Hibari-sensei’s best of 2015

Ah, gomen nasai.  This post is way overdue, but it’s here now.  I’ve been growing increasingly out of touch with Japanese media.  However, the good news is that 2015 gave more cross-cultural opportunities.  Western rock bands collaborated with idol groups; VAMPS toured U.S.  Katana appeared on TV and will be hitting theatres, giving two Japanese actresses a kickass role.  Our beloved George Takei made his Broadway debut with Allegiance (although sadly, the musical’s run is not very long).

What about Japan?  The trend of music-related anime continued.  Metal could be heard in other genres, and it seemed like feminism was taking off, albeit in an artificial manner.  Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see idol groups that aren’t just full of well-behaved, skinny girls and to have media tackle issues like body shaming and sexual harassment.

As we do every year, JRock247 and NekoPOP writers shared their favorite album covers of 2015.  Click on the links to see what my picks were.  Now onto more bests…

Single – “Rebellion” by DIAWOLF
This new project by Shou and Tora of A9 was a little reminiscent of the band’s old days with “Rebellion”‘s heavy riffs and growling vocals, but the electronic elements showed a different side.  The song’s energy made me excited for more from this duo.

MV – “Yume no Ukiyo ni Saitemina” by Momoiro Clover Z vs. KISS

This was an odd pairing, but the trippy anime style was a good middle ground for these two groups to meet.  It was very amusing to watch the cute Momoiro Clover Z duke it out with rock legends.

Album – Yasou Emaki by Wagakki Band
The question with Wagakki Band was how they would fare with original songs, and this album was an excellent answer.  They already mastered the blend of rock with traditional Japanese instruments, but this time they slowed down to really highlight their musical prowess.

Artist – BABYMETAL
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By Andy Hughes. From NME
BABYMETAL continued to gain momentum in 2015, touring the world and collaborating with members of Dragonforce.  They won several awards, ranging from Vogue Japan‘s Women of the Year to Kerrang!‘s Spirit of Independence Award, and even got their own Funko POP! figures.  Their “kawaii metal” style has inspired new 2015 acts like Ladybaby and BiSH.

Live-action Character – Ren Shimosawa (Heroes Reborn)
After annoying Miko and the audience in the first episode, Ren Shimosawa (played by Toru Uchikado) grew to be charming in his willingness to help others.  His gamer lifestyle was his greatest strength, a refreshing change in a genre where martial arts experts and super-powered individuals are usually the ones winning the fights.

Actor – Rila Fukushima
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From Games of Thrones Wiki
In 2015, Rila Fukushima took roles that counted.  She wrapped up Katana’s heart-breaking storyline on Arrow and then moved onto another hit U.S. TV show, Game of Thrones.  Japan got to see her in Gonin Saga.  Trying to conquer both sides of the ocean isn’t easy, but Fukushima seemed on her way.

Drama –Mondai no Aru Restaurant
A drama that was pitched almost comedically as a battle of the sexes turned out to be a very eye-opening series about the rampant misogyny in Japanese society.  Some of the scenes were gut-wrenchingly difficult, but those moments when paired with the optimism and fortitude that this team of women display made this drama one of the best.

Film – Princess Jellyfish
Technically Princess Jellyfish came out in 2014, but I’m counting it as part of 2015 since the date was December 27.  The film captured the hilarity of the manga/anime’s protagonists without distracting from the story.  Plus it had some honest moments that championed non-conformity and finding confidence.

Anime Character – Saitama (One Punch Man)
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“Disaster Level ‘SAITAMA'” by Woo Chul Lee
Saitama was the hero we didn’t know we needed.  He was an ordinary guy who trained hard to become a fighter so strong that he is now steeped in ennui.  If the premise wasn’t ridiculous enough, his awkward appearance shattered all stereotypes and preconceived notions of what an anime hero should be.

Anime – Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!
A lot of people had been clamoring for a magical boy series, and did this show deliver.  It stayed true to the genre while parodying it, and it had the most menacing-sounding yet cute villain ever.

Series to Cosplay – League of Legends
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From Anime Matsuri 2015
I didn’t always recognize the characters, but League of Legends cosplayers had some of the most well-done outfits in 2015. I’ve actually learned more about the game just from seeing the cosplays.

Listening to: “Akatsuki no Ito” by Wagakki Band

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Ladies of Power needs you!

ladies of power

Ladies of Power is a cosplay calendar project organized by Callie Calypso that celebrates female empowerment and women of all sorts.  Featured are women of all races, sizes, ages, and sexualities.  There are artists and scientists, mothers (and mothers to be) and daughters, cosplay newbies and veteran models, alt girls, shy girls,  and more.  They have all come together to express their love of all things geeky and raise money for the Genesis Women’s Shelter.  Photos have been taken by HendrixXHunter Photography and now the project needs your help to raise money for printing!

To donate, please visit the Ladies of Power Indiegogo: click here.  Every little bit counts and all proceeds from calendar sales will go towards the shelter.  Fundraising concludes at the end of this month.

Also, be sure to follow the Ladies of Power Tumblr and facebook for more updates.  You may just see a familiar face.

Listening to: “4STEPS TO BE” live by GANGLION

Misogyny in Japan – an ALT’s perspective

When I heard about the incredibly sexist remarks that some members of The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly made towards Ayaka Shiomura, I had a feeling of déjà vu. Almost a year ago, I had read about the women in the Texas Legislature dealing with similar harassment. It was a sobering reminder that underneath Japan’s polite exterior lies the sinister misogyny that plague all of society today.

The news report and a series of posts from This Japanese Life about sexual harassment in Japan got me thinking about the misogyny I encountered as an ALT. Back then I was very oblivious to a lot of problems in society, namely the microaggressions and rape culture. Even though I called myself a feminist, I saw nothing wrong in the victim blaming rhetoric of the JET Handbook that This Japanese Life pointed out. My friends had dealt with worse, but I’ve come to realize that I had some pretty unpleasant encounters.

The creepiest was a guy named Hiro who had accidentally dialed my landline and decided he wanted to chat up this gaijin on the other line. I politely insisted that I didn’t know enough Japanese to tutor him in English. He asked for my cellphone number and then called me a liar when I gave out a random string of numbers. I finally just hung up on him and would do so anytime he called. When I asked an older male friend for help, he just told me to refuse the guy on the basis that I did not know Japanese. He didn’t really understand the anxiety I was feeling. I’ve never really talked about this because I felt stupid for not being more blunt, but you never know how a person is going to take that either.

I do think, however, that there is too much of a focus on being courteous and maintaining wa (social harmony). Following traditions is important when you’re a foreigner, but when the customs reinforce misogyny and you find yourself in physical or emotional danger, you have to fight. It’s something I wish they told us more in our JET orientations.

When it came to smaller things like the way I sat (cross-legged, which is how the men sit), I was very unapologetic about my tomboyish ways. My co-workers knew that I crossplayed and liked motorcycles, and I’ve always kind of wondered if that spared me from being told to help serve tea to male teachers. Of course, it could just be another incident where they had overlooked the gaijin. I also wonder what would have happened if I acted upon my desire to join the soccer club, which only consisted of boys.

Speaking of sports, my junior high school did have a girl on the baseball team. My fellow ALT was concerned about how she was treated, which I didn’t understand until it occurred to me that there could be a lot of bullying. As a far as I knew, she did well in the club. Likewise I had a tomboy sixth grader who stated that she wanted to be a farmer. It was refreshing to hear considering how strongly established gender roles were at such a young age.

The lesson about occupation names was one of the few chances I could instill a bit of feminism into my students. I would always point out that there were female firefighters and male nurses (“doctor” and “nurse” were especially confusing terms). It’s not that small-town Japan doesn’t have female firefighters or doctors, but it’s less common and there’s the flipside of pointing out that there’s nothing shameful in being a male nurse or pastry chef.

I don’t have solutions on how to deal with harassment or sexism, but I do know that the small opportunities like slipping in lessons to combat gender stereotypes will help make a difference. Even though we had to maintain wa, we can still combat misogyny in little ways. I remember a fellow ALT who advised us to insist that we are from a different cultural background in sticking up for ourselves, and sometimes establishing that difference is the key. Trying to figure out when to turn the other cheek or to speak out is not easy. However, we can’t let misogyny in Japan or anywhere else (because sexism Japan is really bad… but America is pretty awful too) bring us down. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and if we focus on that and push the ones we can influence in that direction, the world would be a better place.

Listening to: “Seishun no Matataki” by Ringo Sheena

Rebooting Sailor Moon and raising a new generation of feminists

This summer has a lot of exciting news for fans of Sailor Moon.  The new series is set to premiere on July 5, and this year’s musical, Petite Étrangère, opens on August 21.  In the meantime, you can watch re-subbed and uncensored episodes of the original anime on Hulu.  Not a bad way to celebrate the anime’s 20th anniversary.

The news didn’t make me happy for my own sake; I thought about all the new fans this would create, namely the young girls it would inspired.  When I was 9, I became crazy about Sailor Moon.  I would get up at 6 A.M. to watch the cartoon and draw the planetary symbols on the corner of my homework.  I even planned out a Sailor Mars costume for Halloween.    Part of what attracted me to the show was that it was about girls of all personality types kicking butt, and part of it was seeing an Asian character, “Ray Hino”, in a cartoon for the first time.  Actually I was pretty lucky because around the same time, Princess Tenko and the Guardians of the Magic came out so there were two girls who kinda looked like me fighting bad guys.

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Years later, my dream costume finally became a reality.
By Hell or High Water Photography

There are plenty of essays about the feminist elements of Sailor Moon out there so I’m not going to rehash what’s been said.  Instead I’ll direct you to articles from Autostraddle and Bitch Media.  Another great essay comes from nevermore999, as she notes the manga’s inversion of the damsel-in-distress trope and its focus on female relationships.  Sailor Moon is a manga created by a woman for women.  Vicky Win points out this fact in discussing the slut-shaming and objectification of the Sailor Senshi.  The series celebrated all aspects of womanhood, and the uniforms are only sexual because the viewer makes it so (after all, they are what every junior high and high school girl wears on a daily basis).

Here is where I have to make a distinction between the manga and the anime.  The manga comes across as more feminist because the characters are less stereotyped and more independent.  There’s no meanness from Rei or Mamoru towards Usagi, and the Sailor Starlights were women, which reinforces the female solidarity that the Senshi represented.  However, it’s worth noting that in having the Starlights possess male bodies, the Sailor Moon anime extended a hand to transwomen.  While it did curtail the development of Michiru and Haruka’s relationship, the anime seemed to be more queer friendly with the addition of another homosexual couple, Zoisite and Kunzite.  There were problematic elements with the depiction of Fisheye, a villain who dressed as a woman to pursue men, but he still provided interesting commentary on masculinity and homosexuality.

Sailor Moon may be a silly shoujo manga and cartoon to some, but it has introduced many girls to feminism and queer relationships. In fact, Sailor Moon herself has become an icon in both movements.

Sailor Moon image at SlutWalk NYC 2011

by athenia2011

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By Wild Card Graphix

Her timelessness proves that as dated as the art and plot may seem, the themes and characters are still ever-relevant and relatable. While the re-release of the anime and the reboot evoke a lot of nostalgia, they also have us looking to the future. People who grew up with Sailor Moon can now watch it with their sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews, and we’ll have a new generation of feminists fighting evil misogyny by moonlight.

Listening to: “Mugen no Ai” by Momoiro Clover Z