Tofugu » » Society http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Thu, 23 Oct 2014 21:35:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Dealing with Disaster: Three Years After Fukushima http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/22/dealing-with-disaster-three-years-after-fukushima/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/22/dealing-with-disaster-three-years-after-fukushima/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:00:59 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=44543 Living in Tokyo, I don’t hear much about Fukushima’s disaster recovery. Three years after the disaster, Tohoku’s recovery only directly affects me through little donation boxes supermarkets and drug stores.

The actual situation in Tohoku however is rocky. To find out more, I took a little trip last month to the area to get a firsthand view of the so-called “recovery”.

Bear in mind that the 2011 disaster is actually a collection of two disasters affecting different parts of Tohoku. The first is the earthquake and tsunami which has caused damage particularly to the coastal areas of Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima. The second is the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, which had the greatest effect within Fukushima prefecture, resulting in forced evacuation areas due to nuclear radiation.

The first will be addressed in a different post. This article will deal with the second.

During my trip, I stopped over at a city in southeast Fukushima prefecture, Iwaki city, and through it I hope to raise the question: How much has Japan really recovered from the nuclear crisis in Fukushima?

Iwaki, Fukushima

view-from-iwaki-station-fukushima

View of the city from the station.

I myself arrived in Iwaki on a bright Saturday. I was expecting a lively mid-sized city. After all, Iwaki is the largest city in Fukushima prefecture in terms of population. It turns out it’s the largest in size as well and thus the population is spread thin.

Iwaki itself suffered from the earthquake. After Sendai, it had the second largest number of destroyed homes (40,000) and about 400 dead from landslides and the tsunami. While it originally had a direct link to Sendai through the Joban line of JR East, the nuclear radiation exclusion zone cut it in half. Train commuters now must take a long detour through the west using infrequent trains (about once every two hours) through central Fukushima prefecture to head northward.

train-signs-in-iwaki-station-fukushima

Signboard at Mito-station, south of Iwaki. The blanked out part probably says “Sendai”.

You wouldn’t know any of this if you just stumbled into the city by mistake. The area around Iwaki station is tranquil and pristine with many 5 story buildings. Walk 10 minutes away from the station and you’ll arrive at rows of houses with 2 stories with only small signs of urban decay.

Social Friction

temporary-housing-in-iwaki-fukushima

Photo by Daisuke TSUDA

Example of temporary housing for disaster victims.

Iwaki is one of the cities with the highest number of disaster evacuees in the nation. There is temporary housing within 20 minutes’ walk from the station. As of last year, the city was sheltering around 24,000 refugees from the disaster areas. These refugees mainly come from the evacuated area north of Iwaki, which is within the vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactor.

Three years after the disaster, some Iwaki residents feel the refugees have overstayed their welcome. Below I have translated a number of comments from Iwaki netizens on Twitter:

“The people living in the temporary housing are living in luxury. They’re getting money. They’re getting money if they don’t work so some go on overseas holidays or even buy expensive cars. They get rebates at convenience stores so they shop there. The convenience stores are crowded and with the population increasing, traffic congestion is getting worse. Iwaki citizens have no such privileges.”

“Like, the refugee-samas ride and crash expensive cars which they have never tried before and that is why there’s always traffic jams. I just wish they’d stop it! “

“This I can say this without any hesitation. There are some people suffering in the temporary housing but a majority are getting money without working; their children who see the adults not working become dysfunctional hikikomoris living through the internet and become useless people spending their time on Niconico douga”.

This has been reported on by NHK, Huffington Post Japan and Japan Times in English. The major complaints are that the influx of refugees has caused a shortage of doctors, an increase in rent prices, and traffic. Actually it seems that, at least on the internet, all sorts of stuff is being blamed on the disaster survivors.

refugees-go-home-graffiti-iwaki-fukushima

“Disaster Victims get Lost!”

 Things have gotten so bad, that there has even been anti-refugee graffiti, as seen above. This photo was taken in 2012 so you can be sure that the problem has been around for at least two years already. With a large portion of the evacuated municipalities still under quarantine and the slow recovery for those which evacuation orders have been rescinded, tensions are likely to continue mounting.

Fates of the Survivors

abandoned-namie-town-fukushima

Photo by Steve Herman

Namie Town, deserted immediately after the disaster. Even now, staying overnight is forbidden in all areas of the town.

A large number of refugees still can’t go home. A further number can only go back home on day trips. In these areas, staying overnight has been forbidden due to elevated levels of radiation. For some lucky ones, the evacuation orders have been rescinded. But the choice to return home isn’t as obvious or easy as you may think.

Let’s take the example of Kawauchi village, to the immediate north of Iwaki. The eastern part of the village is within 20 km of the Fukushima nuclear reactors. But as of the 25th last month, the majority of the evacuation orders have been rescinded and only a small part of the village is still under quarantine.

Nonetheless, the population has not returned. NHK reported that out of 2758 people registered with the village, only 1476 have returned. The returnees have been mostly elderly – the young have not been returning as willingly.

disaster-worker-clean-up-fukushima

Photo by Roger Jolly

Photo of decontamination works in Kawashima, 2012

NHK explains that there are three main reasons for the lack of young returnees. Firstly, fears about the radiation certainly remain. Secondly, education is a concern. Kawauchi’s high school students tended to commute to high schools in the towns to the east. Those are now ghost towns due to the radioactivity exclusion zone. The alternative has children take one hour bus rides to schools in the west – not very practical for anyone involved.

The third reason is financial. Many people in the area formerly worked in other towns to the East. NHK reports that 500 villagers lost their jobs due to the quarantine. The village is trying to attract new companies to provide jobs. However, it has so far only been able to attract 100 new job, many among these being low-paying, barely above minimum-wage positions. The NHK gives the example of a position in an agricultural factory which only pays 700 yen.

If you found yourself in their position, and had been living somewhere else for perhaps a year, would you choose to return?

Problems with Nuclear Energy

nuclear-reactor-japan-fukushima

Photo by Energy.Gov

Mihama Nuclear Reactor

The debate about Fukushima in the English media revolves around the pro vs. anti nuclear power debate. In Japan, however, where domestic power sources are scarce, another question is being asked: can the
country survive without nuclear power?

You can imagine how this looks. On one hand, energy prices have been sky high since the reactors were shut down and the business world is unhappy. On the other hand, Fukushima stands as a constant reminder of the dangers of nuclear energy. But there is another dimension here: Who exactly is for and against restarting the reactors?

You would think that the residents of towns and villages which host nuclear reactors who oppose the restarting the most. After all, it is them who have the most to lose. However, they also have the most to gain. The construction of nuclear power plants has often been linked with generous aid from electrical companies, and the nuclear power plants themselves do provide something highly in demand to rural Japan – jobs.

fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-reactor

Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant in 1999, 12 years before the accident.

This is why, instead of opposing the restart of the nuclear reactors, cities hosting them actually support it. The opposition comes from neighboring cities and towns who don’t gain as much from the economics of nuclear power but still have much to lose. NHK reports that the percentage supporting the restarting of power plants is above 50% for municipalities with nuclear plants and is clearly weaker in surrounding towns.

At the moment it is only the reactor’s hosting municipality which has to give permission for restart once they are certified “safe” by the authorities. With the government wanting to restart ASAP, Japan’s success in balancing the economic livelihood of people, responsibility, and safety remains to be seen.

Moving Forward

family-in-namie-returning-home

Photo by Steve Herman

Namie Town village returning to their shop in the day, April 2011.

Clearly, Fukushima prefecture has a long way to go. Decontamination is still in progress at a speed which many criticize as unsatisfactory. There is even a question as to whether the areas closest to the reactors will become the Japanese Chernobyl.

Next, we will be looking at the situation in the tsunami disaster areas – which offers a different set of problems. Things are going to be more personal in the next article. Unlike Fukushima, I’ve been able to visit some of the directly affected areas. And it is a very different situation on the ground.

Please do take a look!

Further Reading:

  • Link to synopsis of NHK Mito report.
  • Explanation about the compensation given to municipalities which host nuclear plants.
  • Transcript of NHK online report on the differences in support and opposition towards the restarting of the reactors

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

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Shunga: Japan’s Ancient Erotica http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/21/shunga-japans-ancient-erotica/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/21/shunga-japans-ancient-erotica/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 16:00:34 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=44409 Vending machines selling school girl’s panties?  Grown men reading pornographic comics in public?  Gender segregated train-cars to protect women from gropers? Ear-cleaning parlors with very happy-endings?  With situations like these making headlines, it comes as no surprise that Japan has earned a reputation for perverted culture.

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

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

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

What Are Shunga?

the-great-wave-by-hokusai-art

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

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

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

woodblock-ready-to-make-print

Photo by: David Monniaux

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

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

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

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

Shunga’s Uses

shunga-books-on-display

Photo by: Bruno Cordioli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shunga’s Themes

Good Old-Fashioned Love

spring-pasttimes-shunga

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

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

Fashion’s Finest

four-seasons-kunisida-shunga

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

Homoerotic Over and Undertones

Moronobu-shunga

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

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

Gender Ambiguities

homosexuality-in-japan

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

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

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

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

The Depiction of Genitalia

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

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

Voyeurism

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

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

Plot and Parody

Suzuki-Harunobu-Sexual-Misconduct-shunga

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

Even Genji
can be poison
to young minds

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

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

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

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

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

Encounters of the Unique Kind

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

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

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

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

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

Lasting Influence

hentai-manga-store

Photo by: Ignis

Have shunga left a lasting legacy?

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

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

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

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

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

Obscenity?  Art?  Or Both?

peter-paul-rubens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[1280x1600] ∙ [2560x1600]

Sources

 

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The Life Of A Junior High Night School Teacher http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/20/the-life-of-a-junior-high-night-school-teacher/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/20/the-life-of-a-junior-high-night-school-teacher/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 16:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42187 Last week, we learned what a junior high night school was and, as I mentioned, today we are going to hear from a teacher of one of those schools. The person I interviewed just started as a junior high night school teacher last April, so she is in the middle of figuring out what this job is like. In other words, we can get her fresh impressions of this type of school.

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

nightschool-01

1. What is a public junior high night school?

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

2. How many night schools are in Japan?

36 Schools.

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

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

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

4. What does a night school teacher do?

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

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

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

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

6. Do night schoolteachers communicate with daytime schoolteachers?

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

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

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7. What subjects do you teach?

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

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

8. What are your typical hours?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I haven’t found any, yet.

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

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

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

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

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16. Who are your students?

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

17. Why are international students increasing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Japanese Legal Loopholes: How Japan Looks Innocent While Breaking the Law http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/16/japanese-legal-loopholes-how-japan-looks-innocent-while-breaking-the-law/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/16/japanese-legal-loopholes-how-japan-looks-innocent-while-breaking-the-law/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 16:00:37 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42849 One of the big questions I asked myself while in Japan was “why?” Just “why.” Not the usual, little “why’s” that accompany a trip to a foreign nation like, “why are squatty potties so hard to use?” Rather, I couldn’t help being bombarded by bigger, more legalistic “why’s.” Why in a country where prostitution was illegal did I see signs and brochures for places like the “Love Action Club,” with catalogs of girls to choose from and a probably-quite-sketchy number you could call? Why, in a country where underage drinking is outlawed, are you almost never asked to verify your age?

It seemed to me that several laws in Japan are only very loosely enforced. I started to think that maybe Japan was posturingshowing the world that these laws existed and meeting the standards expected of them on the world stagebut to the native (and sometimes foreigners) there are pretty obvious areas where these laws are simply not enforced. Many governments, and Japan in particular, have a system in place for following their rules to the letter of the law, but will abuse specific wording or create exceptions to allow certain behaviors to slip through the cracks unchallenged. These loopholes seem to inform quite a few areas of Japanese life, so I wanted to dive into a few of the different types of loopholes and attempt to analyze the “why” of it all.

Types of Loopholes

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It’s probably too ambitious to attempt to look at all the myriad ways any one government may attempt to skirt laws, so I’m just going to point out some of the major ones in some of the most widely noticeable categories. If any of you fine, upstanding, Tofugu-loving folks would post other observed loopholes or personal anecdotes in the comments, that would be a great way to increase our understanding. That said, this is what I found:

Alcohol Loopholes

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To understand that a double-standard exists with Japan’s enforcement of alcohol, one must compare it to their handling of another controlled substance, firearms. Gun control is so heavily monitored and enforced in Japan that it is almost baffling to a Westerner, especially when compared to the culturally more lax attitude to alcohol and tobacco. We can see that these cultural differences really do inform regulation: So in the United States, whose Constitution contains a “Right to Bear Arms,” firearm control is deemphasized. In Japanese culture, which stresses the importance of drinking between coworkers to seal business deals and foster bonds, it follows naturally that drinking laws would be similarly deemphasized. In Japan, where herds of salarymen stumble home each night, a law that penalizes people for being drunk in public would simply not work as it may in other societies. These are not yet loopholes, however. These are cultural differences in the creation of laws. The loopholes arise when dealing with a consequence of these cultural differences: underage drinking.

To quote a very relevant 2013 article by Koichi (go read it!), “the Japanese underage drinking law came into affect in 1922. It has been ignored ever since.” In 1922, when faced with the evidence that underage drinking was hazardous and being newly opened up to a global stage that had already made that behavior illegal (and, shoot, the U.S. was even in the middle of an outright alcohol prohibition), Japan caved to the pressure and implemented a similar law of their own. However, it wasn’t long before the Japanese underage drinking law became so unenforced that it really only existed on paper and not in practice. The Japanese law as written did not put any restrictions or penalties in place for vendors, machine or otherwise, that sold to underage persons. Nothing really changed.

Whaling Loopholes

whale-meat-poster

Japan’s loophole with whaling is the only loophole on this list that circumvents international law and as such has been heavily criticized by the global community. To understand why, we need to discuss the history of the law that Japan is evading: the International Whaling Commission’s 1982 moratorium on commercial whaling. Around the late 1970s, the anti-whaling movement was beginning to pick up steam around the world. Eventually these pressures bubbled into an international treaty that set out to ban all whaling, only allowing two exemptions: scientific whaling done for research, and aboriginal-subsistence whaling (for Inuits or other native groups that wouldn’t be able to adequately meet their food needs without the traditional food source). With whaling being an important part of native food and culture in Japan, there was a desire domestically to fight this legislation. Japan, along with Norway, Peru, and Russia (other countries with a significant degree of commercial whaling) launched formal objections to the moratorium. It wasn’t until the US threatened to reduce the Japanese fishing quota within American waters that Japan accepted the moratorium. In 1988, when the US reduced the Japanese fishing quota anyway (sort of a dick move), the Japanese were left to decide what to do in response. It was around this time they opted to employ something they had begun to get very good at usingloopholes.

The Japanese government started issuing ‘Scientific Whaling Permits’ left and right to allow their whaling to be carried out under the guise of lethal scientific research so that they could still meet the provisions of the moratorium. However, the way the whaling was handled did not significantly differentiate it from earlier commercial whaling practices; the meat is still sold to certain fishmongers and finds itself in classy Japanese restaurants after the “research” is conducted. Even in the cases where actual research is carried out, it is not often published in reputable scientific journals and would usually be a more feasible experiment if tagging and catch-and-release strategies were conducted instead of lethal harvesting. Not only that, but the research results typically revolve around how to increase the efficiency of whaling or to convince the global community to remove the moratorium. Seems legit.

Gambling Loopholes

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Betting on casino games, slot machines, mobile games, sports, and any other form of gambling with direct cash winnings is outlawed by chapter 23 of Japan’s criminal code. However, the law specifically builds in a handful of exceptions in order for some money to be made in the ridiculously lucrative gambling industry. For example, betting on horse races and certain motor sports is specifically exempted by the law. Additionally, prefectures and big cities can still sell lottery tickets and hold a variety of lottery events with direct cash payments without violating the law. However, for the most part this law is upheld to the letter. Yeah, that’s right, gambling is actually illegal in Japan. I guess that explains the absence of traditional casinos (for now). But still you wouldn’t think of gambling as illegal when looking at the prevalence of pachinko parlors. Surely, pachinko counts as a form of gambling, right? Not according to Japanese law, and trust me it has taken a fair amount of time and finagling for pachinko to reach the loophole-filled status that it currently enjoys.

Owning and operating a pachinko parlor isn’t illegal. Like the aforementioned horse racing, it has been specifically exempted by the law for significant cultural and historical purposes. The only thing that would make it illegal would be if there were direct cash payouts on site, and that’s exactly how pachinko proprietors skirt this law. At the parlors themselves, people will pay to sit down and play pachinko and their winnings are given to them in the form of gold tokens, metal balls, or something else innocuous. At the parlors, there are prize counters that contain all kinds of kitschy prizes like rice cookers, jewelry, handbags, chocolates, cigarettes, TVs, DVD players, etc. At first glance, the whole system just looks like a glorified version Chuck E. Cheese. The appeal is that you can simply exchange your winnings for a receipt at the prize counter instead of an awkward prize. You can then take that receipt to a winnings desk outside of the premises and turn it in for cash. These exchange stations are usually right next door and owned and operated by the same people as the pachinko parlor. Yet, because they didn’t give you a direct cash payout on site, and you actually had to walk a couple feet, there is zero infraction in the eyes of the law. Everyone involved in pachinko, including law enforcement, parlor employees, and most players are aware of exactly how this system works and how it skirts the laws. But they acknowledge that it’s basically just a legal way to gamble while following Japanese penal code.

Prostitution Loopholes

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Considering the tradition of mizuage among geisha, sexuality has played a major role in Japanese society. Prostitution in Japan was even a state-sponsored activity, with the government licensing and monitoring brothels until 1946 when this practice was banned. After the ban, prostitutes were no longer given guaranteed national contracts, but prostitution was still legal and widely practiced. Many brothels would use cafes or other legitimate businesses as fronts. Pressures from the domestic lobbying group, “The National Federation of the Brothel Trade,” which offered money and free brothel trips to politicians, made it very difficult for reform to reach the Japanese sex trade. It wasn’t until twelve years later in 1958 that the Anti-Prostitution Law was passed and actively enforced. With prostitution outlawed, it took many creative loopholes to keep brothels in operation.

The specific language of the Anti-Prostitution Law only forbids “vaginal sex in exchange for money”, which renders other sex acts permissible. Two of the most common modern variations on Japan’s brothels are fashion health (ファッションヘルス) facilities and soaplands (ソープランド). Fashion Health centers are typically advertised as massage parlors, but they offer much more than just massages. As a matter of fact, the only thing they can’t offer is vaginal sexual intercourse. In this case, the letter of the law is upheld.

Soaplands are merely advertised as locations where patrons will be bathed by partners of their choice. However, they offer much of the same services as brothels. In fact, they can often go a bit further and circumvent the prostitution law for their clients. This is where the most elaborate exploitation of a loophole can be seen. The specific wording of the law forbids only, “intercourse with an unspecified person in exchange for payment.” The key word here being: “unspecified.” Many soaplands, and a handful of other sexual services, have been able to operate legally in Japan by making the claim that the sexual act is being exchanged between people who have become acquainted and are no longer “unspecified”.

“Is it nonsense to deem that the couple fell in love while massaging at a soapland? Yes. But that is how things have operated inside the Japanese legal framework for over five decades,” says Kansai University professor Yoshikazu Nagai, who has extensively studied the modern Japanese sex industry.

These industries are well-regulated in Japan, they must report to police to register as one of the following designations: soaplands, fashion health massage parlors, call-girl businesses, strip clubs, love hotels, and adult shops, and are legally bound to only operate in the capacity of the category they choose. However, that doesn’t stop many of these industries from abusing the wording of the legislation which makes it impossible to criminalize these forms of prostitution. The semantic arguments have become so institutionalized that prostitution in many cases is essentially legal.

Child Pornography Loopholes

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Okay, here it is: we’re going to get a little heavy here. There’s no doubt that Japan really values the aesthetic of cuteness and that this naturally translates to the aesthetic of youth (It’s also a bit of a chicken/egg situation). In Japan, youth is beauty. This is why foreign models chosen to represent Japanese companies often need to fit a certain standard of youthful beauty that requires them to be between the ages of 13 to 16. It’s the reason yaeba teeth are popular, and it is the reason that the lolicon genre and fandom exist. For the unaware, lolicon is typically defined as “discourse or media in Japan focusing on the attraction to young or prepubescent girls.” We’ll add that this type of media is typically in the form of drawn or animated depictions of sexualized prepubescent girls as real-life depictions may violate Article 7 of the Japanese constitution that criminalizes the production of child pornography that was ratified in 1999 (They dragged their feet on that one). In Japan, possession and production of explicitly sexual cartoon lolicon is legal, although still contentious. It’s legal in Japan. No loopholes there. However, it gets a little blurrier when discussing non-simulated child pornography.

After 1999 child pornography was outlawed, but only on the following grounds, “production, transport, import and export, as well as possession of child pornography for the aforementioned purposes.” It became illegal to make and sell child pornography internationally. However, there were absolutely no consequences to those that owned it. None. They had simply to prove that they owned it for personal reasons and had no intention to produce, transport, import, or export it, and the law couldn’t touch them. It wasn’t until Wednesday, June 18th, of the year 2014 (I’m not even kidding) that Japanese lawmakers bowed to international pressures and passed a law making the mere possession of child pornography a crime that could result in a year in jail or an up to $10,000 fine. This, of course, left lolicon depictions untouched as they are considered important both economically and for freedom of expression. Has Japan finally moved closer to the international standard for regulating child pornography? The law provides Japanese citizens a year to dispose of any child pornography they possess before risking any prosecution. In this age of technological mass communication and information duplication, that is a pretty lenient loophole. It’s as if Japan doesn’t really want to prosecute child pornographers, instead providing a gentle slap on the wrist and saying, “Hey, you might want to get rid of that.”

Another blatant loophole that continues to blur enforcement of this law is media featuring Japanese junior idols, child models that usually start between the ages of 13 and 15. While the above types of child pornography are largely distributed in hushed tones and on the dark corners of the internet, junior idol magazines, photo books, and videos, can be purchased in legitimate storefronts across Japan. When I was in Osaka, I saw a shelf full of junior idol DVDs, mostly suggestive swimsuit modeling, that was literally across the aisle from shelves of hardcore hentai and sex toys. It’s extremely hard to imagine that those DVDs were being sold for an artistic purpose and not a pornographic one. There have been prosecutions of production companies whose junior models have crossed the vaguely defined line between child modeling and child pornography, resulting in several videos being removed from Amazon.jp’s online store. This is a start, but it hasn’t even slowed down the multimillion dollar junior idol industry.

About That “Why” Question

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Now that I’ve brought up this diverse list of loopholes in the Japanese government, you, dear reader, should have a few “why’s” in your mind as well. Many of the questions raised by this pattern of loophole flouting in Japanese politics do not have easy answers. Some have argued that the loopholes are exploited by the Japanese public and it is the ineffectiveness of the Japanese government’s enforcement of laws that allows loopholes to thrive. However, Japanese law enforcement seems to institutionalize and actively allow many of these loopholes, so I think differently. I speculate that one of the main reasons for this abundance of loopholes isn’t ineffective enforcement or even political corruption (though parts of it can certainly seem symptomatic). It seems to me that what Japan is really after is preservation of the status quo.

From whaling, to prostitution , to a lax drinking culture, to pachinko parlors, to retaining the legality of lolicon, the exceptions are typically made simply to maintain things as they have always been. In fact, it is my belief that many of the laws that these loopholes circumvent would not have been ratified if it weren’t for the intense pressure from the global community. Japan wants to appear as if it is matching expectations of behavior and etiquette with the Western world, while still enjoying certain behaviors that, while deemed inappropriate elsewhere, are considered core to the Japanese way of life.

These loopholes in laws serve a very similar role domestically. Instead of appeasing the moral sensibilities of those overseas, these laws can also appease Japanese citizens by assuring them that legislation has been passed that will protect them from problems like prostitution and underage drinking, when in reality nothing is truly being enforced. For instance, take this short anecdote from fellow Tofugu writer, Verity Lane:

“the prefecture knew that teachers were working too many hours, and they were being criticized. So they shortened the day by 10 minutes. The previous start time was 8:00. Now it’s 8:10. However, the schools didn’t change the time of the morning meeting (at 8:10) so teachers have to be in school by 8:00 anyway. Nothing changed, but there’s some proof that the prefecture ‘did something’ if anyone criticizes them about working hours again.”

This is a simple example, but it is very telling because it supports this observable pattern of many Japanese regulations making changes on paper, but not truly enforcing them, or else building in exemptions that render the law meaningless. It isn’t my purpose to deem whether these actions are ethical or unethical, but merely to bring this interesting idea to the forefront. I really look foreword to hearing the discussions and comments that this article will elicit. Have you observed these patterns in Japanese society? Where do you see other loopholes? And, let us not forget, why?

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources:

  • http://www.icap.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=tMW8of1JAgU%3D&tabid=199
  • http://www.cgeorgemuller.com/summary.htm
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whaling_in_Japan
  • http://www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20120815-the-big-business-of-japans-pachinko-parlours
  • http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gaming/the-secret-life-of-pachinko
  • http://neojaponisme.com/2008/11/17/why-japan-needed-prostitution/
  • http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2008/05/27/reference/law-bends-over-backward-to-allow-fuzoku/#.VCmnn8uM2Ul
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akasen
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_Japan
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junior_idol
  • http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/17/world/asia/japan-child-porn-law/index.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_pornography_laws_in_Japan

 

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Yakan Chuugaku: The Japanese Night Time Junior High Where The Uneducated Learn To Read Good http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/08/yakan-chuugaku-the-japanese-night-time-junior-high-where-the-uneducated-learn-to-read-good/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/08/yakan-chuugaku-the-japanese-night-time-junior-high-where-the-uneducated-learn-to-read-good/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 16:00:51 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42131 In recent years, many people from different countries have been coming to Japan. Their reasons for studying Japanese are as various as their backgrounds. Due to this diversity, local governments have begun shifting their attention of language education to a wider age-range of non-native speakers, since these people aren’t all school-aged students, after all. However, there are still some learners that manage to slip from the clutches of even these education systems. Japanese Junior High Night Schools, or 夜間中学 (yakan-chuugaku), have been picking up the slack. They have actually been accepting these non-native students since after WWII, and the number of non-Japanese students in these classes has been rapidly increasing in recent years. In fact, now approximately 70% of the students are non-Japanese! Today, we’ll be learning about these nocturnal classrooms.

How To Get Into A Yakan-Chuugaku

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Photo by gwaar

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

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

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

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

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

A Night School Junior High History Class

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

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

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

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

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

The Curriculum Of Junior High Night School

yuukanchuugaku

Photo by gwaar

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

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

Problems Awaiting Solution

immigrants

Photo by takomabibelot

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

Sources:

  • 松崎運之助(1979)『夜間中学』白石書店
  • 原田明子(2003a)「夜間中学に在籍する日本語学習者の言語習得管理―学習環境とインターアクション行動の分析から―」 早稲田大学大学院 修士論文
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education
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How to Spice up Your ALT Lessons with the Nine Intelligences! http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/06/how-to-spice-up-your-alt-lessons-with-the-nine-intelligences/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/06/how-to-spice-up-your-alt-lessons-with-the-nine-intelligences/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 16:00:24 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43714 The Nine Intelligences: by itself the term sounds like an elite spy group or a color-coded hero team.

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

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

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

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

History

broken-pencil-test-nine-intelligences

Photo by: Josh Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without Further Ado: The Nine Intelligences

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

Photo by: Linda Hartley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret Spice

secret-spice-nine-intelligences

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

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

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

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

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

Classroom Examples

nine-intelligences-in-ALT-teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Value In The Face of Criticism

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

Photo by: John F. Williams

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

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

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

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

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

Nine Intelligences! Assemble!

nine-intelligences-in-japan-avengers

Photo by Pat Loika

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

Sources

  • Armstrong, Thomas. Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom. 3rd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2009. Print.
  • Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons. New York: Basic, 2006. Print.
  • Kane, Harrison, and Chris Brand. The Importance of Spearman’s g As a Psychometric, Social, and Educational Construct. The Occidental Quarterly v3.n1 (Spring 2003).
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Hell’s Bells: Gamers Steer Animal Crossing up a Silent Hill http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/03/hells-bells-gamers-steer-animal-crossing-up-a-silent-hill/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/03/hells-bells-gamers-steer-animal-crossing-up-a-silent-hill/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 16:00:55 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=44450 There’s no wrong way to play Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which, depending on the kind of person you are, can be extremely frustrating or tremendously liberating. In this Nintendo 3DS game, you are the new mayor and it’s your job to develop your town, but what that means exactly is largely up to you. You can spend your time paying off your debt to loan shark Tom Nook, collecting bugs, funding public works projects, filling your house entirely with toilets, and on and on.

But, if ambition levels are really high, your sunny town with its cutesy animal villagers can be transformed into a desolate nightmare where murder and mayhem run rampant. Really. At least, that’s what a growing number of Japanese players are doing. But their creations aren’t just towns with creepy atmospheres and gory garnish. These players are using Animal Crossing as a medium for telling unique narratives that borrow extensively from the Japanese horror genre.

We’ll take a tour through three of these creeptastic towns, dissecting their cultural elements and unearthing their Japanese horror roots. And don’t worry—you can hold my hand if you get scared.

Enter Diablo

animal-crossing-diablo-town

What’s cool about Animal Crossing: New Leaf is that it allows players to visit each other’s towns in “dreams” i.e. players explore what are essentially snapshots of other Animal Crossing towns using the 3DS’ Wi-Fi capabilities. They can interact with characters and objects, but they can’t permanently alter anything. (So sorry, you don’t get to maniacally level someone else’s trees.)

When your avatar “dreams” of the Japanese nightmare town でぃあぶる (Diablo), you arrive in your pajamas and are free to explore Diablo’s every nook and cranny, but the horror story to be uncovered here primarily takes place inside two large buildings. The first is modestly decorated with a number of small bedrooms. Canvases are set up everywhere you turn: This is some kind of artists’ retreat. But as you walk from room to room, you notice everyone’s been painting the same dark forest over and over. Look a little closer and you see a small, red-hooded figure in these paintings. She gets closer and closer in each painting, until finally she escapes her canvas confines entirely.

The red-hooded figure appears in the form of a smiling, red-hooded doll who sits behind the unsuspecting painters, ax lying on the floor nearby. One artist is missing, having left only a bloodied bed behind in his room and a painting of a red-hooded girl walking back through the forest. Look over the shoulder of one of the only still-surviving artists and you’ll see his half-finished painting of the same forest.

The other house in Diablo is where you’ll find the artist who summoned this evil red-hooded girl, either to curse her fellow artists or, if the high-quality art crammed inside her house is a clue, gain amazing artistic abilities for her own. (When you talk to her, she also laughs suspiciously. Never trust a suspicious katakana laugh.)

The creator of Diablo does lighten the mood with a weird joke, though. Walk around town long enough and you’ll run into Sanji. He’s the well-dressed cook and womanizer from One Piece, Japan’s best-selling manga and anime series about pirates. So there’s that.

Psyching You Out

the-ring-movie

Diablo’s narrative structure is simpler and its gore lighter than most of the other Animal Crossing nightmare towns I’ve ventured through, but I think that’s what makes it such a great example of suspense and psychological horror—two of contemporary Japanese horror’s biggest calling cards.

After the hyper-gore and violence of ’80s horror movies like the Guinea Pig film series, one of which was mistaken for a genuine snuff film by Charlie Sheen who then reported the filmmakers to the FBI (really!), the ’90s saw a stylistic shift in J-horror. Jay McRoy, author of Nightmare Japan: Contemporary Japanese Cinema, specifically points to Tsuruta Norio’s Scary True Stories as influencing many of the big names in the J-horror genre. (Instead of blood and guts, Norio went the other way and focused on disturbing creepiness, like ghostly figures with long black hair.)

Although there’s no typical black-haired vengeful ghost in Diablo, I think this nightmare town fits alongside movies like Ring and One Missed Call. Much like the characters in these movies, who must survive cursed videotapes and phones, the painters of Diablo are faced with canvases that a malevolent force uses to find and kill them. And the evil spirits in all these stories aren’t being too picky, acting as more of an apocalyptic force of evil. These horror stories aren’t about the individual being psychologically tortured per se; they’re more about the threat society itself is under from this unstoppable, wide-reaching attack – and they don’t need a lot of gore to get their point across. If you know what you’re doing a TV full of static or a half-finished painting of a forest is all you need to put your audience on edge.

The Animal Cannibals

animal-crossing-hitokui-town

At first blush, ひとくい (Hitokui) seems like a throwback to American horror film classics, like Silence of the Lambs and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Hitokui means “cannibalism,” after all, and when you wander into the basement of the town restaurant filled with cleavers in puddles of blood and empty baby cribs, it’s clear the chef (named Ed Gein) has been cooking with some unusual ingredients. (Every building in Hitokui is designed this way, with the ground floor appearing normal, almost eerily so, and basements and second floors acting as plot twists or scary reveals.)

But the on-the-nose town name proves to be semi-false advertising the deeper you go, and Hitokui’s narrative quickly reveals its classic Japanese horror roots. For example, when you wander into one of the buildings south of the town square, you find yourself at a Japanese funeral, complete with registry book, incense and floor cushions. There’s even a large bonfire downstairs where a cremation might be taking place later. Shide (Shinto paper amulets) cover the walls in many of the rooms, some of which are dripping with blood…

But maybe the most mysterious room in this building is upstairs, where the figure of a woman is using an old-fashioned spinning wheel. There are also four incense burners, four floor cushions, and four wardrobes in the room with her. (Four is associated with death in Japan, since both “four” and “death” can be pronounced the same way. Since there’s so much death in this room with her, she’s probably intended to be a ghost.) All of that, combined with the samurai suit in another room, makes me think the creator of Hitokui is referencing the “Black Hair” short from the 1965 horror anthology film Kwaidan (based on Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese horror stories.)

“Black Hair” is the story of a samurai, who leaves his wife for another, and when he realizes his first wife is his true love some time later, he comes back to find her toiling away at her loom. They happily reunite and spend the evening together, but when morning arrives, he wakes up to discover he’s lying next to her lifeless, rotting body. She’s been dead for months. Yikes.

The mastermind behind Hitokui is thematically prepping us for the final house in town, where things take a sharper turn toward the macabre. Outside, there’s a guy walking around with his head wrapped in bandages, who says, “にがさない…” which means, “There’s no escape…” Step inside the house itself and you see it’s set up like a doctor’s waiting room, but hidden behind the bookcase is a lab full of grotesque experiments.

Upstairs is a completely red room, which could be a nod to the Japanese urban legend about an Internet pop-up ad that references a red room before its viewer dies. (Those pop-up ads are the worst!) Most notable in this particular red room, besides all the kid toys, is the bloody outline of a body on the bed. Kodokushi or “lonely death” is the Japanese word for when a person dies alone, but isn’t discovered for a long time, leaving an outline behind once their body is removed.

And finally, in the basement is the figure of a bride imprisoned behind large stone pillars. Her prison is furnished nicely enough, and even includes a baby crib. Outside her cage is a stool for a visitor and on your way back out, it’s easy to spot the security camera fixed on her.

Vengeful Ghosts

lantern-obake

Despite its name, to me, Hitokui isn’t about cannibalism at all. Rather, it’s telling that most traditional of Japanese stories: a ghost story.

Ghosts are everywhere in Japanese literature and art, and they’ve been popular subjects pretty much no matter how far back in Japanese history you go. But ghosts are part of everyday life in Japan, too, from the yearly Obon Festival to small Jizo statues. There are different kinds of Japanese ghosts, but the ones most recognizable to Japanese and foreigner alike are yurei: pale women dressed in white with long black hair. Their modus operandi has changed over the course of history, but typically, they’re out for revenge, having been wronged in their lives or in the manner of their deaths.

And a typical yurei is depicted in Hitokui – remember the portrait of the deceased at the funeral? She has long black hair and ghostly pale skin. (She’s also crying bloody tears…) And besides the more obvious fact that there are a few skeletons buried in town and one of the characters you can interact with asks “What’s that behind you?” as though seeing a ghost, you are also given two outfits to choose between when you first arrive in town: a police officer’s uniform or a bridal gown. Not only does this add a cool “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” feel to Hitokui, but it is also as though you yourself are passing through Hitokui as a ghost. (Perhaps Hitokui’s law enforcement was killed while investigating the town’s mysteries and perhaps the bridal gown once belonged to the yurei herself – you’re playing as a shadow of what she once was.) Also there’s the nature of Animal Crossing’s Dream Suite itself – you can travel to and exist in these towns, but you can’t affect change.

Although not an exact retelling by any means, in my view, Hitokui is putting the Animal Crossing spin on the most famous of Japanese ghost stories: the story of Oiwa. The tale goes that Oiwa was married to a man named Iemon and together they had a child. One day, Iemon falls in love with another woman, but to be with her, he knows he needs to get rid of his current wife and kid. He tries poisoning Oiwa at first, but when that only manages to disfigure her, he kills Oiwa and their child outright. Naturally, Oiwa comes back to haunt him.

In this retelling, Oiwa is the deceased bride, whose funeral we see, whose child’s red bedroom we know once contained a body (presumably the kid’s), and who is now imprisoned in the basement of her old house. As a spin on the Oiwa story, there are hints that she might have been summoned to Hitokui, rather than appeared on her own (there’s a Satanic-esque sacrifice scene in the town church), but I do wonder if it’s not that Oiwa appeared as a yurei to punish her homicidal husband. Perhaps, a greater evil was summoned to combat her, but then once she was contained, this new evil didn’t leave and instead reigns over the town, perhaps cooking up the villagers in the local restaurant basement?

The Infamous Aika

animal-crossing-aika-town

Aika was the very first Animal Crossing nightmare town I heard about and its name inevitably gets invoked in pretty much any conversation about nightmare towns. Anecdotally, I would say it’s generally considered the gold standard and “The One” to check out.

So what’s going down in Aika town? Well, it’s really vague. (And in an interview with Nintendo Dream, the creator of Aika says she isn’t telling.)

Unlike other nightmare towns, Aika is very much designed to guide you through the town in a specific way. On the side of the river where you first appear, everything is Animal Crossing perfection. Roses bloom and golden fruit grows on all the trees. There’s only one house on this side of the river, and when you go in, you see what looks like a pretty happy family celebrating a little girl’s birthday. You figure out quickly that this little girl is Aika herself and when you talk to her she says: “おかあさん だいすき” or “I love you, Mommy.”

But then you cross the bridge to the other side of town and it’s a whole new setting. Rotting garbage litters the ground and all the grass is dead. When you see Aika again, she mixes up hiragana and katakana in her “I love you, Mommy” spiel. (And when you see her two more times after that, her speech continues to disturbingly worsen.) Inside the buildings themselves are pretty odd and abstract rooms, like one in which rows of dolls sit at a banquet and another that depicts the Genesis story (i.e. Adam and Eve) from the Bible.

The final house is identical to the first house we saw (the one with Aika’s birthday part), but now everyone is gone and garbage covers the floor. The TV is on, but it’s static. The grandfather clock’s hands point to 4 o’clock. Aika’s childish portraits of her family have everyone scrawled out in black except her. And if you walk down to the beach outside, you’ll find a pair of yellow shoes at the water’s edge. (In Japan, it’s common for people who are committing suicide, to take their shoes off and place them neatly together, the idea being that they’re crossing a threshold: from life to death.)

Getting Down with the Kaidan

Japanese-lanterns-in-nara

I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure what story is being told through Aika. I do think that the town is meant to represent Aika’s psyche rather than a physical town, that Aika had a troubled relationship with her mother, and that due to some horrible event, Aika’s entire family including herself was killed. The town of Aika goes deeper than Diablo (where you’re just a hapless witness) and Hitokui (where you’re an observing ghost), because in Aika, you’re becoming a part of the yurei herself.

I mentioned before that Aika seems to get the most buzz out of all the other nightmare towns, and I imagine it’s probably because the story being told is both detailed and vague, personal and distant. People want to see Aika for themselves and read about everyone else’s widely varying Aika theories, not to mention share their own. Little do they know that in some ways, they’re playing Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, or A Gathering of 100 Weird Tales, a Japanese story-telling game that can be traced back to as early as the 1600s.

The rules of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai are pretty simple. A group gathers and places one hundred lit candles in a circle. Each person takes turns telling a scary story, then extinguishes a candle at the story’s end. As more stories are told, the light fades and darkness gathers. Supposedly, once the last candle is extinguished, whatever terrible thing is lurking in the shadows will spring forth.

Enter Sandman

animal-crossing-horror-town-address

Aika, Hitokui, Diablo and all the other Animal Crossing nightmare towns shared online remind me of this old Japanese game. The point isn’t to figure out the “truth” behind Aika, say, but to come back with a spooky story to tell your friends. People swap these nightmare town stories back and forth across various websites, seeing who can tell the scariest one, and how many candle flames can go out before the game ends.

But, as Levar Burton would say, “you don’t have to take my word for it!” If you’d like to explore these towns for yourself and come up with your own theories and observations, their town dream codes are:

Diablo: 3200-0330-2755
Hitokui: 2600-1856-4772
Aika: 2600-0218-7298

If you don’t have a way to play Animal Crossing: New Leaf, there are plenty of YouTube videos featuring these three nightmare towns (and many, many more).

But if you’ve ventured into New Leaf nightmare towns before, tell me how you’ve interpreted these places. That way, we can continue the Japanese tradition of gathering darkness.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

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

1. Pizza

japanese-pizza-corn-and-mayo

Photo by Takeshi Kiriya

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

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

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

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

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

 2. Cheese

eating-cheese-from-japan

Photo by Ran Zwigenberg

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

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

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

3. Mexican Food

taco-rice

Photo by Hajime NAKANO

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

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

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

4. Corn Dogs

american-dog

Photo by Bing

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

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

5. Sausage

japanese-sausage

Photo by kagawa_ymg

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

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

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

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

6. Bacon

japanese-bacon

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

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

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

7. Curry

japanese-curry-rice

Photo by ekkun

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

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

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

8. Char siu

chashu-pork-ramen

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

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

9. Cheesecake

japanese-souffle-cake

Photo by loving.baking

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

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

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

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

10. Western Breakfast

japanese-pancakes-and-waffles2

Photo by Robyn Lee and David Woo

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

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

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

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

Bon Appétit

cocos-viking-food

Photo by toshisyung

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Is Abenomics Working? http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/29/is-abenomics-working/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/29/is-abenomics-working/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 16:00:38 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43797 This is a continuation of my previous article, which explains what the 3 arrows of Abenomics are and how they are supposed to work.

It’s impossible to say with certainty whether Abenomics is working because the data is ambiguous. Actually it is almost always ambiguous in economics since there’s no such thing as indisputable data.

This page from the Prime Minister’s Office has a list of the grand achievements of Abenomics. But since it’s a government website trying to justify its own policies, you probably know that things aren’t as rosy as they are trying to portray. Richard Katz at The Japan Times for example, calls the whole policy bundle “Voodoo Abenomics”

The issue has two questions that need to be answered:

1. Has Abenomics been able to improve the Japanese economy in the short run? This we can discern from the current statistics.

2. Will, Abenomics ensure Japan’s long term economic health – and this requires speculation and will largely depend on the school of economic thought that one follows.

First, let’s look at some of the indicators so far.

Growth

growth-chart

Japanese government says: There has been a cumulative total of 4.2% GDP growth from Q3 (3rd quarter) 2012 to Q1 2014! This is a break from the prior recession in Q2-Q3 2012!

BUT!

Japan just experienced a big slump in growth in Q2, with a quarter-on-quarter growth of -1.8% according to the most recent statistics. This is a slowdown worse than the effects of the 2011 earthquake.

The government’s being a bit sneaky by just limiting the data to until Q1 2014. The big fall from April to June of this year has mainly been attributed to the effects of the consumption tax hike in April. In short, because a lot of people spent stocking up on big items before the tax increase, consumption has slumped in the second quarter.

The problem is whether consumption will rebound significantly in the rest of this year and whether the effects of the tax hike will just be a heavy, but temporary hit. The Japanese government and the Bank of Japan are taking the optimistic view – and there are already some signs of recovery. Other commentators are expecting however, consumption to remain stagnant due to the tax hikes.

Big question: How permanent are the effects of the tax hike? Will growth recover?

Inflation

japanese-signs-at-store

Photo by Luigi Guarino

Inflation is defined as a steady and general increase in prices, with deflation being the antonym. The negative effects of the latter are explained in my previous article.

Deflation has been the bearbug of the Japanese economy since the 1990s. So how much has Abenomics been able to cause inflation? Bear in mind that the official inflation target rate is 2% at the moment.

Take a look at this link. At face value it looks like Japan has managed to reverse deflation, with positive inflation recorded from around June 2013 with a big jump near April 2014. So on paper it looks positive.

There are two main caveats to this, the most obvious point being that the big jump in April 2014 was due to the tax increase. This jump therefore will not be sustained and may lead to a long term lowering of the inflation rate as consumers spend less.

The second is that a big portion of this inflation is due to increased electricity / combustible prices which are in turn caused by the weak yen. If we exclude the increase in combustibles prices and tax from the inflation rate, inflation is even weaker and certainly below the targeted 2% rate. This suggests that inflation from consumer spending remains weak.

Big question: Will Japan be able to strengthen its inflation to reach their targeted 2% per annum?

Employment

Japanese-salarymen-and-women

Photo by Azlan Dupree

Employment in Japan is a complicated thing. While most of the world is battling very high unemployment, Japan is enjoying a very enviable unemployment rate of 3.8%. At present, for every job-seeker there are 1.09 jobs available in the job market. Needless to say this is far better than the situation in Europe and in the US.

The problems with employment in Japan aren’t with absolute unemployment but the form of employment. According to ministry statistics, at the moment more than one third of the Japanese workforce is tied down to “non-formal employment” (part time work, contract work etc). While this is justifiable in many cases (eg. A housewife working part-time at the local supermarket), the issue is that a large proportion of these are youth who actually want to be fully employed. After all, having only “non-formal” work means that you probably will get less benefits and pay than a full employee, not to mention less job security.

On the other hand, there is commentary about how Japan’s strict labor laws make their employees virtually unfireable. Thus, there are many non-productive and middle-aged staff in companies. Companies are also reluctant to formally employ new labor for the fear that they will not be able to remove them once employed. The Abe government will need to balance the protection of workers with the wishes of companies for more hiring / firing flexibility if it wishes to reform this area.

Labor Force Size

We’re moving on to the long-term issues. And in this sense, what seems to be a short term plus in the form of low unemployment is actually a sign of a long term minus: Japan’s workforce is shrinking and bringing with it a slew of issues such as the sustainability of the welfare system and labor shortages.

Women

Japanese-woman-on-bike

Photo by Azlan Dupree

So far the Abe government is pledging to increase women’s labor force participation rate. On the government’s official Abenomics webpage, they have a glowing figure of 620,000 more women joining the workforce since the administration came into power. Plus, the Abe government is also pledging to increase childcare facilities to alleviate the shortage which many parts of the country are already facing.

I’m a bit skeptical. Because firstly, 620,000 women is a statistic that is impossible to interpret without more context – after all it could just mean that more women were forced to work due to financial reasons. Secondly, increasing childcare facilities is just one part of the problem. If the state of Japan’s female employment is to change, issues of chauvinism and the “glass ceiling” need to be addressed. The culture of overwork needs to be lessened for change to occur too – after all given a choice of working 10 hours a day and doing housework, one can see the attractions of the latter.

Foreign Labor

foreign-family-in-japan

If getting women to work doesn’t happen, or if it doesn’t happen enough, labor shortages will become serious enough that foreign labour will be needed.

There is less controversy with highly skilled labor entering Japan. After all professors and businessmen are considered to be rare resources that would be beneficial. In any case, their numbers would be limited. This is why, as I mentioned in the previous article, the government is putting in place measures to streamline the acquisition of permanent residencies by highly skilled residents.

Bigger controversy lies with allowing in lower skilled workers into Japan, for reasons such as fears about increasing crime, a breakdown of “social order”, wage depression, etc. However, the shortage is already happening and the government is making tentative steps towards allowing some foreign workers through a program which has already been criticized for allowing exploitation.

Big question: At the end of the day, how many people will there be in Japan working and paying the taxes needed for Japan to remain stable?

Structural Reform

taro-aso-hates-old-people

Japan’s current Deputy Prime Minister, Taro Aso, pictured above in a parody of the 1958 film, The Ballad of Narayama, ridiculing his unfortunate statements about the elderly. I am not endorsing this as proper structural reform!

There are limited movements towards reforms, but they resemble needle pricks than a solid arrow at the moment. More are supposedly on the way.

Naturally, this depends on the industry. Main battle areas now are over free trade and the TPP, which exporters such as car manufacturers are pushing for. Agriculture is demanding exceptions. Even after removing it from the issue of free trade, Japan’s agriculture may be the target for reform in the future. View this article for a more detailed view on the issue.

Medical care is also facing its own problems as detailed here. As mentioned earlier in the article, labor reform is something which businesses are championing and which may be enacted.

This leaves us with two big questions:

Firstly, how much will Abenomics bow to vested interests (pro-reform or otherwise) and thus what reforms will it produce?

Secondly, are these largely pro-deregulatory reforms the correct solution in the first place?

Debt

Japanese-money-yen

Photo by Richard G

Then there’s this. Another big long term headache for Japan which I’ve written about in another article.

To summarize: the point is that the Abe government has succeeded in the last two years in bringing down the rate of borrowing – but borrowing is still happening and at a very large rate, as seen here.

It’s a balancing act – borrow too much and you can’t spend or will even crash in the future. Cut borrowing too quickly and you’ll cause lots of short term pain which may then crash in the future (some give European countries as examples).

Big question: Therefore, is the rate of cutting borrowing too fast or too slow right now?

So … is it working?

big-question-mark-abenomics-working

To be frank, I don’t know. Certainly I do have my own opinions. I do think that the indicators look generally positive though quite shaky at the moment. I consider myself also pro-reform, but since the majority of the reforms are still “in the works” I can’t even say what I think about them.

In any case, professors of economics argue about this stuff and mine is not a professional opinion. Since professors of economics don’t agree with each other you’re free to disagree with mine. Time will tell whether Abenomics will work or not for better or for worse.

Just giving a shoutout – anybody have any suggestions for stuff I should write for the next article? If there’s something about current affairs in Japan that intrigue you just leave a comment and I’ll consider. Thanks!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Further Reading:

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Bishounen http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/26/bishounen/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/26/bishounen/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 16:00:20 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43737 Girl meets boy, boy likes girl, girl meets girl-like-boy…

If you have never uttered the word bishounen with swooning exhalation, then, you are most likely a straight male with a floating thought bubble filled with question marks above your head just about, now.  The other nth of you prefer your men folk clearly defined by pronounced Adam’s apples, brow ridges, large hands, and husky voices or thereabouts.

For those on the adoration side of the aisle, if you could, you would not have your men any other way than bishie, but that is impossible.

Bishounen are not men.  They are not youths engaged in pederasty.  They are not actually “pretty boys” as many otaku running in anime circles might insist.  These beguiling beings are not superlative in any form, not really.

Idealization Of Youthful Male Beauty

beautiful-bishounen-man

These are boys who cannot grow up.  They are Japan’s answer to Peter Pan and Twilight.  In essence, bishounen are specters whose very existence defies Western conventions of masculinity.  They are seemingly asexual harbingers of tragedy, who choose neither the path of manliness nor femininity.

From afar, bishounen exhibit perfect qualities of youthful boyishness without any of the detractions of adult responsibility.  This does not mean they cannot perish.  At first glance, they appear to be flaunting their youth while at the same time tempting Death.  The tragedy lies in everything bishounen are not.

Bishounen are often connected with the ancient Japanese literary works known as chigo monogatari.  These pederastic love stories were written by Japanese priests during the Muromachi Period between 1337 and 1573 in such quantity that modern day scholars classify the prose as a genre.  The stories focused on the relationship between a Buddhist cleric and their beautiful boy acolyte, with the later often finding a tragic end.  Some tales depict absolute erotica, while others reveal more noble outcomes toward enlightenment.  The acolytes in these stories only share two similarities with bishounen: they are beautiful and forever boys.

This Is Where The Fantasy Ends

Yoshitoshi-Sojobo-Instructs-Yoshitsune-in-the-Sword

The reality is that chigo (acolyte children) “participated in formal processions, religious ceremonies and public functions,” and would also “serve meals, receive guests and attend closely to the master.”

“In exchange, the chigo were granted unusual privileges that were not given to the other temple children.  They were permitted to wear their hair long (waist length, in some paintings), powder their faces, and dress extravagantly.” Chigo in the Medieval Japanese Imagination

In manga, these beautiful boys are often indifferent protagonists.  Western readers may perceive bishounen ambiguity as effeminate, but that is a misreading.  Bishounen as perceived by the Japanese audience is neither effeminate nor ambiguous; rather they are seen as something like angels, wholly male and female.  Thus the character is sexually liberated, or is it the Japanese reader who is freed from their own traditional social restraints?

“But if the primary Japanese readership is female, shouldn’t these liberators be female as well?” asks the feminist.  Yes and no.  Bishounen are masculine insomuch that they assume this role.  On the other hand, bishounen are feminine in that they disregard this perceived maleness.

And that is what makes these males endearing to the masses of Japanese female readers, bishounen’s sensibility of character apart from their sexualization.  Of course, a significant part of this dynamic is how they are drawn.  Bishounen are distinctly neither male nor female in appearance.  By convention it is assumed those are male clothes, a boyish cut, and figure.  Soft features upon lanky frames with stylish hair, these boys are literal representations of asexual aesthetic.  More than this is the perceived vanity which female readers are connecting with, an ironic paradox, since the corporeal male aesthetic does not regard the mirror.

For the bishounen, this vanity is not calculated; instead, it is a misinterpretation by other characters, the ones we as readers define sexually and thus impart our social expectations upon.  Just as Peter Pan in Broadway productions is historically portrayed by women with a tap upon their nose, so bishounen give us a nod and a wink.

Readers Are In The Know

young-bishounen

Androgyny further lends to the bishounen’s heightened vanity by literally drawing attention to it.  Like runway models with boyish figures, there is a reason this body type remains the go-to form upon the catwalk.  Yet unlike fashion models, bishounen protagonists, being male, are immune to the criticism of feminist rhetoric.  In essence, bishounen are idealistically feminist while remaining wholly male.

And while many readers claim bishounen to transcend gender, it is all important to recognize for whom bishounen are created. Western gender roles need not apply.

Cultural Contamination Skews Perception

japanese-clock-shop

Photo by Arjan Richter

One casual Saturday, I was able to visit Book-Off for second opinions, firsthand insight and to glean some reading material.  Cautiously navigating the stacks, I spotted several customers lining the bishi aisle AKA shoujo section.  Having my Girl Friday in tow, we approached with quasi sumimasen bows.

“Lots of bishounen read like total chauvinists, not just in my American mind, but I think universally.  They can often be purposefully insensitive,” I said to our first participant.

Mari, 33, Office Lady

“Exactly!  It’s because they are guys, they have that choice,” Mari exclaimed.
“No, but when bishi are jerks, don’t you hold it against them?” I instigated.
“Never, they’re too beautiful to hate forever; I just couldn’t.  I always give them a chance.  I hope they change, but it’s okay if they don’t.  As a shoujo reader, I’m optimistic, but that doesn’t mean I’m right.  Heartache is fun when it’s not your own.”

Kyou, 28, Salaryman

“Excuse us, but are you reading shoujo?”
“No, I was, yes.”
“Wonderful!  Do you have any opinions about bishounen?”

The man thought about the question so long we thought he was ignoring us and when he finally spoke, Yo-yo and I had already moved several bookshelves away.

“Yes. I have an opinion!” the man proclaimed.

Seeing Both Sides Of The Coin

illusion-of-a-man-in-japan

Photo by nakimusi

“I think they’re…cool.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re cool.  Bishounen don’t give a damn; they do what they want, and more importantly, how they want.  They act in a way I would never dare,” Kyou stated.

Yo-yo and I studied the salaryman.  He was tall, slender, and perhaps even bishi in a way.  His glasses flashed whenever he cut a look toward us.

“Why do you think Japanese women swoon over bishounen?”
He tilted his head as if we’d asked him the impossible.  “Men or women, it’s the same really: the fantasy. I never swoon, but sometimes I sigh.”

Sanami, 21, University Student

“Well, I find that most bishounen are just a convention these days.  They’re often alien or magical or something like that.  I’m not really a fan, but I tolerate them as supporting characters.”
“That means if the lead character is bishounen, you won’t read the manga?” I asked.
“Well, I might still read it.  I just might not finish it.  I know why office ladies love these characters, but it’s not my thing.  Like I said, I find bishounen really conventional.”
“Sorry, and why do office ladies love them?”

At this point, Mari rejoined the conversation as Kyou eavesdropped some distance away.

Mari: We love them because they’re on the other side of that glass ceiling.  I don’t mean that in a corporate sense.  It’s…”

Sanami is nodding.  “She means it the way people often see the grass as always being greener on the other side of the fence.  Bishounen are on that other side.  They’re this kind of social hybrid.”

Mari: Exactly!  And the fun is knowing that the grass isn’t actually greener at all, it’s blue or pink, it’s different, not better.

Me: So you’re saying that this “glass ceiling” mandates that bishounen must be male?  Or that bishounen actually reinforce traditional gender roles?

Yo-yo bats her eyes in my direction.

Sanami: This is why I dislike bishounen.  I know they’re male because of convention, while they’re actually supposed to be this ambiguous beauty thing.

Mari: I don’t think it’s defined so clearly, but there is a kind of formula these days. An expectation I guess.  It goes with the territory, and I love it.  It’s my escape.

Me: What about female empowerment?

Yo-yo: What about it?

Me: Ask them!

Yo-yo translates.

Mari: Oh that, yes, there is that.  I’m moved, and sometimes I think about how differently bishounen might handle a similar situation I find myself in, like when I am expected to serve tea at business meetings merely because I am a woman.  Sometimes I wish I was irresponsible.

Me: Right, that means you think of bishounen as a kind of man-child?

Sanami: That’s totally wrong.  They are their own thing.  Bishounen don’t actually exist, right, since this is part of the convention.

Mari: That’s right, they can only exist in manga.

Yo-yo is laughing.

Me: What is it?

Yo-yo: If every Japanese man were to suddenly disappear, oh nevermind!

Sanami: I know what she’s thinking.  Bishounen are the way Japanese women would act if they were to assume the masculine role.

Me: So why don’t Japanese women simply assume that role?

Mari is laughing, but stops suddenly as Kyou appears.

Kyou: Because they are still women.

Me: ???

Yo-yo: Feeling empowered and being empowered are two very different things.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources:

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Interview with Medama-Sensei: The Racism-Battling Monk of YouTube http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/25/interview-with-medama-sensei/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/25/interview-with-medama-sensei/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 16:00:48 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=40647 “In a couple of days, I will be gone for 1 year to become a buddhist monk in a forest monastery” is the Twitter post from last year that explained why one of my favorite Japan-video-makers had been absent on Youtube for a while. His name is Miki Dezaki, or Medama-Sensei online, and he made a variety of videos, mostly during his time as an ALT in the JET Program. You’ve probably seen his stuff – a lot of the videos are funny, some of them are serious, and one even brought a bit of nasty attention from right-wing Japan nationalists.

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

Some Background

miki-dezaki

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

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

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

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

The Interview

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

JET

Q: What made you decide to apply for JET?

jet-program-logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Videos

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

medama-sensei-video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meditation/Buddhism

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

miki-dezaki-as-a-monk

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

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

Q: Continuously?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

reflection-in-japan-house

Photo by Scott Lin

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

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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The 3 Arrows of Abenomics Explained! http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/19/the-3-arrows-of-abenomics-explained/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/19/the-3-arrows-of-abenomics-explained/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 16:00:13 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43416 If you’ve been paying attention to recent Japanese news you may have come across this term called “Abenomics”. The term’s origins come from Ronald Reagan’s economic policies, “Reaganomics”. Thus Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economics are “Abenomics”.

The key parts of Abenomics can be summarized in three arrows. But before analyze the three arrows, we have see why Abenomics is needed.

Why “Abenomics”?

Shinzo Abe Abenomics

The first thing to note: Abenomics is packaged, and meant as a dramatic break from the prior situation. And the prior situation entailed:

Spending:

  •  Near zero growth for the past twenty years.
  • Consumer spending stagnating, in part due to deflation.
  • Depressed sentiment due to the 2011 Earthquake disaster and consequences resulting in a recession in 2012.
  •  Huge government debt due to inflagrate spending from the 1990s.

Monetary Situation

  •  Long term deflation.
  • An overly strong yen, damaging exports.

Employment

  • (Relatively) low unemployment BUT!
  • Long-term concerns about labor availability as Japan’s population is declining.
  • Increasingly clear shortages of labor in some areas (eg. construction).
  • Low female labor participation rate.
  • A large portion of the labor force trapped in non-formal employment with lower incomes and benefits.

Abenomics is certainly meant to be a dramatic break from the above-mentioned “lost generation”, especially after the damage from the 2011 Earthquake disaster.

The major reason why Abenomics has been gaining so much attention is the fact that it’s a great contrast to what is happening in the rest of the world – especially in Europe. But to describe this we need to go into the details. So let’s start on the first arrow.

1st Arrow: Dramatic Monetary Easing

japanese-stock-market-tikcer

Photo by Ivan Walsh

“Monetary Easing” is a bit hard to explain without using economic jargon. Basically, the Japanese government is putting pressure on the Central Bank to flood the market with cash.

The government has done this by nominating Haruhiko Kuroda to the helm of Japan’s national bank. He is much more open to monetary easing than previous leaders. If you compare the amount of money (money supply) in Japan’s economy from 2012-2014 (the present regime came into power in Dec ’12), you can see a clear increase over the past 2 years.

To use a weird example, let’s say¥1000 is allocated to buy 20 Fuji apples. To boost the economy, the government is making the central bank release more money into the market so that ¥1500 is allocated to buy the same 20 Fuji apples.

Theoretically the (intended) effects of this are:

1) Since you have more money chasing the same apples, the price of apples is likely to increase.
In the real world, this is meant to stoke a general increase in prices. This may sound bad but when prices decrease, consumers tend to save money to spend later, thus hampering growth.

In other words, increasing price levels by creating more money may break the deflationary cycle and spur consumers to stop saving and start spending.

2) There is ¥1500 floating around compared to say, US$ 100. The comparative value of the yen goes down.
In the real world, because the yen becomes weaker compared to other currencies, Japan’s exports therefore become cheaper, thus probably boosting the amount that will be exported.

2nd Arrow: A “Robust” Fiscal Policy

Japan-Ministry-of-Finance-Building

Photo by Rs1421

The actual word “robust” in Japanese is 機動的 (きどうてき, kidouteki) which is otherwise translated as “nimble, agile,” etc. But no matter the translation, the wording in Japanese (and therefore in English) is intentionally vague.

The point is that the Japanese government is spending more, to boost the Japanese economy. Statistics from the Japanese government show that government spending has been clearly increasing over the past two years, each of which is setting new records in absolute government spending.

Looking at this year’s budget we can also see that the main places this increase in spending is going toward is:

1.) welfare
2.) servicing the debt
3.) public works

The first is explained by Japan’s aging population, the second because Japan’s debt is already astronomical (albeit at a low interest rate) and the third is largely linked with infrastructure investment, particularly in relation to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

At the same time however, the Japanese government simply cannot continue throwing money at its economy without finding new sources of income. Thus there was a move to increase the consumption tax to 8% this past April and a planned further increase to 10% by next year.

In short, while trying to increase growth through government spending, the Japanese government is at the same time trying to rebuild their finances, or at least reduce their reliance on debt.

3rd Arrow: Policies for Growth to Spur Private Investment

tokyo-japan-bay

Photo by Herry Lawford

This one’s a mouthful, but that’s what the Japanese title originally means. Actually – at least to me – this is more of a shotgun blast than an arrow. After all, as The Economist says here, “Part of its strength is its breadth: it is less a single arrow than a 1,000-strong bundle of acupuncture needles.”

So how is the Japanese government trying to spur growth? Below is a list of 5 of such needles that the Abe administration has launched:

1) Lowering corporation tax

  • Corporation Tax has been lowered in April in this year by 2.4%.
  • This is in the hope that it makes business easier to do in Japan.

2) Increasing the labor participation of women

  • Japan’s population and labor force is already declining.
  • Japan’s female labor participation rate is one of the lowest among the developed world.
  • Bringing women into the work force is a way to plug the labor shortage.
  • Policies for this include providing for more childcare workers and childcare facilities.

3) More openness to foreigners in society

  • Fast-tracked permanent residency for “highly-skilled” foreigners.
  • Bringing more foreigners into Japanese universities through the G30 program (actually dates back to before Abenomics but is clearly aligned with it).
  • Push to send more Japanese students overseas with scholarships etc.

4) Cool Japan

  • Push to export Japanese foods and other cultural products to the world and support for such corporations.
  • Measures to increase inbound tourism. Lowering of visa restrictions and introduction of duty-free shopping.

5) Lowering of regulation / barriers

  • Free trade: Ongoing (and probably eventual participation) in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
  • Lowering of barriers to foriegn direct investment in Japan.
  • Deregulation in many industries such as healthcare, agriculture etc.

Some of these have been implemented already and some are still in the pipeline. Anyway if the previous two arrows are meant to prop up the Japanese economy in the short run, this “arrow” of a thousand needles is meant to secure Japan’s long term growth and economic health, and therefore needs time to take effect.

This is, by the way, what a lot of the commentary has been focused on. The first two arrows have their detractors from the academic and news worlds, but the third however runs up against vested interest groups such as Japan Agriculture and the doctor’s union. In addition, it’s not going to be easy to change cultural norms regarding the status of women. The success or failure of the third arrow will largely depend on how much the government bows to these groups’ interests and successfully causes societal change.

Will Abenomics Succeed?

Yokohama-from-sky

Photo by takashi

As I noted at the beginning, Abenomics is quite famous worldwide, so I thought to finish with a bit of an explanation as to why.

The main reason is that no other country is doing what Japan is doing to jump start its economy. While Japan and America do have similarities in that their central banks are trying to flood the markets with cash, Japan is unique in that its government is blatantly trying to spend its way into growth, especially considering their already existent heap of debt. In contrast, Europe is stewing under austerity and the US has similarly had its deficit levels fall significantly. Japan’s economic policy is getting positive attention right now, as people wonder if it will succeed.

Also there’s the fact that it’s got a catchy name. The Prime Minister owes some of his attention to his short family name.

Our analysis isn’t over yet! In the next article I’ll be looking at whether this group of policies is working or not. Stay tuned!

Bonus Wallpapers!

archerabe-1280
[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

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