A Small Step In The Right Direction

The LGBT community lives in a bizarre hinterland in Japan. The public face of the community being its outspoken, popular ‘new-half’ presenters such as  Haruna Ai and Matsuko Deluxe and the private side of mass denial and FINGERS IN EARS LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!

Matsuko Deluxe
Matsuko Deluxe

There is a general consensus that although homosexuality is legal, lets not talk about such things around the dinner table please Taro!  Gay couples regularly face discrimination when trying to rent apartments or getting visitation if the other is in hospital.

This week the Shibuya district in Tokyo announced it will start to issue certificates that recognize such relationships as “equivalent to marriage.” Although the certificates are not yet legally binding they will hopefully put pressure on businesses, landlords and hospitals into providing the same level of service as heterosexual couples.

Same-sex marriage is currently not legal in Japan. Marriage is defined legally as “based only on the mutual consent of both sexes.” Compared with the west there is very little activism happening to fight that.  The certificates will be open to any resident of Shibuya Ku over the age of 20. It will give the couple next of kin privileges and they will be able to become each others guardian. It will be annulled if the couple breaks up.

Openly gay politician Taiga Ishikawa praised Shibuya and said that ;

“Cases overseas suggest that local municipalities’move to grant same-sex couples more legitimate status sometimes affects national policies. So I’m very happy about it,”

Famous LGBT activist Koyuki Higashi has said she is “over the moon” and plans to get a certificate as soon as they become available.  Higashi and her partner held the first same-sex marriage at Tokyo Disney Land in 2013. Although the marriage has no legal basis.

Higashi has said;

“We’re virtually married. But without legal backup, it’s still very difficult to live in this society. Prejudice remains deeply ingrained in Japanese society. But I hope this move will become the first step to turn Japan into a society more accepting of the idea of diversity.”

Koyuki Higashi and Hiroko Matsuhara's 2013 Disney wedding
Koyuki Higashi and Hiroko Matsuhara’s 2013 Disney wedding

Advertisements

Keeping Up With The Isonos

Image]

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.

Today’s 日本語 JPN ABBR.

Japanese has many contracted words. Anything that can be said shorter and easier is stripped down to its bare bones.

for example;

Odawara Express Electric Railway, 小田原急行電鉄 Odawarakyuukoudentetsu becomes 小田急 Odakyu

The immigration office, 入国管理局 Nyuukokukanrikyoku  becomes 入管 Nyukan

Toshiba is a contraction of “Tokyo Shibaura”, and Nissan is a contraction of “Nippon Sangyo”.

Most borrowed words are shortened to create;

anime アニメ animēshon アニメーション animation
dejikame デジカメ dejitaru kamera デジタルカメラ digital camera
depāto デパート depātomento sutoa デパートメント・ストア department store
eakon エアコン ea kondishonaa エアコンディショナー air conditioner
famikon ファミコン famirī konpyūtā ファミリーコンピューター family computer (Nintendo)
famiresu ファミレス famirī resutoran ファミリーレストラン family restaurant
konbini コンビニ konbiniensu sutoa コンビニエンス・ストア convenience store
puroresu プロレス purofesshonaru resuringu プロフェッショナル・レスリング professional wrestling
rabuho ラブホ rabu hoteru ラブホテル love hotel
rimokon リモコン rimōto kontorōrā リモートコントローラー remote control
terebi テレビ terebijon テレビジョン TV (television)
toire トイレ toiretto トイレット toilet

Thou shalt not dance

20120818-145353.jpg

The streets of Shinjuku 2chome (Japan’s gay mecca) have become Footloose. Dancing is now banned in the two most popular clubs, Arty-Farty and Annex.
Tokyo’s governor Ishihara has, for a long time wanted to close down this area.
In 2010 he was quoted as saying “I feel that they lack something. I think that has a basis in genetics”.

Obon お盆

Obon during the late Edo period.

Obon (お盆) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honour ones dead ancestors. It has been celebrated in Japan or over 500 hundred years; in recent years the traditional Buddhist Confucian customs have evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people travel back to their hometowns to visit relatives and clean the graves of passed family members.

Renowned  his ability to mind read and converse with ghosts and gods.

The customs supposedly originate from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana, an important disciple of the Buddha, who used his supernatural powers to look upon his deceased mother. He discovered she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering. He asked the Buddha how he could release his mother from this realm. Buddha instructed him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The disciple did this and saw his mother’s release. He also began to see the true nature of her past unselfishness and the many sacrifices that she had made for him.

After she had moved up from the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts (what a name!) he was so happy he danced for joy This birthed a new custom know as Bon Odori.

.

Bon Odori is different from region to region. Typically the dancers, dressed in light-weight summer kimonos known as yukata, line up in a circle around a wooden scaffold band stand. Large drums or taiko beat out the rhythm and the dancers proceed around and perform set dances. Each region has its own songs and moves. Tokyo has Tokyo Ondo, Hokkaido, Soran Bushi and Gifu has Gujo odori.

The moves are also influenced by the history of a region. One of the most famous dances is the Tanko Bushi from the Miike Mine area in Kyushu. Its moves depict mining life, digging, cart pushing, lantern hanging, etc.

Bon Odori has moved away from its religious roots and is now seen as a summer dance that is performed at most summer festivals. Current pop songs are also adapted to have an odori  of their own.

Another Obon tradition involves making horses and cows out of cucumbers and aubergine. These are left on family altars, they are meant to be vehicles for spirits to get around. Also lanterns called bonchochin are placed beside the altar to help guide the spirits home.

After Obon the animals and lanterns are either floated in the ocean or rivers or burnt to ensure a safe journey back to the world of the spirits.

Obon is celebrated at 3 different times in differing parts of Japan. When the lunar calendar was replaced during the Meiji Restoration, regions reacted differently. The “official” Obon week is around August 15th. Although it is not a public holiday, leave is generally given and it is one of the busiest travel times in Japan with many places increasing prices.

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.

Ueno’s Baby Panda

Last week, Ueno Zoo announced the birth of a baby panda.
It was the first time in over 20 years a panda had been born at the zoo and the first time in its history to be conceived naturally.

The baby was cared for by its handlers as its mother Shin Shin (on loan from a Chinese zoo) was suffering from fatigue.

It has been just confirmed that the baby panda did not make it past its first few days of life and has succumbed to pneumonia.

5000 yen

Continuing our PEOPLE OF MONEY theme lets take a looksie at the lady who graces the 5000 yen bill, Ichiyō Higuchi

Born in Meiji era Tokyo, she became the head of her household at 17 after her father died. She lived and wrote in the Yoshiwara, The historical red light district of Tokyo.

To support her family she took to writing novels. Higuchi’s major works were Ōtsugomori (大つごもり, “The New Year’s Eve”), Takekurabe (たけくらべ, “Child’s Play”), Nigorie (にごりえ, “Troubled Waters”) and Jūsan’ya (十三夜, The Thirteenth Night) all published to critical and popular success. Her novels highlighted the ups and downs of life in Japan’s class system. The period in which she was born was a time of great social and political upheaval in Japan during which the old feudal system was replaced.

Her career was cut short when she contracted and died of tuberculosis at 24. In spite of her limited output, Higuchi is remembered for the quality of her works and is considered to be the first professional female writer in modern Japanese literature. Women during the nineteenth century struggled to receive or continue an education. Higuchi succeeded, as a woman, in receiving a classical education and creating literary works that became popular and critical successes for Meiji literature.

She has been on the 5000 yen note since 2004, only the third female figure to have the honour.

China is angry

Just west of Okinawa, just east of Taiwan lie the Senkaku Islands.
A grouping of small uninhabited islands that are at the centre of an international debate due to the rich deposits of oil and natural gas lie just beneath them.

The Chinese claim ancient heritage over the islands, the first record of the islands can be found in  Chinese literature dating from the 15th century. In 1895 they were annexed by the Japanese government.  There were fisheries and processing plants until the 1940s. From 1945 to 1972 the islands were under American authority. When they were handed back to Japan (with much consternation from Taiwan) the islands were then sold to a family in Saitama Ken (next to Tokyo). The family is paid “rent” by the Japanese government provided they do not develop the islands. Regardless of this agreement  a Japanese right wing party erected a Lighthouse in 1978 and a Shinto temple in 2000.

There are laws in place that prohibit boats docking on the islands and there are constant patrols to keep foreign boats out of the surrounding waters.

Leaked footage showed the Chinese trawler ramming into the patrol boat.

In 2010 a Chinese fishing boat collided with patrol boats near the islands. The captain and crew were held in custody in Japan pending possible charges, China strongly protested and the crew were released after a week. 

 

 

 

 

Speaking at a think tank forum in Washington the outspoken and generally odd Governor of Tokyo Ishiihara announced the Tokyo Metropolitan government’s plans to buy the islands from the family. 70,000 private donations were received totalling just over one billion yen (12.5 million dollars).

“Tokyo will protect the Senkaku Islands. No matter which country dislikes it, no one should have a problem…..It would be best if we could buy the islands with donations because we wouldn’t have to use taxpayers’ money”

There is talk about how the sale and purchase could be illegal and it has enraged the Chinese central government. Liu Weimin (Chinese foreign ministry spokesman) told reporters

“Some Japanese politicians have been making petty moves to try to make trouble, but their actions will not alter the fact that these islands belong to China,

The oil and gas fields are the biggest reason these islands are so coveted The fact remains that Japan has a very limited supply natural resources. Energy resources account for 14% of its total  imports and 60% of its oil is imported from the Persian Gulf.

Another reason both countries refuse to back down is the frosty relationship the countries share. Japan and China are like siblings that refuse to speak. A 2012 survey showed that almost 85% of Japanese people had a negative view of “selfish” China and 65% of Chinese had unfavourable views on “nationalistic” Japan.

Crow Forest

If you haven’t seen a room full of Japanese middle aged office workers cut loose, you haven’t experience a night at Crow Forest.

20120623-113341.jpg

Built underneath the train tracks of Kanda station it is full (on week nights) of salary men and the women who love them.

20120623-113527.jpg

The manager is an ex model who get as wasted as the customers and is apparently oblivious to the idea of measures. It’s a super fun place to blow off the working week. The music can be a mixed bag but Fridays are usually old classics and drinks are 300yen before 7 thirty and 500 after!