Gender Expectations of Edo Period Japan

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The Edo period made Japan Japan. This long segment of peace shaped Japanese gender expectations and continues to influence them today. Japan was once a matriarchal society. The influx of Confucian ideas from China around the 15th century eroded the ability of women to hold power. Confucian ideas stressed hierarchy, male dominance, integrity, and righteousness. Women became subservient (Sugihara 2000). Japan divided along class lines that became distinct during the Edo period: the ruling class, townsman class, and the peasant class. Each class had tiers within it. Samurai increased in rank all the way up to the shogun. However, even the lowest samurai remained higher in social standing than the highest peasant. The walls between the classes could be shattered with work, but most of the time people moved downward through the classes. Samurai became farmers more often that farmers became samurai (Platt, 2000). Each class had its own gender expectations.

The House System

At the center of Edo period gender roles stood the ie or house. This organization system originated in Confucian China. Men headed the house, and women changed their names to that of her husband. Her social status was dependent on her husband. Before the house system, women were able to keep their names and own property (Sugihara, 2000).  At first, the house system appears constraining for women, and for samurai women it was. However, the system gave women control of the business within the house. Men controlled the business outside the house. The Confucian ideal between the genders is best described by a book called the Onna Daigaku, or Greater Learning for Women: “men pursue their duties without, while women govern within.” Men were not to speak of what belongs in the house and women were not to speak of what belongs outside. The ideal of the Edo period was for men and women to form a harmonious union. Through this union, the house prospered. This idea replaced the Chinese Confucian idea that husbands and wives were to be distinct and separate (Sekiguchi, 2010). Confucianism stressed the preeminence of men over women, stating: “A woman is to obey her father as daughter, her husband as wife, and her son as aged mother.”(Walthall, 1984) This view reflected in the laws of the period. Women did not legally exist. In practice, these ideas were mostly limited to the samurai class.

Heads of households were expected to protect and nurture the family name and the business of the house. This extended to all three classes. The house was more important than any single member. The gender expectations of each class centers around this idea, but how they went about nurturing the house defined gender roles for each class.

Gender Expectations for the Samurai Class

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47d9-c600-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.wSamurai had a problem during the Edo period. War was abolished. The entire class centered around being warriors. Even samurai women were expected to fight and die. Both men and women shared the same ideals of loyal, courage, and honor. Samurai women were expected to govern the household, continue her husband’s line, and protect the family’s honor. If that required death, she would slit her own throat faster than a man could lay open his stomach. Only during the Edo period little of this was actually necessary. Samurai women were left to continuing her family’s line and governing the household. During the Edo period, it become rare for many samurai women to leave the home (Tanimura, 2011). Samurai girls learned what was needed to govern the household, including reading, writing, and how to play the koto, a 13 string zither. A lady playing the koto was considered the ideal of modesty and elegance.However, they were forbidden to learn the shamisen. The 1847 version of Onna Chohoki, another female instruction book, speaks negatively of the instrument (Tanimura, 2011):

Its tone sounds so lecherous that it is not regarded as a musical instrument. It is a tool for courtesans. You should definitely not learn to play the shamisen. However, you should learn the names of its parts.

Samurai women were expected to be strong and endure in addition to being educated and subservient. Despite these trends, when the Edo period ended samurai women remembered their history from when they held power and fought.

The Onna Daigaku summarized the role samurai women played in the house:

A woman must be intent on the duties of her household, and must not weary of weaving, sewing, and spinning…, nor must she feed her eyes and ears with kabuki, kouta, and joruri.

Samurai men, as heads of the household, had the obligation to continue their lineage and carry the business of their family. Most importantly, they carried the honor of their family. Men were expected to be well-trained in military arts and literature. In the old days, samurai would gain honor through bravery and decisive action on the battlefield. They would return with the heads of those they killed in battle, and through this they gained honor. Yes, samurai were head hunters. Without war, Edo period samurai culture shifted from bravery and decisive action  on the battlefield to finding ways to show their bravery and decisiveness in other ways. Shame —haji–played a key role in the identity of samurai men. The class defined itself as the class that would risk their lives to defend their good name. Shame differed from how we understand it. While it was a feeling, shame was also a combination of inner principles and societal views of a samurai. As heads of household, shame could spread from samurai men to the rest of the family. Samurai honor lacked a set guide for shame. Instead, samurai men decided when and if his honor needed defense. Autonomy was important for samurai men, even as it was denied samurai women. The practice of seppuku, or ritualized suicide, was the final act of autonomy a samurai could commit (Ikegami, 2003). The accusation of cowardice made the blackest stain on a samurai’s honor.

Confucian scholar Muro Kyuso (1658-1734) defined the samurai’s moral code as principled autonomy:

The disciplined and rightful attitude of the samurai should include the following: not to speak falsehood; not to work for selfish gain; to keep the mind straightforward and honest; simplicity in external appearance; to maintain a disciplined and courteous bearing, neither flattering one’s superiors nor being arrogant toward one’s juniors; to keep promises unfailingly; and not to ignore another in hardship. . .

Samurai not only had to worry about their reputation, but the lord they served as well. Their actions could disgrace their lord. Many samurai served their lords out in rural fortresses where they oversaw and protected the surrounded villages. Samurai were not allowed to own businesses. They had to work as administrators as befitting their social standing. Samurai were paper pushers in the Edo period. In return, samurai received stipends according to their rank.

Gender Expectations of the Townsman Class

12645216_1019550614772013_4424802824108759450_nWhile samurai couldn’t legally own businesses, Edo period towns teemed with commerce. The long peace allowed intricate trade networks to develop between villages and towns. Over time, the townsman class, which composed of merchants, artisans, and other people who served the needs of the urban samurai, gained power and wealth. The townsman class had their own gender expectations were differed from the samurai. The importance of the household remained the same, but the application of the principles differed, particularly for women. The townsman class made up around 6-7% of the total population of Japan during the Edo period (Tanimura, 2011). Townsman class women were industrious and worked to direct their own future. Many worked alongside their husbands and fathers to improve the family business. Most even went to school.

Private school systems thrived during the Edo period. Called terakoya, some scholars estimate as many as 86% of children who lived in the city of Edo went to these schools. The schools were ran by priests, Confucian scholars, doctors, merchants, and female teachers. They lacked tuition, and parents could pay teachers in goods, such as produce or rice cakes. Girls and boys started school around 6 years old and left after 3-4 years. Literacy was so widespread in the cities–and in the countryside as we will see–that European visitors to Japan at the end of the Edo period were shocked. The ability to read was more widespread than in England and Europe at the time (Tanimura, 2011).

The Onna Shikimoku, yet another girl’s teaching book, states:

The girls of the townsman class will become the wives of merchants, and so they are encouraged to be literate to help with their family business. . . People who cannot write are called illiterate. These people have eyes, but they are like the blind.

Women were expected to help men. Townsman class men, unlike their samurai brethren, relied on their women to help carry the burden of the house. Unlike samurai men, townsmen didn’t worry about honor as much as the reputation of their business. Men were expected to know how to read, write, do arithmetic, and understand ethics. Many men paid for extra education for their daughters. In addition to private schools, they sent their daughters to classes to learn how to play the shamisen.  Despite the public disdain samurai had for the instrument, it became popular behind closed doors. It also appeared in theatrical art forms like kabuki. Girls who mastered the instrument had a chance to move across the line between the samurai and townsmen classes. Poor townsmen girls dreamed about becoming concubines for high ranked samurai. It was a common fairy tale told in cities and rural villages (Tanimura, 2011). Becoming a mistress to a samurai brought a family wealth and social status. Talented townsman class girls became maids and ladies-in-waiting for samurai families. This let her learn the customs and tastes, and styles of samurai women. In turn, her family could use this knowledge to better the family business and their own social standing among other townsman families.

The Miyako Fuzoku Kagami,published in 1681 states (Tanimura, 2011):

In cities, if parents have daughters with good looks, they send those daughters out to the provinces, and put them in service with country lords. There are a good number of people who originally came from low class families, but became rich through their daughters’ service. If such parents have a girl with sophisticated beauty, they place great hopes in her. In order to have her support the family, they raise her carefully and have her become literate and learn calligraphy or take shamisen lessons. Or, if they think that it might be valuable for her future, they send her to street performers to learn dancing.

Townsman class men taught their sons the family trade and worked to provide for their families. Their relationships with their wives and daughters was more equitable than the samurai class. The peasant class shared this in common with their urban counterparts.

Gender Expectations of the Peasant Class

12931044_1055742431152831_6226667208404208230_nThe word “peasant” has the danger of creating misunderstandings. Peasants in Edo period Japan were not the serfs of the European feudal ages. The shogunate implemented many agriculture reforms that were designed to encourage peasant families to be independent. Improved irrigation and other agricultural practices gave peasants more resources to put toward recreation and the arts. Peasant farms ran similar to urban family businesses. Peasants could visit religious shrines and cities. They wrote poetry, acted in kabuki, and practiced sword fighting. Like the townsman class, women were expected to help on the family farm. Peasant women often dominated male members of the household (Walthall, 1984). The typical peasant family considered of 5-7 people: the married couple that made the core of the family, 2-3 children, and perhaps grandparents. The social ideal for peasant families was independence. Each household was expected to survive without outside help. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t cooperation between neighbors. Rather, families took pride in their ability to run a successful farming business. Men and women dreamed about earning wealth and honor. Unlike the townsman class, this dream didn’t involve breaking the class boundaries. The dream of wealth and honor remained on the farm, its continuation and the continuation of the family.  The fear of losing everything remained real (Katsumi, 1989).

Even among the samurai farming was considered honorable. Not as honorable as being a samurai but still honorable. The peasant class took pride in their role and referred to themselves as honorable peasants, onbyakusho. Samurai were seen as protectors, and the townsman class seen as serving the samurai.

Men and women had different labor roles. For example. weaving and papermaking–both lucrative trades–were done by women. Men gathered firewood and made charcoal–less lucrative trades than weaving and papermaking. Peasant women, like townsman class women worked in public (Katsumi. 1989).

The peasant class was also fairly educated and literate. Leading families in villages were expected to be literate. Head families had the responsibility to collect taxes and carry out the written orders of the samurai class. The shogunate encouraged the peasant class to learn practical writing, reading, and math skills. By the end of the Edo period, most heads of peasant households could read (Katsumi, 1980). Some of the leading families were once samurai. Some samurai families willingly bought farms and converted to the peasant class (Platt, 2000). This brought a taste for samurai style and arts to rural villages.

The Roles of Children

Across each of the three social classes, children were expected to master the skills of their station. Samurai children mastered martial arts, literature, administration, and the warrior code. Townsman class children went to school for reading, writing, mathematics, and learned the family trade. Talented girls had the opportunity to enter the world of the samurai if they worked hard. Boys were mostly locked in their station. But they did have the option of becoming monks and religious leaders. Peasant children lived on the farm and learned the various side businesses like weaving and charcoal making that supplemented the household. Many also learned writing, reading, and mathematics.

The Division Among the Classes

We focused on the division between the classes but families also vied within classes for social status. Village heads were the top of the peasant class. The indentured laborer sat on the bottom. The concubine for a high ranked samurai sat at the top of the townsman class. Beggars sat at the bottom. The Shogun capped the samurai class, and the lowest ranked samurai were relegated to doing meaningless administrative busywork or becoming ronin, or samurai without masters.

Divorce in the Edo Period

At times, one person or the other couldn’t carry the burden of the family. Dowries dictated the rank of a samurai woman’s marriage in the middle of the Edo period. Divorces among the samurai could only happen with the permission of the domain’s lord. Townsman and peasant classes allowed men to write a short letter of divorce to his wife. If she accepted it, the divorce was complete. These letters were about three lines (Cornell, 1990):

 To my wife. It is my pleasure to divorce you.

There is no objection to your marrying anyone whomsoever.

Witness my hand, this day and month

Men who married without issuing this letter and having it accepted were banished. Women could issue letters of divorce as well (Tadashi, 2003).

What is Missing with Gender Expectation Discussions

10636845_1002800429780365_6951032470458221506_oWhenever we discuss gender expectations like this, we can only speak in generalities. Not all samurai women were shut ins. Likewise not all peasant families were egalitarian. There is a human element we lose when we discuss history. History often distills complex lives into lists and dates. Samurai men loved their children, including their daughters. Many samurai men loved their wives, and many wives loved their husbands. From our modern, Western perspective we find it deplorable how women were treated, but we also forget that such rigid structures hurt men too. Some samurai fathers certainly wanted to spend more time at home with their children but were unable to do so. Gender expectations came out of the reality of the times they developed.  Dividing roles based on gender was a practical matter–from the perspective of the time. Women could produce children and the strain was hard on their bodies. Medical care was limited to traditional techniques. The risk of dying in childbirth remained high. The role of raising children was more important than many of the roles men held. This is particularly true under the ie system and its focus on continuing the lineage.  In the Edo period, women were expected to be subservient but not weak. Weak women could not run a demanding household or manage business affairs. Women were expected to be strong pillars for the family. Men were expected to improve the family’s reputation out in society.  The family rested on the shoulders of husband and wife. Both had a share of the weight.

Some people lived outside the expected gender roles, such as geisha and actors. Geisha could be their own business, and the life offered women a level of independence unknown to the other classes. Actors shared the pleasure districts with geisha or traveled to villages in troupes. Some actors and geisha became celebrities. Their fame allowed them to cross the boundaries between all of the classes. Kabuki was one of the few areas where all three classes mingled, much to the distress of the shogunate. Each of the classes of the Edo period had their own view of how to continue and improve the household. Each class wanted the best life possible for their children and grandchildren.

References

Cornell, L. (1990). Peasant Women and Divorce in Preindustrial Japan. Signs. 15 (4). 710-732.

Friedman, S. (1992). Women in Japanese Society: Their Changing Roles. http://www2.gol.com/users/friedman/writings/p1.html

Ikegami, E. (2003). Shame and the Samurai: Institutions, Trustworthiness, and Autonomy in the Elite Honor Culture. Social Research. 70 (4).1351-1378.

Katsumi, Fukaya (1980) Tokugawa Peasants and the Three Rs. Japan Interpreter. 13 (1) 126-128.

Platt, B. (2000) Elegance, Prosperity, Crisis: Three Generations of Tokugawa Village Elites. Monumenta Nipponica. 55 (1) 45-81.

Sekiguchi, S. (2010) Confucian Morals and the Making of a ‘Good Wife and Wise Mother”: From ‘Between Husband and Wife there is Distinction’ to ‘As Husbands and Wives be Harmonious’ Social Science Japan Journal. 13 (1) 95-113.

Shin, M. (2010) Making a Samurai Western: Japan and the White Samurai Fantasy in The Last Samurai. The Journal of Popular Culture. 43 (5) 1065-1080.

Sugihara, Y. and Emiko Katsurada (2000) Gender-Role Personality Traits in Japanese Culture. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 24. 30-318.

Tanimura, R. (2011) The Study of Shamisen Among Girls of the Late Edo Townsman Class. International Research Centre for Japanese Studies, National Institute for the Humanities. 73-96.

Tadashi, T. (2003) Marriage and Divorce in the Edo Period. Japan Echo. 30 (5).

Walthall, A. (1984). Peripheries. Rural Culture in Tokugawa Japan. Monumenta Nipponica. 39 (4) 371-392.

The No Dating Clause in J-Pop Girl Bands

Take a moment to watch this video.

Notice her shaved head? That is a traditional way to show remorse and a desire to repent in Japanese culture, a tradition quite rare for women to practice.

So what was her sin? What terrible, despicable thing did she do that warranted a shaved head and this apology?

She went out on a date.

Minami Minegishi was a member of the popular J-pop group AKB48, a group of over 90 girls (Yamaguchi, 2013). Her scandal is common in the sexually charged world of J-pop. It’s a world of fantasy, and a world where having an actual relationship is forbidden (Byford, 2013). J-pop idols, although they are mostly minors, are marketed as sex symbols. They targct the desires of men who can’t maintain a relationship. Because of this, the girls must stay chaste and single so not to shatter the fan fantasies that bring in the money. Their availability, at least in the minds of male fans, is part of their marketability.

akb48-sex-marketing J-pop doesn’t target regular music watchers. J-pop is designed to appeal to otaku, who are willing to buy different versions of the same CD and other merchandise (Byford, 2013). So whenever an idol has a boyfriend, she damages her appeal and marketability. Her talent is just a small part of the overall fantasy that surrounds idols. Japanese pop idol culture values the image of being meek and weak.

When an idol signs her contract –well most of the time her parents do because she is a minor–she agrees to be chaste and not to date anyone. Some contracts contain the following clause (Okunuki, 2013):

“Unrequited love is permissible, but you cannot return the affection.”

Idols must encourage fantasy relationships. Her male fans — many girls like to watch idols too, only they dream of being an idol instead of possessing one– develop a relationship with her character through merchandise. Idols generally don’t talk about their true selves. That is why Minegushi’s apology contributes to her broken image. She is apologizing as herself rather than as an idol.

In many ways, the appeal of idols is similar to that of waifus. Waifus are fictional characters a person feels affection toward. An idol is a fictional character, a character that is chaste and available. Some aspects of the real person leeches into the idol’s persona, but the key is the fantasy. Once that fantasy goes, either through aging out of the business or being seen on a date, the girl no longer has marketability.

akb48In 2015, Tokyo District Court ruled on this idea of marketability, The court found a 17-year-old girl guilty of breaching a celibacy clause and was fined $5400. It was the first time a management company successfully sued an idol for damages. The court case is a little troubling. The girl was seen entering a hotel with two men back in October 2013. She was 15 at the time. Never mind the problem of a minor entering a hotel alone with two men. Neither the judge nor the management company worried about that.  Rather, the financial damage was the focus. The event forced the group to disband after about 6 months (Blair, 2015). The judge explained why he ruled in favor of the management company:

“The clause prohibiting dating was necessary to get the support of male fans,” said Judge Akitomo Kojima in his ruling, adding: “The revelation of an idol’s relationship damages their image.”

So the gist of all of this, J-pop idols trade their ability to have relationships for their fame. Any that breach their contract, like Minami Minegishi, face public shame. Minegishi was seen as doing something wrong. Her experience reflects Japan’s continued gender inequality.  Boy band members, for example, lack a celibacy clause in their contracts (Yamaguchi, 2013).

In many regards, the clause is similar to the Western bias against women. We expect women to be chaste and resistant to men’s advances while men are free to have their dalliances. She loses her dating marketability when she has sex while a guy’s is seen as enhanced. The double standard remains stubborn. As long as J-pop continues to market sexuality mixed with the fantasy of availability and chastity, idols will struggle with the demand to avoid having actual relationships. I lay much of the blame on otaku fans. Their desire for fantasy idol relationships damages the ability of idol girls to have normal relationships. It is ironic that idols must remain chaste and single to protect a fantasy. Why can’t the fantasy extend past her relationship status? After all, it already ignores who she really is.

References

Blair, G. J. (2015). Japanese Girl Band Member Ordered to Pay Damages for Going to Hotel Room With Male Fans. Hollywood Reporter, 35.

Byford, S. (2013) Dating AKB48: the J-pop cult banned from falling in love. The Verge. http://www.theverge.com/2013/2/8/3967268/akb48-minami-minegishi-how-a-j-pop-cult-took-over-japan/

Okunuki, Hifumi (2013). AKB48: Unionize and take back your lost love lives. Japan Times. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2013/01/22/how-tos/akb48-unionize-and-take-back-your-lost-love-lives/#.VY3-HkbuV1R

Yamaguchi, M. (2013) Japanese pop idol stirs national debate over head-shaving apology for dating scandal. Canadian Press.

Responsibilities of Blogging

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This week, lets shift gears. Let’s look at our responsibilities as bloggers and why what we do matters.

Blogging is a hobby that comes with responsibilities.  The act of writing requires the author to think carefully about the quality of information and what message she wants the reader to leave with. Quality of information is one of the most critical aspects of blogging. One that I take seriously. The internet is full of misleading and biased information. Sadly, many readers do not know how to think critically about information . Readers seek information that validates their world view or makes them feel correct. This creates an echo chamber.

As bloggers, we have the responsibility to provide quality information and differing view points. You may notice how on JP I try to portray both sides of any given topic. The problem with the echo chamber we see in social media and elsewhere is how it narrows understanding. Being exposed only to messages you support reduces your ability to entertain differing viewpoints. The little box we inhabit online can eventually make us think the world should behave that way and does. Blogs, like other sources of information, can contribute or challenge this.

Information quality is lacking online. As bloggers, we have the responsibility to use quality, vetted sources for our articles. No, Wikipedia doesn’t count. Wikipedia is good for general overviews, but sometimes the information is suspect. It’s not that Wikipedia is misleading, though sometimes it is. Rather, information can be omitted in ways that create hidden bias. Simply omitting a contrasting fact is enough to render an entire article suspect. The problem is how we can’t be aware of what information is missing unless we already know much about a topic.

So how do we get around this? By using vetted sources and looking for contrary information. Vetted sources can be found in libraries, college websites, and academic databases. These articles are reviewed by panels of people who know much about a given topic. Vetted sources also are required to point out their deficiencies and omissions. This helps you see bias in the research and areas you need to search further.

This isn’t to say all internet sources are inaccurate. There are many that are excellent. As bloggers we must be able to determine what is good and what is inaccurate in order to write the best articles we can for our readers.

How can we find good information? Well, there are several questions we can ask ourselves as we read a source.

  1. Does the article confirm our idea or oppose it? It is good to have both.
  2. Does the source author use their actual name or a username? Authors that use their actual names stake their reputation on their work.
  3. Who does the source cite? Does the author cite vetted sources and authorities?
  4. Who cites the source? If academics, schools, and libraries cite the source, it gives that information authority.
  5. When was the article published? Age may be good if you are dealing with history, but bad if dealing with the sciences.

The ultimate responsibility of a blogger is to her reader. Bloggers write because we enjoy it and have messages we feel we need to share. But without readers, it is just digital noise cluttering search results. The best way to gain readers is to provide useful, quality information. This can be thoughtful reviews, researched opinions, and other articles. There is already too much misleading information and downright drivel online. Don’t add to it.

Nagaski c.1868

Nagaski c.1868

I don’t often get into personal details on JP, but I am a Christian and have a little different perspective on work. Blogging about anime is work. Work is any action we do that impacts the world around us. It involves moving materials and ideas around. Work is a part of spiritual practice. It can also become a sin, an idol. Good work, like well written anime blog articles, is a way God acts through us. From a Christian perspective, this happens regardless of the worker’s religious views. A farmer’s work benefits people around him even if he doesn’t believe in God.  However, bad work – lazy, thoughtless, or selfish – perpetuates the problems of sin. Bad work can hurt people, emotionally and physically. Anime blogging, and blogging in general, has a mean streak sometimes. Poor use of language and downright meanness constitutes bad work. It doesn’t help the state of the world. Words like fuck are terrible words. Not so much because of the meaning behind them, but because of their laziness. Fuck acts as a verb, adverb, adjective, conjunction, and interjection. They have no meaning. Writing with such words is shoddy craftsmanship. It is like a carpenter using wood glue for everything simply because it is handy and kinda does the job. Using such words is simply doing a terrible job.

Yeah, it seems like a big ado considering we write about cartoons. But Christians are called to do the best job we can all the time. It was the first command recorded in the Hebrew Bible:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)

The command calls us to work. We are to fill the earth with human civilization and subdue it like a gardener subdues (read: cultivates) their garden. This isn’t a command to pop out kids and pollute. This is a command for us to do our best work, just as God did in the beginning of Genesis.  It is a command for us to garden and fill the earth with good work. For those of us who blog, that means writing good, insightful articles using the best language and research at our command. Good work, no matter what it is, is God acting through us. The trouble is sometimes we can’t see the fruits of our labor. We can’t see who our articles inspire or help. This is where faith comes in. We need to have faith in the work we do, faith that it matters. And it does matter. Work, like anime blogging or making a chair or being a cashier, matters. It matters for us because it changes our character, our ways of thinking. It matters because it helps others, and it matters because it allows God to act through us in endless little ways. Blogging improves your writing and thinking skills. It can inspire readers, and if you write well, it makes the Internet a little bit better.

What you do matters. How you do it matters. Why you do it matters. It is best to approach work with balance. Too much work is just as bad (sinful) as too much leisure. Whatever you do, whatever you write, give it your all.

One Week Friends: Lessons on Friendship

one-week-friendsOne Week Friends examines the value of friendship and the work it takes to build a friendship into something deeper. This slice of life story sometimes drops into sap when some aspects are overplayed, but it provides good lessons on friendship.

Kaori Fujimiya, the ice queen, ignores everyone and eats alone. Yuki Hase thinks her cute. Driven by his impulsive nature, he follows her to the school roof and asks for her to be his friend. Kaori, shocked, tries to ignore him, but his persistence and her desire to connect ends in a budding friendship. Only Kaori has a problem. Each week she loses her memories concerning friends. Undaunted, Yuki keeps making first contact and suggests she keep a journal to help her remember.

Every Monday Yuki must make first contact and ask Kaori to be his friend. For anyone who’s tried doing a cold-call, you can understand how difficult this can be. What’s worse, as Yuki and Kaori’s friendship deepens, her lapses in memory becomes increasingly painful for Yuki . Despite the pain, he pushes ahead and works at the friendship.

The moral the story: friendship is valuable and worth working through no matter the pain involved.

one-week-friends2

Let me turn personal a moment. I started watching One Week Friends on the same week one of my best female friend ended our friendship. I won’t delve into the reasons. Most of them I don’t entirely understand, but the timing forced me to think about the state of friendship in the US. You see, I am an introvert that struggles to make deep connections with people. Surface connections are easy, but deep ones that lead to romance. It takes me years to draw close. From my experiences, people do not have the patience and motivation to form deep, lasting friendships. Many people are fair weather friends. How many people you know would work to reestablish a friendship with someone like Kaori?

The parallel is a bit extreme, but many Americans fail to put forth the effort required to establish deep friendships. Intimacy, a heart-to-heart connection with someone, is rare. Yuki and Kaori developed intimacy because they worked at it over the course of the story. And it hurt them both to do so. Friendship, like relationships in general, have become commodities. Friends come and go. So do spouses. Somewhere we’ve developed this idea that there is always something better on the way. Someone new and shiny. Somewhere many of us have developed a view that relationships should be as easy as using a toaster. As soon as work and pain become involved we throw the toaster aside. Yuki could well have ignored Kaori and hit up some of the other girls in class. It would have been easier, but he desired an intimate friendship with Kaori so he worked for it.

The word intimacy has lost much of its true meaning. Now we read it as a substitute word for sex. Intimacy is far more than sex. Intimacy is sharing your soul with another person and accepting their soul in return. It is a deep, abiding friendship where the other person becomes as much a part of you as your own skin. Physical aspects of intimacy is only an outgrowth of trust. Trust works like money. You can invest trust or you can spend it. The problem is how trust is not easily earned back. Investing trust involves spending it in order to accrue more. Each week Kaori invests trust in her journal and Yuki. She is paid back with increasing interest. But it still took time for the interest to accrue. Intimacy is a function of time spent with another. Shortcuts do not exist.

friendsportraitcivil4

Looking at the photo above makes many of us moderns think “gay.” They were most likely not. What makes some of us cringe isn’t their “gayness” but the level of intimacy these men show. They were friends, buddies, comrades. You can see how close their friendship was at a glance. Art of Manliness has a great write up about male friendship. But this level of intimacy requires work. It requires understanding and a willingness to work through any difficulty to preserve it. This value is what drives Yuki and Kaori to work at their friendship.

Friendship is sometimes viewed as less than romantic relationships. What else can a romantic relationship be but one of the deepest forms of friendship? We are wrong to view romance as anything else.

One Week Friends provides a good example of what friendship should be. One of work, sacrifice, and desire to get to know each other completely. Friendship only grows with hardship. What types of friendships do you have? Do you have the type that creates a love aura like Kaori and Yuki and the photo of male friends?

Dragon Ball–The Freeza Arc, Book 1

20160320_194730Dragon Ball Z is one of those series that I’ve evolved on over the years. It was big among the geek crowd in my middle and high school years, but at the time I was more into shows like Inuyasha and Full Metal Alchemist. Then, after Chris started this blog, we attempted to watch the original Dragon Ball Z series, and while I could see where it had potential, the vast amount of filler in the show turned us off.

But then Toonami added Dragon Ball Z Kai to its line up, and I decided to give the series another chance. Now the show has become the highlight of the week. It is a vast improvement over the original, not only in terms of art but the story as well. From what I understand, the Kai series is closer to the original manga than the first anime was, so was happy to find that the original source material wasn’t as ponderous as the anime became. I don’t want to sound like I’m downing on the original anime–if I had grown up with it, I’m sure I’d love it as much as some of you do. But for someone trying to get into the show who didn’t grow up with it, well, it’s a tall order.

Long story short, while I was once skeptical of how good Dragon Ball Z was, now I’m a believer. So when Chris asked me to review a full color copy of a full color version of the manga we received from VizMedia, I jumped at the chance. The book covers the beginning of the Freeza Arc. After his defeat at Goku’s hands in the first arc, Vegeta returns to Freeza Station to recuperate from his injuries, intent on going to Planet Namek to gather their Dragon Balls and use them to wish for immortality once he recovers. However, Vegeta is beaten to the punch by the evil emperor Freeza, a powerful being who also wishes to use the Dragon Balls to achieve immortality. Vegeta rushes to Namek, hoping he still has times to get his hands on the Dragon Balls.

20160320_194850Meanwhile, back on Earth, Son Goku is recovering from the wounds he received fighting Vegeta. Many of his friends died in the battle with the Saiyans, and now the remaining Z Warriors want to gather the Dragon Balls from Namek to revive them.

The book is beautifully illustrated, with vibrant colors and detailed artwork, more akin to Kai than the original anime. All in all, the story and dialog is similar to Kai–I believe there were a few small differences, but those may have more to do with my faulty memory than anything else. Manga is new to me–I’ve never been big on comics, and manga in particular throws me off since it reads backwards to what I’m used to. Even so, I enjoyed this book, and based on my limited knowledge of the genre, this volume is a solid addition to any manga lover’s collection.

 

Available at Amazon.

Barriers to Anime Going Mainstream

Balsa_and_chagumRecently, I rewatched Moribito, and it struck me how rare such anime are for the US. You see, anime is a storytelling medium just like live-action movies. However, anime has a bad reputation for telling poor stories laced with underboob and panty shots.

Why is that? After all, anime contains stories like Moribito. If you haven’t see it, Moribito follows Balsa, a 28 year-old woman (middle-aged by the story’s suggestion) and her efforts to protect a young boy called Chagum. Balsa struggles with her new role as a surrogate mother. Sadly, Moribito remains rather unknown.

I suspect the series’ troubles come from how it breaks the pattern we expect from anime. First, it doesn’t deal with teens. Balsa is experienced, confident, and knows her stuff. Second, there is no high school to be seen. To be fair, some popular anime lack this cliched setting. But most anime use high school because a good percentage of its Western audience are around that age.

I can go on with other points and counter points, but you are likely familiar with the problems with anime and its potential. Ghost in the Shell and the other influential anime we’ve feature (Akira, Sailor Moon, and others) show what anime can do.

But why? Why doesn’t anime break out of its niche?

This type of humor might be one reason.

This type of humor might be one reason.

Well, one of the main reasons is American’s attitude toward animation. Other than Pixar and the occasional Ghibli film, animation is associated with childhood. Cartoons are for kids. Alright, Simpsons and Family Guy are considered adult shows. But outside comedy, animation isn’t considered a serious storytelling medium for adults.  American culture has a strong bias against adults enjoying animation. Again, Pixar is an exception. Disney movies are still considered the domain of children. American culture expects adults to put away childish things. Those who do not face ridicule and other social problems. Parents are given some leeway. Some of this is rooted in the American tendency to box people based on age and gender. Certain ages are expected to behave in this way and like these things. Adults like sports, live action, and cards. Kids: cartoons, toys, and board games. The edges of the box have bent a little. Adults can collect toys, but collecting has long been considered an adult hobby. But collecting only bends so far, depending on who you speak to.

Accessibility is one reason. Anime has strange humor (to American eyes) and visual language that can be hard to understand. American animation has adopted some of these elements in recent years, but they are still not readily understandable for most.

This scene was rather inappropriate with its innuendo. Maybe I am just getting too old for these types of jokes.

Another reason anime remains niche is the fans. Yes, anime fans get in the way of it going mainstream. It appears  counter intuitive that fans would want anime to remain niche. After all, wouldn’t it be great if anime was as popular as superhero movies? Not really, and not for the reason you may suspect.

If anime was part of popular culture, otaku and other fans would lose a sense of identity. Identity is defined (in the United States, anyway) by what a person is against. Identity is a negative boundary. Political people don’t create an identity based on what they support. They set themselves apart from their rivals by setting themselves as opposite. Even expressions of support such as pro-life or pro-choice focus on what they are against. Some anime fans define their identity in this way. Fan versus nonfans. Not all fans of anime do this, of course. Anime fandom is a subculture, and its separation from the mainstream gives some a sense of belonging, of being different. And that feeling of separation helps define their identity. This identity includes collections, cosplay, and conventions. Again, this isn’t the case for all fans. If anime became mainstream, many fans would lose this separation. If anime movies net the same amount as superhero movies, the subculture would be absorbed into the greater culture. They could no longer claim themselves separate and different. The insider lingo would no longer be limited to the in-crowd. The anime  community would no longer  be a subculture. It would be a part of the greater culture. Boundaries between those who “get anime” would dissolve. All that would be left are those who are connoisseurs of obscure titles.

American culture’s bias toward animation isn’t going away soon. In some regards, anime’s niche status in the States is identical to mainstream status. Look at how formulaic blockbuster movies tend to be. Sequels of sequels of remakes. All follow the same patterns that are proven to sell. Anime’s niche releases follow the same patterns. Fan service sells. High school based anime sells because they follow the established pattern. That is why the West sees so many copycats.  If the anime community wants to break the old pattern and allow different shows like Moribito to became the new pattern, the community needs to  buy these shows. Services like Crunchyroll are helping with this. They provide access to more variety and niche stories. Unlike mainstream culture, niche cultures have power to shape themselves. Mainstream is too large to shift patterns easily. Niche cultures like anime sail a smaller ship. It takes far less effort on the tiller to turn.

If you find anime dissatisfying as it is now,  vote with your wallet. Don’t buy or watch anime that follows patterns you dislike. If enough people support certain patterns they will become more common. Of course, this only deals with imports. Japanese society determines the market. The Western anime community has little influence on the market outside of what companies export, but companies want to maximize their profit. Anime is an international product. Many stories are designed to appeal to  Japanese and American audiences. If American tastes change, different types of anime will be subtitled, dubbed, and released here.

Basically, what we buy determines what types of stories we will see in the future. What do you want to see?