Welcome to the May E-Newsletter! Things have been relatively quiet again since I am just puttering along on my work and “adventuring” on the weekends, as one person called it. Well, hope you enjoy this dispatch and that you are doing well!
For the most part, May was spent doing everyday stuff like working on my thesis, transcribing interviews, going to the office, and meeting friends for coffee or a meal. During Golden Week, the week-long holiday at the start of May, I went to the Hiroshima Flower Festival! It is said to be one of the top 3 festivals during this holiday week. All I know for sure, is that both days I went, it was hot and there were more people than I have ever seen. They shut down the main road for this festival and people come from all around. One of the days the news reported that they had had 1.5 million visitors. It really kind of felt like the MN State Fair at times, but Japanese-style. Day One, I met a friend and joined up with my “host Dad” to go to the parade. We were lucky enough to be able to stay under the tent for the shop where he volunteers and I sometimes help out too. Day Two, I went and decided to wander around a bit, but more specifically to see some Kagura. It was great as always and here’s a website with a bit more info, mostly accurate, about Kagura: http://www.geocities.com/dm032/kagura.html
The next weekend, I also went with a friend to Super Kagura, which was an annual Kagura performance held at a large theater. Super Kagura was excellent! We really, really enjoyed it. It wasn’t the same as seeing Kagura at a temple or shrine, but it was great in its own way. I noticed that they performances included many of the dances, masks, aspects, etc. that I love in Kagura. After the performance, we were completing surveys they handed out and one of the ushers said something to my friend. She then explained to me that he had just given her a poster for me to take home! At that I spun a 90 degree turn and bowed with a “domo arigato gozaimas!” What the topping to a great day!
I also tried to go to another Kagura in Yuki Onsen on Mother’s Day, but unfortunately the bus that was supposed to be running out to that rural area was cancelled on that Sunday. It was frustrating since I was about half-way there being at Itsukaichi via train, but still too far to walk or take a taxi. So I moped back to my place and decided to just read the day away on something not related to my research.
A couple of recent reads I have found pretty good are “The DaVinci Code” though parts of it was bogus—particularly regarding Westminster Abbey. It was a good, quick read and kept me interested…let’s just say that hasn’t been happening of recent with my usual reading! A book I just finished called “Citizen Girl” was pretty entertaining though I almost didn’t buy/read it because it’s by the same two who wrote the “Nannie Diaries” which I did not find to be of my taste. “CG” is a bit predictable, but a fun read. Currently I am reading “The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation.” As you probably know, ‘my name is Tina and I am a bibliophiliac’ and as such I read voraciously!
Did I mention I love going to good baseball games? I met my “host parents” and they took me to see the Hiroshima Carps play Rakuten in a very close game. We sat behind home plate slightly to the right and up maybe 15 rows. They were really good tix, but we were surrounded by mostly Salaryman types. Regardless, we cheered with other “family folks” around us and ate onigiri (rice triangles with fish or pickled stuff inside) and inarizushi (sweet vinegared rice in fried tofu) along with our beers. We had a great time since the game was sooo close and were chatting & cheering throughout. I can’t wait to go to a Saints game when I get home!
I also went outside of the Hiroshima area for a day. I met a friend of mine from Fukuyama and we went to Kurashiki and Okayama. When I got to Fukuyama and was waiting to meet my friend I had another funny moment that seems to happen to me a lot. I was just looking around for my friend’s car and an ancient-looking woman about waist tall, placed her hand on my forearm, looked up at me and said “sugoi oki” (really tall). She kind of laugh/smiles in and with that walks on. Most often I understand boys (college aged and younger) talking about how “oki” (tall) I am, usually when I stand up on the train or bus. It seems to always be a surprise to other people when I stand up and often I hear a kind of pause in conversation or someone says something. Especially on the bus I seem much taller since I have to duck walking through so I don’t hit my head on the lights or handrails. It’s funny!
Well we met up in Fukuyama and got on the road. The highways were quite busy, since it was a nice day and a Saturday. Karashiki was a great place and we walked around quite a bit. It is a preserved/restored area that is kept to look as if it is from the Edo Period. Historically, it was a territory under direct control of the Shogunate and prospered with boats/barges shipping rice and cotton. Much of the preserved area runs along the Kurashiki River, kind of like in San Antonio. We also explored a shrine and temple too. The Achi shrine houses the Munakta, the female deities of traffic and trade, who helped Empress Jungu on an expedition to the Three Countries of Korea.
After the better part of a day, we went to Okayama to the Koukenkoen—it is a super huge and lovely Japanese garden. It’s quite nice as you can see from the photos. After that, it was getting late so we started back towards Fukuyama, but she wanted to show me the Ohashi (huge bridges built recently) at night. You can see three bridges kind of acting like a giant connect the dots between the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. They are lit up at night and trains run on the lower bridge with cars/trucks on the top. It was a late night, but a fun day!
Something else I have been doing recently is teaching at a jyuku (cram school) on Mondays for two hours a week and occasionally visiting elementary schools. It started out as a favor for a friend of mine who owns a juku, but has turned into a regular gig. I have really enjoyed teaching English and could really see myself being a teacher, though it’s so much of an energy exchange!
Just this past Sunday, a colleague suggested that she take me to Field Day at a local elementary school, so I got up early and we had a nice time of it. There was lots of ceremony and such. It seemed kind of rigid compared to what I remembered from my elementary school days, but the kids and families certainly look like they are having fun. I especially liked watching a game where they had a closed basket and the kids were different fruit groups trying to throw the most balls into the baskets. Afterwards, we went to her house to set up for an office BBQ. The BBQ was fun, but I was pretty tired and my Japanese wasn’t so eager in coming. I had a good time though and it was fun to be with colleagues outside of the office.
My counterpart/colleague has returned from MN and is settled back into our research offices. It’s good to see him again and in his own setting (Japan). In the same turn, I am slowly thinking about my return though it’s a few months off yet. I am both sad and eager to return back to MN, but mostly concentrating on what I need to do here before I return, as well as applying for jobs stateside.
A friend of mine back home asked me “who do the Japanese look up to?” That’s a good question…there are many people, so it seems. First off, I don’t get the impression that there is as much “hero worship” as in the US or at least not in the same way. The current emperor and empress are respected for many of the older people as are some of the Showa era movie stars (kind of like older people in the US liking Bogart in a nostalgic kind of way) and Enke singers (kind of ballads). As for younger generations, it seems mixed—there are a few writers like a woman that wrote the Tales of the Genji or Natsume Soseki who wrote a great deal of social commentary that seem to come up often. Tales of the Genji is from the Heien Period and is quite long. If you have a chance do a search for it…from what I have read it reminds me of Jane Austin or Dickens as far as recording the current social and historical aspects of the author’s life and times.
For the younger generation or those in college, it seems to be whatever bands/singers are on top and whatever actors/actresses are most popular at the moment, much like back home. For younger kids it’s probably cartoon/anime characters who are a whole host of characters unfamiliar to those outside of Japan like Nana or Ultraman or a thousand others—sometimes also Japanese league baseball players or celebrated sumo wrestlers, though this is becoming less so. In general people don’t idolize sports players much except, it seems, for those who have made it from Japan to the US Major League Baseball. Daily, I can watch a Mariners or Yankees game and get updates on the news, too. There are also a few other Japanese players the news follows, but Ichiro (Seattle) and Matsui (Yankees) are the biggies followed by Nomo (Tampa) and Iguchi (White Sox). I think I know more about MLB now than when I live in the US because of all the coverage!
At nearly all ages, things are quite clearly self-segregated by sex in many facets of life. It’s interesting, but also you see so much talent wasted too by girls and young women who walk around talking in abnormally high voices screaming “kawaii”, maybe wearing tons of make-up, and wobbly high heels. Then there are the men who are no more interesting than whatever their job might be since that seems to be their entire life because of such horribly long work hours. Oftentimes it seems that women still like a cartoon character and will dress up in clothes printed with them, etc. like a youngster in the US. That seems highly valued by men actually—to have a childlike wife, I mean. Actually, you can watch on commercials and sometimes you can’t tell who is the mom unless she is wearing an apron…of course they often show father at work or coming home from work and the family waiting patiently at the dinner table for him or the wife waiting late into the night to give him dinner…in many ways, I really feel like I stepped back in time by coming here. In other ways, I feel like Japan is so far ahead of the rest of the world that ne’er the twain shall meet. Especially with regards to communication and using non-verbals and consensus, though I am far from an expert. So, I would say it’s like the 50s as far as gender social roles and maybe the 70s as far as the Queer aspect of social roles.
Do you remember the comedy “Soap” from the 70s? Billy Crystal (I think it was him) played a gay man and was often the butt of many jokes, etc. Well, that’s about what I see here in media, though it’s not as controversial as it was/is in the US. All in all, it’s not considered a big deal if it’s a male and it’s only on TV. Gaba-chan is one person I keep seeing over and over. Apparently, Gaba-chan is a famous choreographer, biologically male, likes men, often cross-dresses, and seems well-accepted since Gaba-chan is on all kinds of the game shows that people like to watch. Yes, I watch them too… Then there is also Gori-chan who does cheerleader bits to “Mickey” and other snappy tunes and Peta-chan who used to be Peter. Recently there was a kind of “This is your life” on Peta-chan and his life journey which was pretty interesting. Of course it was done in Japanese talk-show style with frequent cuts to the celebrities on hand to hear their reactions throughout and Peta-chan was there to add commentary as well.
As for women, the closest I have found easily accessible to the public would be the Takarazuka theater troupe, though the management has historically and repeatedly denied any type of relationships among its performers. In fact, to be part of the troupe one is not permitted to have a relationship—regardless of sexual orientation. Here is a good website with some information: http://shoujo.tripod.com/takara.html and a great book is “Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan”—it’s a bit academic and I loved that aspect though others may not (http://wwwsshe.murdoch.edu.au/intersections/issue2/leoniereview.html). The first weekend in June they will be in Hiroshima City and I am going to one of the far too expensive performances, so tune in next time for the review! The only mention of female same sex relationships I have seen in mainstream media was the movie with Liv Tyler as the girlfriend of a woman preparing to marry someone else. (I don’t know the name of it and have only seen it in Japanese!) The good thing about Japanese TV is that they don’t edit the movies much, if at all, for TV broadcasting and so the on-screen kisses remained as did the “re-zu-bi”” or lesbian-related banter.
No one really seems to use the labels in that we do back home such as GLBTQ frequently or even talk about it openly at all, perhaps part of the higher-level of communication that it’s not needed? However, in Japanese they do have some terms for GLBTQ people that are used regularly that seem derogatory in nature. Even the term they use to name the kind of person Gaba-chan is a feminine term that is meant to be used against a man in a negative way—socially accepted and perpetuated misogyny at its best. I have gotten into a couple of conversations about this, mostly with Japanese women, and no one considered anything wrong with this denegration of a man through using female related adjectives. Those were fascinating conversations for me since I have never had that kind of conversational opportunity before! I wish I could meet some people who are called these names and learn what they think about naming in this regards.
Of course, I haven’t seen a thing besides Takarazuka and a Western movie regarding GLBTQ women, though I am assured via a couple of people that Tokyo, and maybe Osaka, are just the places to go…if you can find the right bars or clubs. Apparently there are many men and women who have same love relationships, but it’s often just socially considered a phase on their ways to becoming adults or as a sideline release, for example in the case of businessmen who have wife/children families which are required if a man wants to progress within a company. Then they still have male lovers. There are also relationships among girls in high school/college who have same sex relationships also called “yuri” or “Class S” relationships. “S” stands for various kinds of code words like “sister” “sex” and so on that are for a same sex relationship. One interesting tidbit is that the Japanese government has recently allowed a Male-to-Female person to officially change their sex on the family register to “female” following a long transition that included the biological surgery. When this happened I didn’t find much press on it other than it occurred. Could it be something to do with Buddhist perspective to life? I have also read about a female couple, one Japanese and one Australian, where the Japanese partner started her own family register and registered her Partner as such on the family register and it was permitted. This is up to each jurisdiction and much like the state by state laws/enforcement in the US, but it’s a really positive!
Well, I think that’s more than enough for this month…I thought this would be a short message, but there you are!