Tag Archives: rumor

Raconteuring

Jules Cheret

A coworker was talking to me about the challenges and milestones of raising a son. She has a young boy, five years-old, and at some point, he’s going to have to shower by himself. I told her it’s probably best to let him shower by himself next year or so. Then later, the topic drifted into one of the probably most difficult things parents have to go through, coming home to a son who just got into a fight.

A child coming home from school with a bloody nose or a swollen lip is probably one of the most visceral signs to a parent that they cannot shield their child from all of the awfulness of the world. And what’s worse, there’s also the urge to tell your son that in such cases, they might inevitably have to be awful in return. Of course, this situation is not really unique to boys, but in this conversation, we focused mostly on sons.

I don’t have many memories of my parents protecting me from the direct awfulness and violence of the world. To be honest, I never really got into any serious fights. I’ve been sucker punched a couple of times, but I’ve managed to diffuse the situation without getting into too much violence. I’ve come home with a swollen lip before, but I managed to hide that from my parents as well.

One of the most memorable, and perhaps one of my earliest embarrassing moments to me in regards to my parents happened to me when I was around nine to twelve years-old. My neighbor had a cousin who would occasionally visit. She would play with us whenever she’s around. She was a cute young thing, very friendly, and a bit of a tomboy. I had a little crush on her as a kid. Now I don’t know whether it was known or not, but I really didn’t do anything to pursue the matter. What was I going to do? We were kids. But one day, after knowing her for quite a while, for some unknown reason, she wrote on permanent marker on a gate by our house, “Joe is ugly!”

Now, I really didn’t know how to react at the message. I was more bewildered than anything else. And the weird thing is I really didn’t see any point in trying to cover it up or erase it. I remember just moving on, playing with my neighbor, and going about my childish ways.

What happened next was my mother coming home and seeing the message. She didn’t confront anyone about. She didn’t talk to the neighbors, nor did she ask me what happened between me and whoever wrote that message. She just went back out with a permanent marker and covered it herself. I remember being embarrassed about it, showing her a world where people hate her son enough that they would write slurs about him. Not everyone thinks her young son is as wonderful as she thinks he is. But looking back now, that must’ve been quite a day for her: coming home, seeing evidence that someone is trying to pick on her son, and with a quiet dignity, trying to shield her kid from the world’s hurtful slings.

Interestingly enough, that girl was one of my first introductions to the world of sex. No, not directly, but she was the catalyst to so many questions growing up. Her cousin was spreading a rumor that she had relations with an older boy. Apparently, this all happened while that cousin was listening in. I’m going to leave out all of the details, but it was odd that it never really occurred to anyone back then that what happened might very well have been abuse. We never really knew the age of that older boy. And as for her, despite my foggy memories, she couldn’t have been older than twelve at the time. I didn’t really believe the rumor, and I remember compartmentalizing and just putting in a part of my brain that I don’t ever access (a useful trick Catholic school taught me), but damn… the stain of that news around the neighborhood is a thousand times more hurtful than that childish message she wrote on that gate.

Continuing with the drama: the cousin who spread that rumor around; we used to hear him get beat up by his father for being gay. We couldn’t do much about it at the time. We were kids, and I’m not sure if people really did anything for situations like that back then. I don’t really remember much about him. He was a bit older than the rest of the neighborhood kids but he was friendly enough with us. The last thing I heard, he died in a fire in a nightclub. Despite being barely an adult, he was working as a waiter and there was a fire. The club owner was negligent and kept the fire escape locked, trapping many of the people inside. Poor guy.

He was someone’s son. What happened to him was the world’s awfulness coming at full force. That’s the awfulness that mothers fear… the awfulness that permanent markers can do nothing to stop.

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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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