Sunday, December 11, 2016

Awkwardness Ahead: Did I Just Gaijin Smash?!

"Gaijin Smash" "Gaijin Card" "Gaijin Privilege"--when pushy foreigners get special services or break rules without repercussions simply by virtue of being giant pushy foreigner-san. Not nice, but common enough to make regular appearances in the expat blogs and forums.

However, I wonder if most often the Gaijin Smash is done completely unintentionally and therefore goes unrecorded. For example, a foreigner tries to get some service that is perfectly routine in their own country, and simply don't know that it's not done here, so you end up with the American saying "No pickles or tomatoes please!" in the foodcourt hamburger place while the poor little baito highschool kid behind the counter flusters with the manager about whether a pickle and tomato-less order can possibly be served, the manager sighs but comes out and makes the hamburger himself--a disruption of the hamburger-building line which will make the next 5 orders a minute late each--smiling as if nothing is amiss. The blissfully unaware American customer accepts his custom order as a matter of course.

It just (maybe??) happened to me, for the nth time.

I went into a bakery to get a stollen for a friend. Stollen are German fruit breads eaten during the Christmas season (not to be confused with fruitcake; stollen are quite delicious), and for some reason a staple in Japanese bakeries this time of year, but for a high price--perhaps because of the amount of butter and marzipan used. They're a little fancy and make good Christmas/end of the year gifts. Anyway, I went into the shop, and there were baskets of stollen in all sizes, some the size of Baby Jesus boxed up and sporting price tags over $50. That's not quite appropriate so I go for the smallest unboxed stollen for $10, and right next to it is a sign that says, WE'LL WRAP YOUR STOLLEN IN THIS CUTE GIFT BAG FOR ONLY 50 CENTS MORE!! Great! Wrapping cuteness all taken care of. I get my stollen and get in line. When it's my turn, I say in Japanese, "I'll have it gift-wrapped, please." And then it happens. The little baito girl makes the batsu X sign with her arms and shouts in English, "NO WRAPPING!"
What?? Did I misunderstand the sign? But it was right on the basket of mini stollen. I read it like 4 times to make sure, because I always want to avoid these kinds of situations. Then I see it, on the counter, right next to me, another basket of the mini stollen with the same sign. So I do it, the Gaijin Smash. I persist. I'm no good at wrapping baked goods to look cute by Japanese standards. I need this wrapped! I point to the sign in desperation, "Can't I get it wrapped like this?" The poor girl disappears to the back of the shop to confer with manager. Manager appears, smiling angelically while she digs around in some drawers and finally produces the little bag identical to the one on the sign. I stare at the bag. I know how things are typically done here. It is definitely a mini stollen-sized bag. It could have no other purpose...right? I felt hot color rising from my neck into my cheeks and ears. I must have read the sign wrong. I must have missed some fine print, like "when combined with a Snowman Bun" or "after December 15th." If so, why wouldn't they explain it to me? Why just awkward smiles while fumblingly fulfilling my request?

Perhaps the girl simply didn't know about the shop's stollen campaign. Perhaps she showed up from classes 2 minutes before her shift began and manager had no time to explain about the bags. Perhaps no one was buying mini stollen and asking for them wrapped, and it was their first time. The thing is, service is usually so good in Japan, so smooth and polished, that instances like these always make me doubt my Japanese skills and wonder if I'm in the midst of committing another unintentional Gaijin Smash.

In this case, like most others, I'll never know if the problem was mine or theirs. But at least I got my stollen, wrapped.

And that's how the awkwardness goes most days, of trying to feel like a functioning adult in this society, and being reminded otherwise more often than I'd like.

Monday, November 21, 2016

No Photos, Please: The Shots in Japan That Got Me a Scolding



I like taking pictures. It's kind of addicting: I see a situation that would make a nice photo, do my best to capture it...but maybe the angle or lighting wasn't right, the moment passed, the elusive great shot slipped from my grasp again. Next time, next time, I'll get it! Playing around on Instagram, I see so many great photographers and try to learn little tricks from them. I've never taken a photography class nor do I own a camera that cost more than three figures (in dollars). I've also outgrown the "snap a photo of everything because it's all so new and funny" stage I was in when I first came here, but I still enjoy taking photos of things and places that catch my eye.

It's not all flowers and sausages though, because as touristy as Kyoto and other parts of Japan are, there are still many places where photography isn't allowed or where people don't appreciate being photographed.

Here are my naughty shots that got me verbal warnings:

The sacrilegious photo. *don't try this at home
1. The altar area of temples 
This is a photo I took at one of my favorite temples, Sanzen-in in northern Kyoto. Before I took the photo, I looked around for No Photos signs and finding none, aimed my camera. Suddenly a monk appeared out of nowhere and barked "Photography is not allowed!" Sorry. I sometimes forget these are actual places of worship, and in Japan the altar area and areas where old statues/artifacts are stored are off-limits to cameras, in principle.
My friend and I sheepishly continued our tour of the temple, but I noticed that the monk was watching us from afar, to make sure we didn't start climbing the trees in the garden or something else horrible, I guess.


Sorry, sir. 
2. Food stalls in marketplaces
This is was taken at the famous seafood marketplace in Tokyo, Tsukiji. There have been complaints that tourists block operations and wander in places where it's not safe for them to be, but I wasn't in those places. The shopkeeper (guy in the green) scolded me in English "It's rude to take photos! Ask first!!" Perhaps they don't want images of their prices going online? I'm not sure. In Kyoto's famous Nishiki marketplace, it seems like shopkeepers have given up, and either allow photos or post conspicuous signs prohibiting them, but in Tsukiji I was made to feel the market had its own laws I must abide by, though they were posted nowhere.
Some shops in Japan have amazingly eye-catching, colorful displays and then there's the whole fake food thing going on, but as a general rule it's not kosher to take photos of shops or inside stores.


During the nightly light-up cherry blossom season, this angle was roped off to guests from April 2015 (I took this photo in 2014).

During the month of November when the leaves are red this shot is technically prohibited.
3. Places were photography is seasonly prohibited
Tourism to Japan is booming, and almost everyone visits Kyoto. During special times like the autumn maple leaf and spring cherry blossom seasons, Japanese tourists flock to Kyoto as well to visit places famous for great seasonal views. Since many temples are not equipped to handle thousands of tourists every day, some areas are prohibiting photography in an attempt to keep crowds moving. A certain angle of Toji Temple where the pagoda is reflected in the garden pond was prohibited during cherry blossom season. Just a week ago when I visited Tofukuji, famous for its valley of maple leaves that flame red in the fall, many visitors were shocked to learn photography of this view was prohibited starting this year. However, perhaps because I went in the morning when there were comparatively fewer people, the security guards on the bridge said nothing while a lot of people aimed their cameras over the bridge for shots of the valley. I took this forbidden shot myself. But, once people started to slow down and pile up, the guards started yelling, "Please refrain from taking photos!" again, so I think the key was simply to keep moving as much as possible and not cause safety concerns.


Kimonos look pretty from all angles and distances, happily.
4. Bonus: ladies in kimono
I've never been told to my face that my camera wasn't appreciated, but a casual perusal of Japanese Instagram reveals that ladies who wear kimono around Kyoto sometimes get harassed for photos by tourists. Some complain about not being able to enjoy their trip because they were either getting their photos taken sneakily, or stopped and asked every few minutes to pose. Some complain about foreign tourists doing this, others complain about Japanese men with their giant cameras snapping away as if the woman and her friends were some rare species.
Back in the day, I asked for photos, and everyone seemed happy to oblige. Now I'm more likely to take photos from the back sneakily. It's good to keep in mind many women in kimono you'll see around Kyoto are tourists themselves (Japanese or not) wanting to have a good time in Kyoto, and some enjoy the celebrity feeling, but others don't.
In general, Japanese people worry about online privacy and I think more than Americans take care to hide their faces and avoid using real names online when it comes to SNS and photo sharing. So it might be a good idea when taking candid photos to avoid clear facial shots, and ask permission if you want to take a close-up.

I admit, I had to snicker a bit reading the complaints of these ladies, because at least they can take their kimono off. I on the other hand, being a blonde foreigner, stick out wherever I go. I have had my photo taken without my permission more times than I can count on two hands. I dread visiting places like Fushimi Inari or Kiyomizu these days because I'll get assaulted by groups of junior high school kids on field trips whose homework is to go to Kyoto and take surveys of foreigners "what do you like about Japan?" It's cute the first couple times, but what happens is if you say yes to an interview with one group of painfully shy teenagers, others will notice and say "look there's a friendly one!" and before you know it you have to answer 30 questions from 30 different mumbling students and pose with each group while their teacher snaps a photo, and there goes your quiet afternoon at the shrine.

**A side note, when it comes to maiko and geiko (geisha) in Kyoto, a rule of thumb seems to be if you catch them standing still (such as at a crosswalk or an event), show your camera and ask permission to take a photo. You might not understand their uber-polite replies in geiko-dialect, but if they face your camera, that means "yes" you may take a photo. If they are dashing to work through the streets or from a taxi into a teahouse, just give them their space and don't impede them; it's ok to snap away without calling out and asking for a photo then and there (you'll be refused anyway since they're obviously busy). A funny thing, in the Gion area of Kyoto there are shops were people can do "maiko makeover" and get dressed up as geisha. Some foreigners and visiting students from out of town don't know the difference and upload "I met a geisha!!1!" photos of these cosplayers on Instagram. Real maiko/geiko are pretty elusive unless you have connections or pay a lot of money. They avoid the main streets, they don't use cellphones or selfie sticks, nor do they usually oblige passersby and stop to pose for photos. In my 6 years in Kyoto, I've only spotted the real deal 3 times, and was able to get photos only once. Here's a post on how to tell real maiko from the fakes.

There's a reason a lot of non-professional photos of maiko are from behind

In the end, it's good to be aware of these situations, and at least always check for "no photos" signs (撮影禁止 さつえいきんし in Japanese), or ask permission, before snapping away.
In addition, there are many places where photos are allowed but tripods, selfie-sticks, and drones are not, so I recommend checking and looking for specific signage beforehand if you want to avoid the embarrassment of being verbally told off in public for taking photos. Derp.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Is Wearing Kimono in Japan Cultural Appropriation?


Me in kimono for a family wedding

Short answer: no, probably not.

Long answer: readers may recall the kerfuffle over the Boston Museum of Fine Art's "Kimono Wednesdays" exhibition that allowed visitors to try on a formal uchikake kimono (provided by NHK, the Japanese government's public broadcaster) mimicking Monet's painting of his wife doing similar. The exhibition enraged Asian-American social justice groups, which confused NHK and the Japanese media and art world.

The problem was, both the protesters and the Japanese behind the exhibition are hugely out of touch with each other. The exhibit, a success in Japan, was in hindsight not appropriate for politically correct America, with the racial and social justice tensions typical of a country made up largely of immigrants, a culture very foreign to the Japanese. On the other hand, the protesters took on what was seen in Japan as an issue of Japanese culture and turned it into an "Asian culture" issue. Most Japanese living in Japan are unaware of how their expats are treated in other countries when they become immigrants and minorities, but if there's anything that offends Japanese people it's being lumped in with other Asian nationalities. Naturally. The category "Asian" is much too broad and slap-dash. There's also a whole can of worms' worth of unique historical and political reasons why the Japanese don't like being put in this category along with other nationalities. This blog goes into the complications a bit, from a non-Japanese perspective. But it would seem to me as an outsider that the Japanese organizers of this event and the American protesters who tried to speak for them are worlds apart in their experiences and thinking.

However, the issue has brought up over the past year much discussion on the question "is it always cultural appropriation for a non-Japanese to wear kimono? How about when visiting Japan?" Though I'll leave the Kimono Wednesdays problem for others to discuss, here are some reasons why I think the answer is "no it's not cultural appropriation" for foreigners to wear kimono in Japan:

1. It's part of Japanese おもてなし omotenashi hospitality culture
The truth is, foreign visitors to Japan of all nationalities do often wear kimono and informal summer wear, yukata. In Kyoto, especially in the Higashiyama and Arashiyama temple areas, rental kimono shops do a booming business. I have also rented kimono with some friends and strolled around Gion in them myself. Dressing visitors in kimono is a part of the Japanese tourism industry, a part of "entertaining the guests." To put it bluntly, the whole existence and purpose of visiting foreigners to Japan is to be entertained, and in turn supply entertainment (that needs another blog post!) as per TV shows like YOUは何し日本へ.
Most Japanese people think kindly of (most) foreign tourists. They want to help visitors enjoy Japan, and are happy when such visitors do have a good time. They are also not displeased when a foreigner shows interest in or studies a Japanese traditional art or craft. People in the know will happily coach and advise you (I know, I got instructed by an old lady when I went out in kimono on a more lady-like way of reaching for something). I don't think this culture of "entertaining/teaching the foreign guest" exists much in America.
Guests don't have to be foreign to enjoy kimono in touristy areas, either. Most of the young Japanese women you will see wandering around in kimono in such places are wearing rentals as well, and it's not something they normally wear in everyday life.

2. Japanese in Japan do not see themselves as a minority or oppressed people 
Most sources on cultural appropriation make references to these two things. Inherent in the misuse of another's cultural property is a power imbalance. Yes, Japan opened to foreign trade after being threatened by Matthew Perry in his black ships. Yes, it lost a war with America and yes had its constitution redrawn by the same, and a fair number of American military bases still exist on its soil. But the country was not colonized or enslaved en masse like other POC groups extant in America were. There are no bitter collective memories of oppression stirred up by seeing a white, black, or Chinese woman in a kimono. The Japanese were colonizers themselves and at the time, fought with America as an equal (though the rabid nationalism of the time of course cast Japan as America's superior, and vice versa in America). Many Japanese are now proud of their branding as a country that produces top-quality services, goods, and technology, equal if not superior in some ways to the strongest countries in the world, so I suppose they feel in control of doling out their culture as they see fit.

3. Kimono and yukata are not religious objects or a certain character
No one likes it when someone takes religious symbolism or objects used in one's worship and turns it into a fashion accessory. But kimono, literally, "thing for wearing" are just clothes. It's not like foreigners are trying to wear miko (Shinto shrine maiden) robes. Japanese hospitality does not extend to allowing foreigners to do that, and you won't find a place renting those anywhere. Since kimono and yukata are clothes, they are not a character or Halloween costume either. It's not like by wearing one, you are pretending to be Japanese or some such nonsense. In most Japanese lives, kimono are reserved for special occasions like weddings or formal family photos. Accordingly, the cosplay convention I attended in America discouraged people from simply wearing kimono or yukata to the event, because they are clothes--not a character or costume.

4. You'll be hard-pressed to find a Japanese person who finds foreigners in their national clothes to be racist or offensive
This video showcases reactions to a question posed an American girl, "is it rude to wear a yukata to a festival in Japan?" though the comments are not all from Japanese people, there is not a single one that denounces the kimono as cultural appropriation. This Japanese Yahoo answers question about a foreign friend wearing kimono to a tea ceremony is also similar. No one says the very act of donning a kimono is wrong, but overwhelmingly in both cases people do point out the context and appropriateness of the kimono. "If everyone else is wearing kimono, then it's much more proper for the situation than Western clothes" "Make sure she wears proper tabi and zori." "A festival is a great place to wear yukata!" "It might not look good on a fat broad-shouldered person or someone with corn rows or dyed hair." This last is something that comes up every now and again. For all the dressing-the-foreigner rental shops, outside of the touristy old towns not many people are used to seeing bodies other than Japanese ones in kimono. And the ideal woman who looks best in kimono is rectangular and small, with pale skin and proper straight black hair, no tattoos or piercings visible. It is interesting to me that the aesthetics of how one looks in kimono is an important factor in whether it's appropriate to wear one or not. I know both links are not the best sources of information, but if even the dregs of the Japanese Internet are not offended, I'm pretty sure it's safe to say wearing a kimono is not considered racist.

5. Context is key
Continuing from above, most Japanese comments on the issue of foreigners in kimono seem more concerned with appropriateness than appropriation. Like a tuxedo or a bikini, there is a time and a place for kimono and yukata, and times where socially they would not be appropriate. It would be better to show up to the formal tea ceremony in a pantsuit than in a yukata, for example. On the other hand, no one wears a formal kimono to a summer festival. Kimono are actually encouraged in touristy places in Kyoto, and some cafes and events will give discounts to guests in kimono. More people walking around in kimono=a more interesting, special atmosphere that fits well with the cobbled streets, rickshaws, and the five-storied pagoda silhouetted in the sky.
On the occasion of my sister-in-law's wedding, I'd at first said I'd wear a dress. But then the wedding was going to be held at a shrine, where a dress would stand out oddly in a traditional Japanese ceremony. "All the women of the families are going to wear kimono, so you will too," said my mother-in-law. So I did. More important than my improper broad shoulders and blonde hair was the nature of the situation that made my wearing a kimono the most socially acceptable choice (did you notice? There is another interesting aspect of modern Japanese culture: in the most formal occasions, women wear kimono but men may wear Western-style suits).

6. No one here sees themselves as the cultural gate-keeper
Also interesting to note in the above link are the comments comparing foreigners and the way they wear kimono to "young people these days" and their disregard for the old traditions: "I wish young Japanese people would care as much about how they wear kimono!" laments one comment. For every Chinese girl clod-hopping in wide steps in her kimono, there's a group of
Japanese girls stretching their arms out of their kimono sleeves to take a group photo with a selfie-stick. For every tattooed white girl who puts on a yukata, there's a bleach-blonde Japanese chick with her obi tied backwards and her collar pulled down to her shoulders at the same festival. The Japanese are always in a state of becoming, while some are intentionally rebelling. There is always more to learn, a more correct way to be, a more graceful way to use a cellphone or get yourself into a taxi while wearing kimono (I spent an afternoon watching Youtube videos on these subjects in preparation for my sister-in-law's wedding). I don't think many Japanese people would say they have it all together. Yes, the older ones laugh at and judge the foreigners and young people who get it wrong. But it would seem they take less umbrage at the fact that a foreigner is wearing a yukata than that he is wearing it the wrong way, or at the wrong place and time. 


***

In conclusion, given all that I know about foreigners in Japan and wearing kimono, if you want to wear kimono or yukata here, why not? Pay someone to dress you (either at a kimono rental shop or a beauty salon) and help keep alive knowledge, skills, and traditions that have sadly lost footing over the years. Wear the garment the way the dresser recommends. Ask questions. Learn. There are many people here who will be happy to teach you. Make sure you know what you're doing, whether your choice is appropriate for the situation/place you're going into or not. There will always be someone--foreign or Japanese--who'll think "it looks funny on you" due to your body or hair-type, but that's part of the deal, isn't it? Foreigners in kimono in Japan is a time-honored tradition in touristy areas, and in some occasions in Japanese daily life it's the most fitting garment, funny-looking or not. Foreigners wearing kimono in Japan may be a lot of things, but I think it's going a bit too far to say it's cultural appropriation.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Going "Home": 10 Things that Surprised Us in America

I meant to publish this post back in May shortly after we returned to Japan from a 10-day trip to my PNW hometown. I'm publishing it now with some added reflections.

There's a fancy-pants word for expats (we're never mere immigrants are we?) who go home after a while abroad and experience uncomfortable things: "reverse culture shock" or "re-entry shock". I haven't experienced either since coming back from study abroad years ago, because I've only had short trips back and haven't yet tried rebuilding daily life in my home country.

At least, the word shock is a bit much. My home country doesn't shock me as much as make me realize "wow, I've gotten used to doing things differently, and living in a society with very different values."

Here are ten things Yuya and I noticed about my little corner of America on our trip:

Everything is big. From towels and cups to cars and streets, space is used extravagantly. People have big bodies. Perhaps humans are bit like goldfish, and we grow to fit the size of our tank? Americans also have larger personal-space bubbles. In a tight crowded spot my mom bumped into a lady who seemed offended by the encounter. I thought her reaction was over-the-top, but then I remembered a lot of Americans probably aren't used to tight crowded spots. Hah, I thought, that lady couldn't live in Asia; she'd go nuts.

Relaxation is a thing. Yuya exclaimed more than once, "Americans really know how to relax!" The organic, informal, off-time gathering around a campfire in (large) comfy lawn chairs, or on cushions at the lakeside with an alcoholic drink in hand, where some of the most refreshing and restorative moments of our trip. There is no pressure to do or be anything special. There is no need to check one's watch. There is no need to stand up, bow, make polite nothings every time someone older than you shifts their weight. We can all talk about whatever, or say nothing and doze to the sound of the gentle lake waves lapping.

People don't take many pains to look nice in public. I like fashion and sometimes read blogs that mourn the decline of good dressing and polished looks in American culture. I finally noticed what they are all talking about. There just seems to be a lot of skin and stray hairs hanging out of half-hearted clothes, and no pantyhose to be seen. We went to a baseball game and took selfies while sitting in the stands, and were a bit surprised by all the bare human limbs that also made it into the photo. Oh well!

People don't use cash as much. I'd gotten used to Japan's cash-based society. I was very confused when I tried to deposit cash in an ATM and found no place to put in my bills to be automatically scanned and counted by the machine, but instead had to put the cash in an envelope and manually type in the amount myself. We ended up not using the ATM for that because of the insecurity. A completely different system!

People don't care who's around. In America you will overhear loud conversations in public places. Loud phone conversations in public places. Just put your life on air or talk about private things in an outside voice; who cares if someone overhears that Dennis failed his drug test again or that you have an appointment tomorrow to get a weird spot on your butt checked.

Somewhat related, even adults say exactly what they think or feel about things. People complain like children about things that can't be helped and air personal views readily. A young employee at a store we visited sighed heavily and informed us he was "finally off work in 13 more minutes." Yuya and I chuckled about it later, at how unthinkable such a comment to a customer would be in Japan. I realized I'd gotten used to the Japanese way of tailoring conversation depending on who you're speaking to. If you communicate the same way in Japan, it will remind listeners of children or of a mental disability.

Phones in business places don't ring very often. This is something Yuya noticed and still talks about. People in the office don't run around either but walk slowly. It looked quite different from both of our work environments. Customer service is also of course not up to the Japanese standard. Employees chat amongst themselves in front of customers, don't hesitate to show displeasure on their faces, or like when I had trouble with the ferry ticket machine in Seattle, shrug and say "that's not my job, sorry can't help you." In the end it made us laugh. The environment is definitely more comfortable for the workers, we thought.

Our 10-day trip was "short" by American standards, "long" by Japanese.
We went during Golden Week, a string of 5 or so national holidays in Japan, and tacked on an extra week of paid leave days we'd saved up. "Wow, nice, a whole 2 weeks off!" were what Japanese friends and co-workers said. Most people make do with one week. This is a population used to taking overseas trips to Korea, Bali, Guam, even Paris in only 3-5 days. We were very happy we finagled the longer vacation from both our jobs until we got to my hometown and everyone said, "Aww that's so short!" about our trip. It was a bit deflating. Tourism is one thing, but we weren't leaving Japan just for fun--time for meeting family and old friends is always too short.

Recreational marijuana has been legalized, and I spotted a gender-neutral bathroom. Times they be a-changin'. In Japan, getting caught with any kind of drug effectively ruins your chances of a career and a normal social life. Even popular musicians who get caught have their CDs pulled from the shelves of music stores. Drugs are very taboo. Gender questions are just starting to become public discussion here, but it's usually more questions about gender roles in society rather than trans issues.

Most people I saw around town were white like me, for a change. I'd forgotten what it was like to not look obviously different from the majority around me. I saw Yuya get the foreigner treatment more than once. There will always be at least one of us at the receiving end of that.

In the end, since our standard of living in both countries is not so different, there is not so much to really shock, at least not from what we ran into on a short trip. Some things are more comfortable than in Japan, some things are much less convenient. Personally I find it thought-provoking to be able to see my own culture from "outside," and realize just how much I've been influenced by my new country. Perhaps that is the most shocking thing of all about living abroad...

Monday, September 5, 2016

Being an Individual in Collectivist Japan: Myths, Stereotypes, and Whiny Anecdotes


In college, I majored in Japanese and minored in Communication Arts. In my first Communication classes on international communication, Japan was the textbook example of a collectivist society, contrasted with the U.S. at the individualistic end of the spectrum. In a textbook, it's easy to see how opposite these two cultures are. But how does collective thinking play out in real life? What does living in a collectivist culture look and feel like? I've compiled some myths about collectivism and what I really see going on around me.

Doesn't collectivism mean communism?
Japan is a capitalist society in that private property and private ownership of production is the foundation of its economy. Its modern economic and business system borrowed much from 1950s American progressivism and is largely unchanged since then. It's a competitive, materialistic society; however, there are some collective tendencies one can see in government and in business. More important than pragmatic capitalistic decisions is 継続 keizoku, continuing or carrying on the methods and values of your ancestors, elders, and superiors, and 気合い、kiai, succeeding through the merit of your intentions and spirit alone. A "good" Japanese company is one that's like a benevolent feudal lord who provides ample food and protection to his serfs. In return the peasant workers must simply show they're loyally trying hard every day. Getting fired is rare, and so is finishing anything on time. It all makes me wonder, just how free is this market, really?

Collectivism means people are more connected, involved in community, less lonely, happier
Behind this myth is the criticism of individualistic societies and their tendency towards less community involvement or integration. It may be so. In my church in America, there was definitely less fellowship time after the service because most members leave very soon after to "do their own thing". Japanese communities seem knit tighter and closer. People care about others' daily lifestyle choices. The flipside of this is, persecution for the sins of being different and not fitting in can be that much crueler. Membership in and approval from these 組織 soshiki, organizations (schools, clubs, companies, in a larger sense social class and Japanese-ness itself) is so very paramount, so much a foundation of identity, that not belonging is devastating to the individual. Since Japanese education teaches children to put their personal value in their ability to perform responsibilities to the whole, when it is lost the result is extreme shame and loneliness. It's not the American individualist "you do your thing, I'll do my thing" kind of loneliness. It's a loneliness of being told, "if you can't belong you might as well not exist". Japan's suicide rate, though tapering off in recent years, is still 60% higher than the global average. Culturally, depression and suicide are not always thought of as mental problems per se but as evidence of maladjustment to society (I disagree with some conclusions drawn about hikikomori and otaku). This article is also a bit dinosaur-ish, but the use of the words "social murder" and "obligatory death" to replace the word "suicide" I found interesting. Japanese compulsory education is very thorough in turning out a massive middle class whose lifestyles and values all look very much the same. People who don't fit tend to disappear: to the underclasses, overseas, or they literally die.

Collectivism means everyone is equal
Tabloid articles like this one about new hires in a Japanese company perpetuate this image. Robotic. Same. Everyone in the same uniform, no expressing of individual differences allowed. This is not untrue in certain sections of Japanese society: schools are full of such rules, and the typical hiring practices of Japanese companies will remind you of a clone army, as does rush hour at major trains stations because the uniform of a working man is a suit and tie. However, this puts us in mind of what's called horizontal collectivism, which is not the brand of collectivism in Japan. Japan is an extremely hierarchical society, so what is really going on is vertical collectivism. People are not on equal planes of worth but somewhere in a totem pole. Your rank and ability to claim rights and privileges goes up as you gain age and experience. Senior members have a responsibility to care for and "raise" junior members of a group, and juniors a duty to respect and follow seniors obediently. Think master and disciple in those old martial arts movies. I go more into that in this post on key aspects of Japanese culture. Everyone has their level and place, and individuals are expected to put this hierarchical organization first, and this is where collectivism comes in.

Collectivism means everyone is part of the "hive mind" and groupthink
These words bring to mind the imagery of an entire planet's population living by the rhythm generated by a giant disembodied brain from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. No human society is of course that extreme, but it is true that the level of uniformity here often surprises me. In conversations explaining Japanese things to my foreign self they often say "we Japanese..." and if a foreigner expresses admiration of something like the Japanese language, landscape, people, or country in general the response is almost always "thank you!" When non-citizens tell me, "I love the Grand Canyon, it's so amazing!" I don't  think to say "thank you". My thinking is not collective enough to take the praise of American geography as a personal compliment.

This is not to say a Japanese "hive mind" exists of course, it's just that individual choices are ranked far below group ones in importance to society, so they are given less voice and relegated to private rather than public life, resulting in a picture of unity. Japanese people I think are better at hiding personal proclivities and strange hobbies than Americans are. They're educated to leave all that home, for the most part. I notice this watching my company deal with (foreign) vegetarian employees when planning company dinners. They try to accommodate, but they grumble, because in their way of thinking the vegetarians should just keep their choices for their free time and eat what's in front of them when "at work" without causing problems.

Collectivism means less selfishness and egotism
Continuing from the above, it's true collectivism requires the sacrifice of the individual for the good of the organization, which can indeed look very selfless. It means staying in the meeting even though you'd rather not. It means showing up and smiling for events even when you're going through something horrible or feeling sick. It means staying late and unpaid at work to help your team finish up. However, in this post on overwork I argue that this is not always an absence of selfishness but rather a different out-working of it. Since approval from the organization is absolutely vital to Japanese life, the group is put ahead of individual needs as a method of self-preservation.

From my point of view, the organization is allowed to be extremely selfish and inconsiderate of individuals. At our church, everyone knew we were newlyweds, that Yuya was working long hours,  and that our schedules were different so we only had Sundays to spend together. Yet they still "voluntold" Yuya to be a deacon, knowing its commitment to long Sunday afternoon meetings.To me, the church's action is collectively selfish in that the decision was made without consideration for our situation.

Collectivism is all about harmony
On paper, yes. But many life experiences here make me doubt the existence of harmony.
For example, superiors are allowed to use voilent means to educate their inferiors. In schools and in the workplace, wrath can explode (screaming profanities and dehumanizing insults, throwing things, hitting walls and tables, slapping faces, blowing up at small mistakes, sabotaging of projects etc.) when subordinates don't perform to par. When it is not done out of rage at real insubordination, it's a performance to "toughen up" younger students or workers. Flying into rages doesn't fit the "harmonious" or "conflict-avoiding" image we have of Japanese people, because it's true there is generally avoidance of direct conflict among peers.  This "discipline" from superior to inferior mostly takes place behind closed doors, and until recently it was simply taboo to talk about. It is just finally being labeled as パワハラ or power harassment in the media. It lurks in every sector of Japanese society, behind the impeccable customer service and the trains that run on time.

A further disruption of harmony is drama. So. Much. Drama. When collectivism says everyone should have more or less the same amount of toys for the same effort but real life is less fair, there is fodder for enough drama to make you think it's time to pack your bags. He said, she said. I can't believe she... the nerve of him... usually about much smaller things than I would personally consider worthy of offense. Jealousy for someone who seems to have life easier than "all of us" is real. That's not fair, are words we have heard from grown adults talking about other grown adults. I grew up being told "life isn't fair" but that only makes collectivist people angry.

Story time: at my first job here, the first week was spent at a regional training facility where I lived with 4 other newly employed foreign women. On the weekend, we had a free day. I went to Kyoto to go to my old church and see Yuya. My fellow trainees decided to explore Osaka castle. The next day as our training started, we were asked what we did on the weekend. Osaka castle excursion was met with applause for trying to find their own way in the big new city together. When it came out that I had gone to Kyoto by myself, silence. Later I was pulled aside and told I should really work on my team spirit, and to please try to like everyone. Days later, I heard rumors being circulated by our Japanese trainers that I probably hated my fellow trainees. Because I had gone off by myself on the weekend. All we could do was laugh about it and try to reassure our trainers that no we didn't hate each other even though we didn't act like we were all joined at the hip.

Collectivism means less cutthroat competition
Well, maybe in a case of pure ideal collectivism, but in real life in Japan, no. On a national scale Japan has always cared about its ranking in the outside world since it was aware of it, and long before Western-style capitalism was implemented. Japanese people love winning, they love excelling, and they love being the best and being recognized for it by others. They're not a boastful people and they are often their own worst critics, judging themselves harshly and speaking modestly about their achievements. But competitions and qualifications are everywhere, of all kinds imaginable. A good friend of ours studied for and passed an official ichthyology exam identifying hundreds of fish species from a color photo--but not the highest level, he modestly added. I think this comes from Japanese love of excellence and pursuit of mastery and perfection, perhaps from their old feudal apprenticeship culture. People who do things by halves or half-halfheartedly are more criticized than those who gave their all but still failed. And yet failure is a bad sign: if you lost a game or failed an exam, it's because you weren't training the right way, didn't put in enough kiai or are even morally deficient.
In business, it's the same as anywhere, really, with the added Japanese values of 我慢 gaman, perseverance, and 忍耐、nintai, patience as tests for membership in the ranks of middle class success. Those who buckle under the strain, who fail and drop out, were worthless weaklings anyway. The juggernaut of Japan Inc. must roll on, supported by the strong, good, and morally superior members who were tested and found worthy.

So, collectivism=bad, individualism=good?
The older I get and the more I see of the world, the more I'm convinced there's never a positive aspect without a negative one. There's no rain without mud. There's no such thing as utopia in this world, just different sets of human miseries. Based on my education and values, some are going to shock and upset me more than others. One of the cool things about our international marriage is that it makes us feel less tied to any one system, country, or place. We can examine all these things, realize the kind of society we have been placed in and our position in it, and decide how then should we live. Nothing is ever as simple or clear-cut as it may seem on the outside. It's going to be a long journey to unravel it all, I can tell.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Favorite Places and Spaces: Uji

What comes to mind when you hear Kyoto? Historical buildings and temples, green tea, and geisha? How about noisy crowds and long, long lines for sightseeing buses?

I think it was last year that Kyoto beat Paris as the top travel destination in the world, and thanks to the Japanese government's robust efforts, both foreign and domestic tourism to Kyoto has exploded in recent years. Only a few years ago in 2010 I could go to Arashiyama on a weekday afternoon and walk through the bamboo forest slowly and quietly, and take photos with no people in them. There is no way to do that now, unless perhaps one visits very very early in the morning.

However, this is not to say that all of Kyoto has been taken over by crowds and policemen shouting in megaphones reminding you it's very crowded and to keep moving. In fact it seems to me that tourists are shuttled to certain areas, leaving others still very peaceful and relaxing.

One of my favorites of those places is Uji. 



Uji!

Uji is situated on the southern outskirts of Kyoto City, on the Uji River (elsewhere known as the familiar Yodogawa), easily accessed from JR or Kintetsu train lines for a few hundred yen (less than $5). All of its major sites are within walking distance of the stations and each other. Here are some good ones:


Byodo-in Temple 

The face of Uji and "heads" on the 10-yen coin, this temple was originally founded in 1052 AD. It has of course been damaged, burned, and repaired several times. An old proverb says, "If you doubt the existence of heaven visit Byodo-in". One time when I went there at the beginning of August we were treated to a free music and dance performance for the Tanabata holiday season. It was really special.



Uji River
There is something so relaxing and romantic about this river. I enjoy walking along its banks, over its bridges (there is an oblong island in the middle where the cormorants are housed), and even on one occasion paddling my feet in its coolness, right before we spotted a nutria, river-dwelling rodent of unusual size! Be careful however as other than the small stretch between the shore and the island, the river's current is very swift and dangerous and not suitable for swimming in. You can however take a little boat tour up and down the stretch of river, and even see traditional cormorant fishing on summer nights. 


Tea
Tsuen's matcha parfait
Uji has been a major source of high-quality green tea for centuries. Right near the main bridge and the Kintetsu Uji station is Tsuen, a shop that boasts it has been in operation selling its brand of tea for a thousand years. A friend and I were impressed to see it included in an Edo-period (1600s) scroll painting of the area on display at the Genji museum, looking strikingly similar to the way it does today. It may be the oldest extant shop in the world. Matcha parfaits and other green tea refreshments are quite affordable. It is not by any means the only tea shop in the area; Omotesando street which leads to Byodo-in is lined with similar shops, and there are also many traditional tea-houses where you can participate in the tea ceremony, such as the Taihoan Tea House.

The Tale of Genji Museum
Arguably one of the oldest novels in the world, the last chapters of The Tale of Genji take place in Uji. The museum is a gorgeous building that incorporates traditional Japanese and modern architecture beautifully, and brings to life some scenes from the Tale and the Heian period lives of the imperial court. There is not much English inside the museum, and my knowledge of The Tale of Genji is shaky (I read it in English years ago, and had forgotten most of the numerous characters and their intrigues) but the museum offers a nice glimpse into another world. The sleepy, romantic little town of Uji, juxtaposed with its swift-flowing river, and The Tale of Genji--a story of the "floating world" and the impermanence of nature, beauty, and love--come together in the imagination until the line between past and present, fact and fiction blurs. Admittedly it was good for me that I went there with a friend who was more knowledgeable of the novel, the time period, and archaic kanji than I was!

Mimurotoji Temple 

Uphill and separated from the major spots by a 15-minute walk or so is this lovely temple; it gets crowded at the end of June when its famed hydrangeas bloom, but you can expect a quiet, relaxing wander through its gardens all the rest of the year. The two times I have been there on weekdays we had it to ourselves. Lotuses bloom until the middle of August, and in its gardens you can see the dramatic effect of "borrowed scenery" as its cultivated areas blend seamlessly with the surrounding forests and hills. Beginning in May or so you can hear nightingales calling from the forest. Heaven!

All these places and many others here and there in the area make Uji just lovely for walking around and exploring slowly, soaking up the atmosphere of old Kyoto. Most tourists seem to leave it out of their itineraries, but in my opinion, if you are traveling to Kyoto and want to skip the crowds and get a taste (literally!) of the city and its history, I highly recommend a day in Uji.

Monday, August 15, 2016

What to Expect at a Wedding in Japan

Weddings in another country are interesting glimpse into another culture. I have attended three weddings in Japan now, two Christian ones and one traditional Japanese Shinto ceremony. They all share similarities, especially in the 披露宴 hirouen, or wedding reception. Here's what to look out for if you're invited to a Japanese wedding:

My sister-in-law's Shinto ceremony
The ceremony
Couples can choose to have a traditional Shinto ceremony at a shrine, or a civil ceremony at a wedding chapel. Japanese Christians get married in a church.
The Shinto ceremony at a shrine involves the reading of vows and drinking nuptial sake together. Since the guests are there in the function to give away or receive a bride, they usually limited to immediate family and it's a small, intimate affair. Christian ceremonies in a church seem to have less components than Christian ceremonies I've attended back home, short and sweet with just the pastor's message to the couple, the vows, and exchange of rings. Don't expect a kiss! Weddings are extremely formal events and you might be surprised to see the couple with very serious faces throughout.
For non-Christians who want a Western-style "white wedding" (popularized after Princess Diana's wedding was televised around the world), there are lovely "wedding chapels"--church-like buildings built exclusively to host wedding ceremonies. Since a ceremony is irrelevant to being legally married in Japan, the officiant is not a real pastor, but a white foreign man hired part-time to don robes and conduct a ceremony, the content of which is up to the couple. One co-worker of mine is employed as a "wedding priest" on weekends, and apparently he makes a pretty penny off it.
Outdoor ceremonies are reserved for exotic destination weddings at places like Hawaii, Okinawa, and Bali.
"Hand-made" weddings in which all arrangements are made by the bride and their family and friends are less common, though I attended one at our church; most brides choose a package provided by a bridal company that provides everything from the coordinator, rental dress and tux, MC, flowers, banquet hall, and food. My sister-in-law had trouble with her wedding planner when she found that any deviation from the set menu of services resulted in exorbitant fees.


Wedding presents
Goshugi cash gift envelopes
Each guest must bring a gift of cash called ご祝儀 goshugi. The bills have to be new from the bank, given in a fancy envelope for the purpose, in amounts that don't start with a 2 or 4 since those are unlucky for wedding. For a single person just attending the ceremony, $100 is the minimum expected. A couple should give $300. If you attend the reception as well, you should consider giving more since the reception involves a formal gourmet meal--a single person should give $300 and a couple $500. For this reason you won't see many children at a reception nor do guests bring dates or even spouses. Yuya and I have attended weddings together only when the couple is our mutual friend. When Yuya attends the weddings of his old high school friends, I stay at home. We hit on a strategy for dealing with goshugi that works for us--we received some ourselves when we got married, but we decided not to use any of it. When we attend a wedding we simply give the money from our old goshugi fund. That way we can attend a few weddings without breaking the bank!
Hikidemo gift catalog
Friends might pool together to buy household appliances for the new couple, but the cash gift is what's expected.
Since there is no receiving of a gift in Japan without giving one in return, if you give goshugi you'll receive 引出物 hikidemono from the bride and groom, usually nice little household items, or a catalog of the same from which you can choose your gift yourself. We have received towels, wine glasses, steak, and a kitchen knife from weddings.


The reception
It is not necessary to attend both the wedding ceremony and the reception, as long as you indicated your attendance beforehand when you RSVPed.
The reception is very formal. You'll sign into a guest book and receive a map of the seating arrangements. The bride will have made sure to seat you with people you know. A wedding is less a place to meet new people as it is to meet up with old mutual friends. For us, it's our Bible-study "circle" or club we had joined in college. It's always fun to reconnect and see how peoples' lives change as we get older.
After being seated, the ceremony begins with the couples' entrance. There will be speeches and toasts by the couple's old high-school or university teachers, or bosses (yes you invite teachers and bosses to your wedding!). There might be a musical performance, candle-lighting, or cake-cutting by the couple. No bouquet toss, and definitely no garter toss. There will probably be videos of the couple's childhood and dating photos. In the middle of the event, the bride and groom will disappear for お色直し oironaoshi  "changing colors" and the bride will change from her kimono or white wedding dress into a colored ball-gown. Through the course of the day the bride wears at least two dresses, perhaps more. Brides usually rent rather than buy their dresses. At the end, the couple reads letters to their parents, "thank you for raising me..." It is all narrated by the hotel's enthusiastic MC. Somewhere in there, a few courses of beautiful gourmet food is served. Don't expect dancing or a DJ or much mingling. Someone's relatives might drink too much and get silly, but a "party" atmosphere happens at an after-party or 二次会 nijikai, which may or may not be arranged by previous invitation at a different establishment. Some guests attend the nijikai only; some couples don't hold one at all.



What to wear
Men wear formal suits and ties. Women generally wear knee-length formal dresses in conservative colors (though not all black or all white), modest pantyhose and plain pumps, a bolero or fancy scarf to cover the shoulders, a little formal purse, hair did, and no flashier jewelry than a string of pearls. The uniform is pretty much standard, and contributes to the whole fancy and gorgeous atmosphere.


The cost
The average cost of a wedding in Japan is $31,000, higher than the U.S. average of $26,000. I think our stateside handmade wedding was less than half of that. Like in the U.S., who pays is up to the couple and their families, but some trends are emerging to offset these costs, like intimate ceremonies "sumakon", photo-op only weddings, or simply not holding a ceremony or reception at all.


My thoughts
Weddings are a great chance to meet up with old friends, but there's a lot of pomp and circumstance involved which makes more opportunities for social faux pas--though navigating a wedding successfully is a sign of having arrived in adult society, especially for the new bride. More so than me Yuya seems to have an allergic reaction to such formal events, and incidents always happen: misplaced formal tie, misplaced camera batteries, the invitation with the map to the reception left at home, my name spelled wrong on the goshugi we gave (that he wrote!). Though Japanese attention to detail and propriety make weddings truly beautiful to attend, they always make us secretly glad we had our wedding in my home church in the U.S.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Daily Superstitions: How Secular is Japan, Really?

Calendar showing auspicious and inauspicious days for August
What is the main religion of Japan? Buddhism? Shinto? Work? Stability? Japan itself? I should stop before I get in trouble.

Some recent English-language articles going around the internet wax eloquent on the wonders of the Japanese education system for being so successful (literacy rate is 96.7%) and secular. Obvious bias there, but anyway...

Just how secular is Japan? Religion 宗教 is a modern term that is used exclusively to define organized religions, the big ones in Japan being Christianity and Buddhism, and their off-shoots: various “new religions” that borrow concepts from all kinds of traditions. It is true comparatively few people in Japan claim membership in any of these major religions. In western countries, there either is a God or there isn't (even the fact that we use the capital G when having this debate is telling), and you either are or you aren't religious. There's even “agnostic” for people who don't know which one they are yet. Japanese thinking about gods, the supernatural, and the afterlife is quite syncretic compared to the West, and the line between religious or not is blurry. Perhaps the question as to whether one really believes or not is not such an important matter as is simply performing rituals when circumstances demand it. However, besides obvious traditional ceremonies like Shinto weddings and Buddhist funerals, and “god-shelf” altars for ancestors in private homes, there are many things the Japanese do in daily life that strike me as very much about the supernatural. If not exactly religious many Japanese are at least superstitious. Here's what I've noticed.

Praying at shrines
Almost all of my students go with their families during the New Year's holidays in a hatsumode visit to a Shinto shrine for health and luck in the new year. Praying entails tossing a few coins into an offering box, clapping the hands twice or ringing a bell, and and bowing with hands clasped for a silent moment to make your wish. Shrines are not just for private family visits. There are certain shrines in Kyoto whose resident gods specialize in academics and the passing of tests, and children on school-sponsored field trips are taken there to pray for success in their endless exams. Japanese companies as well sometimes do annual company trips 社員旅行 that involve visiting a shrine to a god of rice (ancient money) or business to pray for business successes. Yuya got dragged along to one of those last year, and my company went this year (without me, ha) to Ise Shrine. JAXA, the Japanese equivalent of NASA, organizes prayers at certain shrines before every mission. Politicians visit shrines to pray for success before they're elected. After they're elected, they make headlines and anger their Asian neighbors by making official, public visits to Yasukuni Shrine where WWII war criminals are enshrined as gods. Domestic travel programs on TV highlight regional shrines for praying for the prevention of certain maladies or help in situations (gods of love and match-making are popular). When Yuya was job-hunting, his mom went to several shrines to pray for his success and told us “I prayed to your guys' God too for good measure!”

Good-luck charms and talismans (talismen?)
My students all carry bags and backpacks filled with the Japanese school-child's paraphenalia. Almost all have attached a little cloth talisman from a shrine for things like “safe commute” and “passing exams”. Schools do not discourage or prohibit them. A peek into a local politician's office during election season will reveal a talisman or two. The boss at my previous workplace taped a kind of miniature wooden arrow purchased for the purpose from a shrine to the ceiling; “it will help our business” she said. Check the wrists of businessmen on the train and count how many have glass and stone “power beads.” You know the empty lot nextdoor has been sold and will be built on when it's roped off in a square with Shinto paper streamers to purify the ground and placate the resident god before digging the foundation. Outside many buildings you can find tiny dishes of salt on the right and left sides of entrances. Salt is purifying and keeps away evil spirits and ghosts, apparently. When I moved in to my room in a shared house, a dish of salt was there on a shelf. I didn't think salt in a dish did anything but take up space, so the dish ended up returned to its mates in the kitchen cupboard.

The calendar
Every calendar day in Japan is marked in a cycle of six auspicious or lucky days and unlucky days called 六曜 rokuyo. The unluckiest is 仏滅 butsumetsu, commemorating when the Buddha died. So many Japanese worry about scheduling important events on lucky days that the entire bridal industry is heavily discounted if you book on a butsumetsu day. Japanese Christians often choose these “unlucky” days because wedding venues and rentals are much cheaper! My non-Christian sister-in-law made sure to get her marriage certificate at the city hall on January 10, or 1/10. The Japanese words for one and ten together sound like ito, “thread,” making it an auspicious day for the binding of contracts, couples, and marriages. Her wedding, of course, was on a “lucky” day.

Food
Somewhat related to the calendar, there are many foods the Japanese connect to luck, good health, fertility, etc. if eaten in certain ways on certain days. For the best luck ehomaki sushi, sold during the ancient calendar's reckoning of the new year at the beginning of February, must be eaten in silence while facing the lucky direction for that year. 2016 was south-southeast. Kyoto people eat minatsuki rice cakes on the last day of June to purify from half a year's sins. My first-grade students ate it on the day because it was served in their school lunches. The last Saturday of July is a day to eat eel so as not to be sick during the summer. On Toji, the longest night of the year, some people add yuzu citrus fruits to their baths for health in the winter. Apparently the previous or next night's bath just won't do. New Year's food osechi has symbolic, superstitious meanings in every bite. There are many, many, countless more food-related superstitions, with endless regional variations.

Fortune-telling
You can find palm readers and fortune-tellers at any large mall and sometimes even street corners, and of course all over the internet. Lest you assume it's relegated to the newspaper horoscopes that people chuckle at, many people actually go to fortune-tellers before they make big decisions like what to name their children. Japanese names are written in kanji which often have a heiroglyphic meaning as well as several permissible phonetic readings. Parents worry about choosing an auspicious name with a lucky number of strokes (for example this simple kanji has two strokes while this one has fifteen) and shades of lucky meanings in combination with the last name. A co-worker wrote her name with a kanji I'd not seen in a girl's name before. “Yes,” she said, “the fortune-teller my parents went to said this one was best for me so that's what they chose.”

These are all just a few of the superstitious customs that have a say in Japanese lifestyles. Not all Japanese follow all of them to the same degree of course, but they are very present as well-loved fixtures of the mainstream culture, visible in everyday life at schools, in government, on TV, and in private homes. None of them are present in my house, or in the lives of Japanese Christians either. For a lot of people, these and others are probably performed simply because one will be thought odd for not participating, or to demonstrate that one cares or is grateful about something or someone. In any case it seems to me living life here that many Japanese are not as free from having their daily lives and decisions influenced by beliefs about the supernatural as the media would have us believe. It's true these superstitions are your garden-variety that stem from ancient fears of disease, curses, and bad luck more than from the teachings of an organized religion. Though they answer to the contrary on surveys and display a modern  materialism, I find Japanese the people religious in many ways. It takes one to know one, as they say. We can say we don't believe in the supernatural or subscribe to this or that creed, but I don't think any human is ever entirely free from worship. Who, or what, do you worship? 

Monday, July 18, 2016

The 100 Books I'll Never Forget

Inspired by a friend's list, I tried making a list of a 100 books. They aren't all my favorites, or ones I will ever want to read a second time. Some were simply thought-provoking or disturbing or somehow or other impressive. Others I have well-loved battered old copies of that I've read over and over--these are the books that, for whatever reason, have stuck with me.

They are numbered so I could keep track of them as they came to mind, but are in kind of alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of preference or importance to me.

There's a lot of YA novels and Newberry Medal winners-- I did most of my reading as a teen. Perhaps I could instead call the list "The Hundred Books that Shaped my Teenage Mind".

Has anyone else read and loved (or hated) these one hundred books?

  1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  2. A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears by Jules Feiffer
  3. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  4. A Journey of Souls by C.D. Baker
  5. A Lion to Guard Us by Clyde Robert Bulla
  6. A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
  7. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  8. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle
  9. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  11. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  12. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  13. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  14. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  15. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  16. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  17. Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse
  18. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  19. Bring Me a Unicorn by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  20. Buck, Wild by Glenn Balch
  21. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
  22. Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry
  23. Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
  24. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  25. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
  26. Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
  27. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  28. Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard
  29. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
  30. Escape from the Island of Aquarius by Frank Peretti
  31. Evidence Not Seen: A Woman's Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of WWII by Darlene Deibler Rose
  32. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  33. Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
  34. Foxe's Book of Martyrs by John Foxe
  35. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg
  36. Grimm's Fairytales by the Brothers Grimm
  37. Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama
  38. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  39. I Am David by Anne Holm
  40. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  41. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
  42. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
  43. Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
  44. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  45. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
  46. King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
  47. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  48. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  49. Lost Horizon by James Hilton
  50. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
  51. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
  52. Netochka Nezvanovna by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  53. Night by Elie Wiesel
  54. Polar Dream by Helen Thayer
  55. Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary
  56. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  57. Redwall by Brian Jacques
  58. Richard II by Shakespeare
  59. Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark
  60. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  61. Taras Bulba by Nikolai Gogol
  62. Tess of the d'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
  63. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  64. The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
  65. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
  66. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  67. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  68. The Cat of Bubastes: A Tale of Ancient Egypt by G.A. Henty
  69. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  70. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  71. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
  72. The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key
  73. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  74. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
  75. The Gentle Infidel by Lawrence Schoonover
  76. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  77. The Great Wave by Pearl S. Buck
  78. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  79. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  80. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
  81. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  82. The Light Princess by George MacDonald
  83. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  84. The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki
  85. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  86. The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  87. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  88. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  89. The Samurai by Shusaku Endo
  90. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein
  91. The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell
  92. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima
  93. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  94. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
  95. Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
  96. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
  97. Vanya by Myrna Grant
  98. Walk the World's Rim by Betty Baker
  99. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  100. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell