The Japanese Red Army

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There are a few things that come to mind when one thinks of Japan; sushi, geisha, tea ceremony, busy street crossings, hard-line communist terrorists.

‘What?!’ You might say, ‘clearly Joekyo you are mistaken’

Well The Japanese Red Army is here to mess your stereotypes up.

Founded in 1971 by Fusako Shigenobu, the JRA was dedicated to overthrowing the Japanese government and the monarchy throughout the 70s and 80s.

Fusako had been a leading member in the Red Army Faction, a militant new-left communist group. In 1970 it teamed up with a Maoist group to form the United Red Army. Just a few months before a major purge, which left twelve members dead and started a week-long police siege, Fusako Shigenobu and a few select members had moved to Lebanon to promote International Revolutionary Solidarity, a movement which aimed to unite the different revolutionary groups throughout the world. Soon after arriving in the Middle East Shigenobu cited geographical and ideological differences with the URA as her reason for starting the Japanese Red Army. She allied the group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Fusako Shigenobu was born in 1945 in Setagaya, Tokyo. Her father had been a teacher and an Imperial Japanese Army Major stationed in Manchuria during World fusako-shigenobuWar II. Fusako became involved in activism whilst studying at Meiji University. At the time in Japan (along with the rest of the world) leftist ideology was rampant in university campuses. Fusako started protesting increases in tuition fees. She quickly rose up the ranks of the new-left movement and became one of their top leaders. Fusako Shigenobu was at one time judged to be the most feared female terrorist in the world.

The group was responsible for a large number of violent acts. In 1972 three members walked into Lod airport (now Ben Gurion Airport) in Tel Aviv and used guns and grenades to kill 26 and injure 80. Two of the attackers were killed whilst another Kozo Okamoto survived and was captured.

In 1973 the group hijacked a JAL plane bound for Tokyo and demanded the release of Kozo. When this was refused the group flew the plane to Libya, released the crew and passengers and blew the aircraft up. The JRA was involved in numerous hostage situations throughout the 70s and 80s. After the Lod massacre they became the most well-known leftist terror group in the world.

In Novemeber 2000 Shigenobu was arrested in Osaka. She was found with forged passports and $9000 in cash. It was a shock for Japanese people to see a middle aged woman in handcuffs, thumbs up shouting at reporters “I’ll fight on”. In 2006 she was sentenced to 20 years for using a forged passport, aiding a member of the JRA in obtaining a forged passport and attempted manslaughter by way of planning and commanding the hostage taking at the French embassy in The Hague in 1974. A key member of the defense at her trial was the hijacker of TWA Flight 840 (1969) and current member of the Palestinian National Council Leila Khaled.

In 2001 after the Twin Towers attack, Al-Jazeera and the AFP both received anonymous calls claiming the attack in the name of the JRA. This was debunked after Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden were officially blamed.

Most of the groups members have been arrested and imprisoned. In 2015 Tsutomu Shirosaki, who had been imprisoned in Mississippi for his involvement in a mortar attack on the American Embassy in Jakarta, was arrested as he returned to Japan. He had been one of the prisoners freed in 1977 after the JRA hijacked a JAL flight from Paris to Tokyo.

The Japanese Red Army have been portrayed in books and film. In 2010 Fusako and her daughter Mei were featured in the documentary Children of the Revolution which tells the story of Shigenobu and German activist Ulrike Meinhof through the eyes of their daughters.  Mei Shigenobu is the daughter of Fusako and an unnamed Lebanese freedom fighter. She is currently a Japanese citizen working for news agencies. Fusako wrote about her experiences raising a child in Lebanon in her book I Decided to Give Birth to You Under an Apple Tree (2001).

Today the JRA have disbanded stating that having lost their base in Lebanon and the changing political environment of the world, the aims of the JRA can no longer be met by such a group.

Their successors are known as the Movement Rentai.

Takarazuka Revue – The Female Kabuki

When one thinks of Japanese theatre, Noh and Kabuki instantly spring to mind. The long drawn-out process of a Noh dance characterised by their static masks reminiscent of a Greek tragedy and the music like speech of Kubuki with its stylised makeup and garish costumes.

Kabuki is still a cultural sausage fest, no women allowed and Noh only (begrudgingly) allowed female performers in after most of their houses were wiped out after the war.

But, female theatrics fear not! there is hope, a beacon of glamour. you too can smell the grease paint, lights on your face, bask in the applause.

Of course there is a catch. A; you have to be cherry picked for the special training school as  teenager and B; you must be able to live to a militaristic set of guidelines (this is of course Japan darling).

The Takarazuka Revue was founded by industrialist (and right winger hush hush)  Ichizo Kobayashi , designed to boost ticket sales for the Hankyu railways, the terminus of which was in the town of (you guessed it) Takarazuka, Hyogo prefecture. The train line being owned by (two for two!) Kobayashi himself. It was created as a side show to the already popular hot springs in the area. Kobayashi found the world of Kabuki elitist and old world. He was dazzled by western musicals and thought an all-female troupe would be a big hit. Female performers in the early 20th century were (besides folk singers) mainly geisha. In some circles geisha were not given the respect and deference they are today. Kobayashi wanted a respectable way for women to perform.

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1914, Donburako Takarazuka Revue’s first performance.

Ten years later and The Takarazuka Revue had its own theatre ‘ The Dai Gekijo’. Today it also performs at the Tokyo Theatre in Ginza and has an audience of around 2.5 million a year. The Takarazuka Music School accepts 40 students a year. This year they must have been born between April 2, 1996 to April 1, 2000 But basically it is for girls who have graduated from junior high school, or who have graduated from, or are currently in high school, as of the screening day.

For the first year the girls are trained together. The first year students ‘yoka’ are required to clean the school each morning. after the first year (based on…..leanings? preference?) the girls are split into otokoyaku (男役 male roles) and musumeyaku (娘役 daughter roles). Otokoyaku cut their hair short and adopt masculine traits and speech patterns. The school is heavily focused on dance such as ballet and modern, The girls only have a few lessons a week of regular school subjects. After graduation they are offered seven year contracts.

Turandot 1934
Turandot 1934

Takarazuka Revue performs shows from traditional Japanese stories such as The Tale of Genji to reinterpretations of western films like Bonnie and Clyde.  The Takarazuka format  has a number of set themes. For one the music is all performed by a live orchestra. The stage has a ‘ginkyou’ or silver bridge that curves out into the audience “catching a glance or a wink from the stars as they dance here is a great appeal to fans” according to the websites five theatre secrets. The performance usually ends on a staircase with the cast all out on stage. The use of a mirror ball is also central to “giving life to the fantastic world on stage”

'The Rose of Versailles: Oscar and Andre' (2013) | ©TAKARAZUKA REVUE COMPANY
‘The Rose of Versailles: Oscar and Andre’ (2013) | ©TAKARAZUKA REVUE COMPANY

Lorie Brau (Takarazuka expert) in her article ‘The Womens Theatre of Takarazuka’ states that although the idea of an all-female troupe would be a feminist utopia, the actual reality is the patricahal structure and rigid control the theatre places its performers under is far from empowering. Kobayashi is know to have wanted his actors to of on to become ‘good wives and mothers’ and staff have said the principle of the school is to create ‘wholesome women’. One of the main reasons girls are picked at a high school age (other than their malleability and innocence) is that after their seven year contract is complete they will be at a perfect age for marriage.

There is, of course, a sexual undercurrent (where isn’t there?!). From its creation the audience was mainly women.  In the 1920’s the love letters received by the otokoyaku from their female fans were published. It caused such a scandal that the producers enforced strict living arrangements and forbid the actresses from having physical contact with their fans. This idea is still in effect with groups like AKB48 and the boy bands of Johnny’s productions.

The American anthropologist Jennifer Roberts wrote in Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan that the very act of having women playing men meant that there is lesbian themes in every takarazuka performance and that this is intrinsically understood by its audience. conversely other writers have said that the popularity of Takarazuka is Japanese women enjoying the fluidity of gender in an otherwise strictly gendered society. In Japan there is a phenomenon know as Class S, the idea of a woman, affected by watching Takarazuka goes back to her life and forms crushes on her female colleagues and classmates.

Yuki Amami as Rhett Butler Gone With The Wind - 1994
Yuki Amami as Rhett Butler Gone With The Wind – 1994

Gender roles and lesbianism aside, today Takarazuka is as popular as ever. Actors go on to have careers in show business beyond the stage starring in films and appearing on TV. Alumni have huge fan clubs and they are doted on well into retirement.  Fan clubs so devotion to their favourite performers by wearing special coloured scarves or with embroidered jackets. After performances, fan wait quietly outside the stage door, as the actors emerge they move to their designated group. Rather than requesting autographs fans give cards to their idol who efficiently gathers them, says a few words and leaves.

Ono no Komachi

Ono no Komachi (c 825-900) was a famous and prolific waka poet. She is placed within the Thirty Six Poetry Immortals.

Komachi was renowned for her beauty and charm. As a poet, she specialized in erotic love themes, mostly about  anxiety, solitude and  passionate love. 

Komachi’s birthplace is unknown but, according to one tradition, she was born in what is now Akita Prefecture (northern Japan),  Her social status is also uncertain but she is believed to have been the daughter of a low ranking lord and subsequently become an emperor’s lady-in-waiting , possibly Emperor Ninmyō (r. 833-850).

Legends abound of Komachi in love. The most well known is a story about her relationship with a high-ranking courtier. Komachi promised that if he visited her every night for a hundred nights, then she would become his lover. He obliged but failed once towards the end. Despairing, he fell ill and subsequently died. When Komachi learned of his death she was overcome with grief.

Komachi’s old age when she had lost her beauty, been abandoned by her former lovers, and now regrets her life, wandering around as a lonely beggar woman is also frequently portrayed in later-period literature including many noh plays. What is fiction and what is fact is the subject of debate.

Today the name Komachi still evokes the image of classical feminine  beauty  and is a popular girls name to this day

Though I go to you
ceaselessly along dream paths,
the sum of those trysts
is less than a single glimpse
granted in the waking world.

Yōkai; Rokurokubi

轆轤首 – Rokurokubi (potter wheel neck)

Rokurokubi are normal women by day, but at night they gain the ability to stretch their necks to ridiculous proportions.

It is said that rokurokubi live undetected during daylight and may even take mortal husbands trying to keep their demonic forms secret. They are tricksters by nature, however, and their compulsion to frighten and spy on human beings is hard to resist. Some rokurokubi thus resort to revealing themselves only to drunks, the sleeping, or the blind in order to satisfy these urges.

Other stories say that the rokurokubis were humans who had broken Buddhist law. They feast on the blood, favoring that of those who had also broken religious doctrine.

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.

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.

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!

Branded

Brand Loyalty in Japan

There is a huge obsession in Japan for luxury brands. Louis Vuitton reins supreme over the streets of Tokyo.

If you are not carrying, you ain’t no-one.

Japanese women make up just 2% of the population of Asia but make up 50% of the overall sales of luxury brands in the area. In 2010 a quarter of all luxury goods were bought in the Japanese market and Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Coach and Tiffany counts on Japan for an average of 13 percent of total profit.

During the Meiji period (1868-1912) Japan made a huge push to westernise and do away with the old political and social structures. Japan adopted the British government style, German medicine and French fashion. The people who survived these changes wore French clothes, held western style cocktail parties and engaged in social dancing. After the war, once again Japan adapted to the American style of education and business. Western brands were rare and highly valued, when food and clothes were cheap and poorly made, a famous name was the safest choice. The Japanese addiction to Western luxury fashion brands arose in the 1960s and 1970s with the rapid expansion of the new middle class that wanted to show off their success. Due to the tight space restrictions of Japan, especially in the cities, the Western way to enjoy, as well, as to exhibit one’s riches with mansions and large properties in leafy neighbourhoods, was near impossible. The Japanese chose to show their wealth by dressing richly. Additionally, the dense traffic and tight parking meant luxury cars were pointless. The more expensive the luxury articles worn the higher the status of the person wearing them. The ultimate status symbols in Japan were luxury fashion goods such as couture clothes, leather purses, shoes and accessories, silk scarves, watches, furs, and jewels.

But, in a country whose economy has stagnated for the last 20 years, there is a disproportionate amount of people walking around with the latest in high-end fashion. Young people including high school students who seemingly work regular jobs in offices and shops have enough disposable income to afford the best what Paris fashion has to offer. Japan has an issue with Parasite Singles, a recent survey showed that 60% of single men and 80% of single women aged 20-34 lived at home with their parents. A shocking 84% said they did not have to help with household expenses and 50% claimed to receive financial aid from The Bank of Mum and Dad.
An article in The Washington Post described one Parasite single;

Miki Takasu is 26 years old, beautiful, drives a BMW and carries a
2,800 USD Chanel handbag–when she isn’t using her Gucci, Prada or
Vuitton purses. She vacations in Switzerland, Thailand, Los Angeles,
New York and Hawaii. Happily unmarried, living with her parents
while working as a bank teller, she is what people here call a
“parasite single”…
…They shop. Rings and watches by Cartier, Bulgari, and Hermes
costing 2,000 to 3,000 USD are particularly popular among working
women, who buy themselves presents for special occasions–a Cartier
ring to celebrate her 10th anniversary on the job, or a gift to herself
on turning 30.
They travel. Miki, who earns about 28,000 USD a year, frequently
makes quick shopping trips to Korea, has been to Hawaii three times
and to Malaysia and Egypt as well–all with girlfriends.

This frees up a huge proportion of their salary to take trips, socialize and buy what ever they want.
As mentioned before Japanese society is seated in outward appearances and a sense of belonging to a greater group. Owning a brand that is coveted by others helps the owner to not only feel important and fashionable but also shows that they are part of the tribe. In the quest to fit in girls have been known to turn to more dramatic measures. The infamous enjo kosai problems of the 1990s when junior high school students would sell dates with themselves to older men.
Another reason brands are so important to young people especially women is the limited job market and low female social status. having the funds to buy yourself a bag, a watch, a car or to travel boosts your self-confidence in a way that a marriage and 1.67 children (the national average) can’t.

Brand loyalty in Japan extends also to food, electronics and cars although it is the opposite story. Japanese brands are trusted more than their foreign counterparts. Australian beef is cheaper than Japanese beef and vegetables from neighbouring parts of Asia are almost half what the Japanese versions cost. The 10 highest grossing brands in Japan are all domestic companies from Toyota to Sharp.