Tofugu » Society http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Fri, 27 Mar 2015 16:29:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Getting Famous in Japan the One Direction Way http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/27/getting-famous-japan-one-direction-way/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/27/getting-famous-japan-one-direction-way/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49772 Japan is a popular target market for pop singers that want to take their fame internationally, particularly, it seems, when it comes to debuting in Asia. Is it because of the infectious fan base? Is it because the fandom of Asian pop music has not gone unnoticed? There are numerous stars who try, working to […]

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

First, let’s characterize J-pop

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

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

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

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

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

The Stars of the Moment

Japan the One Direction

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

Or this one:

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

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

Branding in Japan

Japan the One Direction

The header image from onedirection.jp

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1D Café?

Japan the One Direction

Photo by Victor Lee

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

The Story of Their Lives?

Japan the One Direction

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Is Japan Really Hardworking? http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/25/japan-really-hardworking/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/25/japan-really-hardworking/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49543 “Hardworking Japanese people” … How many of you have heard that phrase before? How many of you were tripped up by that phrase? And more importantly, for how many of you were the above three words as natural as, for example, “cultured French people”? I too brought that stereotype to Japan. But like other stereotypes, […]

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“Hardworking Japanese people”

… How many of you have heard that phrase before? How many of you were tripped up by that phrase? And more importantly, for how many of you were the above three words as natural as, for example, “cultured French people”?

I too brought that stereotype to Japan. But like other stereotypes, well, there’s true bits and false bits to it. You see all the salarymen half-asleep on the last trains departing from Shibuya and imagine what a hard day they must have had. But then you see the same thing in your university classroom and think – ehh, these people could at least drink some coffee before coming to class.

So this article is me trying to make sense of how hardworking the Japanese people are and putting my point of view out there. Perhaps this will be useful for those of you who are planning to work in Japan in the future too!

The Hardworking Side

Otsukaresama-deshita! Photo by Janne Moren

If there’s one thing the Japanese are known for, it’s their long hours at the office. But what do the statistics tell us? Let’s see what the OECD says for the year 2013:

Average Number of Hours Worked per Worker:

  • Japan: 1735 hours per year
  • South Korea: 2163 hours per year (result for 2012)
  • UK: 1669 hours per year
  • USA: 1788 hours per year
  • France: 1489 hours per year
  • OECD Average: 1770 hours per year

So it looks like the Japanese actually don’t work so hard compared to other countries. They work less than the US and even less than the average. That makes them not so hardworking, right?

Not quite. This is an example of misleading statistics because for two reasons:

Higher incidence of part-time work in Japan

Multiple sources suggest that Japan’s workforce has a higher proportion of part-time work compared to other countries. Some of this is because Japanese women tend to quit full-time work when they have a child only to return as part-time labor after a while. Some of this is due to workers only being offered part-time jobs despite wanting a full time job.

This part-time work depresses the average more than in other countries. Full time work in Japan, however, generally involves longer hours than those in other countries.

Inaccurate Reporting

Some of you may have come across the term saabisu zangyo. Basically, this refers to overtime which is kept off the official books with the full consent of the employee.

Officially, the working week in Japan is largely 40 working hours with additional limits for overtime work. But these limits don’t have any effect if a worker doesn’t clock those hours in – which is de facto what happens in many Japanese workplaces. This goes for both full-time and part-time work – an example being being paid as a waiter for a kaiten zushi restaurant but having to do the clean-up after the restaurant closes without pay.

The 1735 hours you see above is therefore a highly distorted number because of the under-reporting of working hours.

Education for Long Hours

Photo by Angie Harms

Before people even get into the workplace, the Japanese education system seems to demand long hours of them as well. This is particularly with reference to the amounts of cramming students have to do in the lead up to their university exam (See the “Exam Hell” section here for some anecdotes). There are even reports of primary school entrance exams at some selective institutions.

However, do note that the fiercest competition is only reserved for those who want to enter schools on the higher end of the education system – The Japan Times reports that with the decrease in the Japanese youth population, the competition found during the 1980s has died down. It is not hard to get into a university in Japan right now (putting quality aside) if one wants to.

The Exceptions?

Photo by Jason Wharam

There are a few possible exceptions to the stereotype of long working hours. As I’ve written about before, the first thing that comes to mind is the university lives of the Japanese students. Since I wrote that, I’ve come across this additional article on Toyokeizai (in Japanese). The writer basically compares American and Japanese universities, and concludes that Japanese students do put fewer hours into studying at the university level than Americans do.

But otherwise I really had to rack my brain to think of exceptions – even the university example has to be qualified by how some people sacrifice their studies not for slacking off but to put time into something else, such as a sports clubs. Perhaps we can talk about the housewives? But they do labour at home. Or maybe parasite singles? But that’s only a small slice of the Japanese population?

So the Japanese are hardworking then! Not so fast…

Hardworking ≠ Being Worked Hard

Which does this count as? Photo by Amir Jina

This is the main point which I think people misunderstand about Japan. When people characterize the Japanese people as hardworking, it usually implies that a Jiro-Dreams-of-Sushi-esque image of the conscientious, motivated, eager-to-serve Japanese worker willing to put his best into his job.

This image is overplayed and exaggerated on two points.

Motivation?

There is a difference in being motivated enough to work twelve hours a day at something and working twelve hours because your boss still hasn’t left the office, or because of the general social pressure to not do so. Rocketnews has an article that looks at how much actual work is getting done in those long hours (the conclusion: not as much as you might think). And let’s look at some statistics that relate to feelings of motivation:

Which in turn can be explained by the following:

  • This article suggests that base pay is a very important factor for Japanese workers – stagnant pay over the past two decades wouldn’t have helped motivation.
  • After the collapse of the bubble economy, job security has decreased and as stated above, many can’t even get full-time jobs in the first place. Job anxiety may make you work hard (or at least make you appear to do so), but that does not equate with being happy or motivated while doing so.
  • Japanese HR practices as listed here that have the effect of decreasing engagement.

Productivity?

Another thing that we can question is, if the Japanese were so hardworking, surely they would be very productive as well! But this again isn’t supported by the data. Here’s what the OECD says about productivity in 2013 (ie. GDP per hour worked in USD terms deflated for purchasing power):

  • Australia: $48.50/hr
  • France: $50.90/hr
  • Japan: $36.10/hr
  • Korea: $29.90/hr
  • Spain: $40.40/hr
  • UK: $44.50/hr
  • US: $56.90/hr
  • OECD Total: $40.50/hr

This means that hour for hour, Japan produces less than the OECD average and at only around 3/5 of the average productivity of the US. Even when doing a per-industry analysis, this report notes that Japan is still behind in terms of productivity when compared to Europe and the US (though not for all industries). And note that these statistics are calculated based on output per hour, so given that hours are likely to be under-reported, actual productivity is likely to be even lower.

There are two ways of interpreting this low productivity: either the Japanese are only pretending to work, or they are actually putting in a lot of effort, but on the wrong things. Both are probably true – this link, and quite a few of the links I’ve included above refer to Japanese offices being full of people rushing around and acting busy, but not actually accomplishing much. There’s also many comments about people sleeping in poorly conducted meetings and people just staying in the office because their boss is there, and so on, with nothing actually getting done.

On the other hand, there are also some examples in which Japanese people are putting in earnest hours but just in rather unproductive ways. Examples include the endless paperwork that the Japanese both produce and process diligently but which could be streamlined with better use of technology. This article also points out another thing – how many people do you really need to direct the traffic in Japan anyway? Sure they’re all very hardworking in giving the traffic signals, but sometimes living in Tokyo you wonder if so many are really needed.

Quantity vs Quality

Photo by Tokyoform

The conclusion seems to be yes, Japanese people put in many hours, but in the end much of this is due to peer pressure and job-security fears and not much actual work gets done. In fact, something I’ve heard while living here in Japan is that, since the people know that they’re going to have to do overtime anyway, why bother to work hard and be efficient? You might as well lounge around and do things slowly since you’ll pretty much be forced to have a 10-12 hour workday anyway.

I have to say the obligatory disclaimer that not all Japanese conform to this – and it’s not just the individual but the sector and company too. Behind the great Japanese customer service lies the hard and earnest work of Japanese service staff. However, a different story applies to big Japanese conservative “dinosaur” corporations.

In short, the Japanese (at least those with full time employment) do tend to put in more hours than the average in many countries. However, don’t expect them to be particularly content nor efficient while doing so. Working long doesn’t necessarily mean working hard. And being worked hard can be different from being hardworking.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Politely Puffing with Japanese Smoking Manners Posters http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/09/politely-puffing-japanese-smoking-manners-posters/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/09/politely-puffing-japanese-smoking-manners-posters/#comments Mon, 09 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=49056 One of the biggest adjustments I had to make when I lived in Japan was dealing with smoking. For most of my adult life, a smoking ban in the UK meant that when I went to bars, clubs, or restaurants, I could enjoy myself in a smoke free environment. Almost everyone I knew was a […]

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One of the biggest adjustments I had to make when I lived in Japan was dealing with smoking. For most of my adult life, a smoking ban in the UK meant that when I went to bars, clubs, or restaurants, I could enjoy myself in a smoke free environment. Almost everyone I knew was a non-smoker. Since I have asthma, smoking was never something I wanted to take up. My lung capacity is bad enough as it is.

In comparison, it seemed like most of my friends and co-workers in Japan smoked. Even when I went out to eat with friends who didn’t smoke, there would often be other restaurant customers who smoked, filling the air with a grey haze. After every enkai, I always had a shower to wash the smell out of my hair, no matter how late I got home.

I even knew someone who took up smoking in Japan, even though she had quit in her home country. She said that stress, the influence of her Japanese colleagues, and the fact that cigarettes were so much cheaper in Japan thanks to low taxes broke her resolve.

However, despite my personal dislike for cigarettes, even I can recognise that the Japanese tobacco industry has given the world something wonderful. I’m talking about the beautiful, poetic and funny smoking manners posters.

If you have noticed…

Smoking-manners-posters

Photo by speedwaystar

If you visit Japan, your eye will probably be caught by the simple design of the smoking manners posters. Using only two colours, green on white, the posters illustrate situations and moral quandaries. The illustration is accompanied by a line or two of text in Japanese and English. The illustrations are labeled only in English, possibly capitalising on the “cool” image of English in advertising. Reading them feels like reading poetry sometimes. The ads seem to owe something to Japanese styles of poetry like the haiku.

“The fire disappears beneath his shoe. Unfortunately, the butt still remains.”

One of the elements of many classic haiku is a shift in perspective using a line break. Many of the posters employ a similar technique, with two sentences that shift your point of view. Others put smoking in a new perspective.

“I carry a 700°C fire in my hand with people walking all around.”

They don’t state rules, but are designed to make people think about their actions. There is definitely a sense of humour too.

“Don’t smoke in a crowd. Coats are expensive.”

Some pose questions.

“Tossing out cigarette butts because others did? Is that a good reason?”

They don’t tell you the answer, but the implication is clear. The tag line of the adverts is あなたが気づけばマナーは変わる。”If you have noticed, your manners change.” There is a lightness of touch that makes these posters strangely affecting.

…your manners change

smoking-manners-posters-about-smoking

Photo by tokyofortwo

There are some common themes the posters address; throwing away cigarette butts, being aware of secondhand smoke, burning people and things, caring for Japan’s nature, and the usefulness of portable ash trays. Every season a new batch of posters is released. You can view a gallery of all the posters here. My favourites are the winter ones I spotted at the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri.

snow-manners

Photo by Verity Lane

I’ve stuck my face in plenty of snow and was very glad never to see any cigarettes in there with me, so maybe the posters worked. I spotted this poster in the middle of Oodori, the street that famously holds the huge snow sculptures that you’ve probably seen (yes, including that Star Wars one). Specifically, the posters covered the side of a smoking area that had been set up to separate smokers from the rest of the crowds. That raises the question… who is making these posters?

Anti-Smoking or pro-Smoking Posters?

smoking-manners-with-man

Even if you’ve noticed the posters, you probably don’t know who makes them. The only clue is the small JT logo. That JT stands for Japan Tobacco. These posters are not an anti-smoking adverts. Did that blow your mind? I know that many people, including myself, have assumed that the posters are some kind of anti-smoking public health campaign. They are made by one of Japan’s largest cigarette manufacturers and the third most profitable tobacco company in the world.

At first this might seem counterintuitive. However, when you think about it, the motives behind this campaign start to emerge. Public opinion and shame play a huge role in Japanese society. Conforming to the expectations of those around you is very important. As cigarette sales and the number of smokers in Japan decline, it is becoming less of a cultural norm. Therefore, smokers are more at risk of being judged by other non-smokers. It is in Japan Tobacco’s interests both that the tobacco industry and smokers appear to be well mannered so as not to upset others. The more smokers have good manners, the less friction there will be in society, and the less likely that public opinion will turn against smoking leading to things like smoking bans, which would cut further into Japan Tobacco’s profits.

Viewed from this angle, the charming posters seem quite cynical. However, regardless of the poster’s motives, if they are effective then they are doing some good. Though some areas of Japan, like Kanagawa and Hyogo Prefectures are imposing smoking bans, most of the country does not seem to be following yet. In the short term, if the posters improve smokers’ manners and help keep Japan clean, this is a good thing, even if they slow the decline of smoking in the long term, which is not so good.

The posters and TV adverts were made by the ad agency of Kinya Okamoto, Okakin. Okamoto is also responsible for Japan Tobacco’s “Adult Training Course,” with yellow posters and a similar theme to the green and yellow ones. He seemed to have corner the market in “adult” (no, not in that sense) adverts. He is also responsible for the Otona Glico (adult Glico) chocolate campaign. The link between cigarettes and adulthood is a bit easier to understand. The age of majority and the age you can buy cigarettes is 20 in Japan. This is the age when you are expected to take on adult responsibilities.

Beyond Smoking

train-manners

Photo by Jackson Boyle

The ads have been so effective that they’ve been taken on by another industry. Japan Rail (JR) has a collaboration with Japan Tobacco. The JR posters have the same style as the JT posters, but address common travel faux pas. They are displayed in train carriages, often with one half addressing train manners and the other the familiar smoking manners. When I was backpacking around Japan, my eye was certainly caught by the poster about large bags.

train-manners-by-verity

Photo by Verity Lane

It did make me more aware of how I was carrying my bag and I adjusted my behaviour. Many foreign tourists in Japan use public transportation. If you are going on a trip, look out for them. Not only are they interesting, they can also help you mind your manners on the often very packed trains.

Studying Japanese

smoking-manners-shock

Photo by megadem

Beyond teaching manners and providing the occasional chuckle, the posters have another use. They can be used as a Japanese language learning resource in three ways. The first way is that they provide reading practice “in the wild.” Coming across one of these posters is either a chance to test your reading skills by trying to read the Japanese and comparing your translation with the English on the poster, or a chance to study some new kanji. Since most of the sentences are short and only have one verb, it’s easy to pick out the verb and match it to the English meaning. If you are a visual learner, the picture can help reinforce the memorisation. I liked to look at the posters as little learning resources scattered across my journeys through Japan. It was always exciting to find a new one.

smoking-manners-gonne-getcha

Photo by Walter Disney

The second way the posters can help you with your Japanese goes beyond just kanji and grammar. It is fairly rare to see direct translations of Japanese into English. A good translator will keep in mind the idioms and style of the target language. That’s great if you’re just interested in the final translated content. It’s not so great if you’re trying to look behind the scenes and gain a better understanding of the original language. The English on the smoking posters sounds strange in a way that it’s difficult to pin down. It’s not misspelled, grammatically incorrect or “Engrish”. It’s just not quite how a native speaker would express the same sentiment. If you are studying Japanese, this can give you a great insight. I found that by studying these oddly direct translations, I could better understand how these statements were constructed in Japanese.

smoking-manners-posters-wet

Photo by Lee LeFever

The third way they are useful builds on the second way. If we examine not just what the posters are saying, but how they are saying it, we can understand something about constructing an argument in Japanese. Anyone who has tried to teach English essay writing skills will know that an English argument and a Japanese argument are very different creatures. The smoking posters illustrate one of these differences. Rather than trying to convince people through direct command, they evoke contemplation or a emotional response. Trying to convince a Japanese person of something can sometimes be a very frustrating exercise.

When I was trying to convince teachers that students should try writing original sentences in English, it didn’t matter what educational theory or evidence I cited. In the end the thing that convinced them was an anecdote. Take a look at the smoking posters and see if you can see how they make their arguments in a subtle way. What is important goes unspoken, but is implied. Learning Japanese is not just about learning the language, but also how to think in that language. You might learn what to say, but if you don’t learn how to say it, you’ll be missing an important component. The smoking posters can give you an insight into this aspect of Japanese that is often hard to see.

Not only useful as reading practice, the very literal English translations clearly illustrate the differences in English and Japanese go beyond the words themselves to a way of thinking. By reading these translations, we can understand something about the different thought process behind constructing a persuasive argument in Japanese.

Behind the Smokescreen

smoking-bear

Photo by Evan Blaser

For all that I admire about the artistry and the usefulness of the smoking manners posters, we can’t get away from the fact that they are part of a cute cover-up for a big health problem. The problems with smoking that the posters highlight are trivial in comparison with the real problems caused by smoking. Tobacco kills up to half of people who use it. The World Health Organisation estimates that 7,000 people are killed by second hand smoke every year in Japan. However, Japan’s smoking rate is falling, part of a wider trend in developed countries. Despite the lack of a nationwide smoking ban, smoking is becoming a hotter issue in Japan. Lung cancer has overtaken stomach cancer as one of the biggest killers in Japan. The smoking salary man is an image that seems to belong in the past. The tide is turning in Japan, with increasing taxes and decreasing smoking rates, but there is still along way to go before Japan is a pleasant environment for non-smokers, despite the efforts of the smoking manners posters.

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Why the Japanese Countryside Is Emptying http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/06/japanese-countryside-emptying/ http://www.tofugu.com/2015/03/06/japanese-countryside-emptying/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=47213 I often tell newcomers to Japan to assume that there’s a giant conspiracy going around. A conspiracy that aims to hide the uglier parts of Japan. While Japan does have its share of problems, it papers over them pretty well. The typical tourist therefore heavily risks mistaking Japan as a wholly prosperous country. There isn’t a conspiracy […]

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I often tell newcomers to Japan to assume that there’s a giant conspiracy going around. A conspiracy that aims to hide the uglier parts of Japan. While Japan does have its share of problems, it papers over them pretty well. The typical tourist therefore heavily risks mistaking Japan as a wholly prosperous country.

There isn’t a conspiracy of course, but skepticism is healthy no? After all, tourists tend to go to the successful tourist spots and forget all of about the unsuccessful ones. How can you know if you haven’t seen it? These are largely spread out, decaying in the declining Japanese countryside. A countryside invisible to the typical tourist. After all, visitors tend to cluster in the main cities, and the rural areas that tourists visit are still tourist spots. They tend to be well kept.

Outside of this veneer, the Japan beyond the main cities has started to drift into population decline. As I traveled around Tohoku researching for two other articles, it was hard to miss. This article wishes to address why the country is emptying and if anything can be done about it.

Population Problems

japan countryside emptying fields
Between Mito, Ibaraki and Iwaki, Fukushima

First, take a look at this interactive map produced by Nikkei News. The map indicates the population growth/loss by percentage in all the municipalities of Japan between 2010 and 2014, sorted by color. The more autumn-like the color, the greater the population loss.

The large swaths of pale green that you see indicate municipalities which have lost 0-10% of their population in the past 4 years, ie. the majority of Japan. Exceptions which show marginal growth are clustered around the main urban areas with few outliers.

This variation of the map will prove more startling. Now you’re looking at the expected percentage change in the young (20-39 years old) female population of Japan by 2040.

There are probably around 20 localities in green. The rest of the country is coated in varying shades of bright autumn. The deepest purples indicate a greater than 80% loss in this key population group. Furthermore, zoom out and you will see that no prefecture is expected to have any growth in this population segment. Rural Japan is expected to fare generally worse.

japan-countryside-emptying-storefront
Urban Decay less than 5 minutes from Iwaki Station

These are dire straits for many localities outside of the main cities. The point is that in addition to national population decline, Japan’s countryside is expected to be hit the hardest. Already there is talk of some localities “vanishing” in the future.

However, the very well known lack of babies is only one part of the problem. In general (as in most parts of the world), fertility in rural Japan beats that of urban Japan hands down. If nothing else were happening it would be urban Japan dying out.

But people, especially young people, are moving from rural to urban areas. This is something they’ve been doing for the past century. The three main causes of this migration are education, the economy, and culture.

Education

japan-countryside-emptying-school-desks-class

Photo by: naosuke ii

Say you are a middle school kid in rural Japan where trains come once every two hours. Or perhaps you don’t have the fortune of having a train line pass through your area at all. Your parents worry about your future but in Japan (and in wider East Asia), having a future means having an education. High school alone usually doesn’t cut it so it’s off to study more – preferably at a university, even better if it’s a famous one.

The best universities are all clustered in major cities. And even if you choose one closer to home it’ll still be in a major city within the prefecture at least. And that means moving.

japan-countryside-emptying-charts
Source: Wikipedia. Left graph: Green denotes national average, Purple the distribution of Nidogawa-cho in particular. The right shows the distribution divided by gender, males in blue females in red.

This is why if you look at population graphs of rural towns in Japan there’s a very big dip in the population between 18-22 years old. The graph above shows the population graph for Nidogawa-cho, Kochi prefecture (picked at random). Note the very obviously disproportionate elderly population and the very clear valley around age 20 explained by the above.

Naturally, once you move out there’s no guarantee that you’ll move back.  In this way many young people drain out into the main urban areas and stay there.

Here is something curious I found on a visit to Iwaki. Below is a photo of the window advertisements of a cram-school.

japan-countryside-emptying-cram-school-schedule

The schools listed here are all located in Tokyo. Okay, well Tokyo has many universities anyway so that’s not surprising. More importantly, mixed in the congratulations are schools which are not exactly famous; a cram school in Tokyo would probably never advertise some of the listed schools here.

There’s lots of ways to interpret it but here’s mine: the advertisements are obviously aimed at parents passing by. Therefore some way or another going to a mid-tier Tokyo university (something which is nothing special to Tokyo dwellers) gives your kid enough future prospects for you to fork out money for extra lessons.

Therefore, with higher education being tied to the big cities it’s no surprise that Japanese youths are leaving, often permanently.

Employment

japan-countryside-emptying-minimum-wage-sign
Shiogama, Miyagi. 800 yen an hour compared to the minimum wage in Tokyo, which is more than 850 yen an hour.

Education explains one third of the problem. Another third is work.

Actually, if you look at unemployment statistics, you’ll find that the prefecture with the lowest unemployment is actually Shimane whereas Osaka has the third highest unemployment rate in the country. So maybe rural Japan isn’t doing so bad after all?

But intuitively speaking, when a rural person can’t find work they tend to move to a city for opportunities. When an urban person can’t find work, they usually don’t think of heading into the countryside. The low unemployment rate of the rural areas may simply be because the young people who would have been unemployed have already moved to the cities in search of work.

Another thing: city-dwellers unambiguously earn more than countryside dwellers. On the other hand, (contrary to expectations) living in rural areas isn’t necessarily cheaper. Consider the following:

  • You save on rent, but you need a car to get around. This means paying for the fuel and maintenance.
  • Food is cheaper, but since other shops are rare there isn’t much competition (not to mention having to transport the goods to rural areas). Goods are generally more expensive outside of big cities.
  • High fees are necessary to send children away for higher education.

In any case, not all rural areas are doing poorly. However, unlike the major cities which are generally doing okay, there is a spread of winners and losers among the rural areas. And the losers often are marked by:

japan-countryside-emptying-scenery-from-a-bridge
Yubari, Hokkaido. Following the closure of it’s coal mine and a city bankruptcy last decade, the town which once boasted a population of around 70,000 had (as of 2010) only around 10,000.
Photo by Glade
  • Mismanagement: Yubari in Hokkaido (documented beautifully here) is a fine example.
  • Sunset industries: Former coal towns (like Yubari) have had their populations decrease since the shutting of their mines. Others have jobs like fishing, agriculture, forestry, etc., which are simply not attractive to younger people.
  • An end to pork-and-barrel politics: Japan’s government spending has been propping up the rural areas (made clear by this graph). However as Japan has been forced to slim down its public works this support will fall – taking down some localities with it.

Culture

japan-countryside-emptying-winter-station-train-girl-on-phone

Photo by Miki Yoshihito

I have to say that in my short trip around Tohoku the youth I saw were pretty much the same as those in the big cities. Guys with lion hair. Girls with very well conditioned hair even though there were no snazzy hair salons in sight. And surprisingly short skirts – so much for inaka conservatism. But then I guess it would be unfair to think otherwise. What else could they be? Unfashionable savages with pock marked faces?

Of course not. But people don’t normally grow lion-hair naturally and so this must come from somewhere. That somewhere probably being the national / internet media which certainly pushes city trends.

So imagine that you are a high-schooler. You are inspired somehow, probably through boy bands or Johnny’s idols on TV, to make your hair defy gravity. Everyday you take a train which comes once every 30 minutes during the morning “rush hour.” Miss that train and you miss one class. On the train ride it’s just rice fields or occasionally some shops with 1970s font.

japan-countryside-emptying-shuttered-shops
Shuttered Streets, Ishinomaki, Miyagi. Probably not the most attractive place to live if you are young.

You’ve probably been to the nearest big city in your region. And unlike where you live there are karaoke chain shops, not dinghy snack bars with a machine that only has enka songs. You are amazed at the lack of shutters in the streets. But above all there’s other young people. Aside from school, meeting someone else around your age is a herculean task.

You get the point here. It’s no wonder why many young people want to live in the cities. So even if the above two problems were solved, the steady stream of young people into the cities probably wouldn’t slow.

What Now?

japan-countryside-emptying-nahari-station
Nahari, Kochi. 1990 population: 4291. 2010 population: 3540. 2030 estimate: 2521. (Sources here and here)
Photo by Rsa

This is a topic that has garnered a lot of attention in Japan and most people know that something must be done. The central government, and especially the various towns and cities in peril, have put some measures in place. In fact the current government has pushed through a set of reforms under the banner of Chiho Sosei (地方創生, literally “Creating Life in the Countryside”).  Some of the many measures by both central and local governments being taken involve:

  • Tax cuts and other incentives for companies to relocate their headquarters out of the main urban areas of Japan.
  • Providing people who are considering moving to the countryside the necessary living/job information to do so.
  • The central government providing funds to localities who have produced concrete and sound plans for their own revivals.
  • Measures to increase the birthrate, including the setting up of sufficient numbers of childcare facilities.
  • Active enticing and development of new industries

And we do see some positive examples. Kawakami-mura in Nagano-prefecture has actually seen a population increase from 2005-2010 while Ama-cho has recently gained media attention for its success at attracting young people and its successful economic revival.

The issue is that these are so far the exceptions and no matter how well Japan as a whole handles the issues, there will be some casualties. This is inevitable at the rate at which Japan’s population is decreasing (it dropped by around 220,000 people from last year to this year). Therefore, Japan not only has to find out how to revive its declining countryside but manage the decline through perhaps merging unsustainable settlements.

I have to add that this isn’t a uniquely Japanese problem. Many countries are also facing gradual declines in rural population. Japan however, is probably the first to experience it on such a scale in a non-wartime scenario.

This means that it doesn’t have any examples to learn from, making managing an emptying countryside an extremely difficult task. As metioned before, given the population decline it’s no longer a question of if Japan’s inaka will empty but to what extent. But, if well managed, perhaps it can be an example for other countries such as neighbours South Korea and China which will follow in its demographic footsteps. Or perhaps even the wider world.

Bonus Wallpapers

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

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

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

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

Meet the Masterminds

ishiguro and geminoid

Photo by Ars Electronica

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

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

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

osaka univ robot lab

Photo by Ars Electronica

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

Robots and Androids and Humans, Oh My!

robot theater serving tea

Photo by Brett Davis

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

Hataraku Watashi (I, Worker) Debut in 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henshin (Metamorphosis) Debut in 2014

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

robot theater

Photo by Brett Davis

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

Human Responses to Theatrical-Electrical Stimuli

robot theater 2

Photo by Ars Electronica

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of Robot Theater

robot theater 3

Photo by Ars Electronica

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

 

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources

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

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

One, Two, Three, 一、二、三

soba-restaurant-numbers-math

Photo by CeciliaC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody Do the Kuku

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

Photo by Bryan Ochalla

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

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

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

Could You Be a Soroban Master?

japanese-maths-math-soroban

Photo by Joe Haupt

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

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

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

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

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

This is the power of the soroban.

Maths Is More Fun in Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, A Little History

meiji jinja

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

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

Slander vs. Libel

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Photo by emdot

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

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

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

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

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

The Truth Won’t Set You Free

lawyer fortune

Photo by slgckgc

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

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

So You’re Being Sued

lawyer on tv

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

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

Injunction, What’s Your Function?

stop button

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

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

Court Is Adjourned

judges gavel statue

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

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

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

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Art is pretty awesome.

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

Hiroshige_Rough_Sea_at_Shichirigahama_in_Sagami_Province_1852

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

Lines of Communication

nanban-southern-barbarian-art-japan

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

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

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

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

Gasshukoku_suishi_teitoku-gaki_Oral_statement_by_the_American_Navy_admiral

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

So It Begins

Three_Seated_Ladies_with_Lanterns_Tea_Pot_Candle_Holder_and_Stringed_Instrument_-_Kitagawa_Utamaro-ukiyo-e

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

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

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

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

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

A_colored_version_of_the_Big_wave_from_100_views_of_the_Fuji_2nd_volume

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

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

The_Meeting_Together_Miai_from_The_Marriage_Ceremonies_-_Suzuki_Harunobu-ukiyo-e-ukiyoe

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

Suzuki Harunobu / Edgar Degas

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

Kannazuki_Harunobu_Suzuki

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

Ludovic_Hal-Albert_Boulanger-Cav

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

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

Kitagawa Utamaro / Mary Cassatt

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

Yamanba_and_kintaro_sakazuki

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

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

Mary_Cassatt,_1902,_Reine_Lefebre_and_Margot_before_a_Window-painting

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

Utagawa Hiroshige / Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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

Hiroshige,_The_station_Ejiri-ukiyoe

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

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

Lautrec_jane_avril_1899

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

Katsushika Hokusai / Vincent Van Gogh

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

hokusai-woodblock-print-landscape

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

Van_Gogh-The_Haystacks

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

A Universal Language

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

Art really is pretty awesome.

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

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

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

We’re Not Gonna Take It!

Shimabara-Castle

Photo by 663highland

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

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

Rebel, Rebel

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

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

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

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

amakusa-shiro-at-shimabara

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

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

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

Methods of “the Man”

crucifix-on-fumie-fumi-e

Photo by Chris73

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

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

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

Practices of the Persecuted

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

Photo by PHGCOM

A Kirishitan statue of Mary disguised as Kannon

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

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

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

The Second Coming of Japanese Christianity

uss-powhatan-1860-commodore-perry

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

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

Tanuki Shapeshifting

tanuki-shapeshifting-balls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Tanuki Trickery

Hokusai-tanuki-teapot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanuki Illusions

tanuki-playing-tricks

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

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

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

Tanuki Balls

tanuki-balls-testicles-nuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tanuki Adapts to Modern Times

tanuki-statues-at-shigaraki

Photo by jpellgen

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

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

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

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

The Real-Life Tanuki

real-life-tanuki

Photo by rumpleteaser

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Isn’t a Tanuki?

ninja-shinobi-tanuki

Photo by rumpleteaser

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanuki Today

tanuki-subway

Photo by Joey Rozier

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

tanuki-statues

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

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

Bonus Wallpapers!

tanuki-1280
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References

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

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

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

The King of Bungo

statue-of-otomo-sorin Christians in Kyushu

Photo by 大分帰省中

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

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

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

Christian Cruise

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

Japanese delegates visiting Pope Gregory.

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

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

A Tenuous Tolerance

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

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

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

The 26 Martyrs

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

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

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

Tokugawa Transition

Konishi_Yukinaga Christians in Kyushu

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

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

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

The Hammer Falls

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

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

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

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

Dark Times Ahead

beheaded-jizo-statues Christians in Kyushu

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

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

To Be Continued . . .

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

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

Clinics for This, Clinics for That

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

Photo by Roger Walch

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

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

Welcome to the Japanese Insurance System(s)

Japanese-hospital

Photo by Nemo’s great uncle

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

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

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

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

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

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

The doctor is in… control

japanese-medical-system-poster

Photo by Angelina Earley

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

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

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

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

Communication Is Only Half the Battle

japanese-medical-system-mameshiba

Photo by Nina Helmer

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

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

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

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

No Bad News Can Be Bad News

Japanese-Medical-System-brochures

Photo by Yuya Tamai

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

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

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

Navigating Japan’s Medical System like a Pro

Japanese-Medical-System-Superman-Poster-Sign

Photo by strikeael

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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