Write your Own Japanese Fairy Tale Contest

fairy-tale-contest

Tuttle Publishing and JP have joined forces to make you work! Just kidding. Have you ever wanted to write or illustrate your own Japanese fairy tale? Now’s your chance. Before I get into the rules, lets talk about what you really care about: the prizes:

First and Second-First Place

9784805312193_p0_v2_s260x420Yep, we will have two first place winners. Both winners will have their work published in JP with a link back to your website.
You also win Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide from Tuttle Publishing. It’s a cool book and a necessity if you ever want to survive a trip to Japan. You can read Andrew’s review here. You can also find Yokai Attack! on Amazon.

Contest Rules

Create your own version of a Japanese fairy tale or ghost story or retell an existing one. I provides links to several Japanese tales below to give you some inspiration. You can write your tale or illustrate a short manga. If you retell an existing story, do not just copy it and make a few changes. I want to see your imagination. You can leave the tales in old Japan or retell it for today’s audience. Let your imagination go! You can also take Japanese yokai and make your own story using them.

Winners will be contact via email. Winners will be asked to send us their mailing address so Tuttle Publishing may send the prizes. We will not sell, give out, or otherwise abuse your email address. Spam is freaking annoying, and I will not be a part of that!

Be sure to subscribe to JP and/or like our Facebook page to keep up with contest news and see who wins.

Judging Criteria

We will determine the winner based on the quality of writing and the uniqueness of the story. Quality writing has good grammar, punctuation, and spelling. The story needs to feel like a Japanese fairy tale and show your imagination. Manga submissions will be judged with the same criteria as prose. Your drawing quality (note, quality means the best you can do) is the same as having good grammar, punctuation, and spelling. You do not have to be a professional writer or artist to be considered. Just do your best!

How long does the story needs to be? As long as it needs to be to tell a complete story. Look at the folk tales I link below. The length varies quite a bit.

Deadline

Only submissions received before July 8th will be considered. Email your submissions to webmaster [at] japanpowered.com with the subject line “Contest.”

Copyright Concerns

You own your work. By entering your work into this contest, you only give me to right to publish said work on JP for everyone to enjoy. Again, the work belongs to you, and you can do whatever you want with it.

Questions

If you have questions about the contest, post them in the comment section of this article. I will answer your questions there so other people with the same questions can benefit.

Fairy Tales to get your Mental Gears Moving.

These translated Japanese fairy tales are not the only ones you can use if you want to write a retelling. Check out our collection of tales, ghost stories, and urban legends for more ideas.

Urashima Taro, the Fisher LadThe Tongue-Cut Sparrow
The Old Man Who Made Withered Trees BlossomMomotaro: Little Peachling
The White Hare of InabaVisu the Woodsman and the Old Priest
The StonecutterTawara Toda, My Lord Bag of Rice
A Woman and the Bell of MiideraThe Mirror of Matsuyama

My First Anime Ends: Considering Inuyasha

Inuyasha_trioMidnight. I trudge into the house after a longer-than-it-should-be workday, exhausted. Everyone sleeps, and the quiet is welcome. But I need time to decompress. I slump onto the couch and channel surf.  MTV nonsense. Saturday Night Live. Not my cup of tea. Movies.  Oh, what’s this? Cartoons on this late?

I had stumbled across Adult Swim’s anime lineup for the first time.

If you don’t count Voltron and Pokémon, that late night of channel surfing was my first encounter with anime.  The show I stumbled across was Fullmetal Alchemist. Next, I remember watching Inuyasha. The shows grabbed my attention. At the time, I was working on my bachelor degree in computer animation. My world was Pixar movies and video games, but these shows, these old-school, 2D animated shows sang to me. The vibrant colors and slick action looked good. The minimalist designs were far different from the detailed designs we pushed toward in class.

I was hooked.

fmaFullmetal, the original, has long since ended. Only recently has the final arc of Inuyasha aired. The third anime I watched that night, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, is also long past. Of course, both Fullmetal and Ghost are in my personal library. Inuyasha, strangely, doesn’t have a slot in my library.  I enjoy the show, but yet not enough to watch it periodically. This is rather strange. The show was an old friend after long weeks at work and university. It was there during the weekdays whenever I was awake, sick with stress or some disease I caught from the public (I worked at a grocery store). The reason why I didn’t add the show to my collection is partially because it was always on. Adult Swim ran Inuyasha on weekdays and at a 5am block on Saturdays that I fondly dubbed the “Inuyasha Power Hour.”

Inuyasha isn’t a terrible anime. I would call it a high average, but I am comparing it to the likes of Samurai Champloo. I have seen worse, far worse. The series had a magical feel to it, a modern day fairy tale. As a fan of folklore, I greatly enjoyed this. The monster-of-the-week format allowed the series to cover much of Japan’s rich folktales and monster lore. The plot was thin: gather shards of the Sacred Jewel in order to destroy it and keep it out of the hands of Naraku. But anime doesn’t away need a complex, twisted story to be interesting.

Speaking of Naraku, he was a classic mustache twirler. He loved to weave  intricate plots to create as much suffering and sorrow as he could. Sometimes all his plotting felt contrived, but as the story progresses, you learn he actually had few real powers or combat ability. He weaponized his intelligence. Naraku made a great foil for Inuyasha, as well. Naraku sought to remove his human side and embrace his demonic side (he is a half demon in the story). Inuyasha, as another half demon,  wanted to get ride of his demonic side. Both pined after the priestess Kikyo. Naraku’s love for Kikyo twisted his soul with jealousy and hate. He didn’t want to admit how much he loved her. He feared it.  Who hasn’t had such problems in a relationship? Trusting someone leaves us open for pain. Naraku’s human nature drove everything he did, as much as he denied it.

inuyasha-kagome-yellAs you can see, characters are where Inuyasha shined. Battles usually devolved into Inuyasha just Wind Scarring things into submission. He was a meat head in fights. But they were still fun to watch. I enjoyed the relationship between Inuyasha and Kagome along with Sango and Miroku.

Together with Fullmetal Alchemist, Inuyasha introduced me to anime humor. I’m glad these two shows weaned me into it. I’ve seen some doozies that became uncomfortable (extreme panty humor) to downright annoying (Bleach’s comedic relief characters). If I ran into these attempts at humor early on, I may well have forgone anime forever. The humor of Inuyasha was generally chuckle worthy. The episodes where Inuyasha visits Kagome in the modern world were the best. The series was as a good introduction to anime humor. There were some pervert jokes, but they were mild. Likewise, there were some annoying humor episodes, but they are not as extreme as some anime take it. Fullmetal introduced chibification and other odd transformations that are unique to anime. Outside of Shippo, Inuyasha lacks these transformations (chibis, cut-outs, and some of the other visual motifs). Between the two of them, I had a good primer in anime’s humor, motifs, and methods of story telling.

So, when Inuyasha ended, it was bitter sweet. Bitter in that it ended.  The show ending also ended the last link to my early years as an anime watcher. Sweet in that it ended well, trying up all the loose plot strings and closing with a satisfying note.  The final season felt rushed compared to the pacing of the rest of the series, but at the least, it ended well.

miroku-slap

Miroku showing the result of yet another failed attempt with the ladies.

In many regards, Inuyasha is better put together than long anime like Bleach. The feel remained consistent, as did the characterization. The simple plot avoided becoming a Swiss cheese of story holes.  The show is also valuable as an introduction to Japan’s rich folklore and monster mythology. It inspires people to ask “where does that creature come from?” and, hopefully, research for the answer.

So how does Inuyasha rank? I have an affection for the show as being among my first experiences with anime. The series ranks higher than Bleach because it avoids most of Bleach’s problems, but Inuyasha isn’t as enthralling as Ghost in the Shell or Samurai Champloo. So, I would give Inuyasha a silver medal. Few shows keep me interested for their duration. Fewer still lend me warm feelings of nostalgia.

I am grateful Inuyasha was among the first anime I watched. It is one of the main reasons why the medium grabbed my interest. It also helped spark my enjoyment of folklore. It seems silly to say an animation or movie can change how you view the world, but that is the power of stories. It is the reason we are drawn to them. Inuyasha, along with Fullmetal Alchemist and Ghost in the Shell, changed the types of stories I find interesting. They also changed the way I consider stories and storytelling.

What was your first anime? How did its story change you?

Inuyasha: Final Cut–The End of an Era in Anime

InuyashaChris and I have different preferences and opinions when it comes to anime. One thing we do have in common is that Inuyasha is among the first batch of anime that we watched. Now that venerable series has finally ended, and along with it an era in anime history. At least, it felt like the end of an era because the last episode was a long time in coming.

But before I get into my thoughts on the final episode (some of what is to come contains spoilers, so fair warning.), let me give my thoughts on the series in general. All in all, I thought Inuyasha was pretty good. Not great, not bad, just pretty good. As far as plot, it is pretty straightforward. Inuyasha and Kagome seek the fragments of the Shikon jewel, a bauble that can grant wishes, in order to destroy it once and for all, while their great rival Naraku also seeks the jewel for his own ends. Along the journey to defeat Naraku, Inuyasha and Kagome run across several friends and even more enemies, engaging in epic battles and “leveling up” to face Naraku.

Naraku

Naraku

For his part, Naraku is one of the more interesting anime villains out there, in part due to his unique powers. He is a half demon who can basically absorb other demons and use their bodies and powers. He is ridiculously hard to kill because he is able to rebuild his body and change his shape to fool the heroes. Really, the heart of Naraku’s power is his conniving ways. He is always one step ahead of the heroes, especially Inuyasha, who is a pretty typical hot-headed Shonen character.  Still, that dynamic got a little repetitive, and I thought Naraku devolved into a sort of mustache-twirling baddie like Aizen, who is basically nasty to be nasty (though he does get a redemptive moment in the finale.)

While I said Inuyasha and his group engaged in epic battles, I need to be clear–the battles were not like those in Bleach or DBZ Kai. They were usually over fairly quickly, and tended to be more about finding a clever way to beat a foe rather than to simply beat the tar out of them. Perhaps this is because the emphasis was somewhat less on the plot and more on the relationships between the characters. In this way, Inuyasha was more of a Shojo than a Shonen. The key dynamic in the series had more to do with whether or not Inuyasha and Kagome would end up together than whether or not they’d find the jewel. This made for an interesting dynamic, where there was a strong romantic element for those who enjoyed that sort of thing, yet enough action to keep Shonen fans interested. This perhaps explains Inuyasha‘s longevity. That, and its long stint on the back end of  Adult Swim, the 5am Inuyasha “power hour.”

Inuyasha_trio

My biggest problem with Inuyasha was more to do with pacing than plot. I was surprised to learn that Inuyasha only had about 150 or so episodes under its belt when the final cut came out. It felt like the show was about as long as Bleach, mostly because it had a pretty leisurely pace. That, and the final cut was delayed for several years. Perhaps the delay did more to give the sense that the series was drawn out than anything else.  A person can only take so many reruns.

Compared to the rest of the series, Inuyasha: Final Cut had a break neck pace. To me it felt rushed. There were times that I honestly thought I missed an episode because the episodes jumped around so much. It still felt like Inuyasha, but it was definitely Inuyasha on fast forward.

Kagome_Higurashi

 

Now that we got all that out of the way, how do I feel now that Inuyasha is over? It was a bit bittersweet. I do have to say that the ending itself was very satisfying. It ended how you would expect, but they pulled it off in a way that kept you guessing and kept you interested. The writers also managed to neatly tie off all the plot threads. There’s neither room nor need for a sequel–Inuyasha: Final Cut is aptly named.

On a more personal level, Inuyasha was a part of my teenage years. I remember talking about it with friends my freshman year of high school, along with Ghost in the Shell, Full Metal Alchemist and Cowboy Bebop, among others. Chris and I spent late nights watching anime; sometimes, those hours were  the most peace and quiet we were able to get. So, I feel a sort of fondness for Inuyasha, rather like how I feel toward old shows like the Super Mario Bros Super Show and Transformers—stuff I watched as a kid that probably didn’t age well, but I remember warmly nevertheless. While never great, Inuyasha was a stalwart show, something that was always on and was usually entertaining in its own unique way. Now that it’s over, it’s a little like some small part of my childhood has also ended. Perhaps, though, this ending will make room on Toonami for newer and more unique shows to fill the gap left behind. A fan can hope, right?

 

 

8 Seasonally Favorite Anime Opening Themes

Everyone has favorite anime opening themes. My experience with anime is rather limited compared to many, but these opening themes all have a place in my music library. Opening themes seek to capture the feelings found in story arches. They also serve to describe the characters.  I enjoy classical and symphonic works.

My music tastes range from Vivaldi to Black Sabbath. I tend not to like hip hop, so one of these entries surprised even me. Yep, these are my top 8 favorites rather than top 10. Now if this was a list of my favorite Zelda or Final Fantasy tunes, ten would not be enough! These themes are simply the one’s I’ve listened to frequently in the past year or so.

8. KARMA- Requiem for the Phantom PhantomRequiemforthePhantomVocals: KOKIA Arrangement: Nanase Hikaru Requiem for the Phantom isn’t one of my favorite anime. Not by far.  I enjoyed the series for the most part. KARMA, the first opening theme, found itself in my music library. The dark feel of the song and lyrics attracted me. It feels a little cheesy at times. Like the tune tries too hard, but when the mood is right, this song can pull at the emotions.

7. Daybreak’s Bell – Mobile Suit Gundam 00. Mobile-Suit-Gundam-00Writer: Hyde, Ken Artist: L’Arc-en-Ciel Mobile Suit Gundam 00 was another meh anime for me. It was enjoyable, but as sacroligious as it sounds, I am not much of a Gundam fan. I am not much of a mecha fan for that matter despite enjoying Eureka Seven and the Evangeleon movies. Daybreak’s Bell is pretty cool tune though. Hyde has some pipes on him.

6. Tank! – Cowboy Bebop cowboy-bebop-tankWriter: Yoko Kanno Artist: Seatbelts This is the legendary opening theme song for an anime classic. The jazz instrumentals and the way it kicks in are great. The theme captures the attitude of the series. It also captures the personality of the characters with its haphazard, yet knitted, feel.

5. Velonica – Bleach bleachArtist: Aqua Timez I’ve watched Bleach since it debuted here in the States. It is an enjoyable anime, if annoying at times. Velonica is a good tune that portrays the better moments of Bleach. Aqua Timez is a group to check out.

4. Ichirin no Hana – Bleach bleach-gangArtist: High and Mighty Color Speaking of Bleach, Ichirin no Hana grabs you by the throat. The dark metal rasp reflects what goes on in the early Hollow arches of Bleach.  It is unfortunate that High and Mighty Color is a defunct group. Their metal was enjoyable. Although, I could do less with the screaming, guttural vocals.

3. Sakura – Eureka Seven eureka-seven-girlsArtist: Nirgilis Eureka Seven stands as one of my favorite series. Sakura is an interesting mix of pop laced with Amazing Grace. It captures the feel of the last section of the series, the hope and the struggle.

2. Battlecry – Samurai Champloo samurai-champlooArtist: Fat Jon, Nujabes, MINMI Samurai Champloo is the spiritual sequel to Cowboy Bebop. Hip hop appears throughout the series, but Battlecry summarizes the series. It opens “sharp like an edge of a samurai sword,the mental blade cut through flesh and bone.” It explores the rough world Champloo sketches.

“some days, some nights some live, some die in the name of the samurai some fight, some bleed sun up to sun down the sons of a battlecry”

1. Mitsu no Yoake – Spice and Wolf spice-and-wolfArtist: Akino Arai Spice and Wolf is a focused anime, and one of my favorites. Mitsu no Yoake is a relaxing, heartfelt song. I enjoy listening to this piece whenever I need to unwind. Spice and Wolf is like visiting an old friend. It is simply enjoyable. Mitsu no Yoake matches this feeling perfectly.

There are many other opening themes I enjoy. These are just the opening themes that found themselves in my music library. It is difficult to limit oneself to opening themes. Many anime have wonderful music set in the background. Samurai Champloo’s You is one of my favorites. I like it more than Battlecry, but it is not an opening theme.  Yoko Kanno is a favorite. I guess I could have included “Inner Universe.”

So what opening themes do you enjoy? What themes do you hate?

Japanese Ghost Stories: Spirits, Hauntings, and Paranormal Phenomena

Japanese Paranormal

Do you know what happens to a tool when it becomes 100 years old? What about a tree when it sees its 1,000th birthday? What does it matter if a dinner plate is broken?

Cartien Ross answers these questions and more in her book Japanese Ghost Stories, Spirits, Hauntings, and Paranormal Phenomena.

Ross looks at strange events that surround some people and places in Japan. For example, Mita Koichi was said to project images onto dry photographic plates using only his mind (this was back in the early 1900s). He is said to projected accurate images of the dark side of the moon long before that side was photographed by the Apollo missions.

Considering Japan’s long history of paranormal stories, it isn’t a surprise that Ross can only touch on various stories and people. A full, detailed tour would require an entire set of encyclopedias. Ross gives archetypal examples of various types of stories and events. Such as the story of the Blue Mask:

One day, a monk visited a village, but the people were terrified of him. After some convincing, he learned of another monk that lived in the mountain behind the village. This resident monk grew so distraught about the death of a village boy that he ate him. The traveling monk decided to look into this. The mountain monk attacks the traveler but fails. The traveler whacks the mountain monk on the head. The mountain monk collapses into a pile of bones and a broken blue mask.

There are many stories like this one throughout Ross’s book. If you are interested in ghost stories, mystics, psychics, and wonder how Japanese culture views the paranormal, give this book a read.

Just don’t read it alone.

Available at Tuttle Publishing and Amazon.
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Challenges of the Japanese Single Mother

50% of one-parent Japanese families live below the poverty line (Ichino, 2014).

mother-fanning-childJapanese single mothers are one of those topics people do not talk about. Japanese society has a long history of divorce, but during the Meiji Restoration, divorce became a problem for women. The combination of strong family values and tax policies that support those values leave many single-mothers trapped. Japanese tax policy discriminates against women who choose to be single mothers. Divorced or widowed mothers have a few tax deduction options, however. The Japanese government offers an allowance for single-mothers, but this fund has been in slow decline since it passed back in 1962 (WuDunn, 1996; Ono, 2010; Ichino. 2014).

Single moms have it rough. Most of the articles I found focuses on the measurable data. Economic being the prime focus. These data doesn’t tell us what single-Japanese mothers experience. Only one study I found looked at how Japanese single-moms spend their time. The study discovered how single-mothers spend less time eating dinner with their children than married mothers, but both types of mothers spent the same amount of time with their children. This is impressive considering how single-moms have to work to feed their family (Raymo, Park, Iwasawa & Zhou, 2014). In other words, Japanese single-mothers are busy!

However, these moms also have other challenges, as if finding time to sleep wasn’t enough. In 2013, Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, admitted to a wide wage gap between men and women. Women earn an average of 30.2% less than men (Kiyota, 2015). She also faces challenges with even retaining her job. Only 38% of women keep their jobs after their first maternity leave (Kiyota, 2015). For many women, married or not, pregnancy ends any career aspirations. Is there any wonder Japan’s population is predicted to decline from 128 million in 2010 to 86.74 million by 2060 (Kyota, 2015)?

Now, I am not saying single Japanese moms do not work. Eighty to Eighty-five percent of single mothers work, but they earn an average of $20,000 a year (Itoi, 2005; Ono, 2010 citing Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare 2004). Single mothers face many economic problems. Time inflexibility is also a problem. In a Japan Times (2014) article, a single mother accounts how the expense of childcare facilities and limited school hours make it difficult to work. It can cost as much as ¥80,000 per child per month for some day cares (Ichino, 2014). That is about $800 a month.

What about child support? Don’t the dads pay for their children?

Child support doesn’t have much of a role in Japanese divorce. In about 70% of divorce cases, child support isn’t collected. Japanese culture has a practice called rien, the severing of all ties between ex-spouses upon divorce. Sometimes sorry money is paid, called isharyo (Ono, 2010). Unlike messy divorces here in the States, Japanese divorces are often final. There isn’t child visitation or child support payments. The finality of divorce is reflected in Japanese history as I will discuss.

Japanese mother holding her child amongst the ruins of Hiroshima.

Japanese mother holding her child amongst the ruins of Hiroshima soon after the dropping of the atom bomb.

As you can see, single mothers can have a rough time. Kakuchi (2002) tells of a mother who is sometimes forced to leave her child at home alone while she works late. Japanese workplaces are infamous for working males to death.  It isn’t a surprise that women also face the same pressure. A single mother has to take on the traditional household responsibilities of both the wife and husband. Men do not face the same obligations toward children. As far as I can gather from my research, fathers have the freedom to walk away completely if they choose. This can be a detriment for the child. However, if the father is abusive, the finality of divorce can be a benefit as well.

Women that choose to be single mothers face discrimination on the job and with inflexibility of childcare facilities and schools. At least, so goes the thinking, widows and divorced women had their children within a marriage. These other women who didn’t marry break family tradition. This type of thinking is what encourages Japanese society to stigmatize single-mothers who never marry. Contrast this with attitudes in the US, where single-moms face some stigma, but nowhere near as much as in Japan. After all, child support in the US is enforced by law. Single mothers didn’t always have these problems or face these attitudes. Many of these issues and the shifts against single-motherhood came out of the Meiji Restoration.

The “Modernization” of Motherhood

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 marked the opening of Japan to the modern world. Tokugawa rule, which dominated much of medieval Japan, ended. With it ended many traditional Japanese practices, including divorce. Before Japan sprinted into the modern era, divorce had 3 practices. After Westernization, Japan only practiced 1 type of divorce. Traditional Japanese divorce was designed in a way that helped protect women’s well being. This is a little strange when you consider how male oriented Japanese society is. Anyway, single motherhood became more of a taboo after Japan modernized and sliced away two divorce protections for women. The three practices were (Ono & Sanders, 2009):

  1. Trial Marriage
  2. Returning to her family
  3. Divorce by mutual consent.

Only “divorce by mutual consent” remained after 1868.

Trial Marriage

Before the Meiji era, wives moved into the husband’s household on a trial basis. Many wives suffered from abuse and harassment, known as yome ibiri before this trial marriage practice became common. The trial period lasted about a year. The marriage could end with just a short written letter by the husband, called mikudari han. The wife didn’t suffer negative backlash like in formal divorce (where she would be blamed for the marriage’s failure). Both husband and wife remarried relatively easily because of the tentative nature of the marriage arrangement (Ono & Sanders, 2009).

Wife Returning to her Family

This practice made me think “well, duh, she would go back home to her family.” But, as we have seen from the data from modern Japan, and by what happens to some divorced women here in the States, women are not always accepted back to the family. The reasons can be social as well as economic. In pre-Meiji Japan, these divorced wives returned to the family’s farm. The family was expected to take her back, preventing the problems of displaced single mothers who cannot properly support themselves. Called demodori – a person who left then came back – these women did not suffer from stigma because the marriage didn’t work out (Ono & Sanders, 2009).

You will notice that the chastity of the woman isn’t even a factor in this and other arrangements. Female chastity didn’t hold as high of value in traditional Japan as in the West. Of course, wife could not commit adultery, but her virginity wasn’t as much of a factor as in Western marriages.

Divorce by Mutual Consent

This is the practice Japan kept after modernizing. This practice made certain the wife had a say in the decision to divorce. The husband could not dissolve the marriage on a whim. Before this practice, husbands could dissolve the marriage whenever they wanted. Sometimes, unhappy wives pressured their husbands to writing his divorce letter (Ono & Sanders, 2009). This practice also protected the wife from the idea that something was wrong with her. When husbands could essentially throw a wife out, people would wonder what she did wrong or what she had wrong with her to make him do so.

The End of the Tradition and the Rise of Stigma

japanese-womanEnding two of the three practices removed the protections women had. This opened the door for the discrimination of single mothers. The end of the trial marriage system placed the blame on women for failed marriages. In Japan, women are expected to manage the household. Divorce shows she is unable to do her role in society (Ono & Sanders, 2009). Basically, divorce after the Meiji era labeled the woman as a social failure. This idea extends to single mothers who did not marry before having children. She failed to fill her societal role as a household manager.

The increase in stigma eroded the ability of divorced women to return to their families. This led to the difficult situations divorced single mothers face today. The stigma also influences tax policy that discriminates against single mothers. The shift away from family farms toward modern business practice further eroded the ability of families to re-absorb their daughters and her children.

It is an understatement to say single Japanese mothers have it difficult. Their government stipends are constantly being cut, and Japanese business shows little signs of accommodating single mothers from what information I have found. The United States is more accepting of single motherhood than Japan. While the US stigmatizes single mothers, it is not as extreme as in Japan. In this regard, Japan could learn from the United States.

References

WuDunn, S. (1996) Stigma Curtails Single Motherhood in Japan. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/03/13/world/stigma-curtails-single-motherhood-in-japan.html

Ichino, R. (2014). Japan’s persisting gender gap leaves many single moms in poverty. Japan Times. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/12/10/national/social-issues/japans-persisting-gender-gap-leaves-many-single-moms-in-poverty/#.VVapGJP_-PU

Kakuchi, S. (2002). In Japan, Moms defy tradition by staying single. We-news.

Itoi, K. (2005). Struggling To Get By. Newsweek (Pacific Edition), 145(19), 51.

Ono, H. (2010). The socioeconomic status of women and children in Japan: comparisons with the USA. International Journal of Law, Policy, and the Family. 24 (2) 151-176

Kiyota, T, et al (2015). Womenomics: solution for Japan’s decline? PacNet 8: Pacific Forum CSIS.

Raymo, J., Park, H., Iwasawa, M., & Zhou, Y. (2014). Single motherhood, living arrangements, and time with children in Japan.  Journal of Marriage and Family 76. 843-861.

Ono, H. & Sanders, J. (2009). Divorce in contemporary Japan and its gendered patterns. International Journal of Sociology of the Family. 35 (2) 169-188.

The Evangelion of Shojo: Revolutionary Girl Utena

Shoujo.Kakumei.UtenaRevolutionary Girl Utena is a game changer on the order of Evangelion.  Like Sailor Moon, Utena is a magical girl story. The story is stuffed with symbolism and considered a post-modern fairy-tale (Haeker, n.d). This symbolism is what makes many people consider Utena the Evangelion of shojo (Rose, 2013). I will touch on some of these symbols later. Like other magical girl stories, Utena focuses upon the gender roles females have in society. Namely, it looks at how women can be independent of men (Brown, 2008). Utena, the heroine of the story, does not look to men for help. Rather, she embodies many of the same masculine characteristics. She is a character who ignores her expected gender role. Utena avoids the fate most Western female characters face. Many women in stories end up as obedient mates who wait for their princes to save them. These women transform from “bashful virgin to sexual object to doting wife and selfless mother” ( Bailey, 2012 citing Andrea Dworkin). Think about Disney princesses if this seems a little too academic. They wait around for their prince and are held up as something to possess.  Utena says screw that.

Revolutionary Girl Utena also teaches a few other lessons. First, Utena faces challenges that come her way regardless of whether or not she wants to. When challenged, she gives her best effort. This points out how we often have to face things in life would would rather not have to. Utena also does this without hesitation or complaining. As I mentioned before, she doesn’t seek male help, but takes on these challenges herself.

Okay, time for a very brief nutshell summary. Revolutionary Girl Utena, like Evangelion, defies summaries, but here it goes. The original manga was illustrated by Chiho Saito back in 1996 and the anime came out in 1997. The story centers on Utena developing a relationship with another female character, Anthy, amid a complex, symbol laced, conflict. Yeah, I know that is a vague description. Like the article on Sailor Moon, I watched only a few episodes of the anime and read a few issues of the manga at various points of the story. I rely heavily on academic research articles. However, this doesn’t diminish my point: Revolutionary Girl Utena is an important milestone in the history of anime and manga story telling.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is important for anime and manga storytelling because of its empowerment of women, its layer of symbolism, and how it addresses same sex relationships.

Defying Traditional Gender Roles

utena_anthyIf you haven’t already read my article on Japanese gender roles, you should. The article provides context for why Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena are important. As I mentioned in the introduction, Utena doesn’t foster the idea of the Disney Princess. In fact, Utena is the prince of the story. She dresses like a boy when she undergoes her magical girl transformation and saves people just as the prince would. She even wins the princess Anthy after triumphing over a male in a duel.

Utena struggles to be herself, her more masculine self, but still be accepted by her peers that expect her to behave as a female should. Utena doesn’t want to become a prince –  that is, a male. She isn’t trying to pass as a man and resents being treated as less of a woman because of her masculine traits (she excels at sports, for example). Rather, she wants to adopt the characteristics of a prince: courage, strength, and compassion. Utena doesn’t want to be the princess and have the traits of helplessness, passivity, and be objectified (Bailey, 2012). Anthy takes that role through much of the story.

Utena’s relationship with Anthy also defies traditional gender roles. After all, a woman is supposed to love a man and not another woman. However, the story does not portray their relationship as something taboo or gross. The reader simply realizes this is another act of defiance against societal expectations of women.

Sketching the Symbols of Revolutionary Girl Utena

The layers of symbols found in Utena are important for shojo. It shows that stories aimed at females can be as complex and nuanced as stories aimed at males. The symbols found in this story result of Utena’s focus on the nature of the past, the hold that past has on people, and the relationship between corruption and sexuality (Perper & Cornog, 2006). I won’t go in depth on the symbols and what they mean. That isn’t my focus, and people who have read all of the story are better qualified. The point is the depth the story has. This depth of meaning respects the ability of women to read and think deeply. This should go without saying, but women are often considered less intelligent than men.

The rose is one of the most prominent symbols of the story. Roses are the sexual organs of plants. Traditionally, flowers are stand ins for female sexuality. The “Rose Bride” (Anthy) Utena and the other duelist fight over is the embodiment of romance and female sexuality.The duels take the rose motif to an overtly sexual level. Before the fight, each duelist pulls a sword for their breast (or that of Anthy). These swords are both phallic symbols and represent the manifestation of their heartfelt agony and desire (Haecker, n.d.).

In the rules of the duel, the first person to cut away a rose fitted in each duelist’s breast pocket wins. Hmmm. swords are symbols for the penis; the rose represents the vulva. Alright, I am getting a little too Freudian here. Anyway, the symbols represent how Utena defies her gender role (she uses a sword, a male weapon). The symbols also point to deeper mythological archetypes that trace back through human history to the dawn of human culture.

Alright, I will leave it at that. The rose and the sword are prominent symbols, but there are many others. If you want a deeper analysis, look at Haecker’s article. Perhaps more important than the symbols is the role of same sex relationships.

Revolutionary Girl Utena’s Lesbian Relationships.

Revolutionary-Girl-Utena-athyHow Revolutionary Girl Utena handles same sex relationships is probably its most important contribution to shojo. No, Utena is not a yuri. Sexual orientation isn’t a topic of conversation in the story. Rather, gay and lesbian couples are treated as legitimate and normal. The story lacks anxiety toward Utena’s and Anthy’s attraction (Bailey, 2012).

I feel like I keep repeating myself, but each of these three points tie back into each other. Utena’s affection for Anthy rather than a prince defies the role she should be taking as the “princess” of the story. Anthy and Utena’s relationship on the battle field recalls the symbols of the rose and sword as sexual symbols. Together Anthy and Utena summon a legendary sword, illustrating their emotional bond. During Utena’s transformation, Anthy caresses Utena’s face and body (Bailey, 2012).

The focus of the story is on the relationship Utena and Anthy build. Even with the few issues I read of the manga, I could tell their relationship was clearly sexual and based in a deep friendship. Revolutionary Girl Utena shows that lesbians can have deep relationships. The story doesn’t comment on the relationships and treats them as a matter of fact. This is, perhaps, one of the most important elements to the same sex relationships of the story. They are nothing special to comment upon.

The Importance of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Revolutionary Girl Utena is important for showing girls they can be strong, courageous, and otherwise have traits labeled as masculine in society and still embrace their female biology. The story is also important for lesbians to help them come to terms with their identity (Rose, 2013). Utena points out how shojo can be stuffed with as many layers of meanings as shonen like Evangelion. Laying symbols like this helps girls realize that they are as smart as the boys, and stories like this respect their intelligence. This series gives girls strong female protagonists that break traditional molds and feminist molds for that matter.

Together with Sailor Moon, Utena provides girls with an empowering view of what it means to be female, a view that transcends traditional gender roles and relationship expectations. This, in turn, influences future shojo writers.

References

Bailey, C. (2012). Prince Charming by Day, Superheroine by Night? Subversive Sexualities and Gender Fluidity in Revolutionary Girl Utena and Sailor Moon. Colloquy text theory critique 24 .207-222.

Brown, J. (2008). Female Protagonists in Shojo Manage – From Rescuers to the Rescued. Masters Theses 1896. University of Massachusetts.

Haecker, R. (n.d.) An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena. https://www.academia.edu/7487606/An_Idealist_Interpretation_of_Revolutionary_Girl_Utena

Perper, T & Cornog, M. (2006) In the Sound of the Bells: Freedom and Revolution in Revolutionary Girl Utena. Mechademia 1. 183-186.

Rose. (2013). “Revolutionary Girl Utena” Transgresses Gender and Sexuality. Autostraddle. http://www.autostraddle.com/revolutionary-girl-utena-transgresses-gender-and-sexuality-204505/

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