Bebe Taian: December 2013

December 28, 2013

Maiko in Vintage Postcards

I received another surprise Christmas gift from one of my friends in Japan, one that I've talked about needing for several years but could never quite afford with all the other stuff to take care of... a scanner! Technically, a printer/scanner combo, which is basically everything I wanted. It even has the four separate ink cartridges, so if I run out of blue, I don't have to throw out full pink or yellow ink cartridges just to replace blue. Yaaaay! This means I can sell my old printer, which is actually fairly new.

To celebrate this awesomeness, I went and scanned in a bunch of my postcards and some of the magazine articles I've been wanting to capture. Google Books doesn't have a copy of them, and they're a bit long for me to type up right now. Future project? But for now, maiko photos!

December 25, 2013


I'm not really a big celebrator of Christmas. Mostly because I don't really have any particular religion. My favourite part is probably buying new LED lights the day after. >D I also like the smell in the kitchen when I bake cookies and muffins for everyone. Actually, I really like buying presents and such. I just don't like the crush at various stores, so I try to buy all year-round, and just stock them away whenever I have money to spare. This year was much smaller than the last. I should probably get started on making next year's gifts soon. :P
This year I was gifted some pretty awesome things. I didn't expect it at all! One of my very thoughtful friends handed me some money to get whatever (that isn't sarcasm; there's a lot that needs replacing, and how can he know what everyone else got us already?) My mother-in-law gave me her purse from her HS junior-year prom, a pretty silver clutch that you'll definitely see in kimono photos to come. <3 The cats, naturally, gave me fur and loud meows at all hours of the morning for more turkey.

But the fun stuff!

Zelda: Ocarina of Time Blend 2
A replacement cartridge of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for N64. I'm in love with this game, and have been since it first came out. I have another copy, but I lent it out and it came back dead. These things happen, especially since the game is over 10 years old. So a new copy it is! If you've never played any of the Zelda games, you might start with this one or with Twilight Princess. There are adaptations for newer consoles, so if you don't have a Nintendo 64, don't worry.

I also bought three books that I've been looking at for awhile. They aren't available in their entirety on Google Books, but I'll link their summaries anyways. I was looking particularly for books about facets of Japanese society written by Japanese people. Sadly, the vast majority of results for my search on books under the Japan category are written by white men about economic politics, war, and whether Japan is "functional" or not. (No, that's really the subject of a few books- like Americans can really talk about functionality in world politics.) There were books on feminism and women's rights in Japan, but they too were written by white women (not translated by foreign women but written by Japanese; that would have been acceptable), and therefore probably cannot provide an unbiased view of the subject. And yet, I'm limited to books published in English. I'm going to keep looking for books that I can afford online, and hopefully invest in those written by actual Japanese authors soon. So, although there were many I wanted to read, I settled on these three first:

- Modern Passings: Death Rites, Politics, and Social Change in Imperial Japan (Andrew Bernstein)

In Imperial Japan, as elsewhere in the modernizing world, funerals, burials, and other mortuary rites had developed over the centuries with the aim of building continuity in the face of loss. As Japanese coped with the economic, political, and social changes that radically remade their lives in the decades after the Meiji Restoration (1868), they clung to local customs and Buddhist rituals such as sutra readings and incense offerings that for generations had given meaning to death. Yet death, as this highly original study shows, was not impervious to nationalism, capitalism, and the other isms that constituted and still constitute modernity. As Japan changed, so did its handling of the inevitable.

- Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Motherhood, Comics, and Censorship in Japan (Anne Allison)

This provocative study of gender and sexuality in contemporary Japan investigates elements of Japanese popular culture including erotic comic books, stories of mother-son incest, lunchboxes - or obentos - that mothers ritualistically prepare for schoolchildren, and children's cartoons. Anne Allison brings recent feminist psychoanalytic and Marxist theory to bear on representations of sexuality, motherhood, and gender in these and other aspects of Japanese culture. Based on five years of fieldwork in a middle-class Tokyo neighborhood, this theoretically informed, accessible ethnographic study provides a provocative analysis of how sexuality, dominance, and desire are reproduced and enacted in late-capitalistic Japan.

- Rising Suns, Rising Daughters: Gender, Class, and Power (Sachiko Nakajimo, Joanne Liddle)

Surprisingly little is known in the West about Japanese women. Exploring themes of gender and class, this book traces the changing position of women through history and into the present. Repudiating the clicheacute; of the submissive Japanese woman, the authors show women as active agents in both family and public life. The women's liberation movement of recent years resonates with echoes of struggle and resistance from earlier times. The broader movements of history and culture are brought into focus within the experiences of individual women.

Can't wait to start reading. I might even be able to get a scanner in the next few months! What did you do for the holidays?

December 18, 2013

Considering Getting A Kanji Tattoo?

Asian cultures are cool, right? Japanese culture, especially! And to celebrate your love of Japanese culture, you're thinking of getting an ultra-cool mystical-looking powerful samurai-yakuza-hime tattoo! Don't worry. I'm here to help you decide on how to pick your perfect work of bodyart.

You're probably thinking of getting something solid, like "power" or "discipline" or "dragon" on your shoulder or bicep, someplace big and visible so that everyone can see it when you're out wearing your tank top (I HATE the term "wifebeater" for this style of shirt. I won't use it. It's a freaking tank top, okay?) I know, I know. I had that phase too. When I was 12.

But you're not 12. You're whatever legal age to get a tattoo is in your area. And you're going to get an AWESOME tattoo to show how awesome you are, with your deep, awesome, totally profound and superior love of this foreign culture.You know exactly what tattoo you want, or maybe you're not quite sure yet, but you'll know when you get to the shop and scan through their books to figure it out. Or maybe you'll use Google Translate and hope for the best. But one thing is for sure: the person giving you that tattoo isn't Asian, and if they are, they don't know Japanese. Or Chinese. And they're not the same language, even though much of the kanji is imported from China.

Then you get your super-cool tattoo. It reads "UNBREAKABLE". You're rough, tough, buff, and now everyone knows it. You're freaking Jet Li meets Ken Watanabe mixed with Bruce Willis.

Only one problem: it doesn't actually read "unbreakable" in the way you think it does. You lack cultural context. And on top of that, tattoos in Japan are still largely associated with criminals, and are somewhat of a taboo unless you were brought up or accepted into a certain type of subculture. So if you want to go over there with that in a visible place, expect to get a mixed reaction from people. Japanese generally know that foreigners are more accepting of tattoos, and tattoos are gradually becoming more acceptable because of foreign influence, and you're going back to your country soon anyways, but a long history of connotation is not going to just vanish in the face of one (usually white) guy's visit to Japan. I know, I know, "REVERSE RACISM!!1" But you're going back to your own country soon, right? And the people there understand your love of the culture of the country you just visited, even better than the people you just spent time with do.

On top of that, it's perplexing as to why you got something like that in kanji to begin with. You know that's an actual language, right? It's not like a Dali painting, full of subtext and symbolism. It's literally a word, just like English has characters that make words. Their characters for words just have different lines. Just like we have compound words, they have compound kanji. For example, our words like weekend is week + end to make one word. In Japanese, that's . means 'week', means 'end'.

Which brings me to a series of tips for the super-cool totally-relevant people who want (Southeast) Asian tattoos:

- If you would not write this super-cool thing on your body in your native language, don't do it in someone else's language.
- If the person giving you this tattoo doesn't read that language, don't have them do that tattoo.
- If you are not connected to the culture (and I mean actually connected, not "I really love Ozu movies and kawaii anime girls"), do not get that tattoo.
- If the culture you respect so much generally frowns on tattoos, you may want to reconsider getting that tattoo.
- If you think that translation works on a letter-by-letter transliteration basis with the English language, do not get that tattoo.

Hopefully this resolves the complex issue of what to get for your awesome Asian Tattoo.

December 15, 2013

For Sale Sunday: Taisho Kakeshita, Yukata, Sake Cups

Horrible things seem to happen to me a lot. Like, seriously, a lot. I have no idea how this happens. But I do know this: I don't give up, and if that means selling off the private collection to put a roof over our heads, so be it! I bought a months' worth of food for the cats, and plenty of litter every chance I get, so they won't go neglected. But the car accident, injuries, loss of transportation, and losing all four of our collective jobs (plus getting laid off of a replacement job this weekend) is just... it's seemingly insurmountable right now. A lot of people have helped us in the past few months by purchasing the haori, kimono accessories, and pagan supplies. For all of you, I thank you! <3

This week, plenty is up for sale. Stay tuned next week for all new stuff!

Antique Bridal Kimono + Possible Maiko Hikizuri

Some of you will remember this wonderful piece of art and history. It was sold as a maiko's hiki from Taisho era, but it may have also been used as a wedding kakeshita. It seems some kimono of this type were simply sold or traded because of the expense involved with making them, and what was remembered in one city might be new to the next. It does have the appropriate pinholes in the sleeve, but the Kyoto seller was unwilling to name the geisha who (supposedly) sold it to him. I bought another hikizuri from the same seller, so this might be a legitimate claim. But how unsightly to think of a geisha needing money for a kimono!

Be aware that this kimono is fragile. I haven't worn it, even to display. Instead, I've kept it wrapped in paper and brought it out only for show. Because it uses real kinran (metal-leaf paper-wrapped thread), and not the synthetic kind used later, it's easy to see what a process it was to make this kind of valuable thread. Today, of course, plastics are generally used as they don't ruin the fabric through staining or rust.

This vintage indigo yukata in my favourite pattern, stylized asa no ha, comes with a bright red wool obi.

It's sewn fairly narrowly, but there's plenty of fabric tucked into the seams if someone wants to restitch it to make it a few inches larger. The original stitching is hand-sewing, as is traditional and even expected of most kimono.

I need to pull it out and get measurements of it this weekend. Now that I have a working camera, I can take more photos, too!

I also have two sets of 24k gold plated sake cups. One is a matched Kotobuki set (longevity), in three different sizes, likely for a ceremony. The other is a mismatched set of 5, three with designs and two plain. All show signs of wear, being as old as they are. However, replating is available locally for a fee to cover the jewellers' costs.

I have a few more individual cups for certain events, like golf tournaments, years of the monkey and boar, etc.

December 12, 2013

Book Review: Kickboxing Geishas, by Veronica Chambers

I bought Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation maybe mid-2007ish, read it once or twice, and didn't give it too much thought. I've since lent it to my sister to read, and given it another shot myself. As I've aged, I find myself more and more critical of works regarding Japanese culture and people, especially when not written by Japanese themselves. I hope I am as critical of myself as I am of others. Today, there are sections of this book that rub me the wrong way, but I can't quite put my finger on why.

At first, it was an interesting book; the cover put me off (being a typical geishafaced white woman in badly-fitting kimono), but the Table of Contents encouraged me to buy. It started out as a blog-like read about a POC woman working for The New York Times who got sent to Japan, hardly the country of her dreams. Veronica was aiming for France, but instead got a place with a lot of French restaurants (and the melon bread- really, who could turn down ultra-light, fluffy bread with a thin, sweet honey-melon glaze?) The premise was that within there were essays and interviews with Japanese women who were "modern" in the Euro/America-centric sense, although the ToC alluded to men's positions as well. I bought it on discount at Waldenbooks; at the original cover price of $25, there was no way I could afford to have it otherwise.

The sections where she is actually interviewing people and letting them speak for themselves is wonderful. I would have liked to see more of it. And while I appreciate the conversational, blog-like commentary on her own thoughts and feelings, I think Veronica might have written a separate book about them or even kept an online journal in companionship to this work, especially since there was all that ripe material about women who became geisha because of henshin booths and Japanese-American people living and working in Japan. But then, this book filled with only interviews of Japanese women might have only been one hundred pages long! I can't imagine how good this work could have been had she followed up on more women and their experiences instead of writing six pages about a breakfast she had at a hotel one day.

I think little things about the text get to me- the way she referred to a group of little girls as "traveling in packs like wolves", or the constant references to Japanese women being "tiny" and "pixieish"- even though she interviews a woman named Kazumi, who spoke of her shame at having to wear men's clothing due to her size (Bananas, pgs. 90-115). Part of it is, I think, a very America-centric approach to Feminism and applying that viewpoint to a non-American culture. I came to realize that much of this book does not approach Japanese feminism as defined by Japanese women; rather, it is an outsider's definition and her quest to fill it in by asking Japanese to lend their voices. I wonder if any of them have benefited from the proceeds made from this book. In one section, she tries to pin Kazumi for a xenophobe for rejecting an imperialist culture, while defining Japanese culture as "confining" (pg. 92). 

I am very happy, however, for the many references to Japanese writers, bloggers, and other influential people she has interspersed throughout the text. I was able to look some of them up on my own, and I hope to be able to obtain some copies of certain magazines and essays translated into English. Veronica did try to learn some of the local customs, and apparently makes visits back to Japan since; perhaps she's learned more about how things work in Japan and has gained a new perspective. Veronica Chambers is apparently quite popular and has written several other books, worked for TV shows, and been all over the place- perhaps she could write a new edition of Kickboxing, or a book in a more straightforward style on Japanese subculture. Considering her own life as a Black woman, I'd be interested in more on her perspective on the import of African-American culture to Japan, which was briefly covered in this book.

All in all, I'm glad I didn't pay full price for the book. I'm willing to overlook some of the more problematic parts of it to get at the perspectives of Japanese women and men woven between the anecdotes and observations. Authors frequently do not get control over what the cover of their book looks like (it appears to be the fault of one Eric Fuentecilla), so I give the racist cover a semi-pass *specifically* because I don't believe she can be blamed for it. However, if you're looking for an in-depth look at how societal rules affect women in Japan, centred on their lives and their opinions, without the fluff in between, don't bother.

December 1, 2013

Bebe Taian: What It's About

Bebe Taian has been open for a couple of years now. The time goes by so quickly, and there's a million things I do that don't get blogged about, and a million things I want to write and don't have time or energy as frequently as I like.

In the past month and a half, I've been in a bad car accident which wrecked my car and herniated discs in my neck, lost all three of my jobs, DH lost his job, I found a new job that taxes me physically and pays not much, and DH at last found a new job. There was a battle over Azrael's medical care, and the attendance at/performance of a show on geisha culture (one of those things I haven't blogged about yet). Lots and lots of doctors' appointments. The medication I'm on knocks me out at only 2.5mg, but doesn't work for it's intended purpose until I'm at 5-10mg. Aaaugh! But it's at least given me time to refocus on what I want to do with this blog.

Much of my issue with posts is that I HATE just re-posting something half-mashed from other websites and Wikipedia. Such is the nature of modern research, I suppose, but I want more.

A lot of information I've looked into getting is basically behind a paywall; I know this is a HUGE deterrent to people who actually want to learn about Japanese culture, and I'm working on getting the money to pay for this info so that I can repost it for others to read for free. I am especially interested in works written by Japanese people, preferably translated by other Japanese. I'm getting a little better at being about to spot racist tropes included in Western publications specifically because they entertain our narrative about what Japan/Asians are/do (see, for example, "The Talisman"), but will others? I'm not so sure.

I've started writing a style guide that I should follow, and a guide to tags and what falls under each category to avoid confusion. For example, "Meiji" will now be about historical events happening during the Meiji era, not kimono from those years. Some tags will be going away, others will be expanded.

I also need to decide exactly what I want to cover here. A lot of blogs cover pop culture, I'm sure: music, dorama (drama TV), etc. I do like talking about these things sometimes, but I think my main focus is "old" Japan, traditional Japan in the earlier days of Western influence. But I also do like doing book reviews and occasionally mentioning which anime/manga I like, although I don't watch/read much of either. Then again, I haven't had a lot of time for reading at all lately! I need to make more time for interesting things like this, and take notes while I'm at it.

A lot of what I hope to accomplish requires expendable income, and that's been the most difficult part since the library near me is closed, possibly for another year. I need a scanner that is large enough to handle some of the books I've acquired in order to get photos, too! Because of the space limitations in this apartment, this may mean simply upgrading the printer to a print/scan combo, money permitting. I think the expense will be worth it, though. If putting out the money on this stuff means that someone gets a better education without the struggles and problems I've gone through, it means something to me.

If you have suggestions on what you want to see here, please let me know!