Japan - from Asahi to Zen
Traditional terms, and a pop culture glossary through the eyes of a raw gaijin.
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Madam Butterfly,   Mah Jong,   Maiko,   Manga,   Martial Arts,   Matcha,   Matsuri,   Maybe,   Meeting,   Meiji Period,   Meishi,   Mie,   Mikoshi,   Military,   Minshuku,   Mobile Phones,   -mon,   Mujo,   Mukatsuku,   -mura

Madam Butterfly
Puccini's opera in which an American soldier in Japan marries a Japanese woman.    She gives up her religion, endures the wrath of her family, and in the eyes of her society, she's tainted forever from her association with the Gaijin.    But she puts evreything into her marraige, and eventually they have a child.

On the other hand, he takes the relationship far less seriously, and when his job ends, he packs his bags and goes home to marry an American wife.

It sounds hurtful, and evil, but it was common practice at the time.    Oh, how things have changed...

Mah Jong
Originally a Chinese board game, brought to Japan via the US during the Meiji Period.

some mah jong tiles Four players compete for points using 136 square pieces of tiles with different markings.    Originally a game for the nobles, it was taken up by the plebs after WWII, althoughi it is now pretty much out of fashion.

See Also:    I-go

maiko headshot An apprentice Geisha.

A beautiful trainee, whith many long years of service, before she can afford to buy herself our of Geisha slavery.

See Also:    Geisha

Japanese Comics.

Although I don't mean to sound derogatory, so maybe "Graphic Novels" is a better description.    Manga seems to be the modern popular literature of Japan.    The format is Graphic Novel, but it's not unknown for the topics covered to include often complex, social or political issues.    Most of the ones I have seen people reading though tend to be Cyperpunk stories.    In this genre, I'd recommend "The Ghost In The Shell" by Masamune Shirow, available in English.

The one worrying thing about Manga though, is just the nubmer of them that seem to consist of nothing but pornographic drawings.    I don't know if that is better or worse than 'regular' porn.. at least no amimals were hurt in the drawing of the picture. ;-)    Porn Manga is read unashamedly in public, on the subway etc.    What is slightly worrying about it all is that it is not stocked way up high on the top shelf of the newsagents, but rather, is picked up and browsed by everyone - little boys and girls included.

A final warning, lest you do decide to delve into this phenomenon.    Don't accidently spoil the ending for yourself.    Like other Japanese books, Manga start at what we would regard as the "last" page, and work "backwards".    The same applies to the panels within the pages.    They should be read right to left, not left to right.    Sad to say, but I was already 3 pages 'in' to the Ghost In The Shell before I figured any of this out. ;-)

See Also:    Anime,   Hentai

Martial Arts
Japan has any number of martial arts, although Sumo is the National Sport, and Karate perhaps the most famous worldwide, there are many others.    I'll try to list the main contenders:
  • Aikido - the art of fighting without fighting.
  • Judo - Grown men hugging then rolling around together.
  • Karate - waxing on and waxing off, all over Okinawa.
  • Kendo - Japanese fencing.
  • K1 - The Ultimate Fighting Championship.
  • Ninjitsu - nothing to do with teenage mutant turtles, I promise.
  • Sumo - fat men pushing each other around, symbolically.
  • Tai Chi - a Chinese discipline, but hugely popular in Japan.

Powdered green tea, used in the tea ceremony.


The Japanese way of saying "No".

See Also:    Honne to Tatemae,   It's Possible

Exactly as in the West, it's an event where everything is talked about, but nothing is decided.    However, the Japanese are better at it.

See Also:    Nemawashi

Meiji Period (1868 - 1911)
The era of westernisation .. eh, modernisation following the opening of the country and the restoration of the Meiji Emperor (Matsushito). The Meiji Restoration signaled a shift of power away from the usurping Shoguns and back to the Emperor.

Before this time Japan had been in isolation from the rest of the world.    But the Western Powers had already gobbled up South East Asia and as much of China as they could swallow, and now they were banging at Japan's door.    Elements within Japanese society saw the writing on the wall, and knew that if they were to remain an independent country, free from the hated gaijin then their only option was to openly learn the ways of the foreigners, but without becoming like the foreigners.

This policy was a huge success.    Japan remained mostly free from Western aggression, and by the end of the Meiji Period, it had taken it's place amongst the Great Powers of the world.

See Also:    Dates,   Historical Periods

In Kabuki these are the poses performed by Tachiyaku at climactic moments involving a rotating, nodding movement of the head and the crossing of one eye in a powerful glare.

mikoshi procession A portable shrine carried around a town during festivals.

Traditional family-run lodgings, similar to Bed And Breakfast, which are a cheaper alternative to Ryokan.

See Also:    Capsule Hotel,   Love Hotel,   Ryokan


"Ceaselessly the river flows, and yet the water is never the same."
Buddhism teaches that every single life must pass and that everything is under constant change and decay.    This melancholy at the sense of passing beauty, and pride before the fall, informs much of Japanese literature, and is at the heart of the Buddhist worldview.

See Also:    The Tale Of Genji


"Mukatsuku" normally refers to the feeling of being dissatisfied, offended, irritated, or angry, but among young people, it also refers to a potentially explosive, repressed state from which they cannot find release.

How many students feel angry and frustrated and how do they express these feelings?    In one survey, conducted by the Benesse Educational Research Foundation, found that only 10% of the students in the survey reported rarely feeling angry.    Girls, in particular, said they felt angry and irritated about relationships with friends.    Half of the students try to control their anger, but others act out in violent ways toward objects or people.    They tend to divert their anger in outward-directed or physical activities or solitary past-times, or engage in slightly hazardous or risky behavior.

If left unchecked, mukatsuku can lead to kireru or snapping.

See Also:    Hikikomori,   Kireru ,   Wa

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