Tofugu » Society http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Mon, 31 Aug 2015 13:05:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 20 Differences Between Japanese and Western Schools http://www.tofugu.com/2015/08/26/differences-between-japanese-and-american-schools/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/08/26/differences-between-japanese-and-american-schools/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=53345 The majority of your time on JET will be spent at one or more schools. While differences in culture and daily life will likely be quirky and interesting, differences in the education system stand to shock you most of all. The more you know about these differences before you arrive for your first day of […]

The post 20 Differences Between Japanese and Western Schools appeared first on Tofugu.

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

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

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

Students

Transportation

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

Photo by 鈴木 宏一

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

Entrance Exams and Cram School

japanese high schools students pass college entrance exams

Photo by Chris73

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

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

Behavior and Discipline

bosozoku-yanki-cosplay

Photo by Mike

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

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

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

Failing Grades

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

Photo by Caro Wallis

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

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

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

Teachers

Teachers’ Room

teachers-room-at-a-japanese-school

Photo by MC MasterChef

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

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

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

Teacher Rotation

lady-cleaning-an-empty-japanese-classroom

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

Organization

Uniforms and Dress Code

japanese-high-school-students-leaving-school

Photo by Ryo FUKAsawa

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

The School Year

cherry-blossom-branch-in-japan

Photo by きうこ

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

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

And the cycle continues…

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

Grade Levels

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

Photo by Ippei Suzuki

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

Classrooms

empty-japanese-classroom

Photo by ajari

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

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

Footwear

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

Photo by Tokyo Times

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

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

Activities

Lunch Time

japanese-boy-eating-lunch-at-school

Photo by Chris Lewis

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

Cleaning Time

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

Club Activities

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

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

School Festivals

japanese-elementary-school-sports-day

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

Enkai

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

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

Ceremonies

japanese-school-entrance-ceremony

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

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

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

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

Machines and Contraptions

Toilets

japanese-floor-toilet-in-japan

Photo by eric_abert

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

Heating and Cooling

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

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

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

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

Tech

Differences Between Japanese and American Schools old computers

Photo by Mandias

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

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

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

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

Understanding Differences Between Japanese and American Schools

Differences Between Japanese and American Schools sunset and cherry blossoms

Photo by Suki Tamba

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

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

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

What happened? Stigler explains:

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources:

The post 20 Differences Between Japanese and Western Schools appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/08/26/differences-between-japanese-and-american-schools/feed/ 12
4 Foreigners in Traditional Japanese Roles http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/29/4-foreigners-with-traditional-jobs-in-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/29/4-foreigners-with-traditional-jobs-in-japan/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=54757 When you think of Japan, certain traditionally日本的 (typically Japanese) things spring to mind. There are some things so ingrained in Japanese culture and history that you can’t help but picture a Japanese person in association with them. And this includes traditionally Japanese jobs. However, in modern Japanese society, there are certain foreigners who have found a way […]

The post 4 Foreigners in Traditional Japanese Roles appeared first on Tofugu.

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

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

Rakugo

traditional jobs in japan for foreigners rakugo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sumo

traditional jobs in japan for foreigners the great sumo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enka

traditional jobs in japan for foreigners enka

Photo by Shinya ICHINOHE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ukiyo-e

traditional jobs in japan for foreigners the great wave

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Jobs in Japan Aren’t Only for the Japanese

traditional jobs in japan for foreigners sumida river hiroshige

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources:

The post 4 Foreigners in Traditional Japanese Roles appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/29/4-foreigners-with-traditional-jobs-in-japan/feed/ 20
The Daily Life of a Housewife in Japan http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/27/the-daily-life-of-a-housewife-in-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/27/the-daily-life-of-a-housewife-in-japan/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=45986 Here on Tofugu, we talk about all kinds of different people in Japanese society. The politician, the salaryman, the artist, the musician. But seldom do we focus on a large section of the Japanese population – the housewife. Though being a stay-at-home mom has fallen out of fashion in other parts of the world, it’s […]

The post The Daily Life of a Housewife in Japan appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Here on Tofugu, we talk about all kinds of different people in Japanese society. The politician, the salaryman, the artist, the musician. But seldom do we focus on a large section of the Japanese population – the housewife. Though being a stay-at-home mom has fallen out of fashion in other parts of the world, it’s still a popular option for women in Japanese society.

U-Can and I-Share conducted a research study in Japan. Out of the 1,243 women surveyed, 53.9% said they wanted to be housewives with the primary role of “attending to housework and raising children.”

I wrote about Japanese housewives a little bit in one of my previous articles, which focused on the perception of women in Japan. In writing that piece, I found that Japanese men aren’t alone in wanting their wives to stay at home. Many women are very keen on the idea, as well.

Because of this, I thought it worthwhile to take a look into some of these women’s lives. So I organized interviews with four different women about their daily lives. Of course, there are a lot of Japanese housewives and each one leads a different life, so this is just a sample to give you an idea. But hopefully this small sampling of information will shed some light into this part of Japanese society.

Note: The women I interviewed wished to remain anonymous and provided pseudonyms in place of their real names.

Japanese Housewife #1 – KonnichiwaKitty

Housewife in Japan feeding the children

Photo by domkey kong

Pseudonym: KonnichiwaKitty
Age: 27
Occupation: Housewife, does not work outside the home
Housewife Career: 1 year

Q. Could you tell us about your daily routine?

6:00 – wake up
6:30 – have breakfast and relax
8:00 – prepare baby food and feed the baby
8:30 – play with the baby
10:00 – do housework and prepare for lunch
12:00 – have lunch
13:00 – play with the baby
15:00 – do housework
17:30 – prepare baby food and feed him
19:00 – bath time
19:30 – cook dinner for me and my husband
21:00 – go to bed

Q. What do you do for fun or to relax during the day?

I just try to enjoy an extended breakfast time alone in the morning. It gives me time to relax while my son is still sleeping.

Q. What’s the best thing about being a housewife?

To be able to closely observe my child as he grows.

Q. What’s the worst thing about being a housewife?

Other than that short window of time in the morning, I don’t really have any extra time that I can devote to myself.

Q. How many hours a week do you think you work as a housewife?

If playing with my son isn’t considered working, it would be one to two hours during the week and five hours on each day over the weekend. I tend to do a lot of cooking over the weekend and freeze those meals for the upcoming week.

Q. How much does your husband help with the housework?

He helps me a lot. He takes the garbage bags out, washes the dishes, cleans our bathroom, and takes care of our child.

Q. Have you ever considered working full time instead of being a housewife?

I haven’t considered it.

Japanese Housewife #2 – Miki

Housewife in Japan raising her family

Pseudonym: Miki
Age: 37
Occupation: Housewife (and has a part time job online)
Housewife Career: 8 years

Q. Could you tell us about your daily routine?

6:00 – I wake up and start making bento lunch for my husband. I prepare breakfast for him and my daughters and then I do the laundry.
7:30 – After my older daughter leaves for school, I hang the laundry out to dry and then read the newspaper.
8:00 – I eat breakfast with my younger daughter, then wash dishes.
8:30 – While my younger daughter is playing by herself or watching TV, I finish some work online. Afterwards, I spend time with her, like taking her to a park.
12:00 – Lunch
13:00 – I work online while playing with my child.
14:00 – I bring in the dry clothes and then clean the house. If I still have some time, I’ll do more work online.
14:45 – My older daughter’s school ends around this time, so I walk to her school with my younger daughter to pick her up.
15:30 – I check my older daughter’s homework and then I make preparations for dinner.
16:00 – I take my older daughter to her friend’s house or to one of her lessons and I go shopping.
17:00 – I pick my older daughter up and then I start making supper.
18:00 – We all eat dinner.
19:00 – I do the dishes.
19:30 – We all have a bath.
20:30 – I read or tell stories to my daughters.
21:00 to 21:30 – My daughters go to bed. (If I am tired, I go to sleep, too.)
21:30 – I work online.
22:30 to 23:30 – My husband comes home from work and I serve him his supper.
24:00 – I go to bed.

Q. What do you do for fun or to relax during the day?

After sending my older daughter off to school and finishing the dishes, I enjoy having a coffee and listening to music.

Q. What’s the best thing about being a housewife?

To be able to closely observe my children grow up. When I am sick or not feeling well, I can simply rest. Although I’m unable to get out into the workforce, I do have time to study, learn new things, and brush up on some skills.

Q. What’s the worst thing about being a housewife?

I have to fight against loneliness. I don’t have many ties to the community or much of a social life and I sometimes feel fear and question myself, “Can I really keep doing this?”

Furthermore, people hold the stereotype that housewives are lazy and useless for society, which makes me sad. I believe that staying at home and spending time around your children when they are young is better for them because you have a chance to positively affect their lives as they grow. So I intentionally chose to be a housewife for my children’s sake, instead of spending time at some random part-time job.

But there are a lot of married couples in which both partners work nowadays and it may be a little difficult for them to understand what it means to be a housewife without a job. They should be aware that many housewives want to work, but intentionally choose to stay at home for the sake of their children.

It’s especially difficult when I have a quarrel with my husband. He sometimes says, “I’m the one who is earning the money for this family. The stresses and hardships of working and being a father is incomparable with just being a housewife.” It’s very upsetting to hear that from him.

I know many mothers who choose not to work until their children finish pre school/kindergarten, but they all take the job of properly raising their children very seriously, and I respect them for knowing how important that is. Of course, some women have to work out of financial necessity, but that’s a different story.

Q. How many hours a week do you think you work as a housewife?

Basically from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep, I think I am always doing work in some form or another. I barely even have time to sit down and watch TV for a while.

Q. With all this time spent on housewife-work, how do you find time for your online job?

I am usually able to find two hours on weekdays to work online. On weekends, my husband is home to cook and play with the kids, so I work for about 3 or 4 hours then, but I also still work as a housewife.

Q. How much does your husband help with the housework?

On weekdays, he works all day and gets home around 10:30pm or 11:00pm, so he can’t help with anything. On weekends, he cooks and plays with the children, but I don’t know how things are with other families’ husbands.

He helps with cooking because he likes to cook, but he doesn’t do the dishes because he doesn’t like to. It’s still helpful and I can work while he is cooking. He also bathes the children on weekends and that’s really helpful because I don’t get chance to take a bath by myself and relax at all during the week.

He wants to relax on weekends, but the children want him to take them outside and play. He doesn’t help with the cleaning at all, but if the dried laundry has piled up, he’ll help with folding them, so I guess he cares about housework.

However, he tends to not realize what I want him to help with and I wish he would ask me what to do before starting something. It might be a stereotype, but there may be many husbands who try helping their wives on their own regardless of what the wives actually want them to help with. He feels satisfied because he knows he helped me, but it’d be better if he talked to me so we could share the necessary workload.

Q. Have you ever considered working full time instead of being a housewife?

I absolutely do. I would work full time, if I could. However, my children are still little and my husband works very long hours. I can’t ask for support from either of our parents because both sets live pretty far away.

My mother in law lives fairly close, but she can’t drive. I also live in the countryside, so finding a good job also means a long commute. Therefore, I don’t think I’ll be able to work full time for a couple more years. I also think that many Japanese companies are a far cry from providing an easy and comfortable work atmosphere for women. The problem of wait listing children for kindergarten and nurseries still remains, too.

I think the way that society is and the way companies conduct themselves need to change first. It’s really rare for a woman 40 years of age or older to find a full-time position. My friends have mostly only been able to work part-time after being a housewife for so many years. I feel as though it’s nearly impossible to get a full-time position after being a housewife.

I personally think that housewives sacrifice a great deal more than people think. By taking on this role, many women learn patience through raising children and by working on their friendships with other mothers. I feel I have grown a lot, so much more than when I was single. In that sense, I hope that companies will come to value housewives more in the future and see them as people that possess a certain set of transferable skills. We should be granted a better opportunity to work full-time.

Japanese Housewife #3 -Wasabi

Housewife in Japan cooking for her family

Pseudonym: Wasabi
Age: 53
Occupation: Currently a housewife without a part time job (has experience with both full and part-time jobs.)
Housewife Career: 30 years

Q. Could you tell us about your daily routine?

Morning: Housework (Cleaning, shopping, laundry, etc…)
Afternoon: Watch TV, read books, or other such leisurely activities.
Evening: Walk our dog, make dinner, and wash the dishes afterwards.
Night: Watch TV, read books, or other such leisurely activities.

Q. What do you do for fun or to relax during the day?

Watch TV or read books.

Q. What’s the best thing about being a housewife?

I am free to use my time however I want.

Q. What’s the worst thing about being a housewife?

I can’t really think of anything.

Q. How many hours a week do you think you work as a housewife?

Approximately 40 hours.

Q. Have you worked a part-time or full-time job in the past, and if so how did you find enough time to be a housewife?

When I worked part-time it was 4 hours a day, so I had enough time to work as a housewife. But when I worked full-time it was 8 hours a day and I was too busy to do things around the house. My commute was really long. It took me an hour and a half to get to the office.

Q. How much does your husband help with the housework?

He takes the garbage out and makes his own breakfast. He walks our dog in the morning. If I ask him to do something, he is willing to do it, but I often don’t like how he washes dishes. I’m also better at cooking than him, so I usually handle all things kitchen related.

Q. Have you ever considered working full time instead of being a housewife?

Yes. I tried, but it was too difficult, especially while raising my children. So it didn’t last very long.

Japanese Housewife #4 – Ninja-Pie

life of a Housewife in Japan

Photo by Julie

Pseudonym: Ninja-Pie
Age: 62
Occupation: Housewife without any part time job
Housewife Career: 35 years

Q. Could you tell us about your daily routine?

6:00 – I wake up.
7:00 – I eat breakfast and relax
8:30 – Cleaning, laundry, and other housework.
11:00 – Prepare lunch.
12:00 – Eat lunch
13:00 – Clean the dishes and do other housework
14:00 – Free time for myself
16:00 – Prepare supper.
17:00 – Go for a walk
18:30 – Supper
21:00 – Have a bath.
23:00 – Go to bed.

Q. What do you do for fun or to relax during the day?

I have teatime after breakfast and dinner, and enjoy a couple snacks with coffee.

Q. What’s the best thing about being a housewife?

I can have some time for myself.

Q. What’s the worst thing about being a housewife?

It’s difficult to keep myself in good shape because I tend to stay inside all day. That’s why I try to devote a certain amount of time each day to walking.

Q. How many hours a week do you think you work as a housewife?

About 35 hours a week.

Q. How much does your husband help with the housework?

He helps with the shopping and by cleaning the bathroom.

Q. Have you ever considered working full-time instead of being a housewife?

Never.

Would You Want to Be a Housewife in Japan?

housewife-in-japan-balancing

Special thanks to our interviewees for letting us into their lives and how they feel about being a housewife in Japan. What do you think about their answers? Do these situations seem different from housewives’ lives in your country? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The post The Daily Life of a Housewife in Japan appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/27/the-daily-life-of-a-housewife-in-japan/feed/ 40
Questioning Japanese Creativity: Is Japan Really Creative? http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/13/questioning-japanese-creativity-japan-really-creative/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/13/questioning-japanese-creativity-japan-really-creative/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=50899 Ukiyo-e. Kabuki. The Shinkansen. Akira Kurosawa. Haruki Murakami. Hello Kitty. Attack on Titan. So, is Japan really creative? It seems like such a silly question. Why even bother to ask it? I imagine that most people reading this will wonder why I’m questioning such a self-evident truth. After all, there is even a study done by Adobe which found Japan to be […]

The post Questioning Japanese Creativity: Is Japan Really Creative? appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Ukiyo-e. Kabuki. The Shinkansen. Akira Kurosawa. Haruki Murakami. Hello Kitty. Attack on Titan.

So, is Japan really creative? It seems like such a silly question. Why even bother to ask it?

I imagine that most people reading this will wonder why I’m questioning such a self-evident truth. After all, there is even a study done by Adobe which found Japan to be the country perceived most creative in the world.

However, this same study revealed something interesting. Japanese people themselves do not see Japan as creative. In fact, they were the least likely among the surveyed countries to describe themselves as creative or as “people who create.”

Within Japan, in business circles and in mass media, “innovation” has become a buzzword in recent years. But the practical model isn’t Sony. It’s Silicon Valley.

There’s a major gap between how outsiders view Japan and how Japan views itself. And I aim to find out why.

Japanese Creativity

is-japan-creative-pikachu-parade-japanese-creativity

Japan is certainly the birthplace of many creative things.

Visual storytelling mediums such as film and manga have been especially unique and innovative throughout the 20th century. Japanese characters like Hello Kitty have taken the world by storm. Beginning in the 1990s, Japan the world began to discover the depth of Japanese anime and games.

I personally remember growing up watching Digimon and battling caterpies in Veridian Forest on my Gameboy.

Then there’s also the list of Japanese inventions that Japan has provided the world. Not just the useless and weird ones, but very useful ones as well.

College students have Japan to thank for instant ramen. Party people thank Japan for karaoke machines. All kinds of gadgets, like the Walkman and portable CD player, were introduced during Japan’s industrial heyday.

For film you have recent award-winners like Departures and Confessions, not to mention works by Akira Kurosawa, Seijun Suzuki, and Shohei Imamura.

Japan boasts some notable musicians like Joe Hisaishi and Ryuichi Sakamoto, who is best known for his composition “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence” (one of my favorites).

Japanese literature gave us novelists like Banana Yoshimoto and Haruki Murakami.

Need we even mention Tezuka and Miyazaki?

We could go on and on creating these lists, for every realm and sphere. So how then can Japanese people consider themselves to be uncreative?

And more to the point, does this prove Japan’s creativity?

Why Don’t Japanese People Consider Themselves Creative?

is-japan-creative-old-man-japanese-creativity

Photo by Angie Harms

To understand why Japanese people don’t consider themselves creative, consider the following explanations:

  1. There’s probably a bit of humility distorting the results.
  2. It used to be Sony that was offering new products to the world. The past ten-so years have seen Silicon Valley leading and Japan playing catch-up.
  3. Japan’s software side remains weak. Japanese websites are a prime example. Games are the exception. But games aside, I can’t think of a widely-used Japanese software or app that has gained traction outside of Japan besides LINE (do enlighten me if you know of one though).
  4. Entrepreneurial culture remains small (but it certainly exists and is growing). This article calls the situation in Japan an “entrepreneurship vacuum” and notes that it had the lowest rate of new enterprises appearing in the whole OECD.

Flagging corporations, weak software development, and a small entrepreneurial culture. And this from a country of 120 million. Despite our lists of creative works and heroes above, there is evidence to support the argument that Japan is not the most creative country in the world.

Japan’s Creative Strengths and Weaknesses

is-japan-creative-shibuya-at-night-japanese-creativity

Naturally each country has its strengths and weaknesses and Japan is no different. It displays creativity in areas like cultural products and food. But entrepreneurship and software are entirely different fields.

I’ve mentioned before that the Japanese are not necessarily conservative, but risk-adverse. Thus, creativity expressed in Japan is likely to be in rather risk-free ways. Perhaps this is why we see creativity expressed through cultural products, fashion, and the arts. These fields naturally come with some cultural expressive space and demand something different.

This creativity is probably stifled in the Japanese boardrooms and corporate offices. After all, risk-adverse corporations are unlikely to make drastic and possibly upsetting moves. Individual employees are also unlikely to stick their necks out for a wild idea because of the responsibility that comes with it. Perhaps it is this aversion to risk which causes creativity to manifest itself unevenly in different fields.

Another point is the skills in which Japanese people excel. I have to say, from personal experience, IT education in Japan is poor. People enter university not having touched Microsoft Word before, much less with any programming ability. Also, even within Japan right now there is more respect paid to hardware engineers compared to software engineers. This explains the poor software sector in Japan.

On the other hand perhaps Japan’s strength in arts and music arises from the long artistic traditions and the educational institutions Japan has in these areas.

Creativity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

is-japan-creative-david-gutteridge-wow-japan-japanese-creativity

Illustration by David Gutteridge. Used with permission.

There’s also a lot of distortions when it comes to the outside view of Japan. A good example is “I survived a Japanese Game Show” which aired on ABC in 2008. It featured American contestants going to Japan to perform wacky deeds on a show called “Majide.” It fails to really show anything real in Japan. Even the NHK, which is funded by the government and biased, shows more of Japan’s reality. If anything ISAJGS shows people what they expect. These are things that non-Japanese people have already attached the “weird” label to. Usually, this idea of “weird” also connotes “creative.”

The typical tourist experience in Japan is another fine example. The typical tourist will probably walk through Harajuku at 7:00pm, stunned by the Gothic Lolita fashion. The typical Japanese working person however has to deal with the 8:00am Shinjuku station, one of the most dreary and uncreative scenes imaginable.

Obviously the typical tourist comes to Japan looking for what’s special about it. He or she will leave Japan knowing all about the glittery things. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact it’s normal for any short term visitor. But it should be recognized that tourists view of Japan is narrow, as they miss the mundane, ordinary, and “normal.”

This also applies to cultural products. The anime that receive attention outside of Japan are likely to be the cream of the crop or have some exotic appeal to them. These shows are different from “normal” Japanese anime, and even more different from the “normal” TV you’d see by channel surfing in Japan. You’re more likely to stumble on formulaic travel or variety shows with one or two gimmicks thrown in and presenters yelling “oishiiii.”

In addition, I think lots of people look at Japanese culture and assume that it’s creative just because it’s different from their own. However, apply the same standards to Western culture and things begin to look off.

If we conclude that Japan is creative for inventing Pokemon then isn’t Belgium creative for inventing the Smurfs? Little blue men (and one woman) living in mushrooms. That’s pretty different and creative.

Saying that Japan is creative because it has KyariPamyuPamyu is like saying the US is creative for having Lady Gaga. Final Fantasy?  The US gets super creative points for Dungeons and Dragons then.

If any of the statements sound strange it’s because they are. If it doesn’t make sense to use Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as evidence for American creativity, then the same goes for using Hello Kitty as evidence for Japan’s.

Creativity as Defined by Whom?

is-japan-creative-kokeshi-paintings-japanese-creativity

I actually don’t have a straight answer to whether Japan is creative or not. I certainly can say Japan has creativity (duh!). If it didn’t, Apple wouldn’t be choosing Yokohama for their new research center. I can also say that Japan displays more creativity in some fields than others. Also, it isn’t 100% creative across the board.

I can positively say Japanese creativity, as perceived from outside Japan, has been massively exaggerated. Japan has been subject to a runaway media especially online but also offline. This has reduced a unique and complex country into a pastiche of weird food, Engrish, anime, and hentai.

Perhaps we should remember that, for the Japanese, things out of the Japanese normal, not the western normal, are creative. That is to say, no matter how novel (to the outside) and entertaining it may be, there is nothing really creative about yet another fan-service filled, formulaic shounen anime. Neither is it creative for Japan to (apparently) have panty vending machines (which I’ve never seen in all my time here). If there are already vending machines for cigarettes and soda, it really doesn’t take much of a creative jump to fill one with underwear.

Most Japanese people will probably consider Attack on Titan to be genuinely creative though. Because the themes and characters are rather fresh.

So perhaps instead of pointing to Japan as “creative” in long, distorted strokes, maybe we should think about what is really creative to Japanese people. After all, if creativity is the ability to create new things, then to judge this we need to look at what is pushing the envelope within Japanese culture, not simply Japanese things we’ve never seen before.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources:

The post Questioning Japanese Creativity: Is Japan Really Creative? appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/13/questioning-japanese-creativity-japan-really-creative/feed/ 19
A Japanese Citizen Studying “Abroad” in Her Own Country http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/03/homesick-during-study-abroad-in-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/03/homesick-during-study-abroad-in-japan/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=52955 Just a couple weeks ago, I graduated college. I’ve been going through a whirlwind of emotions, good-byes and transitions into the “real world.” At the same time, I’ve been reflecting on my past 4 years as an undergrad. There are a lot of things that college grads easily remember. The friends we made, the countless all-nighters, silly (and perhaps stupid) shenanigans. But for […]

The post A Japanese Citizen Studying “Abroad” in Her Own Country appeared first on Tofugu.

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

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

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

Why Study Abroad in Japan?

chiyoda-cherry-blossoms-boats-on-a-river-study-abroad

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

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

And boy, was it amazing.

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

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

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

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

But things didn’t go as planned.

Homesick During Study Abroad in Japan

sad-dog-study-abroad

Photo by Tracy Lee

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

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

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

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

Communication Struggle

japanese-telephones-study-abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identity Issues

tokyo-crossroads-at-night-homesick-during-study-abroad-in-japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figuring It Out

shoko-study-abroad-who-am-i

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

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

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

Shaking It All Off

fugu-study-abroad

Photo by きこう

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rewards from the Journey

shoko-from-mt-fuji-study-abroad
Me at the highest point in Japan, Mt. Fuji

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

The post A Japanese Citizen Studying “Abroad” in Her Own Country appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/07/03/homesick-during-study-abroad-in-japan/feed/ 37
Ashigaru – Japan’s Overlooked And Underappreciated Warriors http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/29/ashigaru-japans-overlooked-and-underappreciated-warriors/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/29/ashigaru-japans-overlooked-and-underappreciated-warriors/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=53480 Samurai get too much credit. Japan’s foot soldiers, the ashigaru, started as nothing more than farmers pulled from the fields to swell a daimyo’s army. Yet as time passed they became a professional fighting force included in the samurai caste. Stories like to depict Japanese wars filled with samurai sword duels. But the truth is that […]

The post Ashigaru – Japan’s Overlooked And Underappreciated Warriors appeared first on Tofugu.

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

The Origins of Ashigaru

ashigaru-peasant-farmer

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

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

The Shady Years

ashigaru-kyoto-onin-war

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

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

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

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

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

An Upwardly Mobile Class

ashigaru-Battle-of-Nagashino

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

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

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

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

Ashigaru and Guns

taneshima-gun-used-by-ashigaru

Photo by PHGCOM

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

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

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

The Ashigaru Who Became Master of Japan

ashigaru-toyotomi-hideyoshi

Photo by Victor Lee

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

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

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

The Rise to Samurai

ashigaru-the-battle-of-sekigahara

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources:

The post Ashigaru – Japan’s Overlooked And Underappreciated Warriors appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/29/ashigaru-japans-overlooked-and-underappreciated-warriors/feed/ 4
The Epic Diplomacy of Winter Sonata in Japan http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/26/epic-diplomacy-winter-sonata-in-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/26/epic-diplomacy-winter-sonata-in-japan/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=52909 It’s no secret that Japan and Korea have a strained relationship. It wasn’t even 20 years ago that Korea lifted their ban on Japanese media (it was partially lifted in 1998, and fully lifted in 2004). While they aren’t the best of friends at present, they have definitely warmed up to each other. Kind of. Politically, […]

The post The Epic Diplomacy of Winter Sonata in Japan appeared first on Tofugu.

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

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

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

The Beginnings of the Korean Wave in Japan

Winter Sonata in Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Winter Sonata Breakdown

winter-sonata-on-bike-junsang-yujin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan, Post-Sonata

kcon-korean-wave-fest

Photo by Peter Kaminski

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

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

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

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

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

The Winter Sonata in Japan Continues

winter-sonata-pachinko-machine

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources:

The post The Epic Diplomacy of Winter Sonata in Japan appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/26/epic-diplomacy-winter-sonata-in-japan/feed/ 4
What Is a Butsudan? And Why Are People Paying $630,000 for Them? http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/24/what-is-a-butsudan-and-why-are-people-paying-630000-for-them/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/24/what-is-a-butsudan-and-why-are-people-paying-630000-for-them/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42268 Have you ever been to a temple in Japan and thought, “I wish I had some of this amazingness in my house?” Then the Japanese butsudan (仏壇) is for you. A butsudan is a small, household Buddhist shrine. Its exterior often resembles a simple cabinet, with two outward opening doors. Of course, they can also exhibit more […]

The post What Is a Butsudan? And Why Are People Paying $630,000 for Them? appeared first on Tofugu.

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

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

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

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

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

What Is a Butsudan?

japanese-emperor-tenmu

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

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

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

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

And that’s where butsudan came from. Right?

Wrong!

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

#1: The Nobility’s Private Buddha Statue Hall

byoudouin-phoenix-hall

Photo by 663Highland

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

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

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

#2: Soul Shelf

soul-shelf-what-is-a-butsudan

Photo by kani kani

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

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

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

The Spread of Butsudan

rennyo-the-creator-of-butsudan

Photo by Joe Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Goes in a Butsudan

butsudan-in-a-home-gold

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

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

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

What Doesn’t Go in a Butsudan

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

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

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

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

How Much Does a Butsudan Cost?

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

Photo by Gnsin

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

Niconico Douga’s Butsudan Incident

niconico-official-logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Place to Buy Butsudan?

butsudan-in-a-home-expensive

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources:

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

 

The post What Is a Butsudan? And Why Are People Paying $630,000 for Them? appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/24/what-is-a-butsudan-and-why-are-people-paying-630000-for-them/feed/ 11
Jet Program Culture Shock Part 1: Defining Culture Shock http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/23/jet-program-culture-shock-part-1-defining-culture-shock/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/23/jet-program-culture-shock-part-1-defining-culture-shock/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=53317 As you get ready to depart for JET, you’ll be researching a lot of things. Preparing for a new life takes a lot of work. In articles, handouts, guidebooks, and seminars you’ll come across a scary term: culture shock. You’ll definitely be told that it’s unavoidable and not very fun. Let me tell you two things: It’s […]

The post Jet Program Culture Shock Part 1: Defining Culture Shock appeared first on Tofugu.

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

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

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

Now let me tell you a third thing:

  • It’s manageable and beneficial

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

What is Culture Shock?

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

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

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

Symptoms of Culture Shock

jet-program-culture-shock-sad-dog

Photo by Tim Dawson

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

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

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

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

The Two Components of Culture Shock

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

Photo by mrhayata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phases of Culture Shock

jet-program-culture-shock-roller-coaster

Photo by elston

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve Experienced Culture Shock Before

jet-program-culture-shock-moving-truck

Photo by The Muuj

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

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

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

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

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

JET Program Culture Shock Defined. Now What?

jet-program-culture-shock-light-outside-door

Photo by Montaplex

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources:

The post Jet Program Culture Shock Part 1: Defining Culture Shock appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/23/jet-program-culture-shock-part-1-defining-culture-shock/feed/ 6
Emoji – Japan’s Talking Pictures http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/18/emoji-japans-talking-pictures/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/18/emoji-japans-talking-pictures/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=52841 Confession: I am an emoji hipster. Before your mom was sending you grinning emoji or that cute boy was texting you heart-eyes emoji, my study abroad friends and I were using our 2009-era SoftBank phones to send each other long, complicated rows of emoji, most of which involved the poop emoji. (As one does.) But […]

The post Emoji – Japan’s Talking Pictures appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Confession: I am an emoji hipster. Before your mom was sending you grinning emoji or that cute boy was texting you heart-eyes emoji, my study abroad friends and I were using our 2009-era SoftBank phones to send each other long, complicated rows of emoji, most of which involved the poop emoji. (As one does.)

But emoji aren’t just for anyone with a smartphone these days. Moby Dick has been translated into emoji. The March 2015 issue of Wired featured emoji on the cover. Coca-Cola has put emoji in their URLs as part of an advertising campaign. Emoji are even being presented in court cases as evidence. Earlier this year, a man was charged with running an online black-market. During the trial, his lawyer argued that the emoji in his client’s text messages were legitimate pieces of evidence. The judge agreed.

Obviously, emoji have arrived and people like me get to be dreadful snoots about it. Though emoji have come from Japan visually intact, the cultural meanings behind them have been lost or given new, Western meanings. So before I begin writing this entire article using emoji alone (don’t tempt me), let’s look back to find patient zero. Let’s see if we can shine a spotlight on the sorta secret history of emoji. (And explain why Drake’s “praying hands/high-five” emoji tattoo doesn’t mean what he thinks it means.)

Pre-Emoji Emoji

smiley emoji koamoji emoticon

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’re familiar with kaomoji (顔文字), which literally means “face letters.” (Like how emoji or 絵文字 can be translated as “picture letters.”)

Kaomoji and the West’s emoticons primarily sprung out of a need to more clearly communicate emotional intent on early web forums and message boards. As any denizen of the internet knows, a winky face can mean the difference between a sarcastic quip and a straight-faced insult.

Emoticons first hit the scene on Sept. 19, 1982 thanks to Scott E. Fahlman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He suggested using :-) as a “joke marker” after someone posted a fake mercury spill message and other message board users mistakenly thought it was serious. The rest is, as they say, history. ;)

The origin of kaomoji is much murkier, though the general consensus seems to be that the first kaomoji (^_^) appeared a few years later in 1986 on a Japanese forum. Unlike emoticons, kaomoji can be seen as an extension of Japan’s kawaii or cute culture, and are heavily influenced by manga and anime, focusing more on the eyes than the mouth and incorporating things like apostrophized sweat drops and slash-marked blushing.

(Psst – And if you want to bone up on your kaomoji and impress or irritate your friends, Tofugu has a disturbingly comprehensive kaomoji guide!)

Made in Japan

docomo-phone

Photo by Mytho88

Although Japan’s big cellphone companies, like Docomo and SoftBank, are currently facing some stiff competition from Apple and other Western companies, back in the ’90s, business was booming and Japan was at the forefront of cellphone technology. Internet access and large color screens were already standard features long before Apple got into the mobile phone game. As cellphone usage exploded in Japan, kaomoji naturally made the jump, too. Just like on message boards in days of old, kaomoji were used to garnish conversation and make emotional intent more obvious and clear. This is, of course, is especially important in a language like Japanese, where so much meaning is gleaned from context rather than exactly what’s being said.

In 1998, Shigetaka Kurita was part of the Docomo team working on i-mode. i-mode would become Japan’s most widespread mobile Internet platform and push the nation’s cell phone tech ahead of the rest of the world. Docomo had previously introduced the idea of emoji – sort of.

In the mid-90s, Docomo had added a heart symbol to its pagers. The favorable reaction from high school-aged customers didn’t go unnoticed. Sure, people could text each other kaomoji with their cellphones. But Kurita figured there had to be a simpler, more straightforward way to express emotion via text message.

Not being a designer (yet being told to design the emoji anyway), Kurita looked to manga for inspiration. Manga artists use sweat drops, waterfalls of tears, and heart eyes to make their characters’ emotions larger than life. Kurita used these same cues when creating the first set of emoji (176 12×12-pixel characters). Kurita thought Docomo’s various cellphone manufacturers might polish up his emoji designs. Instead they ended up using his work as-is, which Kurita admits isn’t the most sveltely designed. But it didn’t matter. Emoji took off. 

Gaining a Foothold

old-emoji-moons-from-the-old

Photo by wackystuff

There was just one problem (for Docomo, at least). They couldn’t copyright Kurita’s emoji set, because each emoji was such a small amount of pixels. Competitors like J-Phone (which later became SoftBank) took the concept of emoji and ran with it, adding more and more emoji to their products. But Docomo emojis only worked on Docomo phones and J-Phone emojis only worked on J-Phone… phones. If a Docomo user tried to send a smiling cat emoji to a J-Phone user, that user would only see a hot mess.

Still, emoji were incredibly popular, unseating their more complex kaomoji cousins. It didn’t take long for emoji to start sneaking into other text spaces, like MySpace and AOL Instant Messenger (remember those?). As Apple turned to the Japanese market, they wisely gave the people what they wanted with their iOS 2.2 update in 2008: emoji.

The Journey West

smiley-on-the-escalator-emoji

Photo by TaylorHerring

Japanese iPhone users finally had their emoji. But if you were anywhere else in the world or weren’t sure how to mess around with your iPhone settings, no emoji for you. Still, the floodgates had already opened and there was no going back. Especially once emoji were incorporated into the Unicode Consortium in 2010.

Unicode is an international encoding standard for displaying characters on phones and computers. It’s basically the Esperanto of computing languages and scripts. By bringing emoji into the fold, Docomo and J-Phone users could start exchanging emoji. Even better, once emoji were added to Unicode, Apple introduced emoji as a standard international keyboard option a year later, giving emoji its true international debut.

There’s only one person who wasn’t a fan: Scott Fahlman, the guy who invented emoticons. He stands by his opinion that emoji are ugly and undermine using one’s own creativity to express themselves online. (Personally, I think he’s just jealous there’s no poop emoticon.)

Decoding Emoji 

emoji-typewriter

Even though emoji’s code has been universalized, so that they can be unleashed indiscriminately across platforms, the meaning behind each emoji doesn’t always make the jump as successfully. Because the emoji we all know and love were intended for a Japanese audience, things can get a little lost in translation.

There are a ton of Japanese food emoji, like:

  • 🍡 Dango

  • 🍱 Bento

Their meanings are fairly obvious, but some are a tad subtler.

  • 🙆 Like the girl holding her hands above her head? Typically, it’s used to denote excitement or awe (or ballet, I suppose). But in Japan, making a circle with your arms means “OK” or “correct.”

Then there are the emoji whose slightly more scandalous meanings have been lost entirely.

  • 👯 Those dancing girls in black leotards that are usually used as a shorthand for “best friends” are actually Japan’s version of Playboy bunnies.

  • 🏩 I nearly choked the first time someone sent me the love hotel emoji. They must have thought it was just another emoji for hospital or “get well soon.”

Where we don’t see meaning, we inevitably make our own.

  • 💁 The girl holding her palm up can mean, “how may I help you?” in one culture. In another it’s a sassy hair flip.

  • 🙏 Two palms pressed together can mean a prayer to the Almighty or begging someone’s forgiveness. (Though an argument could be made that those two interpretations are oddly similar.) Some even see it as a high-five.

Emoji’s original purpose may have been to clear up miscommunication. But culture is its own language and it’s not always a universal one.

Making Faces

new-yorker-emoji

Photo by Fred Benenson

Emoji clearly aren’t going away any time soon. More have been recently added to the iPhone catalogue, mostly to give users more racial options when it comes to their “girl getting haircut” and “old lady” emoji. But in the same way that message board users in Japan adapted the West’s emoticons into more culturally relevant (and let’s face it, way cuter) kaomoji, Western smartphone users have taken emoji and grafted on their own cultural meanings.

Shigetaka Kurita probably never imagined or intended emoji to be used in a mosaic-style New Yorker cover. Or for the word “emoji” to enter the Oxford Dictionary. Or for Twitter users to reimagine famous works of art as lines of emoji. But people are always going to bring their own culture and creativity to the table, making emoji more than the sum of their pixels. And that’s pretty 👍.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources:

The post Emoji – Japan’s Talking Pictures appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/18/emoji-japans-talking-pictures/feed/ 3
The Secret Japan Air Self-Defense Force Gundam – And Other Stories http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/09/the-secret-japan-air-self-defense-force-gundam-and-other-stories/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/09/the-secret-japan-air-self-defense-force-gundam-and-other-stories/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42430 In August 2014, Japan’s defense ministry announced a new “Space Monitoring Force.” It will utilize personnel from the Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), the country’s air force. This new team is supposed to become active by 2019. Russia beat Japan to the punch by establishing the Aerospace Monitoring Forces (AMF) on April 1, 2015. But in […]

The post The Secret Japan Air Self-Defense Force Gundam – And Other Stories appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
In August 2014, Japan’s defense ministry announced a new “Space Monitoring Force.” It will utilize personnel from the Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), the country’s air force. This new team is supposed to become active by 2019. Russia beat Japan to the punch by establishing the Aerospace Monitoring Forces (AMF) on April 1, 2015. But in 4 more years, the Japanese space force is bound to be way cooler.

It’s mission: to monitor dangerous space debris orbiting Earth and to protect space satellites from collision, as well as “other attacks.” Because Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party discussed building a real life Gundam in 2012, this new squad might be a part of the secret Japan Air Self-Defense Force Gundam project. The JASDF has battled monsters and extra-terrestrial enemies in many TV shows and movies, so maybe they’re bringing fiction to life. Were these shows suggesting that the JASDF is Japan’s secret weapon?

I don’t think we’ll uncover any classified information. But we can at least look into what JASDF is, its history, its usual activities, and how they appear in TV and film. Let’s blast off!

What Is the Japan Air Self-Defense Force?

jasdf-gundam-f-15-

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) is called 航空自衛隊 (Koukuu Jieitai) in Japanese. It is the major aviation arm of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF), called 自衛隊 (Jieitai) in Japanese. It handles the defense of Japanese airspace and other aerospace operations and this includes both direct and indirect aggression. Recently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet submitted a package of bills for debate. They’re designed to expand Japan’s military role overseas. The new legislation might change how the SDF operates. But as of now, they’re strictly a defense force. Thus, their slogan is “The Key To Defense, Ready Anytime.”

Although its purpose is to “defend” Japan, most countries consider it a full-fledged air force because it is equipped with many fighter aircraft. As of 2013, it had 769 aircraft in operation. About 350 were fighters.

The JASDF consists of military units and departments that are special departments of the Ministry of Defense. They are supervised by the Air Staff Office, the Chief of Defense, and the Chief of (Air Self-Defense Force) Staff. The highest authority of the JASDF is the Chief of (Air Self-Defense Force) Staff who resides over the Chief of Defense and is in control of the Air Staff Office. Its personnel is estimated at approximately 47,000. The annual budget they received in 2011 was about 1,060,200,000,000 yen.

The History Of Japan Air Self-Defense Force

jasdf-gundan-aotaka-patrol-craft

After WWII, a study began to determine whether Japan required further militarization. It was conducted by those with ties to the Japanese army, such as Yasuyuki Miyoshi, Sadanori Harada, Kazuo Tanikawa, Monjirou Akiyama, Kouji Tanaka and Shigeru Ura.  They believed that Japan must have military preparedness to continue being an independent country. Naturally this preparedness must include an independent air force. They asked for the cooperation of the U.S. Air Force in the creation of the JASDF.

On July 1st, 1954, the Defense Agency replaced the Security Agency and the JASDF was finally established. The Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF), called 陸上自衛隊 (Rikujou Jieitai), and the Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), called 海上自衛隊 (Kaijou Jieitai) were successors of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy. The JASDF, however, didn’t have a war-era predecessor. Air operations were handled by The Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, who both had Air Services.

What Do They Do?

jasdf-gundam-training-exercises

In times of peace, the JASDF’s mission is dealing with foreign aircraft and potentially hostile threats to Japan’s airspace. They set up an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ ). This is an air defense radius that a country establishes over waters near its shores. Twenty-eight radar sites were built around Japan for the monitoring of the ADIZ. This resulted in Japan’s Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C).

When an unknown plane crosses the ADIZ, a radio transmitter, running at 121.5MHz or 243MHz, sends a warning. Fighter planes scramble to intercept. Objects confirmed by the intercepting jets are reported to the public by the Joint Staff Office (JSO).

In times of emergency, the JASDF will conduct naval strikes, air to ground assaults, and air transport to support the Ground Self-Defense Force and Maritime Self-Defense Force. Since their security policy is strictly defensive, their preparation is meant primarily for air-defense and to protect Japan from ambush attacks. They utilize the F-15J, AEW&C, and patriot missiles for this purpose.

The Real Ability And Cooperation With U.S.

jasdf-gundam-us-and-japan-cooperation-handshake-military

The JASDF boasts state-of-the-art fighter jets, self-defense systems, and the ground-to-air Patriot missiles. Therefore, its actions have been the most politically restricted, more so than the Ground and Maritime Self-Defense Forces. For example, precision bombing systems in JASDF jets have been disabled and aerial refueling tankers have been grounded.

But based on the U.S.–Japan Security Treaty, the JASDF has been securing and strengthening its coordination with the U.S. Air Force since its establishment. They share cipher machines, privacy telephones, a Tactical Digital Information Link (TADIL), and Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) systems. This enables both the U.S. and Japanese forces to operate in their cooperative strategies. English proficiency among personnel is also considered to be very important to those aged 35 or under. Troops must take a JASDF English Proficiency Test every year.

The number of JASDF aircraft in operation is quite high. The time a given pilot spends practicing is typically over 200 hours per year. There are Japan/U.S. joint maneuvers everyday at a few bases around the country, as well as annual joint maneuvers at Cope North in Guam.

JASDF in Film, TV, and Anime

jasdf-gundam-godzilla-destroyah-plane-attack-poster

It sure sounds as though the JASDF is capable of quite a lot. As I mentioned earlier, their abilities have been portrayed in various anime and movies. The JASDF doesn’t usually suffer losses unless it’s from monsters or extra-terrestrial foes. JASDF fighter jets can be seen in the Godzilla film series. Of course, as skilled as they are, they usually don’t fare well against Godzilla’s atomic breath.

The JASDF has recently tried to increase its exposure in anime. In 2003, they created a moe anime called Stratos 4. In this series, a group of pilots are set up in a space comet blaster. Although the anime’s storyline involves the “United Countries,” it seems suspiciously close to the JASDF’s latest space project.

The JASDF helped with the combat scenes in Yukikaze, an anime series that ran from 2003 to 2006. They did the same for scenes in Blood+. It aired the same time as the Gundam series, Saturday at 6pm. Coincidence or conspiracy?

Okay. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. But who knows?

Japan’s Ministry of Defense and Self-Defense Forces sure like Gundam though. They invented a special suit called Advanced Combat Information Equipment System (ACIES), a.k.a “Gundam”, in 2007. It cost 4,300,000,000yen ($4.3 million). The person who started calling it “Gundam” was Yoshitaka Akiyama, Director General of the Technical Research & Development Institute within the Japan Ministry of Defense.

When asked about the Gundam name in an interview with “MAMOR” magazine, he said “I called it Gundam in the sense that we are aiming to invent something like Gundam in the future.”

The interviewer was not satisfied with that answer. So he threw out another question: “You mean, you are considering inventing a giant robot like Mobile Suit Gundam in the future?” The moderator cut off the answer by saying, “I’m afraid we’re not able to talk about our future development projects.”

How suggestive is that?

As some anime fans say, this new project might be “one small step for Gundam.” It will hopefully lead to one giant leap for mankind flying around in awesome mech suits. Although the ACIES research on the initial combat suit was probably terminated in 2012, if it followed the original plan, there might be a secret project to invent a real Gundam still going on. They are very secretive about the future, so I am hoping this conspiracy is true….because it’s very very exciting!!

Up in the sky!

jasdf-gundam-blue-impulse

Photo by nubobo

Will the JASDF finally fulfill humanity’s destiny by creating giant space robots? Is its space debris defense force the first step in a real life Gundam army? We can hope, but all we know for sure is the current and past JASDF boast some nifty tech and organization. And it’s all to make the impossible possible. It’s to make our dreams come true! If any combat force were to finally make our sci-fi dreams a reality, it would probably be the JASDF.

When I think about this kind of stuff, I always feel super ワクワク (excited) and I can’t help dancing. You too? Then let’s dance all together in hope. Oppa Gundam Style!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

The post The Secret Japan Air Self-Defense Force Gundam – And Other Stories appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/06/09/the-secret-japan-air-self-defense-force-gundam-and-other-stories/feed/ 15
A Day in the Life of a Japanese Monk http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/21/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-japanese-monk/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/21/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-japanese-monk/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=45497 Last year I wrote an article called “The Real Japanese Monk’s Guide To Buddhism In Japan.” At the end of it I said that we would one day explore a real Japanese monk’s day-to-day life. It took a while, but that day has finally arrived. We are finally diving into the intricacies of a the monk life in […]

The post A Day in the Life of a Japanese Monk appeared first on Tofugu.

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

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

A Note from Yugaku Ikawa

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

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

An Ordinary Day

Morning

buddha-statue-altar-of-worship

Photo by kumazoo_jp

5:00am

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

6:00am

I clean my house and altar room.

6:30am

I offer rice and tea to the Buddha statue.

7:00am

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

Daytime

HOUJI-SERVICE

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

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

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

Evening

shojin-ryori

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

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

Wakes and Funerals

buddhist-wooden-grave-markers

Photo by Tod McQuillin

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

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

Obon And Ohigan

obon-lanterns

Photo by Matthew Hine

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

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

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

And We Do It All Again Tomorrow!

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

The post A Day in the Life of a Japanese Monk appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2015/05/21/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-japanese-monk/feed/ 21