Dating and Marriage in Japan

from Bokura ga Ita

from Bokura ga Ita

Japan and the United States have different views of dating and marriage. There are many similarities, as well. Marriage has a long history in Japan, a history that is based on gender roles influenced heavily by Confucian views. I won’t get into these views in this article. If you want to learn more about gender role expectations in Japan, gender roles of women, and how China’s Confucius has even influenced anime, follow these links.  This article will focus on Japan’s dating culture and marriage attitudes. Keep in mind, I am an outsider looking in.

Japanese Dating Culture

Women pray for good relationships or good luck in love during "Tanabata", or the Star festival, at Jishu shrine in Kyoto. Reuters

Women pray for good relationships or good luck in love during “Tanabata”, or the Star festival, at Jishu shrine in Kyoto. Reuters

The point of dating is to get to know someone. The rules of dating, courtship, vary across cultures. However, the point remains the same. There are a few key ideas that are identical to dating in Japan and in the United States. These ideas are good advice for anyone seeking to develop friendships and romantic relationships:

  1. Express interest in the person: genuinely want to learn more about her.
  2. Listen to him. Don’t just hear.
  3. Don’t rush the physical.  It only hurts relationships.

Physical Intimacy – Sex

anime-datingI will expand on the third point. It is one of the key differences between Japanese dating customs and American dating customs. Several studies have found a correlations with the amount of time a couple waits to have sex and the quality of their relationship. Those couples that wait until marriage report the highest satisfaction and quality (Willoughby, Carroll,  & Busby, 2014):

This study found that the longer a couple waited while dating to become sexually involved, the better their relationship was after marriage. In fact, couples who waited until marriage to have sex compared to those who started having sex early in their relationship reported higher marital satisfaction, better communication patterns, less consideration of divorce, and better sexual quality.

This brings me to the key difference between Japanese and American dating. Physical intimacy, even between professed couples, is a slow process. Kissing, hand holding, and sex do not come until after kokuhaku (more on this in a bit). Although there are always exceptions. With many couples, the physical intimacy part develops slowly (Back to Japan, 2011; Larkin, 2005).

Physical displays of intimacy in public are taboo. This lends to the slow (in American eyes) development of the physical aspects of dating. In the United States it is normal to express interest in a person through touch, kissing, hand holding, etc. This isn’t to say you won’t see this in Japan too. However, the idea of uchi-soto weighs heavily on people.



Scene from The World Only God Knows

This is a concept that outlines Japanese behavior in public. Japanese society pressures people to be respectful and considerate of others, even at the expense of your own needs (Larkin, 2005). This is why PDA (public displays of affection) are taboo.  The Western ideas of honesty and openness are seen as both attractive and problematic. Because of ucho-soto, many Japanese people are oblique about expressing their feelings. The concept of amae (behavior that shows desire to be loved or take care of you:  Strowhorn; 2013; Kirai, 2007). This involves people trying to read each other’s feelings (Larkin, 2005).

Japanese men tend to be subtle and indirect when approaching women because of these societal norms. That is, when they approach women at all. This is one of the differences to consider with Japanese dating rituals. Dating follows a different course than Western standards. Again, there are exceptions.

First Comes Friends

Before dating there is gokon. These are group blind dates. A group of friends get together and mingle. This lets each group take stop of each other.  The approval of friends when dating is often important (Back to Japan, 2011). After several gokon, often between 5 or 6, people pair off for coffee, movies, and other typical date activities. However, these are generally done in public. The couple is still not considered dating. They are only feeling each other out – rather than feeling each other up.

Next comes Love


Scene from Memoirs of a Geisha

Kokuhaku is the next step for people who are into each other. This is the “dating” phase. However, it is a strange practice in Western eyes. One that is said to make many Westerners uncomfortable (Back to Japan, 2011; Larkin, 2005,

Kokuhaku is the confession of love often seen in anime. “I love you” is a strong concept in the West. It is not something we typically tell someone we are only starting to date. However, in Japan, this is the initiating confession for dating. The Western habit usually uses the phrase “I like you” to give wiggle room.  However, in Japanese the three words for love all mean love ( 好き suki, 大好き daisuki, 愛知てる ai shitteru), only with increasing degrees (Back to Japan, 2011). There is no equivalent to “I like you.”

After kokuhaku, dating follows a more recognizable route: meeting the parents and private dates. Physical intimacy starts to ramp up. The speed depend on the couple.

Then Comes Marriage

sword-art-online-weddingMarriage rituals vary based upon family expectations. This really isn’t much different from the United States. I will instead focus on the reality of marriage in Japan: the trends and ideas behind it.

Like many societies, marriage in Japan was arranged for much of its history. The purpose of marriage was the continuation the family line. Women were raised to be the “good wife, wise mother” and sacrifice herself for the good of family and country (Bardsley, 2004). This, as I mentioned in this article, has changed in many circles. The traditional gender roles still persist: married women in Japan feel the household tasks are unfair. Japanese men often do now share in housework. Because of this view, women who work are often not seen as contributing to the household.  (Kaufman & Taniguchi, 2009).


Artwork found on the Sword Art Online Soundtrack

Unlike the West, Japan never associated virginity with chastity and purity. The closest idea to the Western virgin was the otome (maiden) who was thought to be lacking sexual desire in addition to experience. The Western ideas of virginity in relationship to marriage – that is, women should remain virgins for her husband – didn’t appear until the 19th century (McLelland, 2010). This isn’t to say it was okay for women to have sex. During the Tokugawa Period, both men and women could be considered adulterers. Married women, unlike men, were penalized.  Women were property of husbands or fathers. Adultery was a property dispute that was left to the decision of those involved. Punishment could be everything from a fine to death (Stanely, A, 2007).

Marriage Trends in Modern Japan

2003-8-16-weddingChildren are exclusively associated with marriage in Japan. No marriage means no children, generally. As many know, Japan’s population is on the decline.

The decline in population is linked to a decline in marriage. Marriage on the the decline for several reasons.


  1. Educated men prefer to marry younger women and women who are less educated. Educated women do not want to marry less educated men.  The number of educated women are also increasing (Yang & Yen, 2011;Raymo & Iwasawa, 2005).
  2. Women dislike the inequality in marriage (Yang & Yen, 2011).
  3. Japanese men do not want to marry a women who demands equal sharing of housework (Yang & Yen, 2011).

Because of these problems there are several trends that are on the rise:

  1. Women are marrying much later, when at all ( Hirakawa, 2004).
  2. There is an increased interest in international marriage, particularly of Japanese women marrying Western men (Bardsley, 2004; Hirakawa, 2004).
  3. Declining marriage rates equate the decline in population.

Women are experiencing problems with finding suitable Japanese men mostly because of increases in women’s education levels and a dislike of traditional female roles in marriage. Many Japanese men have yet to change their views.

Dating Doldrums


The World Only God Knows…literally. It is the world only Katsuragi knows.

Okay, I am sure many of you are celebrating. Yes, Japanese women are interested in foreign boyfriends. Conversely, foreign women find it hard to snag a Japanese boyfriend because of the same problems Japanese women experience (Japan Times, 2005).  There are problems with international dating. Language barriers and cultural differences are just a few.

Yes, guys do have a chance to find a “hot Japanese girlfriend.” There are differences in cultural and dating rituals to keep in mind as I have outlined. Girls can find a cute Japanese boyfriend as well. These relationships may seem easier on the surface. However, language and culture are significant barriers that cannot be underestimated. It is important to understand why marriage is on the decline because it reflects on the difficulties people everywhere have. It is difficult to make a connection with another person. It takes patience, understanding, and openness. It is impossible to fully understand a person; she will always annoy and surprise you.

Pokemon love Wallpaper__yvt2Despite the cultural differences in dating, people everywhere want to find someone to trust and share their lives with. Something about modern society has made it more difficult (or perhaps simply made that difficulty more visible) for two people to make that connection.  The physical part of this connection is important, but it cannot be overemphasized. The emotional connection is what lasts throughout life.  As I illustrated with research, it is often best to keep sex out of a blossoming relationship. Emotional context is important for the physical aspects of relating to another person. It is an outgrowth of loving that person for who they are rather than letting hormones rule decisions.

Dating and marriage faces similar problems in the United States. It is difficult to trust another and put her needs above your own.

This article touches on generalities based on culture and research. There are always exceptions. Dating and marriage is a personal, intimate activity. Everyone is different. It is best to not have preconceived ideas about a person. Language and culture are barriers for dating internationally; however, it is possible to move beyond them with openness, understanding, and shared mutual interest in the well being of each other. Dating is not about finding someone to complete you. Dating is about a complete person finding another complete person to share life.


Amy Stanley  (2007) Adultery, Punishment, and Reconciliation in Tokugawa Japan Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 33, No. 2.  pp. 309-335

Back to Japan (2011). Japanese Dating Culture.

Bardsley, J. (2004). Women, Marriage, and the State in Modern Japan: Introduction. Women’s Studies, 33(4), 353-359. doi:10.1080/00497870490453631

Christianity and Gender Relationships in Japan: Case Studies of Marriage and Divorce in Early Meiji Protestant Circles.

Kaufman, G. & Tanighuchi.  (2009). Gender and Marital Happiness in Japan. International Journal of Sociology of the Family, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 69-87

Kaufman, G. & Tanighuchi. (2010). Marriage and Happiness in Japan and the United States.  International Journal of Sociology of the Family, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring 2010), pp. 25-48

Helen Ballhatchet (2007). Christians in Japan.  Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 177-201

Hirakawa, H. (2004). Give Me One Good Reason to Marry a Japanese Man: Japanese Women Debating Ideal Lifestyles. Women’s Studies, 33(4), 423-451. doi:10.1080/00497870490444947

Kirai: A Geek In Japan (2007). Amae.

Kubota, Y. (2009). Matchmaking gets divine touch.

McClelland, M. (2010) Kissing is a symbol of democracy!” Dating, Democracy, and Romance in Occupied Japan, 1945–1952″ Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 19, No. 3 (SEPTEMBER 2010), pp. 508-535

Raymo, J. M. (2003). Educational Attainment and the Transition to First Marriage Among Japanese Women . Demography, 40(1), 83.

Strowhorn, Percy D. III, (2013) “The United States and Japan: A Cross Cultural Analysis of Gender Roles and Intimate Relationships”.
Global Honors Theses. Paper 9

Willoughby, B. J., Carroll, J. S., & Busby, D. M. (2014). Differing Relationship Outcomes When Sex Happens Before, On, or After First Dates. Journal Of Sex Research, 51(1), 52-61. doi:10.1080/00224499.2012.714012.

Yang, W., & Yen, P. (2011). A Comparative Study of Marital Dissolution in East Asian Societies: Gender Attitudes and Social Expectations towards Marriage in Taiwan, Korea and Japan. Asian Journal Of Social Science, 39(6), 751-775. doi:10.1163/156853111X619210



.hack QuantumI have yet to watch the famous .hack anime series. So, I was a little lost when I jumped into the 3 episode Quantum original video animation. The series caught my interest. It follows Sakuya, Tobias, and Mary as they play the latest MMORPG, “The World R:X.” Their adventures quickly take a turn for the worst when the three girls run across a player called Hermit and strange events in the game world.

The reality of virtual reality gaming hits home when Mary doesn’t wake up from the game world.

There isn’t much time for character development in just 3 episodes. Quantum relies on character stereotypes: the ditz, the calculating serious one, and the cautious protector for the girl’s in-game persona. hack-quantum-girls

.hack//Quantum was an interesting watch. Although, I was lacking background from the other .hack series I could follow what was going on. I find series that look into virtual reality and how it affects reality quite interesting. Before going into librarianship I studied computer programming and video game design as an undergraduate. Of course, I grew up playing video games too. I was an 8bit and 16bit console child.

The short episodes briefly explored what would happen if a person could “fully” enter a game: feeling pain and have the game affect you in reality. Sakuya, for example, receives a wound in the game that made her hand in real life continually tingle. I can see events like these being remotely possible. Virtual reality interfaces wouldn’t even have to stimulate the brain directly to do this.

sakuyaThe mind is easy to trick. Think about the last time you woke from a nightmare. However, stimulating the brain and body with electric impulses could certainly lead to problems. I tend to get fragged often in first person shooters. I rarely play them because I tend not to like them and get motion sick playing them. Now imagine feeling something uncomfortable every time you get shot or killed.

Of course, there is the pleasure side of the equation that Quantum doesn’t have time to delve into. Sword Art Online touches a little on how virtual reality could affect sexuality. As you can tell, the idea of virtual reality and how people would use the technology fascinates me.

In any case, Quantum shared many elements with Sword Art Online. It definitely makes me want to look into the other .hack series.


Hentai: What is it, really?

Hentai - HistoryHentai. Yep, I am going there! Some information here may be considered graphic. You’ve been warned!

Hentai is as valid a branch of manga and anime as shonen and shojo. Hentai has a long history and conflicted definitions. The word hentai is a compound word that describes a person, action, or state of being sexually abnormal. Hentai describes a sub-genre of erotic literature rather than all erotic literature. The word nōmaru is sometimes used as an antonym for hentai. H (pronounced as etchi or ecchi) and ero refer to any manga and anime with sexual content. Hentai only refers to sexual situations that are considered perverse and fantastic:  bizarre partners and gang rape, for example. Western fans often use H and hentai interchangeably.

Hentai has three different definitions:

  • change of form or shape
  • an abbreviation for ‘hentai seiyoku’
  • metamorphosis (as in the change from caterpillar to butterfly)

Hentai seiyoku translates roughly to “abnormal sexual desires.” During the Meiji period (1857-1912), this was a branch of Japanese sexology. The term attached to works that contained bizarre sexual content between 1912-1925. Before this, such literature was called, “erotic, grotesque nonsense.”

Brief History of Hentai

Shunga print by Kitagawa Utamaro 1753 – 1806

Shunga print by Kitagawa Utamaro 1753 – 1806

Hentai can be traced back to the dawn of manga. Manga has roots in Buddhist scrolls dating to the 12th Century. These scrolls had little political cartoons of animals making fun of nobles and clergy. These developed into ukiyo-e prints. These prints were made from wood engravings and allowed for faster production than scrolls made by hand. Ukiyo-e’s shunga engravings were used as sex guides during the Edo period.  During the 20th Century, Japanese art styles adopted Western elements. This mix eventually produced the style of manga drawing we know today (McLelland, 2006).

After World War II, both manga and hentai exploded. Astro Boy and others appeared during this time. Japanese press was free to explore all the themes that the focus on wartime literature prevented. Nikutai Bungaku, carnal literature, appeared everywhere. This was a reaction of the survivors of World War II as much as a reaction to the removal of wartime press rules.


Model in a military pose from Fuzoku Kagaku magazine 1954

Those who survived the war often only had their bodies. Everything else was destroyed.  This gave people special appreciation for their bodies as a possession. This was also the first time women’s bodies were displayed in public. Petting couples and other public displays of sexuality appeared. H (etchi) came to describe sexual literature around 1952.

The 1950s saw the revival of love suicides, a genre of love story that was popular before the War. Love suicide is considered abnormal, hentai. Homosexual relations, sadomasochism, fetishes, lesbian relations, and even seppuku saw focus magazines. Hentai fetishes range from loincloth maniacs, male disembowelment, and up to the iconic tentacle (McLelland, 2006; Ortega-Bren, 2009; Serendip Studio, 2012) .

About that Tentacle

Sexuality and tentacles dates back to 1814 with the novel Kinoe no komatsu, and an illustration by the famous Hokusai Katsushika. Yep, Hokusai drew the first image of tentacle porn.  Hokusai is one of the most famous artists of Japan. He created a series on Mount Fuji that showed the mountain from a variety of perspectives. The most famous is below.

One of Hokusai's most iconic works. The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

One of Hokusai’s most iconic works. The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

In the tentacle illustration, Tamatori, who stole a jewel from the Dragon King, is captured and has consenting sex with the king and his army of octopi (Lunning, 2012).

Toshio Maeda is considered the creator of modern tentacle hentai. Anthony Bourdain (2014) interviews him on Parts Unknown. In 1986, Maeda used a tentacle to depict sex acts in his Urotsukidoji manga. Penises, body orifices, and penetration were illegal. This law drove the mangaka to get creative. The tentacle became a phallic symbol. Maeda also relied on demons for his scenes. If it wasn’t for the censorship law, it is possible that the tentacle may have remained in historical obscurity.

Hentai Appeal

ecchi-bedThe abnormal aspect of hentai is what creates its appeal. It creates a fantasy world of demons, octopus, and other sexual hijinks that are impossible to perform. You will find women with penises, furries, demons, and things from the outer edges of imagination. Hentai is categorized as lacking personable qualities. There is a barrier between the viewer and the scenes because of the lack of realism. Hentai provides an outlet that explores darker, odder regions of human psychology. It provides a means to shake people out of their standard thinking as some post-WWII advertising did. For Western audiences, hentai is often taboo. For some people, the fact hentai is animated fantasy allows them to approach it more readily than American porn.

he Ecstasy of Saint Therese. Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1647-1652.  The expression of pleasure of Saint Therese caused a fair bit of controversy.

The Ecstasy of Saint Therese. Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1647-1652.
The expression of pleasure of Saint Therese caused a fair bit of controversy.

Hentai has a reputation for being poor quality: skipping frames, poor story telling, and more. Of course, this assessment extends to other genres of anime and manga. However, hentai has many similarities to Baroque art. Baroque art often depicted moments of ecstasy, such as the Ecstasy of Saint Therese.   Saint Therese experienced various visions. She described these visions in often sexual terms.  Bernini shows a scene of an angel just about to pierce the saint with an arrow.  Hmmm. a metaphor perhaps? Explains the look on the sculpture’s face, doesn’t it?

Hentai takes it a little further with drawing of internal cavities and other details to get the point across. Like Baroque art, the beautiful and the monstrous can co-exist. A rape scene, for example, may be beautifully detailed. Baroque has many works that beautifully portray a brutal death or event.  Hentai and Baroque art have many similarities (Pena-Pimentel, 2010).

Hentai is a genre to itself. Yaoi, yuri, and ecchi are all different aspects of the wider eros genre. Yaoi and yuri likely started as part of hentai. Over time, these genres become more acceptable and moved out of the genre.

Like American porn, hentai has a fair level of misogyny. Misogyny itself could be considered an abnormal fetish.

yaoi-BL-hentaiHentai, like any erotic literature, is an uncomfortable topic for many people. Depictions of sex are as old as humanity. The oldest depiction is about 7,200 year old figurines of a man and woman having sex (Diver, 2005). It is likely even old depictions will be found. It is important to understand the origins of literature and how they influence others. Hentai has leached into popular anime through fan service. Hentai, such as panty fetishes, are no longer considered abnormal. Likewise, other genres influence hentai stories and artwork. Hentai, like all anime and manga, is an international product. Japan and the United States have influenced each other across this and other literature genres. Hentai will continue to influence the other genres. Hentai will continue to change and evolve to reflect people’s interest in what is considered odd by society.


Bourdain, A. (2014). Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown: Tokyo.

Diver, K. (2005). Archaeologist finds ‘oldest porn statue’ The Guardian.

Lunning, F. (2012) Tentacle Trance: Slithering Sensuality in Illustration Influenced by Anime, Manga, and Gaming.

McLelland, M. (2006). A Short History of ‘Hentai’ Gender & Sexuality in Asia & the Pacific.

Ortega-Brena, M. (2009). Peek-a-boo, I See You: Watching Japanese Hard-core Animation. Sexuality & Culture 13. 17-31.

Pena-Pimentel, M. (2010). Baroque Features in Japanese Hentai. International Journal of Comic Art (12) 2. 469-486.

Serendip Studio (2012). Sex and Work: Japanese Host Clubs and Hentai into Context.


How do you make Animated Anime Images?

dandy-punchThey are everywhere online. The humble animated gif from the 90′s Internet has returned with a vengeance. So how do you make them anyway? Well it is actually really easy. First, you need images and an image editor. I like to use Photoshop, but it is an expensive program. Luckily, the excellent open source GIMP is available for free. I will be using GIMP for this post.

First you have to find the images. You can draw them yourself, but for those of us who are less artistically inclined, you can lift them from youtube videos or DVDs. Here’s how:

  1. Queue the scene you want to use for your animation.
  2. Pause the scene and press the Print Screen button on the keyboard.
  3. Paste the image into GIMP or Photoshop. If you are using GIMP, you may have to right click the “floating selection” and select “To New Layer.”
  4. Press the play button on the video and immediately pause it again. If you do it right, it will move the play head only a few frames ahead.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you have all the frames you want.

You can create a decent animation with only 4 images. The Space Dandy animation I will be making for this tutorial only uses 4 images.

Create a new image. It is best if the image size is identical to your screen size. That way, when you paste your screen shots, you won’t have to move the screen shot around.

Now crop all the images. If you have them aligned correctly and the images are on all different layers, you only need to crop once.

gimp-animation-filterIn GIMP, go to Filters > Animation > Optimize (for GIF). Gimp will create a new optimized image. Be sure the layers are in the correct order. Each layer acts as a frame in the animation.

You can preview your animation by going to Filters > Animation > Playback.

gimp-gif-exportClick File > Export…. This opens a save dialog that lets you save your animation. Navigate to where you want to save it, type the file name and “.gif.” In the next window, check the “As an animation” box. You can turn off “Loop forever” if you want the GIF to run only once. The default frame settings should work fine for most GIFs, but feel free to play with them to get some cool effects.

That’s all there is to it! The hardest part of making animated gifs is stopping the video at the right time for the animation sequence you want. It can take a few rewinds to get it right. Windows will not take a screen print unless the video is paused.

Here are the frames I used for the animated GIF I made. Feel free to use them for practice.

There are other ways to make animated GIFs. You can import video files and edit the frames. However, this method can become a headache if you have a large file. This copy and paste method works best for short scenes (which is what animated GIFs are all about!). It lets you control how fast the GIF loads. Most GIFs don’t need much more than 4 – 12 frames to look nice. Importing videos give you dozens of images to contend with. Although my method is annoying with youtube videos. It is easy to miss a frame with print screen. Also, sequencing entire sections of video can cause copyright problems.

Animated GIFs are good ways to spiff up a blog.  They take a little practice but by your third GIF, you will have this technique mastered.

Happy giffing!


Other Tips

GIMP has a single window mode that is rather nice (Windows > Single Window Mode).

If you are using a video player like Windows Media Player, you can move ahead and back a single frame at at time by pressing the right or left arrow keys while the video is paused. This makes screen captures really easy.


GIFs are limited to 256 colors. The file format will also dither an image. Dithering makes the file size smaller, but it creates a dotted or checkered effect. Dithering can make an animation look choppy or like it has artifacts. It is best to keep images simple.

It doesn’t take many frames to make a nice animation. Sometimes just 4 frames are enough. The animated gif below uses only 4 frames.


Be careful of loops. If you want the animation to continue smoothly, the last frame and the first frame must be identical. One way of handling this is to reverse the frame sequence. If you have 4 frames, the third frame becomes the fifth frame, the second frame becomes the 6th frame, and so on. This will reverse the animation back to be beginning. Depending on what you are doing, this may not look very nice. The best animated GIFs are seamless loops. They are not choppy or jerk back to the beginning. This Space Dandy gif doesn’t follow this looping rule. If it did, it would look slower and less like Dandy is pummeling you.


Be careful of the size of the GIF. Because an animated GIF is a series of images, they can get large fast. A large GIF takes a while to load and looks choppy. It is best to keep GIFs small. I wouldn’t make a GIF much more than 500 pixels wide or tall.

 Anime Memes

Memes are easier to make. Take a screen shot, set it against a black background (this is often optional), and a witty sentence or quote. GIMP is a good application for creating your own memes too.  You don’t need to use meme generators when you have GIMP. Memes are another good way to spiff up your anime blog posts. Here are a couple of memes I made.

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Memes and animated gifs are good ways to add interest to your blog posts. They are a bit of a fad in many ways, but fads are cyclical. Good memes and animated gifs can draw attention if they are unique and witty. Have fun with them!

Ghost Hunt

Ghost HuntGhost Hunt is best described as The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS or better known as the Ghost hunters) meets Japanese folklore. Ghost Hunt is divided into several cases. Each of the cases shows a different aspect and spiritual ability of the cast. Cases range from creepy possessed dolls to demonic entities.

Ghost Hunt can almost be watched in any order. The arcs are stand alone outside of the character developer. The development of Mai Taniyama is what pulls all the story arcs together. Over time the teenager uncovers latent spiritual abilities as she helps Naru (her nickname for Kazuya Shibuya) on his cases. Mai is a bubbly extrovert who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. Although she is easily frightened! That is certainly not a good trait when you are working with yuri, shiki, and other oddities.

Naru is the manager of the Shibuya Psychic Research center. Mai nicknames him Naru because of his narcissistic attitude (narushisuto). Naru comes off as cold and unfeeling, but he actually cares deeply for each of them. There is a bit of a love triangle between Naru, Mai, and Masako Hara, a spirit medium. The triangle is mostly used for comedy relief and is not fully developed.

Ghost Hunt Mai and NaruThe series is interesting and genuinely creepy at times. It focuses on mysteries and circumstances surrounded each of the cases. Many of the cases are predictable. The viewer will have many solved in the first episode of the arc. The situations are interesting. The odd mix of Shinto, Buddhist, Tao, and Catholic spiritual traditions works. Each of the characters in Naru’s team represent a tradition.

This is a “talk” anime. Action scenes are separated by long diatribes about various spiritual entities, ideas, and acronyms. The dialogue itself is uninspired. Don’t expect banter like you see in Spice in Wolf. The characters are generally stereotypical: the outgoing girl who falls for the silent guy, the faux priestess, and other stereotypes.

The animation is sound but not stellar. The soundtrack is forgettable.

Ghost Hunt is interesting despite the problems. The TAPS style investigations mixed with Japanese mythology held my attention for the 25 episodes. The mysteries were predictable, but watching how the characters come to the conclusions keeps the viewer entertained. Many of the case arcs were too long; they could often fit in just a single episode or two. Fans of TAPS should take a look at this anime. As it progresses, it departs from the TAPS investigation model, but the mix of East and West makes for a thought provoking watch.

Gender Roles of Women in Modern Japan

Working woman, Japan, c 1900. National Museum of Denmark.

Working woman, Japan, c 1900.
National Museum of Denmark.

This article focuses on women’s gender roles in modern Japan; we cannot discuss these roles without touching on gender role history and the roles of men. Both male and female roles influence each other. The roles are also shaped by history. My previous article about gender expectations in Japan, gives you a brief outline of Japan’s history with gender roles. I will only touch on a few key points before looking at how these roles are changing.

Brief History of Female Gender Roles

Japan, like China and Korea, is heavily influenced by Confucian ideals. Confucian society focuses on the family. Men are the heads of the household; women are dependent on the men. Women are expected to marry, produce heirs, and over see the household. Marriage was often arranged. It is a contract between families. Wives could be returned to her family if she failed to produce an heir. Family lineage is more important than marriage. Ideally, three generations would live under a single roof.

Wash Day c. 1870

Wash Day c. 1870

During the Tokugawa Shogunate (1602-1868), women did not legally exist. Women could not own property and were subordinate to men in every way (Friedman, 1992).

Gradually, Confucian family ideals shifted. The largest shift happened after World War II. In 1946, the Japanese Constitution revised a set of laws that defined Japanese family relations. The Civil Code of 1947 granted woman every possible legal right:

  • Women could own property.
  • Women could inherit a family estate.
  • Women could marry and divorce freely.
  • Women gained parental rights.
  • Women could vote.

Women were granted additional rights. The revised Civil Code sought to create equality between the sexes. Despite legal equality, in practice women were not equal. The Civil Code was a marked shift in thinking. Before, a woman was expected to be dependent on her father, her husband, and finally on her eldest son. All were heads of the household. Now, should could be the head of the household (Sato, 1987).

Women were still expected to protect the household. Men were expected to be the breadwinners (Cooper, 2013; Sato, 1987; Saito, 2007 ).

Chores and Marriage

In 2007, Japanese men average only 30 minutes of housework, child care, and elder care each day (North, 2009). This is regardless of how much the wife works.  Wives are expected to shoulder these tasks. Although this is changing. Part of the slow pace of change simply has to do with time. In Japan, men are often overworked and underpaid. They live their jobs.

Yuko. c. 1900 Meiji Period

Yuko. c. 1900 Meiji Period

  • Men are expected to be ideal workers, putting the goals of the company first.
  • Children are entitled to having a full-time parent.

Women are expected to be this full-time parent. The man simply cannot be a full-time parent with the demands of his company (mandatory over time, for example). Women are entitled to not much beyond motherhood; men are not entitled to much beyond work (Bae, 2010).

Women’s happiness is found only in marriage, according to tradition. Women marry between 22-27 years old. It was not uncommon for women to be socially outcast if she failed to marry by 27. However, this is changing. It is becoming more acceptable for both men and women to marry later in life.

Traditional Family Structure

A Summer Day In The Woods. Kusakabe Kimbei c. 1890s

A Summer Day In The Woods. Kusakabe Kimbei c. 1890s

It is important to understand traditional family structure to get a better grasp on the problems women face. The traditional family system is called the ie.  The head of the household was responsible for finding a marriage partner for the family’s heir. Married women were expected to produce an heir.  This structure is reflected in how a husband and wife refer to each other in public (Kawamura, 2011) :

  • shujinused by a wife to address her husband in public. It means “house master.”
  • kanai - used by a husband to address his wife in public. It means “one who remains inside the home.”

Children are almost exclusively birthed within marriage. Only 2% of births are to unmarried women. Marriage and children are synonymous (Kawamura, 2011; Saito, 1987).

While the traditional structure and societal expectations seem to work against women, they work equally against men. Men who do not want to work long hours or want to be stay at home dads face criticism.

The Three Submissions

Traditionally, women are expected to submit to male authority in three ways (Cooper, 2013).

  1. When young, she submits to her father.
  2. When married, she submits to her husband.
  3. When old, she submits to her sons.

These submission are reflected in the ie and in various folktales.

Motherhood is considered the defining characteristic of a woman. Motherhood is adulthood in many regards. This is why many young Japanese women struggle to form their own sense of identity apart from this cultural expectation. The idea of shojo caused a stir when it first appeared because it was between girlhood and motherhood. Kawaii bunka, culture of cute, is another effort to form an identity between girlhood and motherhood that is apart from the expected three submissions. It is becoming more common for single women in their late twenties to early thirties to be recognized as shakaijin – members of society, but there is still social pressure to marry (Pike and Borovoy, 2004).

The Shifts in Female Gender Role

Onna-bugeisha (Woman Samurai) late 1800.  One of the female warriors of the upper social classes in feudal Japan.

Onna-bugeisha (Woman Samurai) late 1800.
One of the female warriors of the upper social classes in feudal Japan.

Phew, with all of that behind us, some of you might be a little upset. Women are making strides toward equality in Japan. Equality benefits men as much as it does women. First, it is becoming more acceptable to want a career. Women are better able to balance work and home life; men are able to be at home more often as well. Many men want to be present fathers rather than distant father figures. Mandatory overtime still stop his efforts  (North. 2009).

Some women crave gender-defined tasks despite the progress of equality. Filling these roles (such as shopping and taking a dinner menu request from the husband) is seen as intimacy and validation (North, 2009).

A Teahouse Girl 1898

A Teahouse Girl 1898

Moving away from traditional roles opens both men and women up to problems. Many follow the traditional method to avoid rocking the boat with family members. Even “modern” families, those that try to evenly divide work and family obligations, keep some of the traditional roles. The roles kept vary. Advertising is slowly catching up with this role negotiation. Fathers are more fashionable and there are even magazines dedicated to fatherhood (North, 2009).

I will outline some of the shifts in women’s gender roles and effects of these shifts:

  • Both men and women express strong intentions to marry. In Japan, like in the United States, marriage is a marker of adulthood (Kawamura, 2011).
  • Married women in Japan increasingly hold part-time and full-time jobs (North, 2009;  Japan Times, 2012).
  • Dual income households report less stress on the husband compared to traditional households (Bae, 2010).
  • Both men and women feel more satisfied in dual income households that share family roles (Bae, 2010). The sharing of family roles is slowly increasing.
  • Japan faces a shortage of children because of the shifting roles of women, economic realities, and the reluctance of many men to share what was once considered female tasks (Kawamura, 2011).
  • Despite the changes, Japanese TV still portrays traditional gender roles: men hold male jobs (police officer, soldier etc); women hold traditionally female jobs (housewife, nurse, etc). This is thought to slow role changes across most demographics (Shinichi, 2007).
  • Women are increasingly educated. Like in the United States, Japanese women with college level education are overtaking men.

 Preference for Daughters

Young Japanese girl and her doll. Late 1870s to 1880s

Young Japanese girl and her doll. Late 1870s to 1880s

Increasingly, families want to have daughters rather than sons. Woman favor daughters more than men, yet men also increasingly  favor daughters over sons. Remember, Japan shares Confucian views with China and Korea. Sons are supposed to carry on the family name. Traditional-minded men tend to favor sons. Traditional-minded women favor daughters.

The preference for daughters points to a continuation of tradition in regards to women and a more liberal view with men. Women may favor daughters because they want the daughter to help in traditional roles: care giver and companion. (Fuse, n.d.).


Like in the United States, Japanese women have a distance to go to achieve full equality. Part of the equality is the option to continue traditional ways if she chooses. Family life involves a negotiation with the husband about childcare, household chores, chores, care for parents, and other aspects of life. Much of Japanese television we see on the ‘net smacks of misogyny and degraded roles of women. Japanese game shows are famous for their zany antics and nudity. Although,  men are also portrayed negatively. Men are often shown in these game shows as being driven by sex and comradery. See the above video.

Games shows like this portray men as pursuers and women as pursued. Women are demure; men are assertive. These are traditional traits in both Japanese and American societies. I find them disagreeable.

There is more to men than lust, sports, and beer. Just like there is more to women than breasts, child bearing, and housework.

Young Japanese WomanIt is encouraging to see women make strides in equality. It benefits men as well as women. Men are able to shed the silliness of masculinity (Big boys don’t cry. Men must be strong, etc) and embrace our “feminine side.” I don’t view the male emotional and caring side as feminine. I view it as part of balance. Women working alongside men reduces the stress men have with shouldering the family. Likewise men working with women reduces the stress of women shouldering the family. There is nothing wrong with role division. I am pragmatic. Whomever spends the most time at home should do most of the housework. That isn’t to say he or she does all of it, but it is only logical to have the person at home the most handle the household.  Role/work division is necessary, but it shouldn’t be based on gender. Roles should be distributed based on practicality: time, education, and other factors.

Gender has no bearing on a person’s capabilities. Men are not inherently smarter than women. Women are not inherently smarter than men. Women are not inherently better at raising children than men.  Most of the difference we place on gender is cultural rather than biological. However, cultural change can be as slow as biological change.

Clearly, men and women both stand to benefit from gender equality. Extending rights to women does not impinge on the rights of men. Rights are not a commodity that reduces when granted to others. Rather, expanding rights and equality expands their benefits for all aspects of the population.


Bae, J. (2010). Gender Role Division in Japan and Korea: The Relationship between Realities and Attitudes. Journal Of Political Science & Sociology, (13), 71-85.

Cooper, J. (2013). The Roles of Women, Animals, and Nature in Traditional Japanese and Western
Folk Tales Carry Over into Modern Japanese and Western Culture .

Friedman, S. (1992). Women in Japanese Society: Their Changing Roles.

Fuse, K. (n.d). Daughter preference in Japan: A reflection of gender role attitudes?. Demographic Research, 281021-1051.

Kawamura, S. (2011). Marriage in Japan: attitudes, intentions, and perceived barriers. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from

Kazuko Sato, E., Mitsuyo Suzuki, E., & Kawamura, M. (1987). THE CHANGING STATUS OF WOMEN IN JAPAN. International Journal Of Sociology Of The Family, 17(1), 88.

“Married Women Want to Work.” The Japan Times. N.p., 4 June 2012. Web. 4 Mar. 2013.

NORTH, S. (2009). Negotiating What’s ‘Natural’: Persistent Domestic Gender Role Inequality in Japan. Social Science Japan Journal, 12(1), 23-44.

Pike, K. &  Borovoy, A. (2004). The Rise of Eating Disorders in Japan: Issues of Culture and Limitations of the Model of “Westernization.” Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 28:493–531

Shinichi, S. (2007). Television and the Cultivation of Gender-Role Attitudes in Japan: Does Television Contribute to the Maintenance of the Status Quo?. Journal Of Communication, 57(3), 511-531. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2007.00355.x

Red Data Girl: RDG

Red Data Girl IzumikoIzumiko Suzuhara has a knack for destroying everything electronic. If she just touches a cell phone it sputters and turns into a plastic and metal brick. Growing up at the Kumano Shrine is quite different from the city life the shy Izumiko wants to experience. Her long, twin braids and her lack of basic texting skills makes her the oddball in her high school.

If only her fellow students knew the truth of how odd she really is.

Yukimasa Sagara is a reluctant guardian for the awkward girl in pigtails. He is a monk in training and sworn to protect Izumiko. Never mind the fact she has no clue what she truly is and the havoc she can cause.

Red Data Girl is a fairly typical high school fantasy love story.  The story has some pacing issues; it feels a little rushed at times. There are identical triplets in the story (Mayura, Manastu, and Masami) that often swap places with each other. Sometimes this is rather confusing; Masami is a spirit his sister and brother summons to help them fight spirits.

RDG SagaraThe characters are interesting and show drastic personality changes over the course of the story. Izumiko and Yukimasa show the most pronounced changes. Red Data Girl is an interesting twist on the rather tired high school coming of age story. It is steeped in Shinto folklore and feels very Japanese. Some Western watchers new to anime and Shinto folklore may feel confused and lost. The manga was featured in Shonen Ace, but the story has a shojo feel to it. Most of the story is from Izumiko’s perspective.

So what is my weigh in? RDG is enjoyable enough to hold my attention for the duration of its 12 episodes.  The Shinto folklore kept my interest peaked. The characters were interesting if stereotypical. The high school setting negated the sense of danger the story tried to convey. There was far less threat to the characters from my perspective than the story tried to suggest. Much of the conflict felt like a soap opera rather than a serious confrontation between forces. This is mainly because the conflict was framed by high school concerns: student council maneuvers, student festivals, plays, and the like. The “villains” were far from sinister. They were teens after all.

RDG isn’t a show to go out of your way to see or avoid. It is enjoyable and entertaining, but it isn’t all the memorable.

Momotaro: Little Peachling

Momotaro's BirthMany hundred years ago there lived an honest old woodcutter and his wife. One fine morning the old man went off to the hills with his billhook, to gather a faggot of sticks, while his wife went down to the river to wash the dirty clothes. When she came to the river, she saw a peach floating down the stream; so she picked it up, and carried it home with her, thinking to give it to her husband to eat when he should come in.

The old man soon came down from the hills, and the good wife set the peach before him, when, just as she was inviting him to eat it, the fruit split in two, and a little puling baby was born into the world. So the old couple took the babe, and brought it up as their own; and, because it had been born in a peach, they called it Momotaro, or Little Peachling.

By degrees Little Peachling grew up to be strong and brave, and at last one day he said to his old foster parents: “I am going to the ogres’ island to carry off the riches that they have stored up there. Pray, then, make me some millet dumplings for my journey.”

Momotaro PheasantSo the old folks ground the millet, and made the dumplings for him; and Little Peachling, after taking an affectionate leave of them, cheerfully set out on his travels.

As he was journeying on, he fell in with a monkey, who gibbered at him, and said: “Kia! kia! kia! where are you off to, Little Peachling?”

“I’m going to the ogres’ island, to carry off their treasure,” answered Little Peachling.

“What are you carrying at your girdle?”

“I’m carrying the very best millet dumplings in all Japan.”

“If you’ll give me one, I will go with you,” said the monkey.

So Little Peachling gave one of his dumplings to the monkey, who received it and followed him. When he had gone a little further, he heard a pheasant calling: “Ken! ken! ken! where are you off to, Master Peachling?”

Little Peachling answered as before; and the pheasant, having begged and obtained a millet dumpling, entered his service, and followed him.

A little while after this, they met a dog, who cried: “Bow! wow! wow! whither away, Master Peachling?”

“I’m going off to the ogres’ island, to carry off their treasure.”

“If you will give me one of those nice millet dumplings of yours, I will go with you,” said the dog.

“With all my heart,” said Little Peachling. So he went on his way, with the monkey, the pheasant, and the dog following after him.

Momotaro's Battle with OgresWhen they got to the ogres’ island, the pheasant flew over the castle gate, and the monkey clambered over the castle wall, while Little Peachling, leading the dog, forced in the gate, and got into the castle. Then they did battle with the ogres, and put them to flight, and took their king prisoner. So all the ogres did homage to Little Peachling, and brought out the treasures which they had laid up. There were caps and coats that made their wearers invisible, jewels which governed the ebb and flow of the tide, coral, musk, emeralds, amber, and tortoise shell, besides gold and silver. All these were laid before Little Peachling by the conquered ogres.

So Little Peachling went home laden with riches, and maintained his foster parents in peace and plenty for the remainder of their lives.

Momotaro's VictoryThis charming story teaches the importance of parents in Japanese society. Little Peachling set out on a dangerous journey in order to take care of his aging parents. He had little thought of collecting the wealth for himself. In fact, he was generous with his only possession: millet dumplings. His generosity collected him a monkey, a pheasant, and a dog. They followed him out because of his selflessness and allowed him to fight the ogres and win.

Little Peachling even took the king of the ogres prisoner. All the other ogres paid him homage, but instead of staying and ruling as the new king of the ogres, he returned home to make sure his foster parents would be taken care of for the rest of their lives.

Momotaro is one of Japan’s most well known stories. Momotaro is considered a good role model for boys: he is kind, generous, and strong enough to fight against demons (or ogres). He also takes care of his parents and respects them. Other stories of Momotaro have him traveling to Onigashima (ghost island) upon request by people being tormented by demons. He only uses his abilities to protect people. He reminds me of Superman in many ways because of his character.


A. B. Mitford, Tales of Old Japan, (London: Macmillan, 1871), vol. 1, pp. 267-269.

Momotaro. Wikipedia.

Momotaro. Project Gutenberg.


Attack on Titan

attack-on-titanEvery once in a while an anime will grip me. Attack on Titan left me wanting more after each episode. I heard a fair bit about it, but I was reluctant to give it a watch. I tend to avoid anime that have a lot of hype. Generally hype doesn’t skew my expectations; I watch each show on its own merits. Hype annoys me. In any case, I watched Attack on Titan on a whim one night. Four episodes later I still wanted more.

Set in a world dominated by giant human like creatures known as titans, the anime follows a band of cadets who join humanity’s military after their town was attacked. You see, humans have lived behind massive walls for the last century. These walls are the only hope and defense against the titans, whose only purpose is to eat humans. The cast is large and shifting. Every titan encounter ends with ridiculous casualties. Eren Yeager and Mikasa Ackerman are the main protagonists. Eren is typically shonen. He is impulsive, aggressive, and unskilled. Although, there is far more to Eren than his stereotypical persona lets on. Mikasa is the opposite of Eren: she is skilled and deadly.  Mikasa is a strong female lead, often protecting Eren. She and her foster brother, Eren, share a more than brotherly and sisterly affection.  Their friend and local punching bag, Armin Arlert, is a tactical genius with little physical skills. Between the three, the titans should shudder with fear.

mikasa_ackermanThe titans have a zombie quality to them. They seem mindless and only bent on eating. They are large enough to eat people whole; the hapless person slowly dissolves in the stomach acid. There are many different classes and sizes of titans. They are all male and seem to be powered by sunlight.  Titans are not exactly what they seem. No one knows where they came from or why they only target humans. They are creepy, that is for sure. They skuttle, prance, slouch, dance, and are human enough to live in the unsettling uncanny valley.

attack-on-titan-shingeki-no-kyojin-attack-on-titanAttack on Titan is violent and intense. The anime spans several years of training before slowing down to focus on battles. Blood. There is a lot of blood in this anime. Titans bite people in half, smash them like bugs, and squeeze them like tubes of red toothpaste. Production IG as at its best with the action sequences. The use of Vertical Maneuvering Equipment, a series of pneumatic pistons and cables that allows soldiers to zip around like they are flying) makes for vertigo inducing action. The speed and sudden deaths is jarring and wonderful. Thankfully, Production IG uses panning stills to give the viewer breaks from the action (and save on the animation budget). Production IG spent a lot of time on details. This focus reminds me of Ghost in the Shell’s quality.

attack_on_titan_wallpaperAttack on Titan is gripping. It is full of twists and turns that caught me by surprise. It likes to play with stereotypical plots before slapping you upside the head for thinking you knew what was coming next. I was glad to see this anime didn’t focus on high school-like academies. It glossed over the military academy setting quickly.

If you don’t mind violence, blood, and unsettling creatures Attack on Titan is one to check out. While it may not live up to the hype (I didn’t pay attention to the hype), it is a fast paced ride. The action scenes are certainly up to Production IG’s caliber. Wit Studio also did a solid job with the animation.

Geisha: Art and Shamisen

Tokyo Geisha with ShamisenThe ultimate goal of a geisha is the find a patron, a danna. The patron frees a geisha to pursue her art, to live outside the okiya, and even help start a business. The key to snagging a patron is in the geisha arts: dance, music, and cultural enrichment. The root gei means art. Sha means person. A geisha is an “art person.”

Geisha was one of the few professions where a girl can enter with nothing and leave with an extensive education in art. For many girls in the past, this profession was the only chance to gain an education and a path toward stable finances.

The shamisen is the most famous geisha instrument but not the only one.  The shamisen is the most difficult instrument to master of all the options in the geisha’s toolkit. There are three types of shamisen. They are characterized by the thickness of the neck. Kumiuta are songs that are accompanied by shamisen. Some of the music performed by geisha is over 300 years old. The instrument is made of 4 parts. The neck is made of rosewood or Chinese quince wood. The body is made of cat leather in the front and dog leather in the back (yeah, you read that right). Strings are made of silk.

This video shows all of the instruments geisha must learn along with dance. These Tokyo geisha perform as part of Tokyo Traditional Arts programming.

Geisha also play a series of drums: ookawa and kotsuzumi. They drums look similar, other than size and what they are made of. The main difference is how they are played. Ookawa rest in a geisha’s lap and struck with her right hand. the kotsuzumi is played on the right shoulder and struck by the left hand. These difference in materials and play method creates different sounds. Geisha also play the large drums we often think of as Japanese. The taiko is played by hitting the skin with sticks.

Fue rounds out the geisha’s instruments. This bamboo flute comes in various lengths. The geisha fue has seven holes and is played like a western flute.

Geisha also perform in theaters. Geisha often perform a solo dance without the typical masks or costumes of . This dance is called shimai. This is the dance Sayuri performs in Memoirs of a Geisha. It has typical Hollywood flare but still serves as a good illustration.

Geisha are not expected to know other arts, but the knowledge is encouraged. Geisha are encouraged to practice shodo, a form of calligraphy. Kabo, better known as ikebana, is the art of flower arranging. Geisha are also encouraged to learn the tea ceremony, sado. None of these arts are used to entertain guests of course. These arts are used to further enrich a geisha’s life and focus her mind on all aspects of Japanese art.

Art is the centerpiece of geisha life. It takes long hours of practice to achieve the mastery required to be a geisha. Today, geisha are living repositories of Japanese culture. They keep alive songs from as far back as 300 years ago. They help keep traditional music alive in our international melting pot of cultures.


Foreman, K. (2011). The Gei of Geisha: Music Identity and Meaning. Ethnomusicology. 55 [1]. Unversity of Illinois Press.

Lockard, L. (2009). Geisha: Behind the Painted Smile.

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