Transgender in Japan, pt.1

Before I begin, I would like to make clear that this topic is vastly complex and I still have to conduct a lot of research and reading myself before being able to contribute a substantial statement (hence this article is only pt.1), so for today I will just try to scratch the surface a little bit and see what comes up. For now I will simply throw some popular appearances of transsexuality and cross-dressing in Japan at you.

Recently I had time and opportunity to watch quite a bit Japanese TV and it seems that no matter where I switched there was one character always hunting me: Matsuko Deluxe (マツコ・デラックス). Matsuko is a cross-dressing journalist and writer who had his (I think he still percieves himself as a man, even though he uses the feminine pronoun atashi for himself) breakthrough on TV around 2010. You can get a glimpse of him on youtube:

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any suitable videos with English subtitles, but you get the gist. The video was recorded in a talk show which aired about four years ago, so at that time Matsuko was still a novelty on the Japanese TV landscape, which is why the hosts’ questions are primarily directed at his person and cross-dressing. As far as I understand it, this stage persona is not only a statement to raise awareness on transsexuality and homosexuality (Matsuko himself is gay), but he sees his corpulent figure at the same time as a criticism of the general appearance of female show hosts on Japanese TV, who are reduced to cute looks while their character or wit is completely uncared-for. However, the entertaining thing about Matsuko is his straight-forwardness and directness which seems even more comical since he doesn’t even try to make his voice sound feminine while otherwise maintaining the appearance of a woman. He pretty much ignores all Japanese customs of reservation and therefore the audience loves him.

Another famous transsexual figure, who also was mentioned shortly in the video because she, like Matsuko, was born in 1973, is Haruna Ai (はるな愛)

Japanese Idol Haruna Ai

Haruna Ai
She uses this photo also as her profile picture for her Ameba blog, but to get better resolution I followed the link to Keiji’s blog, where you can read more about Haruna (in Japanese)

Haruna underwent sex change surgery in 1996 and since the end of the last century had increasing appearances in public media. Today she is a well known enterntainer and idol in Japan. She had appearances in several TV Dramas, movies, had fairly successful singles, most notably I・U・YO・NE~, appeared in commercials, on radio, etc. She was the first Japanese to win the “Miss International Queen” transsexual beauty pageant in 2009 and she also actively maintains an Ameba blog placatively titled “AI am a girl”.

A last example I would like to mention is the movie Girl’s Blood (Jap. title: 赤×ピンク aka x pinku). [Minimal amount of spoilers] I actually didn’t know anything about that movie when I first watched it and it started out with a lot of eye candy for a presumably heterosexual male viewership, serving the most popular Japanese male fantasies like Lolita and S&M Queen in combination with girl-fights (including mud-fights). But eventually the movie developed a surprisingly deep plot about female friendship and a woman trying to escape the grip of her violently abusive husband and falling in love with the main character who is strongly confused about his gender identity, being a man in a woman’s body. I was really surprised of the quick understanding and acceptance all the other characters in the film showed the main character. For a movie that at first sight seemed closer to soft-porn than to drama, this was actually a better handling of the topic than I have seen in most Hollywood productions.

Now, experimenting with transgender in performing arts is not a new phenomenon in Japan. Most notably there is Kabuki (歌舞伎) theatre where every single role is performed by men and on the other hand Takarazuka (宝塚) where every single role is performed by women, thus making cross-dressing unavoidable. This affinity to transgender on-stage is especially curious, since the division of gender seems to be extremely sharp in Japanese society and, as Jan mentioned earlier, is even deep-rooted in the Japanese language itself. But it is a completly different matter being confronted with it in everyday life. In my next article on this topic I will try to cover some more the perception of and attitude towards transgender in Japan in other areas than performing arts.

Diving in the Coral Reef

On our third and last full day in Okinawa we went diving. Since our hotel partly functioned as a diving club it was a matter of minutes to book a trip. This was the first time ever for me to go diving and the first time in many years for UlfdieFee, so I was excited and nervous at the same time.

We had originally intended to participate in a tour to an underwater cave, called the “blue cave” (青の洞窟、あおのどうくつ) but since tides were strong on that day we had to change it to a smaller tour into the sea right in front of our hotel. My nervousness reached its peak at signing the “assume full responsibility in times of death or serious injury” contract, but it completely vanished as soon as we were under water.

UlfdieFee putting on his sexy diving suit

UlfdieFee putting on his sexy diving suit

I was completely swept away by the amazing beauty of the Okinawan coast. Being able to see nothing but rocks when looking into the water from the coastline, I kind of expected the tour consisting mainly of grey rocks as well. It turns out, however, that the coral reef of Okinawa begins as soon as the water is about 1m deep. The whole underwater langscape was a treasury of bright, luminescent sponges, corals and colorful sea creatures. Somewhere below me flitted a tiny fish, glowing in a bright blue. I have always loved swimming but this was so much more. It’s just a pity I couldn’t bring my camera. I’m gonna look for a diving protection before my next trip.

Our diving instructors were great people that made us feel safe and in good company during the whole trip. They checked up with us constantly and showed us some of the wonders hiding in the reef. For instance, one of them caught a little Pufferfish in his hands (I can only assume it was a species without a lethal dose of poison at first sting). The little guy, true to its name, puffed up and became round and wobbly with little air bubbles forming at its tiny spikes. It was incredibly cute, the instructor passed it on to us and were got to (very gently) hold it in our hands and admire its big-eyed face. These little fish are very creative, by the way, drawing the most intriguing patterns in sand in the name of love. We also got to hold a sea cucumber, jet black with a bright blue rim.

It was only on our way up when we noticed that virtually the whole ground was covered in sea urchins with long, black spikes. Try finding your balance against the waves and at the same time risking stepping into one of those guys with every step you take. None of us did, though.

Both of us greatly enjoyed the diving tour. Okinawa with its beautiful coastline is ideal for a trip into an amazing underwater world. I strongly recommend giving it a try when you get the chance to visit the island. I can certainly say that this has not been my last diving trip. I’m hungry for more.

Gauging Sexism

Disclaimer: Scott Adams is not the problem. Just as Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t the problem (not mentioned in this article). They both just prove great opportunities to talk about all those things wrong in our society.

So Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, has written a piece on sexism in the workplace that could hardly be more sexist, one-dimensional and a mind-bogglingly huge insult to all men. Let’s start with the fun part. Adams seems to think that since he has written a disclaimer calling his entry rational and unique, this automatically makes that true. Nevertheless he draws his “enlightenment” from nothing but sitcom humour and the way he thinks all women and men behave in marriage. Oh, and age old sexism. What’s completely missing are real studies, and any information on how he reached to that conclusion. Far from what I’d call “rational” and “unique”.

According to the blog entry, Women are so skilled at placing the blame at men and men are so used to accepting it to get some sex out of it, that women place the blame on men in the workplace as well, which results in women constantly exaggerating the scale of sexism while men don’t really care about it.

So what’s wrong with this picture? How about everything. Let’s work through it in the right order.

In the very first comment Adams alluded that he got most of his wisdom on marriage and the way it influences the entire female thought process from sitcoms. Because sitcoms are the ultimate portrayal of reality. Because the only person ever in a woman’s life to influence her thoughts and behavior is her husband. Because, according to sitcoms, every marriage is full of slapstick moments and domestic abuse is not something that happens to one quarter of all women in the US and is the leading cause of injury to women between 15 and 44. Because gay couples are only there for the comic relief and never have to fear threats of violence because of their sexuality. Also, lesbian couples only exist in porn. And they always let men watch. Because black people can only exist in a small, controlled number, the same as every other minority, and their lives are never important enough to be actually the center of a story. They have to be sidekicks. Because Asians, indigenous people and trans people simply don’t exist, so why bother with representation? That’s about it for the sitcom part.

Let’s continue with the “men get always blamed” part. Believing Adams’ theory, a marriage is a constant competition on who has the upper hand instead of a partnership where two people care about and support each other and try to make their lives work. Where there can only be fights in which the woman is the irrational, angry one and the man is the one to simply give up, because as an old German saying goes: „The clever one always gives up and that’s why the world is ruled by idiots.“ So what does that say about the world being ruled by men almost everywhere, from presidents to CEOs? But most quarrels in a marriage are about hurt feelings, which should be taken seriously, and if you’re constantly fighting to win the upper hand, there’s something going wrong in your marriage.

So, does the man agree to keep his right to sex? Nobody has a right to sex. However, there is this huge problem that men are still taught that they have a right to sex, which results in rape. Which is not sex. Sex is always consensual and you don’t get that by simply agreeing with you wife. As many commenters on Adams’ site have already pointed out: Either your wife wants to have sex with you or she doesn’t. And either you want to have sex with your wife or you don’t – it’s as simple as that. You don’t gain the right to sex.

Let’s return to the thought that the only influential factor in a woman’s life is her husband. Because there’s another stereotype that Adams has fished out of the dusty old box of sexism. No wonder, since in most sitcoms the main focus of a woman’s life is her husband. She doesn’t need friends, with whom she has meaningful conversations, as the Bechdel test clearly proves. She doesn’t work and has to compromise and take shit from her superiors all the time. Remember, that piece was written by a man, who’s drawn the most incompetent male CEO in history, a CEO that constantly gets blamed for his mistakes and who constantly blames his (male) employees in return.

Of course, saying that women blame everything on men, which is why they constantly talk about sexism, is easy, at least easier than having to admit that there is actually a problem with sexism and that you should deal with that problem. Because, newsflash: Many women experience sexism on a regular basis and DON’T talk about it. Because they are not taken seriously. Because they are constantly shamed into thinking it was their fault. Women get blamed for being raped on a daily basis. They are blamed for being sexually harassed, beaten up and verbally abused. Because, “what was she wearing”, “did she drink alcohol” and “she said hello to him, how could he not think she wanted to get raped” are still more valid reasons than “she said no and he forced himself upon her”. Because if a boy becomes sexually active he gets complimented, if a girl becomes sexually active she gets shamed for “giving away her virginity”, like there’s anything to give away. So naturally, if a woman is harassed or overlooked at the workplace, she’s probably just exaggerating again. Like always. Just say “yeah, sure”, and move on. No reason to take her seriously.

I do not know where Adams gets the idea that belittling women and perpetuating the idea that what they have to say doesn’t matter is in any way new, mind-blowing or “unique”. It’s older than feminism and so is Adams, apparently.

So, can you measure sexism, in the workplace and elsewhere? How about we ask the tens of thousands of women who are subjected to sexism every day everywhere in the world and who have finally found a way to speak up? But I have to warn you – some of those entries might make your stomach turn (also Trigger Warning for rape and domestic abuse), because it is seriously unbelievable what some people in the 21st century are still able to do to another person, simply because she doesn’t have a penis.

Churaumi Aquarium

On the second day of our vacation in Okinawa we took the bus up to the Churaumi Aquarium (meaning Aquarium of the beautiful sea) which is located almost on the northern tip of the main island. There’s a whole park with children’s attractions and a beach around it. The Aquarium itself is one of the largest in Japan, with an amazing number of fish, many of which are actually living in the coral reef that lies like a belt around Okinawa.

There are many different kinds of coral there

As in many other parts of the world, due to over-harvesting of those corals to use them in jewelry, the coral reef in Okinawa is endangered. Recently, efforts to save it have been made.

There is a huge number of sea creatures living in the reef and since Okinawa seems to be the Australia of Japan, quite a number of them is poisonous.

The red lionfish, gorgeous but spiked. Wouldn't recommend touching it

The red lionfish, gorgeous but spiked. Wouldn’t recommend touching it

Stone Fish

The Stonefish, one of the most poisonous animals in the world. Lives also in Australia. Yep, that’s a fish and now you know why people are stepping on it all the time despite the fact that it has poisonous spikes on its back. The stings are said to cause excruciating pain, sometimes for days, and in very rare cases are lethal to humans.

Long-spined urchin

The long-spined urchin, or as I like to call it the one-eyed monster. Definitely don’t wanna step on that

Okinawa is also home to the Blue-ringed Octopus, the Box Jellyfish and a sea snake that is very peaceful and shy and if you wanna keep on living you better not try to find out how to make it mad enough to bite.

We spent several hours in the Aquarium, marveling at those pretty and sometimes weird animals.

I don't know what kind of squid it is, but it's a squid all right

I don’t know what kind of squid it is, but it’s a squid all right

Another squid. Cute and small but we called it killer squid since the bottom of the tank was decorated with the corpse of a fish, clearly cut in half

Another squid. Cute and small but we called it killer squid since the bottom of the tank was decorated with the corpse of a fish, clearly cut in half

The spiny lobster, a flamboyant behemoth of a lobster, growing up to 30cm tall, weighing up to 5kg

The spiny lobster, a flamboyant behemoth of a lobster, growing up to 30cm tall, weighing up to 5kg

Again I don't know what it's called but it should be called seal fish. Isn't it the cutest?

Again I don’t know what it’s called but it should be called seal fish. Isn’t it the cutest?

The Aquarium also has a room dedicated to shark research, trying to dispel the myth of the aggressive, always-hungry predator that searches the sea for humans to tear their limbs off or swallow them whole. Maybe this image has something to do with sharks being killed by humans in such large numbers (estimated at over 100 million in one year) that several shark species are threatened to go extinct. By comparison, humans killed by sharks a year are probably in the one-digit area. More people die from bee stings or slipping in the bath tub. Being carrion feeders, meaning they do not only hunt but also eat fish corpses, they are important to keep the oceans clean and free of dead decaying bodies. The Churaumi Aquarium actually has three Whale Sharks, the largest (and cutest) species.

The Whale Shark tank at Churaumi with tiny people for scale. Whale Sharks only feed on plankton and krill, so don't worry for those little fishies

The Whale Shark tank at Churaumi with tiny people for scale. Whale Sharks only feed on plankton and krill, so don’t worry for those little fishies

It was a great trip, so if you’re going to Okinawa, I’d definitely recommend a trip to Churaumi Aquarium.

Videogame Review: Go Go Nippon!

Around Valentine’s Day Humble Bundle offered a bundle “For Lovers (of games)” which contained several Japanese visual novel titles, among them “Go Go Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~”. Since I am currently on a trip in Japan myself and buying the bundle, as always, helped a chariable cause, I decided to give it a shot.

Go Go Nippon! was published by MangaGamer, written in 2011 primarily for a western audience and since 2014 is available on Steam. Like I said, Go Go Nippon! is a visual novel, which means that you basically just click through lengthy dialogues with slightly changing backgrounds and anime characters as your conversation partners. This is by itself not a bad thing. Visual novels are very popular in Japan, especially as dating sims. If you don’t mind all the reading, they can be really enjoyable.

Now, for the plot (there’s not really much to spoiler, so keep reading): You finally fulfilled your long-cherished dream of coming to Japan. You somehow learned Japanese and equipped yourself with basic knowledge about Japan. In an online chat you got to know Akira and Makoto who agreed to give you a tour through Japan and let you stay at their family’s home. As you arive at Narita Airport, you realize that, contrary to your expectations, Akira and Makoto are both female and of course young, beautiful and charming. And, oh such a coincidence, their parents are both gone on business-trips for the next couple of weeks which means that you get to stay alone with them at their house for one whole week.

GoGoNippon 1 GoGoNippon

Nevertheless, they indeed guide you through Japan, or to be more precise, through Tokyo. As you can see in the screenshot above, you can choose from six destinations in Tokyo, you want to visit. This is, by the way, the only time you can choose anything, the rest of the game you just click through dialogues. I haven’t finished the game yet, but I suppose that you don’t get the chance to leave Tokyo. That’s probably fine, since your trip to Japan only goes for one week. That’s a reasonable amount of time to visit Tokyo but by far insufficient to cover Japan as a whole. Still, I was a bit disappointed and quite misled by the title of the game… oh well, at least I can have a virtual tour through Akihabara…

Or so I thought. The game is not really a tour-guide. You don’t really get to see the places, but the dialogues describe you going with your guides through some represantative locations of the corresponding part of Tokyo. For example, while walking through Akihabara, you stumble into a giant dôjinshi manga shop and eat lunch in a maid café while shallowly flirting with your young guide. Although you learn a bit of trivia, like the origin of the name “Akihabara”, this game is pretty much useless as a guide through Tokyo. It’s basically a dating sim, but without dialogue options to choose from.

Still, this game also has some cool features. If you never have been to Japan, this game will introduce to you some basic particularities of Japan, like IC-cards, convenience stores and people who hand out tissues on the streets. Also, as you can see in the screenshot above, you always have the Japanese dialogue running along the English translation. This is a very nice feature if you are currently learning Japanese. You can at all times read the Japanese dialogue and, if you get stuck, you can peek at the English translation. I didn’t read all the English dialogues, but as far as I can tell, the translation was ok. When words with a particular Japanese cultural meaning occur, they are explained in a short footnote. Another nice tool you can see in this screenshot:

GoGoNippon 3

At the beginning the game asks you to choose the currency of your home country (you can only choose between $ and € though) and insert the current exchange rate. The game then calculates how much money you spend on train tickets or food in Yen and converts it to Euros or Dollars. The game was written in 2011 and since then Japan raised its sales tax by 3%, but you at the very least can get a rough picture of Japanese prices. Also it covers only a fraction of the expenses you will have when coming to Tokyo, but the idea is still nice.

To sum up: If you want to come to Tokyo for the first time, don’t mind a lot of reading, and are intrigued by the thought of flirting with female anime characters, you could enjoy this game. But don’t expect a tour guide, there’s a reason why it was in the Valentine’s Day Humble Bundle…

Samurai and Shûkatsu

Today was a big spending day.

UlfdieFee bought a Kimono in Nanba.He feels like a Samurai now, even though the Kimono could hardly be further away from an actual Samurai armor.

To find the shop we went through a whole shopping district of stores supplying restaurants with kitchen utensils and door signs. After wriggling our way through a small and crowded back alley we arrived at a Kimono shop called Daifuku-ya, with hundreds of beautifully embroidered Kimonos hanging everywhere. Within the shop there was a podium, covered with tatami mats, where the client took off his shoes and got dressed. Which took us a while. Despite having talked for weeks about visiting the shop and UlfdieFee being thrilled at the thought of finally buying a Kimono, he suddenly realized he didn’t know anything about them and what to buy. Which we soon found out wasn’t a problem since the owner had exactly one Kimono in his size. For Japanese proportions, he is huge. So he got this simple black but beautiful Kimono with a Haori (the short coat in the same colour) and an Obi (the belt). Then the owner, realizing that we were beginners in the only clothing style that needs actual lessons to master, began piling stuff in front of us. Two strings, an under-Kimono, an under-under-Kimono, socks, zôri (shoes) and a gem ornament to hold the Haori. A women’s Kimono needs about twice as many items and and takes at least three times longer to put on. We bought everything and left the shop with a lot less money but a gorgeous Kimono (I love Kimonos, especially on men.)

the fierce under-Kimono

the fierce under-Kimono

Trying on the Kimono in the shop...

Trying on the Kimono in the shop…

... and again at home, this time with lots of help from me

… and again at home, this time with lots of help from me

Then it was my turn. Since I’m planning to check out the job market in Japan, I needed a suit, which I bought at one of Japan’s best known suit companies, Aoyama. It took about two hours and I paid more than three times as much as I’d intended. I’m pretty sure the female staff member who was advising me, was a daughter of the devil. She used an intricate method of complimenting me, feeding my insecurities at what was needed on the job market and emphasizing how everyone else bought everything she recommended to make me take more than I wanted and leave more than I ever wanted. “Oh, you’re from Osaka University? How amazing, you must be so good! But you know what’s more important than ability and grades? Appearance. Mess up that first impression and you’ll fail. Here, take this. And this.” Apart from the pantsuit I had come for, the got me a skirt, a bag, shoes, a belt and many more little gadgets. Then she miscalculated everything, so when she named me the price, I turned instantly pale. I literally felt the blood drain from my face and began shaking. I then followed up with a quivering voice: “I seem to remember you saying something different a while ago.” So she recalculated and I paid. It still hurt.

So why’d I do it? First, because even though it hit me unexpectedly it was still a fairly good price for something I will need the next months or years. Being a student and having brought little coupons from my university I got a pretty good deal, especially considering all the accessories she heaved onto me.

Secondly, because I had serious difficulties finding a ladies suit in Germany. Even though there surely must be demand for it, it is nearly impossible to find a proper selection of suits unless you’re male or Angela Merkel. Or maybe there are stores and I’m just unable to find them. But even back in Germany, when looking for some formal wear, I was thinking: “I can’t wait to be in Japan and buy a proper suit for myself.” It’s probably because this whole concept of students, getting out into society, beginning their lives as part of the work force, which has such a strong presence in Japan, is almost nonexistent in Germany. Surely, there are guidebooks and one or two seminars at university, but in Japan there seems to rotate a whole culture around it. It is called shûkatsu, short for shûshoku katsudô (就職活動), the activity of finding a job, and even though this could apply to a middle-aged person looking for new employment just as well, its usually connected to students who are about to graduate.

An entire section in the bookstore at university is dedicated to books teaching you the right manners, from what to wear and how to ace an interview to when to take off your coat as you enter a company. There are job fairs, entry sheets (where you write why you want to become part of that particular company) and job interviews. Suit stores have a whole assembly ready for students beginning their shûkatsu. Which, by the way, begins in the third year for undergraduates, takes several months and means you usually have a job long before you graduate.

While this strict system sounds a bit frightening at first it actually has some great advantages. Since everybody goes through the same process, there are a lot of ways to prepare yourself for it by buying the appropriate wardrobe and reading lots of books. It makes you feel as if you can control part of the process.

The most important thing, though, is that when companies line up to meet those students at the job fairs (which they do enthusiastically), they know exactly whom they’re hiring: young people, well educated, but utterly untrained. They know that the entire job training will be their responsibility and they are prepared to do that. They are rewarded with often loyal employees who still have a high chance of working their whole lives at the same company, earning more and more throughout the years and having a real chance at real promotions. The whole system of “must have at least two years of job experience and five internships in exactly our area of expertise for this entry level position” that seems to have swept over Europe and the US and has left thousands of young students hopeless, has not yet arrived in Japan. Hopefully, it won’t.

I’m not yet sure whether I’ll want to work in Japan. There’s no harm in taking a peek, though.

News Digest: What’s happening in Japan (Feb 23)

The Shibuya district in Tokyo has proposed a new regulation that will allow same-sex couples to apply for licences that grant them the same legal rights as marriage. If the proposal is accepted, Shibuya were to become the first district in Japan to issue such papers. What does that legally mean? Many same-sex couples have reported difficulties finding an appartment or visiting their partner in the hospital. In both cases they have been turned down because they were „not family“. The Asahi shinbun has conducted a poll on the subject, which shows that 52% of the respondents approved of the proposal, compared to 27% who didn’t. When asked whether Japan should make same-sex marriage legal, 41% responded with yes, more than the 37% who opposed (for both questions the approval rate was slightly higher among women than among men). While prime minister Abe insists that legalizing same-sex marriage is impossible under the constitution many experts disagree. Since the Japanese constitution has never been changed or amended, let’s hope that the experts are right.

There have been two earthquakes, both on Feb 17th, with a magnitude over 5 in the northern region of Japan’s honshû main island. Their center was close to the Iwate prefecture. Both are regarded as afterquakes of the great 2011.3.11 Tôhoku Earthquake, though afterquakes have been calming down recently. Tsunami warnings have been issued and since the quakes were so close to the anniversary of 3.11 they have made many people nervous.

The Japanese government has decided to deploy a unit of about 400 people from their self defense force to Sierra Leone. The unit is sent to help in the battle against Ebola and will, among others, transport goods and provide medical staff.

In January a young man in Gunma prefecture has unsuccessfully attempted to kidnap a 10 year old girl. The case gained national attention because the man was employed at a local police booth, using his position to frequently patrol the house the girl was living in and gaining access to information about her family. He used that on his day off to approach her in a car, wearing civilian clothes, call her by her first name and tell her that her father – also addressed by his first name – had been hospitalized. He then told her to get into the car, which she suspiciously refused. Eventually he fled, but has been arrested since, explaining he wanted to get to know her „because she was so cute“.

Okinawa and Us

So, we’re back from our vacation in Okinawa or in the language of the locals “uchinaa”. We had an amazing time, took a trip to the old castle ruins in Naha, visited the Churaumi Aquarium, went diving among the coral reef and peeked into Ryûkyû village that displays indigenous Okinawan culture and traditions. This southernmost group of isles of Japan, also called the Ryûkyû isles, is an incredibly beautiful part of Japan. It has fascinating (and poisonous) wildlife, the climate is subtropical and the people are more relaxed and open than anywhere else in Japan. That’s probably one of the reasons why every single bus we took was late, sometimes 5-10 minutes, on the way back to the airport it was half an hour. If possible, get a rental car.

Okinawa is actually the main island (沖縄本島 okinawa hontô) and has lots of smaller islands around it. The total distance from Osaka to Naha (那覇), Okinawa’s capital, is 1200km, so it’s pretty far off from the rest of Japan. The indigenous people are called the Ryûkyû (琉球) people who were strongly influenced across the centuries by the Chinese and Japanese cultures, but stayed largely independent until the 19th century. The Islands were annexed by Japan in 1879 and incorporated into the Japanese domain system as a han (藩) which was later turned into a prefecture (県, ken). After Japan’s defeat in WWII the US-Forces kept Okinawa under their supervision to serve as their base of operation in East Asia and returned it to Japan only in 1972. Up to this day about half of all 53,000 American troops in Japan are stationed on Okinawa, which is why the islands are covered with US military bases.

The Ryûkyû people are, alongside with the Ainu and the zainichi Koreans, one of the biggest minority groups in Japan with their own distinct culture and language. The language is rather different from Japanese, which makes the Okinawan accent probably the most difficult to understand. For example, while the Japanese call a castle shiro (しろ), in Okinawa it’s called gusuku (グスク). Couldn’t have guessed that.

During our vacation we stayed on the west-coast of the main island in Kadena (嘉手納), in close proximity to the Kadena American military air base. Luckily they kept mostly to themselves. The hotel was perfect for students like us: affordable and simple but with everything we needed. The personnel was like everybody in Okinawa: friendly, talkative and very helpful. The room was bright and rather large for a Japanese Hotel with ocean view, which in Okinawa means stunningly turquoise-blue water with foaming white waves. Everything necessary like food, convinience store and bus stop was in walking distance and if it weren’t for our plane ticket back, we’d have stayed there eternally.

Straight out of the door of our hotel

Straight out of the door of our hotel

In the next couple of days we will, among other things, tell you some more of our adventures and completely convince you why Okinawa is a place you’ll definitely wanna visit. Stay tuned.

Japanese Proverbs: Isseki Nichô (一石二鳥)

Isseki Nichou

Literally: Killing two birds with one stone. Since it’s the exact same proverb in English there’s not much explaining to do. The German equivalent is “killing two flies with one swat” which is used in the tale of the Valiant Little Tailor who kills seven flies with one swat and later marries a princess. That escalated quickly.

Breakfast and Breakfast

(We’re still on Okinawa, so our friend Jan volunteered to write a guest article. He has our deepest gratitude!)

While White Hinagiku and ulfdiefee enjoy their well earned vacation on Okinawa, I was asked to fill their otherwise blank blogpages with a small guest lecture. Being a great fan of their work, I accepted this honour immediately, before I realized that I may be lacking the major qualification to write for this blog. I have never been to Japan and therefore can’t tell you anything crazy or kawaii from the land of the rising sun.

But at least I spend my freetime trying to learn a bit of Japanese. The Japanese language is very different from indogermanic languages like English or my native tongue German. One thing I always found interesting is the way, how gender is articulated in the Japanese language. There are many funny stories about people who learned Japanese from native teachers of the other gender and then earned confused reactions from Japanese people for using the wrong language for their hormonal situation.

So let me tell you about the differences between 朝御飯 and 朝飯. Several weeks ago i searched the japanese word for breakfast. The German-Japanese dictionary wadoku offered me two words: Asagohan (朝御飯) and Asameshi (朝飯). According to wadoku, they both mean breakfast. Often, when I am not sure which word to use, I turn to lang8. Lang8 is a great tool for learning languages, because it helps you getting in contact with native speakers. So I asked my magical internet friends from Japan what the difference between these two is. I first received an answer from a Japanese female:

„I say 朝御飯。
Man use 朝飯。
Woman don’t use 朝飯.“

Okay, easy. So the Japanese have one breakfast-word for people with penis and one for those without. Why not. But then came the second answer by a Japanese person whose gender I dont know:

朝御飯 is a very polite expression for breakfast while 朝飯 is comparatively a rough word.

We usually use “朝飯” when we talk with close friends, for example, 「おまえもう朝飯食べた?」.

On the other hand, when we want to say same thing above to someone who we don’t know well or have to use polite Japanese, “朝御飯” should be used, like 「朝御飯はお召し上がりになりましたか?」.“

So, actually, the difference doesn’t seem to be about your penis-situation but about your politeness level. I find it very interesting, and not very flattering for us males, that friendliness seems to be an explicit female-feature of Japanese language, while we are expected to use the more rude variant.

When I learn things like this, I feel really sorry for people like White Hinagiku, who have to translate from Japanese to English or German. So when a female person says something about breakfast, but uses the male version of the word, there is a lot of meaning in the subtext, which is really hard to transport into German, since our words usually don’t give us a lot of information about the gender of the speaker.

Instead, our food is heavily gendered. In Germany it is expected from males to eat a lot meat and other unhealthy food and then whine around, that you have to die earlier than those women, from which German society expects to only live from salad, yoghurt and evian-water. I have no idea if they have something like this an Japan, maybe White Hinagiku and UlfdieFee can tell us, when they come back…