Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mongolia and the Kama Sutra Scribble

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After learning about Mongolian culture last year, I gave my 2nd year students (8th grade in the US) short composition sheets with different images of Mongolia and asked them to describe what they would do there using the future tense. Afterwards we made a big bulletin board outside the English classroom my JTE and I had begged the Kocho Sensei (Principal) for. Usually, in Japan, teachers change rooms while students stay in their homeroom.

I rediscovered this gem today in a pile of old papers.


This is Mongolian Wrestlers. I don't like this.

Because I don't like naked men.

I won't see Mongolian Wrestlers.

Of course I won't play Mongolian Wrestlers

But, I will go to Mongolia.


Shortly thereafter, I discovered this on one of the students desks while we were in the midst of a conversation lesson...

And speaking of naked men...

This comes only a week after one of the sweetest 3rd grade (9th in the US) boys in the whole school invited me to the library during hiru yasumi (recess) to show me the school collection of Disney's books in Engish. Of course it was right about then that the crew that I usually play basketball with came looking for me, and finding me in the library, quickly set to work searching through a shelf of books. I was so impressed that they were giving up their beloved b-ball time to read, until one of them tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a certain nether region on Michealangelo's famous statue of David in an art encyclopedia.


"Melissa, what's this?"

"Hmm...Yabai." I said, trying to think of a plan of escape. The rest of the crew gathered around, waiting anxiously for my reply.

"Melissa..." he said reassuringly, sensing my fear "Ok, Ok. Doctor's word Ok."

"Doctor's word is Ok?" I asked, still stalling and hoping for a reprieve. " Ok. What is the doctor's word in Japanese?"

"Dansei!" He calmy answered, and then sensing a bit of reverse pedegogy on my part, smiled and tried to translate it into Enlglish himslef.

"Dan nan no de...Man! No no! Man- ZU! Man-zu sei...Sei...Sei..PART! Man's part!"


By now, all the boys in the library were gathered around us in anticipation. We all bust out laughing. The sense of accomplishment on his face was priceless.

Eventually I told them the "doctor's word," which has and promises to lead to even more interesting eikaiwas (english conversations)...

Monday, May 29, 2006

Engrish: Represent!

That is one bad crayfish! I pitty the fool that has to face him in the Olympic! Represent!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Miyagawa Girls: Kyo Odori

Maiko, or apprentice geisha, of Miyagawa-cho perform during the finale of this year's Kyo Odori: In purple, Fukyoshi, in green, Yasuha, in blue, Fukunao. Note the hint of red in her collar, compared to that of the other maiko -- an indication of her lower rank.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Saddam's Last "Dance"

Saddam's new book, Get Out Of Here, Curse You has hit the shelves in Japan's biggest bookstores under the name "Devil's Dance". Saddam supposedly finished his final novel the day before the US invaded Iraq.

Glad to see the translators decided not to follow the popular practice of renaming foreign movies so that they can put the word "love" in the title. I don't think Saddam would be pleased.

And yet, imagine the possibilites...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Peonies in Bloom : Geiko of Miyagawa

Geiko of Miyagawa-cho, one of Kyoto's five geisha districts, performing during this years Kyo Odori.

Excerpt from the 57th Annual Kyo Odori Program:

The long cold winter gives way at last to the arrival of spring in the ancient capital of Kyoto, and the Kyo Odori is always a welcome and colorful addition to this flower-filled season.

Famous for their beauty, the geisha and maiko of Miyagawa-cho grace the Kyo Odori stage to offer lively, fun, and elegant portrayals of seasonal culture, local flavor, and stories that developed in places throughout Kyoto...

Time always seems short,but we hope that the seven scenes of this year's performance, Seasonal Glories of the Capital, will provide a sense of the tradition and beauty embodied in the local performing arts.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Can You Feel the Love?

Is "Hating the Korean Wave" a backlash to an Anti-Japanese Media and Educational System in Korea?

Just one of many Children's Anti-Japan drawings found lining the walls of a Korean Subway last summer. Courtesy of Toron Talker.

I remember seeing these pictures on the Toron Talker last summer and being absolutely stunned. At the time I knew even less about the tensions between Japan and the rest of Asia than I do now ( a situation of which I admit I remain almost completely ignorant, but working to understand).

"I think we should make nuclear weapons and fire them at Japan!"A Korean man interviewed by Asahi TV.

A short time after these children's drawing surfaced, Asahi TV went to the location where they were discovered to investigate, interviewing adults and offering an interesting, if not disturbing, glimpse into a Korean classroom, and the children's views on Kim Jong Il. Korean-based Occidentalism not only reported on the program, but also provided images, translations and a video link on his website. Check it out.

"He's a good person (Kim Jong Il)." A Korean elementary student.

Something to think about:

While the "Hating the Korean Wave" article provides insight into the tensions between the two countries, it is important to remember that less than 1% of the Japanese population had bought it back in Novemeber (360,000 copies sold). In fact, during the 2002 World Cup, Japanese spectators cheered for both Korean and Japanese teams alike, while Koreans often booed when Japan scored a goal.

When I first arrived in Japan back in August of 2004, at least 1 student in every class at each of my 16 schools asked me if I liked Yon-sama (the highly respectful name given to South Korean soap opera idol Bae Yoon Joon by his adoring Japanese fans). At first I didn't know the name, but once the teacher showed me his picture, I recognized him immediately. Star of the enormously famous (in Japan) "Fuyu Sonata," Yon-sama adorned the desktop calendars of many middle aged female teachers. His smiling face had followed me through subway stations and stared down at me from train advertisements. Both he and Choi Ji Woo, the heroine of 'Winter Sonata', can be seen on Japanese TV commercials every day.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Manga Propaganda

Originally printed in the New York Times last November, this article sheds light on a suprising and shocking side of modern Japan through one of its most popluar cultural vehicles: Japanese Manga (comics).

TOKYO - A young Japanese woman in the comic book "Hating the Korean Wave" exclaims, "It's not an exaggeration to say that Japan built the South Korea of today!" In another passage the book states that "there is nothing at all in Korean culture to be proud of."

In their graphic and unflattering drawings of Japan's fellow Asians and in the unapologetic, often offensive contents of their speech bubbles, the books reveal some of the sentiments underlying Japan's worsening relations with the rest of Asia.

They also point to Japan's longstanding unease with the rest of Asia and its own sense of identity, which is akin to Britain's apartness from the Continent. Much of Japan's history in the last century and a half has been guided by the goal of becoming more like the West and less like Asia. Today, China and South Korea's rise to challenge Japan's position as Asia's economic, diplomatic and cultural leader is inspiring renewed xenophobia against them here.

Kanji Nishio, a scholar of German literature, is honorary chairman of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, the nationalist organization that has pushed to have references to the country's wartime atrocities eliminated from junior high school textbooks.

Mr. Nishio is blunt about how Japan should deal with its neighbors, saying nothing has changed since 1885, when one of modern Japan's most influential intellectuals, Yukichi Fukuzawa, said Japan should emulate the advanced nations of the West and leave Asia by dissociating itself from its backward neighbors, especially China and Korea.

"I wonder why they haven't grown up at all," Mr. Nishio said. "They don't change. I wonder why China and Korea haven't learned anything."

Mr. Nishio, who wrote a chapter in the comic book about South Korea, said Japan should try to cut itself off from China and South Korea, as Fukuzawa advocated. "Currently we cannot ignore South Korea and China," Mr. Nishio said. "Economically, it's difficult. But in our hearts, psychologically, we should remain composed and keep that attitude."

The reality that South Korea had emerged as a rival hit many Japanese with full force in 2002, when the countries were co-hosts of soccer's World Cup and South Korea advanced further than Japan. At the same time, the so-called Korean Wave - television dramas, movies and music from South Korea - swept Japan and the rest of Asia, often displacing Japanese pop cultural exports.

The wave, though popular among Japanese women, gave rise to a countermovement, especially on the Internet. Sharin Yamano, the young cartoonist behind "Hating the Korean Wave," began his strip on his own Web site then.

As nationalists and revisionists have come to dominate the public debate in Japan, figures advocating an honest view of history are being silenced, said Yutaka Yoshida, a historian at Hitotsubashi University here. Mr. Yoshida said the growing movement to deny history, like the Rape of Nanjing, was a sort of "religion" for an increasingly insecure nation.

"Lacking confidence, they need a story of healing," Mr. Yoshida said. "Even if we say that story is different from facts, it doesn't mean anything to them."

The Korea book's cartoonist, who is working on a sequel, has turned down interview requests. The book centers on a Japanese teenager, Kaname, who attains a "correct" understanding of Korea. It begins with a chapter on how South Korea's soccer team supposedly cheated to advance in the 2002 Word Cup; later chapters show how Kaname realizes that South Korea owes its current success to Japanese colonialism.

"It is Japan who made it possible for Koreans to join the ranks of major nations, not themselves," Mr. Nishio said of colonial Korea.

The characters on the left and in the middle are supposed to be Japanese, while the character on the right is not.

But the comic book, perhaps inadvertently, also betrays Japan's conflicted identity, its longstanding feelings of superiority toward Asia and of inferiority toward the West. The Japanese characters in the book are drawn with big eyes, blond hair and Caucasian features; the Koreans are drawn with black hair, narrow eyes and very Asian features.

That peculiar aesthetic, so entrenched in pop culture that most Japanese are unaware of it, has its roots in the Meiji Restoration of the late 19th century, when Japanese leaders decided that the best way to stop Western imperialists from reaching here was to emulate them.

In 1885, Fukuzawa - who is revered to this day as the intellectual father of modern Japan and adorns the 10,000 yen bill (the rough equivalent of a $100 bill) - wrote "Leaving Asia," the essay that many scholars believe provided the intellectual underpinning of Japan's subsequent invasion and colonization of Asian nations.

Fukuzawa bemoaned the fact that Japan's neighbors were hopelessly backward. Writing that "those with bad companions cannot avoid bad reputations," Fukuzawa said Japan should depart from Asia and "cast our lot with the civilized countries of the West." He wrote of Japan's Asian neighbors, "We should deal with them exactly as the Westerners do."

As those sentiments took root, the Japanese began acquiring Caucasian features in popular drawing. The biggest change occurred during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905, when drawings of the war showed Japanese standing taller than Russians, with straight noses and other features that made them look more European than their European enemies. " The Japanese had to look more handsome than the enemy," said Mr. Nagayama...

By Norimitsu Onishi (The New York Times)Updated: 2005-11-21

The Morning Commute: Gion

Young maiko wander through the traditional teahouse-lined streets of Gion.

Friday, May 12, 2006

And now for something Completely Different: Gloomy Bear

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This is the story of a little boy and a cute, cuddly, abandoned, pink bear cub. Captivated by his cuteness, the little boy decided to adopt his new pink pal. He took him home, took care of him, and the two became the best of friends...Until the cute little cub grew up.

The cuteness of stuffed animals, wild and feral in real life, seemed strange to Mori Chack (Chax). "It is only natural for a bear to attack humans. I wanted to express that in a cute manner."

And that's what he's been getting paid to do, since 2002, when he was discovered selling hand-made postcards on the streets of Osaka. Almost overnight, Gloomy Bear, in all his pink, kawaii-style gruesomeness, had clawed his bloody way into the hearts of Japanese youth.

Gloomy, pronounced "gurumi" in Japanese, actually means stuffed, and is the suffix of the word "nuigurumi" (sewed and stuffed) meaning "stuffed animal" in Japanese. Unlike his Disney cousin, Pooh-san, who also enjoys great popularity among kawaii kid consumers, Gloomy can not be tamed by the society he's caged in.

Today, Gloomy Bear can be found sitting pretty, stuffed and fluffed on shelves all over Japan. Bloody key chains, ketai straps, stationary, and almost any other product plastered with this strawberry-sweet killing machine are never hard to find. Come on! You gotta admit -- he is kind of cute -- once you become desensitized to the disturbing, blood-drenched claws and mauling mouth... So let me know if you're in the market! (^-^)/

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Kamishichiken Geiko

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Katsukiyo and Umewaka, 2 geiko of Kamishichiken district, perform during the Kitano Odori.

A short excerpt from the Kitano Odori programme:

Kamishichiken is the oldest and most distinguished gay quarters (as in merry, not the modern connotation) in Kyoto, and training of geiko is given with the idea of producing an excellent few rather than a large number of mediocre entertainers. Therefore they are required to master many arts, such as shamisen, hand drum, dancing and traditional ballads like kiyomoto, tokiwazu, kouta, and nagauta...

Stay tuned for More to come!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Kodomo no Hi : Children's Day

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For Kodomo No Hi (Children's Day), families raise colorful carp-shaped "Koinobori" flags, one for each member of the family. The largest and uppermost flag represents the father, followed by the mother, and small carp to represent children.

Children's Day (Kodomo-no-hi or Tango no Sekku) is one of the most popularly celebrated national holidays in Japan. Until recently, Tango no Sekku was the boys' day (also known as Feast of Banners) while the girls' day (Hinamatsuri) was celebrated on March 3. In 1948, the government decreed this day to be a national holiday to celebrate the happiness of all children and to express gratitude towards mothers. It was then renamed Kodomo no Hi.

May 5th marks the beginning of summer on the old lunar calendar and the begining of the 5th month, which according to the Chinese calendar was set aside to be a month for purification. To expel evil spirits and celebrate the future of their sons, families hoist koinobori (cloth carp streamers) from balconies and flagpoles. Gogatsu ningyo (5th Month Dolls) are displayed in homes and store windows with images of Kintarou, usually riding on a large carp, and a traditional Japanese samurai helmet, a Kabuto. Kintarou and the Kabuto are both symbols of a strong and healthy boy. Kintarou (金太郎) is the childhood name of a hero of the Heian period, famous for his strength as a child. It is said that Kintarou mounted on a bear, instead of a horse, and played with animals in the mountain when he was a young boy.

Some children may also take shyobuyu (a bath with floating iris leaves), and eat kashiwa-mochi (a rice cake wrapped in an oak leaf ) and chimaki (a dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves). Carp, samurai, irises, oak trees, and bamboos all symbolize strength.

Happy Kodomo no Hi!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Colors of Spring

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枝垂れ桜 【しだれ桜】(shidare・zakura) A beatiful, weeping cherry tree on the banks of the newly flooded rice paddies, soon to be planted with this years crop. Most of the cherry blossoms have long since fallen to earth, petal by petal like snowflakes in the warm spring wind, gathering in pink puddles beneath the trees. I found this tree in full bloom near Nagano, in Magome、 a small yet remarkably well-preserved Edo period post town on the Nakasendo (中仙道・The Road Through the Mountains), which once connected Shogunate power center Edo (now Tokyo) with the Imperial seat of Kyoto. Magome is also the birthplace of one of Japan's most revered and beloved authors, Shimazeki Toson. (Conveniently located about 20 minutes from my humble abode! (^-^)/)