Miss Universe Japan — spectacle, race, and dreams

japansociology:

Ariana Miyamoto’s victory in the Miss Universe Japan contest has raised debates about race, representation, gender, and identity. While hāfu women are very visible in fashion and mass media in Japan, these women are rarely Blackanese. Recent events, like a blackface performance by Momoiro Clover Z and a call for apartheid, in Japan have reminded us that Japanese society has a long way to go in acknowledging and accepting the diversity of its population. Thus Ms Miyamoto’s victory gives hope that maybe, just maybe, things are changing in Japan. Mitzi Uehara Carter’s blogpost shares some important insights on these issues.

Originally posted on Grits and Sushi:

The newly crowned Miss Universe Japan is Blackanese.  No, she’s Japanese.  No, she’s Haafu.  Multiracial? Mixed?  Japanese enough to represent Japan in a silly beauty contest?  Ariana Miyamoto is from Nagasaki, Japan and her win has whipped up both excitement and disdain.  The issue of representation has emerged yet again for those anxious about the nation’s performance on the global beauty stage. These pageants, the spectacle of “national authentic beauty” are always a site where race and gender intersect in convoluted, messy ways and Miyamoto’s racial difference has sparked a series of interesting questions about how to identify “Japaneseness” through the body of women.

Ariana Miyamoto

Weather you’re a pageant supporter or not, the social commentary these kinds of wins generate in everyday discourse is telling of how race is framed in mainstream Japanese and transnational media circuits and they should not be easily dismissed.  While people outside Japan seem…

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Blackface Remains Mainstream in Japan

japansociology:

Teen idol group Momoiro Clover posing in blackface with singing group Rats and Star

A quick post to note that blackface remains part of mainstream Japanese culture, as shown by the pictures of teen idol group Momoiro Clover posing in blackface. Despite the fact that the girls in the group are quite young, they seem to be going after an older demographic. First they record a song with KISS, and now they’re performing in blackface. Will their next single be a new version of “Mammy”?

What does it say about race relations in Japan when in one week we have an op-ed in a major newspaper calling for a system of apartheid, and a teen girl group performs in blackface? It’s depressing that my post on blackface is as current now as it was four years ago. Please click the link below to read my 2011 post on blackface in Japan, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Originally posted on JAPANsociology:

Window Display of Ufu and Mufu

by Robert Moorehead

Imagine my surprise as I walked through Kyoto Station’s shopping areas today, when I came across a large window display filled with cartoon images of blackface children. Skin as dark as night, giant, oval eyes, ruby red lips, and large, bushy afros greet customers to the shop “Mono Comme Ça.” The display announces the release of a sequel to “Little Black Sambo,” called “Ufu and Mufu: The Cute Little Twins’ Big Adventures.” Ufu and Mufu are Sambo’s younger twin siblings. The parents, Mambo and Jambo, are still around, and with Mambo still dressed as a mammy, right down to her plus-size body, red apron, and red bandana. Accompanying the release of the book are a CD-DVD combo, and various merchandise, like pins, patches, dolls, mugs, and purses, all adorned with jet black faces and giant eyes. The DVD features a…

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As American as Apple Pie?

English: Apple pie.

English: Apple pie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Lourdes Fritts

It is always amusing to observe the looks of disbelief in a classroom when the topic of invented traditions is being discussed. Some look betrayed as if their whole life had been a lie, while others scratch their heads and ask “Well, weren’t all traditions invented at some point?”

Unfortunately, I must confess that I generally fall under the same category as the head scratchers. There are certain qualities of an invented tradition that don’t make sense to me. For example, the discussion in this case was about the Scottish kilt, Hugh Trevor-Roper (1983) argues that the Scottish kilt was not an ancient Highlander tradition, but rather workwear designed for Scots by an Englishman; the kilt was not even considered to be a cultural asset until the noblemen began to wear it and refer to it as such. While these two facts are not exactly difficult for me to grasp, it is the fact that the kilt can be considered an invented tradition when the version that we know today was created in 1745 (Trevor-Roper 1983). Hasn’t it been long enough for it just to be considered a tradition?

In 1745 my home country, the United States, hadn’t even been officially created yet. This lead me to ask myself if there are any genuine traditions present in modern America that cannot be classified as “invented”. It is common knowledge that many aspects of culture and tradition in America have derived from the cultures that immigrants brought with them. While all traditions were invented at some point, the term “invented tradition” refers to a pre-existing symbol, item, or ritual that has been repurposed to fit the new needs of society (Hobsbawn and Ranger 1983). But what about traditions that serve little to no purpose such as a food like apple pie?

Apple pie is considered to be a traditional American treat, in fact the phrase “as American as apple pie” describes something or someone that is archetypically American. However, the tasty treat is actually a blend of pastries that came from multiple European countries. Thus, it is not quite an American tradition (Ferroni 2012). This being said, can it then be considered invented? It is not an ancient dish nor is it original, but what could have possibly been accomplished by apple pie being viewed as an American tradition?

The same can be said for a number of traditions present in modern America, which leads me to believe that the definition of invented traditions needs to grow in order to include hybridity, creolization, and time progression. With cultures becoming more influenced by one and other, new traditions and meanings to old symbols are being formed. When will today’s new symbols become the next old tradition?

References

Ferroni, Nicholas. 2012. There Is Nothing More American Than Apple Pie, Right? Huffington Post, December 27. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicholas-ferroni/as-american-as-apple-pie_b_2369851.html

Hobsbawm, Eric and Terence Ranger. 1983. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Trevor-Roper, Hugh. 1983. The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland. Pp. 15-41 in The Invention of tradition, edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Non-nationals in Japan: the Burakumin

English: The_New_fighting_the_Old_in_early_Mei...

English: The_New_fighting_the_Old_in_early_Meiji_Japan circa 1870 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Miyu Fujihara

John Lie (2011) argues that:

“The predicates of peoplehood are categorically asserted rather than inductively proven. Being more prescriptive than descriptive they propose and enforce what it means to be a typical or normal member… In other words, the state and its associated institutions constitute people in their idealized image, exercising biopower that shapers society and citizens… Hence as much as modern peoplehood seeks to an inclusionary identity, it excludes relationally defined minorities of the body and of the mind.”

Simply speaking, he means that creating legislation and norms and its contents decides who’s in and out, or who is ideal, mainstream or a national, and who is an outsider, a minority or a non-national. As the title of his chapter suggests, “the paradoxes of peoplehood” implies this process.

This is greatly applicable to Burakumin in Japan. Lie (2011:179-180) discusses a process that the Burakumin went through. Even though the laws and social consciousness now acknowledge the Burakumin (although not fully), and after the Meiji Restoration gave them rights equal to the mainstream Japanese, this didn’t change much of the situation. Instead it gave the Burakumin a further burden. They were given more equal conditions, meaning they were giving the same expectations they had to meet, but this time without any protections or help from anyone, however with the persistent image that they were still at the bottom of society. They got more pressure from society, earned less money, and were remained just as poor as they had been.

Here is a related example of this paradox that my mother experienced. When my mother was in junior high school, there was a random group of kids who took extra classes. They were always taken from the classroom occasionally and studied in a different classroom. She later found it out that those kids were Burakumin and the reason why they were taking extra classes was for their education, which they had been deprived of historically. I assume that the purpose was to even out the educational opportunities and lessen the gap between the mainstream and the Burakumin. However, because they were treated differently by teachers, my mother thought that the kids were special and different from her and the rest of her classmates. This can mean that they saw the kids as different, abnormal, or a non-national group: outsiders.

Even recently, the Burakimin have been discriminated against, especially when job hunting because they have particular kinds of last names and birth places that imply a Buraku ancestry.

In Japan, who is and is not the mainstream is very explicit. I think this norm is not easy to break down as it has been passed on over generations, together with an essentialist aspect of Japanese people. However, doing nothing never helps people get out of poverty and out of the bottom stratum of the society. In my opinion, with the accelerating globalization, as long as the idea of nation-state exists, there always will be those who are “outsiders”.

Reference

Lie, John. 2011. Modern Peoplehood. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Census, Maps, and Museums

by Saki Miyata

In Chapter 10 of Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson explains censuses, maps, and museums as institutions of power which lead colonial states to imagine their dominions. Anderson explains one of the institutions, maps, as something that is “nothing visible on the ground, but demarcating an exclusive sovereignty wedged between other sovereignty”. Among the three given institutional powers, maps were one of the most interesting and relatable topic to me.

The spread of “official” maps creates an imagined shape of “our” nation, where “we” live and belong. These illustrated maps of territories however are not a concrete line but can be changed throughout history. Anderson gives an example of “imagined ties” between the widespread Dutch colonial territories by illustrating “maps-as-logos”, by using colors to show how the places were all connected.

A similar effect was brought up in class during the discussion as we examined the Japanese wartime textbook, which indicates maps of Japanese territories and the world map. This textbook was a relevant example of this week’s chapter, since the textbook convinced us how the spread of maps with color usage and the world map of Japanese being in the center was distributed through the educational system creating mindset of where Japan is.

I experienced the influence of maps and the mind-set created by them when I went to a school in Canada. Since Canada uses a world map in which England is placed in the center, it was a different “map” from what I saw in Japanese textbooks, where Japan was illustrated in the center. I immediately thought the map was wrong, and was even offended to see Japan placed at the far right of the map, like it didn’t matter, since I was able to imagine people I know and society inside this map of Japan.

When being constantly reminded of where we are connect to and belong to, we tend to look towards the things we are familiar with rather than a map of some foreign country. It is also impossible to actually imagine people living in the “uncolored pieces of the map”, thus only seeing it as a land. This reflects a colonial state of mind, of “filling in “the empty boxes that was not yet their territory.

As a recent example, maps are today not only an instrument to imagine a nation, but also colored and labeled in differently in different occasions, perspectives, in multiple places. Feeling strong sense of attachment towards “Tsu-gaku kuiki 通学区域 (school district)” in Japan could be an example. Throughout the nation, when attending public elementary school, students must go to the school which are assigned to each school district. This system creates the sense of community, since the boundary of who attend which school is clearly illustrated. Thus when students move up in middle school, and introduce which elementary they are from, people easily could imagine which part of the city they are from.

Reference

Anderson, B. (1991). Census, map, and museum. In Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (Rev. and extended ed.). London: Verso.

‘Ideal Asian Beauty’ in Skin Care Marketing

by Kiho Kozaki

In modern societies, we can observe that there are countless advertisements by mass media, companies, etc., in our daily life. It is almost impossible to not get influenced by them. Whether one recognizes it or not, one’s thought, common sense, standard of behavior, or actions are established based on these influences. Especially in the field of skin-lightening, mass media is playing an important role in idealizing the standard of beauty, according to which those who have lighter skin are more attractive and beautiful.

The global market for skin lighteners is projected to reach US$19.8 billion by 2018, based on sales growth primarily in Asia, Africa and the Middle East (McDougall, 2013). In most advertisements of skin products in Asia, we can see the appearance of Caucasian and half-Asian models. As Japanese person, I was always wondering why even Asian companies use Caucasian or half-Asian models in order to promote their products in Asia. For skin care products, I assume that is to give an impression of light-skin beauty, according to which white is more attractive and superior to dark skin. An Asian ideal image of beauty is almost created and controlled as something really hard to achieve in order to create profit, and Asian women are following those images unconsciously.

There is an argument about whether Asian women use skin-lightning products to become like Europeans. Joanne Rondilla, the author of “Filipinos and the Color Complex,” gave a different perspective, writing that many Asian women are satisfied with being Asian or having Asian features. However, they are looking to “clean up” or become “better” versions of themselves. The author repeatedly used the word “uniqueness” and “delicate” to describe Asian skin. These words can be seen in many skin care products’ advertisements in my daily life. It triggers a question for me, what does uniqueness mean in this context? I feel like there is a contradiction between the Asian women’s desire of whiteness, which is the image of beauty companies are trying to sell, and their insistence on Asian beauty and the uniqueness of their skin.

The assumption is the power. Many Asian women, including myself, have not thought about what they really want to be and what beauty means to them before purchasing the products. This is the natural consequence of every single person having a different skin tone, however, the models in skin care advertisements all seem to have the same white skin tone. The widespread phenomenon of the white standard has already become a huge pressure for Asian and other non-white women. I argue that every single person has their own way of beauty, regardless of race and skin color.

References

McDougall, A. 2013. Skin lightening trend in Asia boosts global market. Retrieved from http://www.cosmeticsdesign-asia.com/Market-Trends/Skin-lightening-trend-in-Asia-boosts-global-market

Rondilla, L. J. 2009. Fillipinos and the Color Complex. Pp. 63-80 in Shades of difference: Why skin color matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn.Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Mixed-race and Asian Ideal Beauty

by Rena Shoji

In “Filipinos and the Color Complex,” the author Joanne Rondilla (2009) discusses the global skin-lightening market and how those products demonstrate the connection between skin color and beauty. She especially focuses on the Philippines, which has gone through multiple colonization by white people, and racial and skin hierarchy have been constructed.

Rondilla argues that even though the standard of beauty in the Philippines is now inspired more by East Asian countries rather than Caucasians, the definition of beauty is still in accordance with white standards. On the one hand, non-white people tend to claim their uniqueness and originality in terms of their aesthetic values. That is, they have their own beauty standards compared to that of other parts of the world. On the other hand, in the era of globalization, it is practically impossible to ignore the influence of the global capitalism, products and ideas. There are so many products that are sold worldwide, and that implies the producers’ one message, such as, “lighter skin is better”.

Even if the message is the same, the strategies can vary depending on the time and trends. Today, it seems that using images of mixed-race Asians is becoming an effective way of marketing in the Philippines and other Asian countries. Rondilla (2009) analyzes that mixed-race people are a “relatable ideal” (p. 71). That is, they can be identified as Asian, yet they have particular features that consumers might seek or wish to have. Thus, mixed-race people can share sameness and avoid Eurocentric aesthetic values while their features are “better” than others. Their commercial values lay on the Caucasian-like features and relatable aspects as Asians.

This mixed-race popularity can be seen in Japan as well. The term hāfu (half) refers to half-Japanese. In most cases, especially in the beauty industry, hāfu refers to people who are half-Caucasian. For example, some beauty magazines feature articles on “how to look like hāfu with makeup”. It always means how to look like someone who is half-Caucasian.

What is different from the case of the Philippines is that half-Japanese models are not featured in advertisements of skin care products, while they are often in advertisements of makeup products. This could be because of the fact that Japanese people tend to think that they have their own skin color (Ashikari, 2005). This gap can stem from the colonization. The Philippines’ multiple experience of colonization makes the Philippines’ standard of beauty unique, and the so-called “color complex” there has been strongly constructed.

With regard to the preference of lighter skin, Japan and the Philippines shared different historical backgrounds. However, in the era of globalization, it seems that these two countries are  influenced by the white standard, although both claim their “uniqueness” and “Asian-ness”.

References

Ashikari, M. 2005. Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity. Journal of Material Culture 10:73-91

Rondilla, J, L. 2009. Filipinos and the color complex. Pp. 63-80 in Shades of difference: Why skin color matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano GlennStanford, CA: Stanford University Press

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 99,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Rise of the Precariat

Anonymous student post

Nowadays in the era of globalization companies are under more and more pressure to be as nimble and flexible as possible in order to be able to outmaneuver the competition. Thus in their struggle for relevance governments and employers are flexibilizing the labour markets. This takes form via short term contract based employment. It enables the employers to minimize cost and maximize gain by creating fierce competitive environment where current employees feel pressured to work their best for the prospect of future employment. Also it drives the wages down as companies are more and more looking into outsourcing their skilled labour and production. On top of all that the recent trend in employment, for the first time in history, employers demand that their employees hold higher education that , some 20 years ago, would be reasonably required for a given position. A barista at the local Starbucks probably should not require a graduate college degree in order to serve ones coffee.

As a result the working class, the proletariat, is rapidly shrinking away. And a new social class has emerged. The precariat arises, what was once a part of the now diminishing working class manifests itself as the working nomad. Without the welfare benefits of the working class there is no certainty about tomorrow and no clear established career path, the precariat has way to identify oneself within the current society.

The global economy are rapidly converging, the wages of the developed countries fall and equalize with those of the developing countries. As basic business economy would teach you perceived loss would never be forgotten. In order to ease the transition and prevent a potential upheaval the government offered subsidies for employment, cheap credit and tax subsidies. With the burst of the bubble economy all that has gone away and thus the proletariat is forced to the precariat. As every movement stems from the needs and aspirations of the society we have witnessed such movements such as Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring. Where people in the near east countries such Egypt, Libya, Yemen and other take to the streets to voice their concerns. Thus the precariat becomes self aware demanding the attention of the politicians.

So who really is the precariat? While in the developed countries it is the nomad employee with no or limited upward mobility in the developing countries the situation is more grave as the people may be in a situation of downward mobility. If that is not the case that may very well be because they have already sunk so low that there is no lower to go. Thus the precariat at this point is someone in a situation with no resolve. Thus the they need to press for new policies to be implemented to accommodate the new emerging class.

Being Mixed Race in Racially Divided America

The New Age of Slavery, by Patrick Campbell

by Lourdes Fritts

Much like the way some people do not care about their local sports team, I do not give much thought to my racial identity. This is mostly due to the fact that if I gave my race anymore thought than the occasional ponder, I would be in a constant state of identity crisis. My mother is Japanese-Korean raised in Japan, and my Father is Irish-German-Mexican raised in America. Thus I have christened myself as an “Euro-Mexi-Asian-American”. Fortunately I have been privileged enough in life where I was never made particularly conscious of my race; I have never let my race define me and very few people I’ve met have defined me by it. However, due to recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, I have become unusually conscious of my ethnic background.

After the grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson my Facebook was splashed with statuses saying things like“f*ck white people #AmeriKKKa”, and articles talking about what white people need to do about racial inequality. There were many types of reactions to the grand jury’s decision but everything ultimately boiled down to race or more specifically, the oppression of black Americans by white Americans. Every day frustrated black (along with some enlightened white) Facebook friends posted lists of black victims of police brutality and offended white friends posted articles supporting the “not all whites” stance. Quite honestly, I didn’t understand my role in this conversation, I am horrified by the violence and inequality that American society has tolerated for so long but I cannot say that I completely empathize with black Americans. I am upset about Ferguson but I was not exactly sure why.

It is this feeling of disconnect that  had made me conscious of my ambiguous racial identity. On one hand I am partially white, does that put me on the side of the oppressor? Did I feel upset because of underlying guilt?  But what about the times where I was discriminated against, what about all the times where people told me to go back to China? Was I upset because I was afraid of being a victim of violent discrimination? While it isn’t true, I couldn’t help but feel that there was really no place for me in the conversation about race, I straddled an awkward border of whiteness that made it seem that I didn’t have the right to talk about race as a minority.

I thought about all these things for a while and ultimately decided that my disgust with the Ferguson case did not derive from any sense of ethnic identity (as a white or as a minority) but rather a betrayal of my national identity. As Craig Calhoun (1993:235) puts it, “The idea of nation is itself an instance and an archetype of this classifying logic of categorical identities”. As hackneyed as it sounds, I believed that being American stood for unparalleled equality and opportunity and seeing that it was not as I believed upset me quite a bit. I realized that my national identity was stronger than my racial identity because of my racial ambiguity. While this epiphany does virtually nothing to solve the racial tensions in Ferguson, I do believe that figuring something like this out can encourage more people to act as a community.

References

Calhoun, C. 1993. Nationalism and Ethnicity. Annual Review of Sociology, 19, 211-239.

Clarke, R., & Lett, C. (2014, November 11). What happened when Michael Brown met Officer Darren Wilson – CNN.com. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2014/08/us/ferguson-brown-timeline/