My knowledge of Japanese politics doesn't extend very far beyond the line of emperors and capital relocation in Japan's 17th century history. I've spent almost three months in Japan and I still cannot name any members of the Japanese parliament or even what political parties exist in Japan. But I don't seem to be as far behind in my governmental knowledge as I thought. Besides the inconspicuous political posters scattered on light poles and shop windows and the vans blaring political propaganda like the one in the video below, the presence of political discussion or interest is slim to none. When I asked my friend Yuki, a second year student at Kansai Gaidai about this, she said that Japanese students' interests in politics "languish" behind those of international students. The political figures in Japan don't hold the same international status as leaders such as the Prime Minister of Great Britain or President Obama. In fact, one of the only words I understood in my conversation with the lady I bumped into, pictured in the photo, was "Obama-san." In stark contrast to my home university which has organizations and demontrations sharing their political opinions often, here at Kansai Gaidai, I haven't seen or heard anything of the sort. While in Tokyo, I did witness a few political demonstrations on busy street corners, but they mainly consisted of a handful of people handing out kleenex with a notecard of information in which no one seemed very interested. Perhaps it is the Japanese aversion to making waves in society, or indifference, or contentment with their life, that the Japanese don't take impacting roles in their own politics. Coming from a place where politics is ingrained from first mention of George Washington, and with every TV commercial about Obama, the silence of Japanese political issues has come to be a sort of relief. But it would be interesting to see what kind of political issues may be ignored or covered up as a result of this indifference. For now I will do my best to answer the questions about "Obama-san", and leave it at that.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Everyone even remotely close to the Osaka area is a Hanshin Tigers fan. Founded in 1935, the Hanshin Tigers are the second oldest baseball club in Japan. Loyal fans flock to Koshien Stadium, pictured in the first photo, no matter the night of the week dressed head to toe in gold and black, ready to the famous eat curry rice, and of course cheer their beloved Tigers to victory. Every cheer is in perfect unison and the special clappers keep the stadium roaring. The Japnese people have a reputation for being reserved with their emotions and not causing a scene, but as I saw when I attended the Hanshin Tigers game on Wednesday night, within the Koshien stadium gates, anything goes. The fans provided more entertainment than the actual game. More than realizing anything particularly unique about Japanese sports, I realized how universal sporting events are. Since the beginning of time people have gathered to see competition of all kinds and the appeal never dies. The first picture of Koshien stadium could be a stadium anywhere and the excitement and devotion of the crowd had the feeling of going to a college football game or MLB game in the States. The second photo shows an American explaining to an baseball newcomer from Australia, the rules of the game. By then end of it, she was just as enthusiastic as the decked out Japanese couple behind us. There is something about the atmosphere of healthy competition that reaches all countries and people. Here is a video of one of the many synchronized Hanshin cheers. For more information on the Tigers, click here
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Coming from the United States, my images of male and female ideals don't extend far beyond the twiggy, full-chested, bouncing blond curls of Barbie and her muscly, strapping, strong-jawed counterpart Ken, but here in Japan these ideals are quite different, especially for men. While the average American man goes to great lengths in the gym to craft the body of a professional athlete, the average Japanese man seems content in his small frame. Even the trendiest American men don't venture far beyond the graphic tee and a little gel for a doctored messy hair do, but Japanese men will sport everything from leopard print jackets like the one in the first photo, to fur hats like that in the second photo, and anything else that might make a splash. Both of these photos were taken in Namba, a popular spot for fashionable night-goers in Osaka, and to be honest, it took some scrutinizing to make sure that the individual in the first photo was actually a man. With the exception of the Kansai Gaidai baseball team that I see everyday on my way to class, most Japanese men look closer to the men photoed than the burlier, more built males found in gyms and office buildings across America. The way men act can also be contrasted. "Men don't cry," is pushed into little boys heads from their first skinned knee in the States. Showing your emotions is a sure way to be labelled a "sissyboy" or even a "little girl," but in a recent film I watched about Japanese baseball, players and coaches alike were often in tears. Whether moved by a moment of great honor such as being labelled captain, or mourning the loss of an important game, Japanese men and boys did not hesitate to cry, hug, and share emotional moments with and in front of their peers. Seeing the tendencies of the Japanese culture has surely widened the spectrum of masculinity for me to include much more than macho Ken's bulging biceps, flat front khakis, and never-changing emotions held in a plastic grin.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Religious life in Japan is very diverse spanning many different traditions. With its beginnings rooted in Shinto mythology, Japan acquired the traditions of various Buddhist sects throughout its long history. Many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples representing all time periods can be found scattered in cities and countrysides across the country. Although many religious traditions are still practiced as they have been for centuries, I have found that most of the activity occurring in these temples and shrines are people just like me going to enjoy their community and beauty. The first picture shows a market put on at the Senoji Temple in Asakusa in Tokyo. Market vendors were set up on the grounds of the temple selling food and souvenirs side by side underneath paper cherry blossoms foreshadowing the spring. In the second photo, taken at a Shinto shrine in Kyoto shows a man taking his own photo of the scenery. Like these two photos, you often see Japanese people partaking in activities such as drinking beer or taking pictures in settings that may be seen as defiling in other religions. With the exception of the inner buildings of these shrines and temples, people are free to explore the area, let their kids run freely and laugh, take photos with their friends in front of the gates, or enjoy an afternoon yakisoba and beer. When I have gone to visit such sites, I have often seen after sending their short prayers to the gods, many Japanese people engaging in the same "touristy" activities that I am. From this I get the impression that the Japanese religious experience is more about paying respect and appreciation for the traditions and history than a strict reverence and faith. I think this adds to the religious identity of Japan and ultimately keeps its tradtions alive and continually cherished as time goes on.