, making it difficult for fans to have a connection with the artists. A Japanese style fan club is paid, it’s exclusive, and perhaps most importantly, it’s something familiar to Japanese people, crafting a perceived intimacy. Having a constant presence is a challenge that overseas artists face with the Japanese market, and it’s an advantage that K-pop (Korean Pop) bands enjoy, because of proximity.

One Direction has bridged that gap with their exclusive online fan club. This fan club not only made 1D’s Japanese fan base comparable in size, but also in breadth. The fact that international pop aimed at teenagers in Japan can find an older audience as well is an idiosyncrasy of the Japanese music market.

In comparison, consider the infamous Justin Bieber, who amassed an impressive fan base of over 40 million on Twitter, and proclaimed his love for Japan. The response from Japan, however, wasn’t quite as reciprocated. It’s all relative, of course, but One Direction’s two 12,000 capacity shows in Japan sold out immediately, while Bieber still had tickets available at the door for his single, 15,000 capacity venue. Even Creativeman’s Yoshinari Hirayama, 1D’s promoter for those Chiba concerts, seemed surprised: “I believe the response was much greater than anyone expected.”

The 1D Café?

Japan the One Direction

Photo by Victor Lee

AKB48 has their café in Akihabara so maybe it’s time for One Direction as well? The rumor mill heard stories of plans for a 1D café to open up worldwide, starting with Shibuya. It was supposed to have opened on Feb 11, 2014. The success of the café in Shibuya would go on to determine whether or not the chain would appear in other cities such as London, New York, Paris, and Berlin. Dissimilar to “pop up” shops, these cafes would stay open year round, selling merchandise of various types for younger fans.

The Story of Their Lives?

Japan the One Direction

It is unclear what the future holds for One Direction in Japan though they are arguably one of the most successful international musical groups that have infiltrated the tough Japanese market. Will One Direction be just another “boom” with a timely end to their popularity? Or will the Japanese fans continue to adore them even when they are old news? Japan can be a great country for an aspiring international artist’s debut, you just have to know how to approach the market and break in. It seems that Japan loves overseas bands, but the bands that make it in Japan are equally as enamored with Japan as well. Harry Styles, for example has taken on the role of incorporating some Japanese to his performances. On a tour stop in the US, Harry led the fans in a chant of “Gambarimasu!”, followed by an exuberant, “Yes! I’ve always wanted to do that!”

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

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Story in my Hands – GAKUTEN Artist Spotlight http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/23/story-in-my-hands-gakuten-artist-spotlight/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/23/story-in-my-hands-gakuten-artist-spotlight/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49342 Every year in August students from all over Japan and the world gather at Tokyo Big Sight for an event organized by Design Festa called GAKUTEN. This event is for elementary, middle, high school, college, and self taught students of all ages and nationalities to gather, display their art, and meet other artists. One of […]

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Every year in August students from all over Japan and the world gather at Tokyo Big Sight for an event organized by Design Festa called GAKUTEN. This event is for elementary, middle, high school, college, and self taught students of all ages and nationalities to gather, display their art, and meet other artists.

One of the many in attendance at last year’s GAKUTEN was Kana, a university student from Tokyo who loves music, art, and Hello Kitty. But more than anything, she loves creating miniatures.

story-in-my-hands-food-and-pie-miniatures

Doll house miniatures have been around for at least four hundred years, but only recently has focus switched from the dolls to the worlds they inhabit. Artists and enthusiasts have begun to see the value in the tiny worlds themselves, and the exceptional skill it takes to craft them is even more fascinating. Kana is one such artisan who, under the name “Story in my Hands,” has been creating miniatures since elementary school. She was able to chat with us about her role as a forger of the mini.

MicroGenesis

story-in-my-hands-apples-miniatures

Q. Where did you get pseudonym, Story in my Hands? What does it mean?

It comes from how the things I make are meant to be stories created by my hands. Through things like doll houses and other arrangements, I try to create complete miniature stories in which people can be absorbed. I don’t have a large body of work yet, but I am pursuing the goal of creating stories with my hands and using it as a guideline for what I create in the future.

Q. When did you first start creating miniatures?

I first started making them at 11 years old. I’d always known about doll houses and miniatures in general, but it wasn’t until I came across a How-to book at a bookstore that I thought about making them myself. I’ve been fascinated ever since.

Q. Most people would read that book and think “that’s neat” and leave it at that. What was it about that book that inspired you to try making miniatures?

I think because it was aimed at beginners and the explanations were particularly easy to understand. Even before I got into miniatures I already enjoyed drawing and making things out of clay. I remember wanting to start on the projects described in the book as soon as I could.

story-in-my-hands-tasty-foods-miniatures

Q. How have your miniature making skills progressed over time?

I made a much larger quantity of things back when I first got started, because I didn’t really pay much attention to how large or realistic they were. From there I gradually began to focus more on detail. It took a lot more time than it used to, but I think that the quality of the resulting products has been improving.

Tiny Worlds

story-in-my-hands-bedroom-minatures

Q. The attention to detail in your work is incredible. What drives this?

I’ve always liked small things, so creating them delights me, and those feelings of happiness serve as my motivation. Because my head is always so full of thoughts and ideas about making miniatures, when I go to a cafe and see the different dishes on display or go to a store and find a cute accessory, all I want to do is see it in miniature–and then I have to make it happen!

Q. The idea of miniature foods, homes, and worlds is found elsewhere in Japan. Is this a uniquely Japanese concept?

The entire doll house culture is originally European and thus not a wholly Japanese concept. But thanks to companies like Sylvanian Families, Re-Ment and anime figurine designers, miniatures are now very common in Japan. The word “kawaii” is commonly expressed in Japan, and I believe a love of small things is included in that general love of cute things.

story-in-my-hands-breakfast-miniatures

Q. Why do you think humans make miniatures of things that already exist? What is our fascination with the small?

That is a very difficult question…I wonder why, too. Personally, when I can touch and place something in the palm of my hand, it sends my heart fluttering, and I fall in love with it.

Q. Do you make up stories to go along with the miniature worlds you create?

I do! When I make a doll house, I’m trying to convey the entire background of a character that exists only in my head. I want people who look at what I make to feel that too.

The Mini Method

story-in-my-hands-pastry-miniatures

Q. What is involved in making an item from start to finish?

I use mainly clay, wood, and paper, often crafting with the aid of toothpicks and dress pins. I have to be constantly aware of size and realism as I work. I try to make everything at 1/12th scale, but since I make objects of varying sizes, being too accurate to that scale can result in a strange collection when a variety of my work is displayed together. So I try to just imagine the real object–and if it’s something like an apple, hold it in my hand–and estimate the size I want as I work.

As for realism, people have to be able to recognize the object at a glance and, if it’s a food, it needs to look good enough to eat, so I plan out my designs and paint with all of that in mind.

Q. What is the biggest challenge in making miniatures?

Molding and coloring really forces me to focus, since everything gets so small.

story-in-my-hands-donuts-miniatures

Q. What kind of music do you listen to while working?

I love rock music, so I listen to it all the time. You probably wouldn’t think so though, considering the nature of my work! Right now my favorite artist is Fall Out Boy.

Q. What is your favorite kind of miniature to make?

Definitely food. While looking at food miniatures, you might think “that’s so cute!”, but at the same time you might also imagine how it tastes. I love that.

Q. Your food miniatures look so delicious! What do you do to create the texture, sheen, and color to make your little foods look so tasty?

I do coloring while looking at reference photographs of the food I’m recreating. I apply different kinds of varnish so that things vary in glossiness according to what type of food it is.

Q. Do you ever make miniatures with moving parts?

I’m not sure if this counts as “moving”, but whenever I make something like a chest of drawers or a window I make sure that they can open and close properly.

Showing the Minis

story-in-my-hands-halloween-miniatures

Q. Who are the people that consume your work and what do they love about it?

At last year’s GAKUTEN I met a lot of people who were also interested in miniatures, and many who had never seen handmade miniatures before. Men were just as interested in my work as women, and a lot of people expressed surprise at just how small they are.

Q. What is the project you’re most proud of?

I don’t really have anything that I can confidently say I am most proud of yet. No matter how many times I make something, there will always be a part that I struggle with. My work is better now than it was before, and I’m always striving to make my next project better than the last.

story-in-my-hands-seafood-lunch-miniatures

Q. Who has had the most influence on your work?

A Japanese doll house artist named Takao Kojima has been a huge inspiration for my work. I want to one day be able to make a lot of doll houses, just like he does.

Small Steps Forward

story-in-my-hands-bread-shop-miniatures

Q. What are you going to do next?

I am going to participate at the International Art Event Design Festa vol.41 at Tokyo Big Sight on May 16th and 17th, and I will participate at GAKUTEN again on August 9th. I’m currently working on a miniature bakery for those exhibitions.

I don’t have a whole lot of time to work on my miniatures since I’m a student, but I would love to be able to make a wide variety of different work and create a portfolio for myself. Since my work is so small and delicate, it’s difficult to carry the pieces around. But if I had a book of my work, people worldwide would be able to see what I make. Nothing would make me happier than knowing there are people all over the world who have a book of my work.

Q. Where do you want miniature making to take you, ultimately?

I’d like to continue making miniatures like I’m doing now, but I don’t know if, in the future, I’ll want a job that’s related to them. I was contemplating whether or not to attend a fine arts university, but I have a feeling that the kinds of worlds I create aren’t going to be granted their own category in any university’s curriculum any time soon, so I decided against it. I’m thinking I want to find a job career will allow me to keep creating something art-related.

Q. What advice do you have for people who want to try making miniatures?

Since you’re recreating actual objects it is important to focus on realism, of course, but you should simply enjoy the act of creating it at first! If you’re able to make something and really enjoy it, whatever it is, it will be great.

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To see more of Kana’s work, visit her booth at Design Festa vol.41 on May 16th and 17th or at GAKUTEN on August 9th.

Or visit her online:

Blog and Gallery

Instagram

For more info on GAKUTEN and Design Festa visit:

GAKUTEN

Design Festa

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

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

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

Raising the Red Lantern

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

Photo by: Akira Asakura

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

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

Sold into Service

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

Photo by: Yuxuan Wang

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

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

Photo by: bopo

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

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

Not the Norm

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

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

Controlling the Chaos

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

Photo by: 663highland

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

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

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

Memorial

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

The Sanshikan

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

Greater Community Seat

Community Leaders

 

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

The Genie That Won’t Be Bottled

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Photo by: Fg2

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources

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

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“Let’s Play” Gamers In Japanese, With Anijya and Otojya… desu. http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/17/lets-play-game-videos-japanese/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/17/lets-play-game-videos-japanese/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 13:00:36 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49915 Myself (and many others) have always recommended you study Japanese together with the things you enjoy. I enjoy video games, but I also enjoy watching people play video games. A little under a year ago I came across a YouTube channel run by two Japanese brothers and was surprised by it. First of all, they were […]

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Myself (and many others) have always recommended you study Japanese together with the things you enjoy. I enjoy video games, but I also enjoy watching people play video games. A little under a year ago I came across a YouTube channel run by two Japanese brothers and was surprised by it. First of all, they were Japanese people doing “Let’s Play” videos, which I hadn’t really seen before. Second, they were playing first person shooters and other “typically Western games.” Combine all this with the fact that they are entertaining to watch and you have yourself a winner. You definitely can’t say that about every YouTube channel, that’s for sure.

At the time of this writing, they have 653,521 subscribers on YouTube. It seems they’re doing something right. I had wanted to interview them for a while, and I finally got the chance. As a primer, here’s a compilation video of some highlights from 2014.

Koichi: Let’s get introductions out of the way. What are your (internet) names?

Brother 1: 兄者 (Anijya) – Editor’s note: This is the kanji for “older brother” and “person.”

Brother 2: 弟者 (Otojya) Editor’s note: This is the kanji for “younger brother” and “person.”

Koichi: They’re an older and younger brother duo, in case you (the reader) didn’t get that.

When did you start doing “Lets Play” videos?

Otojya: I started in November of 2009. At first, we didn’t include our own commentary. We simply added subtitles and made game video tutorials.

Koichi: Here’s the oldest video I could find on their channel.

Koichi: And why did you originally start doing these videos?

Anijya: I saw a “Let’s Play” video my brother made and I got interested in how people commented on it, so I started doing it too. However, the videos I made initially were things like “how to post a video online without losing its picture quality.”

Otojya: The biggest reason was I just wanted to know how people would react to my “Let’s Play” videos. I still remember one of the comments on one of our first videos that said my voice sounded like a villain character and that made my brother laugh so hard. After a while, I’ve really come to enjoy communicating with a large number of people through our videos.

Koichi: That’s so true. I think it was your voice (Otojya) that originally drew me to your videos. I thought it sounded more like an “announcer” though, which really added a lot of excitement to watching you play games. Okay, maybe an “announcer villain.”

Koichi: So what keeps you doing “Let’s Play” videos now then?

Anijya: I want to enjoy games with other people – Or rather, because I do enjoy playing games with other people.

Koichi: I can definitely see that in your videos. I think some of my favorites are the 4player ones you do. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Left4Dead videos, but that’s because I particularly enjoy that game.

Payday2 was pretty good too.

And Vagante.

Otojya: I like gaming, so I try to convey how fun and interesting games are. I introduce them to people like, “Here is a fascinating game that’s now out there!”

Otojya: I also want people to evaluate the playing styles I come up with for multiplayer games. One thing that has come from posting videos that makes me the happiest is when I am told “I started gaming after watching your videos.” It makes me hold up my fists in triumph.

Your Favorite Games

Koichi: Well, it made me want to start doing “Let’s Play” videos, but then I realized people would get angry at me for not doing my actual work. Speaking of games, what kinds of games do you usually play?

Anijya: I play FPS (first person shooters) and TPS (third person shooters), but I actually try out all the games that interest me. Games are so profound and I’m fascinated with them.

Otojya: I usually play FPS

and I recently started playing horror games

as well as retro games

but I like every kind of game.

Koichi: I think I know this already, but what’s your favorite genre?

Anijya: FPS perspective games. I’ve liked this genre for a long time because it gives you the feeling of being in the game and you can immerse yourself in its world.

Otojya: If you have ever watched our videos, you will probably know, but my favorite genre is FPS! Although I say FPS, there are some other types, like puzzles, adventures, or horror that I really enjoy too but I like all kinds of FPS. My most favorite FPS are those with explosive action.

Koichi: I have to ask. Least favorite game genre?

Anijya: RPG or MMORPG. I get tired of playing games where all the events or missions are offered from the beginning.

Otojya: Well, to be honest, I just mentioned how I like every kind of FPS, but I like horror games the least among them. When I was a kid, my brother and his friend played a zombie horror game called “Biohazard 2″ (many of you likely know Biohazard by another name – Resident Evil) and it scared me to death. I’m afraid of zombies, so I don’t like my brother…oops I mean I don’t like horror games very much. Haha!

Koichi: You two often play games together. What are your strong points and weak points? Are you a good team?

Anijya: A strong point would be that we can communicate without saying very much at all. I’ve played games with him longer than anyone else, so he can help me out without me even asking him. He is very reliable. However, as a weak point, we have really big arguments when our gaming doesn’t go very well. You may think, “it’s just a game, right?”, but we play it so seriously and enthusiastically that sometimes we get a bit too intense. We’re an ideal team rather than just a “good” team…at least in my eyes, the older brother, who likes gaming.

Otojya: The strong point would be our teamwork. I’ve played games with my brother more than anybody else, so that naturally created our ability to work as a team. It’s also easier to play with him. However, we are often too serious about gaming, so if one of us makes a mistake, we get into a serious fight. In terms of enjoying games from the bottom of our hearts, we are the best and strongest team.

Koichi: Aww, that’s 可愛いね.

“Western Gaming” vs. “Japanese Gaming”

Koichi: What do you think is the difference between Western gaming and Japanese gaming?

Anijya: I think the differences have been decreasing, but I’d say “reality.” In Japanese games, there are often anime characters or handsome boys or cute girls that Japanese people like. However, in Western games, there are usually tough guys and women who are more likely to exist in the real world. Thus, in terms of realism, I think Western gaming has the advantage. Conversely, non-realistic fantasy settings might be the Japanese strength.

Otojya: This is my personal opinion, but I think the difference is “whether a cute character appears or not.” There are almost always cute characters in Japanese games. I like movies, so I prefer to play games with cool characters you might see in a movie, but Japanese people tend to prefer playing games with cute characters rather than cool people.

Koichi: Then how do you feel about “Western gaming culture?”

Anijya: Western gaming is very particular about details. There are some very particular things in games that closely mimic reality, but if that were done for Japanese people, none of them would enjoy it. I’m sure there are fans of that style in Japan too, but since we have to get over the language barrier, I suspect it may not be very many.

Otojya: I think that there are many games pursuing reality. Western gaming even diligently pursues reality on silly or seemingly unimportant details, so I feel the scale of Western gaming is vast.

Koichi: On the flip side, how about “Japanese gaming culture?”

Anijya: I think Japanese gaming culture is completely different from that of other countries. The gaming experience that at one time could only be had in an arcade suddenly became available at home with family game consoles, and even people who weren’t interested in gaming that much now play app-games on their smartphones. Now, it’s trendy to create games for smartphones that everyone can enjoy rather than just for game consoles or computers, which have become more complicated and expensive. The gaming industry is still developing, but I think there is still a lot of room for growth.

Otojya: I think Japanese people consider gaming a childish thing. If you play games as an adult, it can give people a bad impression of you, so I think many people hesitate to confess that they like gaming.

Koichi: I was surprised to see you playing so many FPS games. I’ve always thought of FPS as “Western” gaming, but a lot of Japanese people love your videos. Are FPS games getting popular in Japan too?

Anijya: In the 90s, FPS games on computers became popular worldwide, and the number of Japanese fans has slowly increased since then. I was actually one of them. Although there were no games that had the language localized in Japanese, I still ran into Japanese players. FPS players increased a lot more after people learned how to enjoy FPS with game consoles, such as PlayStation or Xbox, and the number of titles in Japanese increased as well. The image of FPS must have changed from that of hardcore computer games to a much more common game. The type of gameplay specific to FPS, much like an action movie, makes people excited, and the scenes also change depending on which character you choose to be, so you won’t get tired of it.

Otojya: My brother first learned about FPS and I started playing because of his influence. I probably never would have known about FPS if he hadn’t known about them. At first, I was just watching my brother play while thinking “I want to play that too!” So I posted “Let’s Play” videos for viewers to enjoy with similar feelings that I had experienced. I think FPS are becoming more and more popular in Japan.

Koichi: I’m surprised! I guess I don’t know anything. As someone who’s on the front lines of Japanese gaming, what do you think about the current state of Japanese gaming?

Anijya: I like obscure games, and I feel Japan doesn’t have many unique ones. The games made for smartphones are mostly not my genre either. My favorite game series Metal Gear Solid is loved all over the world, so I hope Japanese game companies create something that focuses not only on Japan but also the world.

Otojya: [Japan] makes games mostly for children and I think that’s fine, but they should also challenge themselves to make games that adults can enjoy.

Koichi: And how do you think Japanese gaming will change? As in, what will it be like in 5-10 years?

Anijya: I think the main market will change from consumer consoles to peoples’ smartphones. Right now, many games are only enjoyable on game consoles, but I’m pretty sure those will be available on smartphones soon enough. I also think that brainstorming type games might be popular soon. Haha!

Otojya: I think smartphone games will become the mainstream…or web browser games.

Koichi: Well, I hope they get better then. I haven’t seen many other “Let’s Play” videos from Japan, not like in the West. Why do you think that is?

Anijya: I think it’s because it used to be pretty difficult to upload videos of someone playing a game while also talking about it. It costs quite a lot at first, and knowledge of computers is also required. Recently though, computers have changed to PS4s and to Xbox Ones, so everybody can post “Let’s Play” videos. It was impossible not so long ago, but now it’s awesome!

Otojya: For Japanese people, I think gaming is usually something you enjoy by yourself, so it’s not necessary to share videos to enjoy with others.

Wrapping Up

Koichi: But are there any “Let’s Play” people out there that you guys enjoy?

Anijya: I often watch Markiplier despite the language barrier. It’s not related to gaming, but I also watch Freddie Wong.

Otojya: I look on Youtube every once in a while, but I haven’t found one yet.

Koichi: Dang, so no Japanese “Let’s Players” to recommend. I hope more pop up, though I will continue to watch your videos either way. What are your goals for your channel / website?

Anijya: We now have over 600,000 subscribers, but my new hope is to reach 1,000,000. It would be great if everyone could find enjoyment through our gaming videos while watching with their friends.

Otojya: We will post more videos, make new challenges, and increase channel numbers!

Koichi: Sounds about right – so if someone wanted to subscribe to or follow your videos, how can they do it?

Anijya: Homepage

Otojya: YouTube

Koichi: They’re also on Twitter (AnijyaOtojya) and TwitchTV, too. Thank you both so much for doing this interview! I found a bunch of your videos that I haven’t watched yet while doing research for this interview, so I’m going to go watch them now. Everyone who likes gaming and is studying Japanese, be sure to subscribe to their YouTube channel. It’s one of my favorite channels and a lot of fun.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

The post “Let’s Play” Gamers In Japanese, With Anijya and Otojya… desu. appeared first on Tofugu.

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