Yo, but like… FUCK JAPAN

…and everything that rode in with it. (Okay, not the food.)

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Japanese food

I would never be so arrogant as to say “Fuck [blank]” about any country that was not my own. Luckily my Japanese heritage allows me the opportunity to say: fuck Japan, fuck its culture, fuck its values, fuck most everything about its society… because it needs to be said. Now if I am speaking honestly, of course I realize that each culture has its good and bad, has something unique to offer and can be valued for some — many — reasons or others. Japan is not an anomaly in that sense; there are many wonderful parts of Japanese culture and I am very happy to be Japanese (in no small part due to the food). As we can all learn from other cultures, I think Japan can offer the rest of us some insight into cooperation, striving for excellence, humility, and pride.

But this is not what this post is about. Today I choose to write about a part of Japan that is often absent to the rest of us, that we do not think about before, during, or after we have traveled there, and maybe only passingly when consuming Japanese pop culture. This is not to say that there is not Western analyses of Japanese culture. Only yesterday did I hear on BBC radio a discussion of the population crisis and the potential reasons behind it. There are many feminist analyses that point to sexism in Japanese anime, manga, and gaming culture as well (otaku culture to those interested in learning more about it). But what really makes me express myself so strongly against Japan is not situated in statistics or political understandings of the mechanisms of our society; rather, the day-to-day reality of what it means to be Japanese living in Japan.

Kyoto is a good starting point. Kyoto is the city that I am from. It is known for being the old capital, for having the best cherry blossoms, and for its historical preservation of old temples, shrines, and the like.

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Kyoto

Amongst the beauty of Kyoto (my favorite spot being Kamogawa river), you may also notice the beauty of its women — beauty, not subjectively but objectively — the young women of Kyoto are dressed immaculately; hair coiffed, nails trimmed, not a pleat out of place. Like our stereotype of Parisians, it can seem very appealing in a high-fashion, snooty type of way. Japanese women (/people) present themselves very well, and it can be quite a delight to those of us who don’t understand the mechanisms working behind it. There is a reason why it is difficult to spot a unkempt individual in Kyoto, let alone in most metropolitan areas of Japan (except maybe Osaka*); the word is だらしない [da-ra-shi-na-i], and we just don’t do it.

See, “darashinai” (to be sloppy) is something we just don’t do because other people don’t do it. Japan is a society that operates on the basis of shame, and othering. It is quite easy to be an “other” in Japan: not shaving your facial hair, drawing (any) attention towards yourself, being loud, or “dark,” or having any sort of assertive self-expression whatsoever. Social shame is the linchpin of Japanese culture. Being shamed by others around you, in the Japanese collective imagination, is possibly the worst thing that can happen to you. There is a reason why so many people choose suicide as an alternative to ousting themselves as someone who may not be leading a humble and productive life as is expected, or more accurately, proscribed in greater Japanese society.

The shame mechanism works like this: we teach children at a criminally young age that they are to police themselves and each other. For those who exhibit “bad” social behavior, we teach judgement and ostracization — quickly. Japanese television largely comprises of shows that focus solely on laughing at others who do not adhere to social standards and norms — and yes, while it can be highly entertaining to watch (some) people deliberately make a fool out of themselves for the greater humouristic cause, on a slightly deeper level, it can be quite cruel.

The language of Japan itself is laden with ways to distance yourself from others by identifying their appearance or behavior as undesirable. It would be very difficult to explain the nuances of Japanese language here in English, but what I can say is that we learn to communicate with one another through policing, judgemental language. Children as young as 4, 5, in schools can be heard talking to their peers in a very paternalistic and disciplining manner. It is very peculiar to hear a young child say to another something like: “you know people who don’t wash their hands can’t make any friends, right?” (It is kind of a shit example, but it is really, really difficult to translate this particular nuance into the English language). This is not about children mimicking the language they hear from their parents and other adults around them. It is about children learning at such a young age that their behavior is always to be on watch, and in turn that others’ behavior also must be looked upon down the bridge of one’s nose.

The shame element becomes even more insidious when you add in factors such as gender and power. Not unlike many other cultures in the world, women are taught to feel ashamed for… just about anything that has to do with being a woman. We are taught to be ashamed about the shape and size and color of our bodies, about our sexuality (take a look at Japanese porn if you really want to know what we think of women), about our individual thoughts and values. In such an extremely male-oriented society such as Japan, women are very literally meant to be seen and not heard — to the point where a woman being assaulted on a train will not cry out for years and years of socialization not to draw attention to herself or cause “disturbance” to others.

Here is an even better example of how the extremely male-angled framework of society and the imperative upon women to not speak out work together: I was sitting in front of a class of 5-yr-olds once when one of the young male students attempts to lift my dress and touch the inside of my thighs. Despite witnessing the entire incident, the female teachers did not say one. word. to this young boy chastising his behavior, because this is the kind of thing that is too shameful to be addressed, especially by women. The awkward and apologetic laugh/bow was instead employed here, and I had to take it upon myself to tell the boy that it was not appropriate to touch others’ bodies without their permission.

Because women are not meant to speak out about things like this. And women are not meant to do this, or that… we aren’t even meant to enjoy sex even within the most acceptable conditions. Women are meant to be beautiful, and then to be mothers. Women are so socialized in Japan to present themselves in a certain way that their physical compositions are altered. Ever see a bow-legged Japanese woman? That shit is intentional, and unhealthy as fuck.

http://www.iromegane.com/japan/culture/the-secret-of-japanese-girls%C2%B4-bowlegs/
Because its cuter that way.

Dinner conversations can go something like this:

“I saw a woman at the train station today who was so fat! She had to wait in line for the next train because she couldn’t fit. What a burden she is causing to the rest of us.”

While watching TV:

“Oh she is so pretty because she is white (in skin complexion) and has a small face.”

On speaking about co-workers:

“What a stupid burikko bitch. She is so stupid and annoying. I can’t stand her.”

Let me not even get started on what burikko actually entails — to give a general gist let me just say: women are thought to be most attractive when they are “kawaii” (cute); the best way to be kawaii is to act as much as possible like a little girl. What are character traits of little girls? Cute, yes, and naive, innocent, easily manipulated, eager, and dumb (at least in the burikko imagination). Japan’s ideal woman is trapped in a cell padded with schoolgirl uniforms and oversized stuffed rabbits. Sounding rape-y yet? (Good. Because it is.)

I cannot be bothered here to go into full scope of the state of women in Japan, because what can be said can produce volumes. What I can say is that not even in our language do we have words that point to empowerment, self-assuredness, to self-assertiveness. It is not enough to analyze the awkward pedophilic tones in manga or question the existence of games like Rapelay.**

The day-to-day lives of women in Japan are almost entirely constructed, leaving little to no room of dreaming of different possibilities for oneself and one’s future.

The women who are born in, live in, and die in Japan are subject to a reality of living as an animated puppet. I think of my grandmother, and what kinds of dreams and aspirations she must have had as a little girl. At one point they faded away, and she is a now a woman who plans and prepares meals for her husband on a daily basis, despite not liking cooking at all. What about the young women who are at the prime of their potential, who instead of wondering: “What do I want to do? How do I want to live?” are caught trimming themselves at the edges, trimming trimming trimming trimming so they can be “kawaii” and appropriate, just like everybody else? There is not even ONE mainstream, visible form of resistance to the dictates of Japanese society — because of course, any sort of resistance is met with social shame, and collectively, we just don’t “do” that in Japan.

The level of suppression (oppression) in Japan is one of deep, deep concern. And yet because of our success within capitalism it often is not thought of as “too bad.” But it is. I can’t even say that the women in Japan are suffering because to suffer is to feel something that has not been deemed acceptable by the larger society. It is possible, I think, to teach suppression of the soul so much as to make suffering unrecognizable. It is possible to distort humanity to the point where puppetry is the only viable alternative. Japan needs help. And it needs to help itself find some sort of authentic humanity before as Japanese we are sterilized out of any true and meaningful existence. Fuck Japan, yo. Fuck Japan. Fuck Japan. Fuck Japan.

BOOOOOOO!!!

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Two thumbs, waaay down.

*Osaka is somewhat of an anomaly in Japan. For whatever reason the attitudes are much more lax, people are much more expressive and direct. Because of the unbridled honesty of Osaka culture, people there are often regarded as the niggers of Japan, if we want to make an appropriate Western comparison. (Whaddup mah niggaaaas!! Hahahaha)

**I advise caution when seeking information about this game.

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Surviving Whiteness

Why is it so difficult to find a survival guide of “how-to” survive white people/ whiteness/ white spaces?? Can a sister get a motherfuckin bone, people??? I have been in Bangor, Wales for exactly 3 days now and I am feeling well in need of a how-to survival guide, because I can feel the whiteness impeding upon my soul as we speak, and it ain’t right. My usual shining-in-glory nubian queen self (lol) has not seen the light here; it’s as if there is no space for me in a place that prefers to keep things neat and orderly, with people who do things like cook with margarine.

I’m trying to write my own survival guide but I am learning as I go – and quite a strange thing too considering that white space is my native space; I’ve spent most of my life navigating white spaces and becoming quite skilled at it, so why then am I feeling all brand new all the sudden now that I am confronted with my nativity? Spending a year away from all of this gave me relief, but now that I am back in it, my feelings of discomfort are at a level that is… too uncomfortable. It’s also that my anger and grief have taken different forms now, they are not as ready at the helm to help me burst out of myself out of necessity, not giving a fuck about what anyone thinks about what I say or do, saying a big fuck you to all the stupid things that don’t matter, like whether my hair is too “wild” or how people will feel if I say the word “nigga.” I actually still don’t care what people think when I say nigga, but then why haven’t I said it once since I’ve been here (I hear myself replacing it with the more family-friendly “homie”)…. like…wut?

It’s hard to be your full shining nubian self when there is no support behind you, and the very settings that you are placed in are configured for a completely different model of human being. You feel yourself trying to stand up straight in a room that is already crooked – crooked for you, not the others. There is the simpler route to take, to try to stand up straight in accordance to the angles of the room, which in reality is still you standing up crooked, but it could feel right for a time because you will have aligned yourself with the room. But what the fuck would I want to do that for? I didn’t do all this “self-work” or whatever, I didn’t struggle this much only to be forced back into having to adjust my own posture (to the detriment of my own health) whenever I am in a crooked room – which, let’s be real, is damn near the whole planet – I didn’t say all this bullshit about self-love only to not love myself and love the room instead.

So how do I stand up straight in a crooked room? Where’s that survival guide? And it is a matter of survival for sure. I am telling myself to remember where I come from, to remember what is inside of me, to remember what drives me, to have a Kendra-esque attitude of, “girl, fuck these niggas, bitch,” but it is harder than it seems and my survival guide is still “in progress.” In the meantime I need to light me up a fatass blunt and start feelin a lil niggerish again… I’m sending up S.O.S. signals y’all! The queen has yet to arrive.

Until then.

Who are the real terrorists?

…and why doesn’t anybody give a fuck about the Palestinians???? Man… there is so much terrible shit going on in the world. Only a few days ago a young Palestinian family burned to death because of Israeli settlers throwing molotov cocktails into their home. I’m not going to even tell you to imagine that because if that shit don’t make you feel something angry, then you AREN’T IN TOUCH WITH YO HUMANITY NIGGA–

People keep “oohing” and “aahing” whenever I tell them I spent some time in Palestine this year, asking me: “Yeah, but isn’t it … dangerous there?” with the anticipation of those inching closer to the scene of a car accident while waiting in traffic – Yes it’s fucking dangerous there but what the fuck are people thinking when they ask me this? That those a-rabs are running around chanting Death to America (which I happily did a few times during my stay; I even learned how to say it correctly in a-rabic, y’all); that there are constantly buildings burning at every turn? The shit we see on television doesn’t nearly convey the most powerful weapon of war, which is that of fear, and helplessness. It may be dramatic to hear the stories of starving Palestinian children left in some building next to the corpses of their murdered mothers, of missiles from Gaza going into Tel Aviv (of which the senders are still being characterized as “terrorists.”) All of that sounds great on camera but the real danger here, the part that really should have us all pulling our loved ones a little bit closer, is that Palestinians continue to live in a culture of terror, perpetuated by the real terrorists in this whole situation, which are Israel and its wonderful bank account called the United States of America – and the fact that: nobody seems to give a shit.

What really makes any of us think that we are special enough for this shit to never happen to us? We are only one economic or political incentive away from being the targets of mass war and genocide, and if the ethnic cleansing of black folk or the capitalist slavery of debt aren’t enough to convince you, well then you can just go fuck yourself. And actually, I really don’t even feel that strongly about that (that you should go fuck yourself) but really like… what are you doing with your life? We are just as strongly oppressed losing hair over our bank accounts or having our heartbeats quicken at the sound of the police as Palestinians are simply living, being, existing.

I am not trying to make a false comparison here by saying that our struggles as first world citizens (from which vantage point I speak from) are equal to those of the Palestinians who face real, physical violence on a daily basis (although that is the culture of terror that many of our trans folk, women, queer folk of color, and others living in the first world experience everyday) – but rather to say that all struggles are important, and all struggles are rooted in, well, struggle, and for that reason our scope of awareness and rage should be far-reaching and encompass any and all efforts that human beings make in the struggle for their humanity… I mean we are still sitting here debating about who should be the next bank-account-in-chief in 2016 while Palestine burns, and burns, and burns. All struggle for humanity is connected, and the Palestinians continue to suffer enormous and humbling human costs while the rest of us turn the other cheek, acting as if our consumer-goods-padded middle-class lifestyles make us any different, any more safe, or any more free. WAKE UP PEOPLE.

PALESTINE IS BURNING.

I used to be fearless

I am trying out this new thing. It is called “being grown.” I didn’t necessarily choose to be grown at any particular point, rather – it chose me, because being “not grown” was not working out too well for me. I tried to be not grown for a minute; it was a good minute too, but most pronounced for about a few months in between “fearless” and whatever-the-hell-it-is-I’m-supposed-to-be-now. Oh yeah: Grown. Grown means for me something that I didn’t expect. I didn’t know until I reached it that I was spending a lot of time and energy trying to stay behind in “fearless,” in a place that I didn’t realize at the time I could no longer inhabit because of my very own efforts.

Fearless is a space that I have occupied for about five years, roughly from the time I was 20 to well, now. (I’m 25 now). Fearless was a space characterized by youth, naivety, optimism, carefree thinking, careless acting, confusion, pain. Many of these characteristics still exist for me, but differently. Fearless was a space where I was too inexperienced to know what I needed to do to take care of myself. A space where, I assumed that the worth others gave me was my true worth, not the worth that I gave myself. I wasn’t aware that they were separate at the time, so I didn’t know how to cultivate either.

Fearless brought me to many experiences in my life. Fearless brought me to a strip club at a fresh-faced twenty years old, ready to take my financial destiny into my own hands. Fearless kept me in a five-year long terribly abusive relationship that I couldn’t recognize at the outset. Fearless gave me the power to give less and less of a fuck each day about things that don’t really matter to me (which is part of the reason why I can’t live there anymore). Fearless gave me the confidence to believe that I could do anything I fucking wanted – literally ANYTHING. Fearless made me take my blessings for granted. Fearless made me unafraid.

I left the United States earlier this year, in January 2015, because I knew that there was something more. At the risk of reiterating an imperialistic narrative of “finding oneself outside of one’s borders,” I knew that staying in the United States would not only draw me out of my fearlessness, but also straight into anger, and resentment, and hate. That is a story for another day, but I was very very privileged to have the ability to leave the United States at this junction, following whatever energy that was pulling me out, or maybe just running as fast as I could from whatever energy that was pulling me in. I didn’t know what it would be that I would find, I just jumped – headfirst into the world with no fucking clue what awaited me.

Halfway through my year now, and after celebrating a trepid 25th birthday, I have found, at least, one thing out here in the world that I didn’t anticipate. I found that: I am no longer fearless. Fearlessness is part of what brought me to this point at all – I never would have sold all of my belongings, packed up what I owned into two boxes and said “fuck it” and left had I not been fearless. I have that to thank for it. And then I came out into the world and felt as if I was falling: in love, in despair, in happiness and in sorrow, and in my desperate attempts to scramble to find something to grab onto, I tried to go back to fearless. I thought that going back would save me from the exposure that I was experiencing, that I only had to understand in my mind again that I didn’t have to be afraid of anything and I would find my salvation from the ways in which the universe has gutted me and nourished me all at once. But I can’t take back the things that have happened in my life, as none of us can. I have stood in front of a Jewish settlement watching a child play on his toy bike as the children behind me didn’t even have clean water to drink. I have left emotional stab wounds in the person who bewitches me the most because of the anger and frustration I felt due to our differences. I have felt terrified high on psychedelic drugs fearing my safety after a man followed me across a city I had only been to one other time. I have pondered feelings of guilt for leaving behind my people at home whom I should be fighting in this war with. I have (still) had complicated feelings about my body for crying out loud, and that’s like, some really basic shit right there hahahaha! I have made the most amazing friends, missed my loves, been taken on food journeys of pure bliss, acquired new lovers. And while it has all been exhilarating and terrifying at the same time; finally, I am able to be in a place where I realize that I am never going back.

So this is for all of us twenty-somethings (and anyone really) who are falling in space, trying to figure out where the fuck we belong in this world. It doesn’t matter the time, the place, the people: the conditions of life and all of its pleasures and pains are with us wherever we go. The more we live, the more challenging it becomes to live exposed and open to the things around us, and to keep our hearts unblocked from the ability to give and receive love. For each step of progress that we make, there are two challenges ahead that will question that progress, things that make you think “I thought it was supposed to get easier, but I guess I was wrong.” So while I realize that there is a whole shitload of stuff that I do not know, what I do know is, that fearless was a time and place for me that I can no longer revel in; I have seen too much life, felt too much pain, and experienced too much joy to go back.

This is what I know now: I used to be fearless, and now I am brave. One day, I will be free.