Why I Can’t Laugh At Sasazuka Elise

Apparently I’m in the super minority when it comes to GACKT’s character “Sasazuka Elise,” but I’m going to write this anyway.

The first time I saw the video where he starts doing the accent, I got so angry I paused playback before I even realized what I was doing. “What just happened? Did GACKT really just do that?” It was physically painful to listen to.

It was pretty disheartening for me to read the comments on YouTube and see comment after comment in Japanese saying that the character’s accent was hilarious, original, fun, etc. There was one comment in Japanese from user All Manga’s Fault which playfully said “Please don’t make fun of foreigners’ speech, we don’t all speak with English accents LOL”. I agreed (under my YT handle LightningOrchard) and further commented the reasons why I was shocked GACKT had done that. Somewhat to my surprise the person responded that there was no need to take it so seriously. But to me, there is, because within the greater scope of Japanese pop culture and life in Japan, this is not an isolated incident, and that’s why I can’t laugh at Sasazuka Elise.

Here’s the thing: as I said, it’s not just GACKT. I’m sure that if I had never lived in Japan, I would’ve laughed at best and scratched my head in confusion at worst. But it’s one more instance of harmful, pervasive stereotypes which Japan is, for the most part, allowed to get away with.

The other thing is that this was GACKT: someone who has collaborated with at least two Japanese-speaking foreign vocalists that I can think of (Jon Underdown and YOHIO); someone who has traveled the world; someone whose clever YFC “press conference” relied on the viewer being bilingual to find half of it funny; and someone who isn’t necessarily hesitant to call out things in Japan that he himself doesn’t like about the country. So why did such a person play into that old stereotype that foreigners can’t speak Japanese? Even worse, why play into the stereotype that people who are half-Japanese can’t speak the language? Of course there are foreigners and half-Japanese who can’t, or who speak with heavy accents. But my problem with it is that since those who can speak the language are hardly ever portrayed, doing this only played to stereotypes. What’s wrong with that is that these stereotypes in entertainment can harm real-life foreigners and half-Japanese living in the country because it affects how people view and treat them.

Let me get into that as I review how GACKT’s portrayal of this character went.

At the end of the first “PS I LOVE U” video and going into the second, GACKT and the guys find out that within the story, the main character and GACKT are childhood friends. When he says「笹塚エリーゼは幼なじみ」, (“Sasazuka Elise is a childhood friend”), he and the guys laugh, like there’s just something inherently funny about having a half-Japanese person for a childhood friend. At this point, I wondered if maybe the name was some sort of joke or pun that I just didn’t get. Later I wondered if GACKT and crew actually know someone named that and it’s all a great in-joke.

"In that case, I should've picked a better name!"

“In that case, I should’ve picked a better name!”

When GACKT goes on to say that he would’ve chosen a “better” name for the character had he known they were supposed to be childhood friends, I started to get a bad feeling. So there is something wrong or funny about having a half-Japanese person for a childhood friend? Why?

Less than two minutes later, GACKT starts doing the accent. First he reads the line normally, then he says, “No, I think this line would actually sound like ‘honto sugoi ne[said with the exaggerated accent].” Possibly to his credit, TAKUMI does say “But she’s half-Japanese,” though since I can’t catch the rest of what he says, I’m not entirely sure he was questioning the accent per se. Then, GACKT pauses to introduce the “I am Saya” and “I am Sasazuka Elise” campaigns.

Not that GACKT himself wrote the caption, but notice how even in writing, Elise's speech is written in katakana. At least they left her name in kanji.

Not that GACKT himself wrote the caption, but notice how even in writing, Elise’s speech is written in katakana. At least they left her surname in kanji.

I once had a co-worker at one of the high schools I worked at show me a manga with foreign characters and say to me, “Look how they write what the foreigners say in katakana to show that they’re not speaking Japanese. Isn’t that great? Japanese are so creative!” In that particular manga, the characters were abroad, so it kind of made sense; it was a way of saying to readers, “The characters are actually speaking another language.” At the time, I thought that was the only usage for that, and thought it wasn’t good, but not a big deal either. But as I spent more time in Japan, I came to see that often foreigners on TV who were speaking in Japanese, and not necessarily with heavy accents, were captioned entirely in katakana. I don’t have screenshots of that, but Googling around I found this article about a McDonald’s Japan campaign where they had a character named Mr. James; everything he said was written in katakana.

But back to Elise…

Around the 4-minute mark of the second video, GACKT starts reading Elise’s spoken lines with the silly accent, while using a non-accented voice for the narration (「心の声」, the “inner voice”). I couldn’t help but think, “But she’s supposed to be half-Japanese and your childhood friend! So either she grew up in Japan and should be able to speak well, or GACKT grew up abroad too and should have an accent like Elise!” When he says 「お疲れさまでした」with the accent, I lost it and paused the video. (“Otsukaresama deshita” means something like “Thank you for your hard work” but can also be used as a substitute “hello” between co-workers starting from the afternoon/middle of the work period.)

The meme is Condescending Wonka. I found out about it when I lived in Japan and just knew I had to caption if with “Your Japanese is so good!”

A little personal story: when I was transferred to another school in Japan, there was one particular person who, despite being fairly kind and who, I’m sure, didn’t mean any harm, in two years never got over the fact that I spoke Japanese. One phrase in particular which always caught her attention was the above-mentioned otsukaresama deshita. When I’d say it, she’d be really surprised. She’d say things like “Wow! You can use that phrase so naturally!” I assumed she meant it as a compliment. At first I took it as such. But after two years in the same workplace, after we’d had several conversations entirely in Japanese, it became annoying. “Why is it so earth-shatteringly amazing that I can use a phrase which I hear at least 50 times a day, 5 days a week?”

Maybe it was just coincidence that it was around the “otsukaresama deshita” that I paused the PS I LOVE U video, or maybe I was subconsciously remembering all the times I’d blown someone’s mind by speaking the office equivalent of “hello.”

In any case, I try to keep an open mind in general. I’m always aware of the possibility that I’ve misunderstood something, overlooked something, or taken something more personally than it warrants (though I don’t think taking things personally is a bad thing in and of itself; more on that later). So I took a deep breath and restarted the video.

"Dream TAKUMI"

「夢の中のTAKUMI」, or “Dream TAKUMI.”

If I didn’t understand a word of Japanese, I may have laughed at GACKT’s voice for TAKUMI. But since I can understand it, I knew what GACKT said: “This picture is the dream TAKUMI. In real life, he’s actually super fat.” He holds his arm out around him to show just how big “HAGEMI” is (“Hage” = “bald,” often used as an insult.) I already wasn’t laughing. This didn’t help.

In the third video, even Elise’s inner voice takes on the exaggerated accent, as well as the “Fans.” Okay, the fans might be foreign. Honestly, if he hadn’t done that with Elise’s voice, and did it only with the fans and said they were foreigners, I wouldn’t have liked it, but I probably could’ve just eye-rolled and kept watching. Instead, I decided to stop watching the videos in this series.

But…I still had hope. So I eventually watched the fourth video. The inner voice goes back to normal, but the spoken lines seem even more exaggerated than before. Maybe that’s just my imagination.

And then, we come to this, the announcement of the contest to find Saya and Elise. If I have time I’d like to enter for Elise, though I figure I stand no chance of winning considering that my accent isn’t nearly as heavy as Elise’s and isn’t English based (my native language being Spanish, which has almost all the same sounds as Japanese); I weigh more than 50 kilos which automatically makes me a fat slob as far as Japan’s concerned; and I’m not willing to do the equivalent of playing Sambo for the amusement of anyone. I fear that there will be plenty of non-Japanese who don’t mind. If the winner of this contest ends up being a Japanese person wearing a gaijin-san costume I will seriously stop being a GACKT fan. The possibility of such an end to something that’s been a part of my life for the past 13 years is very saddening, but I know I wouldn’t be able to look at him the same way again if that happens. I’m crossing my fingers for Sasazuka Elise’s redemption.

As for taking things personally…is it really a bad thing? I think that when a lot of people take something personally, whatever it is that offended them deserves a second look. Of course, the thing is that there are so few foreigners in Japan that it usually doesn’t matter if Japanese companies stick big plastic noses and blond wigs on Japanese actors to “cosplay” white people, caption foreigners entirely in katakana, or act like half-Japanese people can’t speak Japanese. Meanwhile, in the States, the moment Katy Perry does nearly anything the offended group calls her out on it. Yeah, some people say “Don’t take it so seriously!” but the debate happens. I feel like the debate is often not allowed to happen when it comes to Japan, or it happens, and the conclusion is “If you don’t like it then leave.”

I’m going slightly on a tangent here, but I had this thought as I was working today. (I’m doing freelance translation for a certain mobile game company.) Along with the very first project I got from them, I received a file with translation warnings. Some of the warnings were about making sure to neutralize things that could be potentially offensive to Western audiences, such as referring to black characters as “dangerous looking” or lines which made fun of gay people. Today I came across a line that basically said “No one would love a fat woman.” (To paraphrase.) I mulled over the line for a bit. Initially I deleted it entirely and made a note of that in my translation notes. But then I started thinking… “Is this one of the reasons people can become blind Japanophiles? Because they consume translations which have been cleaned up for Western audiences, and if they don’t try to learn about Japan from anything other than pop culture, they remain completely ignorant of the issues Japan faces, both in relation to the rest of the world and itself?” Ultimately I have to abide by the company’s request that potentially offensive lines be changed, so while part of me wanted to translate the line faithfully, I spent some more time thinking about it and found a way to mention “big girls” without being as utterly dismissive of them as the original line had been.

Interestingly, this Sasazuka Elise thing happened right after I’d sent a former student (a GACKT fan, at that) something he’d requested: On the Front Lines, a collection of Disney’s World War II propaganda. I got a used copy and watched most of it before mailing it off to the school. I’m watching Donald Duck destroy the Imperial Japanese Navy, which consists of ships with buck teeth and glasses; imagining an incoming battleship equipped with a pagoda on the deck; and I’m starting to feel bad about sending this to a Japanese person despite the fact he’d requested it specifically because the anti-Axis stories are (apparently) not on any collection available in Japan, and despite the fact that I of course understand those cartoons were made during wartime. So I’m watching those PS I LOVE U videos and I’m like, “Why am I so worried about not offending others when others apparently don’t give a flying eff about offending me?”

I hate it when I start to sound like a Republican.

Oh well. I hope I don’t have anything to be angry about come March. (汗)

EDIT: Just now noticed this in the comments section of the McDonald’s article I linked to above, and I thought it’d be nice to add. A commenter, “Asian American,” comments that Asians aren’t portrayed well in Western media, and implies that it is therefore okay for Asian media to make fun of Westerners. In reply, Debito (I assume) writes: “So instead of fighting discrimination whenever it occurs, discrimination is justifiable when it serves your sense of revenge?”

I said that in my gaijin-san blog post I linked to as well. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and one fact does not cancel another fact just because it’s a fact too.

I got an idea for the contest after writing this blog post, and while it is very sarcastic so I know it won’t win, I hope I can achieve the careful balance of getting my point across (“That accent thing was really stereotypical”) without being so heavy-handed everyone dismisses me as some butt-hurt gaijin.


The Wrong Impressions

I’ve been living and working in Japan for nearly 3 months now.  It feels like longer, probably because I adjusted relatively easily.  So easily, that I sometimes wonder if there’s actually something wrong and I just don’t realize it. ^o^

Anyway, the topic of impressions has been on my mind lately.  Besides teaching young Japanese students another language, the point of the JET Program is to further internationalism and teach students about participants’ home countries.  But in the case of the United States, is that a fair thing to expect?  I’ve lived most of my life in Michigan.  Been to a handful of other states, but nothing deep.  Whenever students, other teachers, or neighbors ask me something about how things are “in America,” I can’t help but hesitate, because I’m all too aware that I don’t know what things are like in an entire country.  It doesn’t help that many Japanese themselves tend to talk about Japan as a whole.  For example, one person asked me, “Is Japan a convenient place to live?”  I said, “F. is a convenient place to live.” (“F.” representing the name of my neighborhood.)  The person seemed confused by my answer.  And it really, really doesn’t help that all too many Americans are ready to answer such questions with “In America, such and such is this way.” Or even worse, when English-speakers feel it is their place to “educate” Japanese about other English speaking countries, regardless of their level of knowledge of those countries.

Sure, we can make some generalizations.  If it were only about geography, it would be easy.  But here comes another sticky point: it seems to me that the American participants on JET are, by and large, from middle and upper class backgrounds, and they are overwhelmingly white.  The “America” that they present to Japanese is very different from the “America” that I (an immigrant from a family that was not well off, and someone who grew up in Detroit proper) know.  It’s not just JETs either.  There’s currently a foreign exchange student from the States at my school. Let’s call her “Cathy” for simplicity.   For one assignment, most of the class did presentations about Japanese language and culture, while Cathy’s group presented American culture.  Cathy presented many things as facts that are not facts for the average American.  For example, she showed one slide that had a very large, new SUV on it and explained that that was her car, and that most American families have at least two cars. She even talked about this dance–I forgot what it’s called. She didn’t say “debutant ball,” but it’s the same thing. In my mind I couldn’t help but scoff.  Meanwhile the students were left in awe at such a display of wealth (and by extension, power).  Of course, they wouldn’t be in awe if they realized that the average American is, despite what they are shown by a handful of Americans, not rolling in the dough.

Another wrong impression is not directly the fault of Americans themselves.  There’s a friendly takoyaki lady in my neighborhood. Most of the neighborhood foreigners stop by her shop, and she likes “English Talk,” as she calls it.  On more than one occasion, she has commented to her Japanese customers, “Americans are amazing!  They can speak so many different languages.  But Japanese people only speak Japanese.  That’s a shame, isn’t it?”  Sometimes the customers will answer something like, “Yes, it’s embarrassing, isn’t it?” I’ve tried to explain to her on at least three separate occasions that such is not the case.  But she thinks it is because all the Americans she has come into contact with happen to at least speak a little bit of Japanese if not 3 or 4 languages.  In my case, I told her, I speak several languages because I was an immigrant.  So, my native language is Spanish, I had to learn English at a young age, I studied French but it was so similar to Spanish that it was too easy, and I studied Japanese for the challenge.  I also told her, the other Americans she meets are probably more cosmopolitan than the average American, evidenced by their choosing to live in Japan, so they cannot be taken to stand for all Americans.  Now, I suppose it’s possible that the takoyaki-san is just saying those things out of politeness.  But I doubt that, given that most of the times she has said these things, she wasn’t talking to me, but to her other (Japanese) customers.

Epilogue ~The Things I Miss~

Related to the topic of class, but not necessarily to the topic of wrong impressions…I miss being able to speak ghetto.  People who only know me through this or my other blog may find my saying that strange, given that asides from geeking out and using emoticons, I write in very proper English.  To me, writing is a formal thing.  But speaking is fluid, changing with the situation.  Given the racial and socio-economic makeup of JET participants, I automatically had been using completely standard English.  After a while though, things started slipping out.  I said “I’m straight” to mean “No, thanks” to a friend from Hawaii and she didn’t know what that meant.  Sometimes I’ll drawl things out.  That’s another thing about the way I speak: it’s not completely of one place and one place only.  It used to annoy me, as a teenager, when one of my brother’s friends would say I spoke “country.”  When I got older I could understand what he meant, and as other people pointed out to me instances where I randomly spoke with a slight Southern drawl.  Where did that come from?  Was it from the first six months in the States, spent in Louisiana? Even though I didn’t know English at the time? That’s what I think.

Several weeks ago, hanging out with some other JETs, a black JET said to me, “I love how you’re ghettoer than I am,”  the implication being that a black person should be ghettoer than a Hispanic person.  But she didn’t grow up in the ghetto, so why should she be ghetto at all?  That’s the thing: while describing people as “ghetto” is largely associated with black people in the U.S., a wealthy black person is not going to speak like one from a poor region and a poor family.  To me it is then a matter of course that someone who is not black, but who is poor and growing up in a predominantly black city, will end up speaking like they do.  In other words, “ghetto.”  Of course, not every black person in the ghetto chooses to speak that way, in the same way that not everyone in the ghetto chooses to speak that way.  But one can’t ignore that where one comes from has a very strong influence over how one speaks.  While I’ve always known that I have to use standard English in certain situations, to me that never meant that I couldn’t use slang or speak ghetto in other situations.  I never felt the need to take on mannerisms that were more highly associated with the black experience, such as all-out Ebonics terms like “finna” for “gonna,” but I didn’t force myself not to speak like everyone around me just because I’m not black.

I honestly feel more out of place with other foreigners than I do with Japanese.  With Japanese people, I already know that they will most likely never consider me a member of their “in-group” no matter how much Japanese I can speak.  And that’s okay with me.  But while in the States you’d never think “I’m gonna get along great with ALL my fellow Americans just because they’re Americans!”, here, with a limited number of other foreigners around, I think subconsciously, I at least, had been thinking, “the other Americans are my in-group.” But things aren’t that simple.

Well, I really don’t have a witty way to end this, and I’m tired. ^_^;

By the way, “The Things I Miss” is a song by My Bloody Valentine.  It’s one of their more tripped-out pieces.

More Square-Enix Geekiness

Mwa ha! First post at Scales since I’ve been in Japan!

So what shall I blog about?  Well, that which I didn’t go into detail over at Lucky Hill: My “pilgrimage” to see Sephiroth.  ^o^  Yeah, I’m THAT big of a geek.

So, Square-Enix has a store in Tokyo called the Square-Enix Character Goods Show Case. (You can click on “English” to the left on their page.)  I Google-mapped it before leaving for Japan, but it seemed kinda complicated.  I was confused about why it was giving me a long, funky looking walking route when the mass-transit route required that I get on a train and get off after one minute.  It did help, however, since I learned that I would be getting off at Hatsudai Station, I was able to use the much simpler Shinjuku area map all JET participants recieved. The store was a mere 15 minutes from the hotel!  It’s kinda tucked away, under an overpass, so it’s easy to miss.

I asked the clerk if it was alright to take pictures, and he said it was fine.  Now, the very realistic Sephiroth statue is actually in the floor (in the Premium Goods area, of course), so I couldn’t get a shot of the whole thing.  They also have the original Genesis outfit on the display, like the one GACKT wore in the video to “Redemption.”  Click the pictures for the full size!

Welcome to my Reunion...wait, I'm not Kadaj...

Welcome to my Reunion…wait, I’m not Kadaj…

This one's blurry, but you can see more of it.

This one's blurry, but you can see more of it.

"折れた翼を羽ばたかせ、全てを消してみせよう〜" ♪

"折れた翼を羽ばたかせ、全てを消してみせよう〜" ♪

Whew, that’s quite a bit of geeking out there. >P

In slightly related news, I bought an Arena 37 Special that featured GACKT for the poster. It is the second decoration I’ve bought for the apartment. (The first was one of those Japanese summer-not-quite-a-windchime thingies.  I’ll add pics when I take them.

Up in the Sky

I’m flyin’ coach class, up in the sky

Sippin’ cola, livin’ the life


In a few hours, I will be getting on a plane to start this latest journey, working in Japan. It may be a while before I get internet access, so don’t expect much here until September. In the meantime, there’s plenty of amusing things in the old posts, (especially in the post right before this one, rraowww!) so enjoy!

Take care of Detroit while I’m away! Please don’t litter or pee in the new Rosa Parks Transit Center! Or anywhere else!!!


19 Days Left in the D

19 Days Left in the D (or, “On the Way to a Bittersweet Smile”)

Virtual Cookies to whoever gets the joke! Anyway…

It’s hard to believe:  I’ve only got 19 days left in Detroit.  A careful reader of the Broken Ankle Log would know that I got a job overseas, but that’s all to the left (technically to the right but, we don’t say that do we?) and who really reads that? Anyway, it all began over 5 years ago…*ripply flashback music*

A presenter from the Consul General of Japan in Detroit came to my Japanese class to talk about the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET).  In JET, you go work in Japan for a year, generally as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for English in middle and high schools, but there are other positions.  I asked if one had to be an American citizen to join, and was informed that one had to be a citizen of a participating country.  I was still an Honduran citizen at the time, and of course, poor little Honduras is not a participating country.

In 2004 I vowed to become an American citizen if John Kerry won.  I did not want to naturalize during Dubya’s presidency.  When Bush won reelection, I kicked myself for not naturalizing precisely to help vote him out of office.  Oh well.  Instead, I spent nearly a year looking for a job, got a part time job, and then joined City Year.  During my second year in City Year, I started the naturalization process, and became an American in July 2008.  I could finally VOTE!

With the scholarship I earned in City Year, I went back to college to finish the second degree I unwittingly started years before. I planned to graduate again in two semesters, earning a second Bachelor’s in Asian Studies concentrating in Japanese.  (It ended up taking 3 semesters, but close enough.) In December 2008, finally able to, I submitted my application to the JET Program and crossed my fingers.

In late January I was overjoyed to see that I’d made it to the interview stage of the application process. I would have my interview on the 18th of February.  I could think of little else.  Then, a mere 9 days before the interview, I had that fateful encounter with a patch of black ice.  I went to my interview, the one I had been waiting on for so long, on crutches, hopped up on Vicodin, without much preparation.

Luckily, when it was “game time,” I was able to focus on the task at hand.  It’s like on America’s Next Top Model: they’ll put the girls in crazy costumes that they have to “model beyond.” I felt I had to interview beyond my temporary disability, and certainly, beyond the side effects of the Vicodin, which at the time I still had to take in relatively large doses.  In mid-April or so, I received an email saying I’d made it to the short list, meaning my place in the JET Program was almost secured.  I was happy, but physical therapy was the first thing on my mind.  I later learned I would be going to Fukuoka Prefecture.  A little later still, I heard from my predecessor (Hi, if you’re reading this!) and learned that I would be at a high school in Dazaifu, the second largest city in the prefecture.  I was so happy!

When I first had the accident, the second thing I asked the orthopedist was “will I be able to travel overseas in August?” He said yes and I was greatly relieved.  But, he said that some of the screws I would be getting should be removed within a year.  I worried about having surgery in Japan.  I’d read that even in the United States, some surgeons might use different tools for the same procedure.  What if I went to a surgeon that didn’t have the right tools to remove my hardware?  I brought it up again at my May checkup, and my orthopedist said that if my ankle’s lateral motion was still severely limited in June, he could take some of my screws out in July; that would greatly help me regain motion, plus, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting it done in Japan.  He said it could be done outpatient in the office, as it only involved making a small cut above the screw head and unscrewing it out.

Unfortunately, at the June checkup, the x-rays revealed one of the screws had broken.  This is normal according to the orthopedist (though my physical trainer and therapist were thoroughly surprised: “those things are made out of titanium!”).  Since the broken part would have to be dug out, it had to be done in the operating room.  More all-out surgery. Oh Dear Diety.  Now, it wasn’t urgent to take them out.  But the orthopedist reassured me that it would not cost nearly as much as the first surgery, that the extraction would only take 15 minutes.  I got an estimate from the hospital: 10 grand, “more or less.”  That’s a lot, but if it was just 10K or a little more, I could set up a payment plan and live with it.

A few days after the surgery, I went to view my hospital account…and saw that the surgery plus recovery time had been over $17,000.  I couldn’t even be angry. Maybe it’s just me, but while technically the phrase “ten thousand more or less” can mean anything from a penny to a million, since it was an estimate, I figured the upper limit would be some 15 grand, but given the quickness of this procedure, I didn’t think it would go up that high.  Ha!

So here I am, back in the present.  What should have been a really happy time is bittersweet.  Now, I will go on JET not just to fulfill a dream, but to pay off a debt (unless Detroit Receiving Hospital has some more mercy on my soul). Nearly all the money I had saved up to pay for my move overseas went to paying for physical therapy.

As I walk about Detroit, and now notice how many people are walking with limps, I don’t mind the $1500 I still owe the Rehabilitation Institute; without therapy, I would doubtless still be “walking all crazy.”  Before my second surgery I met a woman who was about to have the same first surgery I did, just that on her left foot.  She had recently lost her job at an auto parts supplier so she had no insurance.  She frowned when I told her the discounted price of physical therapy for those paying out of pocket, saying even that was too much for her.  I wonder, will she be one of those walking around with limps for not being able to afford even to take on the debt of therapy? Likewise, that $17K surgery, well, I can’t say I don’t feel better without those two screws, because I most certainly do.  It’s a noticeable difference.  My ankle used to be terribly stiff in the morning, but now, the first step on it is enough to get the stiffness out.  And I feel better knowing there aren’t broken pieces of metal inside me.

So, that’s how it is.  I’m happy about JET, but too worried about the debts incurred to heal this injury to be freaked out about moving to another country for a year, as a sane person should be.  Perhaps it’s a good thing that way.

Well, I made a blog that will be just for my JET experience.  There isn’t much there now, but I’ll put it in the Blogroll.  If anyone is interested, it’s Lucky Hill.  I named it that because that’s what Fukuoka (福岡) literally means. I don’t plan on abandonning Scales of Libra, it will continue to be what it is now: a place where I blog about the Two Sides of Life, erratically as usual, for the amusement and/or edification of whoever wanders by. ^_^

The Japanese Really Know Where Their Towel’s At

I’ve been living a lie!  Douglas Adams was not the first person to be obsessed with towels.  Turns out Tokugawa era (1600-1867) Japanese really knew where their towels were at.

Check out this passage from Susan Hanley’s book on material culture, Everyday Things in Premodern Japan (p. 71-2):

The Japanese also invented a very useful, resource-efficient type of towel, known as the tenugi. … Since the tenugi was just a rectangular piece of cloth, it could be used for everything from a head covering or headband to a towel or a protective cover to keep dirt and flies off food. Used wet, it served as a washcloth, and when wrung out, it could be used to dry the body, particularly after a hot bath.  It was small enough to tuck in practically anywhere, and thin enough to dry very quickly in the damp Japanese climate. … The tenugi was so popular that it was given as a gift on festive occasions.  Though the Western bandana was used in multiple ways, its use was limited by comparison to the tenugi.

Doesn’t that sound like the part in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where Ford Prefect explains the importance of having a towel to Arthur? How different would their adventures have been if they’d had tenugi instead of bulky, terry cloth towels?  A question fit for Deep Thought indeed.

Maybe I can get a tenugi in time for Towel Day