Friday, 10 December 2010

Abortion and contraception in Japan: A taboo subject?

Spending four months in Japan allowed me to learn more about this Far East culture I never thought I could encounter. I came in Japan late August with a very basic knowledge about Japan, about its language and its culture.

I traveled quite a few times through Kansai area and I never saw adverts regarding contraception, protection against AIDS/HIV like I usually see in the western part of the world. I would assume that Japanese don’t feel comfortable to talk about these personal issues- especially not to foreigners since we will never be considered a part of their society no matter how many years we spend here. But what about the birth control? What about the abortion? Is it legal? Is it  a taboo subject?

 I wanted to discover why and I think I found the answer to some of my questions during these 3 months spend in Japan. I came from an Eastern culture where very many things are similar to Japan. People don’t really receive sexual education about these issues. As a female you may be considered promiscuous if you know too much about sex and its negative sides or how to protect yourself. People do not talk about it. Especially not the older generations who grow up in a different system.

The birth control pill was made legal in Japan in June 1999 after Viagra was legalized 6 months before. Women do not use birth control because they are afraid about the consequences. They are also afraid of what people may say about them and their family if they have the freedom to choose when to have a family by using this modern contraception method. Why is abortion preferred over contraction?
Abortion in Japan is legal, not covered by the national issuance and its costs may vary from $1000 to $2000. Many females use abortion as a contraception method which may be more harmful that the pill. After having an abortion a female usually goes and and solves her moral dilemma by having a mizuko kuyo or or a water child.

I am wondering why Japan which is considered as one of the most developed countries in the world does not use modern contraception methods? Why did the government have to legalize first Viagra and not the birth control pill? I though that Japan is pretty open towards modernization. My impressions towards Japan changed. I am still surprised to see how the government have prejudices against the contemporary issues Japan (and other many countries) are facing nowadays.

Coleman, S. (1983). “Chapter 7: Sexuality,” from Family planning in Japanese society,  Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 156-183.
Hardacre, H. (1997). Marketing the menacing fetus in Japan. Berkeley University of California Press.
Perrett, R.W. (2000). Buddhism, abortion and the middle way. Asian Philosophy, 10(2), 101-114. 
Sahar, G. & Karasawa, K. (2005). Is the personal always political? A cross-cultural analysis of abortion attitudes. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 27(4), 285-296.
Yoshimoto, A. (2009, October 12). Birth control pill still unpopular in Japan. The Japan Times

Pictures borrowed from:

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Hikikomori and Otaku

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to get informed about one of the most controversial social problems in Japan. My classmates talked about Hikikomori and Otaku in Japan.

Social issues in Japan affect both girls and boys. Things such as social withdrawal equally affect growing boys and girls because of different social experiences and expectations. However, with this being said, the condition known as Hikikomori affects boys more than girls. These boys are from the middle or upper classes of society. Usually, the cause for this shift toward the Hikikomori lifestyle is from traumatic events such as academic or social failure.  
What are Hikikomori?

 Hikikomori are people who do not want to leave their house or room and isolate themselves from society for a period of more than six months. In some cases, people remain in isolation for years or even decades.

What is an otazuku?

Otaku is the name given to people who have immersed themselves into the world of Anime and Manga. They somewhat stray away from the social norms of society. Most otaku are socially awkward in normal terms, however unlike Hikikomori they have the ability to communicate with others for networks of connections with people who share their interest. Hikikomori, on the other hand, simply shut people out completely.

Do they have a disease?  

Hikikomori has been connected with people who go through pervasive developmental disorders, which are also known as PDDs. PDDs are a group of disorders which include Asperger’s PDD-NOS (Atypical Autism) and “Classic” Autism. However, these are Western terms, which describe things according to a Western mindset. What puts Hikikomori in a different light is that Hikikomori occurs with social and cultural pressures that are found in Japan.

When did this issue start?

    - Tokokyohi -> School Refusals
    - Otakuzoku -> Obsessive Anime and Manga Fanatics
    - Great economic prosperity of post-war Japan and the technological boom, which changed Japan’s social structure.   

I never thought that these people exist! The first time I met one was here at Kansai Gaidai; a female born in the United States. I tried to have a conversation with her and it didn't go well because I have no clue about manga, anime and video games. I asked her polietely where is she from and what is her name. And the reply was, “I am from United States. Do you like pokemon?”

Is she a hikikomori or an otaku? I don’t know. I came from a less fortunate part of the world where people cannot afford these kind of expenses. Can be manga and anime regarded as a hobby, passion, obsession, or a lifestyle? I don’t want to judge anybody. Yet I would like to ask why some people spend money on games, anime and manga as opposed to having intimate relationships with others (both plutonic and romantic).

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Nippon Kempo and Judo Photographic Exhibition

I am holding a photographic exhibition In the student lounge 2 (next building to the CIE building).
Being the first student at this university to do a photographic exhibition, ever since September I have been eager to share my passion for photography and martial arts with other students at Kansai Gaidai.
I am happy that I had the opportunity to meet the judo and Nippon Kempo club members.

Visual Anthropology of Japan Photographic Exhibition Poster

I hope that you all will go and take a look at my pictures and perhaps share some opinions. I will be really grateful.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Hiroshima part 1

I guess that everybody knows about the tragic event, which took place in August 1945 at 8:15 AM. So did I. Prior to my visit in Hiroshima this autumn I talked about this disaster in one of my presentations at university in London. I didn’t elaborate my research about too much because the atomic bomb was not the main focus.
On the 31st of August I came to Japan and I didn’t know I would have the opportunity to go to Hiroshima with my politics and history classes. I never thought that I would have had the opportunity to meet and listen to an Atomic Bomb survivor, but I did and I will never forget this wonderful experience!

On the 9th of October we went to Hiroshima. I was very excited yet very afraid about this trip. I didn’t know how it is going to be. I never seen or talked to someone who survived the atomic before.

I woke up, I packed my bag and I went to Hirakata station. The bus was full of students from Kansai Gaidai. We met our teacher there and we all went to Osaka Shin station where we took the Shinkansen. Being born in a poor part of the world makes me fully appreciate everything that is modern, new or different from my home country. We found our car seats, we settled down in perhaps one of the fastest trains in the world. I spent so much time staring at all details around me.

Shinkansen's details

After a while my teacher came and asked me for “a favour”. He asked me if I could give the victim a gift at the end of her speech. I felt so lucky… We arrived in Hiroshima, we took the streetcar and we arrived near the peace park (more precisely in front of the A-dome). I was shocked for several minutes; I left and I saw the bridge, the park and the museum. Everything was new and clean, fully recovered after 60 years. I didn’t know if this applied to its citizens too…

Walking towards the Peace Museum


I finally entered the museum, had a glance at some items at the first floor and then rushed to the conference room. I was listening for the victim for one hour and it completely changed the opinion about the world I live in. Nobody at the time knew that an atomic bomb was dropped. She didn’t know what was happening to her family since she was on the way to school alone when the tragedy happened. She also didn’t know about her future after the atomic bomb. I could barely keep myself from crying.
Anna-Lotta and I walking towards the Peace Museum

I was also embarrassed when one of the students attempted to read a melodramatic speech using posh British English...or maybe Canadian English. Why? We were born in the same country. Almost everybody looked at me. He was instructed not to do so but obviously, he didn’t care. He wanted to do something interesting or fascinating, but it definitely failed.
At the end of the meeting, I went with 3 of my friends and I gave her the present. I will never forget that handshake. My eyes were tearing and I continuously asked myself why this happened.
Peace Park
I felt like I just came from a funeral and I could not pay attention to all details the museum offered at that time. So, I visited the museum twice. I certainly will never forget all of the special moments this trip to Hiroshima offered me!

Peace Park

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A Japanese Prison

Five weeks ago I told my Japanese teacher that I was going to prison and she was shocked. She asked me: why are you so excited about? What did you do Grigore-san? And I replied I am going with my fascinating teacher to visit a Japanese prison.

After one hour of driving to Shiga Prefecture we finally arrive; the place was very clean.  We were welcomed by 3 guards and we we sat in a conference room where we watched a documentary about the prison, had a tour around the prison, which was followed by a question and answer session.

I discovered that Japan is not really happy about admitting people to prison. One may say that there is a theory about the sociology of crime in this country, and therefore there are about 2 million crimes are reported per year, 95% of which are disposed of. I also discovered that it is preferable to confess, admit, apologize, express your deepest sorrow for committing the crime rather than hiring a lawyer. I thought that Japan, lawyers evade truth.

Then I asked myself: “Why does it matter if I did something wrong? I confessed it and don’t need to waste time and money on a lawyer who might not be successful enough in order to help me. I guess this process is actually pretty easy and also honest, isn’t it?”

I visited is a “Class A” prison. In Japan there are 8 classes of prison: juvenile prison, gaijin prison, women’s prison, class B, etc. The institution we visited is about 40 years old, and it looks incredible. (Compared to a Romanian one, it can be considered Heaven). Prisoners are 26+ years old, and all of them are sentenced for no more than 9 years. interesting, isn’t it? Apparently there are no gang members but we discovered that was an 80+ year old murderer who had killed a family member and therefore he is spending 6 years in jail. The rest of the prisoners were mostly involved in robbery, embezzlement or economic crimes.

The tour around the prison was extremely interesting.  There is a factory where prisoners work and this is because according to the Japanese constitution, every Japanese citizen must work, and prisoners are of course citizens. “Woooow,” I thought, ”this will probably never happen in the country where I was born.” Prisoners in Japan make many different items such as bed sheets, carton bags, futons and wooden ornaments. These things are then sold and the revenue goes to the Ministry of Justice. I am wondering what prisoners in other countries do.

One may argue that another important fact is that the Japanese reward their prisoners which means more work = more food plus, a mark on the uniform to indicate that this prisoner has been well-behaved for a period of time. (blue=6 months and red=1 year). Moreover, prisoners also are welcome to join clubs: music, literature, sports, and even calligraphy.

I was surprised when I first saw a Japanese cell because  it looks more spacious, cleaner and even more fun than my own dorm room: and I forgot to mention…each cell has a TV set.  Prisoners can order books, magazines, manga, and board games online and from the library.

The guards in the prison don’t carry guns. The prisoners in the factory work with knives. Escape attempts? Organized violence? None! I am wondering why…

After a prisoner has done his time, he goes through a graduation ceremony, and receives a certificate with cute Japanese calligraphy that says that he has successfully completed “the program”. Isn’t that kawaii?

So if I am not successful enough in my life should I commit a crime in Japan, confess and go to  prison?!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Different lives through lenses

Last week we had the opportunity to watch two interesting documentaries about Annie Leibovitz and James Natchwey. Both of them are famous American photographers from whom I enriched my perspective as a trainee photographer.

If I asked random people to name few famous artists (such as Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Whoopi  Goldberg, etc.), you can be sure that Annie Leibovitz has photographed them.  I found fascinating the fact that she usually develops simple ideas into what she became famous for: wild lit, stage and provocative portraits of celebrities. On the other hand , James Natchwey, also uses simple ideas, even though he is a war photographer.  He then develops these ideas into photographic projects, many of which are known all over the world.

Both Leibovitz and Natchwey  gained their photographic experience by travelling in many parts of the world; Leibovitz travelled to Japan with her mother the summer after her sophomore year at San Francisco Art Institute.  She discovered her interest in photography here in Japan.  On the other hand, James Natchwey took pictures in many countries and regions where conflict arose: Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Africa, and Latin America, and the Middle East.  I found it very interesting that after taking millions of photographs, Leibovitz and Natchwey finally decided upon their fields or specialty (fashion and war photography, respectively).

I admire the fact that both of them have a special connection with the subject they pictures. For example, in 1980 when Leibovitz photographed for Rolling Stone she asked John Lennon and Yoko Ono to pose nude together.  Lennon was not happy with her first ideas and Leibovitz didn’t insist about it. She always respected what her subjects would like to pose.  On the other hand, Natchwey is always in the middle of the conflict.  After he familiarizes with the subjects of his portrait, he usually takes close-up pictures of them.

I am very happy that I had the opportunity to watch these documentaries in the class which allowed me to develop my skills in photography and visual anthropology. Even though these photographers specialize in different areas, they are very similar and I learned a lot about the techniques and approaches in both portrait-fashion and war photography.


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A Special Japanese Portrait

  Kensuke Shiota- a great friend...

During my first week at Kansai Gaidai University I met many people with whom I started to hang out. My fear of meeting new people disappeared the moment I went out for dinner with people I only knew for a few hours…

at Kansai Gaidai Houseclub

This is how I met Kensuke Shiota, a KGU student who practices Judo  at university.  I went to visit Caleb, a ryugakusee who started practicing judo this term; after the practice I had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of all his teammates. I was curious about Judo and I asked few questions…This martial art was completely new to me and therefore I thought of visiting more often.  Thus I asked the members if I could come and take pictures of their future practices. A few weeks later, they invited me to a judo tournament.  I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to get to know them better.

Judo Tournament

 winning the match

Kensuke, my model for this post, is a handsome, funny, intelligent guy who always cheers people up when he makes jokes in American slang. I admire the fact that he is ambitious and he concentrates a lot on his club work.  It was a wonderful experience to see him performing at the tournament, which was different from the regular practices at Kansai Gaidai University clubhouse.

practicing before the judo match

Going to the practices on a regular basis allowed me to understand and observe his personality and behavior towards his teammates and international students. Moreover, after the competition we all went out and had a great time. Kensuke is always happy when I ask him to take pictures of him. He sometimes jokes that he would be a superstar after reading this post. Hope he will be happy about this text too… :)

Winning the prize

not "a real" portrait but still funny...