Assimilating into stereotypes: exchange students and 2nd-generation immigrants

Anonymous student post

When I read the articles about assimilation and learned about assimilation in the class, I was recalling my experience in high school in the U.S. as a one-year exchange student, and try to consider assimilation issues based on that. However, as I try to compare a situation of second-generation immigrants and my case, I began to think my experience was totally different from that of second-generation immigrants.

In the U.S., I was called an “Asian” instead of Japanese, and Asian usually refers to East Asia. It did not take long for me to notice or feel what kind of stereotypes American people have for Asians. In general, Asian students in the U.S. were considered as studious, serious, geeks, etc. To be straightforward, as far as I felt, they found Asian students “boring” in general. Due to such stereotypes, they did not really expect me to say jokes or be athletic. When I said some jokes (even not really funny ones) or played sports better than normal students in the U.S., they were surprised and impressed, and gave me compliments. I assumed that this happened because they had a low expectation for Asian students in terms of humor or sports. I found it lucky to have sort of negative racial stereotypes because I can get attention and positive impressions just with little efforts. This actually motivated me to make efforts to be funny or popular in school.

I was then wondering if negative stereotypes could work positively for a certain race or ethnic of second-generation immigrants with negative impressions, and motivate them to succeed socioeconomically in a host county. However, while I was discussing this with professor Moorehead, I realized that negative stereotypes would work differently for second-generation immigrants from people who stay in a host country for a short period of time, like me.

It was completely a new experience for me to see people’s reactions when I did not meet their expectation of Asians. Thus, I was able to enjoy it. On the contrary, for second-generation immigrants, they have been dealing with such stereotypes repeatedly for their entire life. If they repeatedly felt that others are having a low expectation for them, they would be more likely to feel offended than be motivated.

In addition, I consider that these negative racial stereotypes would affect their performance more negatively if they felt they were “American”. In my case, I was nationally Japanese and considered myself Japanese, so did not really feel being offended being labeled as Asian, even when it was linked to some negative stereotypes. For those second-generation immigrants who considered themselves American, it would probably be more difficult to accept such stereotypes and fight them because they feel they identified less as Asians. Therefore, in my assumption, second-generation immigrants with a strong American identity would face more difficulty to fight their negative racial stereotypes and overcome them.

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Beauty Per Skin Complexion and Symmetry

Anonymous student post

This blog will focus on beauty ideals pertaining to skin color and facial symmetry.

From Asia to Africa, having a light skin tone makes one more desirable. Colonial invasions have only helped to instil the idea ‘the whiter the better’. Even in Africa skin bleaching is quite popular. Especially in Nigeria where 77% of women use skin bleaching aides (Alonge 2014). While many Caucasians may tan, other races may tend to avoid tanning. According to the media, tanned skin on a Caucasian individual represents fitness and vacationing, yet ads showcasing the tanning of other races is rare or non existent.

Perhaps the desire for lighter skin is due to the “colonial mentality” which preaches that “white is right”. Yet in countries such as Japan and Asia the ideal beauty has been pale and to an extent is still considered the ideal. One only needs to search for images of celebrities to know the standard. For many centuries in Asia the color of one’s complexion has been an indicator of class status with pale being at the top (Wagatsuma 1967).

India also has a status system based on the complexion of one’s skin that has been exaggerated since the invasion of colonialism. The main difference between the availability of opportunities between East Asia, India, and Africa is that in Japan and China tanned skin does not affect job opportunities, but dark skinned foreigners stick out and aren’t treated as nicely as their lighter skinned counterparts (Arudou 2014), but in Korea where a profile picture must be attached to a resume (The Grand Narrative 2010), the discrimination is worse; in India dark skinned people use skin bleaching aides in order to secure a ‘good job’ and/or get a successful arranged marriage partner (Glenn 2008); and in Africa women bleach their skin due to self esteem issues and to get married as the ‘colonial mentality’ still exists along with the racial profiling of black skinned people.

Even in the US and Europe there are issues with the degree of one’s skin color yet bleaching is less common. Being lighter than average in complexion in one’s race gives one special privileges such as receiving discounts, extras, and also better behavior such as in not being profiled (Fihlani 2013). Lighter skinned black people receive extra attention yet being too light or albino excludes one from their race yet they are also excluded from the white race group (Parks 2007). Also bias in treating others differently due to skin tone is a form of internalized racism (Hall 1992).

According to research, facial symmetry is preferred over asymmetrical faces. In Rhodes et al.’s study on facial symmetry, males preferred the perfect symmetrical face more than females, but the preferences of all other degrees of facial symmetry was similar between the genders. In experiment 1, three individuals original portraits were shown along with computer-altered images in the order of low, normal, high, and perfect symmetry (Rhodes et al. 1998). The argument for the reason being that facial symmetry is attractive is due to health in childhood, but such evolutionary claims have been debunked as a myth (Poppy 2014).

In westernized nations a low WHR (waist to hip ratio) is preferred over a high WHR, yet the Matsigenka people, who are isolated from westernization, prefer a high WHR. According to the Matsigenka the low WHR looks unhealthy (Yu et al. 1998).

Also infants responded more to images of symmetrical faces than asymmetrical faces by staring at symmetrical faces for a greater duration of time. Not many studies in facial symmetry have been conducted multiculturally yet current issues in South Korea such as plastic surgery being quite popular may suggest that facial and/or body symmetry is quite important (Chang & Thompson 2014).

Perception bias may also influence the concept of facial symmetry as participants in Little and Jones’s experiment didn’t express a preference for symmetrical faces that were inverted, rather such images were perceived as objects than faces (Little et al. 2003). Overall westernized cultures, (meaning not having been influenced by western media) may prefer symmetrical faces and bodies with a low WHR.

Cross culturally in determining beauty a symmetrical face and clear skin are main ideals that remain (Gaad 2010) while ideals such as having fair skin are of Western (Wade 2014) and East Asian origin (Xiea et al. 2013). If one pays attention to the media, the majority of actresses, models, celebrities and those who appear in the media usually have clear, bright skin, and facial symmetry. Also hierarchy due to skin tone may be a cultural issue, but it is most likely not strictly just a cultural issue alone, but also internalized and externalized racism (Hunter 2007).

References

Alonge, Sede. “Not all African women believe ‘black is beautiful’. And that’s OK.” The Telegraph 18 July 2014. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10973359/Not-all-African-women-believe-black-is-beautiful.-And-thats-OK.html>.

Arudou, Debito. “Complexes continue to color Japan’s ambivalent ties to the outside world.” The Japan Times (2014). <http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2014/07/02/issues/complexes-continue-color-japans-ambivalent-ties-outside-world/#.VJl6oAABA>.

Chang, Juju, and Victoria Thompson. ” Home> Lifestyle South Korea’s Growing Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery .” ABC NEWS, 20 June 2014. <http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/south-koreas-growing-obsession-cosmetic-surgery/story?id=24123409>.

Feng, Charles. “Looking Good: The Psychology and Biology of Beauty.” Journal of Young Investigators 6.6 (2002). <http://legacy.jyi.org/volumes/volume6/issue6/features/feng.html>

Fihlani, Pumza, and Thomas Fessy. “Africa: Where black is not really beautiful.” BBC NEWS AFRICA. BBC, 1 Feb. 2013. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-20444798>.

Glenn, Evelyn N. “Yearning for Lightness Transnational Circuits in the Marketing and Consumption of Skin Lighteners.” Gender & Society 22.3 (2008): 281-302.

Hall, Ronald E. “Bias Among African-Americans Regarding Skin Color: Implications for Social Work Practice.” Journal of Black Psychology 2.4 (1992): 479-86. <http://rsw.sagepub.com.libproxy.library.wmich.edu/content/2/4/479.full.pdf+html>.

Hunter, M. “The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality. Sociology Compass” (2007), 1: 237–254. <http://www.mills.edu/academics/faculty/soc/mhunter/The%20Persistent%20Problem%20of%20Colorism.pdf>

Little, A. C. & Jones, B. C. (2003). Evidence against perceptual bias views for symmetry preferences in human faces. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 270: 1759-1763. <http://faceresearch.org/students/symmetry>

Parks, Casey. “Black Woman, White Skin.” Marieclaire.com. N.p., 13 July 2007. Web. 20 Dec. 2014. <http://www.marieclaire.com/politics/news/a557/black-white-skin/>.

Perrett, David et al. Symmetry and human facial attractiveness. Evolution & Human Behavior. 1999 (20): 295-307. <http://facelab.org/bcjones/Teaching/files/Perrett_1999.pdf>

Poppy, Brenda. “Facial Symmetry is Attractive, But Not Because It Indicates Health.” Discover 12 Aug. 2014. <http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2014/08/12/facial-symmetry-attractive-not-because-indicates-health/#.VJlWpAAAM>.

Rhodes, Gillian, Fiona Proffitt, Jonathon M. Grady, and Alex Sumich. “Facial symmetry and the perception of beauty.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 5.4 (1998): 659-69. <http://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/BF03208842>

Saad, Gad. “Beauty: Culture-Specific or Universally Defined? The universality of some beauty markers.” Psychology Today (2010). <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/homo-consumericus/201004/beauty-culture-specific-or-universally-defined>.

The Grand Narrative. “Korean Sociological Image #40: As Pretty as a Picture?” The Grand Narrative: Korean Feminism, Sexuality, and Popular Culture, 16 June. 2010. <http://thegrandnarrative.com/2010/06/16/korean-resumes-photographs/>

Wade, L. (2014, May 16). When White is the Standard of Beauty. The Society Pages. <http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2014/05/16/white-as-beautiful-black-as-white/>

Wagatsuma, Hiroshi. “The Social Perception of Skin Color in Japan.” Daedalus 96.2 (1967): 443-97. <http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20027045?sid=21104921217471&uid=2129&uid=4&uid=2&uid=70&uid=3738328>.

Xiea, Qinwei (Vivi), and Meng Zhang. “White or tan? A cross-cultural analysis of skin beauty advertisements between China and the United States.” Asian Journal of Communication 23.5 (2013).

Yu, D W., and G H. Shepard. “Is Beauty In the Eye of the Beholder?” Nature (1998): 396, 321-322+. <http://www.academia.edu/296731/Is_Beauty_In_the_Eye_of_the_Beholder>.

Dickens in China: Industrialism and the Perpetuation of Social Divides

by Marcel Koníček

We probably all own something made in one of innumerable factories in eastern Asia, be it China, Taiwan, Thailand or somewhere else. These articles are so ubiquitous that we may sometimes wonder, which of the things we own are not “made in China”.

Even though the news outlets inform us quite frequently about the problems of factory workers and the conditions they live in, they do not tell us much about the system that enables Chinese work force to be as cheap as it is right now.

When I first started to inquire into the issues of Chinese factory workers, a striking comparison came to my mind. The system clearly reminded me factories of nineteenth-century Europe. Twelve hour shifts, meagre pay, harsh working conditions, overcrowded accommodations and no possibilities of moving up the ladder of the company, all that was very common in the European factories of nineteenth century was also clearly present in the Chinese factories of the twenty first century.

However, the main difference between them lies in the way the system was created and sustained. While in Europe, the industrialization came into being without the will of the ruling class of the time, the landed gentry, so the governments consisting mainly of the members of the landed gentry did not feel much obligation to pass laws that would serve to disrupt the, so the development was guided mainly by the invisible hand of the market, this is not true for the current Chinese situation. Chinese government consciously enacts laws that perpetuate the factory work in its current Dickensian state. The main part of these policies is the hukou system, which limits migration of the rural population into cities.

While in the nineteenth century the rural workforce freely migrated to the cities, rising their population several times, and lived their life there with their families, raising up new generation with much better chance to climb the social ladder, rural workers of China cannot.  They are limited by the hukou, house registration, system that prevents rural workers from permanently settling in the city. They can live in the cities only for a limited time based on their employment and their children cannot attend schools in the city. This system also bars them from doing any urban jobs “except of those considered dirty and low paying” (Kam and Buckingham, 583) and keep their children from attending schools outside the district they were born in. This basically creates system of “urban-rural apartheid” and “cities with invisible walls” (Kam and Buckingham, 583), that makes the rural workforce very cheap and thus perpetuating the industrial system. Also, since the workers come from many language backgrounds, their employment is not long-term and they are basically at mercy of their employers, it is very hard for them to organize into unions or similar organizations. Thus, the system perpetuates itself and the social divides between the migrant workforce and the city dwellers broaden.

The ones gaining profit from this system are the rich industrial companies and their stock owners, not the people working there. It is quite ironic, that the country that uses this perfected form of unequal social organisation is the one that has “People’s” in its name and that claims to be “socialistic”. Only the future can say if the system holds.

Works Cited

Kam Wing Chan and Will Buckingham. 2008. “Is China Abolishing the Hukou System?” The China Quarterly 195:582-606. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20192236

The Meanings of Lightness

productsby Lin Tzu-Chun

In “Consuming Lightness,” Evelyn Nakano Glenn discusses how skin lightening products and the value of lighter skin are different in various regions around the world. Based on that, different marketing strategies may be planned because of the different formations of the ideology of beauty and the meaning of lighter skin. In Glenn’s work, we can find that among the regions that have a history of colonization, for example Africa, Latin America, and India, lighter skin is recognized as the representation of the elite, higher social capital, and education. Besides skin tone, the people also migrate to regions with more light-skin people to be socially whiter.

In Asian areas, the Philippines is an example of a colonized country. However, instead of taking white people as the beauty standard, people tend to make themselves like Japanese or Koreans, as the standard of beauty. For Japan, makeup has become a basic manner for woman, and some men also use cosmetic products.

In the following part, I will discuss specifically my observations of what whiteness means in China. To end Glenn’s work here, I want to mention that as a whole, Glenn argues that the ideology of “white is right” is due to “the workings of the Western-dominated global system”.

The very first reaction of my friends from China or Taiwan when visiting a Japanese drug store is “How could these brands sell in a drug store at such a cheap price?” These similar reactions told me that this brand must be more expensive and may not be simply found in drug stores like in Japan, which is actually true. Back before I came to Japan, I actually held an image of Sekkisei or KOSE as luxury goods, but now I have gotten used to seeing them in every drug store and seeing them as normal goods with a little bit higher price but still goods that everyone may consume. That is a dramatic transition in my values.

products2In China, for example, you have to go find some exclusive shops to buy a KOSE products, but here in Japan they are put at the entrance of many drug stores. This different marketing strategy reminds the Chinese phrase “Bai, fu, mei” or “White, Rich, Beauty”, is that white means you are rich because you are able to consume expensive lightening products. Does that mean that the products might be more effective? If we compare the income difference, it may be true that you really need money to buy expensive cosmetics but there is no guarantee they will be effective. For whiteness, I refer to a common saying in China, “one white covers hundred (three) ugly”, which means that if you are white and make it the focus point of people’s sight, people won’t care much about your other problems.

In conclusion, whiteness seems the representation of education, status, beauty, wealth, and more. But it is nearly impossible to stop the lightness consuming as long as the huge profitable industry still runs, argues Glenn.

Reference

Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. 2009. “Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade.” In Shades of Difference, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Thinking About Getting Cosmetic Surgery in Korea? Make Sure You Read This First

My class ‘Race and Ethnicity in the Modern World’ focuses on the relationship between race, notions of beauty, the global trade in skin lighteners, and the growing use of plastic surgery. Along those lines, this post gives a helpful overview of debates over plastic surgery in Korea. Enjoy!

The Grand Narrative

Korea Cosmetic Surgery(Sources: left, dongA; right, The Kyunghyang Shinmun)

The more operations, the more possibilities for complications, mistakes, and patient deaths. So, with the highest per capita number of cosmetic surgery operations in the world, you’re always going to hear a lot of harrowing, even terrifying experiences of going under the knife in Korea. Korean cosmetic surgeons, who are no more unethical or incompetent than those from any other country, shouldn’t be singled out for horror stories that can and do happen everywhere.

But it’s more than just numbers. With so many clinics lacking even basic first-aid equipment; doctors clamoring to break into the lucrative cosmetic surgery market whatever their training and specialty; patients receiving little to no warnings of side-effects; little regulation by the Ministry of Health and Welfare; insufficient support staff because they’re too expensive; and patients doped-up to disguise the fact that the hot-shot surgeons they’ve hired have been replaced with…

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Echoes of female transnational migration: Care-giving jobs in Korea

by Yoon Jee Hyun (JeeJee)

According to United Nations (2013), female migrants represent about half of all transnational migration. Among women migrants, there has been an increase of number of women migrants working in care-giving jobs and health-care workers (Pyle, 2006).

Pyle’s article reminded me of Korea’s current popular phenomena of having care-givers who are transnational migrants. Since domestic workers do not wish to work as care-givers (due to the low wage compared to working times and the low social standing), a great portion of care-givers are transnational migrants. Also, with the increasing number of double-income families, wealthy Korean families have started to hire migrants from developing countries to take care of household chores at a cheap price.

In Korea, the role of care-giver is not only for household affairs but also for educating children of Korean family. At first, female migrants were wanted as they already have skills to take care of basic household chores learned from their own country. Yet, recently, as language ability has been highly encouraged, wealthy Korean families have started to look for hiring female migrants who are capable of speaking foreign languages such as English and Chinese. Many female Filipinos and Chinese are working in the care-giving industry in Korea, as they can take charge of both housework and language education.

This care-giving job system using female transnational migrants can benefit both sides; Korean families can get cheaper labor, and migrants can get a job which pays higher salary compared to the situation in their nation, and earn foreign currency, which they can bring back to their own country. Despite these merits, this phenomena echoes throughout the world, creating an endless circle of female migrants engaging in care-giving jobs.

Care-givers who are working in a foreign country can send money to their own country and family. However, as the ‘mother’ does not exist in migrants own family, the family needs to hire another cheap labored migrants as care-givers. Thus, this female transnational migration in care-giving labors echoes the phenomena of hiring care-giver migrants from a poorer country, a poorer country, and a more and more poorer country, and so on. The endless circle of becoming and hiring care-givers is created and the continuous circle traps female transnational migrants under its re-echoing system.

Reference

Pyle, J. L. Globalization, transnational migration, and gendered care work: Introduction. Globalizations 3:283-295.

Color complexes in the Philippines

by Lulu Maginde

In ‘Filipinos and the Color complex,’ Joanne Rondilla questions the reader, especially readers here in Asia, what the ‘ideal’ concept of beauty is, and how different people within Asia perceive beauty. As Rondilla focuses specifically on the Philippines and how skin whitening is utilized, or rather highly emphasized, it was interesting to find how skin-lightening products are marketed and sold as well as what these products are saying about beauty.

Rondilla claims that this concept of having a fairer complexion/lighter skin, stemmed from the Philippines’ deep history of colonization, after having been occupied by Spanish for over 300 years. This history most indefinitely influenced the way of life, culture and traditions, not to mention language and the concept of what is deemed beautiful.

After the departure of the Spaniards, then came the Americans, and many Filipinos will claim that until present, the Philippines is still a colony of the US, as most of the way of life in the Philippines has been greatly structured around a more Western way of life. Of course the country still has its rich culture and heritage, as well as its strict religious value system, however it is not hard to deny that US presence has greatly affected life in the Philippines.

This ties in perfectly to my next point of how Rondilla compares standards of skin color between Asian immigrants to the US to Asian Americans born and raised in the US. The main difference between these two groups is that while Asian Americans chose to tan, as it symbolizes wealth and a more luxurious life, Asian immigrants, for instance the Filipinos who immigrate to the US, are more likely to use skin lightening products in order to assimilate  into society. In the Philippines, having darker or more of a tanned complexion immediately reflected what social class one belonged to. If one had a fairer or lighter complexion, they belonged to an a higher social class, simply because they were not as exposed to the sun as working-class laborers.

This notion of a ‘relatable ideal’, or the claim that a certain type of beauty is the shared/common ideal amongst women in the Philippines is what is striking. Consciously or unconsciously, these women buy into an industry, in conjunction with certain media institutions, that greatly influences what may be deemed as beautiful. Thus, they buy into the idea that, due to capitalism, ‘everything can be bought and exchanged’.

Reference

Rondilla, Joanne L. (2009). “Filipinos and the color complex.” Pp. 63-80 in Glenn, E. Shades of Difference: Why skin color matters. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

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Race and Visual Appearance

by Kohsei Ishimoto

The idea of how one thinks of another (first impression) can mainly come from how one looks. We all have our own beliefs of various cultures, which can also alter who we choose to be with. In “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference,” Terry Kawashima (2002) explains the relationship between ‘beauty’ and ‘race’, focusing on “light skin”.

Many cosmetics companies are now promoting “whiteness”, selling products that can lighten one’s skin. Many people in Asian countries now focus on these products, possibly feeling that beauty is to “look white”. When looking at make-up as well, fashion magazines (mainly in Japan) promote the image of looking “white”, or “ha-fu”, by showing how to do make-up in a certain way.

Hair dye can also be put into this idea. When walking the streets of Japan, there are many Japanese people that have dyed hair, usually brown or blond. Although having “too light hair” does not have a positive image, the number of people with dyed hair has obviously increased greatly.

But does having light skin, doing make-up in a certain way, and having colored hair mean that one is “white”? Personally, I would say no to this. It cannot be said that being “white” is being beautiful; there are many different races in the world, and everyone should be considered beautiful.

I also dyed my hair in high school, starting with a dark brown color, but later on to a bright close-to-white color. In Japan, this can be considered ‘unusual’, leading to situations in which people would avoid you. It is also close to impossible to get a part-time job with a light hair color. It is usually prohibited to dye hair in Japanese public schools, but since I had attended a private school, the society I had been in allowed me to dye my hair. However, I did not dye my hair because I wanted to look “white”; I dyed my hair because I wanted to look like an individual.

When looking at western countries, it can be said that not all people try to stay light skinned. Having “too light” skin can be a sign of sickness, and most people must have the desire to get a tan during the summer. When considering hair color, my Non-Asian friends dye their hair to exotic colors, such as red or blue. This can be because they already have a natural tone of color, compared to the “dull” color of black in Asians.

In conclusion, I believe that the act of doing make-up a certain way or dyeing hair is done through the individual’s decision; our personal experiences in society can alter our own belief’s of “beauty”.

Hurry! Hafu Film Now at Nanagei Cinema in Osaka

Folks in the Kansai region who missed seeing the Hafu film during its run in Kobe are in luck. The film is showing at Osaka’s Nanagei Cinema, within walking distance of Juso station, until February 21. The film plays once a day, at 6:45pm until February 14, and at 8:35pm from February 15 to 21.

This blog has discussed the film and related issues regarding hafu (people of mixed Japanese ancestry) many times, and the fine folks at the Hafu Project have graced our classrooms on several occasions. This film is an important step in a movement toward a more inclusive notion of Japanese identity. Come be a part of the conversation, and see the film in Osaka before it closes on February 21.

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Japanese mascotization, marketing, and imagined communities

by Deanne Walters

Mascots are everywhere in Japan. Often anthropomorphized and cute, they represent companies, cities, and even the Japanese Self Defense Force. They came about after the economic bubble crashed. The national government decided to decentralize, putting more responsibility on the prefectures and cities (Birkett, 2012). Because of the economic bubble, there had also been a mass migration out of the countryside and into the cities (Birkett, 2012). Smaller cities had shrinking populations, both from aging and emigration as well as the problems of the economic depression (Birkett, 2012). So a new way to promote cities and create city pride was made, mascots or characters that represented cities (Birkett, 2012). The mascots speak the local dialect and are often based off of a city’s historical legend or city’s industries (Occhi, 2012).

This marketing tool became very popular and now there are over 800 mascots in Japan (Kracker, 2013). Each prefecture has at least 2 mascots and some have over 50 (Tan, n.d.). These mascots help create the imagined community of the city and become the representation of the city. The characters participate in community events and some of these events become so popular they bring in tourism (Birkett, 2012). These characters have been shown to be very popular with children and the elderly (Tan, n.d.). Some mascots become popular even outside of their city. An example of the massive popularity of mascots can be shown with the mascot grand prix a national event in which people vote on their favorite mascot. The ideas that will be discussed in relation to the mascotization are mascots as soft power, creating imagined hometowns, mascots and their connection to the past, and mascots similarity to invented traditions.

Soft power as defined by Joseph Nye is the ability to influence events and people (2005). While Nye was looking specifically at countries, anything can have soft power. The soft power of the mascots is created in different ways from other organizations, with mascots it is often done through cuteness. Mascots are made to be marketing tools and cuteness is an important component of that marketing (Birkett, 2012). Cuteness is not unique to marketing mascots, it is quite widespread in Japan (Madge, 1997). During live events, the cuteness of the mascots helps create approachability and familiarity that is not possible between two people (Birkett, 2012). This familiarity helps foster the imagined community of the city and from that people feel pride in their cities. The public’s connection to the mascots did not start at events, but through contest were amateur artist create possible mascots and they are voted on by the public and there are also contests for mascots’ names (Occhi, 2012). This connection is then used, indirectly, when mascots are used in marketing that is aimed toward the public, similar to how celebrity endorsements are used (Occhi, 2012).

Mascots at events are played by people wearing costumes and are able to interact with the people around them (Occhi, 2012). These events are specifically working to promote the connection between the mascot and the people (Occhi, 2012). These events are aimed at children and families and used to reinforce the both the characters and the sponsors (Occhi, 2012). The sponsors are usually companies or branches of local government (Occhi, 2012). Many of the mascots also promote traits like kindness and cleanliness (Occhi, 2012). At these events there are also various group activities that promote the idea of togetherness (Occhi, 2012).

Part of the soft power that mascots have is the fact that they are not seen as marketing tools, but as a friendly character something between a mascot and a human (Birkett, 2012). Some of the popular characters get fan mail and talk with their fans over twitter (Birkett, 2012). One famous character, Kumamon, made over 2.5 million yen in merchandise sales (Birkett, 2012). These characters represent their city or prefecture and so are also popular with tourists (Tan, n.d.). Mascots have been successful marketing tools (Birkett, 2012). They can also fail, only some of the characters are popular, usually the more rounded and soft mascots and not the more human shaped mascots (Occhi, 2012). The soft power of mascots is created through their cuteness and approachability. They are aimed at children and families. They are used to market cities, local events, and the mascot’s sponsor.

Mascots were not the first thing to be tried to help revive towns. There was push before them for creating “hometowns” which were the idea of traditional Japan and were said to be the hometowns for urban people, profiting off of the nostalgia of urban people (Birkett, 2012). The connection to the past was not only for the tourists’ sake. The town’s reconnection to the past was also important for the townspeople to feel pride and connection to their town (Birkett, 2012). Towns would also promote some rare product, natural resource, or legends tied to the place and create merchandise of it (Birkett, 2012). Some attempts of merchandising failed because it was available everywhere, however some became successful because they could only be bought in one shop (Birkett, 2012).

Sento-kun

Mascots have been the most successful form of marketing for towns. The mascots share similar ideas to previous marketing schemes. Mascots are usually based on either the industries or the legends of the area (Birkett, 2012). When the mascots are using a figure from history or a legend, the connection is always to the ancient past. One of those mascots is Sento-kun. He was created for Nara’s 1300th anniversary as the embodiment of Nara (“Sento-kun’s profile,” n.d.). He is a young boy with deer antlers to represent the deer in Nara (Hashi, 2011). He is heavily connected to the past because they created him to be the new protector of Nara as other deities were before him (“Sento-kun’s profile,” n.d.). The mascots that are based off legends and traditional creatures vary from Yoichi-kun based off of the archer Nasu no Yoichi from the Tales of Heike to demons and the kappa (Birkett, 2012). All of them have been redesigned to be cute. They are a reinterpretation of the past not completely disconnected from it, but clearly changed (Occhi, 2012). The mascots have been the latest and most successful form of marketing for the towns. The mascots are similar to the previous marketing schemes in promoting the towns with their unique products and connection with the past.

Mascots share attributes to invented traditions. Invented traditions are traditions that have been created recently, but are made to seem as if they are a tradition from the past (Vlastos, 1998). The purpose of the traditions is often to support the status quo. Instead of being from the past, mascots inherit the past. Their purpose is to promote the community similar to some invented traditions that also support group identities. Mascots also promote the status quo, promoting only positive ideas and parts of the past.

Representations of the community, connections to the past, invented traditions, imagined hometowns, and soft power are all discussed in the paragraphs before are also present in national imagined communities. The first parallel is with banal nationalism. Banal nationalism is when an imagined community has objects that make the community feel connected, like flags (Billig, 1995). For cities, the mascots become those representations for the community, while the ties to the cities are not are strong as with the nation there is still the imagined community and the reinforcement of it through the mascots.

Another parallel is with the connection to the past. Nation-states often connect themselves with the past and use the past to support their positions with invented traditions (Vlastos, 1998). In this same way mascots and cities are also using the past for their own ends, which are creating pride in the city.

The next parallel is imagined hometowns and imagined pasts. Imagined hometowns do not have any direct parallel to national imagined communities, but when looking at the ideas that make up imagined hometowns there are parallels. When making imagined hometowns recreates a romanticized Japanese past (Birkett, 2012). Recreating an imagined past is also something that national imagined communities will do as well (Anderson, 2006).

The final parallel, soft power, is one of the more obvious parallels. Both imagined communities have goals that they wanted accomplished through their citizens, the difference is the goals they have. Mascots and the imagined city communities share more resemblance to national imagined communities than would first be assumed.

Created to foster city pride and market the city, mascots have become successful in those goals and beyond. The creation of city pride has had the inadvertent effect of creating imagined city communities around these mascots with various parallels with national imagined communities. The mascots also now have power themselves that is used to market the city, local government branches and companies. The mascots and Japanese city pride show another variation of imagined communities and how marketing can be intermixed with that.

References

  1. Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. New York, NY: Verso.
  2. Billig, M. (1995). Banal nationalism. London, UK: SAGE Publications Ltd.
  3. Birkett, M. (2012). “Amateur” mascots on the loose: The pragmatics of kawaii (cute). (Master’s thesis, University of Michigan).
  4. Hashi. (2011). Japan’s wackiest town mascots. Retrieved from http://www.tofugu.com/2011/08/31/japans-wackiest-town-mascots/
  5. Kracker, D. (2013, May 20). Get loose with japan’s yuru-chara. Retrieved from http://www.mtv81.com/features/specials/get-loose-with-japans-yuru-chara/ 
  6. Madge, L. (1997). Capitalizing on “cuteness”: The aesthetics of social relations in a new postwar Japanese order. The Journal of the German Institute for Japanese Studies, 9, 155-174.
  7. Nye, J. S., Jr. (2005). Soft power: The means to success in world politics. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.
  8. Occhi, D. J. (2012). Wobbly aesthetics, performance, and message. Asian Ethnology, 71(1), 109–132.
  9. Sento-kun’s profile. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.japantravelinfo.com/anime/pdf/sento_kun_profile.pdf 
  10. Tan, C. S. L. (n.d.). ご当地キャラ (gotochikyara) & ゆるキャラ (yurukyara) – the fusion of pop culture in place branding in japan. Retrieved from http://www.ijbts-journal.com/images/main_1366796758/0006-Caroline.pdf 
  11. Vlastos, S. (1998). Mirror of modernity: Invented traditions of modern japan. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
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