Friday, December 9, 2011

Japan, That Happened.

In the time I have been in Japan my impressions of the country have not changed so much, as my perspective has.  I have learned to view things through a different lens and to look at things deeper and consider all aspects of something instead of just judging things on surface appearance and molding them to preexisting stereotypes.  I think change has come out of the work we have done in visual anthropology class.  We have seen lots of examples of what to do and what not to do and with this the dangers of assumptions and bias when portraying an aspect of life.
            When at first I was noticing all the small differences between America and Japan I was molding my impressions around what I had heard about the country; the collectivist culture, the sexual repression, the advanced technology, the rich traditions.  And this was really a bad way to form impressions about Japan.  While there definitely is a collectivist undertone, I have met so many unique and individual Japanese friends who break from this mold. While one could argue this is just n exception, there are enough people like this that to generalize the entire population and leave these people out is foolish.  And this is just one small example.
Shinya, one of my more unique Japanese friends.
            Another specific impression I had early on that has changed is the racism I felt when going into stores or restaurants.  At the beginning I was upset by this and thought it was blind racism but after going through a semester I kind of understand it.  So many international students just behave poorly in public and if I owned an establishment I’d want to distance myself from these people as well.  The trend of gaijin smash is enough to justify this prejudice.  Too many international student don’t behave because they feel like they’re not expected to, or don’t have to because their outsiders.  They justify embarrassing, rude behavior with terms like “gaijin smash” or “no shame on foreign roads”.  So although I have encountered racism, I have come to realize that it is not unjustified.
            As a whole my impressions have slightly changed in realizing that Japan is not as crazy and uniform as it is often portrayed. While it is to a certain extent, when viewed without preexisting biases, the similarities between my home country and japan stand out more while the eccentricities wan in the background. 
Some Gaijin Smash at a Karaoke joint in Hirakata.

Friday, December 2, 2011

THEY'RE GRRREAT...good...ok...kind of...sometimes

The storied Koshien Stadium, home of the Hanshin Tigers.

The Hanshin Tigers are one of the preeminent teams in Nippon Professional Baseball through the good and the bad, and more of the bad.  The Tigers have one of the most dedicated fan bases in Japanese sports even when the team does poorly as it seems to so often do of late.  It is only possible to understand the fans by taking a trip to a game. 
A fan wearing a Happi Coat, the traditional garb of Tigers fans.

The fans are extremely passionate, especially in the outfield seats, which hold most of the dedicated fan clubs and cheering sections.  The fans are easily recognizable by black and yellow outfits, jerseys, costumes, and most notably Happi Coats. This offers quite a sight when the fans are all cheering in unison and clapping their thunder sticks as is the tradition.

The ouendan waving their flags in preparation for Toritani's plate appearance to lead of the inning.

The crowd at a tigers game is incomparable to American baseball crowds and even most other crowds at Japanese baseball games.  The cheering is almost all rehearsed or planned cheers specific to each player that are chanted in unison by the entire crowd.  This is led by fan clubs called Ouendan who yell through megaphones, play drums and trumpets and wave flags to urge the Tigers on to victory.  While the Ouendan are a staple of any Japanese baseball team, the tigers still stand out due to the number of these people and the intensity of all the fans.  Many writers have noted the listless crowds at most NPB games; the polite clapping and general socializing the tends to occur throughout the game. But the Tigers refuse to fit into this mold.  The crowd is more attentive to the game and has a better understanding of the game and the players on their team, and while most teams get all their cheering from the ouendan in the outfield seat, at Tigers game the whole stadium participates in the cheering. This is most visible in the middle of the “Luck Seventh inning” when the entire stadium releases balloons into the sky in a shower of rainbow colored flying tigers banners to will the team on to victory.  To go to one of these games is a must for anyone with an interest in sports and is an experience like none other you will find. 

A video of the 7th inning stretch:
Some fans posing with To-Lucky, the Tigers' beloved mascot.
For more reading or information on the Tigers check out these links
the Tigers official website:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Nara, Oh Deer!

A heard of deer carelessly walking through a crowd of people in a Nara park.

Nara is a beautiful city full of history and wonders that is often overlooked in favor of the larger and more famous neighboring cities of Osaka and Kyoto.  However taking a day or two to visit Nara is well worth the trip for anyone who can make it. It is less than an hour away from both Kyoto and Osaka and is a very simple trip by train.  Nara is a beautiful city populated many Buddhist Temples and maybe even more notably, deer (but we’ll get to the deer in a little bit).  If for nothing else it is worth a visit just to say you have gone to the first capital of Japan; as Nara was the original permanent capital of Japan and remained so for most of the eighth century.
A few deer wandering right off the main road in Nara.

The first thing one is likely to notice in Nara is the deer.  There are deer absolutely everywhere.  They comingle with the people on the streets, harass tourists trying to purchase omiyagis, and lounge about on the paths and lawns outside the temples.  Every fifty feet there are venders selling food to feed the deer (and often beer to make this an even more interesting experience).  People come from all over to feed and pet these deer, parents make their terrified children pose for pictures, in fact the deer themselves might be the biggest draw the city has. There are even ceremonies celebrating the deer like the antler cutting ceremony I witnessed during my visit.

Despite the constant “Kawaii”s one may hear while socializing with these creatures, there are signs scattered about the city warning of the dangers the deer pose.  The deer put up with the tourists for one reason; they want to be fed. And if one has an empty stomach, humans beware.  The deer will chase, head-butt, and even bite visitors in their quest for food, and when this happens these cute cuddly creatures turn into terrifying beasts.  I noticed this myself in my multiple trips to Nara and the different attitudes these creatures take on depending on the day.  When the weather is nice and the there are plenty of tourists to feed the deer they lazily wander about on a full stomach only venturing towards the people when they feel they can stomach one more biscuit.  But on rainy days when people are scarce these deer might as well be monsters.  I was chased by a pack of deer and repeatedly head-butted for about 200 meters before climbing to safety on a statue. In times like this, these deer are more of a threat than a tourist attraction.

Pay no attention to that cute little fawn, as the sign says, the deer will maul you.

Todaiji Temple
Apart from the terrible wonder of the deer, another great thing to see in Nara is Todaiji Temple.  It is one of the largest wooden buildings in the world and is as beautiful as it is large.  It traditional architecture in combination with a wondrous lawn makes for a stunning scene. Inside, this temple houses an enormous Buddha and two giant guardian statues, some of the more impressive pieces of historical Buddhist art you will find in Japan.  And for those daring enough one of the support beams inside has a hole the size of a guardian’s nostril, and crawling through it is said to give you good luck.  This is a place that is more than worth the small train fair and time it takes to get there is would be enjoyable to people of all ages and nationalities.

With a little bit of struggle I got through the hole in the support beam.

One of the Guardians of the temple.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What the Furkawabashi!

Furukawabashi.  The first thing I learned about Furukawabashi Station is that the limited express train does not stop there. Of course I learned this only after reaching the end of the line without ever noticing that the train blew right past the station or that I was in fact,  on a limited express train.  Actually, the only trains that make stops at Furukawabashi  Station are local trains. Despite this, it is still a rather large and populated station.  Within the Station there is a small mall with numerous clothing shops and small chain restaurants including Mister Donut, and Lotteria among others.  Its also includes a fashion center with several chain clothing stores and a hyaku yen store. 
The area of the station with restaurants and places to eat.
            Immediately upon exiting the station you come across several more stores and combinis and a video game and DVD rental shop.  There is a street with an arched sign over it which reads Furukawabashi Mall.  Walking down this street one can find a multitude of small family shops selling everything from trinkets and souvenirs to fruits and vegetables.   This street is also populated with a multitude of small restaurants, bars, and Izakayas. Despite all these shops and places to eat this location is not a huge draw.  According to the man I met there who spoke English people who come there live near by and come to do a little shopping or get something to eat on their way home. This seemed to fit with my own observations about the station.
The shopping area just outside the station.

            I noticed that the station was mostly either populated entirely with people wearing suits and business attire or children and high school students in uniform.  Which group dominated depended on the time of day. And at rush hours there were strong segments of both these groups.

Here is a link to the Keihan station website with information on trains, lines, stations and stops:

Its Raining Cats and Dogs

When walking through Makino, or Hirakatashi, or even Shinsaibashi for that matter, one sight that is extremely common is of cats roaming the street.  This raises the question of where all these cats come from. While some of these are family cats and pets most are stray, abandoned or feral cats.  This is an issue that has become quite serious in Japan.
A couple stray cats at the park near my seminar house.

            Many of these stray cats have come from once loving homes but were cast out when they lost their style and appeal.  Not too many years ago Japan experienced a large “pet boom”; this was an explosion in the purchasing of pets, mostly dogs and cats. People purchased these animals because it was the cool or fashionable thing to do. Because of this pets were purchased much in the same way fashion accessories are, without any thought to the long-term responsibilities.  This scenario is reflective of the brand mentality that is often attributed to the Japanese public.  People buy what is popular at the time and simply discard it when it loses its luster, and these pets fit perfectly into this cycle.
            While many pets were kept in loving homes, many others were simply released from their owners’ homes and turned out onto the streets and into the parks, populating the country with abandoned animals.  One of the best examples of this I have seen is a park not far from Seminar House 3 where at anyone time you can find dozens upon dozens of cats. Their owners have obviously abandoned many of these but some of them have been born feral as the offspring of abandoned cats, which congregate, in that area.

A stray cat that jumped up onto a bench next to me, to beg for the food I was eating.

            The people’s reaction to these cats seems to differ across the board depending on the person.  There are some people in the neighborhood who put out water and food for these cats and enjoy having them around.  Many others find them a nuisance. In fact there are so many problems with these strays that there are trucks that drive around and act as portable gas chambers exterminating these cats. This provides an interesting perspective into Japanese consumerism and the relationship between people and animals in Japan. 

Some links to sites about abondoned pets in Japan and Stray animal control methods can be found below:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Masako Rocks!

Masako listening to some music, as usual. 
These pictures offer a portrait of my friend Masako.  Masako is a first year student at Kansai Gaidai who is originally from Kagawa.  She is currently studying English with hopes of studying abroad in America or Canada in the near future.  Her biggest interest is undoubtedly music, which is actually how I met her. I heard her playing music and we compared our iTunes libraries. She is always listening to music whether it’s through her headphones or exchanging favorite songs and CD’s with international students. She chose these two pictures for her portrait because she felt that they embodied her love of music and captured her attitude.  She likes many types of music, but holds rock and roll in much higher esteem than the rest.  Her favorite bands include groups such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Sum 41, Blink 182, and above all Avril Lavigne. She often attends concerts in Osaka and even travels several hours away to other cities to see her favorite bands when they come to Japan. Masako insists that the best concert she has ever been to was when she saw an Avril Lavigne concert a few years ago, and cannot wait to see her again when she comes to Osaka this February.  As noticeable in the pictures, her clothing and sense of style certainly emulate Avril Lavigne and she indubitably has a similar type of rock attitude.  In these pictures I aimed to capture this style and aura to truly reflect Masako’s personality.  We chose the first picture because we thought it captured her love of music with the use of the headphones and her facial expression really shows her kind side.  Masako thought the second one was even better noting that it captured her Rock inspired attitude as she threw up the rock and roll symbol on her hand while blasting songs by Sum 41.  In doing this portrait with Masako I learned so much about music and the Rock scene in Osaka, as Masako’s knowledge in this area seems unparalleled. 
Masako Rocking out to Fat Lip by Sum 41.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood

This small shrine is located only about 100 meters from my house and I pass it everyday on the way to school.

This is one of my favorite parks which offers beautiful views and great people watching opportunities only a few minutes from seminar house 3.

This past month I have been living in the neighborhood of Katahokohigashimachi, in Hirakata, Osaka.  This is the neighborhood in which my seminar house is located, and although the seminar house does result in some separation from the surrounding area, it has not been enough to hide the small beauties and nuances of this area from me.  This neighborhood is filled with families and small but beautiful houses. The thing that has most captured me about Katahokohigashimachi is the small parks and shrines that are located throughout the area. In the pictures above I have included images of a couple of my favorite parks and shrines that I have stumbled upon in the past month. This is undoubtedly a lively and family friendly neighborhood characterized by small shops and children playing or biking in the street, but it is in these parks and shrines that I feel I have gotten the best impression of the neighborhood.   These areas are almost always filled with young children playing sports or sitting eating sweets and they are always excited to see foreigners and practice what little English they know as I am walking past. Simple “hellos” and “bye-byes” greet me and follow me on my walks through the parks and even those who know no English are always friendly and offer up an “ohaiyo gozaimas” or “kanbanwa” as I pass.  Additionally the amount of families doing things together is stunning.  Every time I pass the park I pictured above there are fathers pitching wiffle balls to their young children or family cookouts or mothers guiding young children on their tiny bicycles.   This is something  so different from my home neighborhood where interfamily relations are rarely seen outside someone’s  own house or yard.  This has given me the distinct impression that this is a small, closely knit neighborhood, with friendly and outgoing people and this has really challenged my preconceptions of Japan as a very private if not sheltered society.