Ainu anime and manga characters

When Disney announced that they were making a film adaptation of Marvel’s Big Hero Six, I was excited.  Then I was extremely disappointed and irritated to discover that Fred, who was Ainu in the comics, was whitewashed.  How often do we have an indigenous character in animation?  Not a lot in America, and not very much in Japan either.

Probably the most well-known Ainu characters are Horokeu (“Horohoro”) and Pirika Usui from Shaman King.  The anime actually depicts an entire tribe and uses Ainu symbols in the characters’ outfits.  Furthermore, Horohoro’s guardian spirit, Kororo, is based on a race of tiny people in Ainu folklore called the koro-pok-guru.  The struggles of Shaman King‘s Ainu (as depicted in the manga) center less on oppression and more on the conflict between their conservationist lifestyle and the incoming Japanese developers.
Pirika and Horo Horo photo horohoropirika.jpg
Pirika, Horohoro, and Kororo. From mewpudding101.

Samurai Champloo, on the other hand, does address the oppression of the Ainu in the two parter, “Lullabies of the Lost”.  Although his ethnicity is not explicity stated,  Okuru wears clothing similar to traditional Ainu garb.  He lost his due to an epidemic and torching by the Matsumae clan, which in reality did come into conflict with the Ainu.  Despite being an antagonist, Okuru is portrayed sympathetically.

The Matsumae also make an appearance in the manga and film, The Dagger of Kamui. Its main character, Jiro, is a half-Japanese, half-Ainu young man who desires to learn about his parentage.  Part of his journey brings him face-to-face with the oppression of the Ainu.  Going a step further, the series address the oppression of Native Americans when Jiro goes abroad and meets a half-French, half-Native American girl.

Leave it to the Father of Manga, Osamu Tezuka, to write stories about the Ainu.  The first of such manga is Brave Dan about a boy named Kotan Nakamaru who has trained to be his people’s savior.  Along with a tiger named Dan, he searches for the lost Ainu treasure.
Brave Dan photo bravedan-manga02_zpsbaf1eaa6.jpg Kotan and Dan. From Tezuka in English.
I couldn’t find much about Shumari, other than that it is another adventure story and is about the reclamation of Hokkaido.

Oftentimes Princess Mononoke‘s Ashitaka and his people are attributed to being Ainu.  They are actually Emishi, an indigenous group from northern Honshu.  There has been scholarly debate over whether they are related to the Ainu.  Hayao Miyazaki sides with those who connect the Emishi to the Jomon, and thus it can be inferred that he portrays Ashitaka’s people as such.

However, Miyazaki is connected to another anime with an Ainu character.  His solo directorial debut was with the adaptation of the manga, Yuki’s Sun.  The heroine, Yuki, befriends an Ainu boy named Ryuuta and also meets an Ainu man named Akarupa who is connected with her.  Only the pilot was ever created.

These were the anime and manga that I could find information on.  I’m sure there are more, but there remains a serious lack of representation.  It’s a big issue in both Japanese and American media, and we can only hope that through awareness will this improve in the future.

Listening to: “Sakhalin Rock” by OKI DUB AINU BAND


Japanese ghosts

I was reading an old AJET newsletter, and an article about different types of Japanese ghosts piqued my interest. It inspired me to do some more digging and share what I had learned… just in time for Halloween!

First let’s clarify the terminology.

  • 霊魂 (reikon) = spirit – This is what leaves your body when you die.
  • 幽霊 (yūrei) = “faint spirit”, ghost – When the reikon hangs around in between our world and the afterlife as a result of a traumatic death or lack of proper burial, it becomes a yuurei.
  • 化け物 (bakemono) = monster – The word literally translates as “thing that changes” so it can apply to all sorts of supernatural creatures.
  • 妖怪 (yōkai) = “bewitching apparition” – Like bakemono, it’s an umbrella term for supernatural beings.
  • 鬼 (oni) = demon or ogre

Thanks to movies like The Ring and The Grudge, the image conjured up by the mention of a yūrei is that of a woman in a white kimono with long hair and limp hands.  It’s much older than those movies though.  Starting from the Edo Period, the Japanese buried the deceased in white kimonos.  Women’s hair would be let down, hence the long hair.  The motif of limp hand and no feet came from ukiyo-e prints, which inspired Kabuki actors.

 photo 1764997_orig_zps19ec7bbd.jpgFrom EJPcreations.

The ghosts from the aforementioned films belong to a group called onryō.  Below are five types of ghosts you may encounter in Japan:

  1. 怨霊 (onryō) – vengeful spirits of abused or neglected lovers, mainly women. Unlike the movies, they rarely do harm to the ones who have wronged them, perhaps because the feeling of love is stronger than anger.
  2. 御霊 (goryō) – martyrs from the ruling class out for revenge. They destroy crops and create natural disasters. The higher their status was in life, the more powerful they are.
  3. 産女 (ubume) – ghosts of women who died in childbirth. The love for their child keeps them from moving on, and they sometimes try to give presents, which turn to dead leaves.
  4. 座敷童 (zashiki-warashi) – child ghosts with bobbed hair and red faces. They play pranks and are said to bring good fortune to homeowners coexist with them.
  5. 船幽霊 (funayūrei) – spirits of those who died at sea. They approach ships and ask for a bucket or ladle, which they proceed to use to dump water into the vessel.

I also came across an interested trait that others Japanese ghosts exhibit: a penchant for hanging in the bathroom. That might be the worst place to encounter an apparition, especially the ones described below.

  • Hanako – the Japanese version of Bloody Mary, a girl who died a violent death and can be summoned by games kids play.
     photo hanako_zpsd8c231df.png From Misao Wiki.
  • Aka Manto – a handsome, masked ghost who asks unsuspecting victims if they want to wear a red cape. If they say “yes”, he rips off the skin on their back.
  • Reiko Kashima – the legless spirit of a woman who died a violent death on the train tracks. She grills you, and if you answer wrong, you lose your legs. Also, you’re a target the minute you learn about her.

Oops. Well, let’s just hope that Kashima-san doesn’t travel overseas, and remember that her legs are at the Meishin Expressway. Happy Halloween!

EJPcreations – “A more indepth look at Japanese ghosts”
Japan Talk – “6 Types of Japanese Ghost” by John Spacey
Tofugu – “Super Japanese Ghouls ‘n Ghosts” by John
Topless Robot – “6 Types of Japanese Ghosts That Hang Out in Toilets” by Anne Matthews

Listening to: “Enamel” by SID

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

2012 Japan-America Grassroots Summit

The photos have been sorted through, uploaded, and watermarked, which means I can finally make this long overdue post.  Before I do, I must announce to those who haven’t heard that Purple SKY will no longer be updated.  I’m currently looking for writing opportunities, and that may affect the content of this blog in the future.  I’ll keep everyone posted.  Now onto our regular schedule programming.

From August 28 to September 3, North Texas hosted a delegation of over 150 Japanese visitors for the 2012 Japan-America Grassroots Summit.  I’ve already written about the inspiration behind the Summit, the friendship between John Manjiro Nakahama and Captain William H. Whitfield.  The John Manjiro Whitfield Commemorative Center for International Exchange and the Japan-America Society of Dallas/Fort Worth worked together with fifteen cities to give the visitors an unforgettable experience.

I wasn’t able to participate in the first day’s activities due to work, but the Summit got off to a great start with Japan-America Friendship Night at the Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays game.   Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, along with the rest of the team and gloops International, Inc., helped sponsor the Ishinomaki Little Senior team.  They were one of the three youth groups from Tohoku visiting through the TOMODACHI Initiative.  I’ve never really been a fan of baseball, but I definitely support the Rangers for  their kindness.

Wednesday night was the Opening Ceremony at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth.  A lot of big names were present, including many of the DFW mayors, a former ambassador to Japan, the Consul-General of Japan in Houston, and descendants of Commodore Matthew C. Perry (pictured below), Manjiro, and Captain Whitfield.  The Kesennuma youth group made a very touching presentation about surviving the tsunami.  Then the mood was lifted with barbecue and line dance lessons.
Opening Ceremony11 Opening Ceremony15

I found it odd that the food wasn’t labeled and had to instruct a couple of people on the purpose of gravy.  After overhearing one of the guests mistaking a jalapeño for some eggplant-like vegetable, I tried to do a bit of damage control.  Another thing I overheard was the bartender not understanding a boy asking for “cola”.  Somebody should have told them that in Texas, “coke” can mean a lot of different things.

The visitors spent a little more time in Fort Worth before splitting up to the various host cities the next day.  I helped welcome Southlake’s ten-member delegation at city hall before accompanying them on a tour of the DPS. There was a retired fire chief in the group so it was interesting to hear from him what was different about American firefighters and fire stations.
Thursday13 Thursday17

That evening, the city held a reception where two of the visitors performed a traditional Japanese dance.  Since I knew one of the dancers (I met her while I was a JET and my family was hosting her), I wound up getting recruited to assist them in teaching everyone.  I was nervous, but I had some kids from one of the host families by my side and even the mayor wound up jumping in.

There was an after party at a Southlake Sister Cities member’s house.  They attempted to do karaoke, but it didn’t really work.  One of the visitors, an old monk who had been soaking up every minute of the Summit, did sing the Japanese version of “Tennessee Waltz” a capella.  The guy knew how to live life to the fullest.

Friday began with an optional tour of Central Market.  We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant that also served ramen.  I have to admit that I wasn’t a fan of this idea because while I personally don’t like Tex-Mex, it is a huge part of Texas.  Our visitors seemed to want a taste of home, but I don’t think anyone was really impressed by the meal.  I took the rest of the day off since I had no interest in going across the metroplex to attend a high school football game even if it was the first game at a new $60 million stadium.

On Saturday, we met up with a couple other host families for a big American breakfast.  Then all the Southlake hosts and guests drove two hours to Morgan Creek Ranch in Corsicana.  The owner of the ranch opened the place up for our group and the one in Irving.  Although I wasn’t thrilled about the drive and the heat, I had a good time.  There were all sort of the things you could learn and do, like horseback riding, ATVing, lassoing, or feeding the animals.
Saturday12 Saturday27

The ranch hands also put together a cutting demonstration (cutting is an equestrian event based on the ability to separate a cow away from the herd… hey, I wound up learning things about “Texas culture”).  By the end of the day, I was wishing we could’ve hung around longer to try out more things, but we had to get ready for our last day with the guests.

The Closing Ceremony was held at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.  I liked how the setting provided a foil to the Opening Ceremony, as Dallas is more urban and Fort Worth is reminiscent of the Old West.  In addition to a bunch of speeches, there were performances by the SMU Belle Tones and the Gyozan-ryu Mitobe Shishi-Odori Preservation Group.
Closing Ceremony08

Members of the delegation from Shimane also took the stage to introduce their prefecture, which would host the 2013 Grassroots Summit.  After a completely unnecessary introduction of the Dallas Arts District (guests and host families alike were falling asleep), we got to explore some of the nearby museums.  Something also worth noting was that the visitors’ hotel was across the street from AnimeFest so a couple of people expressed both surprise and amusement at the sight of cosplayers walking around.

The Japan-America Grassroots Summit was a fantastic experience.  It did come at a bad point in time for me so I regret not being as sociable.  I found out that I’m better at talking to people younger than me probably due to my experiences as a JET.  In any case, everybody had a good time. I definitely recommend volunteering for the Summit if it ever is in your neck of the woods.

For the rest of the photos, click here.

Listening to: “Blues Drive Monster” by The Pillows

Japan and Dallas Unity Concert by Fujisan Kaen Taiko

For me, taiko symbolizes power and unity.  The various drum beats come together to resonate through my body.  When I was an ALT, learning taiko gave me a way to connect with my students, as well as people in the neighborhood.  It opened up the gates of communication when words failed.  It also let me spend more time with my fellow ALTs when we had our music group.  In short, taiko has a special place in my heart, and I was thankful to experience it again when I saw Fujisan Kaen Taiko perform at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Clark Center.
Fujisan Kaen Taiko22

Founded in 1985, the group hails from Fujiyoshida, a city in the Yamanashi Prefecture that rests at the foot of Mt. Fuji.  The surrounding scenery serves as inspiration for their music.  Fujisan Kaen Taiko currently has 30 members, half of which are kids.  They have visited overseas five times, excluding their performance with their sister city of Colorado Springs that occurred right before they came to Dallas.  Member Machiko Kanda has local connections and helps with the UTD Mochitsuki New Year’s Celebration.  With her help, the UT-Dallas Asia Center and the Japan-America Society of Dallas/Fort Worth were able to bring to Dallas “Kizuna – Bonds of Frienship: Japan and Dallas Unity Concert” by Fujisan Kaen Taiko.

Kizuna – Bond of Friendship” opened the show, and immediately the passion and high energy of Fujisan Kaen Daiko was evident.   According to the concert program, “this piece was made with the idea that many people, connected by a strong bond, would come together as one to overcome the challenges we face today.”  A moving number, it set the tone for the rest of the night.
Fujisan Kaen Taiko01

Akafuji – Red Fuji” demonstrated the influence nature had on their songs while “Fujisan Kaen Taiko” was an amalgamation of pieces representing aspects of local culture, such as kagura (a form of Shinto dance) and yabusame (mounted archery).  It evoked the spirit of a matsuri (festival), particularly with the incorporation of flutes.

The youngest members of the group were featured in “Koyu – Taiko Play”.  The free rhythm gave them a chance to be creative, and individual solos allowed them to show off their skills.
Fujisan Kaen Taiko06

Fuji Raimei – Wind, Trees, and Thunder” was another powerful nature-inspired piece.  It was followed by “Etsuryu – The Flying Dragon”, which began a drummer in the center with his back toward the audience to show off the dragon on his outfit.  He would rise to strike the odaiko as though he were a dragon climbing towards the sky.  Fujisan Kaen Taiko concluded their performance with the spirited “Kenka Mikoshi – The Fighting Shrines”.
Fujisan Kaen Taiko11

For an encore, the group assembled in the lobby to play “Hayashi” and to let people try their hand at taiko.  The interactive experience eliminated the divide between performer and viewer, further highlighting the theme of unity.
Fujisan Kaen Taiko20

There are videos of Fujisan Kaen Taiko’s concert that others have uploaded onto Youtube.   While I encourage to check them out, there’s nothing that beats watching taiko live and being able to feel the rhythm of the drums.

More photos can be found in this set: Concerts.

Listening to: “Terpsichore” live by Strange Artifact