Sunday, January 25, 2004

Still working out what I want to say about Tokyo Monogatari and The Fierce One, I found this article about Lost in Translation. Though I liked the movie and found it quite relevant to my own experience in Japan, I have to admit that this writer has a point.

Regarding the admiration of traditional Japan at the expense of modern Japan, it reminds me of some arguments I heard both from from Japanese men and foreigners of both genders in favour of the older ways. There is a difference between the modern and old Japan that neither party thinks much about. The old Japan is the domain of the woman, implying that the new Japan is for men. Throughout the local government of Gyoda, where I worked, but indicative of most of Japan, men would express worry that Japanese traditions will soon be extinct. One coworker, a high ranking official, replied, when I asked him how these traditions can be saved, that women are at fault for not staying home more to cook traditional dishes and practice traditional handicrafts.

As some of you may or may not know, a proper Japanese woman will already have had classes in flower arranging (ikebana) and the tea ceremony by the time she marries. One of purposes is to increase her worth as a housewife, if only for aesthetic reasons: "You can tell when a wife has had tea ceremony lessons if you watch her putting a plate on the table."

In a review of the Iranian movie The White Balloon, a Vancouver reviewer brought up the fact that, while the Iranian boy children depicted in the movie wore jeans and t-shirts, the little girls resembled village women. The reviewer deftly linked Iranian girls' dress to the upholding of traditional culture. Little boys can try out Western dress, while little girls are expected to remain traditional.

In fact, in many large Japanese companies, male employees can wear suits of their choosing, while female employees of similar rank wear a company uniform. The uniforms seem generally based on Audrey Hepburn's in Roman Holiday (a favourite foreign movie of the Japanese and usually the sole Hepburn movie recognized by laypeople). Though boys' school uniforms in junior high school are also based on a traditional design borrowed from the Prussian army, graduation into high school means that Japanese boys can attend schools that have contemporary Western style suits or even no dress codes. High school girls, on the other hand, generally still have only the Donald Duck suit as a choice, which, in the West, went out of style in the twenties as adolescent girl fashion.

My snarky stab: Sophie Coppola is like so many Western women who think they support gender equality but are really pushing women back a step. Like those idiots who want Afghan women to wear t-shirts and jeans. Heck! Sometimes I want to wear a chador...and who wants to worry all the time that their tight lowriding jeans accentuate overly-abundant butts and their miniskirts display thigh cellulite? Of course, there are many Japanese women who can't wait to meet a white man, any white man, as long as they can escape the weight of tradition placed on their anorexic shoulders?

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