January 24. I continue with the subject of surnames in Japan. Since 2000, when the first basic plan to promote gender equality was formulated, it has included progress in the direction of allowing members of a married couple to retain different surnames. Last month the fifth basic plan was announced and for the first time in 20 years that progress has been reversed. The Asahi newspaper editorial on December 18, 2020 says that Japan is the only country in the world that legally requires married couples to use the same surname. During the last 20 years, work has been done to end this legislation that comes from the Meiji period (1868-1912), the same period in which for the first time the entire population was forced to have a surname. According to the article, the most conservative sector of the ruling party has pushed to end the attempt to allow each member of the couple to use their last name after 20 years of working in the opposite direction. It also says that opinions are divided among the population. Currently 96% of marriages have adopted the husband’s last name and 4% the wife’s last name. All this in the case of marriages between Japanese. In the case of marriages between a Japanese and a foreigner, each one can keep their last name if they wish. This led the owner of a software company (Japanese marriage) to sue the State in 2018, arguing that the law that requires him to bear the same last name as his wife is unconstitutional since it violates article 14 of the Constitution that guarantees equal treatment for all. A year later a Tokyo court ruled against him, holding that the law is constitutional. What do you think of this matter? I think it’s an interesting topic for discussion. Kind Regards. The title of the Asahi Shinbun article is “Japan should annul the same surname rule for married couples.” The case of the owner of the software company is in the “Japan Times”, March 2018, under the title “Allow different surnames for married couples”. And there is more, including one from December 25, 2020 from the Japan Times on the same topic. You can read them on the internet.
January 21. About Japanese surnames. Most people have had them since the Meiji Restoration, based on a decree that I believe was promulgated in the 1870s. Before they were the privilege of a few, the samurai and the nobility, and there were people who had unofficially adopted surnames to use them locally . When the Meiji government forced everyone to adopt one, there were people who did not take it well, suspecting that the government was trying to control them and ensure the collection of taxes, as happened a short time ago with “my number”. The monks played an important role in assigning surnames. During the Tokugawa era, Buddhist temples had played the role of civil registries in modern times. Many surnames were assigned according to the place where people lived or their occupation. Of course, there are pre-existing surnames and others that are not related to places or occupations. Some sound poetic. Being a teacher for three decades I have had access to many surnames. The one I remember the most is Akitsuki (秋月), Autumn Moon. In general I find them charming, from one as simple as Tanaka (田中), Inside the Rice Field, to Igarashi (五十嵐), Fifty Storms. Finally, yesterday I closed the academic year. I chose one of each of the three classes I taught: Sakumo (左雲), the Cloud on the Left, Taki (多喜), Much Joy, Himeno (姫野), the Field of the Princess(es). There were between 34 and 36 students in each class, so it is not difficult to find charming last names. In Japan there are more than 120,000, although there are no precise statistics.
January 18. Half (ハーフ） is a term used in Japan to refer to a person who has a foreign parent and a Japanese parent. It is used as part of daily conversation but its interpretation is ambiguous and at least serves to separate the Japanese from the “half Japanese.” Would you like to be called “half” in your country because one of your parents is a foreigner? In order to overcome this among those of us who have “half” children, we have begun to call them “double”, emphasizing that they are carriers of two cultures. Why didn’t this come from the Japanese themselves, considering that they have the possibility of opening up to the world within their own society?
January 15. In 1960 high school and university students were part of a great social movement against the ratification of the security treaty between Japan and the United States, known as AMPO, which generated the largest demonstrations in the history of Japan. The student movement continued throughout the 1960s. Eiji Oguma recounts what happened in 1968 in a book whose title is precisely “1968” (only in Japanese).
For the past 30 years I have taught in Japanese universities and year after year the comments of my colleagues referred to the students becoming more and more naive, more childish. The “Kawaii culture” was advancing and in the vast majority of cases, to be accepted among peers, one had to be disinterested in social problems and interested in Disneyland, anime, etc.
However, after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in March 2011, hundreds of thousands of students and citizens demonstrated in front of the Prime Minister’s residence. Students once again had an active role, but this was diluted in the face of the preponderance of the Kawaii culture. Again Eiji Oguma recounts and analyzes these new events in an article entitled “A New Wave Against the Rock: New Social Movements in Japan since the Fukushima Nuclear Meltdown” (in English, you can read it on the internet).
I want to emphasize here that every cultural process has a historical background and “Kawaii culture” is NOT Japanese culture. Every culture is dynamic. We must think about its historical background.
First online (zoom) course about the book “On Japanese Social Imaginary” (2020).
Course taught by the author of the book.
It will be held on Saturdays from 9 to 11 a.m. (Japan time).
The course consists of 12 classes that will be held during 12 consecutive weeks.
They have been divided into three modules of 4 classes each.
It begins on January 9 and finishes on March 27.
Number of Students: Minimum: 3. Maximum: 6. Interactive classes.
Fees: 5000 ￥ (about 45 U$S or 40 Euros) each module (4 classes, 8 hours, 625 ￥/ h).
December 30. Unions and lawyers organizations have established “Corona Mura” in Shinjuku with the intention of advising, providing psychological support and delivering free food to those who come forward to request them during the last days of this year and the first days of next year. Initiatives of this type have existed for years, so they have not arisen due to the current pandemic, but it is estimated that this year they will be larger. There are also official initiatives and others generated by NGOs. Hopefully many of those in a difficult economic situation will go to receive food and legal and psychological support. In Japan it often happens that people suffer in silence and do not visit these places. Yhey are ashamed to ask for or receive help. It is part of a way of approaching interpersonal relationships based on abstention (enryo) and conjecture (sasshi). In the current difficult circumstances, it only remains to hope that the victims accept these solidarity initiatives and meet those who are in similar circumstances. Best wishes for a happy new year to those who dedicate their time to selflessly supporting the most economically vulnerable people.
December 27. I just returned home. I stopped by a bookstore. I’ve been looking at some books, all in Japanese. The title of one of them in literal translation: “The Japanese do not know anything about world news.”世界のニュースを日本人は何も知らない。 The author is Mayumi Tanimoto. It refers to television and the written press, mainly newspapers. It was published in October 2019. It has already sold more than one hundred thousand copies. There is much more to say, but this is just to put the issue on the table. Beyond this, which is a long-term problem, there is a more recent one. In 2012, when Shinzo Abe took over as Prime Minister, Japan was ranked 22nd in the World Press Freedom Ranking. In 2020 it is ranked 66.
December 24. Beyond KFC, Christmas cakes are widely sold, which are cakes with strawberry and Chantilly cream. That’s the part that concerns the children. As for teenagers and young people, there is a custom to celebrate Christmas Eve by going to dinner with their boyfriend or girlfriend at a good restaurant. The party usually continues until the next day. That is why from September onwards many couples are formed since no one wants to spend the 24th alone. Although I don’t know if I should have used the past tense for a part I don’t know how big of the youth population. There are fewer and fewer young people who are in a relationship and more young people who continue to be virgins, both women and men. I remember that some girls were proud of not needing men and they met on the 24th to have dinner together in very good restaurants. This year Don Corona was added. Thanks to its intervention, a new term has been coined: kuribotchi (クリボッチ）. It is a mixture of Kuri = the first two syllables of Kurisumasu, as it is written in Japanese, and botchi, which comes from hitori botchi (一人ぼっち）＝ being alone , with a connotation of sadness for being alone. Spending Christmas Eve alone. Undoubtedly next year will be better. Conclusions: 1) the inventiveness to create new terms combining parts of words or expressions that often come from different languages seems to be infinite 2) Merry Christmas !
December 21. Today I recalled a curious and funny event that happened in Ginkakuji at the end of October 1986, during a three-month study trip, my first trip to Japan. We were seven graduate students. I copy from page 64 of “31 Years in Japan”.
“In Kyoto we also visited various Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. By the end of October the leaves of the trees were already beginning to change color and tourists came to see that contrast between green, yellow, orange, passing through red until they reached darker tones, something that became more beautiful on a day of clear skies. On our visit to the Ginkakuji buddhist temple or Silver Temple, we were guided by a famous specialist in the history of Japanese gardens. I suppose he was so familiar with the temple gardens that in his unconscious they were already a part of himself. Otherwise, the fact that he tried to cut a colored leaf from a tree for each of us could not be explained. He failed to meet his goal because a temple guard came to reproach him. The professor suddenly seemed to realize what he was doing in his eagerness to please us. He apologized and told us we should never do that. The guard never found out who his interlocutor was.”
In the book I avoided writing his name, but I want to do it here in honor of his goodness, humility and wisdom. He was Professor Iinuma Jiro ）（飯沼二郎）(1918 – 2005). A good source of knowledge if you are interested in Japanese gardens (日本庭園）。
December 18. Today in an interview I was asked if I am happy after living in Japan for 33 years. My answer was a resounding yes for my wife, my daughter and for being able to dedicate myself to writing without worries, but there is something that I experienced in Argentina and Mexico and here only in a few short periods. It is the joy of being with friends. To think aloud with them, improvise, exchange ideas, jokes, laugh with them. I miss the spontaneity. Someone said that football is “the dynamic of the unthought.” I want at least a little bit of that in daily life. Because here everything has been calculated in advance and life is more like a play than life itself.
Guy Debord in 1967 wrote about “the society of the spectacle”. He said that in pre-modern times in interpersonal relationships “to be” predominated. In modernity, “to have” came to predominate and then ceded its place to “look like”. He said that with Western societies in mind. Perhaps Japan is at the forefront of a society where what is constructed (tatemae) predominate. To find a true friend I have to turn to Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime or get on a plane. And all this is not summed up in the idea of a different culture. Japan was different. Culture is dynamic and has changed in the sense of creating a much greater distance between people than, for example, in the 1950s and 1960s. Interpersonal communication is the name of a social problem in contemporary Japanese society. That is what I thought today. Hopefully it helps to think and exchange ideas. We learn every day, I also learn from you, of course.
December 15. “A Silent Voice” is an anime film made at Kyoto Animation. It’s about bullying. I think it captures well what happens in reality. Being different in various ways (race, nationality, disability, sensitivity, appearance) instead of being considered as something that is socially enriching, is usually (not always) adopted with a xenophobic spirit, which rejects difference and attacks it. There are many cases in which teachers do not intervene, letting Social Darwinism do its part, something very sad that sometimes reaches levels of sadism difficult to believe. They only come to light when the victim is seriously injured or in cases of suicide. There are many books published on ijime in Japan for the purpose of searching for causes and possible solutions. I don’t know to what extent the situation has improved, but I don’t have good examples around me. The film was released in Japan in 2016.
December 6. “Kato Shuichi was born in Tokyo, in the Shibuya neighborhood, on September 19, 1919. Throughout his childhood and adolescence and during the years he studied medicine at Tokyo University, Japan was advancing the imperialist war that had begun in 1910 with the colonization of the Korean peninsula. He graduated as a physician in 1943, in the midst of World War II, and began working at the Tokyo University Hospital. He was a direct witness to the suffering of the inhabitants of his city as a result of the bombings that swept part of it in March 1945 and in the months that followed. Shortly before his twenty-sixth birthday, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, causing a hell of death and destruction. These facts would mark him for the rest of his life. He was part of an official Japanese team dedicated to investigate the consequences that atomic bombs had on the affected population. During this period he strengthened his pacifist and anti-imperialist stance, which was reflected in his activities and literary work.
Before starting his medical studies he had become interested in literature and continued to do so at university and after graduating. In high school he had studied English and German and at Tokyo University he chose French and Latin. As early as 1947, together with Shinichiro Nakamura and Takehiko Fukunaga, he co-authored “1946 -Literary Considerations-”, drawing attention for the first time in the world of literature. In 1951 he was awarded a scholarship by the French government to conduct research in hematology at Paris University. From there he collaborated with Japanese magazines and newspapers by sending articles of artistic and literary critic and others in which he evaluated characteristics of various civilizations. In 1956 his book “Hybrid Culture -A Little Hope of Japan-” (Zasshu Bunka – Nihon no chiisana kibou-) was published. There he presents his views on various aspects of Japanese culture by problematizing it. The book draw the attention of the literary and academic world. The success of this publication led him to devote more time to writing and two years later he definitively abandoned the practice of medicine”.
December 3. I make my morning thoughts available hoping they will serve as “food for thought”. Why has the suicide rate in Japan soared in recent months? The economic situation of the victims as a consequence of the pandemic is often cited as the main cause. But, for example, in Latin American countries the economic consequences of the pandemic have been much more devastating. I think that in Japan people have been educated to succeed in material terms to the point that the daily life of children is centered on this issue, leaving them very little time to play. Life revolves around material stimuli at the expense of affective relationships. When you lose your job you are left with nothing, only shame and very little or no affection in the people around you. Telephone services to people who feel like committing suicide are not enough because so many people resort to them. It’s that people have no one to turn to. Where are the relatives, friends, neighbors? In front of them and their colleagues, they only feel ashamed and they try to hide reality. When the material has failed, only shame and fear remain, close feelings. And in the face of such emptiness, suicide is an option. Japanese society, contrary to what many people think in foreign countries, is extremely materialistic. Vertical relationships, obedience, honesty and servility from subordinates are privileged and affective relationships have their center in the workplace or in consumption (the smile of the saleswoman). When you are left without that because you lost your job, there is almost nothing left. I think that an average person who lives in a slum in a Latin American country has much more emotional resources than a Japanese who has lost his job, who is in a difficult economic situation. Death as an option shows that this society is facing a situation of mental health crisis. The business and political world do not want to face the problem from its fundamentals because the benefits they receive are more important to them than the victims.
November 24. Omote Nihon and Ura Nihon. Perhaps you know about it, but there are some details that I hope are interesting for you. I took the paragraph from “31 years in Japan -an autobiographical essay about contemporary Japanese society-“ (2019), chapter 32: Regional Differences, pages 249 and 250.
“Another difference at the regional level is that based on the economic history of the coastal region that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and the one that overlooks the Sea of Japan. For territorial and climatic reasons most of the population settled on the two large plains with coasts over the Pacific Ocean, Kanto and Kansai, and over the rest of the same coast, while the coast of the Sea of Japan, which faces mainland Asia, remained relatively unpopulated. The Pacific coast is known as omote nihon, the front of Japan. The coast of the Sea of Japan is known as ura nihon, the back of Japan. The road from Kyoto to Tokyo along the Pacific coast is historically known as tokaido and is the center and symbol of omote nihon, a concept that binds Kanto and Kansai and continues northeast and southwest along the Pacific coast. It is synonymous with industrial and technological development, the scientific and rational world, Westernization, economic calculation, capitalism, political and military power, big cities, uprooting. Ura nihon is synonymous with traditional Japan, rice fields, small towns and villages, a sentimental, nostalgic, intuitive, community oriented premodern world. The Pacific coast has also been compared to masculinity and the coast of the Sea of Japan with femininity. As for the weather, in omote nihon winters are more benign. On a typical winter day on the Osaka coast (omote nihon) we can enjoy a sunny day without snow in sight, while near the coast of the Sea of Japan, about 70 kilometers away, we will encounter accumulated snow and no sun. The same would happen if we head from Tokyo to Niigata. When Yasunari Kawabata refers to “Snow Country” he’s talking about ura nihon. Its people are more peaceful and closer to nature. Although the term ura nihon was originally neither derogatory nor discriminatory, now is frequently avoided so as not to invoke an image of relative backwardness and poverty.”
November 18. Before entering the subject, I must clarify that I write about what I have just come across in my studies and in the preparation of online classes about my latest book. And yesterday I came across something that may be of interest to many of you. In Japan there are “industrial fairs on the end (エンディング産業展）) also known as ENDEX. They are “trade fairs” in which companies introduce products and services related to death to potential consumers including experiences such as testing various models of coffins. I have seen a documentary in which a company had an agreement with NASA and offered the service of spreading consumer ashes through space from a satellite. A chapter of my book “On Japanese Social Imaginary is titled “On death” and deals with the history and present situation of the bond that people and institutions have had with this inevitable event. But I was late to include the” trade fairs of the end. Death can be a good business to the point where potential consumers attend these fairs and fantasize about what may happen to them after the end and how much it may cost them. This year is the sixth and it will take place between November 24 and 26 in Tokyo. As you can see, it is something new, it is in its sixth year. The field of business continues to expand and there is very little left behind in the pursuit of profits. Death has been a business for a long time, but these fairs involve another step in its legitimation. The link for this year’s fair, in Japanese is http://ifcx.jp/outline/ It is also titled “Ceremony Japan 2020”. “How to turn everyday life into a ceremonial” is one of the central themes of my book. Here we are facing the last ceremony. Sorry for the subject but no way, just for today. Greetings from Kyoto and until next time.
November 13. “On Japanese Social Imaginary”. Table of Contents. Introduction: 1. The bureaucratization of experience. 2. On big and small ceremonies. First Part: 3. The social imaginary. 4. Japanese society seen from psychoanalysis. 5. Enryo (abstention) 〜 sasshi (conjecture). 6. A stage and a script. Second Part: 7. Job search ritualization. 8. Ritualizing relationships in the workplace. 9. Ritualization of electoral campaigns. 10. Mama san volley: the ritualization of leisure. Third Part: 11. Compulsory education: 12. University studies. Fourth Part: 13. On resilience. 14. On silence. 15. On solitude. 16. On death. Fifth Part. 17. The wedding ceremony. 18. Marriage and reproduction. 19. The ideal woman in the workplace. 20. Gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Sixth Part: 21. About lying. 22. The pandemic. 23. On denial.
September 30. Photographing girls in Hokuen. Ten days ago I was with my wife and daughter in Hokuen (北 園 north park), a park that is in the northeast corner of Kyoto, near Takaragaike and the building where the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change was signed. A good weather afternoon, the park was quite crowded as we were in the middle of a long weekend with four consecutive days off. Suddenly, part of the park was “taken” by a group of people. A man and a woman in their 60s led the event which lasted just over an hour. Eight girls between the ages of 10 and 15 lined up two to three meters from each other in front of a group of between 30 and 40 men carrying cameras. The organizers ordered the session to begin by reminding the men that they had 45 seconds for each series of photos. The men lined up in front of the girl they wanted to photograph. Once their 45 seconds were up, they lined up in front of another girl. If they wanted they could queue again in front of the same girl. Most girls were dressed in miniskirts. The men asked them to put themselves in certain poses and the girls also offered poses that were perhaps their strong point. The interaction was limited to these types of requests and offers. The men were not talking to each other and were focused on their task. This type of event is organized by small companies dedicated to model training. The girls aspire to be models and have been baptized as “chaidoru” (child + idol), the idol girls. The men pay the company and the company pays the girls, taking a profit margin. Business as usual. Those who photograph these half children, half teenagers are otaku, people who have a psychological dependence on a certain hobby, in this case photographing girls, something that can be better understood if we look at the history of the otaku and the origin of this term. After the event, these men took away their treasures in silence. Everything measured to the second. It was one more ceremony, the kind that usually fill the lives of the Japanese people. The vast majority of men were in their 40s and 50s, almost certainly single (24% of men up to age 50 are single). There were no teenagers and I could only make out one who would be in his 20s. Little joy, little spontaneity. This is the other side of Cool Japan, that of ordinary people alienated for decades of their lives, that of ignored psychosocial problems that have deepened over time.
In this case it was an economic transaction. A small business links supply (girls who aspire to be a model) and demand (men who want to photograph girls). Men pay, girls get paid, the company keeps a profit. There is no real communication. When the session ended, the company representatives who led the event invited the men to leave, indicating where the bus stop was located. Everything happened with total normality. There was no violence of any kind, far from it. At first, to break the ice, the two people from the company invited the men to photograph one of them, whom they apparently knew. Many abstained while others photographed him laughing. This happened because these men are mostly shy and are ashamed to face girls, although that was their purpose, with a camera mediating the (no) relation. The man and the woman of the company were masters of ceremonies, they took care that everything run normally. Some of the people in the park looked at the scene with incredulous eyes. There were a lot of children. Beyond what was in front of us, I think it is necessary to see this as part of a historical process. The history of otaku has been written by Japanese psychiatrists. Some related data is that in the last 50 years the number of single people has increased a lot. The percentages of virgin people are considerably higher than 30 years ago. And there is much more to talk about.