Category Archives: Japan

Kimonos and Fake News

Spoliarium

I’ve been doing a bit of an informal survey after hearing a friend spout off what sounds like anti-Japanese sentiment disguised as facts. In an attempt to disparage the character of Japanese culture specifically and the Japanese people in general, she mentioned that the kimono was designed specifically for the woman to easily have sexual encounters with men at a moment’s notice. That is why what appear to be cushions or pillows are attached at the back of the outfit. This factoid (or to cut to the chase, this lie) seems to be designed to hurt the Japanese image by basically calling their traditional attire a sex attire and by virtue implying that Japanese women have a history of having loose morals.

I’ve been asking Koreans around me about the reason for the kimono’s design and most people reference this rather risqué explanation to different degrees, with some being more polite than others. This was very fascinating since the people I asked were mostly well-educated people who have visited Japan several times, if not lived there for several years. They mostly came up with the same explanation, although some expressed doubts regarding its veracity.

Now, I’ve read about kimonos, seen them worn many times first-hand, and been with people who had it put on. There are many degrees, but kimonos can be quite complicated to put on. It took my friends almost an hour to have it put on them, and this is with a professional assistant. When you see people walking around Japan with their Sunday best kimonos, these are mostly complicated attires with several layers. They are not the fastest things to take on and off. Probably the easiest and least layered kimono I could think of are the yukatas worn in the summer, but compared to the Korean hanbok, they are probably a little more complicated to put on and off, so I don’t understand this idea of “easy access.” As for the cushions or pillows attached in the back. They are otakos or oversized ribbons mainly placed there for aesthetic purposes. I would hardly consider them pillows. One of the reasons for putting so much material around women at the time was that it was considered ideal for women to have a straight, flat figure. It was simply the aesthetic at the time. And as for pillows and the idea of having women basically be on their backs, Japanese women, when fully attired in traditional garb will have a very complex hairdo. Back then, they would never rest their head on pillows for fear of ruining their hair, and instead rested their head and neck on what amounts to a wooden platform. The whole pillow/easy access thing is simply a fantasy.

But what lends it credibility is a bit of truth. One is that there is a history of courtesans and prostitution in Japan which does involve the image of geishas wearing heavy make-up and kimonos. But this is counter to the easy access image the rumor I’ve been hearing. Another bit of truth is that kimonos are usually tied from behind, thus women would often require assistance when putting on such complicated attire. Prostitutes would sometimes tie their kimono in front so they could easily put them on and off without assistance, but that it not the only sole reason to wear a kimono with the ribbon in front. Elderly people for example, would tie their kimonos in front to make it easier to wear them. In any case, there are many reasons why kimonos could be tied in front, but I think the originators of the easy access lie just latched on to the prostitution story and made it true for all kimonos.

But what is the purpose of the lie. I imagine it is a relic of anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea. I ask people where and when they first heard of this explanation and not many people could tell me exactly when. It seems to have been rooted in their childhood. Thus, even when I offer a counter explanation, some find it hard to divorce themselves from the old take. Perhaps it was designed to disparage the Japanese, and in doing so, boost Korean nationalist sentiment. This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen. In the 80s, children in the Philippines were taught that Armando Lite invented the ArmaLite (M16), Agapito Flores invented the fluorescent lamp, and Eduardo San Juan invented the Lunar Rover. There’s a possibility that Eduardo San Juan did exist as an engineer, but there is no record that he was the chief engineer for the Lunar Rover. And as for the other two, they are nothing but clever puns. But why make up the lie? They were designed to boost national pride, encourage children to take up science and engineering, and instill a bit of anti-American sentiment since all inventors were said to have had their inventions stolen and their credits removed, thus making the lies unprovable. I suspect the Japanese kimono lie was created in the same vein, especially since the Koreas were occupied by the Japanese the same way the Philippines was occupied by the Americans.

I believe this is an early attempt at “fake news” or propaganda. Unfortunately, with me trying to disprove the old “fake news,” I could be labeled as “fake news” as well. I’m not sure if propaganda had the same vicious back and forth cycle back then as well. I figure some lies just faded after people saw the light of truth and reason. But maybe I was being naïve in thinking they are not as persistent, after all, what was my friend spouting? And to bring it back to the modern era, I had my wife look up some of the anti-Japanese sentiments my friend was spouting including the kimono explanation online. True enough, she finds them in a Korean anti-Japanese site. Old “fake news” makes it to the modern age.

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On Hunting Seals and Wearing Their Warm Fur

Centaur

I just saw the 2016 documentary ‘Angry Inuk.’ It’s upsetting, but one of the sins the world always seems to commit (among other things) is ignore the plight of First Nations. Basically, because of “conservation” efforts to save non-threatened seal populations, the seal skin market was destroyed, effectively plunging Inuit communities who relied on the seal skin trade into poverty. The infuriating part is that the people who push for the ban on the seal skin trade are often people who can afford to indulge on such causes and not be affected by the consequences.

It reminds me of people who are into organic foods. People who are into organic foods are those who can afford organic food; and the richer and more into organic food you are, the preachier you tend to be regarding your diet. And often, lectures and the message of change are geared towards those who can’t really afford a different way of eating and living. In the case of Inuit seal hunters, it is people living comfortably and more affluently down in warmer climates that are telling Inuit that what they are doing is wrong. It is simply wrong to kill cute seal pups and sell their skin.

I’ve never had much issue with eating all sorts of animals and people hunting them, unless they’re endangered. I’ve had whale meat before and I really don’t care for it. I really wish commercial whale fishing in Japan would stop already, especially since whales are becoming more and more endangered. Now, you might say this is hypocritical and it is no different from the situation with Inuit hunting seals, but as far as I know, there are no communities in Japan dependent on whale hunting. In fact, the Japanese seem to be pushing whale hunting not for the same cultural and life-altering reasons and with the same small-scale methods used by Aboriginals, but by a highly sophisticated commercial process in order to have whale meat continue to be available in Japanese restaurants and grocery stores simply because some people like to occasionally eat whale. The Japanese can survive without commercial whaling.

I’ve had seal before and I think it’s fine. I’ve had bear as well. I’ve even eaten dogs. Now, some might call that monstrous, but pigs have been proven to be much smarter than dogs, equivalent to the intelligence of two-year-olds on average. Now, I mostly eat strange things out of curiosity (and then for pleasure should I develop a taste for it), but I do feel for people whose livelihoods depend on the sale of what most of society would deem unusual or even unsavory. There’s an old dog meat restaurant near where I work. It’s a family-run place, and I could only imagine the toll on them should there be a huge backlash on eating dogs in the country.

The problem is, outfits like Greenpeace, PETA, the Humane Society, and Sea Shepherd are all business at the end of it all. They will create marketing campaigns and manufacture villains in order to keep their operations afloat. As the documentary showed, seals are no longer endangered, but the campaign against killing cute seal pups is such an effective money generator that it’s highly unlikely that they’ll ever stop using baby seal imagery. And as businesses cater to their demographics, animal lovers can be the biggest suckers.

Just recently, I saw a popular animal show in Korea do a showcase on dogs raised for their meat. They partnered with an American company and rescued dogs destined for the butcher’s shop. They then flew the dogs to America and had families adopt them.  What an awful, awful, story of animal lovers not knowing where to throw their money! Why can’t they just use the money to rescue dogs in their own respective countries and have them adopted by locals? Wouldn’t that have resulted in more dogs rescued in the long run? It’s a great story to tell, “I rescued this dog from a Korean dog meat farm.” But you could’ve rescued two more dogs from a puppy mill in Idaho. And also, to the Korean producers of the show: great way of perpetuating the stereotype that Koreans eat dog! Some do, but the majority who don’t are I’m sure are quite tired of hearing about it.

I’m an animal lover myself, and I’ve cared for pets for most of my life. I just tend to be really suspicious of animal rights organizations and those pushing for people to eat a certain way. It just reeks of ethnocentrism sometimes.

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About Innocently Prodding Someone’s Bum

Saint

When it comes to childhood or child-rearing, some things just don’t translate to North America or just 2017 in general. I remember when I first came to South Korea, I was teaching English to young children. Some of the boys would play around shoving their fingers into each other’s bottoms, occasionally including mine. It was playful and not sexual at all, but in order to avoid any confusion, I discouraged it in class. I have my suspicion that it probably originated in some sort of sexual submission/domination dynamics, but I really don’t think the kids were thinking of that. It was horseplay. It was horseplay that was odd, and is probably less common now than it was even ten years ago.

The thing is this isn’t really a Korean thing, shoving things up bottoms as a form of horseplay. It is an Asian thing as far as I can tell. If I grew up in Japan, I probably would’ve had to deal with kancho. In Taiwan or China, I would probably deal with it under a different name. I remember having to deal with it as a young child. It wasn’t amusing back then. If anything, I always thought it was a throwback to when kids and people in general truly didn’t know any better. I didn’t put much malice in it. I just thought that the other person better wash their hands afterwards.

But it really doesn’t translate to North American countries. Not in Canada. Not at all. Kim’s Convenience tried to explain it to mixed results, and as much as I understand the practice and don’t want to be the straight person in the skit, it really does seem like a throwback. Even when the Korean character equated the practice to a wedgie, it didn’t really help the situation. When was the last time you got a wedgie? Even I am too old to experience the hilarity of giving and/or receiving wedgies when I was young. It was outdated back then, and it would be seen as cruel now. In fact, the only person who was interested in shoving things up my bum as a prank was my father, who I imagine used to play around with his peers that way when he was a child back in the 60s. Different environment, uncomfortable to put up with now, but I move on. It’s the same way I saw my young Korean students when they were keen on putting fingers up bums… different environment. I don’t want to be ethnocentric and tell them that it’s wrong or put malice into it; I just discouraged it like every other horseplay.

But in the same spirit of ethnocentrism, in Canada, we don’t shove fingers up children’s bottoms as a form of horseplay. It’s not that there’s malice in it, but it’s best to avoid doing it to prevent confusion. It’s not really wise trying to shoehorn questionable horseplay or pranks from other countries into North America when it could be interpreted differently, especially in this day and age. If an immigrant parent or grandparent does that to a child, and by some miracle, the child is okay with it, the neighbors, friends, or other relatives might not be. It’s best to avoid that confusion. There other aspects to one’s culture that are much better to pass on to the next generation, things that won’t get one suspected or arrested for abuse.

 

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Not Talking About Suicide

carnival

I used to occasionally go to suicide forums and talk to people… because why not? Like many people who suffer from depression, the thought of suicide has come to my head, but I’m much of a coward to really give it too much serious thought. It was more like, “if I’m going to kill myself, I’d do it this way” or “if this happens, that would be the thing that would make me go ahead and kill myself.” It was a thought experiment more than anything else. But as for the forums, occasionally I would read people’s posts. They were mostly young people, complaining about their lives, or people frustrated by their significant others. It’s rare, but sometimes, I would respond back. Instead of being a community of people seeking help before they do what they shouldn’t, I think it’s really more a community of people just trying to get their voices heard. It’s a place where a person can say their troubles instead of being deconstructed or given solutions to their problems. There was no judgment. It was a place that tells people that they are not insane, nor are they alone. That there’s nothing new under the sun and that they’ll get through whatever it is that’s giving them trouble. I suppose I might be accused of being a tourist for being there, but for a time, it really helped me with my depression. It felt good telling a complete stranger that things we’re going to be alright.

I live in a place where suicide is quite common place. People often regard Japan as one of the suicide capitals of the world, but really, South Korea has it beat. Even the former president committed suicide and in some ways normalized the whole thing. But as horrible as South Korea is when it comes to its suicide statistics and the reasons for why so many people are committing suicide (societal pressures, money troubles, elderly depression, stigma against seeing psychiatric help…) it surprised me to learn that Canada isn’t doing too well when it comes to suicide either.

Canada’s in the thirties when ranked with other countries. But when you look at that ranking, it disguises the fact that some communities are more susceptible to suicide than others. Aboriginal males are six times more likely to commit suicide than non-Aboriginal males. In 2000, out of 100,000 Aboriginal males, 126 committed suicide. For non-Aboriginals, it was 24. If you consider the size disparity between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal communities, the suicide rates affecting small areas in the country is staggering. It’s gigantic compared to the suicide rate in South Korea (27 out of 100,000).

What’s shameful is that with countries like South Korea and Japan are actively doing things to help stop their suicide epidemics in the face of the horrible statistics. The police are patrolling suicide-prone areas, and there are groups which monitor vulnerable people. People are talking about the problem and how to deal with it. And while Canada has been helping some communities deal with depression, addiction, and mental health issues, I’m not sure if we’re doing enough to help prevent the high rates of suicide. I think it’s such a non-issue with the average Canadian that I wouldn’t even be aware of the problem if I didn’t have an interest in it myself. Clearly, present-day efforts are not enough for Aboriginal communities. There are initiatives that help them deal with problems once they are already dealing with them, but I’m not sure if Canada is doing enough to help prevent depression and mental health issues from developing in the first place. Now I’m not saying that South Korea and Japan are doing a lot more than Canada to help their citizens have more fulfilling lives to help prevent suicidal thoughts (I don’t think they are, they’re just doing more to keep people from committing the act), but I think Aboriginal communities are much more susceptible to this problem that it’s something the country should address. After all, much of the First Nations’ woes have been the result of its history with the Canadian government.

 

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Osaka Again

Goat 4

Off to Osaka this week. I’ve been going to Osaka quite frequently recently. It’s a great city, people are friendly, and most things to do are pretty accessible. If you’re going to do Japan for the first time, I recommend Osaka. Tokyo is way too busy. Most of the interesting places to visit in Tokyo are separated by several subway rides. Tourists would end up spending a great portion of their time on the train. Go to Osaka instead; all the key Japanese things to do are pretty much in the same area.

Speaking of Osaka, I saw a short virtual reality video off of Littlstar, the VR video network. Here’s a tip, if you’re gonna make a video and call it “Passport Osaka,” don’t spend half of it on the tattooed expat. Most of the people visiting Osaka aren’t there to visit a foreigner’s tattoo parlor. And I really wouldn’t call Dotonbori and Amerikamura “best-kept secrets” either. They’re two of the main places where tourists go. Blergh.

 

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Japan Again

Flowers

Visited Japan again. Japan is a great place to visit. I would live there if the living expense vs. wages is more reasonable. Anywhere but Tokyo though. Tokyo is a nightmare of trains and buses.

One thing I always liked about the country is the general respect towards others and the overwhelming sense of empathy. People are always mindful of how others are… smiling, not getting in each other’s space, not being too loud on their phones, etc. It’s great. Here in Seoul, despite having a history of Confucian, community-centered value system, people tend to be more self-centered. They are not aware of other’s personal space. I got mine; you go get yours, type of attitude. It’s not a big deal, and I’ve gotten used to it. But it’s often the small things that make one appreciate a place more.

Maybe this is just me being Canadian and missing general politeness.

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That Phone Will Kill You

Greater_Prairie_Chicken

An old friend from Canada and her Spanish boyfriend visited me this month. We were travelling all over Seoul, Osaka, and Kyoto for the past couple of weeks so I didn’t have much time to update my site. I would like to talk more about my vacation, but I feel like a more significant incident happened while we were waiting for the subway train in Seoul Station.

There was an unusually wide gap between the train and the platform we were in. A sign on the platform doors warned about this fact. But a woman ahead of us, much too focused on her phone, fell in between the gap as she was getting in. The lower half of her body was under the platform.

For a few seconds, everyone around her was in shock. Nobody, including me, was moving. These things just don’t happen, and it was unbelievable that it was happening at that moment. A woman was about to get horribly mutilated on a Friday afternoon.

Then I snapped out of it, grabbed the woman by her right arm pit and pulled her out of the gap. Then, my companions and I entered the train right before the door closed. She didn’t acknowledge what happened and just limped way and took the only free seat. I asked her if she’s okay in Korean, and she finally said “thank you” in English, and that was that.

All that time, her phone never left her hand.

My wife said that perhaps she was in shock, that’s why the woman just went to her seat and buried her face into her phone. I’m guessing it’s a mixture of shock and embarrassment. Now, while I’m glad that my guests from out of town were spared from an impromptu subway guillotine, and I kinda forgive the woman for acting rather nonchalant about the horrible fate that she just avoided, but I’m more annoyed about the precursor of the whole incident. People are not paying attention to their surroundings because of their phones!

It’s probably one of my biggest pet peeves. Sometimes you’re not looking, a passerby will knock it off your hand. It will fall and break, and ruin your day. But that’s one of the better outcomes. That phone will get you killed. It will get you in car accidents. It will get you falling off platforms. So please, STOP IT ALREADY! The modern day cellular phone has already killed table manners, polite conversation, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and the need to actually remember things and be competent in basic arithmetic. It will actually kill human beings as well. And last Friday, it nearly killed one in front of us.

I just hope that woman learned a lesson that day.

Musing on Japan, culture, and everything else later.

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