Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Great Yokai War

I have always been fascinated by Japanese demons (yokai), ghosts, and legends. I often see yokai pop up in anime, manga, and video games and always find myself wanting to know more about them.

I recently got this game. It’s the newest Taiko Drum Master game for the DS and as you can tell from the cover it heavily features yokai. My love for these little guys was rekindled and I sought out to learn more about them and where I could find them.

In my bingeing of Wikipedia I found a movie called The Great Yokai War. And when we were at the movie rental store I casually mentioned to Eric that it was a movie I wanted to see. I couldn’t remember how the kanji in the title were pronounced or what they looked like, only what they meant. But that was enough and Eric found it with very little difficulty. It was actually easier for us to find this movie than most American movies in the store (mostly because we are never sure if the titles have been changed for the Japanese release).

With the help of the plot synopsis on Wikipedia we were able to piece together most of what was going on. The main character is a young boy named Tadashi who has just moved to a small town. At a festival he is named that year’s “Kirin Rider,” a protector of all things good. And wouldn’t you know it, a protector of all things good is desperately needed as a yokai named Kato is set on revenge against humans and is planning to attack Tokyo. But in order to do so he also betrays his own kind as he captures yokai and feeds them to a vengeful fire spirit to turn them into a mechanical army. A group of yokai seek out Tadashi in order to help him defeat Kato.

I fancied myself pretty familiar with Japanese demons and ghosts, but I was sorely mistaken as to the scope of what I was dealing with. Of the main group that helps Tadashi I only knew about the Kappa. The other three were completely new to me, and two of them don’t even have entries on Wikipedia. I knew a lot of the demons that made cameo appearances or had smaller roles along the way, but I was clearly reminded that I have a lot to learn. And that actually really made me excited to know more.

I found out that this movie was released in America by a company called Tokyo Shock back in 2006, so if this article has caught your interest you might be able to find it. I’m certainly going to look for it once I get back to the states. It isn’t the greatest movie you’ll ever see. The special effects are lame at points and the acting probably won’t blow you away. It’s a movie for kids, so it’s not especially deep or unpredictable. But the movie is fun, and if you want a glimpse into this side of Japanese culture it is definitely worth a look.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tan is bad

Whenever my female teachers head outside to do something with the kids, Sport’s Day Practice, Bike Safety Day, whatever, they prepare themselves. They all put on long sleeves, they put on hats with gigantic rims, and some even wear gloves. Now, I ask you, what season do you think this is during? Fall you say? Winter? Oh no, my friends. This is in the heat of the summer (although, I guess anything you said would be right, because if the sun is out they are bundled up, year round).

They are not fighting the chill. They are hiding from the sun. And they all do it. I have also noticed women driving with arm guards and gloves on to fight the sun while in their cars. At first I thought this was because of some hyper awareness of the dangers of skin cancer. But then I remembered that a large portion of this country smokes like chimneys, so that seemed less likely. And also, it is mostly just the women. I don’t see men going to nearly as many precautions to hide from the sun.

It turns out that here in Japan, no one wants to be tanned. This makes sense if you think back about the history of the country. When there were still nobles, most of them never went outside. They likely had rather fair skin. If you were very tan you clearly worked outside in a lower class job, like farming. And, as I believe is often the case, those who had money and power often set the view of what was considered beautiful and desirable in their women. Fair skinned women were prized. Look at the geisha and maiko who paint their faces white, bringing that pale beauty to an extreme. It gives a sort of untouched air to their beauty, untouched by the sun and untouched by blemish.

And so, this view has persisted at least in some degree. Women do not want to tan. They want to remain fair so as to remain attractive. I’m sure the damage that UV rays do cause is also a factor, but it also seems to be a convenient way to dress up this cultural view of beauty to make it even more necessary. Protect your skin and remain beautiful.

But there are also some people who still see it as a class thing as well. They don’t want to tan because they don’t want to be confused with someone who works outside all the time. They work inside and are thus a high class and want to maintain the appropriate appearance.

Part of the reason this never really transferred over to men is because your soldiers and warriors were outside too. If the samurai were out in battle they were going to tan as well, so for men it was just a standard thing. And perhaps that’s why my male teachers don’t seem to go to the same extreme when preparing for an outside activity. It reminds me of how women in America often diet, but you rarely hear of guys dieting, unless it’s for health reasons.

To further confuse you, I have seen women on the beach in bathing suits carrying parasols so that they can try to minimize their tanning. I rarely see people just lying out on the beach, working on their tan. And I have never, ever seen an artificial tanner or tanning beds advertised.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Buddhist Proverbs: Part II

And we’re back for round two of Japanese proverbs inspired by Buddhist teachings. Part one is here if you missed it. Part two includes my top five favorites. Enjoy and leave me a comment below!

All things are merely dreams.
Thought the flame be put out, the wick remains.
Even Hell itself is a dwelling place.
Even the touching of sleeves in passing is caused by some relation in a former life.
Even a devil is pretty at eighteen.
A devil takes a goblin to wife.
Be the teacher of your heart; do not allow your heart to become your teacher.
Never let go of the reins of the wild colt of the heart.
Fish that escaped was never small; child that died was never bad.
With one hair of a woman you can tether even a great elephant.
Not to know is to be Buddha; not to see is Paradise.

Amanda’s Top Five!

5. The mouth is the front gate of all misfortune.

4. Nothing will grow if the seed be not sown.

3. Human life is like the dew of morning.

2. The fallen blossom never returns to the branch.

And my absolute favorite:
1. The interval of sleep is Paradise.

The shop boy by the temple gate repeats the sutra which he never studied.

I really like this one. It’s all about learning. In this case a young boy who works near a temple hears the priests chant the sutra every day and eventually he learns the words himself. It goes along well with another proverb, “Rather than study an art, keep in constant contact with it.”

Like a lot of blind men feeling a great elephant.

This one means to criticize without having a full idea of what you are talking about and refers to a fable in which a bunch of blind men try to describe what an elephant is by touching it. One guy feels only the leg and proclaims that an elephant is like a tree. Another feels only the truck and says that an elephant is a like a snake. One feels the elephant’s side and says that it is like a wall. Another only feels the tail and says that it’s like a rope. It’s easy to see that they are all very wrong and that by singling in on a small detail they have missed the big picture. Rather they have jumped to conclusions without taking the time to study further.

Even as the echo answers to the voice.
Even as the shadow follows the shape.

This one refers to the idea that however you act you will get the same type of thing back. If you yell harshly, your echo will return in harsh tones. But if you call out happily your echo will answer back happily. Kinda like what goes around comes around, reminding us to watch how we act. This is especially true for Buddhism where we have reincarnation as a factor. Every good thing done for us is a return of a good thing we did in a past life and every wrong inflicted on us is because we did wrong in a past life. It’s a giant balancing act and your life now (like an echo or a shadow) reflects what came before.

Borrowing time, the face of Jizo; repaying time, the face of Enma.

My book used pictures to describe this one and I’ll do the same.



Monday, August 2, 2010

Buddhist Proverbs: Part I

A book I’m reading lists 100 Japanese proverbs to “illustrate certain effects of Buddhist teaching upon popular thought and speech.” Many of them are rather abstract and require gigantic footnotes to explain the translation for a foreign audience. But there were also a lot of them that I felt made sense without further explanation and I thought I’d share them with you. And there were a few that really need explaining, but I still really liked them, so I’ve done my best to explain. There ended up being quite a few, so I have divided them up into two posts for easier digesting. These are listed in no particular order.

Meeting is only the beginning of separation.
Hell and Heaven are in the hearts of men.
Heard of only, it is Paradise; seen, it is Hell
Good actions go not outside the gate; bad deeds travel a thousand ri.
The future life is the all-important thing.
Even a worm an inch long has a soul half an inch long.
The body is tortured only be the demons of the heart (or mind).
Even the Buddha was originally but a common man.
Even to become a Buddha one must first become a novice.
The blind man does not fear the snake.
There is no King on the Road of Death.
One confession effaces the sins of even three years.
Only by reason of having died does one enter into life.
All joy is the source of sorrow.
Joy and sorrow exist only in the mind.
Eggplants do not grow upon melon vines.

Even the head of an iwashi, by virtue of faith will have the power to save.

An iwashi is a small sardine like fish. It implies that what you worship matters rather little so long as your prayer is made with perfect faith and pure intentions. It’s all about the power of faith.

Having waxed, wanes.

Think of the moon. Once it has reached its fullest it begins to wane. So also the height of good fortune is also the beginning of fortune’s decline.

It is not easy to be born among men and to meet with the good fortune of hearing the doctrine of Buddhism.

Remember that we are dealing with reincarnation here. It takes many good lives to be blessed with being born as a member of mankind. And according to Buddhism, you are even more privileged if you are among those who are teaching Buddhism. This is because only as humans are we capable of spiritual progress. So no matter how miserable your situation, you should still be thankful that you are a person.

The Six Roads are right before your eyes.

Another to do with reincarnation. Our actions in our current life determine what we will be reincarnated as. So we are really in control of our own destiny and choose where we will be born next by acting appropriately in this life.

That will do it for part one! Please feel free to discuss in the comments, I’m really interested in what people think. Let me know if there is one you find particularly interesting, or if there is one that you don’t understand. I don’t know how familiar everyone is with Buddhism, and so some that I think make sense might make no sense to everyone else. If this happens I’ll do my best to try to explain. Check back later for part two which includes most of my favorites.