The Sunshine Award Nomination

sunshine-award01Thanks to Rekari over at Shooting Star Dreamer for the Nomination! These blog awards are a great way for bloggers to get to know each other. This is my first award nomination. “You like me! You really like me!”

Reka gave me 10 excellent questions, but excuse me  a moment.

“Where was that dang-fangled thing…Blasted kids making so much fuss.” I wrestle the window open. “Get off my lawn! Darn kids playing outside. They should be inside playing video games. Seen not heard. Now, what was I looking for?”

An hour and a dozen distractions later, I return to the keyboard. “Found it. Oh! That was what I was doing.”

*Puts on carpal-tunnel wrist brace* Okay. Ready now.

Where do you draw your inspiration?

japanese-womanWell, depends on the project. For JP, I pull inspiration from history and current events in American otaku culture. And books. Lots of books. I read nearly everything. As I write this, I am reading a book about Emperor Hirohito and Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Books are a great place for ideas. Most ideas for blog posts spring to mind while I read.

Sometimes I see old photographs and wonder: Who was this? How did they live? What was their name? Such photos spark my imagination and sometimes give me ideas for books, drawings, and blog posts.

What is most important to you when it comes to anime or manga?

Two things: animation quality and character. I have a bachelor degree in computer animation. Poor animation quality distracts me. As a writer,  I enjoy good characters. Good stories are driven by interesting characters. Now, if only anime would abandon fanservice and tropes that hurt characterization.

How did you pick your blog name or writing name?

I thought about how anime fans draw energy from Japanese culture. They are powered by Japan.

Where do you wish to see your blog in the future?

I’d like to see JP increase steadily in traffic with more interaction from my readership. My goal is to teach fans about Japanese culture and break through some of the stereotypes anime encourages.

It would be great if JP helped my budding side career as an author. Most of my projects aim at my readership. So buy some of my stuff! Copy editors are freaking expensive!

Which anime character do you relate to the most?

Edward Elric Fullmetal Alchemist

Tough question. I would say Edward Elric from the original Fullmetal Alchemist. Not Brotherhood. That Ed is a meat head.People consider me eccentric and stuffed with information, much like Ed I guess. Like Ed, I prefer to think before acting. It is better to use intelligence to solve problems. Ed and I both look at problems from different angles. Unlike Ed, I am not loud or hot tempered, but I am short!

If you could only pick one, would you rather have anime, manga, music, or video games?

Video games. The interactive aspect of video games has untapped potential for storytelling. Video games like The Legend of Zelda inspired my imagination as a child. Of course, back in my day anime was limited to Speed Racer and Voltron so video games were better alternatives.

If you were an anime character, how would you want to look? Why?

Like I do now. I am comfortable with myself and see no reason to change. I know, it’s not the most exciting answer. At least as an anime character I wouldn’t have to worry about mussed hair!

Have you ever considered pursuing a career related to anime or Japan?

Actually yes. I am something of an academic. I’ve considered picking up a second masters degree in Japanese history. In academia, niche specialties are encouraged. I could study American otaku culture and compare it to Japanese anime culture. Japanese otaku culture differs from American.

What made you start a blog?

JP started to support my local library’s manga club. As these things often go, the club went one way, JP another. Traffic increased, and I discovered how much I enjoy ferreting information about Japan from databases. As a librarian, the blog gives me an outlet for my desire to help people learn.

What does anime mean to you?

Anime is a storytelling medium like movies, books, and other media. Anime explores worlds and ideas other media do not. Beyond that, anime is a great way to relax. The medium explores both Japanese culture and how it interacts with international cultures. I find this interaction fascinating. International marketing shifts insulated ideas. We can see this with American movies as they attempt to appeal to other cultures. Anime, unlike American movies, has always been an international medium. After all, Disney inspired it, and that inspiration mixed with Japanese sensibilities.

Nominations

Reka’s questions are good; so good I will use them for my nominees.

Anime B & B is a good source for reviews and other articles.

Anime Dichotomy is another great source for reviews. AD also features fan fiction and editorials.

The Meat Head: Looking at Shonen Heroes

I have a bit of a bias toward shonen. I often write about shonen anime and themes. Frankly, it is because most shojo stories do not appeal to me. Another reason is because most imports we see here in the States are of the male variety. So that being said, it is time for another shonen focused article.

Shonen has problems that I need to address. Particularly with its heroes.

They are all meat heads.

By meat head, I mean many shonen heroes are impulsive,  thoughtless, and charge forward without regard to the consequences. They also lack reasonable motivation behind their character.

edward-elric

Take Edward Alric for example. I liked Ed in the original Fullmetal Alchemist. Sure, he was hotheaded. But he was a thinker. He used his intelligence to work out how to use alchemy in unique ways. For example [spoiler!], when he fought Sloth in the original anime, he uses alchemy to transform her water-based body into ethanol. This makes her evaporate. Contrast this with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Ed takes the typical shonen route of force. Rather than using alchemy in ingenious ways, he prefers to rely in martial arts and raw power. Ed in Brotherhood had more in common with Inuyasha’s constant Wind Scar attacks than the Ed of the original anime series. If an attack doesn’t work the first three times, use it three more! And three more after that!

Hikari Sakishima in Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea gives me a headache for similar reasons. He is impulsive and thoughtless of others. His actions make it hard to believe so many of the female characters in the story “love” him. But then, this is a shonen. Anyway, Hikari has the same complex of shonen protagonists: he believes he can change what he dislikes by sheer stubborn action. Nagi-Asu actually points out how this is not the case when an avatar of the Sea God flat out tells Hikari there is nothing to be done for his love interest. But he surges blindly onward.  His blindness to the love interest of other female characters, many of whom are more compatible than his Manaka, is a typical trait of shonen. 

 Sadly, Nagi-Asu focuses too much on Hikari trying to change events. The story fails to follow more interesting ideas. Most of the characters end up hibernating for 5 years. A few of their friends were trapped on the surface and were unable to hibernate with the rest of their sea-dwelling families. When the sleepers wake, they find their surface trapped friends have aged 5 years while they remain 15 or 16.  Children are now their own age, and most of their classmates are in college or married with families of their own. How would the sleepers cope with these changes?  This would be a far more interesting story than following Hikari’s bullheadedness. Nagi-Asu works a little with the idea of changes but gives too much focus on bad shonen protagonist habits.

Kaname (left) and Hikari (right). Their surprised reactions capture the difference between extroverts (Hikari) and introverts (Kaname).

Kaname (left) and Hikari (right). Their surprised reactions capture the difference between extroverts (Hikari) and introverts (Kaname).

I prefer the more thoughtful and introverted supporting male character Kaname to Hikari. Shonen heroes are rarely introverts. Of course, this is the same problem American heroes have. This idea is called the Extrovert Ideal.  I prefer to call it the Extrovert Bias.

Bleach has Ichigo. Ichigo is a little more of a thinker than Brotherhood’s Ed or Nagi-Asu’s Hikari. However, Ichigo has unrealistic motivations. Shonen heroes are often driven by the need to protect their loved ones. That is fine…to a point. The protection motivation is overdone and tired.  Ichigo takes it too far. He is often willing to sacrifice everything for people he barely knows.  Sure, this altruism is commendable. It is actually a Christian ideal. However, it is so common that it becomes meaningless. Laying one’s life down for a brother is a rare, ultimate expression of love. Ichigo and other shonen heroes do this for anyone. It is such a common motivation that it loses its meaning and its impact. It is similar to how overused words lose their meaning. “Awesome” is such a meaningless  word now. It used to be a lofty word used only in context of divinity or extraordinary event.  Shonen has taken the awesome event of putting the hero’s life on the line for another and made it as meaningless as the word ‘awesome.’ The motivation only works when it is rare. Sure, Ichigo would lay down is life for his sisters and perhaps Rukia. Leave it at that. Rarity is what makes something valuable.

Yes, this post is on the ranty side. However, these are problems that need to be examined. Stereotypes have a place, but they become tired. Tired ideas lose their appeal and meaning. Heroes are meant to represent our ideals and do things we cannot easily do. However, when our heroes start to embody negative traits like impulsiveness,  thoughtlessness, and blindness we have a problem. It is okay for a hero to have these traits and grow out of them. It is not okay for these traits to be the path of victory.

The traits of temperance, thoughtfulness, and compassion are superior to the meat head traits of bullheadedness and others I’ve listed. However, temperance, thoughtfulness, and compassion are not interesting in a world governed by the Extrovert Ideal. Impulsive action is considered a sign of competence and are encouraged. This includes speaking out without knowing what you are speaking about and other actions we see in shonen heroes. Granted, I am beating up on shonen but American media is worse with this nonsense.  Slow, thoughtful people are considered less competent.  Yep, I am considered this way. I  used to fake extroversion just so I can  be heard. Recently, I decided to stop faking it and embrace my quiet self.  If people do not listen when I do speak, that is their loss.

orihime

Characters like Nagi-Asu’s Kaname are lost in the noise. Orihime in Bleach is another example. This is a result of the Extrovert Bias.  Certainly there are shonen stories that focus on these quiet characters. The majority of the stories, just as the majority of American media, pays attention to the loud protagonists.

Perhaps now I should explain introversion and extroversion. Introversion involves a brain and nervous system that is highly sensitive to stimulation, particularly social stimulation. Introverts give up energy with every social interaction. Extroversion involves brains and nervous systems that are less sensitive to stimulation. Extroverts gain energy through social interaction. Extroverts have a wide network of friends and acquaintances. They also tend to seek out adventure. Sounds like your typical shonen hero, eh?

Introverts, like me, have small social circles but have deeper relationships with those people in them. We expend energy into people only if we genuinely care for them. Because of high sensitivity to stimulus (there are people who are called Highly Sensitive, but this is different from introversion) introverts tend to avoid or limit exposure to noise, risk, and other things extroverts love.  Introverts are not shy. We simply need less social interaction. Introverted hero stories have less action and more intellectual conflict.

The bias of society toward extroversion is one of the reasons why shonen characters are similar. They are also easier to write than introverted characters. After all, an extrovert tends to show what they are feeling and thinking. An introvert does not. Manga and anime need more introvert protagonists and less impulsive meat-heads. No. I don’t equate extroversion with being a meat-head…just some of the time!

Shonen needs to have more intellectually driven characters, such as the original Fullmetal Alchemist’s Ed. Less emphasis on being bullheaded, impulsive, and generally clueless about events would help balance the Extrovert Bias and provide some refreshing changes to tired tropes.

Andrew’s Guide to Blogging–Good Writing is the Key to Good Blogging

In the first two installments of this series, we talked about how to choose a premise for your blog, and in the second I gave a brief primer on different blogging platforms. Assuming then that you’ve chosen a topic and have a platform to write on, you’re probably eager to start clacking away, churning out blog posts with all the enthusiasm of any new hobbyist.

Which is good! That is the first step to writing (and blogging) well: actually writing in the first place. But you don’t want to stop there; you want to make your writing the best that it can be. After all, you could have the slickest looking  blog out there, with an engaging perennial topic that will allow you to continually find new and interesting subjects to write about, but if you write poorly readers will not be engaged and your blog will only receive a fraction of the views it might have otherwise had.

Now, I am far from the best writer out there; believe me, I’m well aware of my own flaws and bad habits. The giant sentence in the previous paragraph is one example. My habit of using parenthesis (for emphasis!) is another. These things are fine in moderation, but taking them too far is another thing entirely. As a blogger who presumably enjoys what they’re writing about and wants others to enjoy reading about it, you want to become aware of your bad habits and to do as much as you can to correct them.

But a lot of that comes with experience. If you haven’t done much writing, in school or otherwise, you need to learn the basics of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure before you can begin to find your bad habits. You can find basic guides online that will move you a long way toward improving your writing. I won’t go into an exhaustive list of different mistakes you might come across in this post, but perhaps in the future I’ll point out mistakes I see often in my online wanderings.

One of the best ways to learn to write is to read. Read a variety of things, both different genres and different mediums. Read the newspaper. Read other blogs. Read articles by big news sites. Read books from the 19th century. Read modern books. Read books from different genres. See how different people write in different circumstances, and see what appeals to you and what doesn’t about those writing styles. You’ll learn a lot about the basics simply by reading and then becoming aware of how your own writing mimics (or doesn’t) other authors.

You will start to become aware of how to structure sentences and how to present subjects in a clear, concise way, which is definitely what you want when blogging. Be careful though, because you might pick up some bad habits along the way. For example, my wordy and over long sentences stem from having read many works by H.P. Lovecraft, who was infamous for his dense prose. While I liked his style, these days it isn’t as favored as the more concise, direct style you see in novels and especially online.

Another key to getting better at writing is to allow yourself to suck. Looking for bad habits is one thing, but it’s another thing to nitpick yourself to the point that writing isn’t fun. You have to allow yourself to write crap, because that’s how you get better. Writing anything, even if it is the most incoherent, poorly structured, hardly readable hunk of garbage you’ve ever had the misfortune of laying your eyes upon (*cough* like some of the stories sitting on my hard drive *cough*) is better than writing nothing at all. A blogger who doesn’t write any posts isn’t a blogger, just like a novelist who does nothing but plot, plan, and outline but never actually writes the damned novel isn’t a novelist.

So write, but don’t rush to post. Write, and hold in the urges to edit as you go, then release them once the post is done. Be ruthless. If it doesn’t need to be there, cut it. If it sounds off and you don’t know how to reword it? Cut it, you probably don’t need it. Look for typos, awkward sentences, and misused words. Built in spelling and grammar check features help, but knowing what to look for yourself–and when to break the rules–is critical.

A guide to good writing is far beyond this little blog post. My goal here was to get you thinking about how you could improve your writing to make your blog the best it can be. You don’t have to be the next Ernest Hemingway to have a great blog; all you need to do is learn the basics, and write to the best of your ability. It takes humility–you might find that you’re making a lot of mistakes. That’s ok. You might go back to your older posts five years from now and cringe. That’s ok too! That means you’re getting better–in fact, if your writing style hasn’t changed at all in five years, there’s probably a problem.

In the next installment of this guide, I will talk about how to source your blog posts. We will go into primary and secondary sources, and where to find the best sources. Not only that, we’ll talk about how to evaluate sources, and tips on citations. Stay tuned!

Revealing my Secret Project: Vixen Hunted

vixen-hunted-front-matter1 For the last few years, I’ve had a secret project brewing. My own Light Novel series.  The first book, Vixen Hunted, is now available on Amazon as an eBook.

A print version is also available for $9.99.

Anyway, what’s it about? Well, here’s the blurb:

Pursued by the Inquisition, Kit only has her dim memories of home to guide her escape.

Timothy Clarke isn’t much of a shepherd. His youngest lamb gives him no end of trouble. When he ventures into the woods—yet again—to find her, he finds more trouble than a single lamb could cause.

Together, Kit and Timothy must avoid the long reach of the Inquisition and find Kit’s home. But they soon realize a threat they cannot escape: their growing feelings for each other.

Vixen Hunted is the first book of a trilogy.  I will let you know when the other books are published both here on JP and on my author website. I won’t advertise too much here on JP. That is what my author site is meant to do.  It is also a place where I post digital chicken scratch about topics not related to Japan. I will post shameless self plugs as I complete books. I have several other projects up my sleeve, so stay tuned!

You can find the Kindle version for $2.99 here.

I also appreciate your reviews. If you read the book and like it, drop a review. If you think it sucks, write a review too. I can’t improve as a writer without your help.

Japan’s Warrior Women

onna-bushiThe one characteristic that sets women apart from men has shaped how women are treated in most societies. No, I am not referring to boobs. There is something about childbirth that relegates women to the role of property in most agricultural societies. Perhaps it is because most agricultural societies have the idea of land ownership built into their systems. Like farmland produces food, women produce heirs. Both are important for a family’s survival. Japan is one culture that has a long history of viewing women as subordinate. During the Tokugawa Shogunate, for example, women did not legally exist. They could not own property and had to be subordinate to men in every way (Friedman, 1992).

Despite this lack of legal status, women played important background roles in Japanese warrior society. Sadly, women are rarely mentioned in early histories. These histories were originally oral traditions that enshrined certain clans and warriors (almost all male) in legend.  This lack of history doesn’t mean Japanese women kept to their kimono and were victims of rape and other atrocities of war. Quite the contrary, Japanese women of samurai class were expected to train in the use of weapons and could even be jito, stewards that supervised land when their men were absent (Amdur, 1996).

Let’s look at what roles samurai women actually held. Now, little is known of how lower classes (farmer, merchant, and artisan) lived compared to the samurai and other elite classes. The lower classes were not the concerns of chroniclers, but we can safely say that the women of these classes were concerned about their families just as much as samurai women. If anything, it might have been better to live in the lower classes. These women dealt with starvation and other deprivations, but they were also not subject to the same rigors of discipline and social expectations as samurai women.

Like what you ask? What is worse then starving?

Beheading your children and then slitting your own throat.

And yes, this actually happened during the Meiji Restoration.

Expectations of Samurai Women

samurai-class-womanEarly History
The battle tales of Japan that chronicle the wars of the Heian, Kamakura, and Muromachi periods portrayed women in a few  roles (Amdur, 1996):

  • Tragic heroine: the woman who kills herself when her husband dies.
  • Loyal Wife: the woman who is taken captive but retains her husband’s honor under questioning, torment, and more.
  • Stalwart Mother: the woman who trains her son to take vengeance for his father.
  • Merciful woman: the woman who encourages a samurai to indulge “unmanly” empathy, such as sparing an enemy’s family.
  • Seductress: the woman who distracts a man from his duty.
  • Spoils of war: women to be slaughtered or given to men as a reward for heroism.

As you can tell, half (or perhaps all?) of the roles are negative. The merciful woman inevitably causes her husband to die by the hand of those he spares. The first three – tragic heroine, loyal wife, and stalwart mother – exemplify samurai ideals. Be loyal to death. Protect the family’s honor. The other three – merciful woman, seductress, and spoils of war – are roles a good samurai woman are to avoid.

Now, I am being a little misleading. The battle tales predate the samurai class, but they were used by the class as a source for their ideas, among other sources. During the time of these battles, particularly the Heian and Kamakura periods, women in the forming samurai class were called bushi (ぶし). Bushi were women pioneers that helped settle new lands. And yes, that sometimes involved fighting. Bushi trained in the use of naginata, a halberd-like weapon useful for both fighting a man and a horseman. The naginata was considered the best weapon for women – although men used the weapon as well – because of women’s natural disadvantage in close quarters fighting. Naginata wielding women became an iconic image during the Warring States Period (Amdur, 1996).

As pioneers, bushi were expected to defend their families, build homes, farm, and just about anything else the American pioneer women did during the expansion of the United States. This background of being tough and loyal to the family became the foundation of what samurai women were expected to be.

Warring States Period
The samurai class was firmly established during this period of history. Because of the constant warfare between the city states, samurai women had many brutal challenges placed upon them. Women were often the final defense of the town or castle. They would also lead other women to battle. In one account, the wife of a samurai lord, after witnessing women and children killing themselves, armed herself, lead 83 surviving soldiers, and challenged the enemy general. The general, claiming women are unfit to be warriors, retreated from her. He managed to  escape when his soldiers attacked the woman’s squad. She cut her way through the mess and back to the castle (Amdur, 1996). These tales made naginata wielding women a new part of the samurai ethos.

However, the main weapon women used showed just what was expected of her. The kaiken (Not the kaioken of Dragonball Z, by the way) or dagger was carried by bushi women at all times. They were not expected to actually fight with the dagger. After all, she would often face several men armed with spears and katana. If she was captured, she was certain to face rape and be used to dishonor her family and husband. Instead, the kaiken was used for jigai. Jigai was the female version of seppuku, only instead of spilling her guts all over the ground, she cut her jugular vein. This avoided an “ugly” death that would be an affront to the dignity of a samurai woman (Amdur, 1996).

Edo Period
During this period, bushi were expected to make the family and her husband her entire life. Then her male sons and her mother-in-law. I already wrote about these expectations if you want to learn more.

Above all, samurai women were expected to be strong, subservient, and endure.

Tomoe, the Legendary Woman  Samurai

Ishi-jo wielding a naginata, by Kuniyoshi Utagawa

Ishi-jo wielding a naginata, by Kuniyoshi Utagawa

One bushi in particular is enshrined in Japan’s battle chronicles.  Tomoe Gozen appears with other women in Heike monogatari, a chronicle of the Genpai War. Tomoe was a legend for her skill as a mounted warrior, archer, and her beauty.  There are various conflicting accounts of her lineage and final fate, but the attention she garnered shows just how impressive she was in a patriarchal society. A noh play even suggests Tomoe may have retired and became a noh entertainer (Brown, 1998).

In any case, Tomoe appears during the battle of Yokotogawara. There, she kills seven mounted samurai.  Two years later, she is appointed as Kiso no Yoshinaka’s commanders and leads 1,000 horseman to a crucial victory.  In 1184, she survives a debacle that the chronicle says reduced her force from 300 warriors to just five. Soon after, Tomoe appears in one final battle. In one account, Tomoe is denied a warrior’s death. Her lord, in fact, orders her away from the battlefield despite her desire to die beside him in the final fight.  Like a samurai woman should, she obeys his orders to retreat, reports the result of the battle to his wife and child, and prays for her fallen lord.  After this final battle, Tomoe’s life becomes speculation. She is said to have married Wada Yoshimori that produced a legendary warrior Asahino Saburo Yoshihide. The legend also states he inherited his immense strength from his mother (Brown, 1998).

Whether or not the Asahino’s lineage is historical doesn’t matter. What matters is how important Tomoe was. She became one of the best examples of what a samurai woman was supposed to be. She was denied a warrior’s death, but the chronicle makes it plain that she was not dishonored by following her lord’s final order.  While she may be an exception, the fact she became a legend is a male-oriented society is important to consider. She became the leading commander of Yoshinaka’s army and trusted to report a final message to his wife.  The chronicle illustrates the expectation of samurai women to endure – even endure what Tomoe would have considered the dishonor of retreating from a warrior’s death.

The exploits of samurai women like Tomoe became popular subjects for kabuki theater. While the roles are played by men – called onnagata – female warriors became a popular theme. One play, called Kagamiyama or Mirror Mountain premiered in 1782 and appealed directly to samurai class women.  The play’s portrayal of life in a lord’s home and the behavior of the women must have been close to reality because of the play’s popularity. It was based on true incidents of a samurai class maidservant taking revenge for the humiliation of her mistress in 1724. So about 550 years after Tomoe, samurai class women were still involved in fighting and vengeance (Klens-Bigman, 2010).

The Women’s Army – the Joshigun

female-samurai-c.1900During the Meiji Restoration, samurai women saw the end of their class. The Meiji Restoration was a movement to restore the Japanese emperor to power and abolish the Tokugawa shogunate. The last battles of the shogunate often pitted sword-carrying samurai against American and British made Imperial rifles.

One clan, the Aizu, had the deepest loyalty to Tokugawa rule. This loyalty led to one of the final actions of female samurai.

In 1868, Imperial forces besieged the last Aizu stronghold of Aizu-Wakamatsu: Crane Castle. The pressure of the superior firepower from Imperial forces led to few options. Retreat into the castle, commit suicide, flee to the countryside, or charge into final combat.  Some of the warrior women who lost their husbands and sons in the fighting prior opted for suicide. Some even killed themselves to save the castle’s rations for those better fit to fight.  According to accounts, 230 people killed themselves (Wright, 2001).

The members of the Joshigun had other plans. They decided to fight and die. We even know some of their names. The wife of a magistrate, Kawahara Asako, executed her family members before joining the final battle still covered in her family’s blood. She cut off her mother-in-law’s and daughter’s head to avoid their capture (Wright, 2001).

What did Kawahara Asako feel as she decapitated her own daughter? Relief that her daughter won’t have to suffer rape and torture? A sense of duty as a samurai? Certainly sorrow.

Together, 20 to 30 women gathered with the remaining Aizu samurai.  The Aizu commander denied them permission to join to fight before relenting from Nakano Takeko’s (the leader of the women’s delegation group) insistence and threats to kill herself on the spot to shame the commander. The next morning, the remaining Tokugawa supporters attacked in an effort to break through the imperial forces to get to Crane Castle (Wright, 2001).

The members of the Joshigun determined not to be taken alive. When imperial troops learned they were females, many died tried to take these women as captives. However, the attack did have some success. Some of the troops managed to cut through the imperial forces and reinforce Crane Castle. Most of the castle’s defenders were women. Many of these women were tasked with covering cannon balls with wet mats and rice sacks to reduce the damage of the resulting explosion (Wright, 2001).

The women did what they could to hold out with diminishing supplies. There is a story of a 60-year-old mother sneaking out of the castle to find food for the wounded. She was attacked by a soldier who she promptly stabbed to death with her kaiken. Despite efforts like this and attacks to break the siege by diminished outside forces, Crane Castle surrendered after a month. At least 4 of the Aizu warrior women survived.  Yamakawa Sakuko, saw her mother killed during the fighting. She was 9 years old at the time.  Three years later, she found herself selected by her former enemies to go to the United States and become the first Japanese woman to be certified in nursing (Wright, 2001). The daughter of one of the last samurai women became a healer.

Warrior Women Today

The history of samurai women left a quiet mark on Japanese women. Quiet, because it is no where near as well known as the exploits of their male counterparts. However, women like Tomoe exemplified what it meant to be a female samurai – strong, enduring, yet dedicated to family. While we view many of the ideals as perhaps toxic and misogynistic today, the ideas of endurance and inner strength are important for both genders in modern society. We live in a time of rapid change and uncertainty. Samurai ideals came from a similar age of change and uncertainty. These ideals left an impression on Japanese culture that can still be seen in the corporate world. We have similar ideals of endurance and hard work here in the United States because of how own pioneering period. Women, in particular, embodied these ideals because of the burdens of birthing and raising children.

As a guy, I will say it is unfair how much of a burden biology can be for women. Most gender roles rotate around the ability of women to give birth. Even today, the ability to have children shapes how society treats women. Samurai culture is interesting in how men and women shared many of the same expectations.  The ultimate expectation of an honorable death was perhaps equally painful. For men, it was the expectation of stoically spilling out your own guts. For women, it was the expectation of killing your children and then yourself to avoid capture.

Actually, never mind.  It looks like women still have the heaviest burden in even this.
Final thoughts on samurai and suicide.

Okay, I know this is a really long article. So, I will keep this section short.  Samurai culture often seems to revolve around suicide. We have to keep in mind that the stories we have are just a small window. The vast majority of samurai were unlikely to kill themselves. However, the expectation was still there if it had to be done.  In addition to Japanese culture, I also study early Christian history. Understand, I come from a different culture (obviously). So that said, my opinion is a result of my upbringing.  That said, I view martyrdom and a samurai’s suicide as equally fruitless. A dead person cannot help anyone. The idea of honor is silly. All you have to do is travel a fair distance and no one will even know who are you (or in a samurai’s case, travel to Korea or northern Japan) and much less care. It is better to remain alive to teach others than die. Perhaps your name will live on, but the influence a living person has upon history is even greater through his/her influence on people. Even if the name of that person is forgotten. Hundreds of nameless samurai women who lived and died attest to the power of this type of legacy,

References

Amdur, E. (1996). The Role of Armsbearing Women in Japanese History. Journal of Asian Martial Arts. 5 (2).  11-35.

Klens-Bigman, D. (2010). Fighting Women of Kabuki Theater and the Legacy of Women’s Japanese Martial Arts.  Journal of Asian Martial Arts. 19 (3) 64-77.

Brown, S. (1998). From Woman Warrior to Peripatetic Entertainer: The Multiple Histories of Tomoe. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 58 (1). 183-199.

Wright, D. (2001). Female combatants and Japan’s Meiji Restoration: the case of Aizu. Ware in History 8 (4) 396-417.

Andrew’s Guide to Blogging–How to Choose a Blogging Platform

In the first installment of my guide to blogging, I touched on how to choose a premise for your blog. Perhaps you already had some idea of what you wanted to do, or perhaps you wanted to blog but had no idea what to blog about. Either way, hopefully my post was a bit helpful.

This week, I’m touching on the next step in the process: choosing a blogging platform.  This can be a little overwhelming, since there are a variety of options, some that cost money and some that don’t. I aim not to make an exhaustive list of all the options–simply put, I don’t know them all–but more to illustrate my own experiences with different platforms and to point out what I think is best depending on what you want out of a blog.

Let’s get the two easiest and most user friendly platforms out of the way first. These are Blogger (Blogspot when I used it, although I think it goes by both names) and WordPress.com. Both services have free options, and both are pretty intuitive to start for the most part. You can sign up and be blogging on the same day with very little set up time.

Now, I haven’t used Blogger in a long time, so it has probably changed in the mean time, but I found it less user friendly than WordPress.com. There are more options for customization if you know how to do HTML (again, this was when I was using it more than five years ago, so it has probably changed since then,) but overall the set up is far clunkier and harder to use than WordPress.com. There also seems to be less of a blogging community on Blogger. While it is a valid option, most bloggers starting out seem to prefer WordPress.com.

There are a lot of pros to starting a WordPress.com blog. The Dashboard is well organized and easy to navigate. You can choose from a variety of pre-built themes that have a lot of easy customization options built-in, allowing you to do a lot with little knowledge of coding.

In addition, there is a very large blogging community associated with WordPress.com. It’s easy to follow blogs from WordPress, and I noticed that when I ran WordPress.com blogs I got far more comments and subscribers than when I was on Blogger or even now that I self-host. Also, WordPress.com has a feature called “Freshly Pressed” where WordPress picks its top blogs and posts them prominently on the site. Getting a post freshly pressed leads to a huge spike in views and subscriptions, not to mention a nice ego boost from the surge in attention.

WordPress.com has a free, basic package that puts limits on amount of images you can post (I believe the limit is 3 gigabytes, which would take awhile to eat up.) There are paid options that have more features, but they are pretty pricey. WordPress.com has domain registration features as well. I believe it is $25 a year to register a domain with WordPress.com, including privacy protections (which you definitely want to get for the extra five or ten bucks.)

Registering a domain means you can get a customized domain that no one else can copy. The standard WordPress.com domain reads “fillinyourdomainhere.wordpress.com,” whereas a registered domain drops the “.wordpress.com” part. Some people feel that having their own domain registered makes a blog more legitimate, but if you don’t care about that, don’t worry about registering your domain. Overall, for a basic blog that isn’t really image heavy, a free WordPress.com blog would fit your needs perfectly.

If, however, you want a more elaborate blog without the limitations of a free WordPress.com blog or the expense of the upgraded options WordPress offers, self-hosting might be the route for you. All self-hosting means is that you own the domain and pay for server space on a hosting company’s servers.

The company I host through–Bluehost–allows for unlimited media and images, and will let me attach more than one domain to my hosting account (I only have one–I don’t recommend trying to run more than one blog at a time because you spread yourself too thin.) Hosting costs will vary depending upon your needs, and whether or not the hosting company is running any promotions at the time. On average, the basic hosting package through Bluehost is going to run about $120 a year, with an additional $25 or so for the domain registration fees for each domain you host (you have to register a domain if you self host, and again you want the privacy protection.)

Now, self-hosting has its downsides and upsides. The downsides are the costs, and the fact that it takes more technical knowhow to run a self-hosted blog. I recommend running WordPress.org for your blog–it gives you the same easy-to-use features as WordPress.com, especially if you use the Jetpack plug-in, which links your WordPress.org and WordPress.com accounts and lets you basically run your self-hosted blog like a free WordPress.com site.

Also, with WordPress.org you get access to similar templates as you would with a free WordPress blog. If you know coding, you can do more modifications of these templates than you could on a free site. There are good guides online to getting your self-hosted site up and running, and if you do it right you shouldn’t have to do much more than basic maintenance here and there. I don’t personally know much about coding or really anything computer related, but I got OddlyHistorical up and running with few problems, and it has needed very little maintenance in the year and a half it has been live. It’s definitely doable–it just takes more patience to operate, but the flexibility you get from self-hosting is well worth the effort. I recommend it if you’re serious about blogging and want to build a blog that will stand the test of time.

There you have it. A very short guide to choosing a blogging platform. To summarize, your best bet is going to be WordPress. If you want a free, easy to use platform, WordPress.com is the way to go. There are limitations, but this is a solid choice for the beginning blogger. You don’t want to spend a lot of money before you know that you like doing it.

So, if you’re new to blogging, sign up for a free WordPress.com site and start clacking away without worrying about hosting, domains, coding, and all that technical stuff. As you get into it more move toward a self-hosted blog. If need be, you can migrate a WordPress.com blog to a self-hosted blog later. It’s a hassle but doable.

I’ve glossed over a lot when it comes to considering different blogging platforms, especially when it comes to the self-hosting aspect, but this series is just meant to outline the basics. Next time we’re going to talk about how to compose a blog post, especially the importance of proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Stay tuned!

Learn about Japan, Anime, and Culture