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Posts Tagged ‘peace’

As a Japanologist (hah!) I get asked a lot of questions by friends and family about Japanese life and culture, ranging from relatively simple topics to the obscure. However the question I get asked more often than anything else is “Why do Japanese people always make the V-sign in photographs?”. One cousin even enquired as to whether it is some kind of Churchill-envy. Today I will put this great mystery to rest for those of you who have always wondered.

Most people think that it has something to do with being a symbol of peace/victory, but in actual fact it is a rather old fashioned dating device. Over 100 years ago it was used as a secret signal to members of the opposite sex who could be considered partners for marriage. Since a face-to-face conversation with a stranger in the street would be far too forward, a simple flash of the signal would show interest in that person and allow for arrangements to be made for private discussions, inevitably leading to marriage. Since then, with the invention of the camera and demise of arranged marriages single people use it as a pose in photographs to indicate their single status. Whilst this might seem embarrassing, it means singletons can more successfully pick and choose prospective partners from looking at friends’ photographs. If you see a cute guy/girl making the sign in your friends’ photograph then arrangements can be made for a not-quite-so-blind blind-date. So, be careful about making the V-sign when having your photograph taken in Japan!

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Article 9; A Call For Peace

Studying alongside Japanese students in my seminar class is a really unique experience of Japanese university life, not only because of the differences in the style of teaching, but because their opinions differ so much from the opinions of British students.

I’m not entirely sure if it is a London view or nationwide view, but it often seems that we have all become so cynical in the UK that war is an inevitable means of conflict resolution (apart from a few vegan alpaca farmers who have renounced the use of toilet paper and electricity). Just look at the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq; peace discussions quickly broke down and physical intervention ensued. Of course everyone wants world peace (especially Miss World 2008, 2007, 2006…) but in Japan, people genuinely believe it is possible. I find this kind of optimism for the future of the world very refreshing.

After the 2nd world war, the new constitution which was written for Japan included “Article 9” which translates into English as the following:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

In class we were discussing whether it would be possible to export this article to other countries. Every single one of my Japanese classmates thought that it should and could be achieved. Every single one of the Americans thought that the US would never adopt such a policy.

With family and friends in the armed forces, I find it hard to be anything but supportive of the our troops, and however much I agree with Article 9 as a utopian ideal, I cannot imagine the UK ever renouncing war in a similar way to Japan for the simple reason that the UK is too deeply connected with international affairs.

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This first month has absolutely flown by, and I can hardly believe its October already! I’ve just got internet in my room which I’m so happy about (even if it isn’t wireless and has taken a month to arrive!) So I’ll be able to update more frequently from now on.

I just got back from a study trip to Kyoto which was one of the best things I’ve done so far in Japan. It was so nice to really get to know my classmates and spend time in such a beautiful city! First of all we went around the Ritsumeikan University Peace Museum. We could do the tour in Japanese or English so I decided I would go for the challenge! Luckily I was pleasantly surprised how much I could understand. My Japanese has already improved so much; a couple of months ago I would have only got the overall meaning, but I’m now at a stage where I really understand things like this in more detail. The lady who gave the tour was so passionate about war history of Japan that it was not only educational but really interesting.

After the tour we did a workshop to help us think about ways we can make our world more peaceful and at the end we had to create a “recipe for peace”!

We had a big party at an Izakaya (very traditional Japanese pub-restaurant, where one eats a large variety of small dishes whilst drinking heavily) and many shenanigans followed. Drinking in Japan is great fun, not only because Japanese people love the silliness of drinking, but also because of a wonderful thing called 飲み放題 which means you pay about £7 and you can drink as much as you want (or can) for 90 mins. And the next day, unlike in the UK, none of the Japanese discuss the embarrassing details of the night before!! Whilst this is kind of expensive for most of the Japanese girls, pink and merry after 1 drink, for the exchange students it was very good value for money! Even our teacher of older years downed a drink or two!

The next day we saw a few shemples (shrines and temples; 数きれない), had a fantastic lunch at a rather posh restaurant, did some shopping and generally mooched about in the rain.

For the first time since arriving in Japan, I felt a very strange mixture of emotions. Arriving at Kyoto station, all the memories of teaching near there flooded back! Visiting Keihan Sanjo tube and other places was also very nostalgic; I used to visit them once or twice a week for 3 months! Going back to Kyoto a second time, this time being able to read all the signs and understand the announcements etc was also a strange feeling, because last time couldn’t understand any of it!

I was also surprised because I could actually notice differences in the way people speak! I couldnt put my finger on what it was but the accent was somehow different, and they use different words too. We always learn about it in linguistics but I never thought I would be able to tell the difference.

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