Tohoku Earthquake – 5 years later

I had trouble writing this post.  It’s been nearly seven years since I left Miyagi-ken.  I haven’t gone back like I had planned, and now I don’t see my students coming to Southlake because they’ve grown up (also the age range changed).  As evident with the decreased frequency of updates, I’ve become distant with the country that is my second home.

Nevertheless, I can’t forget about how five years ago, I spent all night worrying about my friends when the casual status updates about an earthquake became something much scarier.  It’s hard to not think about the Tohoku earthquake when NPR was all over the 5 year anniversary and all of us Miyagi-ken JETs pay tribute on social media.  I think it’s good to be reminded though, as the people in the region are still struggling.  Thus, I’ve decided to make this post about some examples of aid and recovery.  There’s a lot of individuals out there who continue to dedicate some of their time to Tohoku through raising money or lifting spirits.  Let this be inspiration to all of us.

The one project that led to this post was the 113 Project.  It is a series of short films directed by Wesley Julian, one of my fellow Miyagi JETs who also created Tohoku Tomo.  The 113 Project provides glimpses of rebuilding from youth, local business members, and expats to show the power of collaboration.  To view the films, visit the 113 Project website.
 photo Sake-Urakasumi-TourBrewery-IMG_9130_zpsjbsip6gd.jpg From 113 Project

Visual kei band X Japan has always been active with charity work, having raised money for both the Tohoku earthquake and other disasters.  This year drummer/pianist Yoshiki put up a special drum set for auction.  He donated the proceeds to the Japanese Red Cross.
 photo Ydrum1_zpsgo1iphrf.jpg From Resonance Media

The question of where to send money often crops up with disaster relief.  While I don’t doubt the Red Cross’ valiant efforts, they have received some criticism, at least stateside.   One charity I can recommend 100% is the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund.  Not only does each project provide updates through emails from Global Giving, but the charity is run by the father of Taylor Anderson (who was another Miyagi JET).

Lastly, I wanted to highlight RADWIMPS’ annual tribute as an example of how art heals.  Listening to music that pays tribute to the survivors never fails to bring back emotions I thought I had forgotten.  Seeing images does the same.  With the returning sadness is a message of hope that the artists put into their work.  Tohoku is recovering, and the human spirit will triumph.  Since 2012, RADWIMPS has released a new tribute song on March 11.  Here is a list along with the video of the most recent:
2012 – “Hakujitsu
2013 – “Buriki
2014 – “Kaiko
2015 – “Aitowa
2016 – “Shuntou”

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Princess Jellyfish live-action film review on Drama-MAX

Since I talked about the live-action Princess Jellyfish in the my year-end recap, I decided to write a full review for Drama-MAX.

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Very rarely do female geeks get the same treatment as their male counterparts. They may be obsessive and awkward, but their quirks are endearing and adaptable to modern society. That’s what makes Princess Jellyfish so appealing. The geeks of this live-action adaptation are full on 40-Year-Old Virgin awkward, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Click here to read the rest.

Listening to: Hitohira No Hanabira” by Stereopony

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
 photo 2015FestivalBigPic_Babymetal_Live_LeedsFestival2015_6__AH170915_zpspad479en.jpg
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
 photo Volantis-Red_Priestess_zps7hvr4e7v.jpg
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

The Long Problem of Yellowface

Or What I Mean by “Don’t Put on Awful ‘Geisha’ Make-up”

My most popular post, “Why I Won’t Tell You Where to Buy Yukata Anymore”, happens to be a controversial one.  It’s also easily misunderstood.  Two comments have misread one particular phrase that I added as an after-thought: “I can’t prevent anyone from wearing a yukata, but if you do, please don’t put on awful ‘geisha’ make-up (that’s the equivalent of blackface)”.  Note the quotations around “geisha”.  What I’m talking about is a form of yellowface.  Although I admit to being erroneous in equating it with blackface, as the history of oppression differs between Asians and blacks (and it is by no means equal), yellowface is still hurts Asians today.

Racebending has a great article on the history of yellowface in film.  Unfortunately the photos don’t appear, but Buzzfeed recently release a video that features some of the examples, along with reactions from East Asians. It pretty much sums up how the sight of yellowface makes us feel.

While we can all agree that Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany‘s is terrible and Mickey Rooney has apologized for the role, the film remains a classic.  Furthermore, other instances of yellowface have been overlooked in actors’ careers and in some cases, have been awarded with Oscars.  The lack of discussion erases the struggles of Asians.

Even if the characters are not malicious stereotypes, the damage is still present.  First, not every Asian has upward slanted eyes, heavy monolids, and high cheekbones.  To lump us all into one group, one image makes us two-dimensional caricatures rather than fully developed characters who aren’t defined by physical traits.  Secondly, every non-Asian in make-up deprives an Asian actor of a job and decreases the amount of proper representation.  How many people remember the silent film star Sessue Hayakawa?  He actually was able to experience success in Hollywood and star opposite white actresses, but then anti-Japanese sentiments and the Motion Picture Production Code, which forbade the depiction of interracial relationships, caused his career to decline.  Even at the height of his popularity, he still struggled to be the romantic lead, something his white counterparts never experienced.
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Spoiler alert: Sessue Hayakawa doesn’t get the white girl. Also, it’s worth noting that he portrayed other races in his early career, but two wrongs do not make a right (hear that Cloud Atlas defenders?) and it definitely did not benefit him in the future. Photo from Mirelle Balin – Femme Fatale.

Hayakawa’s struggles reveal why movies like Sayonara and more recently Cloud Atlas should also be accountable despite having Asian actresses.  Neither cast Asian men in any of their roles, perpetuating the idea that real Asian men do not have the passion or machismo that it takes to be romantic leads (having an Asian male does not countreal world actions speak louder than words on a script) .  The inclusion of Asian actresses at the expense of their male counterparts highlights are another problem: fetishization.  Stereotypes have cast Asian women as either a Madame Butterfly or a Dragon Lady, and despite being polar opposites, they both serve as sexual objects.

This is where the bad “geisha” make-up comes in.  Even if it is an inspired make-up job rather than blatant yellowface, it still has the same harmful effects.  Madonna and Kylie Minogue have utilized it to re-invent themselves, which is often musical industry code for making themselves edgier and sexier.  Their fetishization of geisha is reinforced by their modified kimonos and suggestive imagery.  Minogue even goes so far as calling that segment “Naughty Manga Girl”.
 photo Kylie-Minogues-new-geisha-look-6013092_zpsnzxtdela.jpg From The Daily Telegraph

More recently, Katy Perry has come under fire for her randomly Orientalist performance at the AMAs.  Although she doesn’t do the make-up, her back-up dancers are made to appear more “Asian”.  This is another example of non-Asians taking away Asian roles.  In all these cases, the singers are using the image of a geisha for personal gain.

There’s also the implication that geisha are ubiquitous when the make-up is taken out of context.  That is what I was getting at in my original post.  It does not belong with an informal yukata, nor automatically express an “appreciation” for Japanese culture.  Instead, it promotes misunderstanding and disregards the years of training that geisha go through.  It also often looks more like what one would see in Chinese opera, which again lumps Asians together as this large foreign group rather than individual traditions.

I’m not saying non-Japanese people can never wear geisha make-up.  Liza Dalby was invited to become a geisha (note that she did not insist herself).  Visitors in Kyoto can purchase a service that allows them to dress up as maiko and take photos.  This directly benefits Japanese businesses.  Cosplaying a character who is a geisha may be a little contentious, but if you keep your natural features with the make-up, you’ll piss off fewer Asians who endured a lifetime of being mocked for their eye shape or called a geisha when they’re in a different traditional outfit.  Just think about whether you are contributing to negative stereotypes and remember that movies continue to feature yellowface and companies still sell “Asian eyelids”.

Listening to: “Busy Doing Nothing” by Crystal Kay

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno review at Drama-MAX

I gave a teaser of the awesomeness of Kyoto Inferno in my 2014 recap.  Now my full length review is available at Drama-MAX.
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Despite being a transition film, Kyoto Inferno contains enough backstory to not require knowledge of the manga/anime or the previous movie. The quiet moments are endearing, highlighting the relationships Kenshin built in the first movie. A new addition to his unusual team appears in the form of Misao Makimachi, played by the adorable Tao Tsuchiya. The young ninja’s optimism shines in the otherwise bleak movie. However, she is in for a wake-up call, as the man she loves, Aoshi Shinomori (Yusuke Iseya), has turned into a heartless killer out for Kenshin’s blood.

Click here to read the rest.

Listening to: “Shiawase nishika Shinekara” by Kishidan