Week 9

Japan through my eyes

Experiencing the unique Japanese culture, I was able to distinguish differences from my own. Being from a westernised culture, there were many significant confusions and cultural misinterpretations, however past and present research has allowed an understanding of this cultural experience.

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Meji Shrine, Tokyo

A cultural model by Hofstede distinguishes various cultures through five dimensions of power distance, individualism vs collectivism, masculinity vs femininity, uncertainty avoidance and long term vs short term orientation. This allows an understanding of Japanese culture by comparing it to Australian culture through these five dimensions enabling to make sense of my experience. Japan is a hierarchical society with importance to age and power which isn’t significantly different to Australia. Bowing is a form of greeting and respect consistent in Japan especially when entering an establishment. When entering restaurants a formal loud greeting from staff followed by a bow was practised. This is understood as being an exchange of greeting or showing kindness. Even the various Japanese language has informalities and formal language. I used ‘arigatou gozaimasu’, meaning Thank you; however I was told it was a more polite way such as ‘Thank you very much’ rather than just a simple ‘arigatou’.

I also noticed many people brought their palms together in front of their chest before and after eating; saying ‘Itadakimasu’ which means ‘to receive or accept’. This expression of gratitude towards food and the person that prepared it demonstrates the etiquette absent in western culture. I took upon this etiquette as well as bowing in Japan to avoid any culture misinterpretations and to ensure that I was polite in all situations.

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Ramen in Shinjuku, Tokyo

When eating, wet towels (oshibori) were provided to clean hands as simple hygiene and commonly replaced with napkins. Some sushi establishments actually don’t provide cutlery and customers are expected to use their hands to avoid spillage and allow easier dipping techniques. In Australia, wet towels aren’t provided and using your hands may be considered rude or lacking of table manners. Slurping soup and food in Australia is considered to be quite rude, however in Japan when consuming Ramen, slurping can be heard throughout the restaurant and is common, displaying to the cook that you are thoroughly enjoying the meal and is actually rumoured that this technique makes the noodles actually taste better (Japan National Tourism Organisation, 2015). I was worried about etiquette when finishing meals and made sure everything was finished- this is actually a common etiquette in eastern cultures.

Japan is highly dependent on convenience. Lots of restaurants had a ticketing system such as a vending machine to choose your meals and prepay in which you would be given a ticket to give to staff with your order. Although most menus had only Japanese, images were accompanied at almost all restaurants. When eating at a popular ramen branch, Ichiramen, customers are able to fill out the degree of spice, how flavoursome the soup is etc. according to how each person specifically likes it. This was then given to staff for your own custom ordered ramen. Every process in Japanese lifestyle practices was convenient and efficient. In saying that, every tourist attraction or popular restaurant had a waiting line but due to the efficient and fast systems in Japan, everything went quite smoothly- even though we did have to wait from 30 minutes to 2 hours sometimes. This is also when I realised that we, in western cultures are quite impatient. Eastern cultures see patience as a virtue and associate it with Buddhism as a value of perfect enlightenment. They tend to take longer in making important decisions and are patient in that due to being a long-term orientated society (Bergiel, 2012).

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Dontonburi- the nightlife district of Osaka, Japan

Site seeing in Japan is largely focused on historical shrines and temples. Rather than being religiously based the temples were spiritually based and are provided as beautiful architecture and landscapes within parks and mountains for tourists. Many shrines visited such as the Meji Shrine or the Fuishimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto were places full of tourists and were the first shrines I’ve ever encountered. Personally I expected these places to be relaxed, reverent and respectful and assumed it to be similar to religious places in Australia that I have been to; however the nature of it being a tourist attraction was strongly evident. However, they were still seen as spiritual places with wishing paper/ wooden plates where people could write down their wishes and prayers and hang them on trees. Souvenirs available at temples related to personal wellbeing, health, money and good luck which were different to typical souvenirs available here, such as a magnet of the harbour bridge. They also highly value a clean environment which was demonstrated through the lack of pollution on the streets and even the high use of public transport or bikes rather than cars.

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Wooden boards with visitors wishes at Meji Shrine, Tokyo

Japan according to Hofstede’s Five Cultural Dimensions Source: Geert Hofstede

 

 

Japan was a unique experience and was very different to my own culture. The whole culture was recognised as being completely opposite to what I’m used to in Australia as shown in the graph above from Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions. My expectations of Japan were different to what I encountered. Due to pictures and online videos of Tokyo, I perceived Japan as a high tech, busy nightlife city but was presented with a much more relaxed country. It did exceed my expectations with its advanced systems and busier suburbs at night such as Shibuya in Tokyo and Dontonburi in Osaka, but overall the cities were quiet with not many people on streets and empty during the day.

Follow my individual artefact instagram for more pictures/ videos of my trip to Japan @linhdoesjapan_

 

*All photos are my own unless stated*

References:

Bergiel. EB, Bergiel. BJ, Upson. JW, 2012, ‘Revisiting Hofstede’s Dimensions: Examining the Cultural Convergence of the United States and Japan’, American Journal of Management Vol. 12 (1) pp. 69-77 http://www.na-businesspress.com/AJM/BergielEB_Web12_1_.pdf

Frost. A, 2013, ‘Japanese Culture and Hofstede’s Five Dimensions‘ http://restaurantkyoto.dk/blog/en/japanese-culture/

Hofstede. G, ‘Japan’ https://geert-hofstede.com/japan.html

2015, ‘Japanese Table Manners’ in Japan Guide http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2005.html

Japan National Tourism Organisation, ‘Shrines and Temples’ in Japan: the Official Guide http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/indepth/exotic/lifestyle/see.html

Mooji. MD, Hofstede. G, 2010, ‘The Hofstede model: Applications to global branding and advertising strategy and research’, International Journal of Advertising, 29 (1) pp. 85-110

 

Social Media Research Proposal Review

In my initial research project proposal it’s possible I made some assumptions about both the methodology of autoethnography, and the core concepts behind the research itself. Below is a list of the possible assumptions involved in initial account:

  • In my initial post I assumed that Chinese social media was/is used exclusively, or at least “primarily” used by the Chinese population.
  • Those who have grown up in another culture can formulate an objective opinion/comparison through personal collection of data/first hand use only.
  • By analysing platforms created for another language in English, it is still possible to develop an accurate understanding of the culture without losing its nuances to the language barrier.
  • Assuming there is a comparison to be made at all between western social media and Chinese social media, it could be that they are almost identical, or used in very similar ways. This would render the comparison between the two a lot less interesting, and in a way void the meaning behind the research itself.

Further reading and research:

  • relational ethics – implicates itself heavily in this particular research project as it focuses primarily on social media; a means of connecting with others and building relationships. A common critique of the autoethnographic approach to writing is the ethical concerns and responsibilities surrounding the building of relationships for such projects. Researchers often create friendship and other relational ties with people which not only aid their inquiry but are also a simply by product of cultural immersion. This can lead to questions of how deeply can a researcher implicate their ‘friends’ in their writing and whether their relationship must be treated with a kind of sanctity or whether it can be mined for crucial information. In order to potentially avoid questions of relational ethics, I have chosen not to interview or personally engage with other users of these platforms, not to mention communicating with the vast majority of users on Chinese social media would require some knowledge of the Chinese language. Although this raises other concerns about the quality of my observations and whether they accurately represent the culture, I have instead chosen to use the literature to inform me. However, due to the nature of the research project this is not disadvantageous to an approach of this kind, as it is primarily a comparison between one’s known cultural experiences and one’s unfamiliar cultural experiences and how these differences in culture manifest across a range of social media platforms.

Despite these overwhelming assumptions, the autoethnographic approach still utilises a crucial methodology to develop and understanding of the culture through an immersion in it. It is through this approach that I believe I will gain the most data and knowledge to back up my research.

Tweeting and how it helps me analyse horror

It’s generally known that if you want your public announcements to have a significant effect you need an audience, and the bigger the better. The experience I had of me tweeting in real-time my Japanese horror movie views was slightly impaired I think because my twitter account has a very small amount of followers. Even though I have hash-tags specifying the tweets’ topic of analysis, I think they are unlikely to gain much traction because of their specificity. In having an audience, it would be nice to get some feed back though this was not my main focus for tweeting. I tweeted the experience to analyse what I found to be most important in the movie’s content. This was extremely useful for my research because it pin-pointed exactly how much value I was attaching to certain bits of the content, and made it easier to continue research later about what cultural significance this has.

However, I do in some ways regret not being able to foster a large audience, the amount of time it would take to build a existence on twitter though was realistically not in my timeframe. The most important thing about this though was not lost, and that is I was able to cultivate my fandom by actively engaging with the content. I analysed it and reacted to it with a textualised representation which I can later on use to contribute to my interpretation of what it is that makes Japan so influential in modern day horror fandom.

Twitter combine with blogging has allowed me to systematically organise areas of the content that I find controversial and perhaps socially damaging. By tweeting I can have a conversation with those that create the content, they may not hear it, though those who watch the content might, and perhaps they will agree with my disregard for the impunities awarded to certain cultural influences, and hopefully add to the causes striving to rectify these outcomes.

The accountability that comes from producing real-time thoughts on content I think will be important for my Storify blog when justifying why I chose to research the cultural representations that I did. The marker of my interest, these tweets will demonstrate how I originally constructed my cultural theories and perhaps make it easier for observers to determine how they feel about the research.

If you’re interested in seeing what came up of importance to me, my latest tweets on Japanese horror movies can be found here. https://twitter.com/4livetweeting

Botched Butts and Illegal Eye Surgeries

The unfortunate reality of some of the more dramatic beauty trends is that not everyone can afford them. In developing countries where most people cannot afford some procedures, regulations may not always be as strongly enforced as they ought to be.

 

In the Philippines, while there is the FDA to regulate and approve ‘safe’ items, there is also a fair amount of products available that are extremely unsafe and causing controversy. A great example of this is skin whitening products, there are a lot of skin whitening products that have high levels of mercury in them. According to Dr. Bessie Antonio, president of the Philippine Society of Clinical and Occupational Toxicology (PSCOT), “Skin contact with mercury-added cosmetics can cause serious dermal problems, including discoloration, inflammation, itchiness and tiny bumps … can eventually damage the brain and the kidneys.’’

 

 

While many products have been recalled or made illegal it still remains that those products will be available and appeal to both extremists and some poorer persons, thus there are serious cases of skin disfigurement.

 

Many countries have had issues with with counterfeit botox and illegal surgeries, for example in Thailand there is an abundance of illegal practitioners that have little to no training and are cheap and therefore targeted towards the lower classes. In 2012 Thai actress Athitiya Eiamyai, 33, died due to a botched filler injection in the buttocks by an unlicensed practitioner.

 

Hang Mioku

 

While a lot of the more extreme beauty trends may be treated as normal and trivial procedures in some cultures it is pretty shocking to see what desperate persons will do to be beautiful. A South Korean lady named Hang Mioku became obsessed with silicone injections. After using regular silicone she started using black market silicone injections, and then eventually switched to cooking oil which ultimately left her face dramatically enlarged and permanently disfigured.

 

The ugly side of cultures with high levels of cosmetic alteration is unfortunately disfigurement and sometimes death.

 

Sources:

http://www.sunstar.com.ph/manila/local-news/2011/08/11/parade-boosts-awareness-about-dangerous-skin-whiteners-172230

http://asiancorrespondent.com/90308/thailands-pretties-and-the-beauty-to-die-for/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2320679/Korean-woman-Hang-Mioku-injects-COOKING-OIL-face-refused-plastic-surgery.html

Broad Case Study – Visual Novels

Visual novels are an emerging media format. They sparked into prominence as the go to way to write eroge manga as the immersive elements of a game format gelled with with the eroticist effects the pieces were aiming for. As this trend flowed on, the range of topics covered grew, and while it is definitely very easy to find eroge Visual Novels, they are now a much broader medium of storytelling.

As with any immersive gaming experience, there are elements of RPG-ness to them, so I will be exploring if we can call a visual novel a JRPG.

Aswith any RPG game, there is the concept of perspective and in my experience with Visual Novels they are usually froma  first person perspective of one of the characters that interacts with the world and people around them. If we accept the loose definition on a video game as being an electronic interactive experience, coupled with this role play element, we can identify that it is possible for some, if not all visual novels to be RPGs. The issue I have with this academic response is that I view my time with visual novels as akin to reading a book as that is how most of the dialogue is presented, and I wouldn’t consider a book to be a game.

Personal issues aside, I thinkt hat one of the most interesting aspects of this case study is that if we take the premise that visual novels are RPGs, they become very strong candidates for JRPGs not made in Japan. As a result oft he source material and intertexual links to Japanese manga, the resultings tories use similar settings, and as a format with nothing but storytelling lends itself to the JRPG archetype. This results in similarities between the aim and stylings, however the gameplay is where I draw issue.

Gameplay in a visual novel, fromm y experience fits intot he choose your own adventure archetype. This is a common gameplay element for Western RPGs that focus on immersion through choice. The Japanese approach is, as referenced in my previous post, about the story of a predetermined character.

This minor scrutiny in the argument for visual novels as JRPG comes down to definition. Academically, if visual novels have gameplay, they should be able to be JRPGs, especially in the case of manga adaptions, however as this is autoethnographic, I will tell you that my view is that I don’t think visual novels are there yet, and if they get there, it would require some more gameplay for me to call one, even a Japanese one, a JRPG.

In Contrast: Facial Expressions in Anime and Cartoons

In this post we will take a look at the difference in facial expressions between anime and cartoon productions. There is a major difference in the presentation of emotion between these two styles of animation, and i believe that by outlining these differences we can better understand the importance of eyes in anime to convey emotion.   Facial expressions in anime cartoons differ in form to their cartoon counterparts. As outlined numerous times throughout the study, the main element for expressing emotion in anime productions is a character’s eyes, associated with the use of iconography. Iconography in these productions include the visual appearance of stress marks, such as the cruciform, which represents bulging veins that appear on a character’s forehead. Another famous example of iconography is the sweat drop, which appears in cases where character’s are experiencing embarrassment. Characters who are experiencing shock or other exaggerated expressions will perform a “face fault”, which can dramatically alter the facial construction of a character in order to effectively show their emotion. These visualised motifs convey emotion in a way that is not seen in cartoons.

In cartoons there is less emphasis on the detail of the characters eyes. In the American animated television series ‘The Simpsons’, the characters eyes are simplistic, as they are just dots for pupils. The eyes in The Simpsons are not used for storytelling, and in fact the entire facial structure remains relatively similar throughout the series. The extent of emotion in cartoons such as The Simpsons comes from the mouth of the character, by either smiling or pulling particular faces to reflect certain emotions. These emotions are evoked by the basic facial prompts we associate with emotion. The expressions that are made by the characters mimic realistic facial structures, where anime over-accentuates emotion in a more visualised manner.

If "The Simpsons" was an anime.  Source: SpaceCoyote on deviantart

If “The Simpsons” was an anime. Source: SpaceCoyote on deviantart

In terms of the overall contrast in facial expressions, the avenues in which anime and cartoon productions expression emotion utilise separate devices. Anime productions use a characters eyes to express emotions, coupled with iconography to accentuate emotion further. Cartoons emphasise emotion through a characters mouth, which they use to imply certain emotions, instead of expressing them in the visualised manner that is expressed in anime.

Back to the arcades!

So wouldn’t you know it studying arcades meant I had to go back! This time I went alone… well, without my closer circle of friends.  I decided I was going to make a serious effort to get to understand why the regulars (people who visit at least once per week) go to the arcade.

Obviously I didn’t want to get stuck on one guy because one data point does not a study make so I moved around and tried to talk to as many people as I could.  that way I’d get a variety of answers rather than just, “My friends come here.”

Not really surprising that reason was one of the most popular reasons.  Similar to the reasoning in my last post, people go out to be with their friends; nothing new here.  What I didn’t expect to be a common answer was that this was their way to escape.

What I mean when I say that is that, unlike me who plays games to escape into new worlds and be the hero and slay the dragon and save the world, there version of escape was really just a change of scenery.  They could escape their home life/their apartment/their other social circle.  It was more about physically being somewhere different than being the hero.

Don’t get me wrong, people definitely liked being the saviour and blowing up the terrorists but that was definitely unexpected.  I’ve never really been concerned with my surroundings unless they’re super bland but I guess I’ve just been used to my room for so long I’ve become immune to it.

It’s just interesting to see that while the games are definitely fun and the core of the experience (I mean, why be at the gaming arcade if not to play games) but the games themselves weren’t at the forefront of the reasoning.  I suppose it’s like playing soccer with your friends even if you’d rather play rugby.

I don’t think I could do that but hey, to each their own.

Live Music in Thailand

After looking into Thailand’s music scene and industry over the course of the semester, I realized that I have not yet chosen to look into the live music scene in this region. This is especially strange due to how much I enjoy live music here at home – I’ve lost count of how many bands I’ve seen over the years.

For my project, I’ve chosen to look into more alternative music genres throughout Asia, rather than focusing on mainstream artists. This means that most live gigs that I will be talking about will not take place in large stadiums or well-known venues – rather underground bars and clubs, and old houses turned music warehouses.

After doing a quick Google search of live music in Thailand, I was directed to the Lonely Planet’s website that detailed a few alternative and ‘indie’ venues such as ‘Brick Bar’, a basement pub and ‘Parking Toys’, a nightclub in Bangkok that specializes in local electronic music (Lonely Planet, 2014). It was interesting to discover venues such as these – of course, most cities in any country has their own local and underground music scene that we may not know about, but it is a little strange for me to think of this one in particular.

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This got me thinking about why I hold such views. Why is it that it can be so normal for me to experience Sydney or Wollongong’s local music scene, but almost unheard of for the same events to take place in an Asian country?

After asking myself this question, I find that most of my Asian stereotypes in terms of music stem from the huge popularity of genres such as J-Pop and K-Pop that have penetrated the Western music industry, and that we can now hear here in Australia on a daily basis. Due to the sheer magnitude of K-pop artists and songs such as Psy’s Gangnam Style (with two billion YouTube hits, it’s a wonder if anyone hasn’t heard this song) I feel as if though these types of artists are what I primarily think of in terms of Asian music.

Of course, I know that this is a stereotype and a generalization. This is why I think my research into Thailand’s music industry is really helping me to break these views I used to hold. Music is something that I enjoy thoroughly, and it has been enlightening over the semester to be able to broaden my horizons, and quash any clichéd perspectives I used to hold about the Asian music scene.

Revisiting The Katamari Series.

In my first blog post I looked back on my experience of playing ‘Me and My Katamari’ when I first got it in 2007. I mentioned that when I got to the last blog post I’d replay it and reflect on my experience.

Well, this is my last post. I will be looking at my experience replaying ‘Me and My Katamari’, and my experience of playing ‘Katamari Damacy’ for the first time. I want to compare not only the actual games, but also the consoles.

Starting a new game for ‘Me and My Katamari’ felt like I was greeting an old friend. Seriously, I already had three saved and completed games on my PSP. I used to play this game a lot. However, this time around I actually payed attention to the story and the dialogue, rather than just getting the gist of it and diving straight in. My impatience all those years ago can certainly account for some confusion as to what I had to do and why. The entire games’ concept suddenly made so much more sense.

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Screenshot of ‘Me and My Katamari’.

It took me all of five minutes to remember the controls (which are a little complicated) and get back into the groove of playing the game. Somehow I remembered all the levels and the best ways to complete them. I was left feeling satisfied and proud of myself as a result. I remembered each of the animals who ask for an island, but only just realised the genius behind their assignments. For example, a ‘smart’ island for the dolphin, and a ‘loud’ island for the cicadas. I’m not saying I didn’t get the connections previously, but I certainly appreciate them now.

KatamariDamacyboxPlaying ‘Katamari Damacy’, the first game in the Katamari series, on a PS2 emulator on my laptop was sort of weird. This was for a number of reasons; chief of which was the fact that figuring out the controls took a couple levels because there were 24 different keys to remember. It certainly changes the entire experience of playing a PS2 game, when suddenly you have to press keyboard keys instead of controller buttons.

I have to say that while the games themselves are so similar they produced varying reactions and feelings.

Playing the PSP game felt more intimate and I could curl up in bed and play. I took it with me as I moved around the house. I picked it up and put it down as I went about my day. And I didn’t need to check no one wanted to watch the only TV in our house. I became absorbed in it; with my head phones in and the seriously wicked soundtrack blocking everything else out.

Playing the PS2 game I felt like I was committing to playing for a longer time. I settled in. It’s not the sort of game I played to pass a couple minutes, rather to pass a couple hours. I wasn’t as immersed in the game, but I think that is because the sound wasn’t working and it wasn’t on the big TV.

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Playing ‘Katamari Damacy’ on my laptop.

Shaw (2010 p.411) states that video games encourage flow, a “state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost for the shear sake of doing it”.

I think that this quote really sums up my experience with the Katamari series. They’re these strange yet captivating games, which appear completely illegible upon first glance. But you realise that it makes perfect sense, and is funny and cute, if you just look past that initial stereotypic perception of ‘quirky Asianess’. Sure it’s quirky, but we need to make sure we look past that, and realise that such a concept cannot (and should not) be limited to one group or genre.

– Gabi

 

References:

Shaw, A 2010, “What is Video Game Culture? Cultural Studies and Game Studies”, Games and Culture, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 403-424