Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Shiba Plan of Evil (Winter)

They were a lot more snuggly when they were puppies
It's hard to keep warm in a Japanese house. We usually try to pick a single room and do everything in that one room, with the doors closed all over the house in a short of attempt at airlocks to keep the warm air in and the cold air out.

You can't tell, but in three minutes she is going to jump up and insist that she will ACTUALLY DIE unless I let her into the hallway, which she will sniff once before deciding to come back to bed.
All through summer the dogs happily sleep throughout the day in whatever comfy spot they choose. As soon as it gets colder, they develop the urge to roam, getting up what seems like every ten minutes and asking to be let in and out of room for seemingly no purpose other than to ruin my life. They particularly like going out to the garden and then waiting exactly the time it take for me to get back under the kotatsu before wanting to come inside again.They scratch at the door and whine as though they will die of cold if I don't open the door immediately. I jump up (again), open the door and then... they just sit and stare at me while all my warmth gets sucked out into the garden and the wind blows into the house.
I hate clothes on animals, but her first winter Kuri's undercoat didn't grow in and she couldn't stay warm, so we had to put this coat on her. I promise it was necessary!

Shiba are evil.
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Monday, 18 November 2013

It Doesn't End Well For The Ducks

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I wrote last year about the ducklings that are released into the freshly flooded rice fields. They act are a natural source of both fertiliser and pesticide, eating the insects that come to prey on the rice plants. You can see them in the video above.
Well, if you want to know what happens once the rice is harvested, here's the answer! 


(It's not that bad, but don't click if you don't want to see dead ducks.)
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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Loyal Dog Stories: Why Do We Enjoy Their Suffering?


A while ago I "liked" a facebook page that posted lots of cute puppy pictures. Who doesn't like puppy pictures, right? They also post dog related news, which depressingly often means stories about animal cruelty and the always inadequate sentences the perpetrators receive. Another depressingly frequent topic is "loyal dog waits X period of time for humans who won't return." Sometimes the humans in the story are dead, but mostly they have abandoned the dog. Here are some examples:


What is it that attracts people to these stories? A mix of pathos, admiration for the "loyal" dog, a longing for some unconditional love? They even appear as entertainment in movies from Australia's Red Dog to America's (version of Japan's) Hachiko.

I hate these stories. With a passion. I don't see heartwarming tales of doggie goodness, I see human ugliness and little else. Take perhaps the most famous "loyal dog waits" tale of them all, Hachiko, for example. The House of Two Bows does an amazing job of eviscerating the mythology around the story:

To me, the drooping ear is an emblem of the years of hardship that Hachiko suffered on the streets. He did not turn his back on any happy home to keep the flame alive for his dead master. The fact is that there was no other home for him to go to. All parties involved were more interested in maintaining the myth of the downtrodden wanderer who had nothing else other than the memory of his master; his impoverishment only heightened the tragic poignancy of the story, and that’s why it had to be maintained. The pedagogical value of Hachiko’s story did not have to be steered towards imperialistically-tinged notions of unerring devotion towards a singular, grand master. It could have been a lesson in humane charity, in animal welfare, in collective social responsibilities towards homeless pets, or really, any needy living creature. But the fact that any alternative interpretations were drowned out by the dominant ideology of loyalty and national unity in a time of heightened militarism is represented by that single, falsely pricked ear.
 In this interview, well worth watching, Malcom Gladwell talks about the hubris behind the human creation of dogs:
Dogs were evolved to pay attention to us...
They are this extraordinary example of a species that we have bred on the basis of how much attention they pay us; how closely they look us in the eye and hang on our every word. I mean, it's the most narcissistic thing we have ever done as human beings.
A dog pays more attention to your face than a human being does.
And that's the thing. We made dogs to love us, to be devoted to us, to DEPEND on us. And we let them down, often and catastrophically.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. That means if you click and then buy the item I get a small commission. It does not mean that I am being paid to promote a particular product or opinion. I will only include affiliate links that are directly related to the subject of a post. If you want to know why I have begun including affiliate links you can read about it here.
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Monday, 11 November 2013

Sunday Surf (On a Monday)


Sunday Surf with Authentic Parenting and Hobo MamaI'm joining Authentic Parenting and Hobo Mama for Sunday Surf. Share your best reading of the week, and link up your post at either blog!
For more great reading, visit Hobo Mama or Authentic Parenting for the latest Sunday Surf and linky.
Happy Surfing!

Parenting, Adoption, Education

Kids give so much negative feedback, so much of the time (I won't / I didn't / I can't / I don't want to) that it's positively thrilling, at times, to know that there might be a tiny adult somewhere, inside my phone, who is going to say something encouraging to me, send me a nice email, do something that will make me laugh or maybe just give me ten seconds of respite so I don't yell. I need encouragement through my day, and often the place I get the most is through my phone. I don't think this is anything to be sneezed at.
And yet I've read and heard a few people saying some pretty judgy things about mothers who spend too much time on their phones, and it bothers me. I don't disagree that probably, lots of us could do a better job to get the balance right between boredom, engagement and distraction (I talked about pushing kids through the boredom barrier recently, and I'm all too aware that sometimes I use my phone as a way to avoid pushing through my own). However, this attitude always, always makes me uncomfortable, and not (just) because it makes me feel guilty.

I don't know. I think that most mothers who I see idly thumbing on their phones are probably bored; bored and tired and wondering how much longer they have to stay at the swings until they can legitimately claim it's time for dinner. And if you think they shouldn't be bored and tired, if you would prefer to see them engaging their children more actively, I have a solution - offer to babysit and give that mother a bit of time to herself. Yes, that's right - walk up to her and say 'hey there, mama, you look like you could do with a break. How about I push that swing for you while you take an hour or so to read a book in that coffee shop?'

Is this too weird? Is it impossible? Would nobody ever, ever, do it, because they would seem like some kind of crazy kidnapper, offering to look after a stranger's children? Well, maybe this is right, but my opinion is: if we don't know a person well enough to offer to babysit her kids, we don't know her well enough to judge the fact that she is on her cellphon
Really interesting video about attempts to promote science in Japanese schools. I was particularly interested by one teacher's observations that kids don't like science because they just want to get the answer, they aren't interested in the process. They are used to, and expect, instant gratification.

In literary fiction, like Dostoyevsky, “there is no single, overarching authorial voice,” he said. “Each character presents a different version of reality, and they aren’t necessarily reliable. You have to participate as a reader in this dialectic, which is really something you have to do in real life.”
Dr. Castano added that, in many cases, “popular fiction seems to be more focused on the plot.”
“Characters can be interchangeable and usually more stereotypical in the way they are described,” he said.
With limited resources and the hospital an hour away, the family did not know what to do. They loved their granddaughter and wanted to find her help so they approached the leaders in their community about the situation. The leaders contacted some missionaries in town and told them about this family.
And just like that, this little girl was brought to an orphanage, where she would be separated from her family for the next 3 years.
The family wasn't offered transportation to the hospital, or advice on nutrition for a malnourished child, or high caloric foods or help paying hospital bills. The only option presented was the removal of their child.
So for the next three years a child with a family that loved her sat in an orphanage. She became one of many children cared for by multiple caregivers a day that came and went and picked up their paychecks at the end of the month. She got three nutritious meals a day and toys donated from America to play with and the occasional trip to town for ice cream, but she lacked a child's greatest need- a family to love her. She watched adoptive parents arrive to take their kids home and was left wondering where her family was and why she wasn't with them.
Essentially, an orphan had been created.
While this little girl wondered, an hour away a family in a village was left missing their daughter.
We—collectively, as a society—are teaching our kids the very thing that so many of us spend an entire adult lifetime trying to unlearn.

Sweets = happiness. Sugar = fun. Cupcakes = love.

The celebration hasn’t happened until we feel sick and our teeth are coated in sugar residue.

Our bodies naturally crave sweet things because of their easy energy content. Encouraging a psychological attachment to sweets as a shortcut to positive feelings is unwise. And yet, we reinforce this message constantly to our very young children with a flashing neon sign that says JUNK FOOD = FUN PARTY.

I can’t help but believe that in doing so we will pass on all of our negative patterns. When I’m sad, frustrated, depressed about the winter, cold, tired, or overwhelmed, I want SOMETHING CHOCOLATE WITH FROSTING. It’s a test of my will power not to eat crap when I feel strong negative emotions, searching for a certain level of happiness and satisfaction in sweets. I usually win, but it’s hard and I know I’m not alone. I see this kind of complaint posted everywhere.

We were taught that whether we want to admit it our not. That’s a lesson we learned at the knee of this idyllic childhood-party-sweets-holiday mentality. If we don’t want to raise kids who struggle with the food issues of our generation we need to stop the constant association of positive social events and sugar.

(Japanese only)


Race, Privilege, Social Issues

I’ve written before that I grew up in the south, in an area intensely battling racism and homophobia. The area is odd. At the “yamboree” as we called the county fair, the Ku Klux Klan had a booth each year, and also sometimes the Ku Klux Klan would parade down town and give out candy to all the kids.
When I was five I was put in a different school because there was an ESL (English as a Second Language) program there. You may be wondering, “what’s wrong with that?” Well, for starters, I was born in Ohio and English was my native tongue. I was reading novels by kindergarten (totally spelled that wrong the first time, fail) and I prided myself on the fact that I had an extensive vocabulary for a toddler. I had been speaking English with exquisite finesse up to that point in my life (okay, that may all be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point). So I didn’t know why I was being put in an ESL program, but I didn’t argue because who’s going to listen to a five year old? At that age, you don’t question things, you just accept. I carried forth with my days throwing raisins at the teacher and drawing cartoon characters on the desks. It wasn’t until later in life I tried to analyze the situation and came to this conclusion: I was put in that program for one reason, I was a shy Asian girl and everyone jumped to the conclusion that I couldn’t speak English. I know I tend to joke about this story, but there’s a lesson to be learned.
As a young child, I didn’t understand race or skin color. I assumed everyone was white, including me. I hope I can speak for most Asian-Americans here, but there is that earth-shatterning [sic] moment in our childhood when we realize we’re not white.
It isn’t a scarcity of whales that is bringing down the curtain, or even the complicated politics of whaling. It is something far more prosaic and inexorable: Norwegian children, even those who grow up in the seafaring stronghold of Lofoten, simply do not want to become whalers any more. Nor do they want to brave storm-tossed winter seas to net fortunes in cod, as their forebears have done for centuries. Instead, they aspire to safer, salaried jobs in distant cities or with the offshore oil industry, and they have been leaving their island communities in droves. 
What a legacy Japan could achieve if it not only celebrates the things that make Japan distinct and unique but openly looks to share that with the world and in the process widen the definition of what it is to be Japanese to include the best of other cultures too. Because some of those other cultures are already here, they are already making significant contributions to Japanese life. They raise families, they participate in the local community and they contribute in myriad untold ways to the growth of the nation.
In 2020 Japan will seek to introduce itself to the world.
Hopefully it’ll be an honest introduction.
And unlike Britain the rest of the World will be welcome for more than just the summer.
It seems to me that a lot of the worst homophobia stems from looking at a gay person and seeing the “disgusting” sex they have, rather than seeing a person, a person with passions and interests and likes and dislikes and dreams and, well, a life. So much of the discussion of “the homosexual lifestyle” centers on this idea that gay people spend their lives obsessed with going from bar to bar for sex rather than, well, having a range of interests and forming a range of relationships.

Animals, Linguistics (The first link should explain why those are together today!)

...according to recent studies, animals really do have regional accents. Yes, that’s right. Dogs generally tend to have a different pitch, tone, and display a variety of vocal mechanisms depending on where they are from. The Canine Behavioiur Centre in Cumbria explained that Scottish dogs bark somewhat more lightly than dogs in Liverpool, for example. It gives me unspeakable pleasure to envision a dog speaking with a brogue.
Cows were also found to have regional dialects by John Well, professor of phonetics at the University of London. This is interesting, as in English they tend to be capable of producing one consonant. In Mongolia and parts of India they are capable of producing complex plosives by bursting forth with a gutteral umboo in Mongolian and hambaa in Bengali.
Unfortunately, this theory does not hold water across the animal kingdom. Cats make a sound very similar to meow around the world. In France they go miao, in China they go mao, in Sweden they go mjau, and in Turkish mijyav. Could this be attributed to cats’ universal not-giving-a-fuckage? Probable.
Naoto Matsumura and his elder parents lived on a rice farm in Tomioka, a coastal town in Fukushima prefecture, known for having one of the longest cherry blossom tunnels in Japan.

After hearing the hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, eight miles away from their home, the Matsumuras  attempted to evacuate. However, they were turned away from a relative in Iwaki, a coastal town in southern Fukushima prefecture.  She feared they had been radioactively contaminated.  Afterwards, they were turned away from a shelter because it was full.

So they returned to their home, where his parents stayed until his mother became ill in April 2011. She then moved  to her daughter's home in Shizuoka where there was no room for the Matsumura's animals.  Therefore, Naoto Matsumura decided to stay—to take care of them.

He told filmmakers Jeffrey Jousan and Ivan Kovac that he gradually took on the task of caring for cattle, pigs, cats, dogs, and an ostrich (the sole survivor of a flock of 30 birds) throughout Tomioka, all left behind by owners who were initially told the evacuation would be temporary and short-term: 
Our dogs didn’t get fed for the first few days. When I did eventually feed them, the neighbors’ dogs started going crazy. I went over to check on them and found that they were all still tied up.

Everyone in town left thinking they would be back home in a week or so, I guess. From then on, I fed all the cats and dogs every day. They couldn’t stand the wait, so they’d all gather around barking up a storm as soon as they heard my truck. Everywhere I went there was always barking. Like, ‘we’re thirsty’ or, ‘we don’t have any food.’ So I just kept making the rounds.
Over a thousand cattle and hundreds of thousands of caged chickens died from starvation in Tomioka. Then on May 12, 2011, the Kan administration ordered the euthanasia of surviving cattle. But a bright spot for animal survivors was that Japanese authorities have allowed Matsumura to remain to care for animals since the return of the town's other 15,000 residents is unlikely.
You do not necessarily punish a dog by ignoring it.  If a dog wants you to go away, ignoring them is a carrot.  Even the happiest married couples probably realize it’s nice to see your spouse leave so you can have a bubble bath.  Love you – go away – come back later.  Do not assume your presence is always a gift to the universe.  You’re special, but not THAT special.  None of us is.
The point being that in order to aspire to compassionate – to be more humane and kinder, we need to stop talking so much and we need to start listening.
We listen by watching the dog’s reaction.  When you reach to pat a dog on the head and see that slight ducking and shying away, then take note.  Look for escape and avoidance behaviours.  They can be hard to spot.  Relief can look oddly similar to joy.
Avoid a technique-centric approach and choose communication.  When you stop – really stop – and listen, you realize that all dogs respond to positive reinforcement.  Unfortunately, too often, the human thinks they are being positive and the dog firmly disagrees.  You must truly hear what the dog is saying.
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Tuesday, 5 November 2013

More Japan Adoption Links


I included a lot of links in my three posts on adoption in Japan, but there were some that didn't quite fit in, so I'm just going to share them here.

Tens of thousands of minors live in children’s homes in Japan, but cultural and legal issues keep most of these youngsters needing caring homes from being united with couples who want a child to love.
A Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare survey shows that 29,399 children were living in orphanages in 2012. But while more than 7,000 couples applied to adopt or become foster parents every year between 2006 and 2010, only 309 children were adopted in fiscal 2010, according to ministry figures.
http://www.crnjapan.net/The_Japan_Childrens_Rights_Network/res-ado.html is an overview of the legal issues around adoption as it currently stands.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2002/07/28/culture/putting-her-house-in-order/#.UnGghBAw9FD is about a TV documentary and contains some interesting background information about orphanages:
This week’s “Document ’02″ (Nippon TV, Sunday, 12:55 a.m.) will profile the Sakamotos, a Tokyo couple who are raising five foster children, ranging in age from 5 to 9. In the entire city of Tokyo, there are only 200 registered foster families. According to specialists, most orphans grow up severely traumatized, which is why family-type foster care is so important. But almost all of these orphans are forced to spend their entire childhood and adolescence locked up in institutions.

is specifically about the controversy surrounding Kumamoto's baby hatch, but also has some interesting contextualising information:

Research shows growing up in an institution often leads to disadvantages in emotional development as well as education and employment, which is why many say attitudes towards adoption need to be changed in Japan.
"I used to have a very negative image of adoption and I think a lot of other people do too," explained 38-year-old housewife Tomoyo Suzuki, adding that her thinking changed after she went to a seminar about it. She and her husband went on to adopt two babies now aged three and one.
"I think a lot of people are concerned about blood ties."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- who criticized the "baby hatch" for encouraging parents to opt out of their responsibilities -- and his wife, Akie, themselves rejected the idea of adopting.
http://www.onceatraveler.com/adoption-in-japan describes experiences as a volunteer at an orphanage and is really worth reading:
It’s still difficult. To imagine what it’s like without a real home. One of the volunteers is literally in tears as we pull away, bidding farewell to the staff and thanking them for the opportunity to visit. We can escape. We can return to our apartments, Skype our parents, and continue on with our lives. They will wake up, go to school, and return to a place not unlike school, where they will most likely live for the next few years, until reaching 18 or 20.
We saw one day. One atypical day. They live it for years. It’s not horrible, it’s not cruel, but it can’t be what’s best; even a mother shouting and screaming for ten minutes because you forgot to call home is a sign of love. Something that just can’t just duplicated without a home, a family.
I volunteer at an orphanage in Japan. When people hear about my volunteer job, they often ask me a lot questions. A lot of people are curious about Japanese orphanages since it’s something that is hardly ever discussed openly. I decided to write answers to the most common questions I’m asked about Japanese orphanages.

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Monday, 4 November 2013

Sex, Journalism and Wacky Ole Japan


I wrote a masters' thesis a while back. It was about Lolita subculture, as in the fashion not the perversion. In that thesis I compared the English language media and popular press depictions of Lolitas as spoiled teens who are rejecting adulthood, sex-phobic and infantile with ethnographic research that shows a very different reality. I described a lot of the articles newspapers and magazine published on the topic as being from the "what's new in wacky Japan" school of journalism. You know what I mean; inaccurately reporting that a fringe body modification is a trend sweeping the nation or reporting that an artwork is an actual fashion. Everyone just knows Japan is weird, so editors don't fact-check, and once something has gone to print in the NYT everyone else just assumes it's a valid story and jumps on the bandwagon.

 The Guardian has got a lot of rap (and rightly so) for this pretty shoddy article, as has the BBC for this documentary that I haven't watched but sounds even worse. There are some very good articles and blog posts explaining in detail all the problems in these two media reports, so I won't cover the same ground. I recommend Are The Japanese Really Having Less Sex Than Everyone Else?

Is it strange that so many unmarried Japanese people aren’t in relationships or interested in being in one? Not really. A Pew survey this year, concerned mainly with online dating, began by asking Americans who are not married or living with a partner whether they are in a “committed romantic relationship.” Seventy-one percent said no. Seventy-five percent of those who are not in a romantic relationship said they are currently not looking for one, numbers that are much higher than in Japan. About half of single Americans said they haven’t been on a date in the last three months. The number of Americans in their late teens and early 20s who have never had sex is also rising: about 29 percent of women and 27 percent of men, according to the National Survey of Family Growth. (That survey of Japanese people under 30 refers to “dating,” not sex.)
Nearly 40 percent of American women have never been married, according to one survey, and nearly 20 percent of American women in their 40s have not had children, according to another. Both those numbers are steadily rising.
The “were not interested in or despised sexual contact" number does seem very high, though the “or” seems to be doing a lot of work in that sentence. A 2008 survey of found that 10 percent of American women between 18 and 44 reported “low sexual desire.” And plenty of people living in any culture who do experience sexual desire don’t actively look to fulfill it with another person for various reasons.   
Yes, I’m cherry-picking numbers to make a point here, but so are these Japan articles. For instance, the Guardian doesn’t note that the Japanese National Institute of Population and Social Security Research study it cites also finds that almost 90 percent of unmarried Japanese people intend to marry and that “the proportion of singles who are consciously trying to delay marriage is waning.”
Japanese Men According to the BBC:

The BBC article is condescending about them, dismissing them with: “It seems they no longer have the ambition of the post-war alpha males who made Japan such an economic powerhouse and no interest in joining a company and becoming a salary man.” Well good god, I wonder why not. Look at the economy. Look at the lack of job security. Look at the suicide rate. Look at the global “happiness” polls. No offense to the hard-working salaryman who enjoys his job, but it’s about time for there to be a societal backlash against the kind of life that is expected for men in Japan. Suited up and out the door by 5:30 AM. Breakfast is a plastic package of white bread from a convenience store and a small can of coffee. An hour-long commute in a packed train, standing the entire time. A 9 to 5 office job that doesn’t end at 5 but continues until the boss decides to leave the office, which means usually working 9 to 9 without overtime. Obligatory drinking with co-workers after work. Usually a lot of social pressure to visit prostitutes after the drinks. Back home late at night, reeking of alcohol and cigarette smoke. Your children are already asleep. Your wife makes you sleep in another room. Set your alarm for 5:00 AM and start the whole thing again the next day. A lot of modern Japanese men see the lives their fathers led as bleak and depressing.

This recent Vice video on sex in Japan made some interesting points about commercialisation and compartmentalisation of relationships, but mostly it just made my skin crawl. The disdainful, entitled superiority of the guy in the video as he pays for services that he says disgust him while belittling the women who provide them really pissed me off. So did the 1950s overtones of his meeting with the yakuza, where he "gains their trust" by participating in their primitive customs (tattooing and drinking turtle blood). He then asks for the weirdest thing they have to offer, and is *shock horror* pretty grossed out by it. As if you can't find kinky "specialist" services anywhere else in the world.
Now, if you want to talk about marriage or birthrates (and no, they aren't the same thing) there is a really interesting story to explore.

Ken Seeroi makes some astute observations regarding sex in this piece, which I encourage you to read:
A more typical case is probably my former student Masahiro, who’s an executive at a famous beverage manufacturer.  He works from 9 a.m. until to midnight, six days a week, with a 15-minute lunch break at his desk.  He has Sunday off, which is when he studies English.
“I have it easy,” he said, “since I work at an international company.  Japanese places are a lot worse.”
“Do you ever see your wife?” I asked.
“I see her on Sunday,” he said.
“But Sunday’s when you come here to study English,” I pointed out.
“Ah, good point,” he said.
For most people, it comes down to two choices:  work like mad as a single person and have a tiny apartment full of dirty clothes and half-eaten Cup Ramen containers, or get married.  That way, the man goes off to work, and when he comes home after midnight, his dinner is sitting on the table covered in Saran Wrap, and there’s hot water in the tub.  His wife and daughter are already asleep.  Shopping, ironing, cleaning, paying the bills, everything’s taken care of for him.  All he has to do is bring home a paycheck.  The woman gets to do all the fun, fulfilling things like taking care of baby, grocery shopping, cleaning, and cooking meals.  Sometimes I’ll ask my adult students how often they see their spouses, or ask the kids when they see their fathers.  The answer is roughly on par with how often I’ve seen the Easter Bunny.  I am, however, a big fan of marshmallow Peeps, so maybe it’s not as infrequent as you think.

Even if we were just going to talk about birthrates though, you get shoddy misreporting of very basic information. For example, just about every article that discusses Japan's birthrate written since 2011 has claimed that "sales of adult diapers exceed those for babies". While this may be true, the only evidence I have seen cited to support it is the 2011 report by ONE manufacturer, Unicharm, that is had sold more incontinence products than infant diapers. Maybe Unicharm just makes really uncomfortable or overpriced diapers.

So is this just a symptom of the demise of quality journalism generally? I don't think so. I think it's specific to the "weird Japan" preconception, and the infantilisation that goes along with it. The fantasy of the Japanese woman is inherently infantilising (see not only my post but more tellingly the comments on an aspect of this fantasy here), but Japanese men don't fare much better in the international media. If the world were a high school, Japanese men would be the geeks. The world seems to view them as sexually perverted wimps with weird hobbies, glasses and bad teeth. Can we move on from the stereotypes, please?  And some fact-checking would be nice too, while we're at it.

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Sunday, 3 November 2013

Wrist Cutter's Diet

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I just wrote about Tiger and his perception of woman=dieting, then shortly afterwards found a page
where Japanese blogger "wrist-cutter" intermixes graphic images of self-harm with updates on his weight-loss.

On October 29th he skips all three meals. On October 28th he writes
死んじゃえば楽になるのに。[It would be easier if I died]
[...]早く死んじゃえばいいのに。[It would be better to die quickly]
October 27th shows his bleeding arm and a cut-throat razor in a bowl of thick blood.

I wrote before about my experiences with JHS students and self harm. It isn't surprising to see a blog in which extreme dieting and cutting are intermingled; many eating disorders are at heart self-harming. It's still upsetting. It's also an important reminder that men are affected just as negatively.
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Saturday, 2 November 2013

Rjukan and 半日村

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A feel-good story to kick off your weekend!

The Norwegian town of Rjukan is situated in the bottom of a valley and from September to March not a ray of sunlight reaches them, until now.


The story reminded me of the Japanese picture book 半日村‎ about a town with the same problem (but a different solution). The village in the story is shaded by a high mountain, much like Rjukan, and only gets a few hours of sunlight a day. Consequently few crops grow and the village is plagued by listlessness. The adults believe they were simply born unlucky and accept their fate. One day a boy, Ippei, starts climbing the mountain and digging. He carries the dirt back down to the village and throws it into the lake (the source of perpetual cold winds). Everyone laughs at him but soon other kids begin to join in. The adults scold them, saying what they are doing is useless and goes against common sense. Things have always been the way they are, and there's no use struggling against them. You can probably guess the ending, especially since I included an image that is a big spoiler ;)
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Friday, 1 November 2013

If You Don't Diet...

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Crayon Shin-chan is one of Tiger's regularly watched shows, meaning I watch it too. I quite enjoy it actually, particularly the way his poor mother Misae (who coincidentally is my age and from Kyushu) tries to cope with her son's antics (I suspect Tiger and I are laughing at different things in those scenes...).

Last week's episode was all about Misae's attempts to diet using meal replacement shakes and wearing a 5 kilo apron while doing housework.* By the end of the episode her eyes are sunken dark hollows, her checks are inverted and she barely has the energy to pick up her baby. In the comedic climax she succumbs to her hunger and her husband and kids walk in on her chugging a beer and frying some meat.

A couple of days after we watched this episode, Tiger commented to me ダイエットしないと。。。Which is a typically open-ended Japanese statement lacking a subject, but basically in context is "you'd better diet" or more literally "if you don't diet...". So, I asked him "What? If I don't diet, what?" (ダイエットしないと何?).  "Oh," he replied, "I don't know. Just, you should diet." Again, I asked why. "Well, you're fat." "OK," I said, "but why is that a problem?" "I don't know", he shrugged, and went back to playing with the dogs.

I found the exchange really interesting. First, he doesn't link weight to health or even to attractiveness. You're fat, so you should diet. That's the extent of it. Perhaps, in fact, what he has internalised from the sum of the media he has consumed is in fact just "you're a woman, you should diet". In its most basic form, it isn't even an imperative "should", it's just how things are. Tiger is interested in what is normal, a fascination that is both common for all kids his age and especially interesting for him because so many of his circumstances are less than "normal". What he understands to be normal comes predominantly from television. He sees mothers on TV dieting, and thinks that is what mothers do, so he asks me to do it. He has lived his whole life in an institutional bubble, and TV has been his primary (sole?) source of information about the world outside.

It's really challenging me trying to be respectful of his ideas and cultural background while also wanting to introduce him to my values and beliefs, all with limited language ability. I mean that in both the good sense of challenge as making me think harder and deeper, and also in the euphemistic sense of "difficult". At the stage where we are now, the most I do is question him about why he thinks the things he does. I draw the line at TV shows that depict cruelty to animals and ask him to change the channel, and although I cook meat at home for him I won't buy him MacDonalds and we have had a good few conversations about why that is. That's about as far as we go. Complex issues of public health and body image can wait, but I do appreciate the chance to see what he thinks and where the influences come from. Coincidentally, as I was writing this post I clicked over to facebook and read this fantastic article:

Is obesity a serious issue? Yes. But obesity is just one symptom of the real issue which is unhealthy living. By focusing solely on obesity, we are turning a "lifestyle" issue into a "fat" one and are completely missing out on giving people the information they need to be truly healthy.
The dangerous part about this is that instead of encouraging people to get healthy we are demanding that they get skinny and the truth is, skinny is not always synonymous with healthy.

I wrote a lot more on the same topic including thoughts on the considerable weight gain I've experienced in Japan when I wrote about annual health checks. At school the female teachers often transfered half their lunch to a male coworker's plate. In the classroom, I heard teachers say to kids "there's some extra left over, any boys want seconds?" and others say "if any girls want to eat less, please reduce your servings now before you start eating". I wouldn't say that these were common things to hear and I ate with a lot of different classes, but hearing them at all was disturbing. Miss Fatty was disturbing. This post isn't about health or weight so much as it is about the way I see kids (and mine in particular) distilling these issues into the simple message they take away: Woman=diet.

*Funny how these representations of motherhood are never brought up in the articles circulating the media explaining how the birth rate is low because of video games and lack of sex drive. It must be the video games, I mean, what isn't attractive about being an unappreciated overworked SAHM obsessed with losing baby weight?!
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