Friday, 24 August 2012

"Hey Japanese Woman, You Should Marry a WHITE Man!"

One of the most unpleasant things about living in Japan is the cringe-worthy behaviour of some men, predominantly white, towards Asian women. I am not saying that every man with a Japanese wife or girlfriend is this kind of a creep by the way. In fact, those men who are not creepers seem to be even more creeped out by the creepers than anyone else. I'm also not talking about Charisma Men here, although they are also certainly a feature of life in Japan.

Here's a scenario I encountered recently. Two male ALTs sat down uninvited with a female teacher and quizzed her about her love life. When she said that she didn't have a boyfriend, they launched into a tag-team speech about the benefits of a "foreign" (which I think was unambiguously code for "white") boyfriend. A Japanese man wouldn't respect her, they said. Foreign men loved cooking and would help with house work, they said. This scene is one I have witnessed over and over in endless variations. It's the "a white man will sweep in and save you from marrying an evil Asian man" line. Because, you know, ALL white men do half the house work and no Japanese man has ever respected his wife's career.

Nowhere do racist and sexist stereotypes crop up as quickly as in discussions on international relationships. Listen to this gem:
Still, there is a quality about the typical young Japanese woman that, even today, sets her apart and makes her attractive both as a lover and as a wife. This quality includes a clear perception of herself as a woman who has her own place in the world and does not have to compete directly with men.; along with a heightened sense of femininity and sensuality.
Among the things foreign men should keep in mind when contemplating the attractions of young Japanese women is that: (1) they tend to change more than American or European women do after they get married; (2) that if they are removed from the Japanese environment they tend to very rapidly lose some or all of the "Japanese" qualities that made them different in the first place; and (3) that long exposure to foreigners even in Japan has the same effect on a reduced scale.
 Of course, these changes are not necessarily bad or undesirable. The more "Japanese" a girl is the more she must change if she is going to keep company with a foreign man, anywhere. The foreigner is not going to start acting Japanese [...]
 Have you finished barfing? How much does that Orientalist rant sound like the kind of thing you read when choosing a dog breed? The quote comes from a book I inherited along with a box of others from another ALT. After reading some of it I assumed that it dated back to the 1970s or '80s, but in fact it was published in 2006. 2006.   If you would like to express any thoughts on that (I should also mention that it contains a chapter titled "Happy Hunting Grounds") please feel free to contact the otherwise excellent Tuttle Publishing or better yet leave a review on amazon. The book is "Sex and the Japanese" by Boye Lafayette De Mente.

One of my teacher-friends recently took a year off to care for his baby son full-time while his wife went back to work. Guess no one gave him the "evil Asian husband" memo.
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Laterns say goodbye

During お盆, the spirits of deceased relatives are said to return to the world of the living for a short visit. Everyone travels back to their ancestral homes, dances are held, special foods are eaten and graves are cleaned and tended. At the end of the o-bon period, the spirits are guided back safely to the afterlife with lanterns and fires.

My favourite place to experience this is in Kyoto, where the huge words and pictures are laid out on the sides of the mountains surrounding the city are set alight.

Our cups feature the kanji for "gate", "big" and a picture of a ship.
Starbucks Kyoto decorated their cups on the day. Each mountain has a different design.
It's technically called Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火 literally "five mountain send-off fire"), but everyone I talked to called it Daimonji Yaki (大文字焼き lit. "big letter burning"). While a lot of tourists like watching the fires from scenic places like Kinkakuji, you can also rent rowing boats and enjoy the sight of the fires while lanterns drift by you and the sounds of Buddhist chanting fill the air.

 There's a lovely short video taken on the lake below. It's a shame they used music instead of letting you hear the chanting and the soft splashes of the row boats, but it still conveys some of the atmosphere.

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Choices: For Dogs and For Kids

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Before starting anything new I like to research it carefully and plan extensively. That's why my house is so filthy all the time... I am still researching the best ways to motivate myself to clean. Ahem. So, anyway... I've been doing a lot of reading about parenting lately. With everything up in the air I don't know if I am preparing for a baby, a toddler or even a child already in school. So I am reading everything. I thought I had read everything about shiba before Hayate joined the family, and I really hadn't read any of the stuff that ended up being important. So I am making extra sure in my pre-child reading. Several blogs I read recently linked to a book called Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids . I haven't bought the book yet, but the article about it really caught my attention. The blogger writes
Every time I argue and cajole, my kids' attention becomes focused on changing my behavior instead of theirs. When I trust them to make their own decisions, and then support them whatever the outcome, they learn, adjust and take responsibility.
Exactly. Except for me, this is how I have ended up training my dogs. In fact, the training technique below is actually called "It's your choice" (also called "Doggie Zen").

Dog training that is punitive and/or based on the fallacious notion of dominance (skip to the bottom if you want to read more about that) teaches dogs to fear powerful humans. Positive training equips them to make their own decisions about how to behave well in unfamiliar situations.

It wasn't easy raising Hayate without violence (for my brother's benefit, violence means hitting but also, crucially, it means intimidating, yelling at, scaring or traumatising). I definitely wanted to hit him. It would have been easier, and probably quicker. But the joy I have now, watching him make his own decisions about how to be a "good boy" is so worth the wait. He makes really good choices, most of the time. Since we moved his separation anxiety has flared up again. After a few days of him lying in front of the door whimpering and begging me not to go to work, he decided by himself that the stress of seeing me leave was too much. Now he goes to the top of the stairs when he sees me pick up my bag, and he waits there until he hears the door lock. We showed him the technique of removing himself from a stressful situation (he runs into his crate for a little nap when he gets over-excited all by himself now), and he generalised that skill and applied it to a new situation to help himself cope. In contrast, if I yelled at him to "shut up and move" when he was blocking the door?  Maybe the behaviour would stop but he would experience even more stress, more rejection and still have no solution for his pain. Or it would have no effect at all, as Allie points out ;)

Dog is barking, human is yelling... fun for everyone!

A lot of parents try to give their children the skills to make their own choices rather than controlling them. Some do it consciously through systems like Montessori and belief systems like Free-Thought Parenting. Others do it as the opposite from their own childhood experience. Some do it instinctively without putting much thought into it.
But others continue to use the human equivalent of canine "dominance" theories to raise children with fear and violence. Parents like the Pearls who require immediate and unquestioning obedience above all else. In this post Libby Anne talks about "blanket training":
What they do is place a baby on a blanket and tell the baby not to get off. If the baby crawls off, he or she is spanked on the leg, told “no,” and placed back on the blanket. If you do this for long enough, the baby will learn to stay on the blanket, and then you can safely leave the baby there while you cook lunch or school the older ones. This all seems counter to the nature of a naturally curious baby.Authoritarian discipline shuts off questions and leaves little room for children to explore. The emphasis on obedience overrides anything else, and as I’ve written before, this can be highly problematic.
I'm not trying to equate children and dogs here. I was just struck by the similarities of the arguments for and against domination based parenting and domination based dog training.

Dominance and Dogs

The Alpha Mythology

The quotes below have been compiled and annotated by one of the owners of, an on-line community that has been a life-saver in our journey with Hayate and Kuri. You can see the rest of the thread here, but you may have to join the forum to see it, I am not sure.
The current, and most accepted, idea in the behavioral community is that domestic dogs do not form a rigid dominance-based social hierarchy.

Also, the most recent studies of wild wolves have lead most wolf researches to stop using the terms "alpha" and "dominance" when referring to the wolves social structure and behavior - this is primarily because they have found that a wolf "pack" is actually made up of a "mom & dad" (a "nuclear family unit") and their progeny (aka a family). Only the "mom & dad" breed, the offspring stay around until they are old enough to look for a mate - then they leave the current pack to join another pack or create their own pack. Some adults never leave - just like some people never find a spouse.

So, the issue with using the terms "alpha" and "dominance", or imply domestic dogs live in a "pack", when referring to dog behavior and canine social interaction is that it implies dogs adhere to a rigid social structure - which, per the latest ideas (by latest I mean since the 1980s), is incorrect and misleading.

Here is a study on domestic canine social structure:

There are some really good articles out there on this subject too...

David Mech, who was one of the main contributors to the early alpha/dominance concepts, which were born in the 1940s, now admits that the use of "Alpha" and "Dominance", when describing how wild wolves fight within a pack to gain "dominance" is "outmoded" (to use his exact term)...

"Schenkel’s Classic Wolf Behavior Study Available in English

Below you can download a pdf version of Schenkel’s 1947 “Expressions Studies on Wolves.” This is the study that gave rise to the now outmoded notion of alpha wolves. That concept was based on the old idea that wolves fight within a pack to gain dominance and that the winner is the “alpha” wolf. Today we understand that most wolf packs consist of a pair of adults called “parents” or “breeders,” (not “alphas”), and their offspring."


Here is Mech's recent ideas on "Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs"...

"Labeling a high-ranking wolf alpha emphasizes its rank in a dominance hierarchy. However, in natural wolf packs, the alpha male or female are merely the breeding animals, the parents of the pack, and dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island pack, I saw none.

Thus, calling a wolf an alpha is usually no more appropriate than referring to a human parent or a doe deer as an alpha. Any parent is dominant to its young offspring, so "alpha" adds no information. Why not refer to an alpha female as the female parent, the breeding female, the matriarch, or simply the mother? Such a designation emphasizes not the animal's dominant status, which is trivial information, but its role as pack progenitor, which is critical information."


But Mech is talking about wolves, we are talking about domestic canine (which are very different from each other) and in domestic canine, and their interaction with each other (and humans), the idea of a dominance hierarchy has been debunked by most of the modern day behaviorist (see links above).

So, in summary, the use of the term "dominance" when applied (or referring) to any part of domestic canine interaction is incorrect - no matter how it is used (as a descriptor or to imply social structure). "Let's Just Be Humans Training Dogs" -by Dr. Ian Dunbar

"Dogs are not wolves and dog behavior is not the same as wolf behavior. In fact, the most striking difference between dog and wolf behavior is their interaction with people. Wolves have been naturally selected to grow up to be wary of people, whereas dogs have been artificially selected for their ease of socialization towards people. Consequently, it is hardly sound to use wolf behavior as a template for dog training."

"To cavalierly and simplistically summarize considerably complicated canid social behavior as “a dominance hierarchy with an alpha dog dictator”, is an insult to both dogs and wolves, and, advertises a complete misunderstanding of their most sophisticated social structure. Whereas misunderstandings are understandable and excusable, we have to stop at people imposing the weirdness of their misunderstandings upon others. To extrapolate a misunderstanding of wolf and dog behavior to dog training by citing slippery, phantom concepts of “dominance” and “alpha” as excuses to physically bully dogs is both unfounded and quite distasteful."

"The Macho Myth" -Dr. Ian Dunbar

"The social structure of domestic dogs is often simplistically described in terms of a linear dominance hierarchy, in which the topdog, or “alpha animal”, is dominant over all lower ranking animals, the second ranking dog is subordinate to the topdog but dominant over all others, and so on down to the lowest dog on the totem pole. Moreover, it is popularly believed that rank is established and maintained by physical strength and dominant behavior, that the more dominant (i.e., higher ranking) dogs are more aggressive and that the most dominant dog is the most aggressive. Hence, dogs that frequently threaten, growl, fight and bite are often assumed to be “alpha” animals. The majority of the above assumptions are quite awry. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Such a simplistic view of a most sophisticated social structure is an utter insult to dogs but more disturbing, when cavalierly extrapolated to dog training and the dog-human relationship, such bizarre notions are ineffective, counterproductive, potentially dangerous and quite inhumane."
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Sunday, 12 August 2012

Creepy Crawlies

I didn’t think that moving thirty minutes out of the city would make that much of a difference to our surroundings, but the creepy crawlies are definitely something else! First off, the hill behind our house where I have been enjoying walking the dogs apparently has venomous snakes.
 The warning sign was on the other side of the bamboo grove, so I didn’t see it for a couple of weeks. The snakes are pit vipers, related to the Okinawan habu. They are Japan’s second most venomous snake.
Then there was the little incident of the giant-hornet nest in the garden.
 It may actually have been a different insect, but I saw a very angry giant-hornet hanging around the nest for a couple of days so I’m assuming that’s what it was. Our land-lord came over to trim the hedges and pulled down the nest, then left it on the bush by the front door with the larvae still alive. The ants quickly got into the nest so I waited for them to deal with the situation for me. In the meantime the angry hornet mother was patrolling my front door and I snuck out of the garden window for the next day, before I got the chance to buy some spay.

Then there are the cockroaches, little frogs, big frogs (toads maybe? Sadly the only one I could get a picture of was deceased), stag beetles, mosquitoes from hell, cicadas, grasshoppers and gorgeous (but camera shy) little geckos. I can't get pictures of them all, but here are some random snaps:
Guess I wont use this peg until he's done!
The most brilliant green I have ever seen... shame he had to eat my parsley though >:/
Somewhat decomposed toad

Tiny tiny froglet

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Stormy Skies

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The rainy season just past was disastrous. 
 (Not my voice or my video by the way, this was taken by a friend)
Although my city was unaffected, around my prefecture and surrounding prefectures there were serious floods, landslides and mountain-top communities isolated by floodwaters. There were a number of deaths (you can read more here and see some pictures here) and tens of thousands of people evacuated.

Day after day of thunderstorms and torrential rain took their toll on the collective mood of the city. 
Stormy Skies Over School: This photo was taken at noon.
It was miserable, especially since my employer requires me to commute by bicycle. In an ultimately futile attempt to stay dry I upgraded my rain suit. I love how fierce the model on the packaging is.
Making love to the camera with his eyes... or something
He may just be modelling a rain suit but he looks like he hopes Tyra will notice him if only he gives it his all.
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My Dog, Musashi

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Hayate’s full name is actually Black Hayate. He was named after Lieutenant Hawkeye’s dog from Full Metal Alchemist, who in turn was named following the running in-joke of the military characters being named after military vehicles. Hayate is a fighter plane (Nakajima Ki-84 Hayate).
Manga Scan Taken From

Hayate (疾風) means gale, and that suits my speedy little boy down to the ground. After he has torn through a room it certainly looks like a gale has past.

"I made it snow in summer!"
 A lot of people call Hayate “Musashi”. Recently a lot of neighbours have been referring to Hayate as Musashi. They saw his name on the flyers I gave out when he was missing, but when they see him they call him Muashi. I asked one of my teachers about it once. After a year she still kept mixing up his name. I asked if it was because he looked more like a Musashi than a Hayate but she said that it’s just that she remembered it was a three syllable, cool sounding Japanese name. The first name that comes to mind when thinking of these criteria is Musashi.
Musashi is pretty cool. But I still like Hayate.

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Eating Whale, Eating Dog


Eating dogs is not cool guys
Daniel over at nihonmnom recently posted about eating whale. Not incidentally eating whale that was served at school, actually going out looking for some whale. I don’t know Daniel personally, but I’ve been really enjoying following the experiences of another Australian, especially since he is “fresh off the boat” and still so happy and excited about everything. His post didn’t bother me. Then I wondered if I ought to have been bothered. Because actually, another ALT in my prefecture recently posted on facebook about eating dog in Korea. That bothered me. That bothered me so much that I completely changed my opinion of the person in question. Is this hypocritical?  I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because I dislike hypocrisy intensely. I can rationalise it out to the following breakdown:
  1. There is no supply-demand relationship for whale. The industry is entirely artificially, and is not going to shut down if private sales stop. So Daniel’s purchase of whale does not contribute to future whales being hunted. Adam’s purchase of dog does perpetuate that industry.
  2. Whales are hunted from the wild. They have horrific deaths, but the rest of their lives are unaffected by the industry. Dogs, on the other hand, are breed for food and therefore suffer from birth to death.
  3. I don’t know Daniel personally, so I don’t have the same compulsion to react. Adam is someone I interact with in real life, which means that our relationship is quite different.
I wonder though if I am simply justifying my reaction after the fact? Deep down I think the real issue for me is that dogs have been breed selectively into the animal they are today specifically to be empathic with humans. Dogs are one of the only animals that can understand pointing, for example. They have been “created” specifically to attach themselves to humans, to love us, to understand us. When you bring a puppy into your home you become his entire world. To take that and turn it into abuse and death hits me so much more than hunting a wild animal. It’s not ultimately about the animal; it’s about the psychology of the humans involved. If you look at a dog and think “food”, I feel that the most important part of your mind is damaged. If you don’t empathise with a dog, you are inhuman. That’s how I feel. I don’t think killing whales is OK. I don’t think any unnecessary killing of anything is particularly OK. I do think that people who eat pork but oppose whaling have their heads up their own rectums. But I happily spend most of my time surrounded by meat eating friends without complaint, so perhaps my inability to forgive Adam for eating dog is just as hypocritical as bacon-loving whale-warrior-watching.
Your comments on my hypocrisy are welcome and invited: How do you feel about eating one animal versus another?
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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The One Where We Move House (Again)

It's fairly uncommon for ALTs to move house. I guess given the short nature of the job the cost of moving isn't usually worth it. We've now moved twice. Suckers that we are.
Our neighbours came around on moving day with good-bye gifts and promises to visit the new house. Rinon and her mum brought over cleaning supplies and helped up scrub the floors. When I handed back the keys our very brisk and manly care-taker (Americans say super, right?) came out and stood awkwardly in the lobby saying "I guess this is it then... I guess this is good bye" over and over until we exchanged phone numbers and made him promise to visit as well. Even the real estate agent came by and said that he was sorry we were leaving and that we'd been a pleasure to work with. It was hard saying goodbye to everyone, but I have high hopes for our new neighbourhood too after Hayate's recent adventure.
Move #1 was achieved with a fair amount of dependency on others. We found the apartment we wanted on-line (this is a great site if you're looking) but my then-boss helped with the forms, real estate etc. and various teachers assisted with getting the power and gar stopped/started. Our removalists worked for the husband of a friend of my husband's then-boss's mother. Because of this "connection" we paid less than half price. Our current home is much like Tasmania in that there is an advertised price paid only by ignorant newcomers, then there's the "mates' rate" everyone else pays.
Move #2 we wanted to do by ourselves. For the most part we did. It was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster.... I'd achieve something complicated all in Japanese and feel like a champion, then the next phone call I wouldn't understand a word and feel like a worthless failure. Ex-pat life is tough when one is prone to dramatic mood swings. Overall we did just about everything ourselves but with some very appreciated help on a couple of sticking points. As it turns out, moving into a house is a hell of a lot more complicated than moving apartments. But anyway, first things first: our exciting removalists!
This time around I signed up to a website and then got contacted by a bunch of companies offering quotes. We ended up going with Sakai, the nation wide "Panda" company. I am a sucker for details, and after the guy visited our place to give a detailed quote and showed me all their little features I couldn't refuse, despite the fact that they weren't amazingly cheap. They gave us "panda rice" though.
Rice, tape, boxes and a futon-wrapper to be precise
They have pandas on their socks. How could I say no to panda-sock-wearing removalists?
The polite young man explained to me that they even have special t-shirts that prevent sweat from the workers getting on furniture. Initially the quote was higher than we had budgeted for. He asked what we were expecting to pay, then called the office, then revised the quote down to that. Maybe I should have picked an even lower number... Anyway, the service was very good. We didn't have to pack clothes from our draws, they just put a sort of furniture-condom over the whole thing as is.
The one on the right is a "fridge-condom"
Clothes in the wardrobe you just transfer into a hanger box, no need for folding or creasing.

Their training house, where they practice carrying pianos up stairs
They also offered a pet moving service, but we had to head out to Fukuoka prefecture early morning the day after moving anyway, so we decided to put the dogs into the "pet hotel" the day of the move and collect them after getting back from Fukuoka. A good plan, but it led to a stressful morning. I was leaving with the dogs as the removalists arrived, in the pouring rain. I got them to the hotel and then got a call saying I needed to meet the truck at the new house ASAP. I couldn't find a bus and wasn't sure what route I actually needed to take, so I ran my soggy, dog hair covered self over to a taxi rank. Then couldn't give directions to the house, because I had only been there with the real estate agent and she had driven me from the office, not the city. My poor old taxi driver eventually found the place... and I realised that I had no money.
I had absolutely no idea what one does in such a situation. He suggested going inside, and I had to explain that there was no-one and nothing inside because I hadn't actually moved in yet. I was in a full blown panic but the lovely guy just said he'd come by later and gave me his card. He didn't even roll his eyes. I think I was more upset about the situation than he was.
So it all had a happy ending :)
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Friday, 3 August 2012

In Which Hayate Has His Very Own Adventure

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I got home from work yesterday and my front door was open. I was on the phone to my boss at the time, discussing some upcoming work matters, and I told her I had to go and hung up on her.
I stepped into the house and Kuri growled. She was standing in the hall with her heckles up, looking panicked. Hayate didn't come to greet me. I shut the door and ran upstairs... no Hayate. I grabbed the tastiest treats I had in the cupboard, got a leash on Kuri and started running through the neighbourhood. I thought maybe Kuri would lead me to him. Actually she led me to a patch of grass she likes to roll in, a chihuahua she enjoys barking at through his fence and a dying cicada she pounced on and tried to eat. Thanks Kuri.
Realising that I wasn't going to find him that way I ran back home and made sixty fliers with his picture and my phone number. A tired little Kuri and I searched for about two and half hours, handing out all but a few of the fliers. Because we just moved, we don't have a regular walking route yet and I had no idea which direction Hayate could have gone. Would he have tried to find our old apartment and headed back towards the city? Down to the river? Up the mountain to play in the bamboo forest? Out to the school to try and join the kids playing baseball? We walked everywhere.
My neighbours were amazing. I haven't got around to introducing myself yet, but despite suddenly turning up on their doorsteps crying hysterically and explaining that I just moved in nearby and HAVEYOUSEENMYBABY??? none of them freaked out. Everyone was kind and helpful.
When it got dark, Kuri and I headed for home. I thought maybe when he got hungry Hayate would do the same. If he hadn't been hit by a car or fallen off the mountain and broken his leg or been shot by a farmer or carried away by eagles. As we got near our street he trotted happily around the corner, saw us, and lay down on the pavement to wait for us. I hooked him onto a leash, gave him some liver and cried even more than when he was lost. A woman was following him with a leash. She wasn't one of the people I had given a flier to, but she told me that she had heard there was a missing dog and she had just been about to collect him. Best neighbourhood ever. 
After giving the dogs an extra big dinner I called my boss back to apologise and ask for the day off work to dog-proof the house better. She asked if anything was missing from the house. I hadn't even thought about that. Nothing was, I told her, and we were fine. She offered to come over and help me. I said we were fine, still sniffling. "OK" she said and told me to take it easy. A little bit later a friend called~ my boss had called her and asked her to check up on me. I complain about work a fair bit, but every time I have needed help everyone at the board of education has come through for me in an amazing way. 
I think I know how Hayate got the door open. I think it wont happen again. But it still terrifies me to think about leaving the dogs alone here when I do have to go back to work. 
Hayate, on the other hand, is sleeping off when he seems to view as having been a most excellent adventure.

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