So I was reading about this book that we are supposed to read for class, and which I am having a hard time making myself finish: The Makioka Sisters. So I looked for a summary online and Wikipedia came to the rescue again.
After reading the summary, I was skimming some of the historical context and things and this came up:
Publication began in 1943, at the height of World War II. The popularity of the novel attracted the attention of government censors, who ordered that publication be halted, saying: “The novel goes on and on detailing the very thing we are most supposed to be on our guard against during this period of wartime emergency: the soft, effeminate, and grossly individualistic lives of women”
While it is questionable to halt publication of a book just because it is not war-like enough, there are more significant issues with this passage.
Yes I realize this is from the 1940’s in Japan. But it still makes my stomach turn. Just like when a kind middle-aged woman in Japan talked about how the weather is like a woman’s heart, prone to change at the drop of a hat.
Now Japan is not more sexist than the United States, it is just the fact that I have a blog currently and these are the things that I am noticing right now. Also that we are in a different culture where different things are verbalized and not verbalized, so I more easily notice things that would be strange to say in my culture.
So my question is not whether it is worth continuing to feel the churn of my stomach every time I hear something like this. I’ll feel whatever I feel regardless of whether I think it is good or not. But I guess the question is what do I do with those feelings? My friend encouraged me to “let it burn”, and not attempt to desensitize myself to sexist comments. But the question remains: what to do about this expansive issue of sexism in Japan, the United States and countless other places around the world?
So what is the best response when your host dad tells you you can’t come home at 11pm, even though you’ve done that before when host mom was in charge, because he claims it is dangerous for women to walk alone at night?
I didn’t know, so I just laughed… I probably would have laughed if my own parents had told me that, and then gotten into a debate over the fact that people put too much emphasis on women protecting themselves by staying in when it is dark out. As if men don’t get attacked as frequently as women. As if just by being outside, a woman is putting herself in danger, while a man outside is not in danger.
Well I like walking alone at night. I like fresh air, I like freedom… I guess I sound like a true American, now that I’m in Japan… What do you do about gender-biased, over-protective parents?
It is also apparently unsafe for me to go up into the mountains because there are wild boars that live up there. But it is perfectly safe for an old grandpa to walk up there alone (which I saw while I was going for a run, alone, up into the mountain path, which does not turn into wilderness at any point on the path).
I dno, maybe he has a point… I think it could be considered dangerous to walk up into the mountains at night. That goes for anybody though, not just women… as if a boy my age, or a man older than me would have any clue what to do if an inoshishi (boar) came charging at him. So obviously I said i would not go into the forrest, in order to calm their fears, but determined after a while that my heart would sink into my feet if I didn’t go to one of the most beautiful places I have seen that is only within five minutes of my house. It is utterly cruel to see a place so beautiful once and not be at liberty to see it and explore on my own.
I forsee issues arising from this, and I’m not sure what to do about it. I will not surrender my freedom of choice and movement. After all, we’re not in a warzone. But I don’t want to intentionally give my host family stress.
And yet, this is the same thing I would do if my mommy at home said there is something I cannot do (for my own safety) when I know it is because I am a female, of the “weaker” sex. I realize it is a different culture, but I feel all the more safe because of it. There are literally people EVERYwhere I go, meaning if I were to get into a dangerous situation, there would be PEOPLE around, unlike in the US, where some of the streets I frequent are entirely vacant at midnight. But Japan is different, and this is a CITy in Japan, thus there are all the more people present. Not as large as Tokyo by any means, but larger than Champaign.
NOT to mention, I have been out and returned around 10pm on my own, at which time it is just as dark as 2am. I realize there are more people out at 10pm, but the trains stop running at midnight anyways, so I would be home by then at the latest (or the next morning as was the case for Karaoke last weekend, which was only approved by Otoosan (dad) and Okaasan (mom) because I was going out with a group that included boys)…
So for now, I guess I’ll just ponder and debate whether to feel guilty about lying to my host family, or openly denying their authority. Or just not exercising my freedoms at all. I think it will be a choose my battle thing in the end… I’m sorry, Okaasan, I’m sorry Otoosan, but I need to be free to move. I know you are giving me a place to live, and meals, and welcoming me into your limited free time together as a family. I really feel blessed to be a part of that, especially for people who work so hard. But I am a human being, not a fragile child, and I may not always be able to follow all of your rules according to what is abunai/dangerous for women.
“We make noise” “Not Clothes”
Now I’ll never know
~A Haiku by Caroline Brown
backstory: this dude on the Hankyu line between Nishinomiya-Kitaguchi and Okamoto the other day was wearing shoes that said “We make noise” on his right shoe, and “Not Clothes” on the left at the front on the toe area. All I saw at first was “not clothes” and I assumed it was just another nonsensical article of clothing trying to use English in Japan.
But then I looked at the other shoe and realized he might be making some sort of political statement… I did want to comment on his shoes, cuz I thought they were pretty sweet, but then I didn’t really know how to go about it… the word for “cool” can be roughly translated into kakkoii, so I looked that up just to check if there might be other meanings, which apparently there were, like attractive/sexy etc… so I didn’t really want him to think i was hitting on him… I was also at a loss as to how to be casual about saying “I like your shoes” in Japanese, because in Japanese you don’t use the word “You” ever really. And I wanted to sound smooth, because this guy looked smooth, and I wanted him to think I was cool, because he was pretty cool-looking. So I decided not to say anything… Then I got off the train at Okamoto to head to school. Slightly regretful that I didn’t take the chance at sounding silly, because he could have been a really interesting person. alas
So I realized the other day, while in the middle of lit class, that we were talking about Japanese beliefs in a way that was legitimizing, and yet non-judgmental. That is to say, when we talked about the traditional perspective on ghosts and the connection between seasons and life cycles represented in the literature across all genres up until the present, we weren’t patronizing the beliefs by saying “You know, that makes a lot of sense, and actually it makes more sense than ‘Western’ beliefs.” Because in the pit of our stomach, we know it’s actually not true, and we find the beliefs silly.
I didn’t feel responsible for appreciating the perspective because if I didn’t, that perspective would continue to be shunned by mainstream society, or patronized by the people whose ancestors did not formulate that cultural perspective in the first place.
I am placing Japanese literature in contrast to American Indian literature (which you would have no reason for assuming unless you knew me well). This class has made me realize, though, that there is a way to appreciate, and acknowledge the beauty of different literary cultures and genres without inherently feeling a sense of responsibility to like everything about that literature or culture.
Personal preference exists in all realms, and while you can have preferences as to what music you listen to, what books you read, what news you watch, what things you talk about… etc. You can do all of these things without placing an inherent positive or negative value on the things that you are NOT actively involved/interested in. aka… just because I know nothing about cars does not make them worthless, and that I know nothing about Kabuki theater does not mean I judge it as a worthless endeavor. Or because I have on intentions of ever learning Russian, that does not mean I might not learn a lot of new insights about myself and this world, were I to do so.
So I guess the bottom line is that in Japanese Lit Class the other day, I realized I don’t need to feel that guilt in the pit of my stomach for not being involved in everything that ever existed in this world, or for not knowing about every culture, or for having preferential interest in certain things and never going out of my way for other areas of news, literature or music.
More narrowly, however, I don’t need to feel guilt or pity in the midst of discussing Native American issues. I don’t need to take on the burden of educating all of my friends about Native American issues (as if I know all the answers!). There are many other legitimate cultures and ways of thinking to be interested in, and I think I just happen to have been patronizing Native American culture by forcing myself to like ANYthing Native American… quite stupid really. So there’s that. I think my interest in Native American issues stems from both a legitimate disgust in disenfranchisement and genocide and ignoring the past, but also from a sense of guilt and responsibility from the “part of me that is white to the part of me that is indian”… as if our blood or bodies can be separated by a culturally constructed sense of difference based on a thing called “race”. It is a powerful reality, if not physically real, it is culturally real.
Also a sense of wanting to know myself… where I come from, where my past is, what my culture is now, who my people are, etc… and by my people, I guess I don’t know what I mean, which is why I am still searching…
The trains in this area have seats covered in a sort of deep forrest green velvet… I can’t decide if it’s hideous or comforting. Earlier today, on the way to school (3rd day I’ve ridden the train to school) and I heard the name of the stop and I debated whether it was my stop, but since I didn’t have enough time to take my backpack off, pull out the map and check if it was in fact my stop, I just got off for good measure. Turns out it wasn’t my stop. But I realized, after waiting a few minutes, when I got on the next train that came, I felt more alien than on the previous train (yes I am aware that I AM in fact an alien in Japan). But I had grown fond of the passengers in the other car over the 15 minutes or so we had ridden together.
For example, on that first train this morning from Takarazuka, an older woman walked onto the train through the door I was facing and found a seat to my left. I realized after we got going that the man who came in after her and looked around, searching for a seat, was probably her husband. I was busy studying for my first language quiz, so I didn’t really notice her glancing over at him until it was too late and the train was moving and her husband was already seated. I wish I could have let them sit together, because she seemed rather concerned and continued to glance at him frequently. He promtply fell asleep.
There was also this guy who was sitting across from me, and I got on the train pretty soon after it arrived at the end of its line, and he may have been the only person on the train before me, I couldn’t quite remember. But it seemed like he had been sleeping in that seat for a while and had just woken up when a crowd of people entered to take their seats. It was weird, because we were at the end of the line and he couldn’t have been sleeping there for a while unless he just enjoyed riding the train back and forth. I contemplated that for a while until I heard the stop that I thought was mine but turned out to be a false alarm.
Luckily I still made it into class only 3 minutes late…
Then, on the train home, about three stops before the end of the line (Takarazuka), this middle-school age boy gets on the Train, wearing a baseball outfit, and stands to the right of where I am sitting. There are other middle and high school girls in uniform standing around, along with the general work crowd of various ages. I notice out of the corner of my eye, while studying, that his bag keeps swaying dangerously close to my book. I glance up and notice that his head is down, even though he is standing, and it is unbearably comical to watch a child fall asleep while standing up, so I suppress laughter and look around to see if anybody else is noticing this. A couple of the school girls are also laughing, and we exchange glances as if to say “seriously? this is hilarious!” except I’m sure it was in Japanese in their heads.
This continues for a good five minutes before I look up at him and it looks almost as if he has been crying, but his eyes are wide open even though he is swaying. I wonder if maybe he has some sort of condition that causes him to lose balance? Or maybe he was just crying and doesn’t feel like holding his head up for people to see… or maybe he is just unbearably tired and falling asleep… regardless he looked really unhappy, and I felt bad about laughing immediately as I saw his face.
I asked him if he was ok “Daijyobu? Daijyobu?” and he grunted a sort-of yes…
If I had known better Japanese I might have apologized for laughing at him and maybe asked what was wrong. Maybe he went to the same school as those girls and maybe he was the butt of jokes :/ Or maybe I am making a huge deal of something that isn’t at all.
Anyways, that was on my mind today.
Just rode the train for the first time on my own today. It was a little frightening when my phone (which I just bought) died, mostly because I didn’t want my host mother to text me and not hear back. But I only got off at one wrong stop while taking the train, and one wrong stop while on the bus. Overall, I think I really enjoy public transportation, because you get to be around so many people and you can people watch/listen in on conversations and things.
So hopefully I think things are looking up for this year. I will be taking the bus and train in to school every day and it’s about a 45 min- hour commute (I haven’t timed it yet :/) so I’m glad I like it so far, although it may just be the novelty at this point.
We shall see!