Snake Venom, Bee Toxin, Horse Oil, Snail Slime: Saving Face in Japan is Icky Fun

The Face and Lip Mask Haul
The Face and Lip Mask Haul

Japan is a country where saving face is paramount—even if that means covering it with snake venom, bee toxin, horse oil, or snail slime. One company in Japan has been tremendously successful by catering to the Japanese love for looking good, thus saving face, and exotic ingredients. Their array of face masks, which are applied to the skin as shown in the photos, are almost all reasonably priced at 100 yen and are always exciting to find in the local pharmacy. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the tingly sensation and fresh skin feeling you get from spreading cobra venom on your face?

How To Face Mask

Headquartered in central Tokyo’s glitzy Roppongi district, Sun Smile was founded in 1997. The company, which sells everything from cosmetics to bags, has seen their sales rise in the last 6 years. In 2009 they made 3 billion 997 million yen and in 2014 they posted sales of 8 billion 673 million yen. They produced over 100,000,000 masks since they went into business. Their biggest seller is the essence of pearl mask but it’s the other “natural” items that raise eyebrows (and lift lines).

They’re known best for their cosmetics line, Pure Smile. Pure Smile makes facial masks in every flavor imaginable—and some that are unimaginable. Their Essence Mask series features types as tame as lemon, rose, and pomegranate, but if you want something a bit more “wild” you can try their biodiversity series, which includes snake venom, snail slime, and sea cucumber. If you have no qualms, you can even lather your face with a horse oil mask, which, although smells slightly leathery, leaves your skin feeling as silky as a horse’s mane. (The horse is not as popular as the snail, according to the firm’s representatives). The popularity of these exotic ingredients started in South Korea and soon moved across the sea to Japan, where women have the image that Korean cosmetics are of good quality, in addition to being cheap, which has allowed Japanese women, who would tend to be grossed out by the idea of putting snake venom on their faces, to more easily accept these weird ingredients.

 

There are, however, some who even question the effectiveness of slathering exotic ingredients on your faces and whether it would have a noticeable, if any effect on your skin.

 

Wacky discount chain store, Don Quixote, even sold a special line of their facial masks that come in types such as blueberry cheesecake, cacao, and crème brûlée that smell good enough to eat.

 

There’s even an Amazonian series of facial masks made with the extracts of fruits only found in the rainforest such as guarana and camucamu.

The best are the Oedo Art Masks printed with the rosebud mouths, slanted eyes and pinched faces of ukioe paintings. The mask will most definitely make people think Halloween came early but the age-defying collagen, hyaluronic acid, and Vitamin-E in the mask will leave your face feeling smooth and supple.

The company also makes masks to hydrate your dry elbows, knees, and lips. The lip masks, make you look like a clown when you put them on, but leave your lips feeling moist.  According to the packaging, a suggested application (and definitely one of the strangest) is to put the lip masks on your nipples to remove any blackheads that may appear. It seems Pure Smile has literally thought of everything.

Most of the masks are made in South Korea, with the exception of the high-end whitening masks that bleach your skin. In Japan, where Snow White-like skin is favored over a glowing tan, there’s a huge market for creams and serums that bleach your skin white. Kanebo, one of Japan’s most well-known cosmetics companies, was forced to recall its skin whitening products in 2013 after several women were left with permanently unsightly white blotches on their skin. (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/09/16/editorials/kanebos-costly-scandal/#.VNcguN7ufww)

 

 

I tried a few of the face packs myself and this is what I noticed.

IMG_20160329_2
Before The Mask Adventures

I decided to go down the line in descending order of scariness.  I wanted to get the snake venom one out of the way, deciding that nothing is as intimidating as cobra venom.

 

SNAKE VENOM

 

Snake Venom Essence Mask
Snake Venom Essence Mask

First Impression:  As soon as I put the mask on I felt a strong cooling sensation.  The essence of the mask is fairly thick, but not sticky.  It definitely made me feel confident that the mask was doing something positive. This combined with the extreme moisture of the essence was pretty soothing.

 

What does snake venom essence smell like?  I can’t quite pinpoint the smell but it’s light, like cucumbers and water.

 

In 3 minutes, I started to feel a bit of stinging above my lips and more intense cooling sensation on my forehead and chin. I felt one with the snake who sacrificed their venom essence. Ssss. (Technically it’s just the amino acids found in the venom but you get the idea!). Towards the last five minutes I felt more of a slight stinging around the bottom half of my face.  The stinging was somewhat pleasant actually. I have high hopes for this venom.

During and After My Snake Venom Encounter
During and After My Snake Venom Encounter

The majority of the cooling sensation was on my chin, T zone, maybe it’s doing its venomous magic?  After 15 min I peeled off the mask.  My skin felt very refreshed, moisturized, and dare I say plump!  I can see why this would be good to apply before makeup as my face felt pore-less and clean.

 

Verdict:  If the stinging wasn’t there I would buy again for daily use.  Overall it was relaxing so maybe those with less sensitive skin might have more luck. Still, this would be a great mask to wear before makeup on a shoot!

 

CHOOSY FRUIT

Next, I decided to pair my facial with a lip pack.  I was feeling adventurous and decided to go with the fruit type since it was daytime and NYC needs some happy color, to encourage spring weather to come.

CHOOSY Fruit
CHOOSY Fruit

I’ve never heard of a lip spa and as someone who diligently moisturizes her lips, I never even thought that this existed or was necessary.  Well here we go.

 

How To CHOOSY - Fruit
How To CHOOSY – Fruit

 

First Impression: The mask has a very strange texture, like that of silly putty.  2 min in I started getting a burning sensation.

Also, the smell was a lot more subtle than I expected, like a fruity lipgloss.

It works as advertised since I definitely felt the needles on my lips.  Although very fun to touch, the pricking was too uncomfortable and I took off the mask the 8 min mark.

I guess they felt softer than before so it’s a nice addition if you have nothing on however, I will still probably reach for a chapstick over a Choosy pack. which I won’t need to leave on my face for so long.

Post CHOOSY Fruit
Post CHOOSY Fruit

Verdict:  Skip. I wouldn’t purchase this.  I am still not sure of its effectiveness.  Looking forward to trying the honey and seeing if it has a more dramatic effect.

 

BEE VENOM

 

Bee Venom Essence Mask
Bee Venom Essence Mask

What I love about these face masks in general is that the scents are always fairly subtle which in our world of extremes is very pleasant and relaxing.

I waited 2 hours to apply another mask just to give my skin a break.

My skin still felt refreshed after almost 2 hours. The snake venom is definitely great for  photoshoot prep!

I washed my face and was confronted with a lovely mix of honey flowers upon opening the Bee Toxin mask.  This had to be the most pleasant bee poison in the world.

Bee Venom smells so good!!!
Bee Venom smells so good!!!

 

First Impression: I immediately noticed that the essence consistency was more thin, watery, and sticky than the snake mask.

It wasn’t as prickly as the snake venom but had a much more greater cooling sensation, especially on my forehead.  It felt a lot like a gentle, lovely smelling version of Icy Hot.

Mask Struggles and Post Bee Essence
Mask Struggles and Post Bee Essence

It’s very moisturizing but my skin didn’t feel as tight as it did with the previous mask.

Verdict:  It was very refreshing. Would definitely try again!

 

CHOOSY HONEY

The smell is similar to the bee toxin mask but stronger, a bit too strong.  My lips became very tingly 2 min in, like pins and needles.  Again, I’m not a huge fan of these.

CHOOSY Honey
CHOOSY Honey

After removing the mask, my lips felt sticky. The huge size of the mask is a little unsettling as the stickiness covered below my nose to my chin.

Post CHOOSY Honey
Post CHOOSY Honey

Verdict: Skip.  Yes, your lips are soft but there’s nothing drastic.

 

SNAIL

I took  a break from my all-day pampering to attend a friend’s birthday party.  I chose to end my late night with a nice snail essence mask since I figured it would be the most soothing of the exotic choices.

Snail Essence Mask
Snail Essence Mask

First Impression: When I opened the pack the comforting smell of dew entered the air.  In my exhausted state the cooling effects of the mask were incredibly relaxing.  The serum in this pack has a fairly thick consistency and I felt the majority of the cold on my chin.  I felt no stinging whatsoever which was a nice surprise.

 

Late Night Snailing
Late Night Snail-ing

The mask left my face feeling moisturized but slightly tight.  I expected to feel a larger difference in my skin and the effect was less noticeable than the others.

 

Verdict: It’s a gentle soothing mask that is nice to wear after a long day. In terms of effectiveness for skin I’d say my favorite is still the Bee Venom.

 

ROYAL JELLY

 

Pre Royal Jelly
Pre Royal Jelly

 

I decided to treat myself with Royal Jelly the following morning.   Royal jelly is a bee secretion used to nourish larvae and the Queen Bee in a hive.  This was a great name choice on Sun Smile’s part.  Here’s to hoping it will start the day off right!

 

It gave off a soft flowery smell. Upon application it felt warmer than the other masks,  and gave a nice calm sensation This was definitely a good choice for a chilly morning as it gently wakes you up.

Post Royal Jelly
Post Royal Jelly

Verdict: Would use again!  My face feels so nice!!

 

So there you have it.  The masks are definitely worth trying, they aren’t magical but they will give you a mini-spa experience in your home.  They are super affordable so really why wouldn’t you want to lather your face in the essences of snake and bee toxins? And even if you would rather not, they are great cheap gifts to bring back from Japan. Because if you know anything about Japan, going on a trip and not bringing back a souvenir might bring some shame. But spend a few hundred yen on these and everyone saves face—including you. (If you pack some for yourself, double face savings!)

 

 

 

Let’s have a war! The reincarnation of a war criminal, The LDP, and militarising Japan

The current Japanese government put out a comic book encouraging their platform for revising Japan’s “Peace Constitution” but beneath the cuteness is a return to Japanese pre-war fascist ideology. This is a parody version of one scene from the actual manga. 😉

Rich Nation, Strong Army: Japanese Militarism Redux

War clouds threaten northeast Asia. One state within the region continues to raise its military spending to record levels over five consecutive years. It increases solid-fuel rocket testing under the guise of launching satellites into orbit and continues stockpiling vast reserves of plutonium that could potentially nuclear arm the nation. New domestic laws severely limit the media, and active discussion persists on bills that would crack down on socially unacceptable or controversial thinking—i.e., “thoughtcrime.” These ever-belligerent, destabilizing actions are not the actions of a rogue state. No, this isn’t about North Korea, Iran, or Russia for that matter, but the remilitarization of Japan.

The nationalist administration, led by the grandson of a war criminal, Shinzo Abe* (Liberal Democratic Party), uses recent activities in North Korea to its benefit, pounding war drums alongside most established media organizations, both on the left and the right, such as the Asahi, Mainichi, and Yomiuri Shimbun newspapers. This “threat” from its mainland neighbor is forced down the throats of Japanese citizens daily. Tokyo rehashes wartime imperialist ideologies, senior cabinet ministers stating support for using the Imperial Rescript of Education by schools—a text promulgated in 1890 in the name of Emperor Meiji that placed utmost importance in reverence and loyalty to the crown—as a means to foster the administration’s values in today’s youth. (It was also to justify the use of kamikaze, suicide missions in mini-submarines, and the forced suicide of thousands of Okinawans.)

In May 2017, the Abe administration made its position known regarding the ban of wartime imperialist military flags in international soccer matches, expressing that imperial regalia does not necessarily connote imperialism and discriminatory opinions against neighboring nations—something akin to if Angela Merkel condoned the use of the Nazi Hakenkreuz for supporting the German national sports team as completely acceptable and lacking negative effect on spectators.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party has produced manga booklets to promote constitutional revisionism—for Japan to become a “normal country” as party members call it. Proponents of wholehearted constitutional revisionism claim that Japan is not a “normal country” due to the postwar U.S. occupation forcing the current national constitution upon the Japan. The Japanese establishment wields this tried-and-true tactic of using pop culture to foster understanding of its agenda among the public across many domains. The civilian nuclear energy programs of the 1950s were promoted through pop culture icons utilized by the then head of the Yomiuri Shimbun—and known CIA operative—Shoriki Matsutaro. This tactic continues to prop up the myth of nuclear safety in Japan, which played a disastrous role leading up to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011.

The combination of propaganda and the incessant war drumming appears to be working. Recent survey data from late April collected by the nonpartisan Mainichi Shimbun newspaper showed that 48% of respondents agree to the proposed constitutional revisionism, whereas those against it consisted of only 33%. The numbers have steadily risen since the ruling party began openly discussing constitutional revision.

Abe’s party and the Cabinet Legislative Bureau reinterpreted Article 9—the peace clause of Japan’s constitution that renounces war—to allow for collective self-defense in 2015. This move was a sharp reversal from the policy of individual self-defense and the constitutional interpretation that all previous administrations used to justify a reliance on the U.S. military as their defense policy and their relative reluctance toward international military cooperation.

Whereas the aforementioned survey data claimed that 46% of respondents were against amending Article 9, one can but wonder whether the respondents based their responses on the current interpretation of the article, which justifies a self-defense force with tanks, aircraft carriers, and other offensive weaponry along with participating in foreign wars with the United States. The nationalists in the Japanese government had claimed for the last seventy-odd years that they needed to revise the constitution, as it did not allow them to have a full-fledged military. And yet ironically in the last two years, the government and media have promulgated a new claim that the renunciation of war in Article 9 does not prohibit the use of military force by Japan. If political actors can reinterpret long-standing constitutional interpretation on a whim like this, then wouldn’t it affect the perception of formally revising Article 9?

“Rich nation, strong army” (fukoku-kyohei) was the nineteenth-century slogan the ruling elite used to rapidly industrialize in the advent of the Meiji period to protect national interests against Western colonial powers. It was also the slogan that led Japan to bolster its military and eventually steer the nation toward colonial expansion into Korea, China, and other neighboring nations. Fomented by both the international and domestic media, we are too often conditioned to pay attention to the most fashionable international threat of the week and yet are blind to actions occurring right before our eyes. Recent developments led by Abe’s administration eerily echo the prewar slogan, and we as members of the international community should view these events with extreme caution, as for all we know history may repeat itself.

 

*Editor’s note:  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2012-) had a grandfather was a war criminal, and served as Minister of Munitions during World War II–Nobusuke Kishi. Kishi raised Abe like his own son, and Abe’s stated desire to fulfil his grandfather’s dreams of dismantling the post-war constitution and restoring a State Shinto controlled Imperial government probably owes much to his childhood. But his childhood dreams could be a nightmare for a democratic Japan.

Douglas Miller is a PhD Candidate at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington. His primary focuses are political theory and Japanese history.

 

Write Hard To Live Free: Happy Year Of The (Watch)Dog! 番犬報道の年ですよ!謹賀新年

 Today marks the start of The Year Of The Dog. I like dogs and I like them because I think journalists should be the guard dogs of a free society. We bark, we bite, we protect democracy and the public right to know. That’s our duty. ワンワン.

If you’re a lapdog for the powers that be, like executives at Fox News or News Corporation, journalism may be a rewarding and easy job.

Being a free-lance foreign correspondent and investigative reporter in Japan these days is a lot like being the private detective in the Dashiell Hammett novel, Red Harvest. You’re working for a newspaper editor who’s dead before you ever get to meet him (sounds like the newspaper business in general) and you have to struggle to get paid the money owed to you. You deal with gangs and thugs and crooked politicians, pitting them against each other, appearing to take work from anyone and at the end of the day, if you’ve brought someone to justice and you’re the last man standing: you’ve won. Collect your cash and go home.

Actually, it’s not really like much like that at all, but I wanted to start this article with a hard-boiled simile.

Jokes aside, making a living as freelance reporter in Japan these days is rewarding, but risky and unstable, and there are fewer and fewer of us doing it full time.

 

There are a lot of reasons for that. The number of working journalists is decreasing every year, while the number of people working in public relations keeps going up. Newspapers and magazines that have bureaus in Japan or that will pay for stories from Japan keep declining in number. Time’s Tokyo Bureau closed years ago. Newsweek folded. Dow Jones culled a large number of senior reporters this year. Reuters hires and fires at a schizophrenic pace. Bloomberg downsized. CNN and CNBC are barely here. The Los Angeles Times bureau once existed but I can only barely remember it. It used to have an office in the Yomiuri Building,

To my delight from spring of 2015 until the fall of 2016, I was a special correspondent for the L.A. Times. Then the newspaper ran out of money. No more budget for Japan.

Well, if you read the expose from the L.A. Times Guild (the labor union formed this year) it may not even be that they ran out of money – but rather that TRONC, Inc., the corporation running the newspaper into the ground, just sucks up all the profits and awards them to its executives, not the reporters. It certainly doesn’t spend more than it has to on paying for actual reporting. The problems at the Los Angeles Times are a microcosm of what’s happening all over the media – fewer and fewer people are asked to do more work with fewer resources. That’s the case for regular employees.

I applaud the union for actually standing up for members’ rights as workers and against mismanagement.

Maybe they’ll accomplish something.

Maybe some rich philanthropist will buy the newspaper as Jeff Bezos of Amazon did with the Washington Post, and restore it to glory.

And maybe I’ll do that job again if that happens. It was a great gig.

 

Mark that word, gig. Martin Fackler, who tried freelancing for a while but has now returned to the New York Times, says the experience taught him that “Freelancers are the Uber drivers of the new journalism gig economy. Everything is on a transactional basis, with no benefits or guarantees. You get more freedom, but pay for it with lower living standards and no job stability – like the rest of the gig economy.”

I’ve been a journalist since 1993–in Japan. Next year, I’ll have been doing it 25 years, a quarter of a century, more than half my life. At 48, I have now been a journalist half my life.

Half of those years (12.5, to be exact) were spent working as a regular employee at the world’s largest newspaper. I was a reporter and a regular employee for life aka (seishain/正社員), with the promise of a pension, all my insurance covered, paid vacation with use of the company’s corporate vacation facilities, an actual expense account, a bonus twice a year and a stable income. Sure, I worked 80-hour weeks but I didn’t have time to think about the work-life balance because there was none. Life was work and since I liked the work – investigating, interviewing, writing – it worked for me.

I’ve been working freelance since 2006. I’d like to say that it has gotten easier but in fact, even as you become well known, or relatively well known, life doesn’t get any easier. The joy of freelance work is that you can to some extent pick and choose the stories you want to write and who you write them for. The sadness of freelance work is that income is so unpredictable that you can’t really walk away from a gig and you have to pay constant attention to the news for a story that someone might want because it’s timely.

I currently write regularly for the Japan Times, ZAITEN, the Daily Beast and Forbes. I write for other publications as well but those are my main gigs. And I’m happy to have them.

However, to make my rent, I have to write a lot and I do part-time jobs. I do consulting work. I appear on Japanese television shows. I write short books and I write long books. I run a blog.  I am constantly hustling.

Every day, I spend an hour or more reading newspapers and magazines in Japanese, looking for what may be a good story. I scan the articles and put them in a file. I make appointments and send out letters requesting interviews for the stories that I think are interesting. I answer email. I meet people in the afternoon, or attend press conferences. In the evening, I try to meet up with sources and maintain those relationships. I don’t have an expense account, so cheap bars and izakaya I like. If it’s an expensive place, I eat cheap somewhere first and then just have drinks.

You don’t have job security as freelancer and sometimes you don’t even get respect.

At least in Japan, you can get public health insurance, at an affordable rate. It’s one reason I can’t afford to leave Japan. That is a great perk of being a freelancer here.

By the way, the term for non-regular correspondents in the industry is “stringer.” It makes you sound sort of like a barnacle.

Below the stringer is “the fixer.” Fixers set up the meetings for the reporters coming to Tokyo, often doing the interpreting and translation of the materials. They are often not even credited for their work.

I rarely do fixing for anyone but I will for one public radio station because their correspondent is great; she credits me for the work I do on a story. That’s nice.

I’m not alone in struggling with the freelance life. Willie Pesek, author of Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades and recipient of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers prize for commentary also joined the freelance ranks this year. What he has to say is worth hearing:

Six months into my freelance existence, the very first of my career, I’m struck by George Orwell’s observation: “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.” Having a full-time journalism gig strikes me as a similar tradeoff. The certainty of a reliable paycheck, medical benefits and access to an HR department has its merits. But the liberty freelancing affords – who you write for, which topics, which arguments -– is its own joy after two decades with major news companies.

But the biggest pros of this existence -– like working when I want to -– can also be key drawbacks. The main challenge, I’m finding, is maintaining a reasonable life/work balance. At times, while juggling various writing assignments, my inclination is to work around the clock. Creating boundaries -– like closing the laptop and having a life –- is a work in progress for me. So is knowing when to say “when.” Quality and actually has never been more important in this Orwellian fake-new world, but the quantity imperative gets in the way. Part of the tension, of course, relates to making a living –- one’s natural reluctance to turn down writing assignments. Finding a balance is something all freelancers will struggle with more and more in the years ahead. It’s a fact of this trade that quality comes first.

Then there’s the Tokyo problem. In my 15 years in Asia, I’ve always been a regional writer, which is proving to be an asset as a freelance. Lots of demand for columns for China, India, North Korea, the Philippines. Japan, not so much. Sadly, many overseas editors favor “weird Japan” items over, say, reality checks on Abenomics. But, hey, Tokyo is still a great, great city in which to live. The domestic story here, though, can be a hard sell. The Abe government using this latest electoral mandate to make big things happen would be the gift that keeps on giving for freelancers.

Willie, has a good point. Japan isn’t as important as it used to be.

I kind of wish sometimes that I hadn’t focused so much on Japan. But I’m okay with that. In the end, I may be working more hours now than I did as a regular employee. And as any freelancer will tell you, you also have to spend a lot of time on social media, getting people to read your articles, responding to those who have read them. Now and then you have to munch on the trolls who plague anyone who writes about Japan in a critical way.

Sometimes, people close to me ask me why I don’t change jobs. Here’s the best answer I can give.

Japan is my home. I love Japan. My children are Japanese. Most of my friends live here. Many Japanese people here are hard-working, honest and polite.

That doesn’t mean the society doesn’t have problems, such as child poverty, gender inequality and discrimination against: the handicapped, women, foreigners, especially Korean Japanese. Japan has a pestilent well-entrenched mob. There are nuclear dangers, staggering injustice in the legal system, repression of the free press, sexual assault on women with impunity for many assailants, rampant labor exploitation, death by overwork, and political corruption. Ignoring the problems doesn’t make them better. If you are offended by that, rethink your love of Japan.

I believe that journalism, especially investigative journalism, is a force for good and for maintaining a healthy society. It’s a vocation, not just a job. Sure some of the work is crappy, including writing about a series of crap-themed kanji instructional books for children—but you also get to do some enormous good.

Weird as it sounds, this year I took the vows to become a Zen Buddhist priest and I am one now. Not full-time.

It’s not easy being an investigative journalist and keeping the Ten Grave Precepts of a Soto Buddhist priest but there is a point where the two professions match up.

To paraphrase the Hokukyo, this is what we do.

Conquer anger with compassion.

Conquer evil with goodness.

Conquer trolls with humor and sarcasm.

Conquer ignorance with knowledge.

Conquer stinginess with generosity.

Conquer lies with truth.

The monetary rewards are not so great. Sometimes, the spiritual rewards make it seem like the best job in the world.

 

 

 

 

This was originally published in The Number One Shimbun, the periodical of The Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan.  It has been slightly modified for New Years. 

 

Hey, Baby? You’re fired, don’t come back. Maternity Harassment (MATAHARA) and The Working Woman in Japan

Fighting Against Maternity Harassment is a grass roots effort
Fighting Against Maternity Harassment is a grass roots effort

 

Working at one of Japan’s megabanks, a workplace notorious for old-fashioned male attitudes, it wasn’t uncommon for Mrs X to be told, “Don’t you dare get pregnant!” or “If you get pregnant, we won’t give you any work!” from her colleagues.*

It was then that she became pregnant from her long-term partner. Unmarried unsure of how her workplace would react, she consulted with one of her colleagues.”It was then that a manager from another department heard from chance. He got angry and said, ‘Quit messing around! I will never allow the pregnancy of someone who isn’t married. If what you’re saying is true, then I will not treat you like a human being!'” she told JSRC.

“Eventually I couldn’t stand the atmosphere and fear in the workplace and chose to abort (the child).”

The Peeling Face Of Womenomics 

Japan faces a tough hurdle of an aging population coupled with a low birth rate. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in 2013, pledging to solve the low birth rate and impending labor crisis, embraced a policy dubbed “womenomics,” and reviving the economy by raising the number of women in leadership positions to 30 percent by 2020. A pledge he has since backed away from.

It’s a hard task, considering that Japan’s business world is dominated by deep-rooted sexist attitudes that favor male workers over females and women, who are considered a bad investment due to the belief that they’ll quit when they marry and have children. Japan ranked 101 out of 142 assessed countries in 2015, according to a study released by the World Economic Forum.

And if a woman does become pregnant, while working, some are subjected to what the media has dubbed matahara (マタハラ).

According to Japanese Trade Union Confederation, matahara is an abbreviation of “maternity harassment.” The word refers to mental or physical harassment that some workingwomen go through when they announce to their colleagues that they’re pregnant or after they come back to the office from maternity leave. Some women come back to find themselves demoted or receiving a pay cut. In the worst-case scenario, some are even pressured to quit or fired. Harassment comes not only from men in the office but other women as well—sometimes out of irritation that their workload will increase, sometimes out of a kind of jealousy.

Prime Minister Abe’s former education advisor, Ayako Sono, infamous for publishing a column in a major Japanese newspaper advocating apartheid as part of immigration policy, said that “maternity leave is an unfair burden on Japanese companies” while still advising education policy.

Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, employers are required to pay consideration to pregnant women by offering them shorter work hours or flexible work schedules. They’re also banned from firing or demoting expectant mothers due to pregnancy and required to give them maternity leave. (Men are also technically allowed to take maternity leave as well to help in the first few weeks after a child is born.)

In practice, however, the law is hardly followed—and the local courts are hardly sympathetic. A physical therapist in Hiroshima was stripped of her job title and her managerial allowance following her second pregnancy—and her request for a “lighter workload”–in 2008. The woman, who had been working at the hospital since 1994 and was promoted to vice-director of her department in 2004 was told that there were no vice-director positions available when she came back. She sued her employer for violating Article 9.3 of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and Article 10 of the unwieldy Act on the Welfare of Workers Who Take Care of Children or Other Family Members Including Child Care and Family Care Leave and gender discrimination.

The Hiroshima District Court and High Court rejected both of her claims on February 23 and July 19, 2012, with the District Court arguing that “the plaintiff never objected to the shift to a lighter workload.”

It took until October 2014 for the Supreme Court to strike down the decisions make in the lower courts. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the Supreme Court ordered the woman’s former employer to pay 1.75 million yen in damages. The court sent the case back down to the Hiroshima High Court, arguing that the proceedings regarding the necessity for a demotion were insufficient.

Maternity harassment sometimes extends outside of the workplace. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has been producing pregnancy badges since 2006 that say “I have a baby in my stomach” for expectant mothers to wear on public transportation to let other passengers know that she is pregnant.

A large percentage of the Japanese male public is unaware about these badges. A government survey released last September revealed that over 60 percent of Japanese men had  never heard about the badges, Jiji press reported.

In some instances the badges have instead become a source of trouble, even harassment for the women who wear them. One Mainichi Shimbun reporter who followed an expectant mother on her daily commute and found that even though her source stood in front on the priority seats—special seating on the train reserved for elderly, disabled, and pregnant passengers—other passengers rarely stood up to give up their seats.

Other expectant mothers wearing the badges have alleged on social media websites such as Twitter that they had experienced verbal and physical harassment from strangers such as being  elbowed or knocked down.

One anonymous poster on an online forum wrote  in regard to the pregnancy badges, “Do [these badges] mean ‘I want you to reward me because I’m pregnant’? I just think it’s strangely brazen.

So Abe faces a tough task in changing business and societal attitudes towards women in order to solve the country’s labor shortage, especially when members of his very own party display the same chauvinistic attitudes that pressure women in the corporate world to leave their careers.

The policy has failed horribly. Of the record five female ministers appointed to Abe’s second cabinet to set an example, two resigned in the same day due to misuse of campaign funds. Two other female ministers came under fire for links to extreme Nazi groups.

Deputy Prime Minister—and Shinzo Abe’s second-in-command and a likely candidate for being the next Prime Minister—Taro Aso said at a speech in December of 2014  in Sapporo, “There are many people who are creating the image that (increasing numbers of) elderly people is bad, but more problematic is people who don’t give birth.”

The Abe government even abolished the babysitting discount ticket system,  the Sankei Shimbun reported. The tickets, which were distributed to 3, 000 people through 1, 300 companies, allowed working women to place their sick children, who are unable to attend a daycare when ill, with babysitters for a discounted price.

On March 31st 2015 the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare decided to consider the termination of a female worker’s employment within one year after the end of her maternity leave as “illegal” and issue warnings to companies who violate this law.

“In regard to companies that violate the law, we will provide administrative guidance to rectify the situation by advising them, then guiding them, and then making recommendations. If they do not follow our recommendations, we will publish their company name,” said Hitomi Komorizono, an official from the Equal Employment Opportunity Policy Division of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

However, the move still has victims doubting that it will change the situation.

“I don’t think that just because this notice came out the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, that things will improve,” says Sayaka Osakabe, a former victim of maternity harassment who founded an online network for other victims called Matahara.net.

“However, because of this notice, I think that it will be easier for female workers to raise their voices.”

During a session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, when Ayaka Shiomura was giving a speech on women’s issues, members from the Liberal Democratic Party section of the room yelled out jeers telling her to “hurry up and get married” and “why can’t you have babies?”

It’s a tough spot for Japanese women. On one side of the spectrum they’re being punished in the workplace for giving birth to children. On the other side they’re being told to breed. Either way, simply existing as a woman in Japan seems to be considered an inconvenience. The lack of affordable day care is another problem altogether.

Is it any wonder the number of women giving birth declines?

* Previously published on September 16, 2016.

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Japanese Cinema Day: 映画の日! Ninja! Yakuza! Cyborgs! Reviews!

ikiru-1.jpg

Since 1956, Japan’s film industry has set aside a day to celebrate the birth of cinema in this country. December 1st, 2016, marks the 60th anniversary. The holiday is also known a 映画の日 (eiga no hi). The first showing of a film is generally considered to have happened in 1896 in Kobe, 19 years before Japan’s largest yakuza group, the Yamaguchi-gumi (still going strong) was founded in the same area.

Here are some links to articles our contributors have written in the past. Enjoy!

Some parting words from Yakuza movie icon Takakura Ken on yakuza films, his favourite movies, and acting

Ghost in the Shell: The Matrix of Sci-Fi Anime

Let’s Convenience Store! The Musical: コンビニへ行こう! : Japan Subculture Research Center

Aliens Versus Yakuza: 宇宙人対極道: A Masterpiece Of Bad Genre Films : Japan Subculture Research Center

The 10 Worst Films About Japan*: You Might Only Live Twice But Are These Movies Worth Seeing Once? : Japan Subculture Research Center

Let’s Convenience Store! The Musical: コンビニへ行こう!

In honour of Japan’s Celebration of Cinema Day, December 1st, we’ve reposted some reviews and articles on classic films. Some good, some bad, some epic.

Here is small film classic written up By Amy Seaman, JSRC Senior Cross-over Pop-Culture Editor, Hair Coloring Expert 

What’s not to like about a Japanese love song that is dedicated to konbini and the people who staff them, that consists of a handful of exchange students kanpai’ing and dancing in store aisles? If Yahoo! Japan’s video charts serve as any indication, absolutely nothing.

Having been featured twice on the site’s main page and on various blogs, “Konbini Ikou”, which translates into “Let’s Go to the Convenience Store” is the brainchild of a group of exchange students from Koganei dormitory. Though it originally started out as a school project — evident with a reference at 2:17 — it quickly evolved into a somewhat satirical but endearing music video that has become a hit amongst Japanese and gaijin alike.

I talked to Kansas University senior Noah Oskow, who compiled footage for, edited and subtitled the video, about what it feels like for a somewhat in-joke video to hit the top of Yahoo! Japan’s charts.

Let’s eat some salmon rice-balls. Let’s go to the convenience store. Let’s love Japan once more.

 

A: How did this all come about?

N: My friends were in a “Management in Japan” class at Sophia University and they were supposed to make a video on the subject of konbini. One of them was Alan McMaster, from Australia.

It’s pretty funny. Alan actually wrote the song for a school project and as a way to escape boredom while quarantined in his room due to our dorm manager’s unsubstantiated suspicion of his having bird flu because he coughed once. The song turned out pretty good, so we decided we’d also make a music video to go along with it. And so he and fellow Aussie Stanley Wang, one of the group members who also lived at Koganei, ended up going around and filming these scenes in a konbini. They gave all the footage to me and I edited it all together. But we only ended up having enough to make half of the actual song with that footage. The documentary and the video they made went down really well in class but we just didn’t have enough for an actual, full music video.

After they left that semester, I kind of always wanted to finish it up with some other students. It’s kind of like a tribute in some ways to our dormitory and the konbini we always went to around the dormitory we lived in.

Of course, we all really like konbini a lot, but not probably to the extent that the video would imply. But thanks to the wonderful hard work and amazing acting talents of everyone else in the dormitory, we managed to make that video come into existence. So that’s basically what happened.

A: So it was something that you always thought should be a little bit satirical?

 

N: Well, I don’t exactly feel the need to marry any konbini.

A: Is there a reason you totally exaggerated it, then?

N: I’m a big fan of satire to begin with and filming ridiculous things. We just thought the idea of a bunch of foreigners just running around and worshipping and loving Japanese konbini was not too far from the truth. Japanese konbini are incredible and if we hadn’t had all those konbini to go to every day to get snacks, I don’t know what we would’ve done. They’re a very important part of our experience in Japan and our experience together. So the idea of exaggerating that a bit with foreigners in Japan just seemed pretty entertaining.

A: It definitely seems like it was fun to film. You mentioned that it started out as a school project and then turned into something that you were just doing for the hell of it, so did you ever think it would get 100,000 views or reach a Japanese audience?

N: I wasn’t sure how it would get out to the Japanese audience. Once it was done and we could kind of see what it was like, I could see that it had the aspects about it that I think Japanese people would find funny and that could make it popular like that. It’s really had its moments of virality, though… it’s been the top video on Yahoo! Japan twice now on two completely separate occasions. It’s not insanely popular, but still.

We’ve been recognised around the dorm and in all sorts of other places, and I’ve found blogs about it with hundreds of comments too. We’ve also found blogs of exchange students in Osaka whom none of us know who use it as the theme song for their dormitory. And when Ciarán Harper, a fellow exchange student, went back to Ireland and tried to show it to some friends in his Japanese class, they asked him, “What, you were in this?! We’ve all seen this, everyone’s seen this!” A lot of us have had that sort of experience.

A: You released “Konbini Ikou” last school year, but every once in a while you post updates saying, “We’re featured on this again!” so it seems like it’s still quite popular.

N: It’s random. There have been five or so times where it’s happened to randomly get on some really big Japanese blog and as a result gets 20,000 views in one day, then after doesn’t get any. It’s weird.  Just recently, Yahoo! Japan had some ‘Foreigners in Japan’ video highlights section and “Konbini Ikou” was up there again, so as a result a bunch more people saw it because of that too.It’s also been shown by professors as a teaching tool in Austria, and Germany, and Ireland, and I’ve had some professors contact me in America about using it as well, which I think is really weird because I’m not exactly sure what you can glean from it information-wise.

A: So why do you think your video is so appealing to Japanese audiences?

N: There’s just aspects about it that I figured Japanese people would like. A combination of gaijin in Japan, not being insanely disrespectful, and singing this song dedicated to the convenience stores… I could tell that a lot of Japanese people would find it really hilarious. It’s this image of foreigners that isn’t the image that they get to see a lot. Usually in Japanese media, when you see foreigners in Japan, they’re talking about Japan and it’s either in a, “look at these crazy foreigners being so foreign” or it’s otaku who are really into the media or whatever. But in this case it’s like, a bunch of foreigners, it’s 20-something of us in there just kind of saying really nice things about a really basic part of Japanese culture that isn’t the media and isn’t anime, and it’s not jpop. We’re just saying really nice things about something that Japanese people themselves tend to really like on a basic level. Because it’s foreigners doing this sort of thing, I think it’s just kind of a unique image for Japanese people to see. What’s been really surprising to me is that a lot of Japanese people don’t seem to be able to tell if we’re being serious or not.

A: At the beginning of the video, you have this whole Nobiam Films thing. Is this something within your dorm, or do you consider yourself a somewhat established filmmaker?

N: Nobiam films is the “film company” that me and two of my friends founded back in like freshman year of high school. We’ve made something like 30 different music videos and films and stuff. They’re all pretty dumb.

A: Do you have plans for future videos?

N: Given the popularity of this and because of how much it’s become a symbol for a lot of us in the dormitory, I think that we will definitely do something again. We’ve also just gotten a ton of demand, where so many people are asking me to film something else. Perhaps I’ll team up with Alan again to make another song or something like that.

We’ll probably make something that’s something like a sequel to “Konbini Ikou” at some point, but other than that, Nobiam Films will keep on making really dumb videos for the foreseeable future.

That sounds awesome, Noah, and the JSRC team looks forward to seeing your next production!

Aliens Versus Yakuza: 宇宙人対極道: A Masterpiece Of Bad Genre Films

In honour of Japan’s Celebration of Cinema Day, December 1st, we’ve reposted some reviews and articles on classic films. Some good, some bad, some epic.

AVN: Aliens Versus Ninja (エイリアンvs 忍者)released in 2010 is a camp classic for both lovers of Alien films and Ninja films. I was delighted to find that the super-deluxe release of AVN included on the second disc a 15 minute short-film エイリアン Vs 極道 (Alien Versus Yakuza), a Yuji Shinomura film . If you find the movie in the bargain bin at the local Tsutaya, it’s worth picking up. The plot is simple. Young yakuza and his older brother–in the yakuza sense–accidentally run over an Alien while on their way to late-night Karaoke in the boss’s car. They aren’t quite sure what to do with the body.  They don’t even realize it’s an alien, believing that they’ve just run over an unlucky foreigner. “Maybe half?”

Our hapless yakuza anti-heroes run over an alien and decide to get rid of the body. Not sure exactly what it is, they decide it must be a foreigner–and probably half-Japanese.

After a short debate, they decide to dismember the body and get rid of the evidence.  Young yakuza goes to scour the glove department for a big knife, buried amidst piles of trashy magazines, but when he comes back the trunk is empty and his older brother (兄貴/aniki) is acting strangely. Could it be that Older Brother realized younger brother had slept with his girlfriend or has something stranger happened?  Even when younger brother confesses and makes a peace offering; “Only once! Only slept with her once. I saved you a seat at the speed-dating thing (合コン・gokon)–can we call it even?” –Aniki’s anger is not quelled. What happens next is almost totally predictable but even after the young yakuza confronts the ousted alien, accusing him of being an 当たり屋 (atariya), a con man who shakes people down by throwing themselves in front of a car and suing for damages–the fight isn’t quite over. Because this Alien has a driver’s license.

Young yakuza throws a cigarette at the alien, accusing him of being an 当たり屋 (a professional con man who throws himself in front of cars to extort insurance money.)

I wouldn’t want to spoil the rest of the film for our readers but it does solve the ancient question: in a battle between an alien and a yakuza, who would win?  Note: Some may argue that this question was settled in the masterpiece Predators, where the lone Inagawa-kai member in the film faces down a Predator with an ancient samurai sword,  but  Predators are really not your standard aliens. The film is bloody, silly, and probably unrealistic* but in the short yakuza film genre, it’s in a class by itself.

*For instance, I don’t think it’s possible to catch a bullet in your teeth but I’m not a war reporter so I’ll reserve judgement.

The Hardest Men In Town: Chronicles of Sin, Sex, Violence and 1975 classic gangster film THE YAKUZA

In honour of Japan’s Celebration of Cinema Day, December 1st, we’ve reposted some reviews and articles on classic films. Some good, some bad, some epic.This was originally posted on March 10th 2011. (Wow, who would have guessed what would happen a day later.) It has been reposted to commemorate the passing of yakuza movie icon, Ken Takakura, on November 10th 2014. 

Today, March 9th, began the first day of the Globus Film Series, Hardest Men in Town: Yakuza Chronicles of Sin, Sex and Violence presented by the Japan Society New York.

Hardest Men In Town: Yakuza Chronicles of Sin, Sex and Violence March 9th-19th, 2001 Japan Society New York

The film festival opened with a bang or rather the swoosh of a katana (刀) slashing through the air with the showing of Sydney Pollack’s overlooked 1975 classic gangster film, The Yakuza, which starred Toei Yakuza film regular Takakura Ken and film noire/hardboiled action star, Robert Mitchum. “Mitchum, in one of his best roles of the 1970s, is drawn to the Orient by an army buddy (Brian Keith), whose daughter has been kidnapped. But when he gets to Japan, Mitchum finds that her kidnappers are the shadowy Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia–an organization that is as vicious as it is tradition-bound. He must call on friends he made after World War II for favors and finds himself unintentionally trampling on issues of honor, even as he battles for his life and that of the girl he is seeking.” (from Amazon.com)

The script was written by Paul Schrader, better known  for writing such classics as Taxi Driver and  Raging Bull. It is probably one of the most unique yakuza films ever made, in which an American and an ex-yakuza form an uneasy alliance. Takakura Ken would later go on to play the stiff, rule-bound but honorable organized crime control division detective in Ridley Scott’s Black Rain. In the genre, the only thing that comes close to having the same components is Kitano Takeshi’s Brother. (PS. If you can find a copy of the Japanese original version which is 40 minutes longer than the cut released in the west, watch it instead of the US version. It makes it a much better film.)

The tag-line for The Yakuza when released on DVD is an eloquent summary of the yakuza code. “A man never forgets. A man pays his debts.”  While the movie is not as close to approaching the realism of 鬼火 (Onibi: The Fire Within) which has its US debut tomorrow (March 10th), it is an amazing film and the sword fighting scenes at the climax are breathtakingly done and some of the tensest action scenes you’ll ever see in any film.

After Paul Schrader did the introductions, I was lucky enough to have dinner with him, and Stephen E. Globus who made the event possible. During his prefatory remarks, and before and after dinner, Mr. Schrader shared the story of how he became interested in the yakuza and the background to the film and his other still-banned-in-Japan masterpiece, Mishima, which depicted the life of famous Japanese novelist and late-blooming right-wing idol Mishima Yukio. Mishima committed seppuku, or hara-kiri (ritual self-embowlment), at Japan’s Self-Defense base in Ichigaya as his final literary statement. According to Mr. Schrader, he intended to write a final poem with a brush-pen dipped in the blood flowing from his guts. Unfortunately, his subordinate botched the job of lobbing off Mishima’s head and other things left that final poem unwritten.

When I was a student at Sophia University in the 90’s, I taught English to one of the doctor’s who performed the autopsy of Mishima. He told me that his shoulders had three or four deep cuts where his disciple had clearly missed the target: Mishima’s neck. This evening while drinking Otokoyama (男山, Man-Mountain), my favorite sake, with the screenwriter, Mr. Globus and members of the Japan society, was the first time I ever knew that there was more botched in that final act than just the decapitation. In his closing remarks, Mr. Schrader also noted that originally Takakura Ken had been offered the role of Mishima but politely bowed out later saying obliquely and apologetically, “There are certain forces that do not want me to do this film and as part of that subculture, I must decline.”

Schrader’s original reason for being interested in the yakuza and film about them came from his brother, who was living in Japan, and wrote him of those amazing Toei studio yakuza films, and the splendor of Japanese life. Schrader expressed his fondness for the rigid rules and politeness of Japanese society, noting, “If I had grown up under those rules, I would have probably hated them. But as a foreigner, I benefit from them but yet am not expected to obey them.”  His own daughter was born in Japan in the 80’s on a particularly auspicious day. He hopes someday to be invited to the Tokyo Film Festival but as of yet, since the making of the controversial Mishima and the refusal once of the film festival to show it, he hasn’t been invited to Japan as a speaker for any film festival. The reality of the yakuza (and their hold on Japan’s film industry) are not the only taboo subjects in Japan.

The Yakuza. Poster for the release in Japan.

Tomorrow, March 10th, I will be lecturing on Yakuza In Popular Media & Real LIfe: Cracks and Chasms from 6:30 pm. This will be followed by the U.S. premiere of the fantastic Onibi: The Fire Within. It was an honor and a pleasure to meet Mr. Schrader who was funny, humble, and even accommodated my request for the obligatory commemorative photo.

Jake Adelstein (Tokyo Vice), Paul Schrader (The Yakuza, Mishima, Taxi Driver), and Motoatsu Sakurai, president of the Japan Society.

(Please notice, that in a bow of respect to Sandra Barron’s amazing article on the history of the peace sign in Japan, that I’m making the mandatory V-sign and/or peace gesture.)

 

Ghost in the Shell: The Matrix of Sci-Fi Anime

ghost

In honour of Japan’s Celebration of Cinema Day, December 1st, we’ve reposted some reviews and articles on classic films. Some good, some bad, some epic. Coming soon, our article about the Hollywood remake. 

 

In my mind, anime can be categorized into two varieties: action-based/artistic ones, and teenage school kid soap operas. The former is what western critics typically consider to be “good”, anime like The Cat Returns or Cowboy Bebop, which contrast beautiful hand-drawn landscapes and well-trodden stories with violence and distinctively weird characters that could only be thought up in Japan. Along with Akira, Ghost in the Shell is considered one of the big grandfathers for sci-fi anime, and more importantly black leather-clad sci-fi such as The Matrix. Even in the ‘making of’ videos for The Matrix, creators shamelessly admit they wanted to take Ghost in the Shell‘s stylish film noir settings and fight scenes and recreate them in live action. With the newest full-length film in the Ghost series, Kōkaku Kidōtai – Shin Gekijōban, released in late June and in theaters until July 17th), and a live-action version on the horizon, it’s important to look back to see what it was about the original film that turned the manga into an international favorite.

Ghost in the Shell, the 1995 film directed by Mamoru Oshii, revolves around a group of cyborg law-enforcers in the future tracking down a hacker called the Puppet Master, who hacks into the minds of unsuspecting civilians and erases their memories in the process of controlling them. One of the cops does refuse to grade-up and is 100% flesh.  The protagonist is the beautiful but coldhearted Motoko Kusunagi, a cyborg cop and one of a handful of heroic female protagonists in anime.

But that’s not to say it doesn’t cater to the male sexual fantasies many have about robo-cop girls in the future. Viewers might be a bit puzzled after one of Kasunagi’s final fight scenes in which she celebrates her victory by tearing off her clothes (the film claims it allows her to scan the room, but it doesn’t explain the two other times she fights criminals naked). It does vary from similar western sci-fi films in that Kasunagi is never treated like a damsel in distress requiring someone like Neo to save her, but it’s hard to ignore the suspicion that director Oshii is simply giving viewers that dreamlike fantasy they unknowingly coveted in Japan’s workaholic society. It’s suggested in Roger Ebert’s 1996 review of the film that Japanese salarymen become so exhausted and dehumanized by the 80-hour work weeks that they “project both freedom and power onto women, and identify with them as fictional characters.”

Aside from the cop chases and virtual missions Kasunagi embarks on within the minds of those possessed by the Puppet Master, the deeper question the film’s moody plot somewhat attempts to ask is whether robots should start being considered human. Most of the conversations between Kasunagi and Batou (Kasunagi’s friend and fellow cyborg-cop), consist of debating whether their ability to think makes them human, think Descarte’s saying “I think, therefore I am.” Thankfully Ghost in the Shell throws in a couple one-liners to make sure it never takes itself too seriously:

Motoko- “Sure, I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny.”

Batou- “You’re treated like other humans, so stop with the angst.”

Much like Akira, the draw of Ghost in the Shell is the stunning and complex drawings of the futuristic city. In daytime scenes, it looks orange and very much apocalyptic. However, when Kasunagi enters someone’s mind or tracking someone at night, the futuristic scenery seen in Gundam and Akira takes center stage. However, one thing that distracted me from the beautiful futuristic settings were the eyes of the characters. In both this and Akira, the eyes are much more akin to those in a western comic book, rather than more recent anime that give characters blocky, rectangular eyes. The more realistic character designs create the effect of each character having a certain ‘fleshiness’ to them. This is great if the main focus over the top violence and sexiness, but I believe it reduces some of its artistic merit. The extra contour lines provide more opportunities for limbs and blood to go flying in the fight scenes, but it does so at the expense of placing characters in an uncanny valley of halfway between realistic and cartoony, thereby taking viewers out of the experience. Just as we increasingly demand our fruit to lack any blemishes or obscurities, anime has come a long way in shrinking noses, rounding eyes and turning lips into straight lines for the sole purpose of immersing you in its universe. I once read a book on the history of cartooning that explained how we more easily identify emotions when complex facial details are taken away, and by the end you are left with blank dots and lines for faces (see Gudetama, for example).

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 11.50.42 AM

Aside from the characters the film succeeds in its mission to create the coolest futuristic vibe that had been seen so far in anime, something that inspired many movies after it, both anime and live action.

Several Ghost in the Shell films have been made, along with the original 1989 manga and an upcoming live action film set to release in March, 2017. This live action version, directed by Rupert Sanders, will be featuring Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kasunagi. However, many took to social media to state their displeasure that a white actress is taking the role of a well-known Japanese heroine. Personally I don’t find much wrong with it considering the history of anime characters combining aesthetics of Asians and westerners. Porco Rosso, one of my favorite movies of all time, takes place in a fictionalized Italy with clearly white humans everywhere. But that doesn’t take away from Porco (the main character) being a distinctly Japanese character in how weird the anthropomorphic pig man is. As long as it can recapture that image of the rainy neon-lit streets with robo-cops fighting huge mech tanks, it won’t really matter who’s doing the killing.

Yakuza University: It’s a hard knock education

The underworld has its own language, and its own idioms.

Higher education for many yakuza begins in jail.
Higher education for many yakuza begins in jail.

Yakuza are not the exception to the rule. For example, instead of saying “going to jail” (刑務所に行く: keimusho ni iku), they say “going to university” (大学に行く : daigaku ni iku). This phrase has a special meaning and is not used randomly. First, yakuza consider that jail is informative, a required kind of rite of passage to become a true gangster. Then, because prison is actually, for the yakuza, an educational place, in a scholastic sense. If they are rich enough (and it is often the case, or their oyabun’s position, given that one of his duties is to provide assistance to his subordinates), they can learn calligraphy, painting, but also the art of haiku, among other things. They get books from other clan members, but others are provided by the Government within the prison. One can find in these prison libraries masterpiece of literature, but more surprisingly, economic or even law books. In fact, the yakuza often get out jail with a better academic level than they had at the time of their incarceration. This “Prison University” is even more important to them than the majority of yakuza has never graduate, and many of them have even stopped attending school before the end of high school.
To talk about jail, yakuza also use terms such as “slammer” (豚箱 : butabako)–literally “pigbox” or “hard labor” (懲役に行く : chōeki ni iku); despite its few advantages (when you have the money to afford them), prison remains a detention center, not a holiday club.
Some of the less bright yakuza spend so much time in jail that they are mostly yakuza in name only. Amongst themselves, they are referred to a ”prison yakuza” (懲役ヤクザ: choeki yakuza).

 

 

Le monde criminel possède souvent son propre langage et ses propres expressions. Les yakuza ne font pas exception à la règle. Par exemple, plutôt que de dire « aller en prison » (刑務所に行く : keimusho ni iku),  ils diront « aller à l’université » (大学に行く : daigaku ni iku). Cette expression a un sens bien particulier et n’est pas utilisée au hasard. D’abord parce que les yakuza considèrent que la prison est formatrice, une sorte de rite de passage obligatoire pour devenir un vrai gangster. Ensuite, parce que la prison est effectivement, pour les yakuza, un lieu de formation et d’éducation, au sens scolaire du terme. S’ils sont assez riches (et c’est souvent le cas, ou bien le cas de leur oyabun, dont l’un des devoirs est de prodiguer à ses subordonnés une assistance), ils peuvent apprendre la calligraphie, la peinture, mais aussi l’art des haiku, entre autre choses. Ils reçoivent des livres de la part d’autres membres du clan, mais d’autres sont mis à disposition par le gouvernement au sein même de la prison. On peut trouver dans ces bibliothèques carcérales des grands classiques de littératures, mais, plus surprenant, des livres d’économie ou même de droit. De fait, les yakuza ressortent souvent de prison avec un bien meilleur niveau scolaire que celui qu’ils avaient au moment de leur incarcération. Cette « université de la prison » est d’autant plus importante pour eux que la grande majorité des yakuza n’a jamais fait d’études supérieures, et que beaucoup d’entre eux ont même cessé de fréquenter l’école avant la fin du lycée.

Pour parler de la prison, les yakuza emploient également d’autres expressions, comme « la taule » (豚箱 : butabako), ou encore « aller au bagne » (懲役に行く : chōeki ni iku); malgré ses quelques avantages (quand on a l’argent pour se les offrir), la prison n’en reste pas moins un centre de détention, et pas un club de vacances.