Anime Contest: What Was Your First Anime and How Did It Change You?

InuyashaLong time readers know I have a special place for Inuyasha. It was my first exposure to anime, and it shifted the way I thought about story lines.  The discovery of anime marks a shift in perspective for many, just as it did for me. The medium is quite different from most other forms of storytelling, and I want to hear about your first experiences. One of the running themes of JP deals with how stories can change us. They can shift our perspective of the world and about ourselves. They can provide a friend during troubled times when we feel abandoned by those around us. Stories help us escape to a different reality, helping us cope with events we cannot influence.

Tell me about how your first anime changed you or helped you. Here’s a few questions to help you get started:

  • What was your first anime?
  • How did you find it?
  • What were your first impressions of the medium?
  • What struck you as weird or cool?
  • How did this first anime inspire your fandom?

I’m not looking for a review. I’m looking for how anime’s storytelling and the anime  community benefited you or changed your perspective.

The Rules

Don’t use excessive profanity. This current Internet trend of crudeness only makes the writers look uneducated and foolish. It undermines your writing.

Aim for a length between 800-3,000 words.

Images are welcome. Be sure they follow US Fair Use copyright laws. Using photos of the anime you discuss generally falls under Fair Use. Using artwork from sites like DeviantArt, however, does not.

Check your grammar. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect some editing. Don’t worry if English isn’t your best language. Let me know, and I will happily make some accommodations.

If you use outside sources, you must cite them. JP uses APA parenthetical citations, but you can use MLA or Chicago Style (footnotes) if that works better for you. This only applies if you use outside articles to support your points. Most of you won’t have to worry about this step.

The Format

I don’t want to impose limitations so feel free to tell me a story, write an editorial, or even a poem. I am not looking for an anime review. I want to see how that anime changed you and your outlook on life. What morals did you learn? How did a certain character make you feel?

The Deadline

Email me your work by Friday, August 12th.

The Prizes

91QrGwBScYL._SX466_1st Place
Your article will be published on JP, and I will link to your website. You will also win the first season of Inuyasha on DVD. You shared your first anime with me, so I thought I should share my first anime with you. I will contact you via email for your mailing address.

2nd Place
Your article will be published or linked on JP. Links to blogs will share my “Google link juice” to hopefully give your blog a boost. JP sees at least 1,000 visitors every day. JP isn’t big, I know, but I want to help quality writers succeed in the Internet Search Engine Dance.

Send the article to webmaster [at] japanpowered.com or send me an email with the article’s link.

If you have questions, drop them into the comments, and I will answer them there. Others will certainly have the same questions.

Have fun and happy writing!

Considering the Quality of Information and Blogging

Horo Musuko Yuki Wandering son transwomanThis post may be a little elitist, but not all information is equal. Much of the internet overflows with drivel written by people who are not the experts they claim to be. Like this blog! Okay, Okay. I don’t claim to be an expert. I am a librarian and a fan who enjoys ferreting out information from books, academic journals, and databases. I try to only use vetted sources. I admit I sometimes get things wrong. Sometimes my articles are not accurate.

Source accuracy matters. How do I determine the accuracy of the sources I use? Well, first I try to avoid Wikipedia. Some of my early articles used Wikipedia, but over time I learned just how inaccurate Wikipedia can be. Anyone can add or delete information. Experts may edit or write an article, but someone in high school could just as easily change the expert’s article. Antipathy toward expertise is a problem even Wikipedia’s co-founders Lawrence Sanger acknowledges (Levintin,2014).

Wikipedia is decent for a general idea about a topic as long as you keep in mind its potential to be inaccurate.  Sadly, there is no way to know if you are reading an accurate article or not.  Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, states experts should have no more respect than newcomers to Wikipedia. Often people are contrary because they consider it being fair and balanced. Contrary isn’t the same as showing both side of an argument. There are times when the opposing side has no place being mentioned because they lack evidence.

However, not all information is valid, contrary or not. Fair and balanced information tries to reveal all aspects surrounding a topic. It doesn’t matter if that information is contrary or agree with established knowledge. But why would someone be inaccurate with an educational article?

Causes of Information Inaccuracy

Three issues cause inaccuracy (Levintin, 2014).

  1. bias
  2. desire to maintain status quo
  3. preselection effect

Bias deals with personal preferences and limits of knowledge. For example, because I study Japanese culture, I tend to also understand Chinese culture through its relationship with Japanese culture. That creates blind spots and misunderstandings with how I understand China.

The desire to maintain status quo blinds people to information that undermine their expertise or their vested interests. You can see this in business. A business may resist an idea that may benefit it but at the cost of the corporate culture.

The preselection effect deals with who writes information. Often, those who are most qualified to write an article are unable to do so.

You can find many excellent public domain photos at NY Public Library and other online libraries

You can find many excellent public domain photos at NY Public Library and other online libraries.

Why does this matter for an anime blogger? Why should we care? Well, this matters to everyone who seeks information. Misinformation is a serious problem on the Internet. Don’t misunderstand, it is great that anyone can publish online. But it leaves the seeker solely responsible for finding accurate information. Before the internet, responsibility for accuracy fell on the author more than readers. Now, readers must be careful. As bloggers, we cannot accurately express ourselves, educate our readers, or make proper decisions without good information. We need to be skeptical toward all information, including those found in vetted sources like academic journals. If you are writing a blog post, you want the post to be as accurate as possible. You want it to represent you.

There are several questions to ask when looking at an information source:

  1. What is the goal of the author?
  2. What bias do I see?
  3. What information is missing?
  4. Are sources cited?
  5. Are sources high quality?

The  goals and bias of the author impacts information. That is why I attempt to point out my bias and goals in my articles. It is impossible to include all information in a single piece. The act of writing requires selection and omission. After all, you can only write what you understand. The goal of the author and her views determine what information is present and disregarded. Sometimes, the author isn’t aware of some information. Therefore it cannot be included. While this seems obvious, this matters. We don’t know what we don’t know, and this causes us to miss vital information.

\To avoid this, collect as much information as you can about a topic, including indirect information. For example, when I work on a folklore project, I pull documents loosely related to my chosen topic. When I researched for Come and Sleep, I pulled articles about European foxes, Chinese foxes, and Native American foxes to shed more light on kitsune. Most of this information wasn’t helpful, but I found links and a few bits that the articles focused on kitsune failed to mention.

It is important to cite your sources for readers to review. It helps readers and fellow bloggers see what could be missing. It also helps them continue with their own research. While few will do this, those that do will appreciate your consideration. Citations do not protect you from plagiarism, but they do lend weight to your work. However, they can also mislead readers if your information is inaccurate or incomplete. Citations lead them to believe the information is complete. Again, we don’t know what we don’t know.

As a librarian, I am concerned with connecting people with accurate information. But the act of writing automatically creates the issues I’ve discussed. We understand information through our individual lenses. This shapes information into something usable. However, we need to remain cautious about problems with bias, omission, and blatant misinformation.

What is the take away? Don’t rely solely on Wikipedia. Its information is suspect. Use your own judgment on sources found in vetted databases and online. The extra effort helps you craft higher quality blog posts and helps expand your understanding on anime, manga, and Japanese culture.

References

Levitin, D. (2014) The Organized Mind, New York: Penguin Group.

The Anime Watcher’s Tea

pouring green teaLet me share a secret with you. I love tea. One of the greatest pleasures is reading (or writing or watching anime) with a cup of tea at hand. I’ve been known to spend a chunk on imported teas. But even the humble filter teabag available at the local grocery store can help you get in touch with thousands of years of tea history.

I will spare you a long history of tea. Thick books have been dedicated to tea and its influence on history. But a short summary is still in order. The leaf has inspired painters, writers, poets, warriors, despots, Victorians, saints, and many others. Tea came from the forests of southern China. It is an evergreen tree that can live to be over 2,000 years old. Although, most tea comes from trees cultivated to look like bushes. There are 380 varieties of tea (Fisher, 2010). These varieties helped tea’s popularity spread.  Tea traveled from China to Japan and Europe.  Although most think tea arrived in Europe during the Colonel period, it arrived far earlier.  The earliest appearance of tea in European writing comes from an Arab merchant in 879 (Okakura, 1906).

True tea comes from the tea tree. Herbal teas like chamomile and rooibos are not true teas. Of course, I still enjoy them and call them tea.

Tea in Anime and Japanese Culture

Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others. The average Westerner, in his sleek complacency, will see in the tea ceremony but another instance of the thousand and one oddities which constitute the quaintness and childishness of the East to him.

Okakura, The Book of Tea 1906

When we think of tea, we think of China and Japan. Of the two, Japan is perhaps more famous as a tea nation because of its tea ceremony and the teahouses geisha entertain. Like many aspects of Japanese culture, Chinese practices were taken and adapted into something quite different. Tea is a prominent detail in anime as well. Rarely does tea become a focus, but it is offered to characters to calm them, cool them, warm them up, and other treatments. Despite having caffeine, tea is relaxing. It does cool during the summer (iced or hot oddly enough), and I love tea during cold winters.

anime-tea

Tea is great for socializing and relaxing.

The tea anime characters offer is matcha. Matcha is a Japanese style of tea that grinds the leaves into a powder. Mix with hot water and enjoy. To be honest, I prefer the Chinese style of brewing tea: using loose leaves. I tend to make swamp water with matcha. Speaking of water, it is the most important part of tea. Chlorinated water makes terrible tea. So does hard water. Filtered or good spring water make the best tea. The best, most expensive tea will taste terrible with heavily chlorinated tap-water.

Types of Tea

Tea comes in a few families: white, green, oolong, and black. But how can a single tree make 380 types of tea? The time tea is picked, the amount of light the tree receives before being picked, and even location impacts the flavor of tea. Oxidation shifts the flavor as well. Oxidation makes iron rust and apples turn brown. As tea oxidizes, it changes from green to black. Flavor becomes earthier and richer. White teas have delicate flavors because they are made from new leaves and dried without aging (oxidizing). Silver Needle is a wonderful white tea, but it can taste like barely flavored warm water to many people. People who favor strong flavors may not be able to taste white tea.

Green Tea

green-teaGreen tea involves aging mature tea leaves, but green tea isn’t aged as long as black or oolong. The different varieties come from when they are picked and how they are aged. For example, one of my favorites is Jasmine Green Tea. This tea is aged in rooms that contain jasmine flowers. The tea absorbs the scent and flavor of the flowers. The jasmine scent and flavor relaxes like few other teas can. The aging method complete shifts the flavor of tea. The shape of the tea leaves also impacts the flavor. For example gunpowder tea, which looks like old fashioned black gunpowder pellets has a different flavor than flat-leaf tea. The amount of surface area the leaf has changes how the water absorbs the flavor. Gunpowder slowly unrolls as it heats, allowing the flavor to gradually flow into the water.

You do not boil water when you make white or green teas. It makes them bitter.  Steep these teas for about 2 minutes in water that is just a few minutes from boiling. The easiest way to know when is to heat the water in an open pot. When you see bubbles form on the bottom of the pot, its time for tea!

Black,Oolong, and Red Tea

Chinese oolong tea

Chinese oolong tea

Black and oolong teas are rich teas. Some types are more like coffee than tea. I like to sweeten these teas with honey, but sugar will work too. Some, like Indian Chai, need to be sweetened and mixed with milk. Indian Chai takes black tea and mixes it with spices like black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and other goodies. I didn’t like chai with milk, but you should give it a try. Black teas require boiling water and longer steeps than green tea. About 3-5 minutes.

African Rooibos Tea

African Rooibos Tea

You won’t see this tea (it’s not a true tea) in anime, but rooibos needs a little attention. Rooibos comes from a shrub in Africa. When steeped, it turns the water a deep red, similar to the red rose tea creates. It has a flowery flavor that goes well with honey. Like other herbal teas, you can boil the water. Rooibos (pronounced roy-boss) requires long steeps of 5-10 minutes.

Tea Sets and other Tips

You don’t have to have a Japanese tea set to enjoy a cuppa. You can buy single-serve strainers for loose leaf teas. They come in various styles. If you are making green or black tea, you can usually get two cups out of one strainer-full of leaves. White teas are too delicate for more than one cup. Green teas can be made into iced tea during hot summer months. Pro tip: fresh mint from the garden makes excellent black or green iced tea.

Tea grows bitter with long steeps or boiling water. If you like bitter flavors, boil the water and steep for a longer time. I like some green teas on the bitter side. Luckily, you can cut bitter flavors with sugar or honey. I prefer honey.

Speaking of honey, honey comes in many types including orange blossom and the common American clover honey. Each will change the flavor of tea. Sometimes for the better, other times the flavors will compete. Honey can completely overpower white tea. Luckily, white tea has natural sweetness. Experiment and find what works best for you. Just know many tea-lovers think adding sugar or honey to tea is sacrilegious.  I am not one of those. After all, I am an American with a sweet-tooth. But don’t sweeten a tea without tasting it without sweetener. Artificial flavors and the proliferation of sugar has ruined our sense of taste. Natural flavors tend to be subtle, and this is especially true with tea. Many teas have flowery or sweet after-taste that sweeteners mask. Many of us will have to retrain our tastebuds to notice these subtle flavors.

Tea is one of the simple pleasures in life that improves health and well-being. While it is often a background element in anime, tea reminds us that that anime has a place in tea literature. We could even say tea has inspired the poetry and literature that led to anime. Each cup of tea connects us with Japanese and Chinese culture. We are truly fortunate to enjoy a small part of tea culture and its long history.

References

Okakura,K. (1906) The Book of Tea.

Fisher, A. (2010). The Way of Tea. Vermont: Tuttle Publishing.

The Threat of Anime and Manga to America

Horo Musuko Yuki Wandering son transwoman

I know, the title is a little linkbaity, but we are going to look at a different perspective than most of us hold. Most of us view Japan fondly–after all, we enjoy manga and anime and Japan’s quirkiness. But those things we enjoy can also been seen as a threat to traditional American values. Some of Japan’s values, such as collectivism and venerating authority, clash against American values (individualism, rebelliousness). This is a rather difficult subject to approach because it is abstract, so please forgive me for meandering to and fro. My goal is to hit on the main points and concerns people have about Japanification.

As Andrew wrote, Japan is a country Americans view as familiar yet different enough to be exotic. Of course, this view is deluded. Most Americans will experience a fair bit of culture shock when visiting Japan. Sure, the Japanese love baseball, but the language and customs are quite different.

Americans feel fondness toward Japan because of a sense of ownership, I guess you could say. After all, Commodore Perry forced Tokugawa Japan out of isolation. Japan and America shared a relationship of trade and even held baseball tours. This short documentary from James FritzPatrick from 1937 captures some of the wonder and fondness Americans felt toward Japan before the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The video shows Japan as an idyllic place, full of gardens and beautiful girls. The West often views Japan as a second Garden of Eden, idyllic and innocent. It is a rather condescending view, similar to how Native Americans were viewed. The view contains elements of Western superiority. Almost as if the West is a parent watching over a child. After World War II, this view and America’s affinity for Japan only increased. Japan’s successful reconstruction reinforced the parental view many American had for the country. It is an insulting view. The Japanese people did the work of reconstruction themselves. Japan and Europe’s success affects American policy today.

In a danger of getting politic: recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan attempted to relive America’s glory days. The point I’m trying to make here is how the American parental view, with Japan after World War II being the best example, continues to influence today. The view clashes against the reality of Japan and its soft power (Soft power is the non-military influence a country has upon others). Anime and manga threaten this perceived relationship between America and Japan. It also makes many Americans squirm because anime and manga is a conduit for Japanese values. The communication is no longer primarily one way, America to Japan.

Anime serves something of the same role as Travel Talks did. For many Americans it acts as a window into Japanese culture and acts as a form of rebellion. I know of many otaku that use anime to set themselves apart from American mainstream culture. They sprinkle Japanese into their language and behave like anime characters. Such behavior gives anime and Japan a bad name for many American parents. Parents see their teens acting erratically and using strange mannerisms. They see their children dress as cats or other characters. The once-fond view of Japan gives way to fears about Japanese strangeness. Parents see anime and Japanese culture  as subversive to “good Christian values.” The past fondness and parental affection felt toward Japan has given away to trepidation.

Crayon_Shin-Chan_Anime

After all, Japan isn’t a Christian nation.Japan is dominated by Shintoism and Buddhism, and the beliefs and practices filter into anime. This, in turn, filters into the lives of American children and teens. Many Christian parents are troubled by these elements and how some Buddhist and Shinto rituals are mimicked by anime fans. It can be seen as a threat when an anime fan claps hands and says itadakimasu instead of a Christian grace. Even worse for parents is the sexuality found in anime and manga. American society is sexually repressed. Compared to the US, Japan is quite sexually liberal. At least on the surface. Okay, let me digress a moment. Much of what I discuss here are superficial views I’ve encountered. You and I know Japanese culture has sexual repression, particularly for women. But I am focused on pointing out various concerns I’ve encountered speaking with parents of anime and manga fans.

Anyway let’s get back on topic: normal Japanese references to sexuality in anime, such as breast references and casual child nudity, cut against the grain of American values. We have ample sex in advertising, but it works only because it is a taboo. That which is forbidden garners the most attention. For many parents, these different views of sexuality subvert what they consider normal. Casual child nudity (I am not talking about sexual nudity, that is completely different. Japan rightly condemns pedophilia) is taboo in American society. These “strange” views threaten “normal” values.

maria-virgin-witchAs a librarian, I often hear concerns from parents about anime and manga. It strikes them as strange and threatening — far different from the pleasant Travel Talks portrayal of Japan. Sexuality in Japan is their chief concern. Well, that and the strange behavior of their teens. Anime is too odd, and they fear that it may undermine their view of American values: hard work and Christian morals. Of course, I don’t view Christian morals as the only set of American moral values, and long time readers will know I approve of anime and manga (After all, that is why JP exists!). But parents have very real fears, and because of these fears, many parents fail to see the good morals anime encourages…like breast groping! Kidding. But as we know, anime encourages hard work, loyalty, friendship, compassion, and the will to succeed. However, these ideals are hidden in anime’s strangeness — strange from the view of American parents.

In any case, the host of demons and critters from Japanese mythology also makes parents feel threatened. When their children spout names of yokai and speak to each other with words parents cannot understand, the exoticism of Japan becomes a divisive element instead of a romantic fondness. Many are hesitant toward familiar Western ideas of magic and fairies. The foreign Japanese stories trouble them even more.

The Travel Talks video and anime, for that matter, distort Japanese culture. Those of us who understand anime and a fair bit of Japanese culture know parents have little to fear. We also know how weeaboos are mistaken in their behavior. And weeaboo behavior exacerbates the fears of parents. However, these fears come from American culture’s mistaken view of Japan. So really, this isn’t anything new. Japan isn’t a daughter country for the United States. Japan has a culture and a history of its own, a culture and a history that is is far different from America’s. But without understanding Japan’s culture and history, fear can rule.  Parents worry about anime being a corrupting influence, but most of us know anime espouses values such a friendship and loyalty. The problem comes from lack of knowledge, both on the parts of parents and anime fans. Knowledge is the enemy of fear.

Of course, I write in generalities. I also know parents who are anime fans.

This type of humor concerns American parents.

This type of humor concerns some American parents.

Now, anime does have elements that subvert American culture for the better. You see, American culture is highly individualistic. “I am out for me.” Anime teaches the importance of community, a value we in the US have forgotten. Anime downplays the value of the individual’s deeds. The hero is only a hero because of the support he receives from his friends. Success is a group effort, an idea that is almost lost in American society.

This post is a little meandering. It is difficult to discuss cultural views when you live inside that culture. Subversion–that is, the undermining of cultural values–depends on who you speak to. Where I live, anime is viewed as porn and Japan is just a far away country that should feel grateful to the US for not punishing it for WWII. So anime is seen as a threat by many or, at the least, a strange cartoon. The rebellious antics of anime fans does little to change the view of parents. Only a few think of Japan in more depth than the Travel Talks short portrays. Only a few think of anime as a medium for storytelling. The sexuality in anime makes Christian parents squirm. Never mind the hyper sexuality in American media. Anime sexuality is seen as corrupting because it is foreign. Likewise, Japan’s “pagan” elements as seen in anime threatens views of Christianity and the idea of the United States as a Christian nation.

Luckily, these views are waning. Manga and anime are prominent features in libraries. Although they are also often challenged by concerned parents.

What about your area? How do people view Japan and anime? Are you one that gives your parents gray hairs?

Haganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends

haganaiHaganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends  is a raunchy, fluffy anime. The story follows a collection of weird misanthropes who form a high school club to help them learn how to make friends. Kodaka Hasegawa is a half-English exchange student who people avoid because of appearance and delinquent reputation. Together with the equally abrasive Yozora Mikazuki, a strange girl who has an invisible friend, they found the Neighbor’s Club. The club attracts several oddballs:

  • Sena Kashiwazaki, an arrogant blonde who enjoys playing erotic dating games.
  • Kobato Hasegawa, Kodaka’s younger sister who is obsessed with a anime Iron Necromancer.
  • Yukimura Kusunoki, who wants to become the perfect man and serves Kodaka similar to how a samurai would serve a lord.
  • Rika Shiguma, is a girl genius with a perverted streak.
  • Maria Takayama is an immature 10-year-old nun.

The story centers on their antics and awkwardness. Their personalities change slowly. Each episode represents a single day for the most part. Many critics point to how the characters feel the same. I disagree. Characterization moves gradually and realistically. People take time to change, which is the entire point of Haganai. The humor wears thin as jokes repeat, but I come to expect this from anime.

Haganai captures a real problem in modern society: disconnect. People struggle to form lasting relationships and often fail to nurture those they have. In the anime, there are many scenes of the gang sitting and doing their own thing. Together, but separate. That is a characteristic of modern relationships. How often do your friends and family sit together but do their own things? Many lament this development; however, these moments of togetherness reveal a deep level of comfort. People can feel comfortable enough to pursue their interests without hiding. As Haganai continues, you can see the level of comfort between the characters grow as they each do their own thing, together. The characters become comfortable with the presence of each other.

haganai-gang

The story is an interesting commentary on modern friendship. People have certain ideal expectations of how relationships should be. And these ideals prevent them from seeing the relationships they already have. Simply spending time with someone is a gesture of friendship. Time is the most precious and limited commodity we have. Not every moment needs to be spent engaged. If anything, the quiet, shared moments — moments of connection, not separation — are the true marks of friendship. The characters of Haganai attempt to go out together, only to have the outings fail. The pressure is too high. They have impossible expectations, causing their outings to become disappointments. Expectations sour relationships in addition to outings. Life doesn’t hold up to our ideals and trying to force these ideals creates pressure.In turn, pressure makes relationships prone to failure.

Relationships should be easy and enjoyable. But recent societal pressures make relationships a chore. Recently people focus on making memories as if memories are commodity to hoard. Sitting quietly next to a friend or loved one as they read a book falls outside this drive to collect memories. Never mind the fact these quiet moments can be among the most intimate.  Sure, activities are good, but they cannot fill every moment.  Busyness makes it hard to enjoy a person. The activity divides your attention. Haganai shows this well whenever the characters attempt their outings. Many of the characters focus on the events of the outing and lose sight as to why they are going in the first place: to practice friendship. Not every activity needs to have a goal. Sometimes, just being there with someone close to you works best.

Obligatory Beach Fan Service Scene

Obligatory Beach Fan Service Scene

Let’s return to the anime’s presentation for a moment. Haganai flirts with harem elements and leans on fan-service. Both of which hurts the central themes. Sena’s boob bounce and thigh close ups do little to advance the central idea. Another distraction from the anime’s theme of friends is the scenes between Kodaka and his sister. These scenes are strange for Westerners. Many show Kodaka’s sister Kobato running around nude. Both brother and sister are comfortable with this despite Kobato beginning to show signs of puberty. Although odd, this does serve a purpose for the story. It allows Kodaka play the responsible elder brother well. It makes for an odd, but effective, character development. An interesting scene happens when Kodaka sees his sister run away from Sena and then sees Sena as nude as his sister. His sister’s nudity doesn’t make him blink, but Sena’s makes him turn into the typical blushing anime boy.

While this reveals an interesting take on nudity (and avoids incest issues), the story plays these scenes up too much. At times, they took all of the focus away from the theme of developing connections with people. But then, I’ve come to expect this sort of thing in anime storytelling.  At least some of these fan-service scenes developed Kodaka’s character as the responsible elder brother and a respectable guy instead of the usual tired pervert.

The series is frilly but entertaining. The theme of friendship touches on interesting modern commentary….but only touches on it. It gets lost in the comedy antics. Haganai is okay for what it is. I enjoyed the slow character development and subtle changes that build over time. The humor leaves much to be desired, but rare is an anime that doesn’t rub me the wrong way with its humor.

The Creation of Japan, Kojiki

The Kojiki, which translates to “Records of Ancient Matters”, contains Japan’s native creation myths and other mythology. Like all mythology, it was considered both factually true and Truth through most of history. This translation comes from Basil Hall Chamberlain and dates to 1932. This excerpt includes the introduction of the first volume and Japan’s creation story. The story about the creation of Japan’s deities comes from a 1929 translation by Yaichiro Isobe. I include these two different translations to give you an idea of how these ancient texts can feel different depending on who is translating.

Hereupon all the ‘heavenly Deities commanded the two Deities His Augustness the Male-Who-Invites and her Augustness the Female-Who-Invites, ordering them to “make, consolidate, and give birth to this drifting land.” Granting to them a heavenly jewelled spear, they deigned to charge them. So the two Deities, standing upon the Floating Bridge of Heaven, pushed down the jewelled spear and stirred it, whereupon, when they had stirred the brine till it went curdle-curdle, and drew the spear up, the brine that dripped down from the end of the spear was piled up and became an island. This is the island of Onogoro.

Birth of the Eight Great Islands

The 8 islands of ancient Japan

The 8 islands of ancient Japan

Hereupon the two Deities took counsel, saying: “The children to whom we have now given birth are not good. It will be best to announce this in the august place of the Heavenly Deities.” They ascended forthwith to Heaven and inquired of Their Augustnesses the Heavenly Deities. Then the Heavenly Deities commanded and found out by grand divination, and ordered them, saying: “They were not good because the woman spoke first. Descend back again and amend you words.” So thereupon descending back, they again when round the heavenly august pillar as before. Thereupon his Augustness the Male-Who-Invites spoke first: ” Ah! What a fair and lovely maiden!” Afterward; his younger sister Her Augustness the Female-Who-Invites spoke: “Ah! what a fair ad lovely youth!” In such way did they give birth to a child the Island of Ahaji, Honosawake. Next they gave birth to the Island of Futa-na in Iyo. This island has one body and four faces, and each face as a name. So the Land of Iyo is called Lovely Princess, the Land of Sanuki is called Prince Good Boiled Rice; the Land of Aha is called Princess of Great Food; the Land of Tosa is called Brave Good Youth. Next they gave birth to the Islands of Mitsugo near Oki, another nae for which is Heavenly Great Heart Youth. Next they gave birth to the island of Tsukushi. This island likewise has one body and four faces, and each face has a name. So the Land of Tsukushi is called White Sun Youth; the Land of Toyo is called Luxuriant Sun Youth; the Land of Hi is called Brave Sun Confronting Luxuriant Wonderous Lord Youth; the Land of Kumaso is called Brave Sun Youth.

Next they gave birth to the island of Iki, another name for which is Heaven’s One Pillar. Next they gave birth to the Island of Tsu, another name for which is Heavenly Hand net Good Princess. Next they gave birth to the Island of Sado. Next they gave birth to Great Yamato the Luxuriant Island of the Dragon Fly, another name for which is Heavenly August Sky Luxuriant Dragon fly Lord Youth. The name of Land of the Eight Great Islands therefore originated in these eight islands having been born first. After that, when they had returned, they gave birth to the Island of Ko in Kibi, another name for which is Brave Sun Direction Youth. Next they gave birth to the Island of Adzuki another name for which is Ohonudehime. Next they gave birth to he Island of Oho, another name for which is Tamaru-wake. Next they gave birth to he Island of Hime, another name for which is Heaven’s One Root. Next they gave birth to he Island of Chika, another name for which is Heavenly Great Male.  Next they gave birth to he Island of Futago, another name for which is Heaven’s Two Houses.

The Birth of the Deities

Izanagi and Izanami, Amaterasu's parents.

Izanagi and Izanami, Amaterasu’s parents.

Having, thus, made a country from what had formerly been no more than a mere floating mass, the two Deities, Izanagi and Izanami, about begetting those deities destined to preside over the land, sea, mountains, rivers, trees, and herbs. Their first-born proved to be the sea-god, Owatatsumi-no-Kami. Next they gave birth to the patron gods of harbors, the male deity Kamihaya-akitsu-hiko having control of the land and the goddess Haya-akitsu-hime having control of the sea. These two latter deities subsequently gave birth to eight other gods.

Next Izanagi and Izanami gave birth to the wind-deity, Kami-Shinatsuhiko-no-Mikoto. At the moment of his birth, his breath was so potent that the clouds and mists, which had hung over the earth from the beginning of time, were immediately dispersed. In consequence, every corner of the world was filled with brightness. Kukunochi-no-Kami, the deity of trees, was the next to be born, followed by Oyamatsumi-no-Kami, the deity of mountains, and Kayanuhime-no-Kami, the goddess of the plains. . . .

The process of procreation had, so far, gone on happily, but at the birth of Kagutsuchi-no-Kami, the deity of fire, an unseen misfortune befell the divine mother, Izanami. During the course of her confinement, the goddess was so severely burned by the flaming child that she swooned away. Her divine consort, deeply alarmed, did all in his power to resuscitate her, but although he succeeded in restoring her to consciousness, her appetite had completely gone. Izanagi, thereupon and with the utmost loving care, prepared for her delectation various tasty dishes, but all to no avail, because whatever she swallowed was almost immediately rejected. It was in this wise that occurred the greatest miracle of all. From her mouth sprang Kanayama-biko and Kanayama-hime, respectively the god and goddess of metals, whilst from other parts of her body issued forth Haniyasu-hiko and Haniyasu-hime, respectively the god and goddess of earth. Before making her “divine retirement,” which marks the end of her earthly career, in a manner almost unspeakably miraculous she gave birth to her last-born, the goddess Mizuhame-no-Mikoto. Her demise marks the intrusion of death into the world. Similarly the corruption of her body and the grief occasioned by her death were each the first of their kind.

By the death of his faithful spouse Izanagi was now quite alone in the world. In conjunction with her, and in accordance with the instructions of the Heavenly Gods, he had created and consolidated the Island Empire of Japan. In the fulfillment of their divine mission, he and his heavenly spouse had lived an ideal life of mutual love and cooperation. It is only natural, therefore, that her death should have dealt him a truly mortal blow.

He threw himself upon her prostrate form, crying: “Oh, my dearest wife, why art thou gone, to leave me thus alone? How could I ever exchange thee for even one child? Come back for the sake of the world, in which there still remains so much for both us twain to do.” In a fit of uncontrollable grief, he stood sobbing at the head of the bier. His hot tears fell like hailstones, and lo! out of the tear-drops was born a beauteous babe, the goddess Nakisawame-no-Mikoto. In deep astonishment he stayed his tears, a gazed in wonder at the new-born child, but soon his tears returned only to fall faster than before. It was thus that a sudden change came over his state of mind. With bitter wrath, his eyes fell upon the infant god of fire, whose birth had proved so fatal to his mother. He drew his sword, Totsuka-no-tsurugi, and crying in his wrath, “Thou hateful matricide,” decapitated his fiery offspring. Up shot a crimson spout of blood. Out of the sword and blood together arose eight strong and gallant deities. “What! more children?” cried Izanagi, much astounded at their sudden appearance, but the very next moment, what should he see but eight more deities born from the lifeless body of the infant firegod! They came out from the various parts of the body,–head, breast, stomach, hands, feet, and navel, and, to add to his astonishment, all of them were glaring fiercely at him. Altogether stupefied he surveyed the new arrivals one after another.

Meanwhile Izanami, for whom her divine husband pined so bitterly, had quitted this world for good and all and gone to the Land of Hades.

These creation stories, though strange to modern readers, speak of several truths. First, the story speaks with affection about the Japanese homeland. Much of Japanese history is characterized by a special affinity toward the land. Several times throughout Japanese history there were movements to restore the forests and other habitats. When everything has a spirit or god behind it, people tend to hold a respectful, reverent view of the environment and how it supports their lives. This can also be seen in Native American cultures. This myth and those like it suggest how we should retain our respect for the world around us and its resources. To do otherwise disrespects the divine and jeopardizes our ability to live.

The story about the gods’ births sets the stage for several reoccurring themes in Japanese literature and culture. Harmony is emphasized. Japanese culture places the quest for harmony between people and between people and nature in the center. Their honorific system grew out of this. The story shows how the decay of harmony and the reality of sorrow can lead to unintended consequences. In his grief, Izanagi kills his son, creating more sons and daughters in the process–much to his surprise. The story lays out a thread found throughout Japanese literature. The blissful, harmonious life Izanagi and Izanami shared couldn’t last. Izanami’s tragic death introduces sorrow to what was a happy story. Japanese literature enjoys balancing happiness with sorrow. Tragedy completes the story. Without sorrow, happiness cannot be understood. Few stories end “happily ever after” but this reflects a clear-eyed view of reality. Buddhism carries a similar thread. Buddhism stories focus on how suffering permeates our experiences. This overlap helped Shintoism (which is what these creation stories originate from) and Buddhism mingle. Whenever you read Japanese literature, you will see this interweaving of religions. 

When you read some of these old translations, archaic Japanese is either depicted in Old English as you will see here or in Latin. Chamberlain’s excerpt contained a few sections of Latin that I translated for you. During the time these stories were written, the Imperial Court used a different dialect of Japanese than the rest of the country. This dialect fell out of style rather quickly but reappeared in literature. Imperial characters and gods spoke it to emphasize their separateness. The use of the language is similar to the Western use of Latin after the fall of Rome. Latin become the language of the Catholic Church and of educated noble elites. It was used to write court and religious documents. This similarity prompted some early translators to use Latin for Imperial Court Japanese. Unlike Latin, which still appears in academia and the Catholic Church, Imperial Court Japanese disappeared. A few remnants appear in Japanese language, but it lacks the cohesion that endures in Latin. You can still find vestiges of it in the speaking style in joseigo, the speaking style of Japan’s Lolita subculture, and with the Japanese Imperial family.

References

Chamberlain, B. (1939) Translation of Kojiki. Kobe: J.L. Thompson & Co.

Yaichiro, I. (1929) The Story of Ancient Japan or Tales from the Kojiki.  San Kaku Sha.