Tofugu » Society http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Mon, 02 Mar 2015 18:09:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Japan’s Robot Theater and the Rise of the Android Actor http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/02/japans-robot-theater-rise-android-actor/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/02/japans-robot-theater-rise-android-actor/#respond Mon, 02 Mar 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48304 ROBOTS CAN ALREADY VACUUM YOUR HOUSE AND DRIVE YOUR CAR. SOON, THEY WILL BE YOUR COMPANION. ~”Friend for Life” By Adam Piore for Popular Science (November 2014) Or so predicts Popular Science magazine in response to a US tour of Osaka University’s Robot-Human Theater Project. Whether you find the premise that your next best friend […]

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ROBOTS CAN ALREADY VACUUM YOUR HOUSE AND DRIVE YOUR CAR. SOON, THEY WILL BE YOUR COMPANION.
~”Friend for Life” By Adam Piore for Popular Science (November 2014)

Or so predicts Popular Science magazine in response to a US tour of Osaka University’s Robot-Human Theater Project. Whether you find the premise that your next best friend will come with batteries enticing or eerie or some combination thereof, the Robot-Human Theater Project has dedicated itself to making that dream/nightmare come to life—or at least appear as if it’s come to life—on a stage near you.

Just when you finally thought we were safe from a robot takeover, they’re learning how to act even more like us—by acting instead of us. Dr. Ishiguro Hiroshi of android fame is at it again, only this time he’s in cahoots with Seinendan Theater Company and Osaka University. Thanks to these human allies, our robot overlords (or “companions” as their propaganda would like us to believe) inch ever closer. Only now they’ll be trying to woo us with Shakespeare.

Meet the Masterminds

ishiguro and geminoid

Photo by Ars Electronica

Robots don’t make themselves, you know (at least not yet). Thus far the aspiring robot actor’s journey from assembly line to curtain call has relied on the single-minded devotion of their human allies—particularly the aforementioned Ishiguro Hiroshi along with Hirata Oriza and Kuroki Kazunari.

Ishiguro, an international authority on robotics engineering and AI who often sends the android version of himself to lecture abroad, unsurprisingly heads up the engineering end of things. Hirata, a well-known public figure in Japan and playwright/director/founder of the internationally active Seinendan Theater Company, equally unsurprisingly takes charge of all things artistic. And Kuroki, president of Osaka-based robot and computer company Eager Co. Ltd, throws lots of money and resources their way.

But why go to all this trouble in the first place? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to hire a human actor rather than build one from the ground up? Despite their remarkably diverse backgrounds, engineer Ishiguro and theater artist Hirata are remarkably in sync with each other on this point: for them the Robot-Theater Project isn’t just an big-budget spectacle, it’s a way to combine the forces of art and science in order to tackle what makes humans human and what makes a performance a performance—and they’re equally convinced that both of those boundaries are incredibly malleable.

osaka univ robot lab

Photo by Ars Electronica

In Ishiguro’s words, “My goal is…to understand the feeling of a presence. What is that? I want to understand what is a human, and what is a human likeness.” He’s psyched to use this opportunity to come closer and closer to replicating human “presence” and behavior with his electro-mechanical minions. Hirata, for his part, believes that “robots are a means of thinking about human beings.” As far as he’s concerned, robots are just another way for him to learn how to most effectively manipulate an audience. He firmly believes that a performance doesn’t have to be “real” to have a real effect, that human emotional response is more of a mechanical reflex than anything more “mystical.” In other words, these two aren’t just looking to shock and awe their audience with shiny gadgets—they want to break our entire conception of reality.

Robots and Androids and Humans, Oh My!

robot theater serving tea

Photo by Brett Davis

Since the Robot-Human Theater Project opened its factory doors in 2008, Hirata and Ishiguro have sent their creations on tour to 33 cities in 15 countries. Out of the six plays they’ve developed thus far, both eerily lifelike androids and clearly mechanical robots have taken the stage alongside human co-actors. In order of appearance, here they are:

Hataraku Watashi (I, Worker) Debut in 2008

It’s the near future, where Takeo and Momoko, two portly and blindingly yellow service bots, tend the home of the married couple they work for in this short one act play. But Yuji the human husband and Takeo the robot have both become too depressed and existential to work—leaving human wife Yuji and robot Momoko to fret about their hikikomori other halves.

Mori no Oku (The Heart of the Forest) Debut in 2010

Three species collide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a team of scientists and their robot helpers are studying the local bonobo population—the species most closely related to our own. While the scientists industriously gather data for comparison of the primates and the humans, the robots give them more “help” than they bargained for in this one act.

Sayonara (same title in English) Debut in 2010 (since updated in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake)

A young woman facing imminent death seeks solace from her android caregiver, Geminoid F. As the woman struggles with her mortality, the immortal android tries to comfort her as best she can with the immortal words of poets. The updated epilogue to this one act reveals that after the woman’s death, Geminoid F was sent to comfort the victims of irradiated Fukushima, a place where no human is willing to go.

Sannin Shimai (Three Sisters, Android Version) Debut in 2012

A Japanese sci-fi twist on the Russian realist original, this full-length play features human, android, and robot actors on a rural Japanese estate. As the unkempt manor languishes in the current economic crisis, its inhabitants are plagued by malaise and unease. They won’t shut up about moving to Tokyo, but just like in the original no one ever actually gets off their ass.

Ginga Tetsudo No Yoru (Night on the Galactic Railroad) Debut in 2013

This full-length play is the latest adaptation of a Japanese novel with the same name by Miyazawa Kenji, a perennially popular fantastical and philosophical children’s book that some adults ended up obsessed with. A poverty-stricken and socially malnourished young girl boards a magical train one night and zooms through the Milky Way galaxy, only this time with a robot tour-guide in tow.

Henshin (Metamorphosis) Debut in 2014

The skeletal Android Repliee S1 plays the lead role of Gregor Samsa in this full-length play adaptation of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Except this time, instead of waking up as a bug, poor Gregor wakes up as a robot. As the Japanese advertising poster puts it: “Us humans exist in an absurd world where we might become bugs tomorrow. Us humans exist in an absurd world where we can’t even prove that we’re different from androids.” Strap in for an existential crisis or three, ladies and gentlemen.

robot theater

Photo by Brett Davis

While three one-acts and three full-length plays in six years might not seem like much of an accomplishment, each of these six works required a ridiculously long development process along with a ridiculously patient team to execute it. Even for Ishiguro, designing and programming robots capable of speech and movement takes a bit of time and effort. As for director/playwright Hirata, the fact that he’s directing actors that can’t respond to his direction, along with the fact that he’s always directed his human actors as detailed and minutely as if they were robots anyway, means hours and hours of rehearsal and programming changes to get a robot to make JUST the right degree angle turn of his head at JUST the right moment. Is all that worth it? Audiences seem to think so.

Human Responses to Theatrical-Electrical Stimuli

robot theater 2

Photo by Ars Electronica

These giant hunks of metal have proved themselves capable of both emotionally and intellectually stirring audiences. All of the Robot-Human Theater Project’s performances so far have played to almost exclusively full houses and dropped jaws. And if theater critics have not always responded with outright praise, they’ve at least expressed deep fascination with the phenomenon. For example:

…the stage presence of [robots] raise significant questions about theatricality and empathy. Provocatively, this evening demonstrated that perhaps the qualities we typically associate with good or effective acting—presence, responsiveness, emotional availability—may, in fact, prove ancillary. Although the success of these pieces necessitated understated performances from the human actors and particular design choices (such as easily navigable sets and low lighting) to establish the commonality between person and machine, these [robots] excited sympathy to an equivalent, or perhaps even greater, degree than their human counterparts. Their effectiveness in performance suggests that mimetic engagement on the part of the audience may owe less to actorly skill than to our collective instinct to attribute human feeling—even to decidedly nonhuman performers. Whether these two short plays confused the boundaries between human and robot or explicitly marked them, both pieces relied upon the audience’s capacity to create empathic bonds with lifeless objects…engaging dialogue between the human actors and their machine counterparts simultaneously both emphasized the differences between person and automaton and blurred those categories. (From review of “Seinendan Theater Company + Osaka University Robot Theater Project” by Alexis Soloski)

On the emotional end of things, many an audience member has admitted to empathizing with the robots as much if not more so than with the human actors—even to the point of shedding tears. One reviewer notes, “…even as I grieved for the young woman, I also felt myself worrying that the android would feel lonely once she died.” Hirata’s unemotional explanation for the audiences’ emotional outpourings is that “audiences’ brains make up half of a performance’s reality.” In other words, we see what we want to see.

Then there’s the inevitable intellectual migraine that comes from witnessing seemingly autonomous three-dimensional beings participate in an activity once exclusively reserved for humans. Feeling empathy apparently isn’t limited to feeling empathy for living things. And a performer apparently doesn’t have to be emotionally alive or even alive at all to deliver a convincing performance. Hirata has said, “In the case of the android(s), there are audience members who did not realize until close to the end of the play which was the robot and which (was) the human actor.” Where does the human begin and the robot end? Where does the robot begin and the human end? What is a human? What is a performance? Where’s my mommy?

And then once you’re through crying and philosophizing, there’s still the future to consider. A future where our lives more closely resemble these plays than the lives we’re living right now. A future that’s already being pioneered in Japan with the introduction and integration of robots that can cater to not only our practical, but our social, needs. Look no further than Paro, the fluffy robotic seal that has taken up residence in many nursing homes, or Pepper, the customer service automaton now employed by Softbank to converse with their customers. So in a sense, the Robot-Human Theater Project is depicting the logical continuation of our current society, encouraging us to imagine what roles robots can fill, what roles we want them to fill. How will humans and robots co-exist? Will they be our servants and our customer service representatives? Our friends and our lovers? And if so, is that really a bad thing? Film has given us plenty of CGI robot creations, but nothing is quite as convincing as the real thing IRL—with live 3-D actors, live 3-D audiences, and seemingly live 3-D robots in the same room at the same time.

The Future of Robot Theater

robot theater 3

Photo by Ars Electronica

Regardless of the pace at which robotic technology is developed and integrated into our lives, the folks at the Robot-Human Theater Project show no signs of slowing down. Could it be possible that other robot theater companies will soon join them? After all, programming the robot actors might be a giant pain in the fuse box, but once it’s done you can rest assured that they’ll never forget their lines. As Hirata has mused, “Will actors at auditions soon by vying for their roles with robots? And are we entering an era in which robot actors will one day take the leads in ‘Romeo and Juliet’?” How long is it before robots become better at being people than we are?

 

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The Superior Power of Japanese Mathematics http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/25/superior-power-japanese-mathematics/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/25/superior-power-japanese-mathematics/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48142 Maths was never my strong suit at school. The numbers never danced into line for me. So I thought that trying to deal with numbers in a foreign language would be impossible. However, to my great surprise, dealing with numbers in Japanese was easier than I’d expected. This wasn’t due to any genius on my […]

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Maths was never my strong suit at school. The numbers never danced into line for me. So I thought that trying to deal with numbers in a foreign language would be impossible. However, to my great surprise, dealing with numbers in Japanese was easier than I’d expected. This wasn’t due to any genius on my part. It is entirely due to the genius of the Japanese counting system itself.

One, Two, Three, 一、二、三

soba-restaurant-numbers-math

Photo by CeciliaC

At first, it is easy to be daunted by the Japanese counting system. Really, you shouldn’t worry. You’ve already mastered a much more complicated number system. Counting in Japanese is much more logical and systematic than English. If you can get hold of the basics you’ll soon be flying.

Let’s have a look at those basics and what we can do with them.

1: 一 ichi
2: 二 ni
3: 三 san
4: 四 shi/yon
5: 五 go
6: 六 roku
7: 七 nana/shichi
8: 八 hachi
9: 九 ku
10: 十 juu

The first ten numbers. They aren’t too daunting are they. Just ten numbers (twelve if you count the two alternate ways of saying 4 and 7.) It’s worth learning the kanji too, if only so you can read prices in fancy soba restaurants. I don’t know why, but the soba places near me always used the kanji numbers.

Now here is where Japanese has a huge advantage over English. The numbers from 11 to 99 all use the same sounds you’ve just leaned. Unlike English with its bizarre exceptions to its own rules. Eleven! What’s that all about, huh?! Eleven! It doesn’t sound anything like ten or one, or even twelve.

There are are so many exceptions that make the English counting system confusing, especially for young children. But look at the Japanese for 11, 十一 juu-ichi, ten-one. How beautiful! The same pattern continues. 21 is 二十一 ni-juu-ichi, two-ten-one. Once you get to 100, you only have to learn one more word, 百 hyaku. Now you can count from 1 to 999 using the same system. 101 is 百一 hyaku-ichi. 241 is 二百四十一 ni-hyaku-yon-juu-ichi. The only thing you have to watch out for is the hyaku sound turning into byaku. To count from 1 to 9999, all you need is one more word, 千 sen which means thousand. 10,000 is 万 man, and the same rules apply. If you are interested, 100,000,000 is 億 oku, 1,000,000,000,000 is 兆 chō, and 10,000,000,000,000,000 is 京 kei.

If you’re living in Japan, you’ll find it very easy to practice counting all the way up into the thousands because it’s so common when you go shopping. 1000 yen is only about 8 US dollars. As Japan is such a cash based society, you’ll soon be dealing with numbers in the thousands and tens of thousands on a daily basis. When I bought my car in cash, I happily counted out the 万 and 千.

Sensible regular naming systems in Japanese mathematics extend beyond the numbers themselves. Shape names don’t require you to study up on your Ancient Greek, like English ones do. Now, I’m a big nerd for English etymology, but there is something to be said for a simple system like this. To name a polygon in Japanese, all you have to do is count the sides and add that number to 角形 kakkei or kakukei. So a triangle is 三角形 san-kakkei, and an octagon is 八角形 hachi-kakukei. Admittedly, you will have to spend some time learning which pronunciation of 角形 goes with each number.

Do you know what an eleven sided shape is in English? Can you work out what it is in Japanese?

If you said, “hendecagon,” and “十一角形 (juu-ichi-kakukei)” then I salute your knowledge. Which was easier to figure out?

Everybody Do the Kuku

japanese-math-donkey-kong-jr-math-famicom

Photo by Bryan Ochalla

The kuku is not a bird. It’s a tool to learn multiplication tables. I remember struggling through my times tables at school. Even now I dread being asked to multiply numbers on the spot. This is not a fear that many Japanese people have. From the age of seven, children learn their times tables using the kuku chant. This covers the times tables up to 9×9, which is where the kuku gets its name. By learning the kuku by heart, Japanese children get a solid grounding for the rest of their exploration of mathematics. I’ve gone on about how regular the Japanese counting system is, but the kuku breaks from this trend. To fit the rhythm, many numbers are said in a simplified form. For example hachi is sometimes shortened to ha. Also, the kuku won’t help you past 9×9. It surprised some Japanese teachers I know that Western students learn up to 12×12.

Still, if you’d like to try it yourself, there are many videos which use different rhythms or songs to help teach the kuku. I’d recommend downloading a version that you like and listening to it over and over again and try to sing along.

Memorising mathematical concepts comes up again later in Japanese children’s education. In senior high school, they can be expected to memorise trig function tables, something that is unthinkable in the UK. The merits of memorising those can be debated, but without the training the kuku provides, it would be far more difficult. I wish that there was a sing-song equivalent to the kuku in English which I could have learned by heart. Recently, I’ve been trying to memorise the kuku and I have to say it’s far more fun than I expected.

Could You Be a Soroban Master?

japanese-maths-math-soroban

Photo by Joe Haupt

There is another tool that can help you improve your maths skills and this one is literally a tool. Soroban 算盤 is the Japanese abacus. You might be thinking, “Why is she suggesting I use an abacus?” You have a scientific calculator. Abacuses are so five centuries ago. But the soroban has the ability to turn you into a mental arithmetic magician.

The Japanese abacus is divided into two sections. The upper part has one bead and each represents 5 units. The lower part has four beads, each representing 1 unit. To read the abacus you only look at the beads that have been pushed into the middle of the abacus, resting against the dividing bar. It is read left to right. You can try it yourself using this virtual soroban.

Having a physical representation of numbers and actually moving beads makes using an abacus easier and more fun for children than simply working sums out on paper. The aim is to use the abacus combined with muscle memory to mechanise the process of arithmetic. A trained soroban user can complete calculations far faster than someone with an electronic calculator because they don’t even need to think about the calculations. Using the soroban becomes automatic. Soroban schools are popular 塾 juku, where children are trained in abacus skills after school. There is even an examined ranking system, just like in martial arts. I used to watch in amazement as the teacher who sat opposite me calculated huge sums on a soroban. Her fingers flicked across the beads at amazing speed. She also used it for adding up marks on tests. I was slower, clumsier, and less accurate doing the same thing on an electric calculator.

The greatest soroban users don’t even need a soroban in front of them. This is called anzan soroban (暗算そろばん) or mental soroban. People who have mastered anzan soroban have internalised the abacus. They can see it in their mind’s eye. If you watch someone calculating with anzan soroban sometimes you’ll see their fingers flicking as if they were moving beads on their abacus, even with no abacus there. Students retain the mechanised aspect of soroban, so they don’t have to consciously do the calculations to get the right answer. Watch this video of children playing shiritoi (a word game) and doing anzan soroban at the same time.

That’s pretty mind boggling! But the most impressive form of anzan soroban is even more amazing. Flash anzan is an illustration of the extraordinary power of the human brain. Flash anzan was invented by soroban teacher Yoji Miyamoto as a game to stretch his students. In flash anzan 15 numbers between 100 and 999 are flashed on a screen. The challenge is to add them up in your head. OK, that sounds pretty tough, but doable, right? Well, the champions of flash anzan can do it in under 2 seconds. The 2012 champion of the All-Japan Flash Anzan competition, Takeo Sasano added the 15 three digit numbers in 1.70 seconds. Here is a video of the All-Japan National Soroban Championship in 2012 where contestants make the caluclation in 1.85 seconds.

This is the power of the soroban.

Maths Is More Fun in Japan

hopscotch-japanese-maths-math

There are certainly complexities when dealing with numbers in Japan. Counting things, not just numbers brings you into the complex world of Japanese counters. All throughout this article I’ve been using the on’yomi reading of numbers (ichi, ni, san, etc.) not the kun’yomi reading (hitotsu, futsu, mittsu, etc.) which is a whole other challenge to master.

However, difficult or not, I believe there is something more important when it come to arithmetical success. That is attitude. When I asked my Japanese students what their favourite subject was there was a roughly 60/40 split between PE and maths. Japanese students are typically much more confident in mathematics than they are in English. While my maths teachers back home despaired at me, maths teachers in Japan liked me for some reason. I was often invited to maths class and teachers would try to explain things in English, much to the amusement of the students. In maths class I saw students, who I knew as shy and withdrawn, happily chatting away about mathematical concepts that were far beyond me. The attitude towards maths in Japan is far more positive than it is in the UK. Maths is something to play with in Japan. It’s not surprising that Japan is the source of many of the world’s most popular number games like sudoku.

While you and I might never achieve complete mathematical fluency in Japanese and be able to do massive calculations in under two seconds, we can learn not only maths in Japanese, but also Japan’s positive attitude towards it.

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Don’t Get Sued! Libel, Slander, and Defamation Laws in Japan http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/20/dont-get-sued-libel-slander-defamation-laws-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/20/dont-get-sued-libel-slander-defamation-laws-japan/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=48993 Scandal erupted back in 2007 when a Japanese weekly magazine, Shukan Gendai, reported that Asashoryu, a grand champion sumo wrestler, had bought his way to the top, paying off opponents in exchange for winning matches, and that he wasn’t the only sumo wrestler to do so. The Japan Sumo Association conducted its own internal investigation, […]

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Scandal erupted back in 2007 when a Japanese weekly magazine, Shukan Gendai, reported that Asashoryu, a grand champion sumo wrestler, had bought his way to the top, paying off opponents in exchange for winning matches, and that he wasn’t the only sumo wrestler to do so. The Japan Sumo Association conducted its own internal investigation, found no evidence of match fixing, and took Shukan Gendai’s publisher, Kodansha, to court for damaging the JSA’s reputation—and won to the tune of over 40 million yen, the biggest amount ever awarded in a Japanese libel case surrounding a magazine article.

But the thing is, Shukan Gendai’s reporting was sound. Matches were being fixed. (Albeit, to this day it’s unknown if Asahoryu was a part of this bout-fixing, but other sumo wrestlers involved in the case have since come forward.) And if this case happened in the United States or another developed country, things would have probably turned out way differently. But defamation laws and how they’re interpreted shift and change depending on what country you’re standing in and where that country’s society places cultural value.

You don’t need to be a lawyer to appreciate a few slander and libel cases, and in fact, knowing a little bit more about defamation laws in Japan will boost your own cultural understanding and may even save you from seeing the inside of a courtroom. (See? Who needs law school when you have Tofugu?)

First, A Little History

meiji jinja

Japan has some serious literary cred when it comes to its poetry and prose, both of which can be traced back centuries. But Japan’s press didn’t really gain its footing until the Meiji era, when, in an attempt to bring Japan up to speed with the West, the Meiji government started encouraging common Japanese people to become more informed about current events. A knowledgeable citizenry is always a rad idea, but in this case, it also resulted in a press that was basically another arm of the government, and a tool for the government to disseminate whatever information it wanted.

Fast-forward and things changed again for Japan’s press when, in the aftermath of World War II, General MacArthur and his American staff drafted a new constitution for Japan, which is still in use to this day. Reading the Japanese Constitution, it’s pretty obvious that MacArthur and his team drew heavily on the United States Constitution. So it probably comes as no surprise that freedom of speech is pretty open-ended in the Japanese Constitution as well. But with that open-endedness comes a lot of room for interpretation, and that’s where culture can really come into play. For example, Japanese courts are much more inclined to protect and focus on reputation than United States courts. A United States court is going to be concerned about whether the statements in question subject the plaintiff to intense ridicule or public hatred; a Japanese court will tend to focus on whether the statements in question reduce the respect of the plaintiff in his or her community.

Slander vs. Libel

headlines

Photo by emdot

But before I get into more of the nitty-gritty of Japan’s defamation laws, let’s toss up some definitions real quick. Defamation is the act of saying something untrue about someone else in order to harm their reputation and can be divided into two subcategories: slander and libel. Slander is defamation that’s spoken, and libel is defamation that’s printed. (Simple, no? Though as a point of interest, Japanese law doesn’t make a distinction between libel and slander.)

Exactly what can count as defamation and who can sue for it changes depending on which country’s law book you’re using. For example, in the United States, once you’re dead, you can no longer seek legal protection from slander or libel. People can say anything they like about you, true or not, because your reputation and societal standing aren’t worth anything once you’re a corpse. Japanese corpses, however, can still protect their good name and reputation under the law, so long as what’s being said about them is false.

Defamation can also be divided another way: Is the allegedly defamed person in the public or private sphere? Defamation laws act a little differently depending on whether the plaintiff is a private citizen or a public figure, because your expectation of privacy is going to differ depending on where you stand in your community.

So, let’s say you’re David Beckham, soccer star and husband of Posh Spice. And a magazine, let’s say In Touch Weekly, publishes an article about you having an affair with a prostitute. And let’s say you then sue that magazine for libel, because the story is false. As a public figure, David Beckham lost his case, because he couldn’t prove “actual malice.” By malice, I don’t mean that the magazine was twirling its moustache, plotting to destroy David Beckham’s reputation. “Actual malice”, in legalese, is knowing that a statement is false but saying/publishing it anyway, or acting with reckless disregard for the truth. This is very hard for plaintiffs to prove, so most cases in the US turn out the way David Beckham’s did.

But in Japan, David Beckham probably wouldn’t have gotten as raw a deal and he definitely wouldn’t have been required to prove there was “actual malice” behind the published story. Instead, Japan would have put the onus on the publication to prove that their statements about David Beckham were a matter of public interest, were only made with the sole purpose of advancing public interest, and were true. (Remember the Japan Sumo Association suing Kodansha for that story about bout-fixing in sumo? Kodansha was required to prove those same things in court and failed.)

The Truth Won’t Set You Free

lawyer fortune

Photo by slgckgc

But what happens if you’re just a regular person, someone who doesn’t even have more than a hundred followers on Twitter? I’m not a lawyer (or a person who has a lot of Twitter clout), but in my layperson research, a defamation case against a private citizen in the United States mostly boils down to one question: Is what Person A saying about Person B true?

Good to know the truth is always a defense, right? Well, in Japanese libel and slander cases, the truth won’t necessarily help you. Instead, it all comes down to reputation. (The Japanese word for defamation, meiyokison or 名誉毀損, when broken down, literally means “damaged honor”.) Even if a published statement is 100% true, it can still be considered defamatory if it irrevocably hurts the subject’s reputation and oftentimes the question of truth doesn’t really enter the equation. For example, in 2012 a Japanese man discovered that when he put his name into the Google search bar, it autocompleted results that implied he had a criminal record, and this man argued these autocomplete search results were severely damaging his reputation. Some sources strongly implied this man really did have a criminal past, others said that he was innocent. But it didn’t really matter either way—the Japanese court ordered Google to remove the autocomplete terms, which they did.

So You’re Being Sued

lawyer on tv

Okay, so what happens if you’re the one being sued for defamation in Japan? Well, if you’re a weekly magazine, this really isn’t so bad. In fact, this is probably a consequence you’ve already accepted in exchange for printing a really juicy, salacious story that’s going to sell a whole lot of magazine issues. Being sued is all part of publishing life in Japan, because it’s relatively easy for a plaintiff to make a successful case and there usually isn’t a huge amount of money involved anyway. This is in pretty steep contrast to the United States, where defamation cases might be settled for millions of dollars. In Japan, you won’t typically get a lot of yen for your trouble. It’s a question of pride, not money.

Things can get bad, though, if you’re being brought up on a criminal charge, and you could be facing a jail sentence of up to three years. Again, it’s about losing reputation and respect. In the United States, defamation cases are only civil cases, with no jail time for the defendant. (Just a big check to write.) In Japan, defamation can be a civil case or a criminal case, depending on how the plaintiff wants to go about things. (Are they out for cash or are they out for blood?)

Injunction, What’s Your Function?

stop button

But sometimes it’s not enough that there’s a payout or a prison sentence. Japanese publications also face the occasional injunction. An injunction, in this context, is a court order demanding that a publication not print or distribute a particular story or fact. In the United States, injunctions (theoretically) don’t happen: the media can be held responsible after something’s been published, but not before. In Japan, an injunction is fair game if it will irrevocably damage someone’s reputation. (At this point, you may be sensing a theme here.)

For a better sense of how this whole injunction thing works in the name of libel, I present Hoppo Journal Co. v. Japan. In 1979, a Supreme Court allowed an injunction against an article about Kozo Igarashi, a local mayor planning to run for governor of Hokkaido. Igarashi’s lawyers argued that Hoppo Journal had written defamatory statements about Igarashi that, if widely released, would severely damage Igarashi’s reputation. To be fair, I wouldn’t like it if a magazine article said I was a “cockroach” and “an ugly character hiding behind a beautiful mask,” like the Hoppo Journal said of Igarashi, but I would also argue that few of Hoppo Journal’s readers probably took this language literally. Still, the court thought otherwise, and Hoppo Journal had to pull its article about Igarashi, the masked cockroach running for governor of Hokkaido.

Court Is Adjourned

judges gavel statue

Freedom of speech and press is a closely held right and ideal in most countries, and Japan especially has a very liberal ruling on free speech built right into their constitution: “Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.” That’s actually a way broader free speech law than a lot of other developed countries have. (Canada, what’s up with the whole “reasonable limits” on your “rights and freedoms” thing, eh? And England, why the crazy intense libel laws, huh? Though to be fair, the United States has its own dubious free speech baggage. See: WikiLeaks.)

But Japan is also a country with a constitution that’s extremely close to that of the United States. (Hence why I compared Japan law to United States law. Also, I’m American and this is what we do.) Yet, for better or worse, Japan interprets its open-ended free speech laws in ways that a United States court never would. We don’t necessarily think about it, but laws like those for libel and slander interpret culture into action and it’s pretty clear how Japanese courts use defamation law to best meet Japanese culture. Maybe samurai aren’t falling on their swords anymore, but reputation and social standing are still meaningful things in Japan, and their effects are far-reaching, right down to how Google autocorrects your name.

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

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Art is pretty awesome.

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

Hiroshige_Rough_Sea_at_Shichirigahama_in_Sagami_Province_1852

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

Lines of Communication

nanban-southern-barbarian-art-japan

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

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

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

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

Gasshukoku_suishi_teitoku-gaki_Oral_statement_by_the_American_Navy_admiral

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

So It Begins

Three_Seated_Ladies_with_Lanterns_Tea_Pot_Candle_Holder_and_Stringed_Instrument_-_Kitagawa_Utamaro-ukiyo-e

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

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

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

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

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

A_colored_version_of_the_Big_wave_from_100_views_of_the_Fuji_2nd_volume

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

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

The_Meeting_Together_Miai_from_The_Marriage_Ceremonies_-_Suzuki_Harunobu-ukiyo-e-ukiyoe

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

Suzuki Harunobu / Edgar Degas

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

Kannazuki_Harunobu_Suzuki

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

Ludovic_Hal-Albert_Boulanger-Cav

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

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

Kitagawa Utamaro / Mary Cassatt

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

Yamanba_and_kintaro_sakazuki

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

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

Mary_Cassatt,_1902,_Reine_Lefebre_and_Margot_before_a_Window-painting

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

Utagawa Hiroshige / Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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

Hiroshige,_The_station_Ejiri-ukiyoe

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

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

Lautrec_jane_avril_1899

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

Katsushika Hokusai / Vincent Van Gogh

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

hokusai-woodblock-print-landscape

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

Van_Gogh-The_Haystacks

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

A Universal Language

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

Art really is pretty awesome.

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Christians in Kyushu, Part 3: The Last Stand http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/04/christians-in-kyushu-part-3-the-last-stand-japanese-christianity/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/02/04/christians-in-kyushu-part-3-the-last-stand-japanese-christianity/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47608 Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 to understand the history of Japanese Christianity that bring us here! When last we left our holy heroes, the situation for Christians in Japan had gone from tenuous to downright dangerous.  The Tokugawa shogunate had begun to persecute Christians, largely out of a fear that Christianity would […]

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Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 to understand the history of Japanese Christianity that bring us here!

When last we left our holy heroes, the situation for Christians in Japan had gone from tenuous to downright dangerous.  The Tokugawa shogunate had begun to persecute Christians, largely out of a fear that Christianity would subvert the order and hierarchy that they had struggled for so long to create and maintain.  In 1614, Tokugawa Ieyasu issued a proclamation expelling Catholic missionaries from Japan.  Japanese Christians were forced to go underground, becoming known as Hidden Christians (kakure kirishitan).  Under successive shoguns, persecution intensified.  The final straw was to come in 1637, when a revolt broke out in Kyushu.

We’re Not Gonna Take It!

Shimabara-Castle

Photo by 663highland

The Shimabara Peninsula lies on the western part of Kyushu, somewhat out of the way.  The lord of the area, Arima Harunobu (1576-1612) was a zealous Christian, and after Hideyoshi’s 1587 expulsion edict, many Jesuits escaped to Harunobu’s domain.  He was later involved in the corruption scandal of 1610, stripped of his lands and ordered to commit seppuku.  He was replaced by Matsukura Shigemasa.

The life of a Japanese peasant was generally filled with a good deal of suffering.  It wasn’t unusual for a lord to treat them poorly.  Yet, Matsukura Shigemasa was exceptionally cruel.  He taxed everything, even births and deaths, and didn’t take kindly to those who couldn’t pay.  Being thrown into a water-filled prison was perhaps the best one could hope for.  His most notorious punishment was called the raincoat dance (mino odori), so named because the victim, wearing a straw raincoat, was doused in oil and set on fire, causing them to dance about.  Sometimes the family members of those who failed to pay were taken hostage or punished as well.  In 1637, when one of Shigemasa’s men assaulted a farmer’s pregnant wife the people finally snapped.

Rebel, Rebel

map-of-the-siege-of-hara-castle

Map of Hara Castle and surrounding area. Just south of the peninsula, you can see two large Dutch ships, which fired upon the rebels on behalf of the shogunate (there was a lot of Protestant-Catholic tension at this time).

The violence quickly spread from the original village to others on the Shimabara Peninsula, becoming a serious uprising.  The oppressed marched on Shimabara Castle, but couldn’t take it.  Meanwhile, the peasants offshore on the Amakusa Islands also revolted.  After conferring, they decided to come together at Hara Castle in the south of the peninsula.  The vacant castle’s coastal position made it quite the defensible base for the rebels.  It was generally illegal for peasants to own weapons, but the rebels still managed to get a hold of some.  Still, many had to make do with farm implements, or even sticks and stones (which we all know may break some bones, but are not the first choice for battle).

You may be wondering where Christianity comes into this rebellion.  The truth is that it may not have had that much to do with Christianity, at least initially.  It had much more to do with the extreme pressure and cruelty that Matsukura Shigemasa inflicted on the peasantry.  However, after converging at Hara Castle, the movement acquired some Christian leadership.  There were a handful of Christian ronin (masterless samurai), and at the top, a mysterious youth.

amakusa-shiro-at-shimabara

This young man was Amakusa Shiro (c. 1621-1638).  Born on one of the Amakusa Islands, he was the son of a former Konishi clan retainer (the family’s Christian head, Konishi Yukinaga was killed for picking the wrong side at Sekigahara).  He studied with Jesuits in Nagasaki, and according to local lore, made a name for himself preaching equality and dignity for the poor on the island of Oyano.  Little else is known about him, but during the rebellion his followers began to think he was the one foretold years earlier by Father Marco Ferraro, a priest who worked in the area before being expelled.  He said that, “After 25 years a child of God will appear and save the people.”

The rebels were able to hold out for a surprisingly long time. However, as the winter months wore on, hunger took its toll and the defenses were breached.  The victors spent three days slaughtering the rebels.  An estimated total of 37,000 were killed, including Amakusa Shiro, and as John Dougill points out, “It’s invidious to play the numbers game when it concerns the dead, but the number killed at Shimabara is almost identical to the 39,000 who died in the Nagasaki atomic bomb.”  10,000 heads were staked up around the castle, and 3,300 were sent to Nagasaki for the same treatment: a clear warning to the people.

Following the Shimabara Rebellion, the Tokugawa took the final step in guarding the country against foreign subversion by expelling all Europeans from Japan and banning their reentry on pain of death.  The one exception to this was the tiny island of Dejima, just off Nagasaki’s coast, where an extremely limited number of Dutch ships were allowed to dock and trade.

Methods of “the Man”

crucifix-on-fumie-fumi-e

Photo by Chris73

In the decades prior to and following the Shimabara Rebellion, the shogunate came up with some strategies for ensuring the loyalty of its subjects and rooting out Hidden Christians.  In 1635, the government began to require that all subjects register themselves at a local Buddhist temple, which in 1666 became an annual requirement.  Apart from this annual registration, it probably wasn’t necessary to regularly visit the temple.  However, groups of households were organized to observe and report on one another, and if one person was exposed as a Christian their family would also suffer the consequences.  To avoid suspicion, most Hidden Christians needed to have a Buddhist funeral as well.

Another set of tools at the shogunate’s disposal were fumi-e “stepping-on pictures”.  These were small pictures of Jesus or Mary, usually made of metal, stone, or wood.  As the name implied, they were designed to be trod upon, a sign that one held no loyalty to the forbidden faith.  Fumi-e were first used in Nagasaki in 1628, and became a staple of anti-Christian procedures.  The practice even became known to some back in Europe.  In Jonathan Swift’s, Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Japan is the only real country visited by the protagonist, who asks the emperor “to excuse my performing the ceremony imposed upon my countrymen of trampling on the crucifix.”

In 1640, a central prosecution office (shumon aratame yaku) was established, with branch offices in each domain.  Many Christians were killed, their numbers dropping from 300,000 in 1612 to half that or fewer by 1625.  Not only that, but the government knew that if they could make Chirstians publicly recant their faith it would be far more effective than simply creating more martyrs.  Thus, various methods of persuasion including horrific tortures were inflicted on many arrested Christians.

Practices of the Persecuted

the-virgin-mary-disguised-as-kannon-statue-in-kumamoto

Photo by PHGCOM

A Kirishitan statue of Mary disguised as Kannon

In the face of such persecution, how did Hidden Christians stay hidden?  In Part 1, we already saw that there were many misunderstandings in the early days of conveying Christianity to the Japanese people.  After the banning of the religion and expulsion of foreigners, the Hidden Christians were left without clergy, leading them to develop some very unorthodox practices.

Without a clergy, the only sacrament left to the Hidden Christians was baptism, as lay people were allowed to perform this in the absence of a priest. Thus baptisms became quite important. They also made statues of the Virgin Mary that look nearly indistinguishable from the Buddhist bodhisattva, Kannon, or Jesus statues disguised as Jizo.  In fact, Mary became a major focal point of Hidden Christians’ practice.  Though everyone was required to register at a Buddhist temple, in some more rural localities the Buddhist clergy knew there were Hidden Christians, but looked the other way.  Still, the consequences of being Christian could be so severe that they learned to be extremely secretive.

Perhaps the most important part of daily practice was the recitation of prayers.  Called orashio (after the Latin oratio), these were Catholic prayers such as The Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary.  They were passed down orally to avoid detection. Those that had been translated into Japanese changed little over the centuries, but not so for those in Latin or Portuguese.  For example, “Ave Maria gratia lena” became “Abe Mariya hashiyabena.”  In fact, many modern practitioners don’t know what some of their prayers mean.  Another important prayer was the Konchirisan (Contrition), which must have assuaged the guilt felt for stepping on fumi-e, holding Buddhist funerals, and all the other compromises Hidden Christians were forced to make in order to keep practicing their faith secretly.

The Second Coming of Japanese Christianity

uss-powhatan-1860-commodore-perry

This state of affairs more or less continued throughout the remainder of Tokugawa rule, with Hidden Christians paying lip service to Buddhism to satisfy the authorities, while practicing Christianity in secret.  During the 19th century, even before the reopening of the country to the West, the shogunate began to become lax in enforcing many of the policies they had crafted to carefully maintain the hierarchy of society, including the hunting of Christians.  Of course the U.S. finally did force Japan to open up in the 1850s, then the Tokugawa fell in 1867, and the modern Meiji government was established the following year.

Foreign Christians reentered the country, and in 1871 religious freedom became law.  Hidden Christians revealed their existence, to the surprise of many at home and abroad.  This didn’t mean things became easy.  Many Hidden Christians rejoined the Catholic Church.  Many chose not to, largely out of respect for the practices of their ancestors, and a feeling that if they abandoned them it would be admitting they were wrong.  In addition, as the climate became more and more infused by nationalist State Shinto ideals, being Christian continued to be a liability until the end of World War II.

Considering Japanese Christians have only had about the last 70 years or so to make up for roughly 350 years of persecution, it may not be that surprising that Japan’s Christian population is so small.  I won’t dwell on the modern period and reintroduction of Christianity, as the main focus of these articles was meant to be the Hidden Christians.  Today there are very few carrying on the Hidden Christian traditions, mostly in Kyushu, particularly on Ikitsuki Island.  It’s hard to know exact numbers, but one estimate is that only about 500 practicing members remain on Ikitsuki.  Young people today are generally neither interested in carrying on Kirishitan traditions, nor in staying in the rural areas where the religion survived.  It seems quite likely that the religion will die out within the next few decades.  Even if their beliefs are no longer practiced, the history of the Kakure Kirishitan will remain.  Even in three articles, I was only able to highlight some of the major points in Japan’s Christian history.  I urge everyone to read more on the subject.

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Sources

  • Cobbing, Andrew. Kyushu: Gateway to Japan, A Concise History. Folkstone: Global Oriental Ltd, 2009.
  • Dougill, John. In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians. North Clarendon: Tuttle Publishing, 2012.
  • Elisonas, Jurgis. “Christianity and the Daimyo.” in vol. 4 of The Cambridge History of Japan, edited by John Whitney Hall, Marius B. Jansen, Madoka Kanai, and Denis Twitchett, 301-368. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/12/19/us-japan-christians-idUST14106220071219

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Tanuki: The Magical Canine with Gigantic Balls http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/30/tanuki-the-magical-canine-with-gigantic-magic-tanuki-balls/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/30/tanuki-the-magical-canine-with-gigantic-magic-tanuki-balls/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47671 The fox and tanuki seem quite similar at first glance. They’re both smallish, wild canines native to Japan that play a prominent role in the country’s folklore. In real life, both are adaptable and successful over a wide range of habitats, including cities. In folklore, they both have shapeshifting powers which they use to deceive people. […]

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The fox and tanuki seem quite similar at first glance. They’re both smallish, wild canines native to Japan that play a prominent role in the country’s folklore. In real life, both are adaptable and successful over a wide range of habitats, including cities. In folklore, they both have shapeshifting powers which they use to deceive people. They can even be spoken of as a kind of unit using the word kori (狐狸), made up of the kanji for tanuki (狸) and kitsune (狐).

Although they’re relatives, the two also have many differences. The fox is familiar pretty much throughout the world and appears in the mythology of many countries. But the tanuki is a character unique to Japan. Westerners who first encountered the tanuki and its folklore totally mangled the translation of its name and, to this day, most Americans have never heard of it.

Delve into the stories and you’ll discover that the two canines have very different personalities. While the kitsune has maintained an aura of danger and awe, the magical tanuki has developed into a guy you’d enjoy having a cup of sake with. He’s a mischief-maker and prankster, down-to-earth and downright bawdy – so don’t say I didn’t warn you, when we get to the part about his magical balls.

Tanuki Shapeshifting

tanuki-shapeshifting-balls

Both the fox and the tanuki can fool you into thinking they’re human, but each have a different favorite disguise. Yeah, there are stories of tanuki doing the classic kitsune illusion, pretending they’re a beautiful woman and seducing a man who wakes up the next morning in a pile of leaves in the middle of the woods, instead of the luxurious bedroom he thought he fell asleep in the previous night. But their favorite disguise is that of a Buddhist monk, so much so that there’s a name for the tanuki disguised this way: tanuki-bōzu.

Like the kitsune’s connection with the sacred fox of Shinto, an association with Buddhism runs through the tanuki folklore. But his relationship to the religion is quite different – more a kind of sardonic commentary. When tanuki-bōzu is seen in art, he’s always well-nourished and comfortable-looking – no Zen asceticism for this guy.

Tanuki enjoy gathering together to imitate human activities, including Buddhist rituals like funerals, assembling at gravesides at night with lanterns and imitating chants. Tanuki-bōzu even imitate that most human of activities, writing. As Zack Davisson translates one of these tales:

The tanuki claimed to be a monk from the Murasaki Otoku temple in Kyoto, and was under a vow of silence so could only communicate by written notes.

Now, the handwriting of this monk was most peculiar. He freely mixed the styles of artful Chinese calligraphy and machine-printed Japanese with some strange flourishes that Heigo had never seen before. There were many grammatical mistakes as well, and Heigo thought it looked like the sort of thing that a tanuki would write.

There are many such stories of tanuki writings that have been passed down through the years.

The tanuki seem to enjoy imitating the self-important figures of human society in general. They’re also said to impersonate government officials and knock on your door, harrassing people into pay your taxes, or accuse them of some imaginary infraction of the law. If you suspect you’re being pestered by a tanuki in disguise, the clues will be the same as for kitsune: they may be somewhat luminous when shapeshifted. If it rains, their kimono will stay dry. If it’s not dark out or raining, your best bet is to hope the tanuki loses focus on maintaining their illusion and lets their tail pops out.

More Tanuki Trickery

Hokusai-tanuki-teapot

Tanuki love to shapeshift into objects as well as humans. They can disguise themselves as trees, stone lanterns, and even the moon (the latter is the most fun when the moon is out and the tanuki make people think they’ve gone crazy).

The classic tale of tanuki-as-object is Bunbuku Chagama. There are many variations but here’s one version:

A farmer rescues a tanuki from a trap and, in gratitude, it transforms into a teapot that he can sell to get money as a thanks for the favor. When the buyer uses his new purchase, the tanuki can’t stand the heat, so the kettle sprouts a head and legs and tail and runs away. That last irresistible image is often depicted in works of art like prints and netsuke.

Tanuki also enjoy making noise – some of which doesn’t involve any magic. They frighten people at night by throwing stones at their house, dropping a bucket loudly into a well, and clattering pots and pans. Throwing a continuous rain of pebbles onto the roof of a house is another favorite. They’re perhaps most famous for drumming on their big bellies, which they can use to draw people off the beaten path until they’re lost.

They can also imitate sounds – making people think they’re hearing thunder and lightning, for example. This tanuki love of mimicry turned perilous as Japan opened to the West in the late nineteenth century and started to develop technologically. In one example, a train conductor hears a train whistle and the “shu shu po po po” sound of another steam engine coming straight towards him. In those early days there was just one track shared by trains going in both directions, so the conductor stops in a panic to avoid a collision, but no train ever arrives. It happens again and again till one night, when he decides to keep going, and nothing happens. The next morning, the conductor finds a dead tanuki on the tracks. “Well, of course, it was just that tanuki really enjoy imitating things,” the narrator concludes.

Some see this tale as an allegory of the clash between the new and the traditional, and between foreign introductions and native Japanese culture, since the train was a powerful symbol of Westernization. On the other hand, real dead tanuki were found on train tracks all the time, so who’s to say it was only a legend?

Tanuki Illusions

tanuki-playing-tricks

Tanuki not only make themselves look like something else, they can produce other illusions as well. They’ll often buy things with money that later, after they’re long gone, turns to leaves. They can make people see entirely different landscapes, making them get lost even in familiar territory. They can make will o’ the wisp fire, like kitsune, and use it to prank people – in the old days before artificial light, this was a good way to fool a farmer into thinking he was having a whole conversation with a fellow smoking a pipe in the dark. And they think it’s a hoot to make fisherman’s nets feel heavy with fish and watch as they pull up empty nets.

Tanuki can also get kind of meta about this stuff. There’s one legend of a tanuki who fools a man into thinking he’s watching a tanuki transformed into a shamisen player. Just as the shamisen player is about to reveal the secret to the gathered crowd, the man discovers he’s actually looking at the ass of a horse.

In a story by the renowned Meiji-era novelist Natsume Sōseki, a character is reading a book written by a tanuki that bemoans the fact that people have such contempt for his species, while there is “such a commotion about Western this and Western that.” Why make such a big deal out of this new Western import, hypnotism, he laments, when tanuki have been doing the same thing all along?

Tanuki Balls

tanuki-balls-testicles-nuts

The legendary tanuki clearly has a lot of interesting characteristics, but there’s no doubt which is the most strange and unique: his magical expanding scrotum.

Yes, really. It’s said that the tanuki can stretch his ballsack to the size of eight tatami mats. Of course it’s more flexible than tatami, so it’s way more useful. Tanuki are depicted using their nutbags as sails for boats, fishing nets, umbrellas, swimming pools, cloaks to smother an enemy… ”

Depicted” seems to be the important word here – the amazing scrotum is big in art, but not so much in the stories. It’s a later addition to the tanuki’s repertoire and seems to have really taken off in the Edo period when ukiyo-e artists went wild illustrating it. Zack Davisson, who’s read lots of Edo-period stories about tanuki, says they mostly focus on their shapeshifting or belly-drumming, not the magical scrotum. The ballsack seems to make a better visual than a plot element.

How did tanuki come by this unique magic? It’s got nothing to do with sexual prowess, which is never a feature of tanuki legends. The generally accepted explanation is a lot less fun for the tanuki. In the old days, metal workers would wrap gold in the skin of tanuki when making gold leaf. You want to hammer your gold to the thinnest sheet possible, so you need a skin that can stretch a long way without breaking, and it was said that a tanuki skin could reach the size of eight tatami.

What really clinched it, though, was probably the pun: kin no tama “small ball of gold” and kintama, slang for testicles. Tanuki scrotums began to be sold as wallets and lucky charms, said to stretch your money the way they stretched the gold.

It’s worth mentioning here that Japanese culture is a lot less uptight about this sort of body-part humor than the West – for example there’s a traditional children’s song about it, which begins:

Tan Tan Tanuki no kintama wa,
Kaze mo nai no ni,
Bura bura

“Tan-tan-tanuki’s balls, even if the wind isn’t blowing, swing, swing.”

(Wikipedia claims that the tune this is sung to is the same as the gospel song “Shall we gather at the river?” which is just too mind-boggling to fact-check.)

Finally, while I’ve always wondered what the female tanuki’s take on all this is, I’ve been unable to dig anything up on the subject. Even if the legendary size of their sack gave them some advantage in the sack, they seem far too busy creating sails and nets and carpets to tend to the ladies. I’m still looking for an ukiyo-e print with a female tanuki standing off to the side rolling her eyes at the foolishness. In any case, it’s pretty clear that, if you’re female and want to be a Japanese mythical canine, you’d be better off sticking to the fox side. When it comes to tanuki, males get to have all the really wacky fun.

The Tanuki Adapts to Modern Times

tanuki-statues-at-shigaraki

Photo by jpellgen

Though tanuki are pranksters and, in the older stories, even frightening, they’ve always had a good side – or at least, like most magical animals, if you scratch their back they’ll scratch yours. There are stories like the Bunbuku Chagama where the farmer who helps the tanuki is rewarded. There’s another story where a homeowner was awoken by strange noises to find a family of tanuki devouring the remains of a feast. He took pity on them and started leaving food out every night. One night, burglars broke in, and two gigantic wrestlers appeared to drive them away. The family bowed in thanks and when they stood up, their rescuers had vanished. Later the tanuki appeared in a dream and explained that the wrestlers had been them in disguise.

(By the way, if you want to get tanuki on your side by feeding them, they are said to love fish and “parched beans.” The dish called tanuki soba or udon isn’t called that because they have a taste for it – it’s probably because the crunchy batter bits sprinkled on top don’t contain anything, so are kind of an tempura illusion.)

Nowadays, the most common manifestation of the tanuki is entirely positive – it’s that cute, big-eyed statue of a tanuki with a big belly and a straw hat that you see outside of shops and restaurants. I was surprised to discover that this is not only a 20th-century development, it’s generally attributed to one person: Fujiwara Tetsuzō, a potter of Shigaraki-yaki, a type of ceramics made in Shiga Prefecture. This is where most mass-produced tanuki statues come from (including more and more strange ones catering to modern tastes – tanuki baseball player with huge balls, anyone?)

The story goes that Emperor Hirohito made a visit to the town of Koga, the center of ceramic production in Shiga, in 1951, and the street was lined with flag-waving tanuki statues to honor him. He was so tickled that he wrote a poem about it, and the statues took off in popularity after this celebrity endorsement. This modern tanuki represented in the statue is said to be a symbol of eight rather boring virtues and is a kind of commercial good-luck figure. Kind of sad that a creature who could once fool people into thinking it was an entire train, battling the forces of modernity and change, is reduced to shilling sake and attracting restaurant customers, but I guess we all have to adapt to the times. The train always won in those stories, after all.

The Real-Life Tanuki

real-life-tanuki

Photo by rumpleteaser

Those 20th-century developments brought us a very long way from the real wild animal. The famous tanuki statue doesn’t really look much like a real tanuki, as often happens when animals get transformed into folkloric characters – a teddy bear doesn’t look much like a grizzly, either. In fact those statues look more like a teddy bear, with the notable exception of their gargantuan testicles, which is not usually a feature of Western children’s toys.

In real life, tanuki have much pointier snouts and look more like very fluffy brown foxes than teddy bears. Their fluffy coat is one of the reasons they’re quite widely distributed these days. Tanuki are originally native to the far East, from China, Japan, Korea to Mongolia and the far southeast of Russia. But beginning in the 1930s, Russians introduced them into the wild so they could be hunted for their fur, and now they’re found all over Europe. By 2005 they were sighted in northern Italy, showing that tanuki had managed to cross the Alps, and in some places, like Finland, they’re now the most common medium-sized carnivore. Their fur is still used commercially, including in Japan, where it’s used for calligraphy brushes.

The tanuki was so successful when introduced to new places because it’s very adaptable. It can survive far north because it’s the only canid that can hibernate. They have a varied diet, eating anything they can catch as well as non-meat items like berries. They can travel a long way looking for a suitable habitat, and have larger litters than similar sized carnivores – up to 8-10 pups at a time. Although they’re clearly invasive by definition, scientists have found little evidence that they have a negative impact on native fauna, although they can carry diseases and some nasty parasites.

Tanuki are so adaptable that they can also live in cities, which are actually better for them in some ways than rural areas – less competition from stray dogs, and way more of the human leftovers that are appealing to their omnivorous nature. In fact it’s estimated that about a thousand of them live in Tokyo. Some live in relatively foresty bits of the city – they’re often sighted around Meiji Jingu shrine and are reported to live in the Imperial Palace grounds. But they’re also seen in totally unnatural areas, like this one on the subway and this one that was running around in Akihabara. My favorite story is the tanuki a couple of years ago that strolled into a ballet studio in Ebisu, aided by an automatic door.

The woman at the reception of the ballet class said, “The automatic door in front of me opened, even though there was no sign of anyone passing by. I thought it was strange, then I heard a scream, and when I went into the back classroom, I was surprised to see a raccoon dog. “

Three police officers responded and, by the time they arrived, the tanuki had apparently had second thoughts about the prospect of studying dance, since it reportedly “calmly approached the net that the police officer was holding”.

What Isn’t a Tanuki?

ninja-shinobi-tanuki

Photo by rumpleteaser

As Westerners started to write about Japan when the country first opened to the outside world in the nineteenth century, there was no English word for tanuki. So the situation began in confusion, and has stayed that way to this day. Scholars writing about the folklore called it a badger, which seems pretty inexcusable since the animals aren’t even vaguely related and their only real similarity is that they have black marks on their face. By that token, they could just as well have called it a kind of panda. They also seem to have ignored the fact that the word for “badger” is actually anaguma. Really, people, is it so hard to get these things right?

To be fair, though, they were probably confused by the fact that there was ambiguity in the traditional Japanese nomenclature for various unrelated creatures. The tanuki had other local names including mujina and mami. The word mujina was also used to refer to all kinds of medium-sized wild mammals including the badger. Apparently some people even took advantage of this, as is written about on the excellent set of pages about tanuki at the website Onmark Productions:

This confusion is sometimes the source of great amusement. In Tochigi Prefecture, for example, the Tanuki is called “Mujina.” In 1924, in the so-called Tanuki-Mujina Incident たぬき・むじな事件, Tochigi authorities prohibited the hunting of Tanuki and promptly arrested one hunter — who claimed he was out hunting mujina. The man was taken to trial, but eventually acquitted (on 9 June 1925). His defense argued that hunting of “mujina” was not prohibited by law, that the hunter’s intention was to pursue mujina, and therefore, by law, he was not guilty of any offense.

In English the real animal is now generally called “raccoon-dog”. But if you read 20th-century English writings on folklore, you’ll still see tanuki referred to as “badgers” (as you’ll see in the references list to this article).

Sadly, in the one big chance tanuki had to be introduced to American audiences, it was mixed up with another animal instead. The Studio Ghibli movie, released in English under the title Pom Poko, is about tanuki in suburban Tokyo trying to save their habitat from developers. As I’ve ranted about elsewhere, in the English version of the movie the tanuki were called raccoons – not raccoon-dogs, but raccoons, another medium-sized, unrelated mammal from another part of the world entirely with black markings on its face. SIGH. The substitution no doubt seemed like an easy out since, as cartoon characters at least, both animals are conventionally chubby, masked, and have similar rascally personalities. I guess they hoped kids wouldn’t be able to figure out what was going on in those magical-ballsack scenes, something that is not a feature of raccoon lore in the West.

Personally, I don’t get it. I’ll bet when the movie Madagascar came out, there were a lot of kids who didn’t know what a lemur was, but it didn’t cause, like, widespread childhood trauma. But maybe the tanuki are okay with this. Maybe they like being translated incorrectly – it’s another kind of shapeshifting, after all, and maybe it’s nice to be able to remain a bit mysterious at least in some parts of the world, instead of being forced to stand in front of shops smiling and wearing a straw hat.

Tanuki Today

tanuki-subway

Photo by Joey Rozier

The tanuki still play a very lively role in Japanese culture. Once you start looking for tanuki in Japan, you’ll see representations of them everywhere, even aside from the ubiquitous statues. I particularly love the informational stickers on the Tokyo metro, like the one above. The tanuki is mascot for many companies, playing his cute commercial good-luck role, such as on the Lawson convenience store points card and as the symbol of the hip Hachijoji neighbohoood of Tokyo.

tanuki-statues

If you want to have a more old-school tanuki encounter, though, you can do that when you visit a couple of major tourist attractions in Tokyo. There’s a shrine to tanuki in Akihabara that goes back to the late 17th century, and there’s Chingodo Shrine at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, which has got a couple of big tanuki statues and puts on a festival every year on March 17th. There seem to be conflicting stories about the origin of Chingodo Shrine. The story on the temple’s website  is that, in the late 19th century, it came to the head priest of Sensoji in a dream that the tanuki living in the garden of his official residence were its guardians, and so a shrine was built to honor them. The English sign at the shrine itself, though, says that the deity was enshrined “to prevent mischief by raccoon dogs that had taken up residence.”

Either way,  sounds like a good deal for the tanuki… Since there was a dream involved, I’ve got a pretty good idea of where it came from.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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References

The post Tanuki: The Magical Canine with Gigantic Balls appeared first on Tofugu.

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Christians in Kyushu, Part 2: The Shogun Strikes Back http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/23/christians-in-kyushu-part-2-persecution-rebellion/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/23/christians-in-kyushu-part-2-persecution-rebellion/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47012 Be sure to check out Part 1 before engaging in this epic second part. When we last left off, Oda Nobunaga, the padres’ most powerful patron had just perished.  The next great unifier to take his place was a general of his, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598).  Hideyoshi had worked his way up from peasanthood to become the most […]

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Be sure to check out Part 1 before engaging in this epic second part.

When we last left off, Oda Nobunaga, the padres’ most powerful patron had just perished.  The next great unifier to take his place was a general of his, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598).  Hideyoshi had worked his way up from peasanthood to become the most powerful man in Japan.  Due to his background, he was never able to take the title of shogun, but he was equally influential.  His policies laid the groundwork for what was to come, including an increasing suspicion of Christian motives.  There will be plenty about him in this article, but first, back to Kyushu.

The King of Bungo

statue-of-otomo-sorin Christians in Kyushu

Photo by 大分帰省中

As mentioned in Part 1, just before leaving Japan in 1551, Francis Xavier met with Otomo Sorin (1530-1587), lord of Bungo (in eastern Kyushu).  Initially reluctant to meet with Xavier due to slanderous descriptions given by Buddhist clergy, Sorin was convinced to see him by a Portuguese captain, who described Xavier as a man of high status who could commandeer a European vessel anytime he wished.  Sorin gave the Jesuits permission to preach in his territory and a building to use, but it would seem his initial generosity was not religiously motivated.  In 1562, he even became a Buddhist lay-priest.

However, over time he may have had a change of heart.  In 1578, he converted to Christianity, taking the name Francisco in honor of Xavier. Actually, a marital problem led to his conversion.  Sorin had married a woman in 1550, who was staunch in her traditional religious beliefs and shared a contentious relationship with the Jesuits.  She is known only as Jezebel, the name the Jesuits used to refer to her.  In 1578, Sorin became ill, which the priest Luis Frois claimed was Jezebel’s fault.  He was nursed by one of her ladies-in-waiting, with whom he fell in love.  Sorin had his new paramour spirited away to a seaside villa where they were free to hear Christian instruction.  First, she converted, taking the name Julia. Later Sorin also converted.  They soon married, and Jezebel, as a pagan, was no object.  To many observers Sorin’s behavior was scandalous, but to the Jesuits he was a hero.  Sorin’s happiness did not last long.

At the same time that Sorin was pulling a Henry VIII, there was trouble brewing further south.  The Shimazu family, which had rejected Christianity, had begun to expand their territory northward.  They soundly defeated the Otomo at the Battle of Mimigawa (1578).  The Shimazu were doing so well that by the mid-1580s, nearly all of Kyushu was theirs.  Knowing the Shimazu’s final push would come soon, Sorin asked Toyotomi Hideyoshi for aid.  In 1587, Hideyoshi’s armies entered Kyushu and began pushing the Shimazu forces back southward to their home territory until they were forced to surrender.

Christian Cruise

Japanese-delegates-visit-Pope-Gregory Christians in Kyushu

Japanese delegates visiting Pope Gregory.

Otomo Sorin did one other major thing in the history of Christianity and Japan.  In the midst of combating the Shimazu in 1582, he and two other Christian lords sponsored the first official Japanese embassy to Europe.  The embassy was the brainchild of Italian Jesuit, Allesandro Valignano (1539-1606), who had been preaching in Japan for three years.  The Tensho Embassy (named after the reign-name of the time) consisted of four Japanese converts.  With them was their European tutor and translator, and two servants.  They stopped at Macau, Kochi, and Goa along the way.  Valignano himself accompanied them as far as Goa.

The embassy arrived in Lisbon in 1584, and from there went on to Rome.  During their European tour, they met several kings and two successive popes.  In Rome, one of the converts was made an honorary citizen.  They returned to Japan in 1590, after which Valignano ordained them as the first Japanese Jesuit fathers.

A Tenuous Tolerance

toyotomi-hideyoshi-climbing-a-mountain Christians in Kyushu

Having conquered Kyushu, Hideyoshi soon finished what Nobunaga had started and united all of Japan under his banner.  Like his predecessor, Hideyoshi expressed an interest in what the Europeans had to offer.  When the Tensho Embassy returned from Europe, he received them at Osaka Castle, curious to hear their stories and the music of European instruments, like the harpsichord, which they had learned to play.  However, under his rule we can also see the seeds of doubt that would ultimately lead to the downfall of the Christian mission in Japan.

In 1587, Hideyoshi issued an edict to expel the missionaries (not all Europeans).  He seemed mainly concerned that too many lords were converting, and were also forcing the conversion of their retainers and subjects.  There was a worry that Christian lords might have conflicting loyalties.  Fortunately for the padres, the edict was not well enforced. They there were able to remain in Japan, they had to keep quiet for a while.  This was not true, however, of the Franciscans and other orders, more recently arrived, who continued to preach boldly.  This led to Japan’s first martyrs.

The 26 Martyrs

painting-of-the-nagasaki-martyrs Christians in Kyushu

In 1596, the San Felipe, a Spanish galleon shipwrecked off of Shikoku, spilling its cargo of silks and gold.  When the local authorities confiscated as much of this as they could and detained the crew, the ship’s pilot warned them to be careful lest they wind up a Spanish colony like South America.  He told them “the missionaries come as the king of Spain’s advance guard.”

This was just the wrong thing for Hideyoshi to hear, and from a list of 4,000, ultimately 24 leading Christians from the Kansai area were arrested.  Hideyoshi had them marched all the way to Nagasaki to face execution.  This was symbolic as Nagasaki had become one of the strongest Christian centers in Japan.  Along the 450 mile journey, two more were arrested for giving comfort to the prisoners, including a twelve-year old boy.  He was given the chance to recant, but refused.  On February 5, 1597, the 26 were crucified on a hilltop in Nagasaki.  It may sound like Hideyoshi chose this form of execution to be ironic, which I don’t think is out of the question, but crucifixion had long been a common punishment in Japan.

Tokugawa Transition

Konishi_Yukinaga Christians in Kyushu

While dealing with issues at home, from 1592-1598 Hideyoshi had thousands of samurai carrying out an invasion of Korea.  One of the top two generals of the expedition was a Christian himself, Konishi Yukinaga (1555-1600).  Yukinaga often found himself at odds with the other leading general, Kato Kiyomasa (1561-1611), a Nichiren Buddhist.  When Hideyoshi passed away in 1598, his war weary generals negotiated an end to the war in Korea, but Yukinaga’s problems were far from over.

Japan soon divided between those supporting the Toyotomi and those supporting another former ally of Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616).  In 1600, came the decisive Battle of Sekigahara, and Ieyasu emerged victorious.  Konishi Yukinaga had fought for the losing side, but rather than commit ritual suicide (seppuku), he chose execution.  This would have been the less honorable choice in the eyes of most of his peers, but his Christian faith taught him that suicide was a sin.

Tokugawa Ieyasu became shogun, and established a line that would rule Japan for the next 268 years.  At first, like Hideyoshi, he took a cautious attitude toward Christianity.  In 1600, shortly before the Battle of Sekigahara, English pilot William Adams (1564-1620), the basis for the protagonist in James Clavell’s Shogun, arrived in Japan.  Ieyasu valued his knowledge, but Adams, out of his own Protestant prejudices against the Catholics, fed the lord’s fears that the missionaries were precursors of a Catholic conquest.

The Hammer Falls

jesuit-with-a-japanese-nobleman Christians in Kyushu

Added to the fear of foreign conquest, one of the biggest concerns that Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu had always had with Christianity was the matter of loyalty.  For a Christian samurai, did allegiance to the shogun or the pope take precedence?  In 1612 there was a bribery scandal, involving a daimyo and a member of Ieyasu’s council, both Christians.  This showed that ties between the faithful might be stronger than those to the central authority.  In addition, at the execution of a Christian, a priest told the crowd that obedience to the Church should trump obedience to their daimyo.

These events led Ieyasu to ban Christianity in domains governed directly by the shogunate, and many daimyo followed his example.  Then in 1614 he issued the “Statement on the Expulsion of the Bataren”, in which accusations against the priests were leveled. They were commanded to leave the country at once, and Japanese converts were ordered to renounce their faith.  Most missionaries left the country, but some continued to operate in secret. Those who were caught were executed.

Anti-Christian measures became even harsher under the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, who took power in 1623.  It’s estimated that in 1612 there were approximately 300,000 Christians in Japan, but that by 1625 there were half that or fewer.

Dark Times Ahead

beheaded-jizo-statues Christians in Kyushu

Things were never easy for Christians in Japan during the Sengoku period but, as the country moved toward unification and peace, they came under even closer scrutiny.  Though some anti-Christian reasoning points to other issues, it seems that the biggest problem was the fear of those in authority that Christians would have conflicting loyalties.  After a century of chaos, betrayals, and civil war, that was something the Shogunate would not tolerate.

Next time we’ll see where the suppression of Christianity leads.

To Be Continued . . .

Bonus Wallpapers!

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How To Survive Japan’s Medical System http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/21/survive-japans-medical-system/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/21/survive-japans-medical-system/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47179 While I was living in Japan, the scariest thing for me was the thought of getting sick. Having to deal with medical issues in a language I didn’t fully understand and in a system I wasn’t familiar with sent chills through me. I tried to live healthily and for two years and successfully avoided the […]

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While I was living in Japan, the scariest thing for me was the thought of getting sick. Having to deal with medical issues in a language I didn’t fully understand and in a system I wasn’t familiar with sent chills through me. I tried to live healthily and for two years and successfully avoided the hospital. But eventually my fears became reality, first with a bout of norovirus and then with a bus accident. Though a harrowing experience, it left me with a wealth of information on the Japanese medical system. Hopefully, by sharing my experience of the Japanese medical system as well as those of other people I know, it will help you understand and overcome a very difficult situation.

Clinics for This, Clinics for That

How-to-survive-the-Japanese-medical-system-operating-room

Photo by Roger Walch

If you get sick in Japan you need to get yourself to a hospital or clinic. These are two main types of medical facility in Japan: hospitals and clinics. There is not really a system of GPs or family doctors like there is in the UK or elsewhere. Usually the first port of call is a hospital. If it’s an emergency, you aren’t sure where to go, or all of you hurts, you go to hospital. This is the place to go, whether you’ve been injured or just have a really, really bad cold. You might then be referred to a more specialised clinic. Alternatively, you can just find a clinic yourself if you know what kind you need. Japanese hospitals are much like those in the west, with emergency rooms as well as facilities for operations. It felt odd going to a hospital for a minor problem that I would have usually gone to my GP for back home.

Clinics are the other kind of medical institution. They tend to be highly specialised. You go to a eye clinic for eye problems, a heart clinic for heart problems, a maternity clinic for pregnancy. In rural areas, hospitals tend to take care of a broader range of problems as there aren’t as many specialised clinics as in the cities. However, if you need long term treatment, you will probably end up in a clinic. Clinics are owned and run by doctors. Although they get their money mostly from the public insurance system, they are run as private businesses. Each one will have a different atmosphere and rules. One thing that is the same wherever you go: you’re going to have to pay for it.

Welcome to the Japanese Insurance System(s)

Japanese-hospital

Photo by Nemo’s great uncle

Luckily, all Japanese citizens, permanent residents, and non-Japanese people living in Japan with more than a year-long visa are required to be enrolled in either National Health Insurance or Employees’ Health Insurance. Between these two plans, everyone living or working in Japan has access to healthcare with insurance that covers 70% of the bill and a cap on how much you have to pay on the other 30%.

If you move to Japan and are required to enroll in a health insurance plan, you must do so within two weeks. Signing up for National Health Insurance (国民健康保険, Kokumin-Kenkō-Hoken) is a case of visiting your local ward or city office. There you will be given your Health Insurance card. Once you get that card, don’t let it go. If you don’t have it with you when you go to a hospital, you’ll have to pay 100% of the cost upfront. You can claim it back later, but that will take some time.

Employees Health Insurance (健康保険 Kenkō-Hoken) is all taken care of by your employer. The cost is shared between you and your employer. For many foreigners working in Japan, this is the insurance system you will be using. I didn’t have to do anything to sign up for it as it was all set up by my employer. However, there are some exceptions, such as people employed by companies like Interac. This English Teacher supply company keeps its employees’ logged working hours (29.5 hours a week) just below the level they would need to get Employees’ Health Insurance (30 hours a week). In reality most work longer, up to 40 hours a week. These employees are responsible for joining the National Health Insurance plan by themselves and Interac makes no contribution. This is one of the ways private ALT companies cut costs, and it is important to be aware of this if you are thinking about teaching in Japan.

Whether you are covered under either plan, the benefits are the same. 70% of your health care costs are taken care of as soon as they arise. All you have to do is hand over your insurance card in a hospital or clinic. There are a range of options to cover the missing 30%. There is private health insurance, as well as insurance schemes run by employers directly. When I was in Japan I was covered by the JET insurance plan which took care of 30% of any medical costs.

Around the world, Japan’s healthcare system is admired for providing good service for a low price. The Japanese spend half of what Americans do on health care and have longer life expectancy. Still, the idea of it being provided for a price at all was a bit confusing to me. When I had to go to the hospital because of norovirus, I had to pay for the 30% of my treatment that wasn’t covered by my Employee’s Insurance. There was an ATM right there in the hospital lobby so people could pay in cash. I was given a receipt and was able to claim back the final 30% from my JET insurance later. It felt very strange handing over cash in exchange for medical treatment, even if I knew I was going to get it back later. Britain’s NHS spoiled me, I guess.

Alternatively, if you are simply visiting Japan, all you have to do is get travel insurance. It is usually pretty affordable. With it you can enjoy your trip without worrying about what will happen if you fall down some shrine steps or have a bad plate of fugu.

The doctor is in… control

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Photo by Angelina Earley

The power dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship are different in Japan than in many Western countries. These days in the UK, there is a lot of focus on patients having choices on how and where they are treated. Doctors have authority, but are expected to work with the patient to help heal them, not dictate from on high.

In Japan, doctors, especially in hospitals, have a lot more say over your treatment than you do. This can extend from the medicine you are given to the food you are allowed to eat. One friend of mine who had broken her elbow, ended up checking out of the hospital early because of the discomfort she experienced with this power balance. She wasn’t allowed to take a shower. Her food was weighed before and after she ate and she was criticised for each gram she didn’t finish. She wasn’t informed about her own condition or what they planned to do with her. The final straw came when she was expected to stay in the hospital for two weeks, a far longer stay than she felt was necessary for a broken bone. Once she was plastered up, she checked herself out and went home where she could be comfortable.

The hospital likely wanted her to stay partly because it would bring in more money for them. The longer a patient stays, the more money the insurance pays. If you find yourself in a Japanese hospital, you have two options: 1.) Either get the treatment and get out against doctor’s orders, like my friend did, or 2.) surrender yourself to the medical system and endure its oddities and indignities. Be prepared to have your preconceptions challenged though.

As many clinics are owned and run by doctors, the sense of authority doctors feel can become inflated. You can see this in cases such as Japan’s maternity advice to expectant mothers. Japanese doctors tell pregnant women to “save their weight” meaning they shouldn’t gain more than 10 pounds during their pregnancy. Clinics will even refuse to treat expectant mothers who gain more than their guidelines. For many years, this orthodoxy in Japan has made it the only developed country where maternal weight is going down. The bad news is that low maternal weight contributes to low birth weight and low birth rate is associated with many health problems in adulthood including diabetes, obesity, and poor cardiac health. Japanese doctors have been informed about these problems in study after study, but most refuse to change their policies. Some Japanese doctors operate in an environment where everything they say goes. Changing the mind of someone used to that level of authority is no easy task.

Communication Is Only Half the Battle

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Photo by Nina Helmer

For me, the biggest cause of my fear of the Japanese medical system was my lack of understanding of medical Japanese. Daily life Japanese and medical Japanese are completely different challenges. If you aren’t confident that you’ll be able to understand everything, having a friend or coworker with you to help translate will make the experience far better. Most doctors in Japan speak some English, however it can often be very limited. When I had to have a set of X-rays for my whiplash, the technician and I communicated in a mix of broken English and Japanese. It was not the most relaxing way to spend a day.

However, language isn’t the only barrier you can face when you seek medical care in Japan. Even if you are super ペラペラ (fluent) in Japanese, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll understand the things that happen to you in a Japanese clinic. A friend of mine who speaks excellent Japanese went to a gynaecologist. She was led to a room where one wall was just a curtain. A disembodied voice told her to take the clothes off her bottom half and sit in a chair. Since her feet were cold she kept her socks on. They were cute socks with mameshiba’s face on them. Mameshiba is a half dog, half bean who loves trivia. My friend sat down in the chair stripped to the waist apart from her cute socks and waited. The voice asked her if she was ready. She said yes, but she certainly wasn’t ready for what happened next. The voice said, “動きます!” (ugokimasu) which is usually said when buses depart. Suddenly the chair lifted up, spread her legs apart and swivelled round. Her feet swept the lower portion of the curtain aside, but the upper curtain still hung down, separating her from the doctors and nurses on the other side. One of the nurses exclaimed, “Ah! Mameshiba!” in great surprise, when she saw my friend’s socks.

When my friend told me all this I laughed, but behind the humour, it’s also terrifying. My friend sat on a piece of medical equipment that was not explained to her. You can see an illustration of the chair here. She was subjected to an invasive medical examination without even seeing who was performing it on her. Coming from a culture where we expect to be able to see our doctors, it can be quite shocking, even more shocking than her socks were to the nurse!

There are also problems that hospitals face when treating non-Japanese patients. Before my fiancé had an operation on his foot he had to tell the hospital where his family was registered, just in case anything went wrong. The problem was that being Canadian, he didn’t have a family register. All Japanese people are required to be registered on their household’s koseki (戸籍) or family registry. The hospital administrators couldn’t understand that there was no equivalent system in Canada. They explained it to him over and over again, while he explained that he couldn’t give them information that didn’t exist. In the end his whole surgery ended up being delayed by a day while the hospital tried to work out a solution. Trying to get these sorts of things straightened out while you’re dosed up on pain meds isn’t easy. Even people with good Japanese can struggle when they simply can’t tell the hospital what it needs to hear.

No Bad News Can Be Bad News

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Photo by Yuya Tamai

Another aspect of communication that disturbed me about the Japanese medical system when I first learned about it, was the attitude toward the patients’ right to know.

I had a student who was applying to medical school. He had to write an essay about whether he would inform a terminally ill patient that they were terminally ill. I checked through his English, but what shocked me was his opinion. He said that he would not tell the terminally ill patient that they were going to die. His reasoning was that it would only upset them. To me this was horrifying. The idea of going to a doctor, someone I trusted, and not being told the truth about my own body, my own life, filled me with dread. We debated it for a while and were joined by another Japanese English teacher. She sided with the student and told me that it was perfectly normal in Japan not to tell patients they only have a short time to live. The thinking is that it is better to just continue living and working as before right up until the moment you die. In some cases, the family of the patient will be told, but not the patient themselves.

While I don’t imagine this is a problem that most foreigners living in Japan will face, it does illustrate that while many of the techniques and medicines may be the same, attitudes can be very different. Personally I think those attitudes are very important when it comes to something as fundamental as health. The Japanese Journal of Clinical Oncology laid out guidelines on the importance of telling patients the truth, but admits that change has been slow, as it is in many aspects of the Japanese medical system.

Navigating Japan’s Medical System like a Pro

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Photo by strikeael

Maybe I’ve freaked you out a little with these horror stories, but don’t worry too much. The Japanese health care system, for all its quirks, is actually very good. If you are working in Japan, you are guaranteed to be treated for a very reasonable cost. It may be stressful, but getting sick always is. Also, there are many resources to help you navigate your way through Japan’s medical system and back to health.

Japan Health Care Info provides a service finding English speaking doctors and booking appointments for you if you need it. This can be a great help when you’re faced with the huge array of clinics and aren’t sure which one to choose. Their website also has lots of useful information about health care in Japan.

This website, hospitalclinic.com has a list of clinics where English or other foreign languages are spoken. You can browse by type of clinic and see if there are any in your area. Of course, the closer you live to a major population centre, the more likely there will be an English speaking clinic nearby.

The Institute of Mental Healthcare Professionals is an organisation that provides mental health support to people of different nationalities living in Japan. Their website has a search function that can help you find a therapist to meet your needs.

This guide to purchasing over the counter medications is quite useful. Learning the kanji for dosage and frequency is a very good idea. I had a lot of success going to the pharmacy in my local supermarket for medicine. At first I always asked the pharmacist by pointing at whatever body part hurt and looking up the word for my problem, and I always walked away with the right kind of medication. Later, the technique I used was looking at the pictures on the packets. If it had a picture of a giant mosquito and a mosquito bite being soothed, I guessed that it would help with my painful mosquito bites. I wouldn’t recommend this technique for more serious problems though, and especially not for drugs like painkillers. If in doubt, ask. Mime and a dictionary can get you a long way.

There are some prescription drugs that you will find very difficult to come by in Japan. Many antidepressants and more modern hormonal contraceptions are not easily available. If you know that you will need medication for more than a month while you are in Japan, you’ll have to fill out a Yakkan Shoumei Certificate. This will allow you to import a year’s supply of your prescription medication. However, there are some drugs that you cannot bring to Japan at all. Many ADD and ADHD medications are completely illegal in Japan, as well as narcotics and even some nasal congestion relief drugs. If you are planning a trip or move, check that all of your medications are not controlled substances in Japan. If they are, consult with your doctor at home to see if there are any alternatives.

Finally, in case of a medical emergency, dial 119. This is Japan’s emergency number, equivalent to the USA’s 911 or the UK’s 999. If you need an ambulance say, “Kyukyusha onegai-shimasu.” Then give your name and location.

I hope that most of you will never need any of this information. But if you do, I’d urge you to keep in mind that your health should be your priority. Looking back, I probably let my fear of the health system keep me out of the hospital several times when I should have gone (like the time I ate Hell Ramen, but that’s a story for another day.) In the end, when I did end up in hospital, it wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated, even if I wasn’t as comfortable as I would have been at home. Stay healthy and happy, in Japan or wherever you are!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

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Japanese Horror Fiction: Emotions Unearthed http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/16/japanese-horror-fiction-emotions-unearthed/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/16/japanese-horror-fiction-emotions-unearthed/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 17:00:26 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47261 The New Year is bright and shiny and new and you’re probably thinking about your resolution to study more kanji, while Halloween is far in the rear-view mirror. Well, I’m firmly of the belief that Halloween should be celebrated year-round with some good old-fashioned horror stories, so let’s dive into another discussion of horror fiction […]

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The New Year is bright and shiny and new and you’re probably thinking about your resolution to study more kanji, while Halloween is far in the rear-view mirror. Well, I’m firmly of the belief that Halloween should be celebrated year-round with some good old-fashioned horror stories, so let’s dive into another discussion of horror fiction in Japan. In the first installment of this series, we talked about the narrative skeleton of Japanese folktales and how these origins influenced the plot structure of Japanese horror. Well now it’s time to put some meat on those bones and talk about some of the emotional themes of Japanese horror tales.

Emotion and Horror

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When asked about the need for horror films, David Cronenberg, in defense of his craft, once said,

For me horror films are films of confrontation, in a horror film [you] confront things that you really might not want to cope with in your real life, in a kind of safe dreamlike way. But you will meet these things eventually.

Horror fiction aims to allow the audience to confront things that they know are part of life, but are hoping to not have to face for as long as possible. Things like death, separation, deformity, madness, and disease. Many of these act as the antagonist in horror fiction, not in the same way as, say, Freddy Krueger, but because they represent the nameless, faceless, and quite painful realities of life that most people try to push out of their minds.

Horror fiction makes you face these things in relation to the strong emotions that they convey, and this is especially true in Japanese horror fiction where emotion and atmosphere are central to the storytelling experience. In this article, let’s look at some of the primary emotions Japanese horror explores and how they contribute to its distinctive sense of

Fear

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Photo by: Timothy Takemoto

Okay, what is it that Yoda said about the path to the dark side? Anger leading to hate and hate leading somewhere and then something else? Oh, whatever, the point here is that, for the purposes of this article, fear is the dark side of the Forcebecause everything leads to fear. Pure primal fear is the emotion that horror fiction is trying to elicit from its audience and all of the other emotions we’re going to discuss are a means to that end.

Fear is typically defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” In horror fiction, the fear typically comes in two different flavors: slow-moving disorienting creepiness, and in-your-face fight-or-flight fright (say that five times fast). The former is like seeing a shadowy figure in the distance that disappears after you briefly turn away. You have no way of assessing if this is in fact a threat, but it puts you ill at ease anyway. What’s more, the fact that you don’t know if a stimulus is a threat makes you even more uneasy than if you just knew in the first place. The latter type of fear is more obvious. You know just what you are in for and it ain’t good, like having a chainsaw-wielding maniac run you down in a

Rage

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Photo by: Timothy Takemoto

Rage is an important component in the Japanese horror story as it is often a powerful vehicle for the plot. Rage is either treated as a very problematic character flaw that sets dark events into motion, or as a force so powerful and binding that it causes the spirits of the dead to linger on earth to carry about their revenge—sometimes both in the same story.

In “Ju-On: the Grudge” for example, Takeo Sayeki murders his wife Kayako, son Toshio, and cat Maru in a fit of jealous Rage after discovering Kayako’s love for another man. The indignant rage Kayako feels at her family’s brutal murder coalesces into a curse that binds their souls to this earth as vengeful ghosts.

Rage in the case of the jealous husband character is a used as a device that causes deviation from normalcy. Japan is often a very traditionalist country that values things being in routine to create harmony. Anything that deviates from the routine is represented in folklore to be a negative change and worthy of scorn. In this case, rage is used as a mechanism for a heinous crime to be enacted. In essence, it is a cautionary tale towards temperance and controlled emotion in order to avoid disastrous results. Very Buddhist.

As for Kayako, her rage is shown as both her tether to the world of the living and as the seed of a powerfully destructive curse. This makes her an onryō, a type of vengeful Japanese ghost whose origins date back to the 8th century. Again, it is a cautionary tale to:

  1. Treat others nicely and coexist in society—you don’t know what they’re capable of.
  2. Keep your emotions in check because there is nothing but chaos to be wrought.

Rage scares us as humans because it is the emotion that is the most likely to be violent or destructive. It’s also possible to be so blinded by rage that people can find themselves doing things that they wouldn’t otherwise do. Powerful emotions like this form the basis of horror because not only do they make villains scary, but they can also make you scary to yourself, leading to regret and

Sorrow

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Sorrow has a similar role to rage in Japanese horror with quite a few Japanese ghosts being born of extreme sadness and not explicitly rage—such as the ubume. Ubume are ghosts of women who died during childbirth and they return sorrowfully either chanting that they wish they could give birth to their baby, or else swaddling a rock or jizo statue in effigy of the child they never got to hold. That is at least twenty kinds of sad.

Sorrow is employed in contemporary horror very similarly, having bad things happen to good people makes an audience sympathetic and loosens them up to be unsettled. Like the ubume, much of the sorrow in horror comes from characters with powerful feelings of

Love

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When thinking about the components of horror fiction, love probably doesn’t immediately come to mind—but it should. The feeling of love is another powerful emotion that instigates a lot of the events in horror and embodies most of its impact. Back to the first example, if Kayako didn’t fall in love (or at least appear to) with another man then the events likely would have been avoided. Similarly, if Takeo hadn’t been madly in love with his wife (albeit to a controlling and creepy extent) he never would have committed his awful crime.

For the audience, love is primarily the lens through which we interpret our connection with the characters. If a slasher murders a random victim, it’s perhaps scary or off-putting, but it’s different if a slasher murders their spouse.  Now there’s intrigue. Now there’s emotion. Not only that, but it gets us thinking about our own loved ones. Would they ever do this to us? Hopefully not, but that is a scary thought.

In Japan, the exploration of love as a motivator for scares dates as far back as the onryō, many of them found themselves in their incorporeal predicament because of love one way or another. In the 17th century one of the most popular tales of eerie affection came to light. In the story of “Botan Dōrō,” a widowed samurai falls for a woman who walks by his house at nights holding a peony lantern. They meet often (she visits at dusk and must leave before dawntypically that’s a red flag) and promise themselves to one another. The samurai’s neighbor becomes suspicious and sneaks in at night to check on him. She finds him sleeping with a skeleton. For his own protection, the neighbor locks him in the house and places a warding charm to prevent the ghost from gaining access. His ethereal lover is no longer able to enter, but she calls to him from outside. Eventually, the samurai decides that he loves the ghost too much to resist and leaves to be with her. The two lovers retire to the woman’s abode, a temple grave. The next morning the samurai’s dead body is found there embracing the woman’s skeleton.

For more modern explorations of love in Japanese horror fiction, turn your attention to who else but the horror manga godfather, Junji Ito. The film “Love Ghost,” based on one of his manga works, explores many of the ways that love can interact with, despite horrifying scenarios. His multi-part manga and movie series about an evil entity known as Tomie is another good exploration of the concept. The titular Tomie, a deathless monster in the guise of a gorgeous woman, has unearthly beauty that causes any man who beholds her to fall madly in love with her and deep into her manipulative grasp. If you get the chance to check any of those out, I’d encourage you to do so. It might make you think of love first when thinking of horror. After all, two of the biggest emotions that drive Japanese horror fiction are love and

Loneliness

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Photo by: Patrick Makhoul

Despair coming from intense feelings of loneliness and isolation is one of the main vehicles for scares in Japanese horror. Nothing generates fear faster than being in a situation where you feel that you need help and there’s no one there to save you. We can’t help it, we’re social animals. This sense can be created by positioning your character in situations where he or she is alone and in harm’s way, but more often than not it’s also helped by the use of claustrophobic environments.

This is done in part by choice of settingsmall dilapidated houses or apartment buildings, empty hallways in abandoned buildings, dark corridors down Tokyo side streetsbut visual mediums have additional tricks to employ. In cinema, the use of low angle shots help create a sense of isolation by cutting off the peripheral views and making the subject look encased by the surroundings. Color palette can also be used. Saturating the frame with browns, greens, and blues creates a dark tone that is reminiscent of smog and urban sprawl making the characters seem alone in a larger, uncaring environment. Manga has its own set of tricks because panel size, panel spacing, and use of form and line can all make environments seem to shrink around their subjects.

This idea of isolation or exile can be particularly effective for ghost stories. Let’s take these two cases for example, because, yes, Japanese horror has at least two cases of women being thrown into a well: Sadako Yamamura from “Ringu” and Okiku from the classic ghost story “Banchō Sarayashiki.” These two, when they inevitably return as ghosts, are not only spiritually exiled from the world, but physically exiled due to having their bodies thrown into the confines of a well. This allows audiences to relate to the isolation and hatred they must have felt. However, it also makes the exiled women themselves things to be feared because of their separation from our world, creating a sense of anxiety and

Insecurity

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Photo by: Xtream_i

The type of insecurity I am referring to here is not necessarily a lack of confidence in oneself (although that can be a trait of a horror character seeing as it can make protagonists sympathetic or give antagonists vile motivations) but of a driving desire for stability that horror tends to flip right on its head. People have a tendency to desire safety through stability and constancy. The very prospect of horror introduces a force that disrupts just that in the character’s lives. Forces beyond individual control change things and the people are in need of reassurance and security. In this way, insecurity represents a natural human fear of change.

The Japanese are often criticized as a highly xenophobic nation. The claims can be exaggerated, but they aren’t too far from the reality of the situation. Japan is a very homogenized society and is highly custom-based. Foreign things that enter into that culture without appropriation are often unsettling to people that are very much reliant on the status quo. It isn’t just strangers from other nationalities that are unsettling, it is the very idea of strangers and what they represent: that which is unknown. This is based on preconceived notions of a “village” social model where people that would interact on a daily basis would get to know each other. In modern times, Japan’s crowded cities don’t often let that be the case. As Timothy Iles, Assistant Professor of Pacific and Asian Studies at Victoria University, puts it:

Horror represents the inchoate fears of an urban citizenry who daily encounter strangers—countless scores of unknown people, whose motives, desires, and potential capacity for harm remain immeasurable. These unknown people are all potential opponents. They are all potentially in competition for the very things each individual wants, yet whose true desires, because they remain unknown, are potentially far more threatening than they were in the ‘traditional’ pre-modern ‘village’ social model

This insecurity is a big component of Japanese horror. This is the reason that most modern Japanese horror stories play up the urban environments and the difficulties of everyday life. The instability that change represents is also the reason why many turn of the 21st century Japanese horror films have a technological aspect: “Chakushin Ari” (2003)  deals with the proliferation of cellular phones, “Kairo” (2001) deals with computer technology, and “Ringu” (1998) with home video . The rapid advancement in technology changes the landscape and that unsettles people who are hoping that everything will be the same, and that everything will be okay.

If you take this emotion to its extreme you get a sense of paranoia and delusion that can also make for very effective horror characters—characters that become obsessively afraid and let that become their downfall. If you have the time to sink into a 13-episode anime series, I’d recommend “Paranoia Agent” for this understanding of how insecurity and anxiety, as well as the prevalence of information technology, can lead to a gripping paranoia with widespread consequences. Also, it’s a great show.

Delving Further into the Darkness

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It’s important to look at how horror functions not just at the intellectual level but at the emotional level. Next time you are watching a Japanese horror movie or thumbing through a Junji Ito manga think about the ways the creators might be using these emotional themes to get under your skin and creep you out. Again, I think there’s more that I can say about Japanese horror (can you tell I’m a fan?), so join me next time when I go another step deeper and talk about motifs and iconography. Until then, I urge you to put aside some time in this new year to dive into some Japanese horror!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile – 640×1136]

Sources:

  • Balmain, C, (2006) “Inside the Well of Loneliness: Towards a Definition of the Japanese Horror Film” Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies
  • Benneville, J. S, (1919) “The Mechanics of Japanese Ghost Stories” Asia: Journal of the American Asiatic Association, Volume 19
  • Iles, T, (2005) “The Problem of Identity in Contemporary Japanese Horror Films” Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies

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Bushido: Way of Total Bullshit http://www.tofugu.com/2014/12/08/bushido-way-total-bullshit/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/12/08/bushido-way-total-bullshit/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 17:00:23 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=44471 The term bushido calls forth ghosts of Japan’s hallowed samurai class.  A class so bent on preserving honor, they’d rather slit their own bellies in ritualistic suicide than live a shamed existence. In The Last Samurai, bushido melds with Nathan Algren’s soul, curing the troubled American of alcoholism, war trauma, and self-loathing.  What powerful medicine!  A reinvigorated, purified Algren turns […]

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The term bushido calls forth ghosts of Japan’s hallowed samurai class.  A class so bent on preserving honor, they’d rather slit their own bellies in ritualistic suicide than live a shamed existence.

In The Last Samurai, bushido melds with Nathan Algren’s soul, curing the troubled American of alcoholism, war trauma, and self-loathing.  What powerful medicine!  A reinvigorated, purified Algren turns his back on his employers to join rebel samurai bent on defending bushido, their dignified honor-code of loyalty, benevolence, etiquette, and self-control.

At least, that’s what popular culture would have us believe.  In reality the term bushido went unrecognized until the early twentieth century, long after Nathan Algren’s fictitious character joined the factual Satsuma Rebellion and years after the ousting of the samurai class.  In all likelihood samurai never even uttered the word.

It may come as an even greater surprise that bushido once received more recognition abroad than in Japan.  In 1900 writer Inazo Nitobe’s published Bushido: The Soul of Japan in English, for the Western audience.  Nitobe subverted fact for an idealized imagining of Japan’s culture and past, infusing Japan’s samurai class with Christian values in hopes of shaping Western interpretations of his country.

Though initially rejected in Japan, Nitobe’s ideology would be embraced by a government driven war machine.  Thanks to its empowering vision of the past, the extreme nationalist movement embraced bushido, exploiting The Soul of Japan to pave Japan’s way to fascism in the buildup to World War II.

And so too The Last Samurai exploits Inazo Nitobe’s depiction of bushido, renewing movie-going audiences’ admiration for a venerable concept and glorified past that never truly existed.  But as bushido’s precarious history proves, the truth often takes a back seat to more fashionable depictions, whether it be to change Western perceptions, fuel a fascist war agenda, or sell movie tickets.

Inazo Nitobe

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Photo by あばさー

Born in 1862 in Iwate Prefecture, Inazo Nitobe was just a baby when the final remnants of Japan’s ruling samurai class came to an end.  Despite being of the samurai class themselves, Nitobe’s family remained far removed from the battlefields and warrior culture of old Japan, gaining recognition as pioneers of irrigation and farming techniques.

At age nine Nitobe moved to Tokyo to live with his uncle where he began intensive English study.  A unique subject of study at the time, Nitobe would become fluent in the language.  In Death, Honor, and Loyalty: The Bushido Ideal, Cameron Hurst writes, “The Christian son of a late Tokugawa samurai… who was educated largely in English at special schools early in the Meiji era, Nitobe… could communicate with foreigners to a degree that even the most ardent exponents of kokusaika (internationalization) today would envy” (511).

In 1877 Nitobe made his way to Hokkaido where he enrolled in Sapporo Agricultural College.  Created under the influence of William S. Clark, a devout Calvinist from New England, the school served to further solidify Nitobe’s commitment to the Christian faith and he joined Clark’s own “Sapporo Band” of Christians (Oshiro).

In Sapporo, Nitobe’s estrangement from the Japanese society, culture and people grew. Japan’s northernmost island remained largely unsettled wilderness and shared few cultural connections with mainland Japan.  “Hokkaido was only just becoming a real part of Japan,” Hurst writes, “so Nitobe was essentially isolated spatially, culturally, religiously, and even linguistically from the currents of Meiji Japan” (512).

Following his graduation from Sapporo Agricultural College, Nitobe began graduate school in Tokyo. Unsatisfied with his studies, in 1884 Nitobe moved to the United States and enrolled in John Hopkins University.  After graduating, the globetrotting Nitobe would bounce around Germany, the United States and Sapporo and even become the under-secretary general of the League of Nations (Samuel Snipes).

Unique to his era, Nitobe’s knowledge of English and Western literature remains impressive even by today’s standards.  Oleg Benesch, author of the in-depth study Bushido: The Creation of a Martial Ethic In Late Meiji Japan writes that Nitobe grew to be “more comfortable in English than Japanese” and eventually “lamented his lack of education in Japanese history and religion” (159).

It was during his time in California that Nitobe penned Bushido: The Soul of Japan. The contrived imagining of the samurai class reshaped Western perceptions of Japan and would eventually come to redefine Japan’s own interpretation of bushido and the samurai class.

Playing Catch-Up: The Meji Restoration

Japanese-House-of-Peers-old-parliament

While Nitobe immersed himself in Western religion and culture, the Japanese government continued its own international pursuit – modernization.  Professor Kenichi Ohno of GRIPS explains, “The top national priority was to catch up with the West in every aspect of civilization, i.e. to become a ‘first-class nation’ as quickly as possible” (43).

Years of isolationism meant Japan had fallen behind the world powers in terms of technology and military power. When Commodore Matthew Perry flexed his black ships’ military muscle in the early 1850s, Japan had no alternative but to accept his terms.  In professor Ohno’s words, resulting exposure to foreign technology and culture “shattered their (Japan’s) pride,” making Japanese view their own nation as backward and out of step with the world (43).

Japan’s Meiji government looked to the West not to Westernize per se, but to become a powerful nation on the world stage.  While Nitobe doted over Western culture, the Meiji government devised a three pronged plan for modernization that focused on “industrialization (economic modernization), introducing a national constitution and parliament (political modernization), and external expansion (military modernization)” (Ohno 18).

Westernized-Samurai-1866-meiji-era

Photo by World Imaging

Political modernization would bring an end to Japan’s feudal system and therefore its ruling samurai class.  New policies stripped the samurai of privileges and blurred class separation.  Voyages in World History explains: 

The Meji reforms replaced the feudal domains of daimyo with regional prefectures under control of the central government.  Tax collection was centralized to solidify the government’s economic control…  All the old distinctions between samurai and commoners were erased: ‘The samurai abandoned their swords… and non-samurai were allowed to have surnames and ride horses.’ The rice allowances on which samurai families had lived were replaced by modest cash stipends.  Many former samurai had to face the indignity of looking for work. (686)

Meanwhile, by strengthening its military Japan sought to protect its interests and become a player on the world stage.  And Japan’s efforts saw quick results.  Kenichi Ohno writes, “In the military arena, Japan won a war against China in 1894-95 and began to invade Korea (it was later colonized in 1910). Japan also fought a victorious war with the Russian Empire in 1904-05.”  These victories demonstrated Japan’s growing military might and gave the nation a needed confidence boost.  Victory over Russia, a “Western nation,” proved Japan had become global power.  The world took notice.

Class mobility and economic freedoms ushered in by ending the samurai led feudal system spurred Japan’s furious growth.  The Meiji government’s plans had begun to bear fruit.

Nitobe’s Ulterior Motives

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Photo by Okinawa Soba

While the Meiji government plotted to strengthen Japan’s presence on the world stage, Nitobe sought to change Westerners’ perceptions of Japan from within.

At the time, Westerners knew little about the formerly isolated nation.  Rumors about Japan – a feudalistic society whose armies relied on swords and bows and arrows – painted the picture of an unsophisticated, archaic island nation.  In From Chivalry to Terrorism Leo Braudy writes, “Before World War I, many in Europe viewed Japan as a warrior society unadulterated by either commerce or the control of civilian politicians, with it’s aristocratic military class still intact” (467).

Nitobe put faith in the power of his pen and began to write.  By simplifying the most eloquent, ideal aspects of Japanese culture into terms the West could relate to, he hoped to paint a new, noble image of Japan.  Writing in English only served to make Nitobe’s contrivance more deliberate.  Maria Navarro and Alison Beeby explain,

The original text (of Nitobe’s book) was written in English, which was not Nitobe’s mother tongue… Writing in a foreign language obliges one to “filter” one’s own emotions and modes of expression…  It allows the writer to express more empathy for the ‘other culture’ (in Nitobe’s case Western culture). Furthermore, one is much more conscious of what one wants to say, or what one wishes to avoid saying, in order to make the work more acceptable for intended readers.

In 1899 Nitobe, “the self-described bridge between Japan and the West” published what would later become his most famous work, a romanticized, Westernized summation of the ideals of Japan’s governing class, Bushido: The Soul of Japan (Braudy 467).

Christianity and the Taming of the Samurai

Japanese-Christians-in-Western-clothing

Photo by World Imaging

Bushido: The Soul of Japan represents a synthesis of Japanese culture with Western ideology. Nitobe tames Japan’s samurai class by fusing it with European chivalry and Christian morality.   “I wanted to show…” Nitobe admitted, “that the Japanese are not really so different (from people of the West)” (Benesch 165).  Although it saw release years after the extinction of the samurai, Bushido: The Soul of Japan presents an original idealization and idolization of the samurai class.

Yet Nitobe shapes the concept of bushido around principles of Western culture, not the other way around as might be expected.  Bushido: The Soul of Japan offers a suspicious lack of references to Japanese source material and historical fact.  Instead, the student of English literature relies on Western works and personalities to explain the bushido’s principals.  Nitobe quotes the likes of Mencius, Frederick the Great, Burke, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, Shakespeare, James Hamilton and Bismarck – sources that that have no connection to Japan’s history or culture.

In his self-proclaimed formulation of The Soul of Japan, the devout Christian references the Western Bible more than any other sources.  Somehow Nitobe sees Bible quotes as appropriate and satisfactory support for bushido.  “The seeds of the Kingdom (of God) as vouched for and apprehended by the Japanese mind,” Nitobe declares, “blossomed in Bushido.”

Nitobe spends much of the book ascribing bushido to the tenets of Christianity.  Politeness, he quotes Corinthians 313, “suffereth long, and is kind; envieth not, vaunteth not itself” (50).  Bushido’s benevolence, Nitobe explains, is “embodied by the Christian Red Cross movement, the medical treatment of a fallen foe (46).”

Even a quote by Saigo Takamori, the legendary samurai, takes on a Biblical aura.   “Heaven loves me and others with equal love; therefore with the love wherewith though lovest thyself, love others” (78).  Nitobe himself admits, “Some of those sayings reminds us of Christian expostulations, and show us how far in practical morality natural religion can approach the revealed” (78).

Nitobe even goes as far as to paint the samurai as Japan’s heavenly sent forefathers, holy mechanisms that shaped Japan.  “What Japan was she owed to the samurai.  They were not only the flower of the nation, but its root as well.  All the gracious gifts of Heaven flowed through them” (Nitobe 92).

Giving Soul to Suicide and the Sword

samurai-armor

Photo by WikiImages

In his taming of the samurai, Nitobe even justifies their most savage attributes – seppuku (also known as harakiri or ritual suicide) and the sword – under the guise of Christian mores.  And it all starts with the soul.

Nitobe declares that in both Western and Japanese custom, the soul is housed in the stomach.  “They (The Bible’s Joseph, David, Isaiah and Jeremiah) all and each endorsed the belief prevalent among the Japanese that in the abdomen was enshrined the soul” (113).

This assertion allows Nitobe to exalt suicide to a holy act, “The highest estimate placed upon honor was ample excuse with many for taking one’s own life,” before challenging Western readers to resist his interpretation, “I dare say that many good Christians, if only they are honest enough, will confess the fascination of, if not positive admiration for, the sublime composure with which Cato, Brutus, Petronius, and a host of other ancient worthies terminated their own earthly existence.” (113-114).

The sword receives similar treatment and Nitobe declares swordsmiths to be artists, not artisans; swords not weapons, but representations of their owners’ souls.   He explains:

The very possession of the dangerous instrument imparts to him (the samurai) a feeling and air of self-respect and responsibility.  ‘He beareth not the sword in vain’ (Romans 13:4).  What he carries in his belt is a symbol of what he carries in his mind and heart – loyalty and honor…  In times of peace .. it is worn with no more use than a crosier by a bishop or a sceptre by a king (132-133).

Nitobe’s skilled manipulation dignifies and venerates even Japan’s most “savage” customs.  The author’s dedication to and knowledge of Christianity and Western culture allowed him to forge a propaganda tool under the guise of historic fact. Nitobe hoped Bushido: The Soul of Japan would change Western opinions of Japan, raising the country’s status in the world’s eyes.

The Soul of Japan‘s Reception in The West

bushido-book-cover

Photo by Rob at Houghton

Bushido: The Soul of Japan became a hit with Western readers.  “The slim volume,” Tim Clark writes in The Bushido Code: The Eight Virtues of the Samurai, “went on to become an international bestseller,” influencing some of the era’s most influential men.  Nitobe’s treatise so impressed Teddy Roosevelt that he “bought sixty copies to share with friends” (Perez 280).

Although almost exclusively read by scholars, Nitobe’s influence seeped into the Western conscious.  Braudy writes, “This view of Bushido was an attractive image for Westerners…  Balden-Powell has included bushido as an ideal code of honor in his exhortation to the Boy Scouts.  Parliamentary groups… invoked the samurai as kindred spirit and writers on war preparedness haled up the samurai ethos of the Japanese army as a model to follow” (467).

Nitobe’s account shocked readers by providing a glimpse into an unfamiliar, misunderstood world.  With nothing to offer a counter point, Western readers accepted Bushido: The Soul of Japan as a factual representation of Japanese culture, and it remained the West’s quintessential work on the topic for decades.

The Soul of Japan‘s Reception in Japan

angry-go-player

Photo by Lx 121

Bushido: The Soul of Japan received a different reaction in Japan.  Although bushido had yet to enter Japan’s mainstream consciousness, scholars’ interpretations of the concept varied and few agreed with Nitobe’s representation.  In fact,”Nitobe stated that he resisted the Japanese translation of his book for years out of fear of what readers might think” (Benesch 157).  Many of those readers attacked Nitobe’s work for its agenda and inaccuracies.

Oleg Benesch explains that most Japanese scholars did not take Nitobe’s work seriously:

At the time of its initial publication, Nitobe’s Bushido: The Soul Of Japan received a lukewarm reception from those Japanese who read the English edition.  Tsuda Sokichi wrote a scathing critique in 1901, rejecting Nitobe’s central arguments.  According to Tsuda… the author knew very little about his subject.  Nitobe’s equation of the term bushido with the soul of Japan was flawed, as bushido could only be applied to a single class… Tsuda further chastised Nitobe for not distinguishing between historical periods. (155)

Many of Nitobe’s contemporaries subscribed to an orthodox bushido based 0n Japan’s ancient history.  This purely Japanese form of bushido was seen as unique and superior to any foreign ideology.  Orthodox writer Tetsujiro Inoue went as far as declaring European chivalry as “nothing but woman-worship” and even derided Confucianism as an inferior Chinese import (Benesch 179).  The orthodox school of thought dismissed Nitobe’s”corrupted,” Christianized version of bushido.

To complicate matters, at the time of Bushido: The Soul of Japan’s release,  few Japanese even recognized the term bushido.  In Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai Mamoru Oshii explains, “Bushido was not known among Japanese people…  It appeared in literature, but was not a commonly used word.”

Benesch supports Oshii’s argument:

Indeed, (Bushido: The Soul of Japan) was only the second book-length specific treatment of the subject in modern Japan…  Only four works in the database mention the term before 1895.  The number of publications increases from a total of three in 1899 and 1900 to seven in 1901, six in 1902 and dozens per year from 1903 onward. (153)

Nitobe’s treatise predated bushido as an understandable term and therefore appeared alien to its potential Japanese audience.

To make matters worse, Nitobe’s book romanticized an old fashioned and exploitative class system everyone but the samurai hoped to leave behind.  Accounts of samurai abusing the lower classes run rampant.  Although rare, samurai could lawfully kill members of the lower class (kirisutegomen) for “surliness, discourtesy, and inappropriate conduct” (Cunnigham).

With such inequities, it’s no surprise the lower classes felt no love for Japan’s elite.  Benesch writes, “The disdain most commoners had for the samurai has been described as legendary” (27). Not far removed from the inequities and immobility of the former class structure, the common people had no interest in idolizing or celebrating their former ruling class.

However, Nitobe wrote for Western audiences and therefore never intended for Bushido: The Soul of Japan to be read by Japanese readers.  Nitobe wrote in English, referenced English sources and romanticized facts to satisfy his agenda and influence Western minds.  He did not expect people with critical knowledge on the subject to read his work.  “I did not intend [Bushido: The Soul of Japan] for a Japanese audience,” Nitobe admitted (Benesch 165).

Critique of Inazo Nitobe

Miyamoto-Musashi-sneak-attack

Photo by  KoS

Nitobe’s “fear of what (Japanese) readers might think” proved sound when Bushido: The Soul of Japan received heavy criticism in Japan.  However, Nitobe soon found himself under attack as well. Many Japanese scholars accused the author of being unqualified to write on bushido, questioning his expertise on Japanese history and culture.

Unlike the era’s other bushido theorists, Nitobe inhabited the outskirts of his own country and culture. He grew up studying English, sheltered from Japanese culture in Hokkaido.  Nitobe would go on to live abroad, marrying an American woman and dedicating himself to Christianity. Although he eventually returned to Japan and took work as a professor, it was long after Bushido: The Soul of Japan had been written and published. Critics claimed that Nitobe’s alienation from Japanese culture meant he lacked the necessary historical and cultural knowledge to write on an inherently Japanese topic like bushido.

Nitobe’s astounding lack of references to Japanese history and literature add weight to this argument.  Bushido: The Soul of Japan remains curiously void of factual backing, becoming a vehicle for Nitobe’s equivocal ramble and yearning for an imaginary past.

The few Japanese references Nitobe made call his integrity into question. For example, although Saigo Takamori did in fact lead the Satsuma Rebellion, the heroic motivations and suicide Nitobe references were embellished to lionize Saigo as the ideal samurai.

To be fair, many of Nitobe’s critics also ignored factual history and cherry picked data for their own interpretations of bushido.

Many writers on bushido, even in the 20th century, tended to propose their own theories without references to, or regard for, the ideas of other commentators on the subject.  Instead, they gradually relied on carefully selected historical sources and narratives to support their theories. (Benesch 116)

However, Nitobe’s contemporaries’ actions don’t excuse his own.  At its core, Bushido: The Soul of Japan presents baseless conjecture while exposing its author’s detachment from Japanese history and culture.  Nitobe forgoes fact while presenting a wonky rambling on a history he does not and can not support.  While proselytizing a universal morality to gain Japan favor in the West, Nitobe fails to prove bushido’s actual existence.

Give Me That New Old-Time Bushido?

samurai-in-meiji-era

Photo by  T0XiC0k82

Popular culture presents bushido as a concrete moral code so intertwined with Japan’s hallowed samurai class that the two appear inseparable.  But in reality the term bushido did not exist until the twentieth century.  In fact, Nitobe, one of the first scholars to embrace bushido, thought he created the term in 1900.

“Terms like budo (the martial way), bushi no michi (the way of the warrior), and yumiya no michi (the way of the bow and arrow) are far more common,” Benesch writes (7). Although these terms prove that warrior ideals had a place in the Japanese consciousness, equating them to bushido would be inaccurate.

The concept bushido came into use during the Meiji era but wouldn’t gain widespread acknowledgment until Meiji’s end.  Despite popular imagery, ancient samurai did not write about or discuss bushido.  Dishonorable acts didn’t end careers and lives as romanticized histories lead us to believe.

That isn’t to say that ancient Japan lacked laws or moral codes – claiming such would be ridiculous.   Rosalind Wiseman puts it best in her book Queen Bees and Wannabes, “We all know what an honor code is.  It’s a set of behavioral standards including discipline, character, fairness, and loyalty for people to uphold and live up to”(Wiseman 191).  From small communities like workplaces and clubs to large institutions like religions and nations, every culture has honor codes and concepts of morality.

But popular representations of bushido, samurai, and ancient Japan depict a clear and strictly enforced code of honor.  To dishonor oneself was to commit spiritual and physical suicide.  Popularized after the samurai class’s demise, books like Bushido: The Soul of Japan and Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure help facilitate this myth, making it seem as if samurai lived and acted according to a literal, clearly defined set of rules that never existed.

committing-seppuku

Photo by Chris 73

Some researchers cite “kakun” (家訓), or family house rules, as the origin of bushido.  “In many cases the kakun were meant to serve as ethical and behavioral guidelines for the sons or heirs of the writers and often reflect concerns regarding the prosperity and the continuity of the clan” (Henry Smith).

Attributing family kakun to an overarching moral code is a leap most researchers don’t take.  Benesch comments, “Bushido receives little or no mention in postwar scholarship on medieval house codes… Evidence indicates that the association of bushido with (kakun) is a product of late Meiji-era interpretations” (8). Passed down from generation to generation kakun varied greatly by family. The scrolls became family heirlooms, not a set of rules to live by.

Early discourse on the subject exposes how vague warrior class values had been.  “An examination of source materials and later scholarship relating to samurai morality does not reveal the existence of a single, broadly-accepted, bushi specific ethical system at any point in pre-modern Japanese history” (Benesch 14).  Besides, warriors focused on victory and survival – battle didn’t lend itself to counterproductive codes of honor.

Any laws or moral codes put into place during the Edo era actually served to tame Japan’s wild, unprincipled warrior class as they moved from the battlefield to desk jobs.  “The samurai were too busy fighting in earlier centuries, and only began to concern themselves with ethics in the relatively peaceful Edo period” (15).

With no battles to wage, the Tokugawa government relegated swords to ornaments of class, the ultimate status symbols.  Samurai became upper-class bureaucrats with leisure time to spend on philosophical pursuits.  Ideas of honor and etiquette frowned upon disloyalty and senseless violence, playing into the Tokugawa government’s strategy to maintain control over a united Japan.

The Honorable Samurai: Fact or Fiction?

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Bushido had never existed as an honor code or term in ancient Japan as Bushido: The Soul of Japan implied.  Nitobe’s representation of the samurai class proves itself just as contrived.  Like all human beings, samurai morals varied by individual.

Honorable Warriors?

hokusai-samurai-siege

Photo by Guidod

Historical accounts show that samurai did not follow an honor code, which would have been an impractical obstacle to survival, victory, and comfortable living.  Timon Screech writes “We are talking mythologies. The belief that samurai ever fought to the death does not survive investigation, nor the claim that they made the sacrifice of disembowelment when atonement was required. The motto the way of the samurai is death was invented long after death had ceased to be on most samurai’s minds or a reality in their lives… they were bureaucrats.”

Although depicted as common practice, seppuku was not the mainstay of the samurai as Nitobe depicted. “It hurt too much,” Screech explains.  “Suicide actually took the form of a pretended stab carried out with a wooden sword, or even a paper fan, at which a signaled assistant would sever the head from behind, cleanly and painlessly.”

Benesch writes that seppuku was “limited to hopeless situations in which a defeated warrior was certain to be subjected to torture, a common practice at the time” (16).  Ignoring seppuku’s factual history, writers romanticized the practice and exalted it to the ultimate form of honor.

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Photo by Lepidlizard

And what of the sword, the so-called soul of the samurai?  Charles Sharam explains, “Prior to [the Tokugawa era], the samurai were in fact mounted archers who were highly skilled with the bow and arrow, occasionally using other weapons if necessary. For the greater part of their history, the sword was not an important weapon to the samurai.”

Depicted as the antithesis of the sword in modern media, firearms came to represent the abandonment of “samurai values.”  The loud foreign weapons embodied a loud, dirty (literally due to the gunpowder and smoke), dishonorable way of killing from afar.  But what about archery, the samurai’s original weapon of choice?  Though elegant, bows fired projectiles and killed from afar – just like firearms.  Shouldn’t archery be viewed as just as dishonorable as guns?

Furthermore, samurai had the privilege and advantage of mounted combat.  In fact, Oshii theorizes that Miyamoto Mushashi created his legendary niten ichi (二天一), or two sworded technique for better balance and more efficient killing from the saddle. Both the shooting and cutting down of foot-soldiers from a favorable mounted position clashes with the honorable image of the grounded sword fighter popularized by modern depictions of the samurai.

In Bushido: The Soul of Japan Nitobe describes loyalty as the shining attribute of the samurai class.  However, samurai sullied Japanese history with rampant examples of disloyalty.  G. Cameron Hurst III writes:

In fact, one of the most troubling problems of the premodern era is the apparent discrepancy between… codes exhorting the samurai to practice loyalty and the all-too-common incidents of disloyalty which racked medieval Japanese warrior life. It would not be an exaggeration to say that most crucial battles in medieval Japan were decided by the defection – that is, the disloyalty – of one or more of the major vassals of the losing general. (517)

And although bushido denounces materialism as a corruptive force, samurai weren’t the epitome of anti-materialism that bushido writers like Nitobe described.  Benesch explains:

Loyalty required payment.  Reciprocity was expected at every stage of the process… and most samurai would have considered their own lives to be considerably more important than the lives of their superiors…  (Furthermore) repeated looting of Kyoto evidenced of a lack of ethics, and the great importance warriors placed on appearance (represented) the antithesis of the popular image of the austere and frugal samurai. (19-21)

Honorable Lifestyles?

Samurai-in-edo

Photo by WTCA

Tokugawa ushered in an unprecedented era of peace that forever altered the live’s of Japan’s warrior class.  Many samurai moved from the battlefield to civil service positions.  As society’s upper class, these samurai held cushy positions in the new era’s bureaucracy.  Swords became symbols of status, not battle.  With ample leisure time, these samurai enjoyed hobbies such as tea ceremony and calligraphy.  Others spent time in the pleasure quarters.

While peasants toiled in the fields to feed the nation and pay taxes and merchants struggled to maintain a respectable position in society, the samurai worked desk jobs for rice stipends.  Disposable income afforded samurai the luxuries of materialism and the former warriors became Japan’s most fashionable class.  In other words, samurai represented “the one percent” (actually  six to eight percent according to Don Cunningham) of the Tokugawa era.

Satsuma-Palace-Destruction

But not all samurai enjoyed life in the upper class.  Low status samurai made small stipends that barely afforded daily living.  Bound by the Tokugawa era’s strict laws that forbade outside unemployment, some of these samurai renounced their status to become artisans or farmers (Cunningham).

Still other Tokugawa era samurai could not find employment.  These vagrants often turned to dishonorable acts.  As Don Cunningham explains in Taiho-jutsu: Law and Order in the Age of the Samurai, “Facing unemployment and an ill-defined role within their new society, many samurai resorted to criminal activities, disobedience, and defiance” (Cunningham).  With few prospects and mounting frustrations, these samurai dressed and spoke flamboyantly, harassed lower classes, joined gangs, and brawled in the streets.

Whether elite civil servants or unemployed ruffians, Tokugawa era samurai did little to reinforce Nitobe’s depictions of an honor-bound class that set a high moral standard for other classes to aspire to.

Honorable Interpretations?

Battle-of-Taharazaka

Photo by World Imaging

The loss of status ushered in by the Meiji government did not please those samurai accustomed to the Tokugawa system.  Benesch states, “The samurai found their social status increasingly challenged by economically powerful commoners, some of whom were also purchasing or receiving samurai privileges such as the right to wear swords” (24).  Rendered useless in an age of peace even the sword, “the soul” and symbol of the samurai had lost meaning.  New class mobility allowed the uppity lower classes to challenge the samurai in both wealth and status.

As the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 proves, the changes pushed some samurai to take action.  “Gradually eliminating their stipends and special status…  created a large group of disgruntled shizoku (samurai), a number of whom gathered around Saigo Takamori and instigated rebellion.”

Romanticized histories like Bushido: The Soul of Japan and The Last Samurai, depict Saigo as a defender of truth, honor, and the purity of the warrior’s code.  In truth, holdouts from a bygone era rebelled, attempting to preserve their status and cushy way of life that included rice stipends, property, and nepotism.  Professor Ohno points out:

The previous samurai class, now deprived of their rice salary… were particularly unhappy with the new government which was established, ironically by young samurai…  Silk and tea found huge markets, soaring prices enriched farmers.  Enriched farmers bought Western clothes.  The merchant class grew, particularly in Yokohama… Inflation soared (and) samurai and urban populations suffered. (41-43)

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Photo by Diogo151

Low ranking and unemployed samurai, many of whom pushed for changes, saw the Meiji era as a change for the better.  A weakened class structure meant poor or unemployed samurai could seek fortune elsewhere.  The abolition of the heredity system allowed for mobility.  Suddenly those in high positions found incentive to work hard.  Although a minority, Saigo and other top ranking samurai had the most to lose and rebelled as a result.

Lucky for Nitobe, honor is in the eye of the beholder, a concept open to interpretation.  For example Nitobe cites The 47 Ronin Story as the ultimate example of loyalty, but others interpret it as a cowardly sneak attack.  Japan celebrates Miyamoto Musashi as its most skilled sword-fighter, yet he arrived late to duels and “dishonorably” sneak-attacked opponents.  Nitobe describes the Satsuma Rebellion as a battle of honor, not a rebellion driven by the preservation of class status.

Although Nitobe and his fellow writers lament the corruption and destruction of bushido by modernity, the concept never existed as they describe.  Samurai were not the loyal, honorable, bastions of bushido that they have come to represent.  Charles Sharam writes in The Samurai: Myth Versus Reality, “Samurai were a superfluous burden on Japanese civilization… that contributed little to society but drained a considerable amount of wealth. That said, their elimination in the years of the Meiji Restoration was most definitely warranted for the betterment of the nation.”

Fascism – Nitobe’s Unintended Consequence

Japanese-Navy-in-Nanking

Just decades after ousting the samurai, the Japanese government would find a new use for its former ruling class.  Despite military victories abroad, Japanese officials felt troops lacked confidence and fighting spirit.  Bushido’s image of honorable samurai fighting to the death provided the solution (Oshii).  The ideology that changed the West’s perception of Japan would now serve to fuel fascism and the Japanese war machine.  

According to Nitobe, Japan came from a long line of honorable, brave, and capable warriors that could be extended to all classes.  He wrote, “In manifold ways has bushido filtered down from the social class where it originated, and acted as leaven among the masses, furnishing a moral standard for the whole people” (Nitobe ).

Trickle down bushido meant even the lowliest citizen could aspire to and attain the glory and honor of a samurai.   The warrior spirit was ingrained in the Japanese soul.  By taking bushido mainstream, the Japanese government looked to boost its soldiers’ and citizens’ confidence by applying the ideology among its military and citizenry.

Battle-of-the-Yellow-Sea

Photo by:  PawełMM

Furthermore, bushido justified Japan’s imperialistic cause by demonstrating Japan’s moral and cultural superiority to other nations.  Bushido writer Suzuki Chikara “felt that both Western and Chinese thought were alien to Japan, and that the nation would have to focus on its own ‘true spirit’ and promote ‘national spirit-ism'” (Benesch 101).  Like America’s Manifest Destiny and the religious zealotry that fueled the crusades, romanticized bushido served to motivate and rationalize Japan’s imperialist agenda.

Now that it had found an ideology, the Japanese government had to make bushido “leaven among the masses” or moving propaganda.  “Civilization and Enlightenment” and “Rich Nation, Strong Army” became wartime slogans.  The nationalized education system streamlined curriculums to spread government rhetoric and foster an enlightened, battle-ready citizenry.

The national curriculum changed history to fit government agendas.  “The Edo-period texts that showed the greatest nostalgia for pre-Tokugawa conditions were carefully selected, condensed, and edited to purge them of those elements which ran counter to the national project in the early twentieth century” (Benesch 21).

Mandatory texts romanticized past events and personalities.  According to Oshii, “False images were created out of government necessity.”  Thanks to the government’s agenda, unfamiliar entities like bushido, Hagakure and Miyamoto Musashi entered the mainstream conscious.

Japanese-Beheading-1894

Photo by PawełMM

Nitobe’s Bushido: The Soul of Japan gained popularity in prewar Japan thanks to its ideology and romanticism of the past.  Nitobe declares, “Yamato Damashii, the soul of Japan, ultimately came to express the Volksgeist of the Island Realm” (27).  Defined as the spirit of the people, Hitler embraced Volksgeist for his own fascist agenda (Griffen 255).  Like bushido, Volksgeist celebrated its country’s folk history, cultural heritage and race.  These unrealistic nostalgias for the past sowed the seeds of fascism that would lead to the unspeakable violence and tragedies surrounding World War II.

Bushido would find its ultimate embodiment in kamikaze pilots and foot-soldiers who “honorably” sacrificed themselves for their country.  “Although some Japanese were taken prisoner,” David Powers of BBC writes, “most fought until they were killed or committed suicide.”  As these soldiers’ government issued volumes of Hagakure taught, “Only a samurai prepared and willing to die at any moment can devote himself fully to his lord.”

Nitobe’s Legacy

tom-cruise-is-the-last-samurai-for-real

Although he had never intended it, Nitobe’s fanciful idealization of Japan’s past had obvious fascist implications.  In an eerie prediction of what was to come, Bushido: The Soul of Japan states,

Discipline in self-control can easily go too far.  It can well repress the genial current of the soul.  It can force pliant natures into distortions and monstrosities.  It can beget bigotry, breed hypocrisy, or habituate affections. (110)

Both Nitobe and the imperialist government subverted the truth and exploited Japan’s past for their own ulterior motives.  Thanks to Nitobe, Japan’s ancient soldiers and bureaucrats became honorable, spiritual warriors.  More concerned with loyalty, benevolence, etiquette, and self-control than victory, monetary gains or rank in society, the samurai became a paradigm for readers to aspire to.

But history is ever-changing.  True events fade from memory and years of interpretation’s tincture, both intended and unintended, shape modern understandings of the past.  Blurred mixtures of fact, opinion and fantasy enter mainstream consciousness and gain acceptance as “true” history.

Did Saigo Takamori really commit seppuku at the Satsuma Rebellion’s end?   Did Davy Crockett really fight to his death at the Alamo, or was he executed upon surrender as some historians believe?  Was the Satsuma Rebellion a battle for virtue or for status?  Was the Boston Tea Party a rebellion against unfair taxation or wealthy American merchants fighting to maintain their monopoly over tea?  And what about George Washington cutting down his father’s cherry tree?  And his wooden teeth?

While the truth may never be known or agreed upon, it’s important to question the events and the motivations behind our so-called histories.  In Japan’s case, government manipulated histories, including a glorified samurai class and bushido code, became propaganda that helped inspire a fanatical war machine.

Society often looks for answers to our present problems in the past.  Like the current Tea Party movement’s misinformed exploitation of America’s past, Nitobe’s bushido created a yearning for the unsubstantiated simplicity and purity of a bygone era.

As The Last Samurai proves, Nitobe’s legacy lives on.  Accurate or not, his simplified idealization of bushido and the samurai still garners the world’s admiration.  And as long as it does, popular culture will follow in the footsteps of both Inazo Nitobe and the Japanese government, exploiting their mythical image for its own motives – consumer’s hard earned cash.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[Desktop – 1280×720] ・ [Desktop – 5120×2880] ・ [Mobile – 640×1136]

Sources

  • Benesch, Oleg.  Bushido: The Creation of a Martial Ethic In Late Meiji Japan
  • Braudy, Leo. From Chivalry to Terrorism: War and the Changing Nature of Masculinity. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
  • Cunningham, Don. Taiho-jutsu: Law and Order in the Age of the Samurai. Boston: Tuttle Pub., 2004. Print.
  • Griffin, Roger, and Matthew Feldman. Fascism: Critical Concepts in Political Science. London: Routledge, 2004.
  • Hansen, Valerie, and Kenneth Robert. Curtis. Voyages in World History. Second Ed. Print.
  • Hurst, Cameron G. “Death, Honor, and Loyality: The Bushido Ideal.”Philosophy East and West 40.4 (1990): 511. Web.
  • Miyamoto Musashi: Souken Ni Haseru Yume. Dir. Mizuho Nishikubo. Prod. Mitsuhisa Ishikawa. By Mamoru Oshii. Production I.G., 2009. DVD.
  • Navarro, María Teresa Rodríguez, and Allison Beeby. Self-Censorship and Censorship in Nitobe Inazo, Bushido: The Soul of Japan, and Four Translations of the Work. TTR : Traduction, Terminologie, Rédaction 23.2 (2010): 53.
  • Oshiro, George M. “Nitobe Inazo and the Sapporo Band.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 34.1 (2007): 99-126. Nazan Institute for Religion and Culture.
  • Perez, Louis G. Japan at War: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013. Print.
  • Powers, David. Japan, No Surrender in WWII. BBC.
  • Wiseman, Rosalind. Queen Bees & Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence. New York: Crown, 2002.

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

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

Culture Shock

jizou-statue

Photo by Joel

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

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

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

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

Coping with Culture Shock

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Photo by Pank Seleen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lifelines

woman-on-telephone

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

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

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

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

Workplace Problems

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Photo by ancorena

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

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

Support

support-groups

Photo by Emran Kassim

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

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

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

Finding Different Perspectives

fuji-in-the-bg

Photo by Adam Sharron

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[Phone – 640×1136]

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The Unwritten Rules Of Job-Hunting In Japan http://www.tofugu.com/2014/11/17/japanese-must-wear-black-suit-job-hunting/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/11/17/japanese-must-wear-black-suit-job-hunting/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 17:00:56 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=46486 Like the Eskimos and their many words for snow, there are quite a few words to describe job-hunting in Japan. 職探し (shokusagashi) and 求職 (kyuushoku) have the same meaning as “job-hunting” in English, referring to the general act of looking for employment. 転職活動 (tenshoku-katsudou) refers to looking for a change of occupation. 就職活動 (shuushoku-katsudo, aka “shuukatsu” for short) […]

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Like the Eskimos and their many words for snow, there are quite a few words to describe job-hunting in Japan. 職探し (shokusagashi) and 求職 (kyuushoku) have the same meaning as “job-hunting” in English, referring to the general act of looking for employment. 転職活動 (tenshoku-katsudou) refers to looking for a change of occupation. 就職活動 (shuushoku-katsudo, aka “shuukatsu” for short) refers to the job-hunting process of fresh high-school and college graduates.

The reason for all of these different “job-hunting” rules is thanks to the unique hiring practices of the Japanese. The biggest and uniquest of these has to be the 新卒一括採用 (shinsotsu-ikkatsu-saiyou), where many companies simultaneously hire students in bulk. Before 1997 there was an official date where companies could start their recruitments. If you started before this date it was called 青田刈り (aotagari), which literally means “harvesting rice while still green.” After 1997 the new guidelines suggested that companies should announce recruitments on December 1 (for third year students) and start screening applicants on April 1 (for fourth year students). Just recently, the Abe Cabinet requested these dates get pushed back further so that students could focus on their studies. 2016 graduates will now wait until March 1 for recruitment to begin and August 1 for the screening to start.

Because companies hire all at once, they compete first for the students of the better schools because they tend to have “better” students. This puts more pressure on high school students, because if you can get into a good university you’re more likely to get a good job, even if you don’t do much studying once you get there. This system also makes university students join companies earlier. If you wait too long, there are fewer of these finite jobs left remaining. To put it bluntly, students really feel like they need to get a job during this shinsotsu-ikkatsu-saiyou period. If they don’t, they’ll find it very difficult to find ideal work. They even lose their advantage for the next year, because companies focus on fresh graduates, not one-year-old meat.

The Unwritten Rules Of Job-Hunting In Japan

japan-job-hunting

Already, you can see there is a lot of pressure on students to get a job, with a lot of rules and order to go along with it. It doesn’t stop there, though. A huge list of “unwritten rules” exists for these students too. If you don’t do these things, it’s more unlikely that you’ll be able to get a job. Just in terms of your looks there’s a huge list you need to follow.

Hairstyle

  • Should be short enough for the ears to show and be combed neatly (men).
  • The ears should show and be combed or tied neatly (women).
  • It has to be clean.
  • It shouldn’t be dyed.

Mustache / Beard

Clothing

  • You should wear a typical dark suit appropriate for a job interview.
  • A single suit with two buttons is better than a double suit.
  • The top button must be fastened.
  • The shirt must be white.
  • The necktie should be simple.
  • There should be a neat crease in the trousers.
  • The color of socks should be a similar color to the suit.

Shoes

  • They must be simple and the color should be black or brown.
  • They must be polished well.

Make-up

  • It should be simple and not flashy.
  • It’s better not to use perfume.

Nails

  • Nails must be cut nicely.
  • It’s better not to put on nail polish.

Earring/Piercing

  • It’s better not to wear them.

Necklace

  • Must be simple and not flashy.

Women’s Clothing

  • It should be a typical dark suit appropriate for a job interview.
  • Black, dark blue, or gray is safe.
  • If it’s a skirt, it must not be too short.
  • A white shirt is safe.
  • The pantyhose must not have a run.

Women’s Shoes

  • They must be a simple pair of pumps.
  • Their color should match the color of the suit.
  • The heels shouldn’t be too high.
  • They must be polished well.

Despite being “unwritten rules”, a lot of people think they are very important (and many of these people are on the hiring end of the table). If you don’t do all these things you’re less likely to get hired, and with lifetime employment still “a thing” in Japan, you want to get the best job that you can as early as you can. That or risk living at home in your parent’s shrine playing Pokémon cards for the rest of your life.

The Japanese Job Hunting Suit

japanese-job-hunting-suit

I’d like to focus on one part of this list though, and that is suits. Recently there has been some controversy about this and a lot of raging has occurred on the Japanese internets.

It all started with an article in the “Weekly Toyo Keizai” titled “Choose a black suit for shuukatsu job hunting! – Do not try to stand out with clothes”. This was published on October 28, 2014. According to the article, 90% of recruits wear black suits so it suggests that other applicants should follow the majority to be safe. As an example, they compared the reactions of what an interviewer might think if you wore a “unique” striped suit versus a normal black one:

What would an interviewer think if you wore a stripe designed suit for an interview? The reaction of the interviewer will be one of three types.

  1. They’ll evaluate it as a positive, as in “a striped suit is better because it’s different from others.”
  2. They are not interested in a graduate’s clothes, so they don’t take it for a positive or a negative.
  3. They evaluate it as a negative, as in “he/she doesn’t know manners, wearing a striped suit for a job interview is too flashy to make a good impression.”

We don’t know which reaction is likely because we haven’t researched it, but let’s assume that each case has equal possibility – a three in one chance. In that case, if you wear a black simple suit to an interview, the interviewer wouldn’t react in any particular way since most applicants wear a black plain suit anyways. It’s neither positive or negative, but neutral, so it can be said there is no risk if you choose a black suit.

However, if you wear a striped suit to an interview, an interviewer could get a negative impression of you one-third of the time. It’s quite a big difference, isn’t it? You don’t need to take any risks intentionally. Instead of standing out by appearance, you should try standing out by who you are and impress the interviewers with what you say.

In response to this article, Kenichiro Mogi, a Japanese brain scientist who is a senior researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratories and a visiting processor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, brought forward a counterargument. He tweeted:

What’s the point of this article? A country where recruits wear “uniforms”. I deliberately want to say that this is a worthless and pointless article. It’s stupid. Adults who do or say such things are just idiots (regarding “choose black suits for shuukatsu job hunting!”). -@kenichiromogi

Many people agreed with his views and replied to his tweet.

There are a lot of meaningless rules for appearances in Japan -@ys1dream

This article is really stupid, isn’t it? Is it saying not to demonstrate personality? When I was job-hunting, it took me a while to get a job offer. I ended up hating both the look and wear of my suit and went to an interview in jeans and a jacket with a pair of sneakers in the end… then I got an offer. Wearing casual clothes makes you relaxed, so I recommend it.” by @mii_sang3791

I think it’s correct not to join a company which decides who to hire only by the color of their suits. by @mizutamabeat

Shoji Kokami, a Japanese playwright, director, and filmmaker, agreed to Mr. Mogi’s tweet and stated his opinion in three tweets.

For example, imagine if there was a child who doesn’t want to use a satchel and his/her parents persuaded/begged/commanded/encouraged the child to use it. In that case, I respect parents who can tell their child not “you won’t be bullied if you use the satchel” but “this country doesn’t allow diversity, but hopefully it will change when you will become adult.” I never ever want to be a person who confidently tells a child “when you graduate from university, you will have to wear a recruit suit, which is a satchel for adults, or else you won’t be accepted. It’s all for your benefit.” Instead, I want to be someone who can talk about my true feelings about the recruit suit – containing opinions about both those who agree with the black suit and those who are not comfortable with it. That would be a steady step, though it’s a small step, to reduce this country’s stuffiness and light a fire of hope. I think an adult who can do such things is a wonderful adult. -@KOKAMIShoji

Of course, there were counterarguments to the counterarguments. Things are really getting heated! All just for the color of a suit!

Freelance writer Tomohiro Akagi wrote a blog post with his opinion. Aft first he took it for granted that there are people who feel uncomfortable or question if using black suits is the right thing to do after reading Toyo Keizai’s original article. He said that if a recruit asked him what was best to wear for a job interview, he would tell them to choose a black suit because the purpose of job-hunting is not to wear a colorful suit but to obtain a job offer. If there is a risk in wearing a unique colored suit, then the best advice certainly would be to follow the majority. After making these introductory remarks, he took up the main subject, which is “where do Mr. Mogi and the others’ angers come from?”

Akagi assumed that they got upset with the fact that an individual person with their own personality is treated in a uniform manner because they grew up in the period when people made a strong appeal not to wear school uniforms but to wear whatever they like in their school days. He concluded that their opinion comes from believing that accepting a variety of clothes equals accepting a variety of personalities.

Then he pointed out that graduates who were currently job-hunting were very used to wearing school uniforms so they know how to take advantage of it. Especially “high school girls”, who have become a sort of icon, which means they benefit from a consumer society, which equals having their value recognized by society. Because of that, they don’t have any doubts about wearing the same black suit like everybody else. This means that the “worthlessness” or “stuffiness” that Mr. Mogi and the others insist on only exists in their own generation and there is a high possibility that such ideas don’t exist at all among the current recruits.

In that way, it clears up why I doubted their anger. I guess whoever feels worthless or stuffy from the sight of all applicants wearing black suits are only Mr. Mogi or Mr. Kokami. Therefore, I think the truth of their anger is that they are using recruits as chessmen in a proxy war to fulfill their self-respect.

Sick burn, bro.

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Photo by k14

In the end, though, why are these people fighting about this? Isn’t the most important thing for recruits to think for themselves? If they want to be safe and do what everyone else does, then they can wear a black suit and follow the unwritten rules list. Plus, a simple black suit can be used in many other situations as well. This is an extreme example, but if someone somehow found a great reason to wear a golden suit that can be explained logically, then I think that’s fine too. The interviewer would probably ask you why you chose that suit, and then hopefully you can explain a reasonable answer, using logic, that impresses him or her.

The worst part is that both sides are making groundless claims against the other. Everything is purely opinion. The recruits and the interviewers had hardly any say at all. Even the original article that sparked all of this controversy said that they wrote their thoughts without doing any proper research. Akagi’s response against the individualist side is just as bad. He’s just speculating about how Mr. Mogi and friends think, which doesn’t help anybody.

It’s too bad that we can’t do a study on job-hunting suits this year. I wonder if these articles and arguments even moved the needle in either direction. How many people will wear simple, black suits? How many will try something a little more wild, like *gasp* pinstripes? I hope that on December 1 you think about all the people in Japan searching for a job. And then, I hope they find an occupation that makes them happy and allows them to wear whatever is comfortable for them.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[Phone – 640×1136]

References

The post The Unwritten Rules Of Job-Hunting In Japan appeared first on Tofugu.

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