Author: georgoconnor

I'm a BCM student majoring in International Media and Communication. Whilst I use this blog solely for university assignments, this space has become quite the home away from home for me. It is fast becoming a place of growth and exploration that are facilitated by the individual classes and subsequent assignments of my years at Wollongong University. I am interested in the way media can be manipulated for different purposes and different audiences. I am interested in the proliferation of media and content and the way that it is revolutionising our world as we know it. I am interested in being a part of this revolution. Outside of this blog and Wollongong University I'm interested in fashion, yoga and popular culture. I enjoy a wine with my girlfriends and if I could, I would fine dine all day, every day. So, welcome.

A reflection on autethnography

What started with a fascination with Japanese sex dolls has ended with an in depth exploration of  how aspects of Japanese society, history, culture and politics affect dating trends.

Throughout the process I have struggled to make myself aware of all of my predispositions and I think this is evident in my research.  However Ellis et al describes epiphanies as transformative experiences and I feel that the entire autoethnographic process has been a tapestry of moments that have altered my perceptions in one way or another.

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Primarily I became aware of western media’s portrayal of the East, especially the quirks of Japanese culture. What I once read as a piece of investigative journalism, I can now see strong elements of sensationalism and drama. For the first part of my research I was extremely caught up in a western voice and perspective on the issue which I believe to be the reason why my first assessment was heavily weighted around the media hook of the herbivore men. It wasn’t until I started to engage with Japanese scholars and government studies that I came to be aware of the broader picture.

Because of this epiphany, I also came to realise how social interactions and practices are so incredibly entrenched within history, custom and locality. In many ways, the struggles that Japanese women face are incomparable to my own or those of my mother and her friends but in some ways they are. For example, the everyday struggle that mothers endure between their careers and children is broadly applicable to both culture’s.

It was interesting to see how the Japanese Government

While attempting to do research while being aware of my own frame of reference I believe that my feelings of intrigue and uncomfortability disintegrated into feelings of understanding and compassion. In alot of ways I think it takes the sense of “other” out of research and establishes a human element, or connection, within the work.

Throughout my research I have learnt so much about the ins and outs of dating trends in Japan while along the way, discovering alot of things about the dating culture in my own sphere.

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The state of dating in Japan, from a woman’s perspective

Despite being a woman who is somewhat politically engaged and a proud feminist, I had not thought to explore the duality of the perceived issues with modern day dating in Japan. In the midst of sexual harassment scandals and debates about equal pay, I am ashamed to say that my mind did not think to explore the female involvement in the state of affairs. Coming from a family where women have equal opportunities to men and from a society that does not have as much of an ingrained system of gender discrimination, I was completely blown away by my findings below.

Whilst my previous blogs focused predominantly on herbivore men, I have come to realise this is merely a symptom of a much larger issue. The other side of the conversation that has been ignored by the western media is that the changing role of women, gender roles and expectations has also had a profound effect on Japans modern day dating scene.

Japanese familial structures have been a cornerstone of Japanese society since the 19th century. However during the the period of the Meiji State (1868-1912), family structures became codified and therefore, a matter of civil law. What was created was a patrilineal family system know as Ie.

Ie was a direct reflection of the Meiji mentality that women were the lowest ranking members of a family and by extension, society. This became the foundation of Japan’s social stability as men worked 70 hour weeks and the women took care of household chores, raising children and the family finances.

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A Japanese housewife in the period of the Meiji Restoration

After the war, new laws were enacted to make marriage a union between equal, consenting adults and then the 60’s arrived bringing  double digit growth for Japan’s economy. This meant that younger people were moving to the cities, away from their family homes with generations of family members and so, new families structures were created.

Whilst the workforce was encouraging of female participation (for economics sake, not equality), the legacy of Meiji in the form of gender expectations and societal infrastructure are laden with problems for the modern day working woman and so by the early 90’s, women too were avoiding dating.

Gender expectations

Whilst women have become highly valued members in the workforce, the expectations of traditional gender role divisions within couples has not changed. In fact, Japanese men do the lowest amount of household chores in the developed world. The average amount of time spent by married men on household chores over a week amasses to a grand total of TEN MINUTES PER WEEK. The same study, by Makato Atoh, suggests that out of 2/3 of the unmarried women who were interviewed, they believed that being married would mean less freedom.

As well as household chores and caring for children, the women of Japan are expected to take care of the ageing population. Another leftover value from the Meiji State is that the elderly live with their younger family members and the expectation that this is the women has not shifted.

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 Japan: The worst developed country for working mothers?

Child care

Despite women being fully fledged members of the workforce, there is an astronomical shortage of childcare facilities. While many Japanese are entitled to a year’s parental leave, very few take it. Men rarely take paternity leave for fear of missing out on a promotion, or being fired and women have a tendency to leave the workforce for resignation of having others do their work for them.

 

These choices are so extreme due to the fact that in 2016 the BBC reported that 72, 00 children were on the waiting list for daycares. The Japanese workforce tends to work on a 12 hour day system and so without feasible childcare options, it is impossible to have both a career and family.

All of these factors have made dating for women in Japan about much more than a romantic connection. The burden of dating and where it may lead is too cumbersome for many women who value their independence. In many ways, dating in Japan equates to a loss of freedom and autonomy for women. The intake of women from the workforce was made for economic decisions however there has been no facilitation to adapt the societal infrastructure accordingly and this is having a direct effect on the dating habits of modern Japanese women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A continued autoethnography on dating in Japan – a work in progress

Upon reflection of my first experience with autoethnography, I can see it has been quite the journey.

In my first blog I started to grapple with the concept of a country where “romance was on the rocks” due to economics and the emasculation of men due to changing gender roles. Herein lay my first epiphany. As a middle class woman, unburdened by the gender roles that I have come to understand are deeply embedded in Japanese culture, I have never understood dating to be anything more than matters of the heart.

My second blog was a product of frenzied googling fuelled by an unhealthy amount of intrigue and uncomfortability. With a strong focus on sōshoku danshi (herbivore men) as portrayed by Western mainstream media, I attempted to examine concepts of masculinity and gender. The terminology that frequented these articles and on occasion, my own writing,  was detrimental to my initial research.

From the onset, the ‘investigative journalists’ continue to use words such as “subject” and “disturbing” when reporting on aspects of Japanese dating culture. Terminology like this is highly problematic as it immediately establishes a sense of otherness between the journalist and the members of the Japanese community. If anything, these words serve to sensationalise the story which I have now realised is the opposite of autoethnography.

In order to refocus I decided to spend some more time with Ellis et al.

To study a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders and outsider better understand the culture

This quote reminded me of an article I had read where pop culture writer and coiner of the term sōshoku danshi, Maki Fukasawa described how the western media has manipulated this term for the sake of wonderment. Fukasawa describes a western fascination with a “weird Japan” and how a sexless and dateless Japan has become another signifying trope.

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An image from ’22 weird and wonderful things about Japan’, The Telegraph.

It is here that I realised the problem with my initial blogs and also where I realised that the current state of dating in Japan was a much more systemic issue than I had initially realised.

Whilst herbivore men are now often synomymous with asexuality, this is not, as it turns out, what Fukasawa meant or intended. Fukasawa maintains that herbivore men are very much interested in sex, but they are significantly less aggressive about it. This is indicative of the extreme changes in gender roles that has been occurring over the last 20 years and something that I will go into at length in the next blog.

However the lack of understanding of this term and it’s meaning lies at the cause of my misunderstanding of my area of study. Perhaps also of autoethnography as a methodology.

At the beginning of my exploration into the topic, I had acknowledged my own personal experiences and history with dating, however I was thinking of dating as occurring in a vaccuum. I forgot to acknowledge the differences in culture, history, media and politics.

In the following blogs I will try to keep this in mind as I look at the role that women play in contributing to a supposedly “dateless Japan”.

 

The current state of dating in Japan 2.0

After listening to the podcast My date with a doll man in Japan, I went straight into a Googling frenzy. For the next few hours I went down a dating in Japan rabbit hole and it seemed that a lot of Western media were right there with me.

Within the last year and a half there has been a considerable amount of research, or more specifically, interest in the current state of dating in Japan and it’s causes and effects. Across the articles and videos, there appeared to be resounding sentiments of intrigue, extreme uncomfortability and more often than not, judgement. These feelings varied in degrees however upon reflection, I realised that to an extent, they mirrored my own. My googling hysteria was fuelled by intrigue and my uncomfortability drove me to desperately needing to understand more. Also too, to diminish the feelings of judgement that I was trying so hard to ignore.

Throughout the research was a popular buzzword  sōshoku-kei danshi  otherwise known as, herbivore men, coined by author and pop culture columnist Maki Fukasawa. Herbivore men were discussed in my podcast however the broader media appeared to be going to great lengths to deconstruct and understand the phenomenon. Fukasawa discussed how men from Japan’s baby boomer era were proactive with their sexual desires and romantic interests however with the faltering economy of today, masculinity is faltering too.

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The rise of grass eating men

This served to be my first Aha! moment. To link gender roles to the economy was previously beyond my scope of experience and to then link the state of the economy to dating habits blew my mind. However, after pondering this for two weeks, I cannot believe I did not see this. As a privileged, white and straight woman with open minded parents, I have not felt pressurised by economic pressures or social expectations as a result of my gender. Additionally, it appeared that Japan was suddenly undergoing a revolution of identity politics .

Professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University, Anne Allison believes that the questions of gender and masculinity are consistent with trends around the world however it has become so problematic in Japan as they are a culture that place such enormous amount of emphasis on men being the breadwinners. With Japan’s freeters (irregular workers) increasing by 7.6 million between 1995 to 2008, this has become hugely problematic for marriage and reproduction as a man without a regular job is considered undesirable.

While processing my first epiphany I decided to look at the comments to see how others had interacted with my experience. All of the comments contributed to the discussion in a great way however Max provided me with some additional material in the form of a Vice video about The Japanese Love industry which brought me my next two epiphanies.

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Ryan Duffy exploring Yakuza-sponsored prostitution rings in Tokyo.

In this video, Ryan Duffy is sent to explore “dying” country of Japan with more people over the age of 65 and the smallest number of people under the age of 15. Throughout the video, Duffy meets the places of “endless menu of relationship replacement services” with pure disdain.

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Hosts in the Shangrila host club that cater exclusively for women

Upon visiting a host club, Duffy interviews a woman who has no interest in dating our marriage because ” when Japanese marry and have kids, as soon as their kids grow up, their love fades”. This was met with cynicism by Duffy however, what I realised in that moment was that the Japanese appear to have an incredible sense of self. These growing trends and opinions of both men and women  show us that the Japanese put themselves as individuals first which is something I was not taught to do. To be honest, I very much respect and admire this sense of self confidence and self adoration. Importantly, as a girl who has jumped from relationship to relationship I applaud the strength of character that these women show.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 9.24.46 pmInside a Japanese cuddle cafe

Next on Duffy’s hit list is was a Cuddle Cafe where he pays $80USD for a cuddle and to have his ears cleaned. Duffy explained:

Nothing is weirder than this. Profoundly, profoundly disturbing.

Personally I found his reaction disturbing. Yet if I was being honest, when I first embarked on my journey with the podcast ‘My date with a doll man in Japan’ and sex dolls were discussed in detail, I was disturbed. However when Duffy, in his own auto ethnographic experienced spent the entire time dismissing the service it led me down a path of furious thought.

His judgement made me realise that while we judge the commodification of such intimate things, their reasons for doing so are complex and in many instances, much more developed than we westerners think. By acknowledging the need for human interaction while also acknowledging their resistance of relationships, they have found a way to have both and to me, that is highly evolved.

Finally, I realised that by calling interviewee’s “subjects” in my primary blog, I established a sense of other-ness that took me hours of research and multiple epiphanies to break down. Dating in Japan is a very real, human and emotional topic that is raw, honest and socioeconomically charged.

What started with a molotov cocktail of intrigue, misunderstanding and a hint of judgement has ended with admiration and respect for the heightened sense of self awareness and self respect that is exemplified by the trends in the Japanese dating scene.

The current state of dating in Japan

In search of a topic for my autoethnographic study, I was toying with ideas around the significance of dolls in Japanese culture. Naturally, this lead me to become absolutely perplexed by the rising popularity of sex dolls as an alternative to human companionship. As I read blogs and and listened to interviews, I found myself face by an even more interesting issue, that being the reasons why such a trend has developed in Japan and the subsequent current state of dating in Japan.

As a 23 year old girl, dating has been a significant part of my adolescence. If I’m being completely honest, throughout my schooling years I would have been labelled as “boy crazy”. The dating landscape for a Sydney private school girl of the age of 16 were altogether too complex for anyone to remain unscathed and it was through the politics of these experiences that we, or I, learned how better to navigate dating in the adult world.

More often than not, it would be my school friends in tears over a broken heart than the boys of our train group. While steeped in generalisations, it was oft thought that the boys had the power in this treacherous game of dating. As we looked out the window to see if the Newington boys got on at Redfern, they would waltz on the train with their sports bags and suffocating stench of Lynx Africa. A bizarre, yet important signifier of said power.

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The devil wears Lynx Africa

Fastforward seven years and we find ourselves in a world of Tinder, Bumble and Grindr; a country obsessed romance and dating. Unlike of course, that of Japan who, as a country, have been described as a place where “romance is on the rocks“.

In a podcast called My date with a doll man in Japan, Steve Chao from Al Jazeera’s 101 East examines the state of dating in the country of Japan. Over a third of young Japanese have never been in a relationship and nor do they intend to be. The majority of this number are men, with the buzz term ‘”herbivore man” coining these men who as young, shy and who show no interest in romance or of course, human flesh as the term would suggest.

Throughout the podcast, the interview subjects speak of strong feelings of a lack of confidence, understanding and acceptance from women in the dating game. They speak very strongly of past relationships and their very real fear of rejection. To an extent, my 16 year old self could very much understand these feelings.

For Japanese men, these feelings have a profound effect and in course lead them to prefer superficial relationships. An example is provided where two men visit a cafe where waitresses dress like maids and this pleases them as their job as waitresses is to be less judgemental and accepting, subsequently making the men feel more at ease.

Another subject, Hiroyuki Nomura was a 51 year old man with a 25kg silicone sex doll dressed as an anime character, as his companion. While he would not categorise the relationship as one of boyfriend and girlfriend, the traits of the relationship appeared to be conventionally similar. Nomura too speaks of this concern for power as he says the relationship “is not a power relationship. I think that people choose dolls because reality is harsh”. The reality of real life dating, the fear of rejection and I assume, the power of women in the dating landscape, is what I assumed he meant by ‘harsh reality’.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 4.36.17 pm.pngMazayki Ozaki putting his silicone doll to bed

After hearing Nomura’s interview, it was obvious that Japanese culture and their love for anime characters was quite unlike my own culture. However, the issue of dating in Japan was much more complicated than that.

During the podcast I learned that many of these dolls had strong girlish features, as that was the demand. Many Japanese men are said to be disappointed by women and that dolls have a healing quality and are able to make their owners smile. These ‘herbivore men’ believe that married people are unhappy. The perceived reason for this is that now women work side by side with men, they have become rivals. Furthermore, the Japanese economy is in decline, resulting in overwhelming feels of emasculation for the men of Japan. Subsequently feeding the power balance that they already perceive to exist. As a result , their population is in dramatic decline and the Government is contributing substantial funding to matchmaking schemes around the country.

As a 23 year old woman in a relationship, I found this all very difficult to understand. I had never once considered dating to be so political, nor so tied to the economy and the workforce. As a female, I will never be able to understand how this leads to such incredible feelings of emasculation and unworthiness and how this is resulting in men turning away from romantic, even human, relationships. However, I look forward to engaging in more research to obtain a better understanding of the reasons why these men feel the way that they do.

Autoethnography: great in theory, confusing in reality

By the end of this weeks class I think it is safe to say that most people left more confused than when they arrived.

I for one most certainly was.

In theory, I (think) understand autoethnography.  Autoethnography aims to take note of personal experiences of a culture other than your own. By reflecting on ones own socialisation, an autoethnographer seeks to better understand the culture of another.

When Chris talks through the theory and after reading the Ellis reading I thought to myself “yeah okay, no worries. I can do this”.

For sure I can think about my own socialisation and how that has affected my worldview. Sure after acknowledging my cultural framework I can proceed to experience a culture quite unlike my own with absolute no judgement or other-ing thoughts.

However… when the class began to discuss this notion and what it practically meant, my confidence was shot.

A class member brought up an article about a Japanese man and his sex doll. I had recently read a similar article myself as I have been contemplating studying something around Japanese dolls. As I listened to Chris and this class member discuss the problematic tendency to judge and then to understand where that judgement comes from, I realised the very real challenges of this kind of research.

By nature I can be an extremely judgemental person and often the thoughts come without thinking about why. This lead me to thinking about how judgement or experiencing the unknown can lead to a sense of ‘other-ness’ for the new cultural experience.

I feel that this will be my most significant issue when undertaking my autoethnographic research. As discussed in class, research does not exist in a vaccum and comparisons from what I believe I know or feel will undoubtedly effect the research that I undertake and I am curious to what degree I will be able to identify that.

 

Gojira from the perspective of a foreign film convert

I have never been a lover of foreign films. I find myself easily frustrated by subtitles and my inability to understand the language being spoken.

This is altogether surprising to me as I come from a home where another language is spoken. While my linguistic talent is somewhat limited, despite an exchange, French or more accurately creole has been spoken both around me and to me for my whole life.

My mother’s side of the family are from Mauritius. Mauritius is a small island with a population of just over a million, that sits on the East coast of Africa. Mum was born in the capital Port Louis and moved here when she was seven. My grandmother, whom we call mémé, speaks only limited English and so for love (and our sanity) creole is the dominant language. Subsequently out of habit, mum and her siblings often slip unknowingly in and out of English and creole.

So in regards to my dislike of foreign films and especially subtitles, upon reflection, this truly is dumbfounding.

But when I think about it, creole has become familiar to me and my way of understanding the world. The Japanese language and the film Gojira however, were not. So, when Chris first told us that we were going to watch to watch Gojira which is obviously in Japanese I thought, “oh my god how? This is going to be a long two hours!”

By the end of the film I was hooked. I was personally invested in the characters and the emotional and ethical issues that the film presented. I found this surprising because my supposed dislike for foreign films assumed that I couldn’t relate because of the language barrier.

Because that’s why we all watch movies, right? Well I do. Like any story I hear, I search for what is relatable to my life.

Gojira presented so many tangents that I could think about such as historical references, romance, ethics, nationalism and so many more. There are so many different ways to access the film, which made me realise that films are layered with so many human elements that will stretch across any language barrier.

Perhaps I do like foreign films after all.