What Does Kun Mean? What Does Chan Mean?

Japanese honorifics confuse us Westerners. The closest matches we have are Mr., Miss., and other addresses. Unlike English’s polite addresses, Japanese honorifics denote social standing and relationship between the speaker and the listener. They don’t remain constant. I am always Mr. Kincaid in formal Western affairs for example. But in Japan I could be Kincaid-kun, Kincaid-san, or Kincaid-sensei depending on social context. Like Western salutations, Japanese honorifics can be used sarcastically or arrogantly. Ore-sama, for example, roughly translates to “my magnificent self”.

Dropping an honorific is a sign of a close relationship and seen as insulting if you don’t have permission. You see anime characters make a fuss about this and the use of their first name whenever this happens without their consent. The rule of thumb: when in doubt about honorifics, ask.

In anime you see –kun and –chan tossed around as much as the honorific –senpai. The other common honorific –san is used when just being polite. In most translations I’ve read, this honorific is dropped. Calling someone by their surname is considered a sign of respect or fondness here in the West (but then it can also be used sarcastically), so keeping with the Japanese practice of last-name first automatically confers polite respect in Western translations. Calling Hideki Tanashi by his last name Tanashi means we don’t need to attach the san to it. In fact, using honorifics too much in English translations can be off-putting for people.

-kun is reserved for young men. You’ll see female anime characters use it to refer to guys as a signal of endearment or familiarity. Guys will refer to men of lower rank with this honorific. In this regard, –kun replaces the old -kohei honorific of the senpei-kohei, superior and under-class, relationship. In many cases of anime, the childhood female friend will use -kun to refer to her male friend in public or use his last name without an honorific while in public. You’ll see her refer to him on a first-name basis whenever there is a love interest developing. When she slips in public, it usually makes for an embarrassing scene.

You can notice the levels of closeness between female classmates (who use -kun those most) and the male classmates by paying attention to who uses the honorific and who uses -san. Those who use the more formal -san may not like the male in question, or could be trying to cover up her feelings through polite coolness. Anime, particularly romances, focuses on social subtext. The childhood-friend character type may use -san to show her anger through her polite exterior. Of course, body language and manga/anime’s tendency to over-explain helps make the subtext clear. Remember, Japanese society emphasizes harmony, and this creates subtle ways to express feelings through the use of honorifics.

Now –chan stands as the female version of -kun but with cuter connotations. It is also a sign of closeness and used to refer to girls, pets, and small children. When attached to a nickname, such as Crane-chan, it works closer to saying “Little Crane.” -chan ties to youthfulness, smallness, cuteness, and innocence. As with -kun it shows the social relationship between characters. When a character uses it to refer to pets or objects, the honorific shows she has an innocent personality. It’s something little children do. However, -chan can be used derisively. For example, calling a prostitute by -chan can emphasize her lack of cuteness, youthfulness, and innocence.

Anime girls often refer to each other, particularly if they are friends, by -chan. Guys too may use it to refer to girls they view as cute. A guy using a girl’s first name is reserved in anime as a sign of an intimate relationship, which is why you’ll see characters titter and gasp when a slip happens in public.

chan refers to children of both genders. Considering it roughly means little, this makes sense. With animals, neko-chan can refer to a cute cat or a kitten. Finally, -chin comes from -chan and is used exclusively by close female friends to refer to each other.

As a story progresses, you can use honorifics as a way to gauge relationship and emotional level. If a character moves from using -chan or -kun to –san , to refer to another character, you know that character is upset over something. First-name basis usually gets attention from other characters, particularly if it is out of the blue. The level of intimacy it denotes, especially in public, can be seen as a declaration of love. It acts as a verbal kiss. Sometimes, a rebellious character, usually a guy, will use a first name in order to break with polite convention and express his rebelliousness.  You’ll see characters react with shock to his break with politeness as he verbally gooses them. In many anime, he eventually becomes the protagonist’s significant other.

Characters who are referred to with the -senpai honorific may sometimes reduce to a -chan or -kun when entering a relationship with an under-classmate. This doesn’t happen often, but a shift in honorifics in this way shows the development of such a relationship when the under-classmate starts to use the more familiar -kun and –chan.

For being small words, honorifics carry a lot of meaning. They reveal a character’s affection, or lack thereof, for another character. Shifts in their use helps anime viewers determine how the character’s feelings are shifting while subtext like body language help determine whether or not the honorific is used sarcastically or as a Freudian slip.

Otaku culture likes to use these honorifics. Although not as used as -senpai, many otaku use -kun and -chan. The most common error involves the use of the first name instead of the last name as is proper for Japanese honorifics. But in some cases it works just fine too. “Little Rose” and other diminutives keep the spirit of the honorific–that of affectionate familiarity. However, the use of these honorifics in otaku culture stresses their status as a subculture. In this case, honorifics denote membership more than familiarity between speaker and listener because no other subculture in the West uses Japanese honorifics on a regular basis. So even if they are not used properly in the context of Japanese culture, otaku use of honorifics still marks them as members of the community.

Nobuhiro Watsuki, Child Pornography, and The Tangle of Reputation and Writing

Recently, the creator of Rurouni Kenshin Nobuhiro Watsuki admitted to possessing child pornography (Baseel, 2017). He told the police that he likes young teens about the ages of 13-15 years old. Possession of such materials, according to the Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Protection of Children,  is punishable by up to one year imprisonment or a fine of up to 1 million yen. The Act doesn’t cover drawings, animations, or games. It focuses on images of actual children (Umeda, 2014). In response, his publisher is putting his current work on hold. Japanese publishers are quick to distance themselves from anything that resembles a crime (Baseel, 2017).

The scale shows popularity of a search with 100 being highly popular and 50 being half as popular. “Teen” has been a fairly popular to highly popular search for a long time. Taken from Google Trends.

The word “teen” has been a popular term since Google started tracking its data–see the chart above. Of course, most of these searches are innocent. Pornography accounts for about 4% of websites and 10-15% of searches (Ogas, 2012). This information may be a little dated. Many pornographers get around child pornography laws by having legal-aged women dress–erhm, undress–as teens. These videos and images cater to men who seek women to emulate their school-boy crushes (Paul, 2005). Of course, these women are legal adults selling a fantasy and not the real deal as Watsuki was caught possessing. But the data suggests Watsuki’s attraction isn’t uncommon. For most of history, girls married older, sometimes much older, men as soon as the girls had their first periods. It was a sign of adulthood, even if it was at 13 or 14 years old. If we were from that time frame, we’d wonder what the problem was. I don’t write this to defend Watsuki’s actions. I find such behavior deplorable (as with pornography in general). At the same time, we need to understand context. We agree today that such behavior is wrong and unlawful, but that also wasn’t always the case. Each view impacts how we would consider Watsuki and his work. There are some who still hold onto the old, historical view of adulthood and sexual attraction. I ponder if these men may have a neurological reason, but I digress. We don’t know from the current information if Watsuki shares this historical view. It wouldn’t provide any defense; it would help explain why he would put his career and creative life’s work in jeopardy.

We could look into how otaku culture and child pornography mix–remember that Japan’s child porn laws do not cover anime or manga–but let’s focus on how reputation and writing tangle. It looks possible that Watsuki’s work will be blackened by this. I’ve already seen some people wonder if it’s okay to still like Rurouni Kenshin in some discussion boards and comment areas. How much does a writer’s character matter when it comes to a work? Is it okay to like a work from a writer that is…unsavory? The second question assumes a pattern of behavior instead of a mistake that can be corrected. In Watsuki’s case, there isn’t enough information as I write this, but his admission suggests an pattern of attraction for the young instead of a recent habit.

Photo of Alice Liddell taken by Lewis Carroll in 1860. Alice was his inspiration for Alice in Wonderland

Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll the author of Alice in Wonderland,  is believed by many to have been a repressed pedophile. But this view isn’t without contention. Many people believe it comes from a projection of modern views onto what was, perhaps, a common practice in the Victorian period–photographing nude children (Woolf, 2010). How much of the tangle of reputation and the author’s work is our own projection? How does it make you feel that Lewis Carroll photographed nude children? How does that change your view of Alice in Wonderland? It has led some to analyze Alice for signs of repressed sexual feelings toward children. It is possible that Rurouni Kenshin will undergo the same. The trouble with this, as anyone who does literary analysis knows, you can read in what you expect. This confirmation bias mixes with the projection of modern sensibilities.

Of course, in the case of Nobuhiro, it is okay to project modern sensibilities because he lives in the modern era. This event is similar to the Bill Cosby sexual abuse and harassment issues in recent years. It has tarnished Cosby’s work to the point where it has all-but disappeared. I suspect Rurouni Kenshin will share a similar fate among the wider anime fandom. Tony Yao over at Manga Therapy (2017) sums up how all but the most hard-core Rurouni Kenshin fans will likely treat the work: “To be honest, I think it’s fine if fans don’t support Watsuki’s works. I don’t care anymore because I have other series that take up my mind at the moment.”

For those of us who create, whether it’s writing books, writing manga, creating videos, blogging, or any other creative work, Watsuki’s poor decision should give us a warning. Reputation matters. It tangles with your work and a mistake (or a pattern of behavior) can ruin your work. It takes years to build trust and only a single catastrophic mistake to lose that trust. And when it comes to creative work, trust is a part of it. You may enjoy the story of Rurouni Kenshin, but you are also trusting that the story is as it appears. As with Lewis Carroll, once that trust is broken or cast into doubt, you won’t view the work in the same way. Although Lewis Carroll’s pedophilia is up for debate, I can’t read Alice without seeing signs of it. It ruins a story I once liked.

As a fellow creative, I feel more sorrow than disgust toward Watsuki. After all, its possible his life’s work may be disparaged and, worse, forgotten. He has broke his trust with many of his fans. In short, Rurouni Kenshin won’t be the same even if Watsuki never has another issue with child pornography. It is possible publishers may not publish his work again. The event will impact his wife and family too.

When it comes down to it, all the questions I’ve asked are for you to decide for yourself. Is Rurouni Kenshin tarnished because of Watsuki’s behavior? Have you moved on and don’t really care? No matter how you answer the questions I’ve posed, remember that Watsuki is human as are those who remain fans of Rurouni Kenshin. Liking a work with a tarnished author doesn’t tarnish the fan. Otherwise, there would be millions of people tarnished because of Alice of Wonderland. If you are a creative, take Watsuki’s poor decisions to heart and develop your moral character. Your work depends on it.

References

Baseel, Casey (2017). Creator of Rurouni Kenshin anime/manga admits to possession of child pornography.  RocketNews24.  https://en.rocketnews24.com/2017/11/22/creator-of-rurouni-kenshin-anime-manga-admits-to-possession-of-child-pornography/

Ogas, O. and S. Gaddam. (2012) A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sex and Relationships. Plume, NY, .

Paul, Pamela (2005) Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. Macmillion.

Umeda, Sayuri. (2014) Japan: Possession of Child Pornography Finally Punishable. Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/japan-possession-of-child-pornography-finally-punishable/.

Woolf, Jenny (2010).  Lewis Carroll’s Shifting Reputation. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/lewis-carrolls-shifting-reputation-9432378/

Yao, Tony (2017). Scars Larger than a Cross. Manga Therapy. https://www.mangatherapy.com/post/167944099388/scars-larger-than-cross

The Bandits and the Wrestlers, a Tanuki Tale

In a large but very old  house  there  lived  a  Mr. Kitabayashi and  his family. On  the  occasion  of  his  son’s marriage,  Kitabayashi gave  quite a banquet, with  choice  food including the auspicious mixture  of  rice  and  red beans, the  sekihan.  The  food  was  so plentiful that  after  the guests had  retired  there  were  still heaps left over; it being  late,  things  remained  as they  stood,  and  the family went  to bed.-Shortly  afterwards  a  clock  struck midnight, and  at  the  same  time  Mr.  Kitabayashi  heard  an  unusual  noise in  the guest  room, and suspecting a  marauder  decided  to  investigate: he carefully slid  aside  one  of  the fusuma, and peeped through  the gap.

What  was  his surprise  to  see  a couple of big  badgers and  a troop of young ones partaking of  the  sekihan!  The parents  eagerly helped the youngsters to gorge  themselves,  and they all  seemed to  have  a really  good time….  “Poor things”,  thought  the  kind-hearted  Mr.  Kitabayashi;  “they  evidently are  short  of  food  and find  it  hard  to satisfy  all  these  mouths.”  So  he  not only went  to bed,  leaving them  to  their enjoyment, but  thenceforth  laid  out a  meal  for  them every  evening.

Now  one night two  real burglars broke  into  the  house, and threatened Kitabayashi  with  a long  sword,  asking for money. “Unless you  give us  a large  amount, we  shall  kill you all!” they warned.  He  and  his family could  but  tremble  and stay  under their  covers  as  if  frozen by fear….  But then the fusuma were suddenly thrown apart, and two gigantic wrestlers entered  the room…. “Rascals!”,  they  cried, “out you  go, or  we  shall  kill you with  our  bare  hands!”  And the burglars were scared  to  death and  ran away as  fast  as  their legs would carry them….

The relief  of  the family was naturally intense.  “How can we ever thank you enough!”  they cried, and deeply bowed  their heads.  But when they looked up  again, the  wrestlers  had  dis- appeared.  Wondering for a long time what might really have happened, and glad of the supernatural help, they at length fell asleep.

Later on,  Kitabayashi  and  his  wife  had  a strange  dream. A badger  appeared to them,  and  thanked  them  for  their  kindness in providing so  much  food  for  him  and  his during a period of great  shortage. It was only out  of gratitude that they had helped when danger from burglars had  threatened.  There was nothing to worry  about.  So saying, the badger again vanished.

In old translations of folk tales, tanuki is often called a badger. Tanuki are not badgers. They are a type of canine with the markings of a racoon, and that is why tanuki are often called raccoon dogs. At first, confusing a badger with a dog seems strange. However, badger folklore predates tanuki stories by a few centuries. Badgers shared many of the same traits as tanuki: a love for pranks, shape-shifting abilities, and other abilities.  Badger stories began in the 8th century only to disappear from the records until the 13th century with tanuki stories. During the 13th century, the badger merged with the tanuki and created a single folklore. Tanuki had long struggled with identity. He was confused with the fox. All told, the tanuki has enjoyed 800 years of stories. It sounds like a lot, but not when you compare the tanuki to the fox’s 2,200 years of playing tricks.

You can learn more about tanuki in my book. Tanuki: The Folklore of Japan’s Trickster.

Banzai Cheer Explained

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.

References

banzai. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved December 18, 2016 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/banzai

Matsumoto, David. 1996. Unmasking Japan: Myths and Realities About the Emotions of the Japanese. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Matsumoto, David,Theodora Consolacion, and others (2002) American-Japanese cultural differences in judgments of emotional expressions of different intensities. Cognition and Emotion. 16 (6) 721-747.

Novin, Sheida, Ivy Tso, and Sara Konrath (2014) Self-related and Other-related Pathways to Subjective Well-being in Japan and the United States. J Happiness Stud 15. 995-1014.

Smith, Herman, Takanori Matsuno, and Shuuichirou Ike (2001) The Affective Basis of Attributional Processes among Japanese and Americans. Social Psychology Quarterly 64(2) 180-194.

 

Japan’s Hidden Christians

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).

Japanese-Christian Terminology

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

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.

Accommodating Christianity

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.

References

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.

Meditating on the Use of Words from an Anime Blogger’s Perspective

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.

Horo Musuko Yuki Wandering son transwoman

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.