Samurai Baseball: A Look at the History of Japanese Baseball

“…there will never be a war with Japan.” –Connie Mack

“…hope every Jap that mentions my name gets shot – and to hell with all Japs anyway.”  — Babe Ruth

In 1853, Admiral Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan to open to the United States. Just 20 years later, baseball crossed the Pacific. Japan has not quite been the same since.

An American professor named Horace Wilson taught his students at Kaisei School (we know it now as the University of Tokyo) how to play baseball. It immediately took off. The one-on-one fight between the pitcher and batter had the same dynamics as sumo and martial arts. The discipline of the game also resonated with Japan’s history of samurai code, bushido (Kelly, 2009; Gripentrog, 2010).

Early American-Japanese Baseball

Asahi, the 1917 Japanese Baseball Champions (Photo from J. Arai Photo Collection/Wing Luke)

Asahi, the 1917 Japanese Baseball Champions (Photo from J. Arai Photo Collection/Wing Luke)

The first US-Japanese baseball game was between Ichiko, Tokyo’s first elite prep school, and the American residents of the Yokohama district in 1896. The Japanese school practiced baseball for 10 years before playing the Americans.  The schoolboys trounced the Americans. Two more games ended with the Japanese boys winning. Word of these three games spread and the students and their club became national celebrities. Keep in mind, that during the time, Japan was reworking the treaties the West forced upon it. Beating the Americans in their own game was a big deal for a nation that felt poorly treated. The Higher School team went on to play 13 games over the next 8 years. They only lost to the Americans twice (Ishii, 2004; Kelly, 2009). Beating the Americans at their own game drew the attention of the nation. The Japanese obsession with baseball started.

Baseball in the late 1800s and early 1900s was thought to embody all that was America: democracy, can-do spirit, and individual merit. The fact that Japan was so enthusiastic about the game, gave Americans the feeling of a special relationship with the Japanese compared to countries that did not share the passion for baseball (Gripentrog, 2010). Because the Japanese were so good at baseball, Americans felt like Japan was fertile soil for American values. This idea continued right up until the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Eiji Sawamura struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1934 (Ishii, 2004).

Eiji Sawamura struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1934 (Ishii, 2004).

Major League Baseball toured Japan in 1931 and 1934 to much fanfare. While the Japanese tour of 1935 was much quieter in the states, it still positively impacted American perception of Japan (Gripentrog, 2010).  The shared love of the game gave many people heady feelings that baseball could promise permanent friendly relations between the two countries.

In 1934, Connie Mack, a famous baseball player and team manager, was so impressed with Japanese baseball fans that he could not see any way for American to go to war with Japan. Babe Ruth experienced what it was like to be a Japanese superstar during the 1934 tour.  He spoke favorably of Japanese baseball fans (that is until Japan attacked the United States). The emotional highs of the game even made US diplomats take notice. Joseph Grew, the US ambassador to Japan in 1932, commented that Babe Ruth was a more effective ambassador than he could ever be (Gripentrog, 2010).

The popularity of American players defied belief. As popular as Lou Gehrig was at home, he was even more so in Japan.  Where ever the All Stars went, stadiums sold out.  Lou Gehrig could not describe just how enthusiastic Japanese baseball fans could be because he would be accused of exaggerating:

“I have seen some excited crowds in baseball, but
nothing before like this. I do not know of anything in my entire career that has touched me as much as this welcome. It seemed like something out of a dream….My first thought was that I only wish ‘Mom’ and ‘Pop’…could have seen it….It will be difficult to try to give a description of it to any of the fans and players in America. They all will think you are exaggerating.”

During the Japanese tours, Americans found Japanese politeness amazing and reinforced the favorable views American had of Japanese. The Tokyo Giants had a habit of removing their hats and bowing to the umpires (Gripentrog, 2010).

Baseball’s Role in Rebuilding Japan after World War II

The attack on Pearl Harbor completely  changed the American attitude toward the Japanese. American media quickly shifted toward dehumanizing the Japanese (Sporting News, 1941):

[Japan] was really never converted to baseball….[The Japanese] may have acquired a little skill at the game, but the soul of our National Game never touched them. No nation which has had intimate contact with baseball as the Japanese could have committed the vicious, infamous deed of December 7, 1941. if the spirit of the game ever had penetrated their yellow hides.

On Japan’s part, the government banned the use of English words, including baseball. It also banned the game altogether, and many great Japanese baseball players died in the war. Eiji Sawamura, the Japanese pitcher that struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, died.  Oddly, Japanese prisoners of war in Soviet Union and American camps kept the game alive (Ishii, 2004).j.baseball

After Japan’s surrender to the United States, Supreme Commander of Allied Powers Douglas MacArthur recognized how the game could help American-Japanese relations. He revived both baseball and sumo. Nine months after the surrender, professional baseball returned. MacArthur tapped the language of the 1930s. Baseball proved to be a democratizing influence after all.One Japanese team even selected their manager by popular vote.  Also shared interest in the sport, and the positive history of the sport before WWII proved too powerful for the negative sentiments Babe Ruth would utter during the war (Whiting, 1986; Gripentrog, 2010).

The relationship baseball forged between the US and Japan continues. It is not unusual to see Japanese and American players in either country.  The MLB sends All-Star teams to Japan every other year (Ishii, 2004). The shared interest in baseball is unique. The US and Japan both call baseball their national pastime. Baseball was certainly a major factor in the acceptance of Japanese exports like anime and manga today. Likewise, baseball did much to smooth other problems Commodore Perry caused in early Japanese-American relations. Finally, baseball also helped Japan democratize after World War II. It also helped improve the view each country had for each other.

Why Did Baseball Become Popular in Japan?

Hiroshi Oshita, rookie season with the Tokyo Senators in 1946 Source: Baseball Magazine

Hiroshi Oshita, rookie season with the Tokyo Senators in 1946. Source: Baseball Magazine

In 1900,  Inazo Nitobe wrote Bushido: The Soul of Japan. This book associated the samurai class of the past with certain ethics. These ethics had parallels with how Japanese started to view baseball (Kelly, 2009). The book, baseball, and the political factors of the time all mixed together to create the idea of “the Way of Baseball.” Many in Japan viewed bushido as the core of what it means to be Japanese. Mix that sense of identity with baseball, and it is obvious why the sport took off.

After all, the Japanese were feeling oppressed by the Americans when baseball appeared. And it turned out the Japanese could whip the Americans at their own game. The sense of equality and perhaps even cultural superiority was a heady drug for a culture that felt itself shortchanged.  Baseball reflected the increasing militarization of the country. It was a means of asserting Japanese identity.

However, bushido’s ethics were narrowed down to only a certain few and ignored the rest: self-sacrifice being the most prominent. This narrowing of bushido created both the idea of Samurai Baseball and the kamikaze of World War II.  Other philosophies also competed in baseball, but the militarization of the time supported the idea of samurai baseball. Ironically, despite how baseball made it easier for the Japanese military to indoctrinate people into their cause, baseball was banned during WWII.

Samurai Baseball

Wallace Kaname "Wally" Yonamine played for the Giants from 1951-1962 and is the only American citizen to be elected to the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame (Gillespie, 2011).

Wallace Kaname “Wally” Yonamine played for the Giants from 1951-1962 and is the only American citizen to be elected to the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame (Gillespie, 2011).

The idea of samurai baseball became both a means of propaganda and of profit. In the 1960s,  corporate samurai baseball became dominate. The Yomiuri Giants, owned by the Yomiuri conglomerate, one the national championship for 9 years in a row. The popularity of the players and the team, assured by the Yomiuri company, created a new type of baseball in Japan. Of course, this corporate backing was already common in the United States.  The Giants came to represent the confident, industrious Japanese society and the shifting Japanese cultural values.  The idea of samurai baseball became a caricature rather than a sports philosophy. Profit drove the change.  Now samurai armed with briefcases were supposed to draw inspiration from samurai armed with baseball bats. The media pushed the image (Kelly, 2009).

Baseball has an interesting place in American-Japanese relations. For all but 20 years, Japan and the United States shared the game.  Baseball served as an outlet for pent up feelings of being short changed by the United States, particularly after being forced open by Commodore Perry.  Common interest in the sport allowed Japan and the United States to quickly rebuild their relationship after World War II. In fact, baseball was used as a democratizing force by MacArthur.

The shared love of baseball is something unique to Japanese and American relations. It is common for us to see players with Japanese names and for the Japanese to see American players.  Baseball is one of the many reasons why Americans and Japanese share an affinity for each other.

References

Ishii, J. (2004). The History of the Baseball Partnership across the Pacific Ocean. Embassy of Japan. http://www.us.emb-japan.go.jp/english/html/embassy/otherstaff_ishii0314.htm

Kelly, W. (2009) Samurai Baseball: The Vicissitudes of a National Sporting Style, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 26:3, 429-441, DOI:
10.1080/09523360802602299

Gillespie, P (2011). History of Baseball: The Man from Maui.  http://fromdeeprightfield.com/history-of-baseball-the-man-from-maui/

Gripentrog, J. (2010).  The Transnational Pastime: Baseball and American Perceptions of Japan in the 1930s. Diplomatic History 34 [2] p. 247.

Sporting News, (1941). “It’s Not the Same Game in Japan,” December 18, 1941, 4.

Whiting, R (1986). East Meets West in the Japanese Game of Besuboru. Smithsonian. http://japanesebaseball.com/writers/display.gsp?id=43627

Kuchisake-onna–The Slit-Mouthed Woman

Poster for the Korean release of the movie Carved: the Slit-Mouthed Woman, based on the popular urban legend.

Poster for the Korean release of the movie Carved: the Slit-Mouthed Woman, based on the popular urban legend. (image copyright: Palisades Tartan)

A recurring theme on this blog is that Japan is a land haunted by all sorts of weird ghosts and goblins. From gigantic blood sucking skeletons to flying heads in flaming ox-cart wheels, Japan’s rogues gallery is one of the most unique in the world.

Even its more plausible boogeymen have an eerie quality to them. Take, for example, the kuchisake-onna, better known as the Slit-Mouthed Woman (also the name of a J-horror movie I reviewed four years ago, based on the legend.) She is said to be a beautiful woman dressed in a long coat, with a surgical mask covering her face. Surgical masks are commonly worn in Japan and other East Asian countries when a person is suffering from a cold or flu. In the case of the Slit-Mouthed Woman, the mask is covering something far more horrifying than a mere cold sore–her cheeks have been slashed open, literally making her smile go “ear to ear.” In some accounts she is said to have as many as 130 teeth–fangs really–giving an even more eerie cast to her horrible deformity. Even more extraordinary, some variants of her story have the Slit-Mouthed Woman able to run like an Olympian, covering 100 yards in as little as 3 seconds.  She carries a pair of scissors or a scythe, which she uses to slash her victim’s cheeks to make them look like she does.

 

A 20th Century Monster

Perhaps the variance in her description comes from the fact that there is little agreement on her origins. Her story began circulating among Japanese school children in 1978, during which time a variety of stories attributed to her began to circulate. Some say that she is a vengeful ghost mutilated in the feudal era by her jealous samurai husband who caught her cheating on him. Others claim she is no ghost at all, but rather a woman (perhaps an Olympic athlete given her fleet feet) who was horrifically disfigured in a botched dental procedure. This could explain her fondness for medical paraphernalia, such as scissors and gauze masks. Another version has the Slit-Mouthed Woman being attacked by her jealous sister, who slashed her cheeks with a pair of scissors.

Whatever the case, encounters with this yokai/mad woman are said to occur in broad daylight, in the afternoon when many children are walking home from school. She approaches her potential victims and asks them “Do I look beautiful?” If the hapless victim answers in the affirmative, she rips off the mask revealing her toothy grin and says, “Even like this?’ before lashing out with her blade. Answer no, and she attacks anyway.

One key to surviving an encounter with the Slit-Mouthed Woman intact is distraction. After all, she is either an Olympic level athlete (who apparently remains swift on her feet even well into middle age) or a being possessing supernatural speed–running is not an option, unless of course you’d like to be disfigured and winded at the same time. When she asks her question, the best answer is an ambivalent one–say “so-so” or “average.” She will be confused, and in that time you can make good your escape.

Two more things that can distract the Slit-Mouthed Woman are Bekko ame, a traditional Japanese candy, and hair pomade. She reportedly loves candy, and will break off an attack if you throw Bekko ame at her. She is repulsed by the scent of hair pomade, supposedly because the doctor who disfigured her in some versions of the legend stunk of the stuff. Even saying the word “pomade” three to six times can be enough to scare her off.

 

A result of collective delusion?

These elements, mixing the potentially plausible with the clearly folkloric, make the Slit-Mouthed Woman unique among Japan, and the world’s, vast cast of nightmarish creatures. She exists in a sort of netherworld, not quite a ghost yet not quite a real person either. Perhaps that is why, more than 30 years after stories about her first began to circulate, she still remains a popular legend, one that almost all Japanese school children have heard at one point. Her ambiguous nature leaves room for all sorts of elaboration for school-yard storytellers, giving fertile ground for the legend to grow and evolve with succeeding generations of school children.

Many explanations of the legend’s origins have been presented. Some believe that the Slit-Mouthed Woman was a sort of phantom-slasher, a being born of the remarkable pressures Japanese school children face within Japan’s famously tough school system. This then would be a case of collective delusion, a phenomena often confused with mass hysteria. Collective delusions are characterized by the rapid spread of an irrational belief among a community that results in irrational behavior but not necessarily physical symptoms, while mass hysteria is a form of mass conversion disorder, where societal pressures and personal anxiety are vented by conversion into physical symptoms.

I covered an example of collective delusion on my own blog, which seems relevant to this case due to the similarity of the age groups involved. In Glasgow, Scotland, an irrational belief that an iron-toothed vampire responsible for killing at least two children lurked in the local cemetery took hold in school age children, prompting many to take up stakes and turn amateur vampire hunter. The weird happening grew out of playground stories that took on a life of their own. Perhaps the same dynamic is at work with the Slit-Mouthed Woman, although it is unusual for a collective delusion to have such a long life and the appearance of the Slit-Mouthed Woman in 1978 does not appear to have caused a panic similar to the one that gripped Glasgow in the 1950s.

There is another possibility. The Slit-Mouthed Woman story is technically classified as an urban legend. While urban legends are modern folklore, they differ in that their central conceit is either based on true events or are at least plausible. Could the Slit-Mouthed Woman legend be based on a real incident that occurred in 1978, or not long before?

Such a notion sounds far fetched, but there is precedent for such an occurrence. The Bunnyman Bridge in Maryland is routinely listed as one of the scariest places on Earth. The Bunnyman, a supernatural bogey with a bunny suit and a penchant for mayhem, is said to haunt the bridge tunnel, where legend has it that he has slaughtered dozens of teens foolhardy enough to venture there on Halloween night. While the elaborate and seemingly plausible origin story of the Bunnyman, which I won’t go into here but you can read about in depth on my blog, is bunk, there is an odd element of truth to the story. A mysterious figure in a bunny suit who wielded an axe did appear in the area around the infamous bridge in the 1970s. While he didn’t kill anyone, his odd behavior and aggressive acts cemented his image in the local unconscious, eventually resulting in the Bunnyman legend told and retold today.

Maybe a similar dynamic is at work with the Slit-Mouthed Woman legend. Perhaps a woman wearing a surgical mask did go on a rampage in the 1970s. Or perhaps the story has more mundane origins, in children’s fear of the unknown. Whatever the case, the legend of the Slit-Mouthed Woman is a part of Japan’s folklore, and it is here to stay.

 

Sources:
Fitch, Laura. “Have you heard the one about…?” japantimes.co.jp. June 7, 2005. The Japan Times. April 18, 2015. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2005/06/07/community/have-you-heard-the-one-about/#.VTPwCpN9mWN

“Kuchisake Onna.” Scaryforkids.com. August 21, 2014. Retrieved April 18, 2015. http://www.scaryforkids.com/kuchisake-onna/

“Kuchisake-onna.” urbanlegendsonline.com. September 13, 2011. Urban Legends Online. April 18, 2015. http://urbanlegendsonline.com/kuchisake-onna/

Yodo, Hiroko and Alt, Matt. “Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide.” Tuttle Publishing. 2008.

47 Ronin

47 RoninJohn Allyn’s version of Japan’s classic story shows some of its age. Originally published in 1970, Allyn’s writing has some jarring elements common to books published at that time.  Modern readers are used to seeing through the eyes of a single character with chapters or scene breaks marking a change of viewpoint. 47 Ronin jumps from the eyes of one character to another sometimes within the same paragraph. The effect is jarring until you get used to it.

47 Ronin tells an excellent story.  However, the viewpoint shifts can be off putting, and there is scant description. Unless you are familiar with the dress and culture of Japan under the Tokugawa shoguns, you will have problems visualizing the environments and characters.

The story centers around a vendetta. The Lord Asano is executed when he attacks a shogunate official for an insult. The official survived Lord Asano’s attack. As a consequence, Lord Asano’s lands and house are all forfeited to the Shogunate. Several of Lord Asano’s samurai take offense to this injustice and seek to avenge their lord by killing the official. The rest of the story follows the vendetta’s planning and the actions of Oishi, Lord Asano’s loyal retainer.

This story is based on real events. 47 Ronin is a fictionalized account that pulls from both history and the famous kabuki play, Kanadehon Chushingura. The foreword by Stephan Turnbull lays out the history of the events the book covers. Readers not familiar with events will find the foreword helpful.

The story also takes place during the time of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646-1709). Known as the “Dog Shogun,” Tsunayoshi declared dogs as protected and also issued edicts protecting various types of animals.  The Shogun was born on the Year of the Dog. 47 Ronin portrays Tsunayoshi in a fairly negative light. The religious Tsunayoshi’s laws had revolutionary humane elements. For example, child abandonment became a severe crime, as did victimizing other weak people. Samurai viewed compassion as a weakness (something Allyn points out in the story), so Laws of Compassion were quite a shift ( Bodart-Bailey, 2006). However, 47 Ronin stays true to the samurai perspective with the negative view of Tsunayoshi and his dogs. Dogs were dangerous back then and would often attack people. Not to mention they were noisy.

47 Ronin has many interesting scenes and nice action. I particularly enjoyed the story of Oishi’s involvement with a geisha. Allyn builds suspense well. If you are familiar with samurai and Tokugawa era culture, the scant descriptions keep the pace blistering. At 253 pages, the book is about the same length as a light novel. Fans of samurai will enjoy this retelling of a classic story of revenge and loyalty.

You can find 47 Ronin on Amazon and at Tuttle Publishing.

References

Bogart-Bailey, B. (2006) The Dog Shogun.  University of Hawaii Press.

Objectification of Women in Anime

Where does enjoying beauty become objectifying?

What does it mean to objectify a woman? A man? Does anime do it?

What does it mean to objectify someone?

shinji Objectification is defined as when a person is regarded as an object.  There are 10 aspects to objectification (Papadaki, 2014). I will use Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion to provide a few examples. Shinji is objectified by his father. Although objectification is often considered toward women, men are also victims. It is obvious that American and anime culture use women’s sexuality to sell. By using Shinji, I hope to point out how objectification goes beyond sexual elements.

  1. The person is treated as a tool for the objectifer’s purposes. Shinji’s father uses Shinji to meet the goals of NERV.
  2. The person is treated as if they can’t direct themselves. Again, Shinji is a good example. Chii from Chobits is another.
  3. The person lacks agency. That is, lacks the ability to act on their own.  Shinji is, again, a good example.
  4. The person is seen as interchangeable with other objects. Shinji is replaced by an AI unit in Neon Genesis Evangelion.
  5. The person is seen as lacking in boundaries and integrity.
  6. The person is owned. They can be bought and sold.  Nemu Kurotsuchi from Bleach falls into this category. She is treated as property by Captain Kurotsuchi. Transaction based relationships show this as well.
  7. The person’s experiences and feelings do not need to be considered. Again, Shinji is disregarded by this father in most accounts.
  8. The person is reduced to his/her body or body parts. This is what we think of the most when women are objectified.
  9. The person is treated based on their appearance. Shinji to some extent. Asaka, in particular, comes to mind from the Eva series.
  10. The person is treated as if they are silent, regardless of their opinion.

These 10 ideas are all aspects of objectifying someone. They don’t all need to be present. Shinji isn’t reduced to his body parts, but he shows how most of these ideas go into treating someone as an object. As you can see, objectification goes beyond the sexual components we most often think of as objectifying. Objectification is a disregard for a person’s identity. It is a way of thinking that relegates a person to nothing more than a commodity.

Anime Objectifies Women…and Men

anime-women_00175738The idea of objectification  usually doesn’t extend to fictional characters. Fictional characters are created to serve a particular story or purpose.  They are not fully developed people but rather illusions of people (Swain, 1965). Anime characters are also designed to fill certain story needs. They are not fully real players in our world. This does not lessen their impact on us by any means. These characters are designed to resonate and jump off the page as if they were real.

Fictional characters are objects by definition. They lack ‘humanity.’ That is, they are not human like you and me. (Am I human? Are you human?). Fictional characters fit all or most of our criteria because, like any idea, they are objects.

  1. Fictional characters serve the author’s and reader’s ends.
  2. Fictional characters cannot direct themselves. They are bound to the story’s (or reader’s) plot.
  3. Fictional characters cannot act on their own. They must have someone write their story, animate, or draw them.
  4. Fictional characters are interchangeable to a certain degree. The storyline is what defines them.
  5. Fictional character boundaries are only what we imagine them to be. Think of all the hentai fan fiction out there that goes beyond the author’s original ideas for the characters.
  6. Fictional characters are owned and are literally sold by authors and companies.
  7. Their thoughts and experiences can be disregarded. OVAs do this all the time.
  8. A character is defined by how they look. Ichigo has a certain look. Give him black hair, and he will look like Kaien Shiba.
  9. Fictional characters are treated by their appearance. Fans like certain character designs more than others.
  10. Fictional characters are silent except for the words we give them.

So, anime objectifies both men and women characters. Like all fiction.

Okay, some of you are rolling your eyes or even yelling at the screen. I missed the point of what it means to objectify someone. The point I am trying to make is how fictional characters are different from real people when it comes to objectification.

Objectification is not always a bad thing. I am getting there. Hang with me a little bit longer.

Objectification deals with the treatment of people . Fictional characters fall into the objects area and so are objectified. That doesn’t mean you (or me) treat these characters as objects. Just because High School of the Dead has jiggling boobs and makes its female characters boob totems does not mean every viewer objectifies that character as the anime tries to force.

So instead of asking “does anime objectify women” ask yourself: “do I objectify women?”

The point of illustrating fictional characters as objects is to point out how you treat your favorite fictional character in your mind. Whenever I watched High School of the Dead, Freezing, or other fan service laced anime, I do not regard the female character in the way the anime tries to portray. I am not titillated by animated breasts. Instead, I ponder why the author viewed such as necessary. Do the fans actually want this? Does this contribute, at all, to the feelings I have toward the character? I may, perhaps, feel sorrow for the character. I am a bit prudish, so most of the time I feel irritation toward the writers.

What mindset does objectification cultivate?

highschool-of-the-dead-nonsenseThe issue is mindset. The objectification of fictional characters can leech into reality if you embrace such thinking. Or fictional  objectification can strengthen compassion toward that character. Fiction reveals to us our deepest thoughts. If you are turned on by some fictional women being exposed or put in compromising situations, these types of thoughts will interject themselves into reality. Fictional objectification can show us aspects of ourselves that we may not see otherwise. It is a safe place to realize our proclivities. Realization is the first step to changing behavior we dislike. So in this regard, anime’s objectification of men and women can be helpful.

I generally avoid anime that has girls’ clothes shredding. I specialized in character design in my undergrad animation degree, so I drew a lot of female anatomy. Nudity does not bother me. Circumstances of nudity does.  Clothes get ripped in battle, but efforts to objectify a strong female warrior shows more about the viewer’s and writer’s mentality than the character’s personality. Namely, this objectification is aimed at reducing the threatening feelings a strong female character can invoke in a male audience. Many men are troubled by women who are too strong. These women cannot be possessed, bossed, or otherwise need a male. So, in order to make them more acceptable, these strong female characters are objectified through boob shots, up skirts, and similar nonsense.  Are you a fan that feels threatened by strong female characters?

By the way, if you want a good anime with a strong female lead that avoids objectification, check out Moribito.

Objectification is inevitable.

NemuMany of our everyday interactions with other people use people to reach our own goals without much thought as to who that person is.

Even using  objectification as a call to mindfulness is still using that character or person as a means to an end. The trick is a matter of degree.  Fictional characters are personas that appear to be real, and may well become real in our minds. They exist to help us discover ourselves: a means to an end. However, the end and the means are both noble. Asking a friend for help and seeing that friend as a means of help is not wrong. It is a matter of degree.

What makes objectification wrong is the absence of humanity. Fictional characters are ideas that are inherently human. Even the typical objectification of women, boob jiggles and the like, are common human behavior. In the right circumstances, a guy watching breast bounce may well be a good thing for both the guy and girl. He likes what he sees; she knows he respects her enough to feel happy about how much she pleases him. On the reverse, she likes his chest, and he likes how she likes his chest. It is okay in these types of situations. Both people respect each other and do not objectify outside of limited situations. The problem is when objectification is one sided and demeaning. It is a problem when objectification becomes a default view. Even the idea of ownership can be a point of pride. In the past (such as the Roman Empire) some slaves were proud to belong to certain households.

So, do you objectify women? Men?

I do. At the right circumstances and the wrong circumstances.

Anime, like any fiction, depends on the viewer. Shinji’s objectification by his father leads to a character many can identify with. High School of the Dead‘s boob hijinks can act as a warning about our mentality toward women or reinforce the negative feedback loop. Ghost in the Shell objectifies the Major in order to emphasize her disconnect between her artificial bodies and her sense of self.

It is matter of perspective. As long as people are not treated only as objects, objectification is not necessarily wrong (Papadaki, 2014). Enjoying beauty is not the same as objectifying as long as the person’s (or character’s) humanity remains in the viewer’s mind.

References

Papadaki, E. (2014). Feminist Perspectives on Objectification. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-objectification/#PosPosObj.

Swain, D. (1965). Techniques of the Selling Writer. University of Oklahoma Press.

 

Japanese Design: Art, Aesthetics & Culture

japanese-design-bookJapanese Design: Art, Aesthetics & Culture is an introduction to Japanese design concepts and the people who brought Japanese design to the West. Obviously, it would take at least several books the size of cinder blocks to thoroughly cover the ocean of Japanese design.  Patricia Graham does a good job in summarizing the high points and providing photo examples of each of these peaks.

The book is divided into three sections. The first introduces the reader to concepts such as katsura, notan, shibui, and other Japanese design concepts. Katsura is a rustic architectural style. Notan is a design principle focused on lights and darks. Shibui is subtle designs that lend elegance to a space or artwork. Graham provides examples from architecture, both medieval and modern, in addition to art plates.

The second section briefly examines how Shinto and Buddhism shaped Japanese design ideas. Graham then boils down Japanese design to ten characteristics. The final section looks at people who are responsible for bringing Japanese culture and design concepts to the West.

Scanners do not do these photographs justice. I have to also note that it isn't lawful to use these photos without permission. Unless you are reviewing the book, and only then you can use very few.

Scanners do not do these photographs justice. I have to also note that it isn’t lawful to use these photos without permission. Unless you are reviewing the book, and only then you can use very few.

Beautiful prints give you examples of what Graham means. While there are some woodblock prints and photos of Zen gardens, Graham doesn’t limit herself to the familiar. She includes modern examples of Japanese design along side mandalas. One of my particular favorite sections showed five sake bottles from various time periods and places. Reading each blurb about the bottle’s design and comparing it to the bottle next to it drives home Graham’s point about regional and local culture differences. We often consider Japanese culture a monolith. While this top down view is true to some extent, Graham’s plate selection also points to how different areas had their own sense of design that existed within the greater Japanese sense of aesthetics.

Graham also selects examples of elaborate robes and sets them beside humble pottery meant to be used everyday. The selection of photographs and their juxtaposition compliments the clearly written text. The layouts can sometimes get a little messy with plate text and photos wrapping around the main text, but there is ample white space to help avoid a feeling of claustrophobia.  Sometimes large double page plates will break the text.

The book is printed in smooth, glossy paper. I prefer books with this type of paper when there are many photographs.

Okay, I will nitpick a moment. Throughout the book Taoism is spelled ‘Daoism.’ While this is how it is supposed to be pronounced, each time I read this spelling I stumbled. I am used to the “Taoism” spelling. It is just a personal preference.

woodblock-print-kitagawa

“Folding Fan Seller, Round Fan Seller, Barley Pounder” by Kitagawa Utamaro. These geisha parody various types of merchants.

Design students, artists, and bloggers interested in Japan will find this book a good overview. There are many surprises in the text, particularly in the third part. I didn’t know, for example, Frank Lloyd Wright was inspired by Japanese design. He even collected thousands of woodblock prints! Graham’s summaries of various people who had an impact on how we think of Japanese design is quite useful for bloggers and students. Each summary is short, but each provides a good starting point for further research. Graham’s notes and further reading sections also give you an excellent starting point for research.

Design students and artists will find the first part explaining Japanese design principles useful. Japanese design extends far beyond minimalism and emulating nature.

I saw many future articles for JP nestled in this book. Graham touches on misconceptions (which is something I enjoy researching) people have about Japanese design and the culture in general. She mentions several people who encouraged misconceptions even while they expanded Western understanding of Japan.  There is even a plate from one of the earliest printed books to have full-color illustrations.

Japanese Design: Art Aesthetics & Culture is a useful book for anyone interested in a summary of Japanese design principles and the people who brought the ideas to the West. The photographs are lovely and nicely exemplify each of the points Graham makes. The book makes a good reference for designers, artists, and bloggers interested in Japan.

You can find the book at Tuttle Publishing and Amazon.

Japan’s Strangest, Most Fearsome Spirit–The Wanyudo

SekienWanyudoJapan is a land chock full of weird ghosts and monsters. Some are harmless, if off-putting, creatures, while others are creatures straight out of your worst nightmare.

Today’s beast is two parts weird and one part terrifying, even more so because of its tendency to haunt residential areas of major cities, most notably Kyoto.

Legend has it that a tyrannical daimyo was touring what is now Kyoto on an ox cart when an assassin struck him down. The evil man, so angered by his untimely demise, became a monstrous spirit called a Wanyudo. The bizarre looking being’s appearance is something straight out of a nightmare (or maybe a bad LSD trip). Legends going back a thousand years describe the beast as looking like a disembodied head that forms the hub of a flaming ox-cart wheel. Oh, and it flies to boot.

While the Wanyudo’s appearance is odd to the point of being a bit goofy, the monster has a reputation for being among the deadliest monsters in Japan’s folkloric menagerie. The mere sight of it can give a person an intense fever, and heaven help you if the Wanyudo catches you looking. It is said to run down victims, ripping them limb from limb and leaving nothing but a burned and broken husk in the road.

Now and then, the monster will let those it catches peeking survive. One legend tells of a woman who caught a glimpse of the Wanyudo on its nightly flight. The monster, seeing her, boomed: “If you have time to gaze upon me, tend to your own child!” This was when she noticed four tiny limbs hanging from the burning spokes of the monster’s wheel. She rushed to her child, to find his limbs all ripped off.

Stories differ a bit as to where the Wanyudo resides when it is not streaking through the night skies and terrorizing people. Some say it sleeps in the mountains, while others say it guards the gates of Hell. Few things can protect against the wrath of the Wanyudo. Staying inside is about the only sure bet. For extra protection, paste sacred sheets of paper–ofudo strips–bearing the saying “kono-tokoro-shobo-no-sato” on them. Literally translated, “this is the town of Shobo,” it is a reference to a Confucian story where one of Confucius’ disciples avoided a town named Shobo, because the character Shobo can be read “triumph over one’s mother.”

Remember this the next time you find yourself in Kyoto. And don’t look too close at any fireballs that happen to streak through the sky. Just in case.

 

Source
Yodo, Hiroko and Alt, Matt. “Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide.” Tuttle Publishing. 2008. Pgs 34-37.

Learn about Japan, Anime, and Culture