Japan’s Secret Christians

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マリア観音 – Maria Kannon

In 1637 an uprising comprised of mainly Japanese peasant Catholics was brutally crushed by the Tokugawa Shogunate, with almost 37,000 rebels and supporters beheaded and buried in the ruins of their castle stronghold.

The shogunate, accusing Portugeuse settlers, implemented the Sakoku (鎖国 – Locked country) policy, limiting foreign influence and forbidding Japanese citizens from leaving. Catholic missionaries and priest were expelled and converts either killed or tortured.

This started the sect of the Kakure Kirishitan (隠れキリシタン – hidden Christian). Worshiping in secret rooms they adapted prayers learnt from memory to sound like Buddhist chants and idols of the Virgin Mary and crucifixes were built in Buddhist styles. Eucharist was performed with rice and Sake.

17th Century crucifix

Over time the original meanings of the prayers were lost and the Kakure Kirishitans beliefs became more ancestor worship based, with Christian martyrs taking the place of actual blood relations.

When religious sanctions were lifted in the mid 19th century many of the Kakure returned to the Catholic church. Only a handful remained.

In 1991, anthropologist Christal Whelan traveled the Goto Islands, southern Japan to speak with the few surviving Kakure Kirishitans. A preview of her documentary Otaiya; Japan’s Hidden Christians can be seen on Youtube.

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Keeping Up With The Isonos

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Meet the Isono family.

The stars of the longest-running animated and non-soap opera scripted TV series in history, Sazae-san.

The comic strip was started in 1946 by manga artist Machiko Hasegawa. It appeared in her local newspaper and in 1949 when the national Asahi Shinbun asked her to draw for them, she moved herself, as with the setting for the cartoon, from Kyushu to Tokyo.

The story follow the family dynamics and daily lives of the Isono family and the eldest daughter Sazae.

At the time of its release Sazae was a role model for the modern woman, more interested in being herself than dressing up in kimono and makeup to attract her future husband. Hasegawa wanted the Isonos to embody the image of the modern Japanese family after World War II.

In 1969 Fuji television commissioned the animated series. It has run every Sunday at six thirty since then creating over six thousand three hundred episodes. Although the comic strips were forward thinking the animated series are renowned for their representation of a traditional Japanese family, The shows never feature video games, cell phones or the things that spring to mind when thinking of Tokyo.  The family always has dinner together and all major festivals are shown.

The names of the main characters were all inspired by a trip made by Hasegawa to the sea.

Isono 磯野  The family name,  iso means rocky shore

Namihei 波平 The father – 54, nami meaning wave

Fune  船 The mother – 50. Her name means ship

Sazae サザエ The eldest daughter and shows namesake – 24. Sazae is a shellfish that is a great delicacy in Japan.

Katsuo カツオ Sazae’s younger brother – 11, Katsuo means bonito fish or skipjack tuna.

Wakame  ワカメ The youngest daugther – 9, wakame is seaweed found in soups and salads.

Masuo Fugata マスオ フグ田  Sazae’s husband – 28, Masu meaning trout and Fugu meaning blowfish

Tara  タラ Masuo and Sazae’s son – 3, Tara means cod.

Hasegawa lived and worked in Sakura-Shinmachi a suburban neighborhood in Setagaya-Ku Tokyo.  There is a museum dedicated to her life and work. In 2012 the town unveiled bronze statues to try to increase tourism to the area. The father’s trademark strand of hair has been stolen twice.

Sazae-san airs at 18:30 every Sunday on Fuji Television.

Smoking in Japan

Japan is one of the least restrictive countries when it comes to smoking. Over 30 million Japanese people smoke regularly.

Until 1985 Japanese Tobacco (the worlds third biggest tobacco company) was a government owned monopoly and it a still owns a 50.2% majority of shares.

As the government has such a large interest in the tobacco market, laws against smoking are very relaxed. There are however large campaigns to promote smoking etiquette and manners.
These mini posters range from the blunt

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To the poetic

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They are shown at smoking stations around the country.
Here are a few of my favorites.

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10,000 yen

Our third and final PEOPLE OF MONEY post.

The biggest and *my personal favourite* bill, the 10,000 yen bill features Japan’s Voltaire/Benjamin Franklin; Yukichi Fukuzawa.

Born into a poor samurai family in 1835 he started classical training from the age of 5. This was during a time when Japan was still a closed island nation. He was among the members of the first diplomatic visit to the United States in 1859 and upon his return he decided to write the first English-Japanese dictionary.
He was a integral figure during the westernization of Japanese society. He also founded Keio University, the oldest institute of higher education in Japan.

 

Fukuzawa has been on the 10,000 yen note since 1984. He was the only figure to remain after the 2004 change of series.

Tanabata

七夕 Tanabata, the evening of the seventh.

Throughout July and August, the separated lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi can reunite.

Orihime, the daughter of Emperor Tentei, was a skilled weaver and made lovely clothes for her father. On day as she sat alongside the the river of heaven (he milky way), sadness hadn’t had time to fall in love. Tentei, believed to be the ruler of the heavens arranged a marriage for her with Hikoboshi who lived across the river. The couple were happy but, Orihime was neglected her weaving (sixth century mythical princesses couldn’t have it all), angering Tentei so much that he decided to separate the couple putting them back on opposite sides of the river (he really loved clothes).

Tentei decreed that the couple would only be allowed to see each other on one night each year – on the seventh day of the seventh month. On that evening a boatman (the moon) comes to ferry Orihime over the river to her beloved Hikoboshi. But if Orihime has not given her best to her weaving Tentei may make it rain causing the river to flood so the boatman cannot make the trip (seriously Tentei was like obsessed with his wardrobe). In this case the kasasagi (a group of magpies) may still fly to the milky way to make a bridge for Orihime to cross (cuz fuck patriarchy).

Street festivals with food stalls and traditional games are held all over Japan, the biggest being in Sendai (of earthquake fame). Streets and schools everywhere hang huge bamboo branches on which are hung wishes called, tanzaku. At midnight or the next day they are burnt or set off down a river. Every area has its own Tanabata customs.20120706-190046.jpg20120706-190156.jpg

Today’s 日本語

肉食系女 nikushokukeijyo, carnivorous women.
草食系男子 soushokukeidanshi, herbivore men.
These words describe the new breed of young Japanese people and their attitudes towards sex.

In a 2006 article, Maki Fukusawa first described the recent type of men, softer, who are more interested in their hobbies, their looks and their own life to worry about finding a partner and settling down, as soushokukeidanshi (grass-eating-men or herbivore men). Most men in their 20s are not looking to settle down but the strange thing is Japanese men are not just wanting to be single but not wanting to have sex at all. a Japanese dating agency, found in a survey that 61 percent of unmarried men in their 30s identified themselves as herbivores.

Japan’s birthrate has been in steady decline since 2005. More and more couples are choosing their careers over having children. Herbivore men are not helping. Japan’s one hope is their female nemesis;

Tired with girly boys women have decided to take matters into their own hands. They are the Nikushokukeijyo. In the last 20 years Japanese women have had more freedom in employment and society. They are the ones going out in search of them men and are aggressive in terms of what they want. Womens’ magazines are filled with articles on ‘hunting techniques’ getting a man to notice you and, how to declare your love without scaring him off.

Come on boys, Lie back and think of Nippon!

Today’s 日本語

チカン:- Chikan or train pervert (The term chikan really refers to any type of public molester)
By now I’m sure you all know about the trains in Tokyo (crowded, sweating metal tubes of grumpy commuters) Well this has provided the perfect habitat for the chikan.

A slight touch, a graze of the arm, a spreading palm; all warning signs of the groping in store. The problem got so bad that most rail lines offer ladies only carriages. The worst line has cameras installed in the carriages.
I’ve personally had 2 encounters. Once in a public bathroom I was at a urinal just minding my own, when a man wearing a surgical mask double hand grabbed my ass and disappeared, this was in broad daylight and the toilet was full of people! Not a word was said. My second was more innocent and slightly more creepy. On a busy train going to work I felt a hand against mine. (I hate hand to hand contact even with people I know so…..) I moved, it followed, move, follow, move, follow until I gave up and just let whoever it was hold my hand.
It’s never anyone attractive, it’s always some greasy, dandruffy, musty salaryman.
Figures for the period 1998 and 2000 show that most chikans were unmarried males in their 30s. The problem is they are all undersexed, Japan is the least sexually active nation with the average boning being 37 times a year (work/life balance, time for some research). Also people stay quiet, trains in Japan are super quiet and the concept of tatemae (outside face) mean that most victims just accept it and never get to express what happened. I have heard interesting stories of girls defending themselves; from using safety pins to prick the person to grabbing on and not letting go until the police get there.
The penalty if you are caught can be very severe. As it is such a famous problem the police make a big deal of making sure people get properly punished.

Ankuru Tomu

Japan has a weird mixture of foreigners. Unlike the west, where a foreign face is normal. Japan is still pretty homogeneous. In a country of 127million there are only 2.5million immigrants.

There are generally a few types of foreigner,

  • The perpetual gap-yearer who flits around “experiencing the world”
  • The otaku who resides exclusively at home or in the maid cafes of Akihabara,
  • The guy who was ignored back home who has found a fountain of eternal women who are willing to overlook his clammy sweaty hands and back hair because he is “foreign”
  • The integrator, a foreigner who tries their upmost to avoid foreign contract carving out a Christopher Columbus like experience in some remote corner and getting deep on obscure Japanese facts,
  • The forgot-to-leaves, came with nothing in mind and ended up trapped due to the easy life, high pay (for generally doing the work of a department store Santa) and cheap living.
  • The Uncle Tom, NO ONE UNDERSTANDS JAPAN LIKE I DO!

This last category is the one that is most depressing.  This person refuses to acknowledge anything wrong with the country. They hate other gaijin for reminding them of that they are. They are essencialy the apologists. Any critisim that is voiced is shot down with “if you dont like it leave”. In their eyes Japan can do no wrong. Everything about Japan is beautiful and better than anywhere else; “if you cant see it, you just don’t get Japan like I do”.

I’m mainly talking about white men. White men have never had the experience of being a minority or feeling powerless. Since time immemorial the white man has had complete power of every aspect of the world. He has never been discriminated against. This man then comes to Japan and is suddenly not top dog. This being new and terrifying he finds that to survive he has to ingratiate himself within the local population and separate himself from the “gaijin” pack. This is where the idea of the Uncle Tom Gaijin comes in.

Here is an example of the kind of gaijin on gaijin hate that is normal in Japan.

Stop acting like a foreigner. You know. Those kinds. The ones that don’t shut up in the train or the elevator. The ones that don’t remove their shoes before entering someone’s house. The obnoxious frat boys on vacation lurking around the Nishi-Azabu crossing. Simply put, you’re in another’s country, so mind your damn manners.

Do you ever cringe when you see foreigners clustered in a big group, looking around like they don’t know what’s going on? Me too. The only thing that sticks out more than a sore thumb is an entire hand of sore fingers, so whenever you can, take advantage of the fact that in this country—um, Japan, right?—you can actually hang out with Japanese people. You’ll be less noticeable while at the same time improving your Japanese language ability.

 

That quote is taken from the biggest English magazine in Japan, Metropolis.  It basically says is OK to be foreign but you MUST give up everything that makes you who you are and JUST FIT IN!

I have two examples of people who fit this group.

Example A:

He had met his Japanese wife in Australia where he had been a hotel manager. When his wife gave birth they decided to relocate to Japan just outside Tokyo. He was a teacher at the same large English school as me and was bitter. He had been there for around 5 years and thought himself high enough up the food chain to tell us other (younger, newer) teachers what to do and how to act in Japan. He at first refused to speak to us instead going through the school receptionist in his    much superior Japanese (with an Australian accent of course).  It was not until he heard me speaking Japanese on the phone that he started to treat me as an equal. I was invited to a BBQ at his HOUSE that he BOUGHT (his emphasis) where I was told it was fun because there would be no loud gaijin to ruin the fun. I was also chastised for living in Tokyo as I was excluding myself from experiencing the true Japan of the countryside.  This guy felt he was close to management and had the same authority as our supervisor. This all came shattering down when the company went bankrupt and he was sold off like the rest of us.

Example B:

Another man (of course), this one English. He had arrived on a tourist visa and within 6 months had met his Japanese girlfriend and gotten married.  He was very pro-Japan (which is a good thing) but to the point of ridiculousness. Japanese curry was “a lot better than the muck you get in England” (any English man that dismisses the perfect British curry clearly has no taste). Japanese bread (which bizarrely contains milk) was delicious, Japanese beer was fantastic (there he was right) Foreign girls look ridiculous in kimono, Futons are more comfortable than beds, and when I mentioned I hated the tatami (floor mats) in my apartment he looked as if I had shot at the emperor.

Those guys were not bad people they just wanted to fit in and they thought that by denying everything they were was how to do it. There are two big foreign stars in Japan, Thane Camus and Dave Spector.  they have both made their careers on playing the foreigner and being a novelty. The amount of hate and jealousy directed at them on the big Gaijin forums is ridiculous. People seem to be so angry that they have been made mainstream while they have been looked over. The idea of how much gaijin hate other gaijin is a hot topic that gets people very heated. We are a broad bunch of people that all came here for different reasons. The only thing that connects us is the shared experience of Living in Japan.

I’m not suggesting that we make friends with every foreigner we see but it would make our lives a lot better if we didn’t try to undermine and top down any every gaijin we met. Just because someone is having the same experience as you doesn’t make it any less unique or special.

 

Night of the Living Dollers

When Masahiro Mori (the famed japanese robot technician) coined the phrase the uncanny valley, a term which describes the feeling of revulsion humans experience when facing a robot or android that looks too human, he was describing Dollers . 

Dollers are an extreme niche of the cosplay world. The great majority are men in their late teens to early twenties and they look a little like this.

The wide, dead stare, the flawless plastic skin and the silent smile of a killer.
Recently Madonna used dollers in her music video for “Give Me All Your Luvin'” (they were the second most plastic thing in it).

Animegao employs full body suits and full head masks made of plastic, fibreglass and clay. The can be bought online (how could you go into a shop for it?) for about 80,000 yen ($1000). Many “dollers” choose to customise their own, gluing on wigs and painting in their own eyes. If you are looking for an art project check out Nukopan’s online shop.

Discover more with an interview with a doller here.