Month: June 2009

Marriage Hunting, or Failed Heterosexuality?

Konkatsu bra

This image is priceless: it’s a “konkatsu bra” in which inserting a ring stops the marriage deadline countdown and plays a congratulatory wedding march. I love how Japan always introduces new sociological terms, and this one is a winner. “Konkatsu” is a combination of the words “wedding” and “activity,” and means “marriage hunting.”

In addition to negative reproduction rates, Japan also has remarkably low marraige rates: from 1975 to 2005, the numbers of unmarried people have risen 14% to 47% for men aged 30 to 34 and from 8% to 32% for women.

Sociologist Yamada Masahiro and journalist Shirakawa Tohko invented the term and sold over 170,000 copies of their book Konkatsu Jidai (The Era of Marriage Hunting). The authors believe that marriage must be actively sought. There are now konkatsu magazines, a television show, bars, shrines, and even a special section of the Nippon Ham Fighters baseball stadium catering to this new goal.

Supposedly women are too busy focused on careers, while men are less aggressive because of money concerns and job insecurity. One woman quoted in the Wall Street Journal article, despite her failed efforts at marriage hunting, somehow imagines that “marriage is like permanent employment.” Apparently, women far outnumber men in “marriage hunting” events.

I find this term and newly defined phenomenon incredibly funny. Maybe Japan would have better luck with its marriage rates if it allowed and actively promoted gay, lesbian and trans marriage. Or maybe marriage is just not that desirable. My guess is that the government will next promote out of wedlock procreation. Gambate, Nihon!

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RIP, Farrah Fawcett

RIP, Farrah Fawcett

One of the 1970s’ brightest lights is no longer with us. This image on a small throw pillow is one of the clearest memories I have of my adolescent bedroom. The husband had the same image on a poster on his wall in Tokyo. The globe was momentarily united by this one piece bathing suit, the amazing mane which still seems to inspire Japanese men’s hair, and that blinding smile. Her death is another reminder of the importance of the HPV vaccine.

Puppies in Shibuya

Puppies in Shibuya at nite

Shibuya is an area that I avoid, especially on weekend nites. My husband describes this busy neighborhood as full of “horny hetero teens” mostly from outside Tokyo and aspiring to big city life. A recent dinner with work colleagues found me there until close to last train time.

Poking around, we saw this incongrous juxtaposition: back-lit photos of sleazy girls next to “Baby Doll” puppies. Were these innocent puppies a metaphor, a bait-and-switch, a euphemism of some sort?

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Behind the scenes cosplay

Struggle under me: Your body is the collateral for the loan

Last weekend I helped my online moe language teacher, Bangin sensei, with his cosplay for the third time. Unlike the past two times– one in a small park, the other in a cosplay event– this time I would photograph Bangin and his friend Keith doing a Boys Love cosplay.

I love how Bangin originally explained his request by email:
Because this cosplay is BL, I would have to pretend to touch, kiss, or rape(not really of course!)…whatever. My friend is sure about this, so if you can accept it, I would like you to help us.

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Meeting Pipo-kun (ピ-ポくん)

Pipo-kun (ピ-ポくん) in Marunouchi

Only in Japan do the police have a super-cute mascot, Pipo-kun (ピ-ポくん). On my first day of my prestigous fellowship, outside of corporate headquarters in Marunouchi Tokyo, I had to go up and shake his hand.

In a city that most foreigners consider super safe, the mascot and his human companions were promoting safety by handing out mesh bags for bicycle baskets and paper tissues.

Kindness of strangers on Tokyo Metro

Tokyo-Metro-Map

Yesterday, two magical encounters occurred while riding the mid-day Tokyo Metro to the enormous corporation that is generously supporting my research.

Five stops into the ride, a diminutive older man engages me in conversation and then presents me with an unusual origami crane. By pulling on its paper tail, you can make its wings flap up and down. This energetic grey-haired sprite described himself as a “trouble-maker” who fights to preserve historic buildings, a type of activism Japan needs more of.

Well after he departed the train, the young woman on my other side began resting her sleepy head on my shoulder. A certain amount of proximity and even touching is common on trains, but I became alarmed when more and more of her weight pressed onto my suit jacket. I tried to alert her by saying “excuse me” and even gently touching the top of her head, with no reaction on her part.

I looked across the train, and could see that some passengers were sympathetic and others pretending to ignore the situation. Should I stand up and let her fall over? Should I try to rouse her? How could I wake her without touching her inappropriately?

All of a sudden, a man from the other side of the train came over and gave a hard slap to her shoulder furthest from me. She woke up, and stumbled out of the train without an acknowledgement or look towards me. I was very grateful for the slapper who resolved this uncomfortable situation.

I survived swine flu

In Narita with face mask

For work, I was required to leave the safety and comfort of Japan for the unknowable dangers of the US. Media and corporate “risk managment” departments had warned of the grave dangers of traveling to Canada and the US, while many workers have been outright forbidden to visit Mexico because of the terrible risk of swine flu.

My goal was to wear my face mask for the entire 17 day trip. I started by wearing it in the Narita airport in Japan. No one was at all surprised to see a passenger with a face mask there. If anything, I feel it makes me look more Japanese. I kept it on until passing through immigration and customs in the US.

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Hot or not: Kobayashi Takeru?

Kobayashi Takeru, pizza eating champion

Is he hot or not? World pizza-eating champion Kobayashi Takeru not only proudly focuses viewers’ attention on his tight stomach, but provides a rare come-hither gesture.

To review his Google Image search is to savor delinquent defiance with ever changing bleached and processed hair. Kobayashi’s riot of punk excess and competitive hedonism, his massive hot dog eating, and his all-American image making is alluring and repulsive.

So many questions arise. What is it about classic American food that lends itself so easily to who-can-eat-more contests? Can Americans not compete with Japanese in our most popular national sports? Is Kobayashi a good or bad representative of Japan. And finally, is he hot or not? What do the readers say?

Kobayashi Takeru in Alabama, winning again

You can see he charmed at least one Alabama member of the collegiate royal family.

Some other fun facts: his arch-rival is Joey Chestnut, he’s eaten 59 hot dogs in 10 minutes, and 5 and 3/4 P’zones (cross between a pizza and calzone) in 6 minutes, competitive food eating involves “jaw capacity and stomach capacity.”