Not Your Ordinary American Blend

A couple weeks ago, I walked into a Starbucks store in Kobe. While I was waiting in line, a staff came around offering new beverage – Azuki Matcha Latte. Azuki Matcha Latte, as the name suggests, is a hot latte beverage made of green tea, red beans, and steamed milk. Although I didn’t end up buying it, I was awed by the creativity and originality of Starbucks Japan. Yet this is not the only limited-edition sort of drink created by Starbucks Japan. Twice a year or so, the company launches a number of drinks unique to Japan: the popular Sakura beverage series that comes out every spring, the regular Green Tea Cream Frappuccino, and this season’s special Soy Houjicha Tea Latte.

Starbucks’s such attempts to blend in the Japanese culture into their worldwide recipe is one daily life example that demonstrates the peaceful fusion of foreign and local culture. In this time of globalization, as we all hear repeatedly, there are increasing clashes between local culture and the massive influx of foreign culture. In many parts of the world, this foreign culture is often from the west, America in particular. Some worry that this expansion of global cultural hegemony – of the US, for example – will uproot the traditional local values.

The concern holds true, but only to a certain extent. It is undeniable that historic traditions are now no longer of daily routine but of special events; that time-honored traditional values are indeed no longer as rigorous or revered as they were in the past. However, I think the Starbuck examples show the successful cases in which global forces did not take over local culture but rather, were peacefully incorporated into it.

As James L. Watson says, we – as a culture or nation – maintains our self-agency that ‘filters’ such global forces. How strong or resilient the filters are, it depends. Global forces from the outside transforms what is inside, just like we see Starbucks standing in the middle of Gion, Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. But at the same time, what is inside changes how this outside force is going to be accommodated, just like we see Green Tea Frappuccino.

The possibly disastrous forces of culture hegemony can be – and are – absorbed into local practices, resulting in distinctive fusion. When Starbucks Japan’s board of directors approved the idea of Azuki Matcha drink, it was probably purely for business purposes. But the chain of thoughts behind the decision that it would be profitable was that the drink contains uniqueness of Japan. So next time when you are at a Starbucks cafe, why not try this small drink with some very significant meaning? 🙂

 

by KyungYeon Chung

Hollywood Dreams and Social Classes

Back in high school history classes, we learnt about how back in medieval times, feudal systems shaped society greatly. The Pope had the greatest power, then the king, knights, the archbishops, down to the slaves who hardly had any power at all.

A similar example is Japan during the Edo period, there was the Emperor, then the shogun, the daimyo, the samurai, and so on.

It seems that nowadays, social classes don’t affect us so much. Of course with the concept of liberal capitalism and occupations with varying income, there is a system of classes to a certain degree, but much less harsh compared to the graphs we saw in our history books. We are told, just like with gender and racial issues, that discrimination doesn’t exist “much” anymore. Most of us are taught in school that we, as the people of today, are all regarded as equal human beings with a universal set of rights. Even though you may be a janitor with less income than a doctor or a lawyer, you have the right to send your child to the same school as theirs.

By sending your child to the same school, you are giving them the equal chance to get a high income job, and move up into a higher social class.

But isn’t this too idealistic? A little too “Hollywood”?

In reality, we all know that changing classes isn’t as simple as that. If you have higher income, you will send your child to a private school with a good reputation. Your child will be surrounded by people with a similar background, with a higher guarantee of getting a “good” job and making future connections. Your child will be raised knowing the social conduct to fit in such crowd. On the other hand, the janitor’s child, even if they managed to get a well-paying job, would not have been raised knowing how to act with other private school graduates.

A great example of modern day class discrimination can be seen in a scene from the Hollywood blockbuster, “Pretty Woman” (1990). When prostitute Vivian, played by Julia Roberts, walks into a store on Rodeo Drive, despite the fact she had the money, was told –“I don’t think we have anything for you. You’re obviously in the wrong place. Please leave.” Ouch.

So although the difference in social classes today may not be as extreme as historic feudal systems, we may all dream of it, but it’s still damn hard to move up the class ladder like Vivian does in “Pretty Woman”. What are the chances of a successful businessman agreeing to pay you three grand to be an escort one day?

But I would like to end this post with a quote from the same film – “Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin’ – this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin’.”

 

by Marina Sata Khan

Religion for Japanese and Americans

“What religion do you belong to?” This is what I was asked many times when I was in the U.S. I was not able to give them a clear answer, since I had never thought of it in my life. In Japan, we seldom think of our religion, right? The U.S. is a heterogeneous society, where Caucasians, Black, Asians, Mexicans, Indians, etc., who belong to different religions, are mixed. Whereas Christians celebrate Christmas, Jewish celebrate Hanukah, instead, so you cannot invite your Jewish friends to a Christmas party. So religion does matter in the USA! Japan, on the other hand, is a homogeneous society, so the Japanese share common feelings, customs, and norms more than Americans do. But that is NOT the only reason that the Japanese have a less sense of religion. Yes, we do go to shrines on the New Year’s day, but we visit there for the different reason than the reason why Christians go to Church every Sunday. Unlike Christians, we go to shrines not because God or the Bible tells us, but because it is a Japanese custom, or tradition. It is a traditional custom, where families get together and have a good time, just like the Americans get together and watch football games with families. Watching football games with families or friends has nothing to do with religion, right? We celebrate Christmas not because we are Christians, but it’s a custom. We just get together, have parties, and have fun; nothing to do with Christianity or any other religion. Therefore, we are not really aware of our religion, although some think that Japanese are Buddhists or Shintoists, and that’s why I was not able to give a clear answer when I was asked to what religion I belonged.

Religion, anyway, has a very important role necessary for today’s American society. Although religion is one of the causes of many of the conflicts and wars happening in the world, it actually contributes to the integrity of the American people and security in American society. Unlike Japan, the USA is inhabited by different people who share common things less than the Japanese people do, and therefore USA needs something to unite the people, that is, religion. At religious rituals and meetings, people get together and meet new other people who are similar to them, at least in terms of religion they believe in. By getting to know one another, they get to share more and more feelings and become integrated. Religion prevents people from committing crimes because their religious document such as the Bible tells you to do good things and not do bad things.

Although religion is sometimes criticized as being a cause of conflicts, it has an important role that unites people and contributes to security for the society as a whole.

 

by Yutaro Nishioka

Part-time Job in Japan

Last week, we talked about class and labor during class, discussing about the labor we produce and the exploitation of the corporations. I think the topic is closely related to our life, and the problems Karl Marx introduced can still be seen in the contemporary Japan. I believe that the unfair treatment toward employees should be eliminated in every corner of the globe and the workers should receive the wage that they deserve, receive the wage that they worked hard for.

Here I want to use my personal experience to explain the theory suggested by Karl Marx, the surplus theory. I am a part-time worker in a Japanese fast food restaurant in Japan, and the restaurant mainly serves beef rice to the customers, the food is just like it sounds, beef on the top of the rice. I work from 9:30p.m to 5:30a.m, three times a week and earn 5000yen each time for the work I have performed. The company gives me 1000 yen every hour and they guarantee a three-hours rest during work, while I signed the part-time contract. However, after I became a staff of the restaurant, I found that it is almost impossible to finish the work which the company required, if I were to take a 3-hours rest. In addition, I rarely get a proper rest because the restaurant are managed by only two people at night, if one took a rest, the people will be in trouble. Therefore, I am paid for only 5 hours for the 8-hours work I have performed. The extra 3-hours work is the surplus value according to the theory of Karl Marx. However, I can also sabotage the company by slowing the work or eat the food in the restaurant without paying (the restaurant has several surveillance cameras that are set in the corner of the restaurant, if you can find a blind spot of the cameras, you can eat the food free without being caught). Of course, I will be fired if I am detected by the cameras, but I won’t feel any shame about it since the company did not give me enough incentives and conditions to motivate me to work. I am, after all, work for the money. I neither have pride on the work nor care about the sale of the company. The policies of the fast food company obviously aimed to reduce the labor cost to maximize the profit. However, I think that they failed to recognize that they have created a vicious circle that hurt both the reputation of the company and the employees.

As we can see, even though we are living in a time which is completely different from Marx, the characteristic of the company stay the same, and my personal experience is merely a tip of ice berg, I believe that there are more people are being treated worse than me. In conclusion, I think that it is extremely important for us to realize those facts that are hid by the words of the corporations, so that we will stay sober and not be deceived by the false policies of those companys.

 

by Yuuki Nagahara

Carry On Your Parents’ Dream?

With the constantly develop of economy and popularized compulsory education, most families can afford to give their children basic education. Also knowing the importance of education, even though financial condition is not so good in some rural area, parents still insist on ask their kids to go to elementary school. Everyone may have some regrets or uncompleted dreams; sometimes they may want their offspring can carry them on, so education becomes the first step in order to accomplish their dreams. To some degree, parents’ dreams also become a kind of cultural capital

In May this year, I went to rural area of China to be a volunteer teacher with my high school friends. We were in charge of teaching those kids English, music, painting, and P.E. class. The most impressive thing was their desire of getting more knowledge of outside world. When we were talking about the universe, history, and foreign countries, all of them were all ears and concentrate on our topic.

Later we got a chance to go to one of our students’ house. His mother was very hospitable and among the communication with his mother, we got to know that the boy’s father is a blue-collar class worker lives in a near city. Father has to shoulder the whole family’s expense while mother’s job is to take care of their child. Despite the heavy burden, they want their kids can get good education. Mother asked us about her son’s performance and requested us to help her son. In that village, majority of those kids are left-behind children, their parents in order to bear the burden of family, have to left their home to work. All parents want is that their kids can have basic education, carry on their dreams, do not have to manual work for living like them. And this does work as a sort of cultural capital push their kids to study.

But sometimes this kind of cultural capital can have opposite effect. There can be a situation like parents are knowledgeable or wealthy, they can provide their child good condition for studying, they can teach their kid, even have planned the way they want their child to follow always related to their own dreams. But too much pressure and different interest can cause kids to escape from bound of parents, some even go to extreme. This kind of phenomenon happened much more frequently in recent years.

As a conclusion, cultural capital is something we can’t choose either can’t avoid in our life, especially parents’ unaccomplished dreams. Usually, it can be utilized. However sometimes we can’t accept imposed idea, instead of giving up, we should let parents know what we are thinking about and get their help to purchase that.

 by Chen Siyuan

China: The Waterloo of McDonald’s

Do you know what KFC restaurant is? I think for Japanese maybe they have an impression of it but compared with McDonald’s, it will soon be nothing to speak of. It is not strange as there are 3736 McDonald’s restaurants and only 1,137 KFC restaurants in Japan. Globally, McDonald’s is the world’s largest food and beverage group and the parent of KFC, Yum Brands Inc., is always defeated by McDonald’s in most markets even though it owns many big brands like KFC, Pizza Hut and etc. However, there is one exception, China. Maybe for people in other countries, it is amazing to find there are about 3200 KFC restaurants and it is almost 3 times of McDonald’s. Also KFC takes great advantages of market share. Obviously, McDonald’s met the Waterloo in China. But, why is that? As far as I am concerned, it is a result of the two groups’ different attitudes towards Chinese local food culture.

KFC restaurants in China are selling Chinese style meals sets

Professor Robert mentioned that the way of Hong Kong McDonald’s treating leftovers is actually a kind of mixture and combination of two different cultures. I regard it as a consequence of compromise of foreign culture and local culture. At the beginning, both KFC and McDonald’s came to China holding the same wish to make western food a new significant character in the meals of Chinese. But unfortunately, they underestimated the power of Chinese local food culture. Some Chinese did try to eat western fast food but as the price of Chinese food is furthermore affordable in 1990s, and rice is still the main character on dining-tables of Chinese, the two groups met a very odd situation as a Chinese phrase goes, they ” fail to adapt the local climate ” They had to make changes to survive in this emerging market. The first one started to make changes is KFC. As some Chinese prefer hot food, its first attempt was made to develop the Hot Chicken Burger only for Chinese Market in 1992, which is universally acceptable at that time and still popular now. Through the development of 30 years, now KFC restaurants are even selling Chinese style meals sets (The staple food of the sets are rice) in China. The culture of KFC was shaped by local culture greatly. However, compared with KFC, the localization process of McDonald’s is not that strong, and it chooses to insist on its own developing style in Chinese market. McDonald’s is much “pure” as a western fast food restaurant.

Though reasons for the success of KFC in China actually also include some other factors, I still think its development strategy of localization is the most important one and it does fit the market of China. Chinese fast-food market, as a local practice, retained a sense of agency in the face of global economic forces and even influenced the global forces itself. The cultural impact of McDonald’s is really powerful, but it seems that Chinese food culture owns more tenacious vitality than McDonald’s expected. Cultures are interacting all the time, so we must try to find the balance of it otherwise we will be surely swallowed in the wave of accelerating globalization.

by. John Wang

 Reference

Introduction to KFC in China and Japan

China: http://www.kfc.com.cn/kfccda/About

Japan: http://japan.kfc.co.jp/qa/kfc.html#F02

China: http://career.mcdonalds.com.cn/join/index.aspx?sub=1

Japan: http://www.mcdonalds.co.jp/company/index.html

 

Cultural Capital in Japanese Education

What is the most difficult thing for an IR student who takes class for GS students is that he or she needs to express oneself in class.  I’m one of such students and have a little trouble to expressing my own ideas in the class.  Of course, I know that one of the main reasons is from my poor English.  However, I think that the problem is the difference between education system in Japan and that in other countries like America, which influences how students behave in the class.  Also, Japanese people have a different view to express their own ideas.

First, in Japanese class room, a teacher just teaches and expects students to listen to the lecture silently.  Japanese educational system puts more importance on listening to the teacher’s lectures and gaining knowledge from teacher rather than expressing their own ideas and learning from other students’ ideas as well.  Students sit on a chair, listen to a lecture, and take notes silently.  Also, questioning or expressing their own ideas in the middle of the class is not welcomed by the teacher.  Some teachers see students who do so as an interrupter of the class and annoy them.  Eventually these students are labeled as troublemakers.  There is seldom discussion time or opportunity to express their opinions for students.


Second, Japanese people are tend to hesitate to sticking out.  The Japanese proverb that has been saying for a long time is a good example that “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”  This means that: (1) people are jealous of, hate, and disturb a person, who is distinguished in study or talented, (2) a person who sticks out are punished by others.  Japanese people regard speaking out in front of many people as a sticking out.  Therefore, students are not willing to express their own ideas in the classroom because they don’t want to be “hammered down.”

For these reasons, Japanese students are not accustomed to speaking out their own ideas in the class and tend to have difficulty to express their own ideas.

In terms of other country’s cultural capital, Japanese cultural capital seems so silly and incomprehensible, however in Japan, it is the cultural capital.  I didn’t realize a cultural capital of Japanese education system until I took a class for the GS.  There’s a different cultural capital in the class, so I spend a little hard time and sometimes cannot help think that Japanese cultural capital is so inferior to others in the class.  However, I think that Japanese cultural capital is not entirely negative but still positive.  Japanese people are not good at sticking out and expressing their own ideas, but they can listen to other’s ideas well.  Also, Japanese are not so assertive and have room to accept other’s good ideas.

Thus, each cultural capital is capital in that culture, someone who is unfamiliar to that culture may have difficult time.  I think that we don’t have to evaluate which cultural capital is superior or inferior, but the most important thing is “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

by Mayumi Kurosawa

Picture

Retrieved from (http://image.search.yahoo.co.jp/search?p=%E6%8E%88%E6%A5%AD&aq=-1&oq=&ei=UTF-8)

Men’s Fashion Differences – Japan and America

Nowadays, people’s fashion and hairstyle has changed, compare to that of in 100 years ago. It is notable especially for Japanese people. For instance, many Japanese men have long hair and clothes are sometimes even similar to what women usually wear. One of my friends in America told me that they are so weird. He seemed to not be able to understand why many Japanese men do not look like “men.” He also said that they are so gay. Well, I do not think so, because I am Japanese and live in Japan for 18 years. I would like to think about the difference of values of fashion between American men and Japanese men.

First, let’s think about the American style. What image do you have on American men’s fashion? For me, their fashion is very simple in good way. For their casual style, they wear relaxed jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers. Their hair style is much shorter than Japanese men’s. It is about the value so I do not think there are not specific answers. I think they do not mean they are not interested in fashion, but that simple style is comfortable for American men. Of course some men enjoy their fashion, wearing pierces, necklace, or dying their hair. However, I feel American men focus on what they want to wear rather than how they want to be seen by surroundings.

On the other hand, Japanese men’s styles are completely opposite. We rather care how we are seen by surroundings. If we think our legs are so short, we wear boots, though I heard some American think this is so gay. Japanese men wear tight shirts, pants, and jackets, which look like women. Even some men do make-up on their face so that they create strong impressions. Think about the past, in 100 years ago in Japan men had no time to enjoy their fashion because social rule was very strict. They were not even allowed to have long, dyed hair. However, the time has changed and it is now less strict to express their favorite styles.

As you read, there is a big difference of values between American and Japan. I noticed that this topic is deeply related to the social norms. If the society allows men to enjoy less strict fashion, they can do so. Even one of my friends wants to be a girl so he wears clothes like a girl. Perhaps the time will come that big strong American men start to wear girl’s costumes in few decades later.

by Takeshi Sakagami

 

References

http://www.americafe.net/maki/82/ 「日本人男性はゲイっぽい?」

http://norizo.com/ny/nynow/200011/hm.html 「ニューヨークの今日この頃」

 

Temples in Taiwan


This picture took in front of the Dajia Jenn-Lann Temple, in Chinese name 大甲鎮瀾宮. This temple consecrates the most famous deity of the sea, Mazu. The enormous popularity of Mazu in Taiwan is evidenced by the more than 400 temples dedicated to her and by processions in which her icon is carried on a palanquin to spread her blessings. Also, such spectacles can be seen all over the island, known as the “Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage”, which snakes through several counties in central and southern Taiwan for eight or nine days in the third lunar month depends on Mazu’s birthday that usually begins in March or April.

When did the temple appear in Taiwan? It can be traced back to the early immigrant society, during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The immigrants, most of them came from Fukien province in China, had to across the Taiwan Strait riskily. In order to keep themselves from harm during the dangerous trip; they carried with their sacred images, incense for the deities or amulets to seek for spiritual protection. For example, most of the ships carried image of Mazu, to assure calm weather and safe passage. Later on, as the immigrants and their new villages started to flourish in Taiwan, then naturally they started to feel a need to show gratitude for the deities’ divine assistance that had blessed them. So, they began to build temples to providing homes for the deities to worship. Temples play the roles which are memorial buildings, sanctuaries for the deities, and centers of faith for believers. Also, temples became community centers to strengthen connections between believers as well as normal citizens, especially in rural areas. Since, special ceremonies are held by temples on deities’ birthdays. Generally we refer these carnival-like events as temple festivals. Often each event will consists of “welcoming the deities”, “an inspection tour by deities”, “chanting of sutras”, and “outdoor stage performances of Taiwanese opera or glove puppet shows” to entertain the deities. Temples provide the place for people to prepare the festival together, to worship, to bless and to enjoy.

Besides, to attend regular religious services at one location, small outdoor or indoor shrines of local deities are also very common, and often can be spotted on roadsides, parks, neighborhoods, and almost everywhere. These small pockets of religious atmosphere let people stop by and pray informally anytime. Many homes and businesses may also set up small shrines of candles, figurines, and offerings. For instance, some restaurants may set up a small shrine to the Kitchen deity who protects the success in a restaurant business. Students may visit a shrine to the Learning deity for good luck before a test. People in Taiwan, their lives strongly connect with temples; I think it’s because the need of the whole society then created the existence of unique religion. Of course, it’s totally different from Buddhism or Taoist, because it blends all elements together at first, and diffused into society even more deeply. This religion is called “popular beliefs” that whenever people feel the need to seek divine assistance they will just visit a temple.

References

Picture retrieved 17th December, 2011, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/dans180/5601742094/in/set-72157600112213625/.

 

by Ying Yu Lin (Linda)

 

Discrimination of Burakumin

 

There are various people who are discriminated in the world. Burakumin has been also discriminated since about 300 years ago in Japan. Just because they are Burakumin, they are varied discriminated. For example, they could`t marry by the partner`s relatives opposing because they ware Burakumin. One company had a list of Burakumin and they ware discriminated when they send a curriculum vitae. The other example is that the infrastructure did not equipped in only their living area.

Then why are they discriminated? The origin goes back to Edo period. Edo Bakufu, the government of that era, made a lowest class of citizens to turn away the citizen troubled by the heavy tax. Edo Bakuhu ordered people who get job which nobody wants to get, the leather industry, slaughterhouse, to live in definite area and fix their social standing. In Meiji period, Meiji government declare liberation of Burakumin  but the discrimination has been continuing.

Although today it is said that the existence of discriminating consciousness is fading out for migration of people or residences, the consciousness of discriminating are not improved but simply the consciousness of avoiding go underwater. And an alliance of Burakumin liberation which is the organization of Burakumin for canceling discrimination prevent solving discrimination in a true meaning because people think it troublesome and fearful for the power of the organization. The other opinion is that continuing a special law for Burakumin generates new prejudice.

How can we solve the problems? I think there are two ways.The one is that educators should not emphasize on Burakumin too much in elementary school. Excessive emphasis plants the consciousness of distinction for children conversely. It connects discrimination. The other is knowing. I think that discrimination comes from ignorant. So we do not avert our eyes from the problem of discrimination, but we try to get to know more deeply.

 

by Shinji Nisiura