Oldness is goodness: Is it truly a tradition?

by Sheena Sasaki

What is Japanese traditional food? What is Japanese worldwide known food? I am sure some people would tell me the answer sushi. However, sushi (vinegar rice topped with piece of raw fish), famous Japanese food, began to be eaten since Edo Period. Compared to relatively new nations such as the United States, 400 years of history for food may be long “tradition.” However, compared to Japanese history, which lasts since era of B.C., it is not significantly long. More important, sushi had been eaten only in limited areas of Japan since it uses fresh fish. Referring to Japanese geography as a mountainous land, it is impossible for some parts of Japan to come up with food such as raw fish. However, as the nationalization and globalization have taken place in Japan, sushi has become domestically and internationally known as a ‘traditional’ food of Japan. Thus, nationalization and internationalization have played a significant role in the invention of tradition in Japan.

This invention of tradition is becoming an issue in Japan today. In September 2013, the Japanese Supreme Court finally accepted that the law that limited  children born outside of marriage to inheriting only half the amount of “legitimate” children, as discrimination and a violation of Japan’s Constitution. Japanese denial and rejection of “illegitimate” children, adopted children, divorce, and married couples having different surnames is quite strong even now. It is not surprising to hear that children born outside of marriage were bullied in the school they attended during their youth. Also, some parents tell their children not to play with such children just because they lack real parents or their parents use different surnames.

Why do Japanese citizens strongly oppose different styles of family? Many people answer: “Because we do not want to destroy the traditional family system of Japan.” This traditional system of family is based on “ie (家)” and “koseki (戸籍)” which respectively mean house and family legislation. Thus, many Japanese citizens resist changing what is written on their koseki, with the exception of when a woman is married. However, the history of koseki is not so long as to be called traditional.

Influenced by Germany, Japan created the koseki system during the Meiji Period, the era of Japanese nationalization. The system was to support one royal family, imperial family of Japan. The imperial family is unchangeable, meaning one single bloodline is considered to be imperial. Thus, for this family to hold stronger and more important meaning, member of one koseki was also to pass down one blood. The Meiji-era civil code also stated that an ie must consist of single surname, single koseki, and single bloodline. Here, we see the family system putting an emphasis on one bloodline, which is considered as tradition today. In opposition to the word “tradition,” before the Meiji Period and the creation of koseki system, it was common to see adopted children reign as the head of the household. Compared to the ie system today, the family system used to emphasize more the surname of the household rather than bloodlines. Therefore, what is said to be the traditional family system in Japan has existed for only 100 years.

There is Japanese phrase “furuki yoki (古き良き)” which means that “old is good.” However, the invented tradition of the Japanese ie system does not seem to bring good anymore. Year by year, there is an increase of divorce, child adoption, and single parenting. These shapes of family are not considered proper families, and are targets of discrimination. Although the Japanese government has admitted that the law discriminates against certain children, the law itself has still not changed. The curse of “furuki yoki” still dominates the sense of discrimination.

Some links to news reporting issues of rights for illegitimate children

“家族とは?親子とは?揺らぐ法制度” http://www9.nhk.or.jp/gendai/kiroku/detail_3408.html

“婚外子差別の撤廃へ 民法改正案を閣議決定、戸籍法の改正は見送り” http://www.huffingtonpost.jp/2013/11/12/kongaishi-minpo-_n_4258246.html

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Colorism and Discrimination in Japan’s Marriage Scene

Kiyohara no Natsuno (清原夏野) was a Japanese Heia...

Kiyohara no Natsuno (清原夏野) was a Japanese Heian era courtier and bureaucrat.This picture was drawn by Kikuchi Yosai(菊池容斎) who was a painter in Japan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Seimu Yamashita

The concept of “white supremacy” has spread almost everywhere around the world, along with colonization. This concept of deeming lighter skin as better has been problematized since it contains aspects of racial discrimination, compared to other physical traits, such as height. This paper will deal with colorism, which can be a form of racial discrimination, but is simply discrimination according to skin color. It is not common to find a distinct lighter skin color preference or privilege in Japan like that in India, possibly because of its mostly homogeneous population. However, a preference for a fair complexion as a form of beauty still exists in Japan. This paper will address colorism in Japan by looking at Japan’s marriage scene, which is assumed to have a clear connection with colorism. This paper will analyze how Japan’s marriage scene relates to the concept of white supremacy, addressing how fair complexions are preferred over other skin colors, and treated as a trait of beauty in women.

The first part of this essay will describe the history of fair skin as a beauty trait in Japan. The second part of essay will explain Japan’s marriage scene, and the role fair complexions play in the shifting scene. The third part of the essay will describe how there is still a preference for fair skin in modern Japanese society. Finally, a conclusion will be drawn by comparing the situation of the preference for fair complexions in Japan with other multi-racial countries.

It is crucial to know the origin of the preference for fair skin in Japan. White skin is actually a traditional concept of beauty, with the notion of fair complexions as beautiful in Japan started in the Heian Era, from 794AD to 1192AD (Graham-Diaz, 2001). The reason for the preference of fair skin back then is quite different from today. The lifestyles of rich, noble women who were considered sophisticated and classy during the Heian Era consisted of just staying indoors in their residence without going outside, waiting for the men to be back. In this era, it was semi-dark inside the residence even during the daytime and there was not enough light at night thus women needed to have extremely white complexions, so that the face would stand out and be attractive in such environment where there is not enough light. That is why the tradition of putting powder on their face to make it look white began. White powder thus became a common make-up to look beautiful in the Heian Era. However, the trend of applying heavy make-up on the face did not last long, and died out after the Heian period. It was in the Edo era (1603AD to 1868AD) that such make-up became popular again. This style of make-up still remains in Japan on maiko and geisha who are now symbolic of the traditional city of Kyoto (Graham-Diaz, 2001). Although the standard of other physical preferences in Japan differed in different times of history, women with fair complexion have been always preferred, not just during the Heian and Edo periods.

In this second part the focus will shift to Japan’s marriage scene, which is a great scene to view the preference of fair complexions even through the many shifts and changes over time. In Japan, there have been two types of marriage: arranged marriage s and love marriages. Although more than 90 percent of today’s marriages in Japan are love marriages, arranged marriages were more common until a few decades ago. Data show that the shift of the percentage from arranged marriages to love marriages in Japan has been dramatic. Arranged marriages accounted for nearly 70% in the 1930s, but the proportion of love marriages gradually increased, whilst arranged marriage decreased relatively. The number of love marriages surpassed the number of arranged marriages only recently in the 1960s (National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center, n.d.).

The traditional Japanese style arranged marriage is called miai. In the process of miai, a written profile with a picture called tsurigaki is used as a marriage resume that helps find a marriage partner (Hendry, 1981). A person who wants to get married gives his/her tsurigaki to a matchmaker. The matchmaker tries to find a good partner for them either from other tsurigaki he or she has or from tsurigaki other matchmakers have. The matchmakers pass the tsurigaki to the potential couple, and if they are interested, they can arrange a meeting.

In miai, there has been racial, class, and genetic discrimination. The most common discrimination was against members of the Burakumin. A matchmaker requires candidates to submit a family history to prove that they are not a member of the Burakumin. Many Zainichi Koreans were also discriminated against for being non-pure Japanese. Members of the Ainu, an indigenous people in Hokkaido were usually avoided as well. As a genetic discrimination, descendants of hibakusha, those who were exposed to radiation from the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were avoided since there were stories of possibilities of rare diseases (Uchida, 2002). Due to such discrimination, those people could not even have the opportunity for having miai.

There was also a preference for women with a fair complexion; however, this did not mean people of darker complexions could not participate in miai. The existence of a preference for a white skin was because of its beauty, and a belief that can be seen from an Japanese old proverb: 色の白いは七難隠す, which literally means a fair complexion hides faults (Old Proverb Dictionary, n.d.). It is basically saying that as long as a woman has fair skin, she can be forgiven for her faults. Thus even if a woman’s other features are not considered beautiful, having a fair complexion is the most important in determining her beauty.

This third part will address a preference for a fair skin in modern Japanese society. As stated in the introduction, it is not really common to feel and find white supremacy recent days in Japan. As can be seen by the explanation of white skin as form of traditional beauty, this may be because white skin is not associated with Europeans or being a different race. It only means having a fair complexion compare to everyone else in society who are mostly Japanese. As the form of marriage shifted to love marriage and people desperately look for love, the online matching site became popular in Japan (Tokuhiro, 2010). Getting deeper into the online world, more casual version of matching site, online dating sites also appeared. People especially young generation use the site to meet new people. On the website, they make profile for other people to look at. Thus, modern days tsurigaki is online and more casual. Same as a miai picture, a picture is important for the profile to give good impression on both matching site and online dating site.

Recently, girls use apps to edit their photos to make them more attractive. For example, they make their face look whiter and make their eyes bigger. Another type of edited photo that is used for profile is purikura. Purikura is a type of photo that is popular among girls in Japan.

Purikura automatically edits the people to look prettier. For example, it makes eyes bigger, makes legs longer, and sharpens chin and nose. The most obvious change purikura makes is the skin. It makes skin look brighter and whiter. Those effects of purikura reflect a physical preference for women. Hence, recently in Japan, we can acknowledge the existence of a fair complexion for women by looking at technology.

In conclusion, the form of marriage has shifted from arranged marriage to love marriage in Japan. Comparing to the marriage scene for example, in India, Japan’s preference in fair complexion seems to not be as prominent, but still exists. This may be because it is a relatively homogenous society, so everyone has a similar level of skin colour, whereas in India, there are different races that have differences in complexions. In Japan, the concept of white skin as beautiful has existed since the Heian period in the 1st century, and still exists today as can be seen in the purikura machines that automatically make girls have features that they believe are beautiful. The marriage scene reflected how women’s beauty were determined only by how fair their skin was, and how having darker skin put a woman at a disadvantage of being wanted as a bride, which in the end, is not so different to the discrimination in a country like India.

References

  1. Graham-Diaz, N. (2001). Make-Up of Geisha and Maiko. Immortal Geisha. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://www.immortalgeisha.com/makeup_01.php
  2. Hendry, J. (1981). Marriage in changing Japan: community and society. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  3. National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center. (n.d.) Basic research for trends in births. Retrieved December 23, 2013 from http://www8.cao.go.jp/shoushi/whitepaper/w-2009/21webhonpen/html/i1112000.html
  4. Old Proverb Dictionary. (n.d.). Ironoshiroiwa shichinan kakusu(A fair complexion hides faults). Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://kotowaza-allguide.com/i/iroshiroishichinankakusu.html
  5. Tokuhiro, Y. (2010). Marriage in contemporary Japan. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
  6. Uchida, T. (2002, October 26). Research Institute about discrimination in marriage. Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://blhrri.org/kenkyu/project/kekkon/kekkon_0002.html
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From arranged to love marriages in Japan

by Seimu Yamashita

I researched the relationship between Japan’s marriage scene and race and ethnicity by comparing the cases of Japan and India. The vast majority of marriages in India are arranged marriages, in which usually a family member initiates and determines the marriage partner. However, more than 90 percent of marriages in Japan are love marriages. If we look at the data showing the shift of the percentage of love marriages and arranged marriages in Japan, we see that arranged marriages accounted for nearly 70% of all marriages in Japan in the 1930s. The proportion of love marriages gradually increased (and that of arranged marriage decreased relatively), surpassing arranged marriages in the 1960s.

Japanese-style arranged marriage is called miai. In the process of miai, a profile with a picture, called tsurigaki, has been used as a marriage ad. It functions as a curriculum vitae for marriage. A person who wants to get married gives his/her tsurigaki to a matchmaker. The matchmaker tries to find its partner either from other tsurigaki he or she has or from tsurigaki that other matchmakers have.

In the miai process, there was racial, class, and genetic discrimination. The most common discrimination was against members of the Burakumin. A matchmaker requires candidates to submit a family history to prove that they are not a member of the Burakumin. Many Zainichi Koreans were also discriminated against for being non-pure Japanese. Members of the Ainu, an indigenous people in Hokkaido, were usually avoided as well. As a genetic discrimination, descendants of Hibakusha, those who were exposed to the radiation from the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were avoided since there were stories of possibilities of rare diseases. Due to such discriminations, those people could not even have the opportunity for having miai.

There were preferences in ascribed characteristics such as class and family standing in miai. Moreover, in miai, there was a preference for women with a fair complexion, but not as much as India’s case. The existence of a preference for a white skin can be seen from Japanese old proverb: 色の白いは七難隠す, which literally means a fair complexion hides faults. It is basically saying that as long as a woman has a fair skin, she can be forgiven for her faults.

In conclusion, the form of marriage has shifted from arranged marriage to love marriage in Japan. Comparing to the marriage scene in India, Japan’s preference in fair complexion seems to not be as prominent, but still exists.

References

  1. National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center. (n.d.) Basic research for trends in births. Retrieved December 23, 2013 from http://www8.cao.go.jp/shoushi/whitepaper/w-2009/21webhonpen/html/i1112000.html
  2. Hendry, J. (1981). Marriage in changing Japan: community and society. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  3. Ironoshiroiwa shichinan kakusu (A fair complexion hides faults). (n.d.). Old Proverb Dictionary. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://kotowaza-allguide.com/i/iroshiroishichinankakusu.html
  4. Uchida, T. (2002, October 26). Research Institute about discrimination in marriage. Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://blhrri.org/kenkyu/project/kekkon/kekkon_0002.html
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Matrimonial Advertisements Reflecting Social Values

by Yuan Mingyang

Vaid (2009) researched matrimonial advertisements in India, and by immigrants from India. Values that are promoted in the society can be found in the matrimonial advertisements. For example, the advertisements stressed caste, class, education, appearance, and the one that is the main subject of Vaid, the skin complexion (p. 148).

Vaid’s study showed that the preference for light skin tone has a continuous influence on the perception of beauty and other behaviors of the Indian immigrants. The study also showed a clear gender difference between the importance of “fair” skin complexion for men and for women, which may prove that the skin complexion is rather a criteria of beauty for the females (Ibid).

There are some similarities between the situation in India and that in China. According to Vaid (2009), “marriage is a central aspect of societal functioning in South Asia” (p. 148). Marriage is also very important in China due to the strong bonds of and pressure from the family. Vaid also mentioned that arranged marriage is the major form of marriage in India. According to Zhou et al. (1997), arranged marriage is a long lasted tradition in China, and after the economic reform in the 1980s, people started to find their marriage partners on their own. Matrimonial advertisements also started to appear in newspapers and magazines after the reform (ibid). China also has a long history of skin lightening (Leong, 2006). Therefore, similar characteristics may be found in these matrimonial advertisements in China, as Vaid did in the study in India.

Zhou et al. (1997) pointed out that several terms are frequently used in the self-description, for instance, age, height, appearance, and education (p. 68). The social values in a changing society can also be detected in the advertisements. For example, Zhou et al. mentioned a discrimination against short people and an increasing concern with one’s financial status.

There is also a clear division in the roles of different genders expected in the matrimonial advertisements (Ibid). Not much about the skin complexion was mentioned by Zhou et al., and their study is quite outdated due to rapid changes in China.

Nowadays, people can post their advertisements online in some special websites (The website viewed by the author: http://www.r680.com/). These advertisements usually have photographs, which led to fewer people describing their physical features in their self-description. However, even though the advertisements are with photos, a small proportion of people still mentioned their light skin tone, and they usually relate their skin tone to youth. Moreover, photoprocessing to make skin color lighter has become a business in China (Anon, as cited in Leong, 2006), and the common use of photoprocessing software should also be noticed, for there is a possibility that the photos used in the advertisements have been processed, although there is no concrete evidence.

In conclusion, the preference for light skin tone can be detected in the recent matrimonial advertisements online in China. It should also be concerned that the use of photographs in the advertisements may also change one’s perception of skin color. One can also have a general image of the nature of matrimonial advertisements by comparing the situation in China with that in India.

References

  1. Leong, S. (2006). Who’s the fairest of them all? Television ads for skin-whitening cosmetics in Hong Kong. Asian Ethnicity, 7(2), 167-181. doi: 10.1080/14631360600736215
  2. Vaid, J. (2009). Fair enough?: Color and the commodification of self in Indian matrimonials. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters (pp. 148-165). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  3. Zhou, N., Yau, O. H. M, & Lin, L. (1997). For love or money: A longitudinal content analysis of Chinese personal advertisements, 1984-1995. Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, 19(2), 65-77.
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Mestizaje and the social gap

by Yuan Mingyang

Villarreal (2010) conducted research on social stratification by skin color in Mexico, and found that people with lighter skin usually have higher education than people with darker skin. Villarreal also found that people with lighter skin usually have occupations with better social status and higher salary. Navarrette (2012) also noticed that the jobs with higher salary are usually for people with lighter skin. The author suggested that people can see people with lighter skin “on television, in politics, and in academia”, while people with darker skin are often found “on construction sites, in police forces and in restaurant kitchens” (para. 11).

What’s more, the ideology of mestizaje in Veracruz, which makes people try their best to “clean the race” and lighten their skin color (Sue, 2009), may further enlarge the gap of education, financial power and social status between people with lighter skin and people with darker skin in Mexico. According to Sue, many people in Veracruz prefer lighter skin and European body features, even for those who are dating people with darker skin. Therefore, a large proportion of people in Veracruz would choose people with lighter skin as their partners. The author also mentioned that it is not acceptable for everyone to marry someone with lighter skin. The author claimed that many partners of men with darker skin who are rich or have high social status usually have lighter skin.

Since Villarreal (2010) argued that there is a stratification of skin color in Mexico, it is a reasonable conclusion that the number of poor people with darker skin is larger than the number of wealthy people with darker skin. Therefore, the descendants of this relatively small proportion will leave other people with darker skin behind, who are expected to be poor, and become people with lighter skin. As a result, the financial gap between those who have lighter skin and those who have darker skin will be enlarged. The situation in Mexico is not like that in the US where White people tend to get better jobs.

In Mexico, two trends of force enlarge the gap. People with lighter skin can get better jobs in Mexico, which means that they are wealthier. In the same time, the skin color of wealthy people is getting lighter and lighter. The ideology of mestizaje gives no chance to most of people with dark skin color in Veracruz, who are treated unequally while still believing there is only one Mexican, since there is race blindness in Mexico, according to Sue.

References

Navarrette, R. (2012, November 20th). In Mexico, racism hides in plain view. CNN. Retrievd from http://edition.cnn.com/2012/11/20/opinion/navarrette-mexico-racism/

Sue, C. A. (2009). The dynamics of color: Mestizaje, racism, and blackness in Veracruz, Mexico. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters (pp. 114-128). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Villarreal, A. (2010). Stratification by skin color in contemporary Mexico. American Sociology Review, 75(5), 652-678.

Marrying not for One’s Self but for Others: Hinduism in India

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by Aya Murakami

“We believe in Love Marriage. But we cannot marry someone who have different customs, religion, speak different language. ”

Different ethnic groups, religions and language exist in India, where has the 7th largest area and 2nd largest population in the world. In India, there are over eight religions, complex social stratification system called caste, and more than 15 language is spoken in different areas. Since different religions have very different cultures, I will talk about Indian Hindus in this post, which accounts for 80% of the total population in India, and consider their ideas towards marriage. (When I mention “Indian” in this post, it refers to “Hindu”.)

Arranged marriage is very popular in India. There are newspaper ads and internet matrimonial service has been becoming popular. Currently, I live with several Indian students and I asked them about this matrimonial service. Most of them have visited one of these websites and told me which factors they look at when choosing the partner.

  1. Caste
  2. Economic Class of the Partner and his/her family
  3. Job Status for Men/Appearance for Women

The same religion and the same caste are absolute requirement, and better economic class is preferable, they told me. But, the third comes job status for men and appearance for women. Job status for men is related to economic class, however, what is exactly “appearance” means? Which characteristics Indians put importance on?

  1. Fair
  2. Slim
  3. Facial Features

Having “Fair” skin is the most and very important feature of appearance, Neha and Tanushree, two Indian girls told me. Although there is a famous skin lightening cream called Fair & Lovely, Neha who belongs to the highest caste, Brahmins, said that skin-lightening cream is barely used in her caste since most of the people have “fair” skin. General idea of skin tone in India is that the lower the caste the darker people’s skin tone becomes and the darker their skin tone the more likely people use skin-lightening cream.

family

“It is not about how you feel, it is about how it will affect your family and how it will portrait your family in the society.”

Coming back to the Indian Hindu and their marriage, through reading books and talking with my Indian friends, I realized that they often used the word “we” instead of the word “I”. I thought that it represents the idea that first priority for Indian people is not how they feel but how the others feel. Thus, when it comes to marriage, their first concern not whether or not they love someone but how their society and families judge them. That is one of the reasons why arranged marriage is popular than love marriage in India. Religion, caste, economic class and appearance, each factors plays important role in Indian marriage. Marriage determines social status of Indian’s family in their society, thus arranged marriage is considered as necessary to carefully consider how well the partner can represent the family in the society.

by Kaori Isobe

About a half of century ago, arrange marriages were very common in Japan. Before World War 2, most people got married through arranged marriages. However, after WW2, Western culture came into Japanese society and made the society change. Nowadays, it is very common that people often got married with someone who they really love. Arranged marriage in Japan is almost gone.

However, in recent years, there are a lot of sites about dating, and many people try to find new wife/husband. Also a town provides opportunities to set up machi-Kon. Machi-Kon is what the town or city set up and give opportunities to single participants to get know each other. This is like Japanese arranged marriage, called omiai. Omiai is known as arranged marriage, the traditional system of formal introductions through family connections or third parties with a view to arranged marriage (The Japan times, Feb.21, 2010).  What is the difference from original omiai is that participants can meet many single people in one event. But machi-kon still has the principle of omiai, such as participants can meet someone like their favorite type of persons. Omiai sounds old-fashioned. However, as society changes, omiai system has been changing.

If the number of marriage opportunities increases, the number of marriages also increases. The number of marriage increases, the birth rate also increases. Then, the number of children increases, the number of employer will increases, then these processes and influence would make Japanese economy grow.

However, there is reality issue facing us, and making us avoid getting married. About 50% of thirties men who work as regular employees have a girlfriend or wife. However, on the other hand, in thirties men who work as contract employees, only about 20 % of them have a girlfriend or wife. This shows that work condition is very important for marriage. Some women do not get married because their boyfriends’ salary is very low. It’s very hard for men to get married if they are contract employees or something like it. First of all, the government should haves to change this Japanese employment structure, so that employees can live in a society which respects each employment. The government is working on welfare facilities but also basic, really needed condition such as employment condition.

In a conclusion, marriage is very important for life. Many scientists say that if the number of children will be decreasing much faster, Japanese economy will fall. To increase the number of marriages, first of all, the government has to fix this society such as over working, contractual and regular work system and so on. From omiai to the government, every single issue is related each other. Omiai would be one actor that will help Japanese society change to a good way.

References

NHK解説委員室 http://www.nhk.or.jp/kaisetsu-blog/400/124874.html

The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/9206205/Arranged-marriages-make-comeback-in-Japan.html

The Japan Times http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20100221x2.html