For most Americans, World War II footage acts as their introduction to the banzai cheer. The cheer remains closely associated with militarism and the atrocities of the war. Footage of kamikaze pilots shouting banzai and pumping their arms in unison has a similar chilling effect on people as the Nazi salute. Not to mention the cheer strikes many of us as strange because American culture lacks a true equivalent, except perhaps sport cheers. For anime fans, the cheer appears as a humorous oddity characters perform to encourage others. Finally, for observers of Japan, the cheer appears as a part of politics. You see politicians shout banzai and pump their arms just as the kamikaze pilots had.
According to dictionaries, the word banzai literally means ten thousand years. The word’s origins comes from the Chinese word wansui and dates roughly to the beginning of the Meiji period, around 1890 (banzai, n.d.). Banzai is considered an interjection and related to unused English interjections like hurrah and yippee. Perhaps the best equivalent is the British shout “Long live the king/queen.” It can mean “Long live the emperor.” Today, banzai is just a shout of elation.
Banzai and Japanese Emotion Rules
Japan is known for its concern for social appearance or, in other words, emotion rules. Banzai’s explosion of emotion can be jarring, but in Japanese culture, emotions act as “social glue” (Matsumoto, 1996). After all, they aren’t Vulcans. Outward displays of emotion depend on social context, determining how loudly emotions should be expressed.
A study by David Matsumoto (2002), rated how Americans and Japanese rate external expressions of emotions. Americans rated external expressions of emotion as more intense while the Japanese rated quiet expressions of emotions and louder external expressions equally. The Japanese subjects in the study were also better able to determine true emotions with minimal cues than Americans. This is because Japanese culture contains rules as to how to expression an emotion. For the Japanese subjects, the emotional level remain consistent but the outward expression varied due to social appropriateness. Americans lack such rules so we rate the intensity of emotion based on the intensity of its expression. Japanese aren’t better at emotion reading than Americans. Rather, culture frames the way people read and express emotions.
Banzai cheers appear to be high intensity expressions of elation to Americans, but in reality, banzai cheers are socially acceptable outward displays. The actual emotion during a banzai cheer may be as high as a congratulatory smile, but the smile may be the only socially acceptable expression at the time. The cheer serves as a group expression as well.
Despite being a community-focused culture, the Japanese typically don’t have as strong a reaction to world news than Americans and Europeans. Americans and Europeans make fewer distinctions between ingroups and outgroups than Japanese, which is why negative news affects American and Europeans in a personal way (Matsumoto. 2002). This ties together with how Americans view intensity of emotion as well. Because American culture is self-oriented and values individual thoughts and emotions, group dynamics matter less than collective cultures like Japan. Emotional rules developed in Japan as a way to avoid the disruption of social harmony the expression of negative emotions can cause (Novin, 2014).
Tatemae, Honne, and Banzai
This focus on harmony at the cost of individual expression falls under tatemae, or the outward social appearance. This is the set of rules that governs how emotions are expressed in social situations. Honne, or how a person truly feels, often remains unexpressed because it can threaten harmony. In American culture, we have our own version of tatemae and honne. White lies fall under tatemae. So does the suppression of cursing around children. However, because American culture values the individual above the community, our tatemae rules are less pervasive. American culture states it is unhealthy to bottle up our personal feelings. As a result, American culture can come off as abrasive for many.
At the same time, American individualism prevents us from having something like a banzai cheer outside of sporting stadiums and the few other collective venues we have. When you think about it, the chants and cheers of sports seek to create bonds between fans of a certain team. In the same way, banzai cheers form bonds between participants.
Banzai and Anime
Sometimes banzai is used for comedic effect in anime. A scene from Samurai Champloo comes to mind:
The banzai cheer used in this scene is a way of expressing gratitude to the kami of the lake. Kami are spiritual beings found throughout Japanese folklore and Shinto beliefs. The banzai cheer also serves as a period at the end of the comedic scene. The cheer and its role in the anime depends on context.
The people whom we have met so far, are the best who have as yet been discovered, and it seems to me that we shall never find among heathens another race to equal the Japanese. They are a people of very good manners, good in general, and not malicious.
–Francis Xavier c. 1551
Today less than 1% of Japan’s population are Christian. In the beginning of the 1600s, 1.5% of Japan were Christians (Offman, 2014; Breen & Williams 1996). Christianity has struggled to spread within Japan, and it has had a troubled history. It all began in 1549 when Francis Xavier and Yajiro, a Japanese man Xavier met in Malacca landed in Kagoshima. Two years later, he abandoned Japan to focus on China, leaving the country in the hands of his colleagues Allessandro Valignano and Matteo Ricci. All three decided to change the policies that had devastated the New World–the eradication of the native religions. Instead, they held Chinese and Japanese culture in such high esteem that they tried to accommodate rather than exterminate (Hur, 2007).
Before we dig into this history, we have to discuss some terminology. Depending on who is writing and the time period, these terms can refer to different groups of Christians. The term, Kirishitan, usually referred to lower-class Christians; whereas bateran referred to samurai-class Christians and Western priests. This distinction becomes important during the years of eradication. Contrary to popular belief, most Christian martyrs didn’t come from the peasant classes. Most were samurai (Yukihiro, 1996). For example, in 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi issued an edict that placed restrictions on conversion among the higher classes, requiring them to seek permission. Peasants, however, were free of the edict:
…bateran sectarians by their free choice, are of the lower classes, shall be unmolested, this being a matter of Eight sects or Nine sects.
Bateran, here is used to encompass all classes, but we already see a distinction. Over time, the term bateran comes to refer to the upper classes exclusively. In 1638, an edit by Iemitsu was the first time Kirishitan was used to refer to lower-class, lay Christians (Hur, 2007). Now, this seems a little odd. However, the peasant population typically bowed to the desires of their local lords. When their lords converted, many samurai and lower-class people did as well. This, later, causes problems as Yukihiro (1996) explains:
Christianity was accommodated by the populace owed much to its readiness to acknowledge the authority of government in secular matters. Caught in a dilemma between a desire to practice Christianity on one hand, and a reluctance to rebel–for such was the nature of their faith–on the other, Christians had no choice but to recant or to go underground.
By targeting bateran, the Tokugawa government could force this problem on the lower-classes, making many recant. This is why the distinction in terms matters. However, by 1638, the government decided to extend its reach to the rest of the population. For my purpose, I won’t use bateran or Kirishitan in this article. However, I wanted to mention these terms because they are important in the academic literature you may encounter in your own research. For the sake of readability, I’ll just use Christian even though Kirishitan identify as their own branch of Christianity (Kentaro, 2003).
Yajiri, the Translator
Most histories focus on Xavier, but his success in planting Christianity relied on the work of Yajiro, the first Japanese to become a Christian and the first to translate passages of the Bible–sadly his translation of Matthew is lost– from Portuguese into Japanese. However, he ran into various problems with his translations that created problems for Xavier and his early convents. The concept of a absolute God didn’t exist within Japan at the time. The closest was a deity within the Shingon sect of Buddhism named Dainichi. Yajiro uses this name within his translations, so when Xavier thought he was urging people toward the Christian God, he was really teaching about a deity in Buddhism. He later realized this and told his followers not to worship Dainichi, creating confusion and sparking a conflict with the local priests (Mullins, 2003).
The language barrier limited Xavier’s success, but it prompted the Jesuits to create dictionaries and found a school to teach incoming missionaries the language and culture. Valignano started the school at Sakaguchi, and he even urged missionaries to live like the Japanese people they taught. Valignano wrote a manual in 1581 about proper manners, the proper way to eat, the proper way to dress, and even covered architecture for church buildings. It was something of a textbook for the school (Mullins, 2003). Because of the problems Xavier and Yajiro faced with word substitutions, the Jesuits and the Spanish Franciscans took to using Japanese transliterations of Portuguese and Latin terms. But otherwise, they translated prayers and passages in popular language to make them accessible. Sanctos no gosaguyo no uchi nukigaki, printed in 1591 is an example of this. It contains extracts from the Acts of the Apostles, but written in popular language (Kaiser, 1996).
However, this wasn’t to be. Later Protestant incursion after Japan opened its borders in the late 19th century found few surviving references to Portuguese traditions. Christianity, during the closed Tokugawa period all but disappeared.
Christianity under Tokugawa Ieyasu
Under Ieyasu’s government, the Christian population doubled from about 150,000 to 300,000. It was also the only period (from about 1598-1614) when a Roman Catholic bishop was allowed to reside in Japan. Ieyasu’s tolerance of the religion was a part of his plans to develop a trade network that connected Japan with Manila and New Spain (Mexico). The Franciscan order, at first, helped him establish these connections. The missionary Jeromino de Jesus Castro had official permission to teach in Edo and establish a church in 1599. In return, trade from Portugal and Spain entered Japan. It’s unclear how well Ieyasu understood Christianity. He, like many others at the time, likely thought it was a branch of Buddhism (Nosco, 1996; Hur, 2007).
However, soon a scandal that reached right into Ieyasu’s home fired his suspicions toward Christianity, leading him to reverse his tolerance and begin the age of expulsion. Under Ieyasu, even after the scandal, didn’t execute Christians (Nosco, 1996).
The event known as the Okamoto Scandal of 1612 began back in 1608 with a clash in Macao between the crew of the Christian vessel of the daimyo Arima Harunobu (1567-1612) and Portuguese sailors. Sixty Japanese died in the clash. A few years later the Portuguese vessel, captained by Andre Pesoa, returned. When Harunobu heard of this, he appealed to Ieyasu for permission to avenge the 60 slain Japanese. This sort of grudge holding was common for the samurai class, even its Christian members. Seeing his chance, Harunobu and the Nagaski magistrate attacked Pesoa for 4 days, eventually sinking the vessel and all of her crew. The scandal begins after these events, which while they would strain relations between the Shogunate and Portugal, wouldn’t have been too off base from Japanese customs at the time.
However, Harunobu and his co-commander Hasegawa Fujihiro believed they should’ve been rewarded for their good deed of defending Japanese honor. The retainer Okamoto Daihashi saw an opportunity and made the two believe he was lobbying for a reward. In return, Harunobu and Fujihiro offered him the usual bribes. Daihashi then forges a letter from Ieyasu, a serious crime. Well, this goes on for a time before Harunobu decided to speak with Daihashi’s lord Honda Masazumi about why the land transfer was taking so long. Of course, Masazumi had no idea a land transfer was happening and launched an investigation that ended with Daihashi being burned at the stake for his forgery.
The scandal should’ve ended there, but Harunobu and Fujihiro, who was a shogunal deputy of Nagasaki, clashed over the mistaken reward. Harunobu tried to murder Fujihiro, which was an attack on the shogunate itself. Harunobu was ordered to commit seppuku, and an investigation was launched. The investigation revealed how Christianity has spread throughout the ruling class and even among Ieyasu’s personal bodyguards. It also discovered a conspiracy to undermine the shogunate.The investigation ended with the exile of 26 Christian vassals (Hur, 2007).
This convoluted scandal turned Ieyasu against Christians. In a letter, Ieyasu laid out his resistance to Christianity by grounding his government in a pledge toward the gods and buddhas (Hur, 2007):
Since the creation, [the Japanese people] have worshiped kami and revered the Buddha. The Buddha and kami are like…traces of each other, identical and not different. The matters of solidifying loyalty and righteousness between the lord and vassals, of ensuring no perfidy, and of building up a strong nation in unity are all pledged to the kami. This is the proof of mutual trust.
Ieyasu’s statement laid the groundwork for the persecutions to come. In response, the Society of Jesus attempted to bride lords to reverse the policy. Under their pressure, a Portuguese trade ship refused to unload its Chinese silk, causing a jump in prices. But their brides and trade threats didn’t move the government–Christian deportations increased (Hur, 2007).
The Shimabara Rebellion and the Wrath of the Shogunate
Gradually, Ieyasu’s deportations changed to executions as the government felt threatened by Christian lords. The government worried about colonization by the armies of Spain and Portugal. The Shogun was well aware of how the armies followed the first missionaries in the New World. They also feared popular uprisings inspired by Christians. These fears didn’t reflect the reality of Christianity of the time, however. Missionaries in Japan had little to do with the armies of Spain and Portugal, and they confirmed to the rules set by the Shogunate. Christian thought at the time also didn’t want to disrupt the governmental order (Yukihiro, 1996). But these fact did little to ease the fears of the Shogunate.
Christian executions picked up in substantial numbers around 1620. Before then, the government focused on the samurai class. One such samurai was Adam Arakawa, the Christian leader of Amakusa, who was executed in 1614 (Kaiser, 1996). I’ll list some of the major execution events.
In 1622, 21 missionaries and 34 lay people were decapitated and burned at the stake.
The Great Martyrdom of Edo in 1623 saw 50 people killed, including the Jesuit Girolamo de Angelis and the Franciscan Francisco Galvez.
In 1623, at least 60 people died in Takoku, including Diogo Carvalho. They were sent to Sendai prison nude. All of them froze to death.
Among the government’s many inquisitors, Mizuno Morinobu was most known for his cruelty. More than 300 people died by his orders, many thrown into the boiling hot spring at Unzen (Hur, 2007). Despite these incidents, the government didn’t fully set out to kill the low-class Christians. That is, until events in the regions of Shimabara and Amakusa.
The Shimabara Rebellion erupted in 1637 as a result of these persecutions, taxation, and general discontent among the peasants and ronin, masterless samurai, of the region. Led by Amakusa Shiro, the uprising shook the Shogunate enough that the government raised an army of over 120,000 soldiers. The rebellion ended about 6 months after the rebellion began. Amakusa Shiro was executed. The rebellion had a lot more to it, but covering the rebellion would require more space than I have to spare in this article. But the most important fact to keep in mind: the Shimabara Rebellion made the Shogunate realize the danger of Christian peasant rebellions and began to crack down on Christians across all classes.
Two years after the failure of the Shimabara Rebellion, the once-quiet region of Amakusa rebelled (Yukihiro, 1996). As you can imagine, the Shogun wasn’t pleased and set about the total eradication of Christianity. In 1639, only 150,000 Christians lived in Japan, from the high of around 300,000. When Japan opened to the rest of the world, an estimated 40,000 Christians were discovered in the 1860s (Breen & Williams, 1996).
The Jesuit Inquisitor
Cristorias Ferreira (in Japan between 1609-1650) was a high-ranked Jesuit, and he became the first apostate in 1633. As an apostate, he became one of the main inquisitors of the Shogunate. The torture that broke him involved being trussed and hung upside down in excrement. After he converted to Zen Buddhism, took on the name Sawano Chuan, and married a Japanese woman, he had a hand in executing and breaking several of his former brethren. The first group that tried to save him from his apostasy died in prison after he captured them. He handed the second group over to the same man that broke his faith, Inoue Masashige. Masashige forced this group of Jesuits to apostatize as well, and they lived out the rest of their lives in prison (Hur, 2007). The events of the novel and movie Silence are based on this.
How to Spot a Christian
Christianity went underground in response to all of this violence. They took on practices that appeared to be Buddhist or Shinto on the surface, such as the veneration of Kannon and other Buddhist deities. Kannon became a stand-in for the Virgin Mary. Images of Bosatsu became stand-ins for Jesus (Kentaro, 2003). This made spotting a Christian rather difficult, so the Shogunate developed a test. Each year, inquisitors would visit the various villages with images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and various other icons. They would then order people to step on them. Those that refused were labeled as Christians and were either executed, imprisoned, or forced to recant.
In response, the Christian community rejected martyrdom in order to survive. The yearly denial of their faith created a dilemma that shaped their beliefs. Over time, the Virgin Mary was elevated into the Trinity, taking on the role of the Holy Spirit (Breen & Williams, 1996; Kentaro, 2003):
…only a mother figure, limitless in her compassion, could understand the anguish caused by denial and, moreover, forgive it.
Of course, the Shogunate knew this test, called efumi, wouldn’t be enough. A spy system known as the 5-family group developed. This system grouped 5 households together, making them mutually responsible for helping each other…and spying on each other. If a member of the group denounced a family within the group as Christian, the other 4 families were free of suspicion. But if someone outside of the group accused a member, all members of the 5 families were executed (Mullins, 2003). In 1687, the government began watching the families of martyrs for Christian activity, requiring the families to submit written notices for births, deaths, marriages, moving, change of name, and other family events.
And to make sure the government didn’t miss anyone, it forced everyone to undergo a Buddhist funeral. This made sure that any Christians they missed would become Buddhist when they were laid to rest.
Japanese Christian Beliefs
As I’ve mentioned, as the executions increased, the Christian community turned away from venerating martyrdom. Instead, they went further underground, hiding behind Buddhist and Shinto practices to avoid complete extermination. Unlike persecutions during the Roman Empire, Japanese Christians had nowhere to go. They couldn’t escape the islands of Japan or the reach of the Shogunate. In this isolation, Japanese Christians developed various beliefs and rituals of their own. First, their faith moved away from a strict God to a motherly one–Mary. Because of the forced Buddhist funeral practices, the habit of holding a second, secret funeral developed. The members would recite prayers to counter Buddhist sutras. The Christians still observed traditional Christian holy days like Easter, Christmas, and Palm Sunday, but they also absorbed the rhythms of Shinto-Buddhist Japan. Agricultural rituals, birth celebrations, offering thanks for the stopping of wind, and expelling evil from a house became a part of the many daily practices of these Christians (Kentaro, 2003).
Baptism remained a vital part of their practice. Men assigned to be a baptizer in the local Christian community were called ojiyaku and served as the local leader. These baptizers had special purity requirements: bathing first, laundry washed separate from the rest of the family, separate wash basin, soap, and towel. Baptizers couldn’t care for cows or even hold a baby. He couldn’t be peed upon. Before baptizing someone, the ojiyaku would be doused with cold water and not dry with a towel. Instead, his wife handed him a special baptismal kimono, no underwear allowed. He also had a special mat to keep from sitting on a tatami floor before baptizing. All of these ideas to avoid becoming polluted came from folk beliefs of the time (Kentaro, 2003).
Japanese Christian Documents and Confusion
Other Christian beliefs mingle with native Japanese beliefs. For example, Satan’s demons and Judas Iscariot were believed to be tengu, half man, half crow goblins found in Japanese folklore. Unlike Christians today, these Christians relied on oral tradition. They didn’t have a Bible as Christians today know it. Instead, they passed down the teachings of the Jesuits through stories which were later recorded. There was one known document that circulated among some Japanese Christians: “Concerning the Creation of Heaven and Earth,” which consists of 15 chapters. It’s considered the secret Bible of the underground Christians but some scholars believe it wasn’t written down in its entirety until the 1820s (Trumbull, 1996). The book acts like a time capsule that preserved many of the ideas the Jesuits taught in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The work begins with a version of Genesis and jumps into the New Testament. It mentions nothing of Jesus’s teachings, but it has a long Passion narrative with the Resurrection and Ascension. The long version of the book goes into the Communion of the Saints, the End of the World, and the Last Judgment. Segments of the Rosary is also found in the book along with non-canonical materials the Jesuits used to teach simple theology to new converts. For example, a short story involving Mary appears in a similar form in the “Arabic Infancy Gospel” (Turnbull, 1996):
When three days had passed, Mary asked for a bath. Then she recommended that the son of the house take a bath in the same hot water. The house-wife said, “Although I appreciate your thoughtfulness, our son is suffering from the pox, and in danger of his life. Please forgive me.” But Mary insisted he took a bath, and was suddenly cured of the pox and lived, to the great thanks of all.
Some scholars believe some of the passages and traditions may be memories of images like the pieta. For example, Mary conceives Jesus when a butterfly enters her mouth, but this could come from the memory of icons that depicted a dove flying in the background near Mary’s mouth. Time could’ve muddied the memory slightly. The book also has passages that have been localized (Turnbull, 1996):
They tied him [Jesus] up as they had been ordered and flogged him hard enough to break his bones until the bamboo rods split into pieces. They pushed various things that were bitter and hot into his mouth, and pressed an iron crown onto his head. Blood ran down from his body like a waterfall.
The book tries to explain various Japanese cultural practices. The custom of women shaving their eyebrows and blackening their teeth was thought to date from the time of Noah.
General Research Division, The New York Public Library. (191-?). Armour and Weapons of Ancient Warriors. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-83bf-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
As the Tokugawa period ended and Japan opened to the rest of the world, serious thought was given to making accommodation toward Christianity. Okuni Takamasa (1792-1871) proved to be the most influential. He believed Christianity was a branch of Shintoism, if a distorted one, and while it shouldn’t be vilified, it also shouldn’t be allowed inside the center of Shintoism. The 2500th anniversary of the 1st emperor of Japan marked an epoch, according to Okuni, where Japan would become the center of a new global order centered on Shinto. He thought the Western science Japan was adopting were a legacy of Sukunahikona, one of the deities involved in the creation of the world.
Okuni examined Christianity through his Shinto beliefs and through his political beliefs. He considered the story of Genesis in the Bible as an example of spirits born from Shinto deities. Adam came from Itakeru no kami. Even Jesus, to Okuni, came from the deity Takamimusubi (Breen, 1996). He accepted Christianity and then attempted to explain it, a shift from the past rejection of the religion. However, despite his belief of accommodation, he believed Christianity had no place in Japan as a distorted branch of true Shintoism and for political reasons (Breen, 1996):
The reason for the frequent visits of foreign vessels to our shores is quite simply that they wish to disseminate throughout Japan the Christian way of friendship and love. It is a frightful prospect. It is not that Confucianism, Buddhism, and Christianity have nothing to say about the virtues of loyalty, piety, and chastity. It is simply that they dilute them. They are diluted by comparisons with loyalty, piety, and chastity here in Japan.
He goes on and writes “the headquarters of Christian religion are sited overseas; this could mean the national wealth is transported out of Japan, and the nation could suffer impoverishment as a result.” For Okuni, Christianity would dilute both Japan’s spiritual code and political welfare, but that didn’t mean he was against it. He viewed it as “a rather good religion.”
Okuni and other thinkers at the time–along with pressure from the Western powers like the United States and Britain–helped Japan move from persecution to a wary accommodation. The historical memory of Christian uprising and meddling by Christian nations remained in their thinking. However, their limited acceptance eventually allowed Japan’s hidden Christians to come out of hiding. Some groups merged with the Catholic Church, while others preferred to remain separate and continue their distinct practices. However, they no longer had to fear eradication at the hands of the samurai.
Breen, John (1996) “Accommodating the alien: Okuni Takamasa and the religion of the Lord of Heaven.” Religion in Japan. Cambridge: University Press.
Breen, John & Williams, Mark (1996) Japan and Christianity. Impacts and Responses. MacMillan Press: New York.
Offman, Michael. (2014) Christian missionaries find Japan a tough nut to crack. The Japan Times. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/12/20/national/history/christian-missionaries-find-japan-tough-nut-crack/
Hur, Nam-lin. (2007) “Death and Social Order in Tokugawa Japan.” Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Kaiser, Stefan. (1996) “Translations of Christian Terminology into Japanese 16-19th Centuries: Problems and Solutions.” Japan and Christianity. Impacts and Responses. New York: MacMillan Press.
Kentaro, Miyazaki (2003) “The Kakure Kirishitan Tradition.” Handbook of Christianity in Japan. Boston: Koninklyke & Brill.
Mullins, Mark. (2003) Handbook of Christianity in Japan. Boston: Koninklyke & Brill.
Nosco, Peter (1996) “Keeping the faith: bakuhan policy toward relgions in seventeenth-century Japan.”Religion in Japan: Arrows to Heaven and Earth. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Turnbull, Stephen (1996) “Aculturation among the Kakure Kirishitan: Some Conclusions from the Tenchi Hajimari no Koto.” Japan and Christianity. Impacts and Responses. New York: MacMillan Press.
Yukihiro, Ohashi (1996) “New Perspectives on the Early Tokugawa Persecution.” Japan and Christianity. Impacts and Responses. New York: MacMillan Press.
The largest cliche in the online writing world deals with writers writing to other writers. If you browse self-publishing websites, many offer tips and tricks (some useful, some snake-oil) and write books targeting other self-published writers. I’m going to add my hat to the pile. Only this time, let’s discuss the use of words and lingo from the anime blogger’s perspective. If you are looking for goodies about a particular anime or Japanese culture, well, I have to take a break from research and watching anime every once in awhile.
Words are cool. Okay, they are more than cool. They are miraculous. Think about what a word can do. When you read a name like Kirito, it can conjure a host of questions and mental images: what’s a Kirito? Hey isn’t that the Sword Art Online guy? Fans of the show immediately imagine what he looks like. The single word conjures emotions and reactions: love, hate, indifference, eye rolls, groans, and smiles. Words connect the thoughts of the writer with you, the reader.
Words tug at your memories and your mental scaffold. Each of us carries a mental framework of experiences, knowledge, and emotions woven into a lattice. From that lattice words and images hang, organized in a way unique to you. No one else has the same lattice. However, words allow my lattice to connect to yours, however incomplete the connection may be.
If you think about it, it is amazing we understand each other at all. Words are utterances and drawings that connect different experiences of reality. Sure, we share some similarities, but some differences in experience are vast. Females have a different set of experiences than males, for example. Society socializes the genders differently, yet words still allow for connections. Anime fans, as another example, have a far different understanding compared to those who do not watch anime.
The Problem with Words
Speaking of overused words…
I’m sure you’ve struggled to express your excitement at one point or another. Awesome just didn’t seem to fit. The word excited felt too tame. You reached for a word to connect your feeling of elation with another person’s experience of the same. You’ve touched on a problem with words: over-use.
Over-used words lose their impact and their meaning, and words without meaning are so much air. Let’s take the word awesome. You see it used to describe anime and manga and just about everything that is merely fair nowadays. The word used to mean “creating an overwhelming feeling of awe”. It was used in reference to God and events that would drive a person to their knees with the sheer emotion of the experience. Now it is used to describe shirts and socks.
Speaking of that, let me show my Christian side for a little bit. I dislike using the words God and Jesus. Christians toss the words around too much nowadays. In many regards, they have lost their impact. The name of Jesus used to have power. It used to be awe-inspiring (see what I mean about overuse?) Now it is an everyday word. This should not be so. Such words as God, Jesus, and love should be used rarely and with purpose. We need to protect their meanings and their sacredness. Love is, perhaps, the most overused word of all when you think of it.
In the Hebrew Bible, writers avoided the name of God. In a similar way, the phrase “I am” resonates with power because it appears infrequently. For words to recover their impact, they need to fall out of regular use for a time. Sacred words remain sacred because they are used in limited context. This teaches the value of limiting some words to certain contexts.
Okay, let’s return to anime blogging. One of the most common words I’ve seen in anime blogging, and Internet writing in general, is the word fuck. As a writer, I hate that word (and I use the word hate intentionally–it is beyond mere dislike). I don’t hate it for its vulgarness; although, that doesn’t help the word’s status. I hate the word because it has no real meaning. You find it being used as an interjection, adverb, verb, noun, adjective, article, and every other part of speech possible. Fuck is used so often it no longer shocks most Internet readers. If anything, it reveals poor writing. Good writing will make the reader feel angry through good argument and illustration. Fuck does neither of these. The word is lazy. Expletives tend to be, but if carefully used, they can enhance good writing and pull the right emotion at the right time. But in order to work, they must be rare. Fuck is just too tired, too meaningless, to do this anymore. Well, other than make me feel disdain or disappointment.
The Foundation of Good Writing
Good writing requires a foundation in good word selection. I admit to being a poor wordsmith. I reach for the easiest, most common words here on JP. So excuse my hypocrisy for this section. Good-word selection determines how we connect with readers as bloggers. Yet, we have to mine deep word veins to find fresh words, words that retain their meaning. Words like awesome ramp up the rhetoric to the point where you can’t find a good word to capture what you want. You must reach for words like sublime or majestic, words meant for speaking about the sacred rather than the mundane.
Illustrations, metaphors, and similes still work for us, luckily. At least, as long as we stay away from cliches. As anime bloggers, we have the whole of anime to draw from. We can pull characters from different stories to illustrate our points. It can be as effective as Kirito’s double wield technique in the first part of SAO, or they can fall as flat as Rukia’ chest jokes in Bleach. We have to be careful. Not every reader may know our obscure references, but these help us avoid the use of tired words and hyperbole.
Some may think: what does all of this word philosophy have to do with blogging? I just want to review anime! This isn’t a term paper or anything. This is the Internet! But as a blogger, you want people to read. To attract readers, you need to write well. Good writing is clear, concise, engaging, and choosy with words. Good writing draws readers over time. Not to mention it also makes you stand out from all the blogs out there that rely on the squishy word fuck for feeling.
I know this is a rehash post. I’ve written about these topics across various articles. But, as a writer, words matter to me. It troubles me how Christians will chant Jesus. It grates on me as much as the word fuck because it is disrespectful. It undermines the name’s importance and power. Yes, I know it is intended as the opposite, but the fact many Christians feel multiple utterances are needed shows how much its power has waned. Likewise, words such as awesome have lost their impact. New words like waifu retain their freshness, but over-use will make them expire quickly.
Words reflect thoughts. Writing provides insight into how a mind works, messy or ordered, precise or mushy. To end this rant (and rant it is): be careful of how you use words.
Set in an alternative world, Izetta pits magic against World War II technology. The story follows Izetta and the Archduchess of a small country Eylstadt as they struggle against the empire of Germania. The anime focuses on Izetta and her relationship with the Archduchess, Finé. It’s basically a light yuri with action and political intrigue. They have a close relationship with mutual dedication, which causes them pain as the conflict wears on.
Izetta the Last Witch focuses on the problem of escalating violence. Finé uses Izetta to defend the small duchy, and her power as a witch overmatches most technology Germania has. Izetta can throw tanks and use medieval weapons to stop bullets and shells. But she is limited to areas with ley lines, veins of magic that she taps to power her spells. Finé’s decision to use Izetta as the ultimate shield starts an arms development race which ends with Germania building a nuclear bomb that uses crystallized magic as its fuel. The nations resisting Germania have their own concerns about Izetta’s powers, driving them to research their own counters to her magic and escalating the bloodiness of the war.
The story captures the way technology snowballs during the course of World War I and World War II. Even after war finishes, the level of escalation remains. Just look at our world. At the end of World War II, nuclear weapons were the apex of escalation. During the Cold War, this continued with hydrogen bombs of ever increasing destructive abilities. In the past, defensive measures developed to combat better weapons. Leather armor became chain mail which became plate armor up until guns rendered plate armor obsolete. After a certain point, offense became the only defense. The only deterrent to nuclear weapons was more nuclear weapons.
Izetta the Last Witch captures this trend. Finé’s duchy had fortresses and defensive lines throughout its lands, but Germania’s superior weapons overwhelmed those defenses. The duchy was unable to build any defense that could counter the weapons. Izetta entered the fray as an offensive-defense strategy. Fortresses and old methods of defense became worthless much as bomb shelters were rendered useless with nuclear weapons. Izetta becomes a symbol of modern war and its almost magical ability to destroy. However, Izetta has a conscience.
The story also features the idea of loyalty to one’s country. Finé is surrounded by people who are willing to give their lives to defend her and the country. Their loyalty even appears blind at times. Even Izetta is willing to die to protect Finé, which cuts Finé to the core. She feels as if she is using Izetta, despite the fact Izetta is serving Finé by choice. Arnold Berkmann, a Germanian officer, provides a counter view to this loyalty. He seeks merely to live and has no true loyalty to his country. The story paints him as despicable for his selfishness, but I found him an interesting and even sympathetic character. He simply doesn’t want to die and doesn’t value his country more than his life. His is a viewpoint that criticizes the virtue of dying for one’s country.
However, Berkmann’s self preservation hints at an interesting fact about war: if no one was willing to die for the idea of country, war wouldn’t happen. War only happens because people are willing to fight and die on behest of a ruling body or person (such as Finé’s countrymen) or an idea of country (such as Germania’s idea of empire). However, if people would value their individual lives more than these two aspects, war would be harder to pursue. Berkmann doesn’t begin with this idea, but events in his part of the story breaks his dedication to Germania’s empire and king. He realizes his country wasn’t worth his life and decides to do whatever is necessary to survive, fortunately for Izetta and Finé.
The anime touches on the idea that self-sacrifice becomes fruitless if the country loses the war. Many characters give their lives in the battles and espionage, but their deaths do little to change the ultimate course of the conflict. Only those in power, such as Finé and Izetta, have the power to shift the conflict. The soldier that dies defending his home, only to have his home obliterated anyway, died fruitlessly. Of course, all of these themes, questions, and commentary are held in the subtext of the story. Characters don’t fall into philosophical musings. Instead, the anime ponders these ideas through its visuals–dead defenders failing to defend their homes–and indirect commentary by characters like Berkmann.
Izetta and Finé’s relationship brings sweet moments to a rather serious story, and the relationship keeps the social commentary from being too overbearing. The commentary happens around the pair, often without their knowledge. As for the anime itself, the animation is solid and the armaments are mostly accurate. It’s an interesting alternative story about World War II. Unfortunately, the anime falls into the usual, tired fanservice comedy. Normally, I just overlook it. After all, nearly all anime anymore has these tired scenes (can’t writers think of anything different then accidental nudity as “humor”?), but these scenes felt out of place and jarring with the greater events. They only serve to sexualize Izetta and downplay her strength as a witch-warrior. This happens often in anime whenever you have a female character. These women are sexualized to make them more palatable for segments of the male audience. It is tired and has no place at all in a story like this. Anime has a problem with rampant fanservice and camera pans over a female’s chest or bottom. It undermines the storytelling and the characters. But that’s an issue for the medium in general and less with Izetta: The Last Witch. The story does what anime does–it doesn’t break new ground–but it has enough interesting subtext and observations about war that it is worth a watch.
Orange is one of those stories with many layers. The only way to discuss them is to spoil the story so, well, you’ve been warned. The story follows a group of friends who receive letters from themselves 10 years in the future. The letters explains the various regrets they have surrounding a boy named Kakeru. Kakeru, it turns out, commits suicide. The letters outline the various events that each writer thinks caused, or at least pushed, him to kill himself. They outline various actions that could, perhaps, stop him. At the center of the strategy is Naho, the main protagonist. She has a crush on Kakeru, as he does with her. However, this being a high-school anime, she’s pretty dense, and Kakeru keeps to himself in order to keep from hurting those he likes. The letters urge Naho and her friends to break his walls, and to push Naho and Kakeru together.
Regret acts as the centerpiece for the story. Small regrets sometimes blossom to large–Kakeru’s suicide. But the story shows how every decision–and in the case of Naho, indecision–adds up in ways that can’t be predicted. Regret comes from hurtful outcomes and missed opportunities. However, as the anime shows, missed opportunities can often be beneficial. Orange makes a fuss over Naho’s inaction. She’s hesitant and fades into the background whenever she can. Yet, her letters demand she take the lead when it comes to Kakeru, forcing her to push beyond her usual behavior. Her regrets come from her inaction. I’ve had mild regrets over missed opportunities before I considered what I gained. For example, I didn’t go to prom or date in high school. I was a nose-to-the-grindstone workaholic. Now, many would think I’d have regrets surrounding such decisions. I’ve pondered how things may have turned out otherwise, but I gained most of my computer skills, interest in art, interest in writing, self-awareness, and self-acceptance during this period. I may have gained such by being more social, but I doubt it. My point: regret comes from misplaced expectations and misplaced understanding.
Every decision has cost and benefits Orange touches on this too. Kakeru’s suicide ends with Naho and her friend Suwa marrying and having a family. While they have regrets, they also have happiness and share a closeness forged by Kakeru’ death. All of the friends are also bonded by their shared memory of Kakeru. Suwa is the most interesting character of the bunch. Some criticism leveled at the story deals with how Naho, Kakeru, and Suwa have more personality than the other friends. who fall into the usual anime stereotypes. But when you have only 13 episodes, some cuts have to be made.
Suwa has the most regret and conflict in the story. He has feelings for Naho and knows from the letters that he marries her. He even has a photo of his future family. However, this happens only if Kakeru dies. He decides to push aside his feelings for Naho in order to save Kakeru’s life. In a few scenes, Suwa wrestles with this and wonders if there is a way to save Kakeru without encouraging Naho’s relationship with him. However, his letter suggests it isn’t possible (as does the letters of his other friends Chino, Hagita, and Murasaka). He hides his pain and feelings behind a smile and takes on an elder brother-like role. As anyone who has tried this knows, it’s difficult to set aside such feelings and encourage your interest to have a relationship with another. Some reviewers have criticized Suwa’s character as unrealistic, but they miss the subtle signs of his pain in various scenes. It’s not easy for him, but he doesn’t want to risk Kakeru’s life.
Suwa is an interesting portrayal of masculinity. He’s the standard athlete and desired by the high-school ladies. But he’s sensitive and thoughtful. Of course, Orange is a shojo story. Kakeru, for that matter, is thoughtful. Neither are impulsive as shonen would have them to be. Shojo focuses on feelings and relationships, whereas shonen focuses on action with relationships and feelings mostly sidelined. Suwa is who I wish more shonen protagonists would be–there’s no impulsive behavior or yelling from him. He also doesn’t believe action is the best solution. In several scenes, he steps back and lets Naho fumble her way through. He appears only when she needs support instead of leading the charge. Now, some of this is because she’s the main character, and shojo likes nice, supporting male side characters. But after I’ve watched a series of shonen, his character strikes me as refreshing and seriously needed in male-oriented stories. Suwa is masculine as masculine should be–sensitive, thoughtful, and not impulsive. He’s not selfish, and he’s strong enough to restrain himself. Restraint takes strength most shonen characters, as powerful as they are, lack.
But back to Orange. Kakeru walls himself away from others in order to protect them from himself. It’s a common idea in female-oriented stories. She is the only one who can break through his fortress and enter into his heart. However, he isn’t necessarily distant. He acts as a normal moody teen up until he wants to die. His suicide attempt is prompted by finding his mother’s phone. She too killed herself after he sent her a message telling her to stop bothering him. He finds a draft response where she apologizes to him and explains why she didn’t want him to join sports clubs and other aspects of Japanese school life. How often do we hear how people didn’t see a suicide coming? Calls for help are only clear in retrospect–which Orange points out with the letters. No one saw the signs until after Kakeru dies, filling the friends with regret about how they failed to pay attention to him.
Regret hangs over all of us when a friend or loved one dies. Our minds are keyed to notice the negative, including memories. We think of all the times we wronged or neglected our parents, friends, spouses, and other dear ones. Orange has this running through it too. We take life for granted and assume people will always be there. We assume we have time. Yet, as the Bible states (and all the major religions of the world) life is but a vapor, here and gone without warning. Unlike Orange, we don’t have letters from our future selves to help us. And so we will have regrets. We will make mistakes. We will take people for granted. We will fail to see signs of pain, and some of us will miss signs of suicide. However, regret isn’t negative. It is a natural part of feeling love and compassion.
One last theme we have to touch: uncertainty. As the friends of Orange follow the letters and change the outcomes of various events, they start seeing futures the letters didn’t foresee. This uncertainty troubles them. They worry they could still make mistakes that would end in Kakeru’s suicide. However, together they push on regardless. Uncertainty is an unavoidable part of life. No one can predict the outcomes of our actions and our inaction. But what if we could know those outcomes? Naho worries about choosing wrong and recreating the outcomes in her letters, causing her to hesitate. She worries about creating new, negative outcomes too. It’s better to not always foresee the outcomes of our decisions. Otherwise, we’d likely not make them in the first place.
As for the anime, it isn’t without problems. It goes out of its way to explain how the letters travel through time to an alternative universe. Some reviews I’ve skimmed spoke about how the story’s backpedaling of feelings annoyed them–I found it realistic. Backpedaling is what people do when feelings are difficult. However, Orange is worth a watch if you are interested in the themes I’ve discussed. It is a character driven story that offers lessons shonen stories need to take to heart.
Women are the emissaries of hell; they cut off forever the seed of buddhahood. On the outside they have the faces of bodhisattvas, but on the inside they have the hearts of demons.
A woman’s talk does not go beyond one village.
A smart woman ruins the castle.
Japanese medieval literature teemed with deceptive and dangerous women–devils in disguise with insatiable passions. Among these fantasies and frustrations caused by celibate life among literate monks were the Rasetsu. The Rasetsu were a race of shape-shifting cannibal women who seduced men and ate them alive. The women lived on Rasetsukoku. The island’s location changed throughout different periods, first appearing in Konjaku monogatari shu, a collection of stories about India in the 12th century (Moerman, 2009). “How Sokara and the Five Hundred Merchants Went to the Land of the Rasetsu” explains one of the first encounters with these women. It begins with a group of merchants setting sail in search of treasure.
They are shipwrecked on an island of beautiful women where each man takes a wife and enjoys a life of bliss. But Sokara, the sailor’s leader senses something is off and investigates. He finds a prison of men and signs of cannibalism. One of the prisoners tells him how he had enjoyed the same pleasures until a new ship washed ashore. Then, he and his mates were set aside for food. Sokara manages to get all but one of his crew to safety. However, 2 years later one of the women visits him at home, but Sokara wasn’t tricked. The King, however, falls for the beautiful she-demon and after spending three days with her in his bedchamber, she breaks out with a blood-stained mouth. All that was left of the king was “a pool of blood and hair.” In response, Sokara gathers an army and attacks the island. After destroying all of the demon-women he is made king of the island.
This land of demon women appears in a Ming Chinese encyclopedia of 1610:
The Land of Women is in the southeastern seas. The Water flows to the east. Lotus flowers one foot across bloom once a year and the peaches have stones two feet long. Long ago a ship drifted there and the women gathered together and carried the ship off. The sailors were all close to death. But a clever man among them stole the boat back at night and they were able to escape. The women conceive children by exposing their genitals to the sound wind. According to others, the women become pregnant by looking at their reflection in a well.
The Land of Women shifted from a fantasy sexual amusement park to a land of she-demons throughout different time periods, but it provides an early example of a cultural view of women that challenged feminist movements in the modern period. Women were relegated to a child rearing role and as household managers.
Women’s Rights and Legal Status
During the Tokugawa Shogunate (1602-1868), women did not legally exist. They could not own property and were subordinate to men. However, women in different classes had more rights than others.For example, samurai class women had fewer rights than the farming class, which needed women to help run the family far. The urban class allowed women to manage businesses. In fact, wives of merchants were expected to be literate. However, by today’s standards women lacked equality. A woman was still under the authority of men who decided the course of her life–who she married and more. Birth control didn’t exist as we know it. Midwives had their means, but women were expected to have children to continue the house.
Equality became more of a concern during the Meiji Restoration, when Japan pushed to catch up with the Western nations in terms of military and technology and law. Japan looked toward Enlightenment ideals, exemplified by John Locke, when it examined its laws (Okin, 1998). These ideals later shaped the Universal Declaration of Human rights (1948), the Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights declaration, among others by the United Nations that proclaim equal rights of human beings regardless of sex. However, women remain discriminated against in differing ways. As Okin (1998) writes: “Indeed, discrimination on the grounds of sex is frequently justified as being in accordance with many of the cultures—including religions aspects of these cultures—practiced in the world today.”
However, both the 1948 declarations and Meiji Japan pulled from a 17th century system that was designed for male heads of households. Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers didn’t have women’s private rights in mind when they wrote their ideas of law and equality. For example, Locke states no one should interfere with a father’s decision to whom his daughter should marry:
In private domestic affairs, in the management of estates, in the conservation of bodily health, every man may consider what suits his own convenience and follow what course he likes best. No man complains of the ill-management of his neighbour’s affairs. No man is angry with another for an error committed in sowing his land or in marrying his daughter. Nobody corrects a spendthrift for consuming his substance in taverns.
This male bias sits deep in human rights thinking. Women have different life experiences than men that these old systems fail to take into account: rape—marital and war, domestic violence, reproductive freedom, valuation of childcare and domestic labor, unequal opportunity in education, unequal housing opportunities, unequal credit opportunities, and unequal healthcare. Okin (1998) points out how inequality can be obscured by cultural norms and what people consider natural, such as motherhood. Cultural norms against certain things, such as single motherhood, also obscure inequality.
This male-centric view of rights appeared in various Meiji Reformation laws. For example, in the Criminal Code of 1880, adultery applied to women only. Men couldn’t commit adultery on his wife, only with another man’s wife (Sasamoto-Collins, 2017):
Article 353: A wife guilty of adultery shall be punished by imprisonment of no less than six months and no more than two years. Her lover shall receive the same punishment.
The punishment shall be imposed only if the family formally lodges complaint. If he has tolerated adultery, his complaint has no effect.
Article 311: If a husband has discovered his wife’s adultery and killed or injured her or her lover immediately at the actual place where they were discovered, the crime is excusable.
However, this provision does not apply if the husband has tolerated the adultery.
In other words, women were punished for adultery solely based on her status as a wife. For the lawmakers at the time, this was a natural part of womanhood and Japanese culture, as Okin discussed. Men had to be certain their wives’ children truly carried their genes. Of course, prostitutes and other women didn’t fall under the law as their children didn’t factor into the family system.
One Woman’s Observations of the Meiji Period
Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, born in 1878, wrote an autobiography that examined the differences between this type of environment and that of the United States. She married an American man and moved there to live with their daughters until he died. Afterward, she returned to Japan. The cross-cultural experience allowed her to write about both Japanese and American feminism at the time. She thought American women immodestly exposed their bodies “just for the purpose of having it seen” while Japanese women covered theirs from neck to ankle. When she returned to Japan with her two daughters she accounts (Kuo, 2015):
As I sat and thought, I wondered if Hanano was ever really happy anymore. She never seemed sorrowful, but she had changed. Her eyes were soft, not bright; her mouth drooped slightly and her bright, cheery way of speaking had slowed and softened. Gentle and graceful? Yes. But where was her quick readiness to spring up to my frst word? Where her joyous eagerness to see, to learn, to do? My little American girl, so full of vivid interest in life, was gone.
During Sugimoto’s life, the concept of ryosai kenbo, good wife and wise mother, was the focus of post Meiji Restoration (1868) education of girls. Before compulsory education passed in 1872, Confucian ideals prohibited women from getting an education. Girl’s education was seen as helping the nation as a whole, but it did little to break women from their traditional roles. In fact, education was seen as enhancing mothers’ abilities to produce patriotic, able citizens and supporting husbands. (Kuo, 2015). This education system, although a small step toward equality despite its failure to allow for different roles, contributed to the West’s misconceptions of women.
Sugimoto tried to correct this misconceptions–that Japanese women were less able to protect themselves and were less independent than American women. Japanese women were thought to be gentle and meek and needing American feminism to come in and liberate them. However, Sugimoto writes: “Although our women are pictured as gentle and meek, and although Japanese men will not contradict it, nevertheless it is true that, beneath all the gentle meekness, Japanese women are like—volcanoes.”
Sugimoto also illustrates how Japanese women had more rights than American women. Japanese women were the bankers of the family—responsible for both the family and for the family’s wealth. The husband must ask the wife for money, not the other way around like in the US at the time. She writes: “It was one of many exaggerated ideas that we had of the dominant spirit of American women and the submissive attitude of American men.”
American and Japanese Feminism Movements
Kato Shidzue and Margaret Sanger
In fact, during the early 1900s, American and Japanese feminism inspired each other. An early birth control advocate in Japan, Kato Shidzue, worked closely with American birth control activist Margaret Sanger. Shidzue brought Sanger to Japan in 1922 to speak on the topic (Kuo, 2015). The New Woman Association (NWA) in the early 1900s pushed for more rights, including a revision to the adultery law we examined which would allow women to file for a divorce if she discovered her husband or fiance had a venereal disease. The association framed their arguments in terms of protecting women’s family role–allow women to become better wives and wiser mothers through increased political awareness. They didn’t seek to completely break from ryosai kenbo. Most advocates focused on the improvement of women’s lives through better health, elimination of poverty, better work conditions, protection of motherhood, and similar goals instead of political ends. Political liberation was seen as a path to these ends (Molony, 2000).
In a 1920 article, Ichikawa Fusae, a leader of the NWA, wrote:
Aren’t we treated completely as feeble-minded children? Why is it all right to know about science and literature and not all right to be familiar with politics and current events? Why is it acceptable to read and write but not speak and listen? A man, not matter what his occupation or educational background, has political rights, but a woman, no matter how qualilified, does not have the same rights…If we do not understand the politics of the country we live in, we will not be able to understand conditions in our present society.
She pushed for absolute rights instead of women’s rights based on education or maternal roles–which laid the groundwork for later feminist activism after World War II.
Speaking of World War II, the good wife and wise mother role carried forward throughout and into today. Motherhood and housewife roles remain highly valued, but they leave little room for self-development and work-family balance. A survey of female seniors in 561 Japanese universities in 1992 found women expected and didn’t mind sexism at work. 91% said they don’t mind being treated as “office flowers” and 25% considered that to be a woman’s role (Thornton, 1992). This shows how strong the male-dominated view remained.
Modern Japanese Feminism
Today, young Japanese women postpone marriage. Intimate relationships with other women also increase in appeal—free from the motherhood association (Enns, 2011). The idea that a man should be dedicated to work and the good wife supporting him at home affects men in addition to women. Three-fifths of men between the ages of 25-35 remain unmarried. 53% of men in their 20s have never gone out with a woman. In contrast, 64% of American men claim to have had sex by the age of 20 (Homegrown, 2017). Women’s withdrawal from relationships to focus on career shows how they have moved beyond being “office flowers” in the 1990s. However, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), World Economic Forum, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Japanese women lag behind other developed countries in terms of labor participation and political representation. They have higher than average education rates, but many women don’t return to work after having children (Japan, 2016). Children remains an all-in affair for many Japanese women, which explains why so many are postponing or foregoing marriage and expectations of motherhood marriage brings.
When asked why young men aren’t looking for a girlfriend, they answer that it’s too much trouble. Japan’s social segregation by gender doesn’t help matters. The combination of low self-esteem in men and fear of rejection by women opens the doors for teen idols, anime, sex dolls and sex pillow. Misogyny is a strange loop of love and hating because you love what you can’t have. And that idea of possession remains a problem too. The tension between feminism, traditional ideas of good wife and wise mother, and men’s views–which is a topic to itself–all add up to this trend.
Throughout all of this, the Japanese feminism movement worked. However, many of its leaders today are discouraged by how slow the progress over the past century has been despite the shift in marriage and the focus on career. Maternity harassment, sexual harassment, and employment discrimination remain real problems. Some progress is being made: there is greater acceptance of mothers returning to work and fathers taking on more child care responsibilities (Japan, 2016).
But the progress Japanese women have made toward equality remains tenuous. Misogyny and objectification of women remains rampant. Part of this is a result of culture. Japanese culture idealizes quiet, stoic endurance, which extends to sexual violence against women. They are expected to be Japanese and endure without complaint. Sexual harassment on commuter trains is an example. In the early 2000s, two-thirds of women surveyed reported being groped while riding crowded trains. In response, train companies introduced women only cars, but no other action was taken (Hayes, 2016).
Many Japanese women are victims of unwanted photographs, typically up-skirt photos on trains and other public places. Japanese cell phone manufacturers are even required to make cameras with audible shutter sounds meant to deter men from taking these photos of women in public places. All of this points to how a dominating, objectifying attitude toward women remains strong in Japanese culture. Despite efforts since the 1920s, oral birth control is still hard to get–doctors often prescribe low doses for one month at a time (Hayes, 2016). All of this extends from the traditional, deep-rooted view of women.
Manga and anime carry on this view in many stories. Many sexually explicit, male-focused manga are violent toward women. They show women as sex toys and many of the stories of these comedies focus on the loss of male virginity while reinforcing men’s superior social status and women’s traditional status. This was a problem when Ito studied images of women back in 1994. From my own observations, this still remains an issue within anime and manga.
In fact, feminist scholar Chizuko Ueno looks at the pay gap between men and women (men are paid 26.6% more in a 2013 OECD study), media, and these attitudes and writes:
We struggled, fought, but unfortunately were incapable of making real change.
Japan isn’t alone in this problem, and the problem even extends onto the Internet in the form of gendertrolling. You are likely familiar with the word trolling, but I’ll go ahead and define it– “disrupting a conversation or entire community by posting incendiary statements or stupid questions for the person’s own amusement or because they have a quarrelsome personality.” The word first appeared in the 1990s, and most trolls on the English-speaking web are white, male, and somewhat privileged (Mantilla, 2013). Now, gendertrolling is a little different. . It involves numerous people who are often coordinated and the attacks persist online and offline—sometimes for years. Usually happens in response to women speaking out about some form of sexism. I’ll give you a few Western examples from Mantilla’s (2013) paper.
Melissa McEwan in 2007, who runs a feminist blog Shakesville, had her address and other information published online and received rape and death threats.
Anita Sarkeesian saw this when she started a Kickstarter to fund a project to point out sexist representation of women in the video game community. She received rape and death threats. The gendertrolls made pornographic images of her being raped, tried to have her social media accounts suspended, and tried to disable her website. They also released her personal information, including home address.
In 2012, Zerlina Maxwell, on the FOX News show Hannity, spoke about how the focus on ending rape should start with men instead of women carrying guns to defend themselves. The rape and death threats rolled in. Maxwell said, “Do not feed the trolls’ is really easy for people to say when you’re not getting 100 rape threats, when you’re not getting 100 death threats.”
Sexual harassment, including gendertrolling, tries to keep gender boundaries in place–preventing women from competing with men at work and preventing women from feeling safe in public places without a male companion. Japan’s problems with groping on subways and with inappropriate photos are good examples of this. Gendertrolling tries to keep these gender-boundaries in place online by attacking women who speak out online in male-dominated spaces, such as online video games. Not even Japanese women who serve in the Japanese government are safe from this problem. 52% report being targets of sexual harassment at least once (Osumi, 2015). The survey reports:
“Some respondents said they had been neglected or forced to buy cigarettes for their male coworkers, while others had endured taunts such as: “Why don’t you strip?” or “You must get excited by being groped.”
Some of these women work in Japanese legislators.
Feminism and misogyny are bound together. Misogyny results from women gaining some measure of equality and the perceived threat this can bring. Japanese women have come a long way from the Tokugawa Era and the Meiji Restoration, but many of the same problems back then continue today. Women in the United States still struggle with similar issues. Even when they are online, women have to face people who threaten them just for voicing an opinion or their experience.
Media adds to the pile. Manga and anime sometimes caters to sexist ideas, which only reinforces those ideas. Objectifying otherwise strong female characters through upskirt camera angles and other techniques that reduces them to sex objects encourages the thinking behind the problems women face. Yellow fever and orientalism, waifuism, and moe can all add to the headwinds.
Of course, feminism also has its own problem. Some activists look down upon women who want to be traditional wives and mothers. Women should have the freedom to choose this route if they want. In any case, with the issues of gendertrolling and continued pay inequality and continued objectification, Japanese women and women in general still do not have equal rights.