Japanese culture and society

Having lived and worked in Japan for over seven years, much of my work is related to Japanese culture and society. I speak the language to a native level and have no problem reading newspapers, research papers and books. Although I now live in Amsterdam (ironically thanks to my Japanese husband), I retain a keen interest in current affairs and social issues in Japan.

In addition to all the other Japan-related work in my portfolio, this is a selection of articles written specifically about modern Japanese culture.

Under the ‘Orientalist’ kimono

Photo by Irwin Wong http://www.irwinwong.com/
Photo by Irwin Wong

“The kimono became a canvas onto which both contemporary life and Japan’s self-image — torn between patriotic fervor and a sense of inferiority toward the dominant West — were projected. By 1900, wearing a kimono was a way of expressing patriotic pride, while adopting Western dress signaled one’s aspirations to be equal to Europe.”


Olympic destructionism

“Tokyo’s winning of the 2020 bid provided a catalyst for the construction revolution already ripping through the city with glee. The moving of Tsukiji fish market, a delightfully scuzzy and earthy ecosystem riddled with history and stories to a faceless jazzed-up box further up river just shows how much the authorities miss the point. It doesn’t matter that the new one will have a spectator’s gallery looking over the market to avoid collisions between tourists and the frozen tuna handlers, because the tourists won’t come if the place has all the charm of a Tesco fish counter.”

The vagina, in all its ‘obscene’ glory

“That a woman could be arrested in this day and age for such an act — and in a country where sexually explicit manga and imitation-vagina sex toys are sold at convenience stores — seemed absurd. Surely the police had more “obscene” things to go after?”

What Pokemon, Japanese schoolgirl punks, and cocaine have in common

“Pokemon’s kawaii aesthetic is itself a reaction to traditional Japanese culture, which emphasizes responsibility, fortitude and self-restraint. For Japanese people in search of an alternative culture – or unconsciously in need of one — kawaii represents a form of indulgent escapism. Those who feel stressed by brutally long working hours, uncaring bosses, or an unhappy home life can receive brief mental respite from kawaii credit cardsbento, and even dish sponges…. 

At the strange historical juncture we find ourselves at, Pokémon Go may be a glorious escapist trip into a layer beyond the reality of race politics, the prospect of increasing terrorism overseas, and a tense presidential race, but it may also steal us away from actual problems that require our attention.”

Japan has a cute problem

“The apron, a symbol of domesticity, made her obvious intelligence more palatable in Japan, where being “cute”, or kawaii is the only social currency women have.”

Novelist Mizumura fights to arrest fall of Japanese literature

“Mizumura says the rich and diverse worldviews produced by national literatures over the past few hundred years will be lost. For her, “the tyranny of a single logos” will lead to a narrow, bleak world in which people erroneously believe there is only one kind of truth: the kind expressed by the English language.”

Asylum seekers find little refuge in Japan 

“Despite being the third largest donor in the world to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Japan admits only a tiny number of asylum seekers compared to other industrialized nations, and often appears reluctant to grant refugee status to those who do come. Damning statistics are bandied about, such as the fact that the country has accepted just 508 refugees from the 7,297 applications made since 1982.”

A minicar named Hustler? Japan’s brand names raise eyebrows

“The Hustler follows a string of other Japan-made cars to bemuse speakers of foreign languages, such as Daihatsu Motor Co Ltd’s Naked in 2000 and Isuzu Motors Ltd’s 1983 Bighorn.

Spanish speakers were taken aback by Mazda Motor Corp’s Laputa, a derogatory word for sex worker, while Mitsubishi Motors Corp sold its Pajero model as the Montero in Spanish-speaking countries as the former is slang for sexual self-pleasure.”

Marketing guru says Japan must learn to love its ‘Otaku’ side 

“Shy, effeminate, childish–hardly characteristics that spell business success, right? Wrong, says Morinosuke Kawaguchi.

The Tokyo-based marketing strategist and consultant at Arthur D. Little believes that these qualities, the trademarks of Japan’s “otaku” subculture, are the key to reinvigorating Japan Inc.”

FROM THE BLOG

Was Woodford tripped up by cultural misunderstandings?

“To the Olympus executives, Woodford’s decision to fan the flames of a media furor while the firm’s stock prices plummeted might have seemed like the act of a traitor rather than that of someone who had the company’s best interests at heart.”

Exporting shame

“We might welcome technology that furthers us from the “disgusting” nature of human waste, but I believe it’s wrong to feel that way about something inherently natural. It’s already getting to the point that we can’t sleep without pills, chill without a drink or tranquilizers, study without stimulants, read without batteries, commute without gas—for god’s sake, don’t let us be unable to pee without the prompt of an aquatic symphony.”

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