Category Archives: family

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Knives

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

On the way home I asked the driver to drop me off at a KANAMONOYA [金物屋], or hardware store, to let me see if they had some switchblade knives in stock. My sister’s husband is a collector of knives and had specifically requested a Japanese switchblade, if possible. The KANAMONOYA did not carry them seeing as how the police do not encourage their sale, and only ruffians and gangsters have or make any use for them. But I did notice some unusual knives and bought a few which I thought he would not have even in his extensive collection.

One was a KAWAHAGI [皮剥ぎ], or skinning knife: KAWA = skin, and the verb HAGU meaning ‘tear off, peel off, rip off, strip off, skin, flay and disrobe’, definitely a transitive verb. It is the intransitive form HAGERU ‘come off, fade, discolor’ that has been used so unmercifully on me to describe my deeply receding hairline and thinned bush on top. The KANJI for this deprived concept is also read SUKI in the popular Japanese beef meal, SUKIYAKI, and in the case of a ‘meat or fish slicer’ SUKIMI [剝き身], which brings us back to blades. The KAWAHAGI has a curved blade like a Persian dagger that fans out a bit toward the end before coming to a gradual point.

A KAWAMUKI [皮剥き] is ‘paring-knife, a barker, or a (potato) peeler’. The MUKI of this knife and the HAGI of the above are the same KANJI.

Another knife I bought was a YASAIGIRI [野菜切り], or vegetable cutter. It has an almost rectangular blade with only the hint of a point at one corner and a slow-rounding curve at the bottom forward blade-edge that is always rocking back and forth on the cutting board when this HOOCHOO is in action. HOOCHOO [包丁] means a ‘kitchen knife or cleaver’, and. is extended in usage to mean the cooking or cuisine of a restaurant. ANO RYOORIYA WA HOOCHOO GA YOI, or literally, ‘That restaurant (+topic marking particle) carving knife is good’.

A digression on the suffix CHOO of HOOCHOO might be fun. CHOO [丁] is one of the many Japanese counters of seemingly unrelated objects: in this case, ‘guns, tools, leaves, or cakes of something’ and is also a symbol for ‘even number’. I suppose a knife is a kitchen (HOO) tool (CHOO), tending toward a weapon at times, and shaped like a leaf often enough. As for the meaning of ‘even number’, it comes up in ‘dice game’, ‘gambling’, i.e. CHOOHAN [丁半] (‘even-odd’).

Lastly, it should be mentioned that this CHOO is the second KANJI in Nelson’s dictionary, being only of two simple strokes, like a T with a curl at the bottom. So we have TEIJI [丁字] ‘the letter T’, TEIJIKEI [丁字形] ‘T-shaped’, TEIKEI JOOGI [丁形定規] ‘the T-square’, all of which use the TEI reading of this KANJI, which is, after all, closer to our own Tee.

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Homelessness in North Korea

From Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, 2009), Kindle Loc. 2613-2626:

It is worth noting here how extraordinary it was for anyone to be homeless in North Korea. This was, after all, the country that had developed the most painstaking systems to keep track of its citizens. Everybody had a fixed address and a work unit and both were tied to food rations—if you left home, you couldn’t get fed. People didn’t dare visit a relative in the next town without a travel permit. Even overnight visitors were supposed to be registered with the inminban, which in turn had to report to the police the name, gender, registration number, travel permit number, and the purpose of the visit. Police conducted regular spot checks around midnight to make sure nobody had unauthorized visitors. One had to carry at all times a “citizen’s certificate,” a twelve-page passport-size booklet that contained a wealth of information about the bearer. It was modeled on the old Soviet ID.

All that changed with the famine. Without food distribution, there was no reason to stay at your fixed address. If sitting still meant you starved to death, no threat the regime levied could keep people home. For the first time, North Koreans were wandering around their own country with impunity. Among the homeless population, a disproportionate number were children or teenagers. In some cases, their parents had gone off in search of jobs or food. But there was another, even stranger, explanation. Facing a food shortage, many North Korean families conducted a brutal triage of their own households—they denied themselves and often elderly grandparents food in order to keep the younger generation alive. That strategy produced an unusual number of orphans, as the children were often the last ones left of entire families that had perished.

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Changing Soviet Family Values, 1920-1930s

From Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2014), Kindle Loc. 2973-3024:

Under Stalin’s leadership, the Bolsheviks retreated from their earlier revolutionary policies towards the family. Instead of undermining it, as they had tried to do in the 1920s, they now tried to restore it. As Trotsky wrote, it was an admission by the Soviet regime that its attempt to ‘take the old family by storm’—to replace its ‘bourgeois’ customs with collective forms of living—had been impossibly utopian.

From the mid-1930s a series of decrees aimed to strengthen the Soviet family: the divorce laws were tightened; fees for divorce were raised substantially; child support was raised; homosexuality and abortion were outlawed. Marriage was made glamorous. Registration offices were smartened up. Marriage certificates were issued on high-quality paper instead of on the wrapping paper used before. Wedding rings, which had been banned as Christian relics in 1928, were sold again in Soviet shops from 1936. There was also a return to conventional and even prudish sexual attitudes among the political élites, who had been more experimental in their lifestyles in the early revolutionary years. The good Stalinist was supposed to be monogamous, devoted to his family, as Stalin was himself, according to his cult. Bolshevik wives, like Stalin’s, were expected to return to the traditional role of raising children at home.

This dramatic policy reversal was partly a reaction to the demographic and social disaster of 1928–32: millions had died in the famine; the birthrate had dropped, posing a threat to the country’s military strength; divorce had increased; and child abandonment had become a mass phenomenon, as families fragmented, leaving the authorities to cope with the consequences—homeless orphans, prostitution and teenage criminality. The Soviet regime needed stable families to sustain the rates of population growth its military needed to compete with the other totalitarian regimes, which heavily supported the patriarchal family in their ‘battles for births’. But the Soviet turnaround was also a response to the ‘bourgeois’ aspirations of Stalin’s new industrial and political élites, most of whom had risen only recently from the peasantry or the working class. They did not share the contempt for bourgeois values or the same commitment to women’s liberation which had been such a vital part of the Old Bolshevik intelligentsia world-view characteristic of the revolution’s earlier generational cycle. According to Trotsky, who wrote a great deal about the Soviet family, the Stalinist regime had betrayed the revolution’s commitment to sexual equality:

One of the very dramatic chapters in the great book of the Soviets will be the tale of the disintegration and breaking up of those Soviet families where the husband as a party member, trade unionist, military commander or administrator, grew and developed and acquired new tastes in life, and the wife, crushed by the family, remained on the old level. The road of the two generations of the Soviet bureaucracy is sown thick with the tragedies of wives rejected and left behind. The same phenomenon is now to be observed in the new generation. The greatest of all crudities and cruelties are to be met perhaps in the very heights of the bureaucracy, where a very large percentage are parvenus of little culture, who consider that everything is permitted to them. Archives and memoirs will some day expose downright crimes in relation to wives, and to women in general, on the part of those evangelists of family morals and the compulsory ‘joys of motherhood,’ who are, owing to their position, immune from prosecution.

Trotsky’s assertion is supported by statistics, which reveal how household tasks were split within working-class families. In 1923–34, working women were spending three times longer than their men on household chores, but by 1936 they were spending five times longer. For women nothing changed—they worked long hours at a factory and then did a second shift at home, cooking, cleaning, caring for the children, on average for five hours every night—whereas men were liberated from most of their traditional duties in the home (chopping wood, carrying water, preparing the stove) by the provision of running water, gas and electricity, leaving them more time for cultural pursuits and politics.

The restoration of the patriarchal family was closely tied to its promotion as the basic unit of the state. ‘The family is the primary cell of our society,’ wrote one educationalist in 1935, ‘and its duties in child-rearing derive from its obligations to cultivate good citizens.’ The role of the parent was supported as a figure of authority enforcing Soviet rule at home. ‘Young people should respect their elders, especially their parents,’ declared Komsomolskaya Pravda in 1935. ‘They must respect and love their parents, even if they are old-fashioned and don’t like the Komsomol.’

This represented a dramatic change from the moral lessons which had been drawn in the early 1930s from the cult of Pavlik Morozov—a fifteen-year-old boy from a Urals village who had denounced his father as a ‘kulak’ to the Soviet police. In the first stages of his propaganda cult, Pavlik was promoted as a model Pioneer because he had placed his loyalty to the revolution higher than his family. Soviet children were encouraged to denounce their elders, teachers, even parents, if they appeared anti-Soviet. But as the regime strengthened parent power, the cult was reinterpreted to place less emphasis on Pavlik’s denunciation of his father and more on his hard work and obedience at school.

From the middle of the 1930s the Stalinist regime portrayed itself through metaphors and symbols of the family—a value-system familiar to the population at a time when millions of people found themselves in a new and alien environment. There was nothing new in this association between state and family. The cult of Stalin presented him in paternal terms, as the ‘father of the people’, just as Nicholas II had been their ‘father-tsar’ before 1917. Stalin was depicted as the protector and ultimate authority in the household. In many homes his portrait hung in the ‘red corner’, a place of honour, or above the doorway, where the icon was traditionally displayed. He was often photographed among children, and posed as their ‘friend’. In one famous image he was seen embracing a young girl called Gelia Markizova, who had presented him with a bunch of flowers at a Kremlin reception in 1936. The girl’s father, the Commissar for Agriculture in Buryat-Mongolia, was later shot as a ‘Japanese spy’. Her mother was arrested and sent to Kazakhstan, where she committed suicide.

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Ottoman Sultans Raised in the Cage

From The Sultans, by Noel Barber (Simon & Schuster, 1973), pp. 77-81:

Mahomet [Mehmed III]… was the last sultan ever to be trusted with liberty during the lifetime of his predecessor. And his nineteen brothers were the last to be strangled under the law of fratricide. (This did not prevent some future heirs to the Sultan from living in terror of the bowstring, often with reason.)

Not long afterwards [his Venetian mother, Safiye Sultan Sofia Bellicui] Baffo was strangled in her bed; her death did not mark the end of the harem rule, but another influence dominated the lives of the princes who followed Mahomet. It was a fate in many ways more grim than death itself. To make certain they would never become involved in plots against the reigning Sultan, any possible heirs were immured in a building in the Grand Seraglio. It was called the Kafes. Its literal translation is ‘The Cage’.

The Kafes was not a barred cage in the accepted sense of the word, but it was most certainly bolted. It consisted of a two-storied grey building tucked away behind a high wall in the heart of the Grand Seraglio, almost opposite the rooms of the first Sultana. It had handsome courtyards and gardens, and its tiled walls were among the most beautiful in the Seraglio. There was, however, one sinister note. There were no windows on the ground floor, though those on the second floor looked out to sea.

For the next two centuries heirs to the throne were immured, sometimes from the age of two, until they were either called to the throne, or their miserable lives were mercifully ended with the bowstring. One heir was to remain nearly fifty years without ever leaving the building, and when he emerged to be proclaimed Sultan he had all but lost the power of speech. The princes’ only companions were deaf mutes [who also served as the Sultan’s assassins] unable to give news of the outside world, and a modest harem of concubines, the only living creatures to who they could talk. Once inside, the odalisques suffered the fate of their masters. They never left the Cage unless one carelessly became pregnant, in which case she was immediately drowned. This happened very rarely for great care was taken to make these women barren – either by the removal of their ovaries or by the use of pessaries (made up by the Seraglio doctors from a bewildering assortment of ingredients, including musk, amber, aloes, cardamom, ginger, pepper and cloves.)

Sultan Ahmed I, who succeeded Mahomet in 1603, founded the cages because he rebelled against the barbaric custom of fratricide; perhaps he was ever proud of discovering such a humane method of guarding his brothers’ lives. But it is not difficult to imagine the debasing effects of years of solitary confinement on men who were expected to take up the reins of office at a moment’s notice after half a lifetime in which their minds and bodies had vegetated. As N. M. Penzer, a leading authority on the harem, wrote, ‘The Kafes has been the scene of of more wanton cruelty, misery and bloodshed than any palace room in the whole of Europe. To its institution are due the weakness, vices and imbecility of so many of the Sultans and, to a large extent, the gradual decay and fall of the Ottoman Empire.’ …

During Ahmed’s reign Mustafa, who succeeded him, spent more than ten years in the Cage, providing the first terrible evidence of its effect on human beings, as each succeeding sultan seemed more made, avaricious, debauched and besotted than his predecessor. By the time Mustafa I became Sultan he was completely demented. He appointed to favourite pages – scarcely out of their infancy – to be Governors of Cairo and Damascus. He dismissed a high-ranking officer so that he could offer the post to a peasant who gave him a drink of water when hunting. He clapped the French Ambassodor in the Castle of Seven Towers on the flimsiest pretext. After three months he was deposed – very politely. A five-day hunting trip was arranged for his enjoyment, and when he returned he was no longer Sultan. He went back to the Cage. His nephew Osman II, who succeeded him in 1618 … was even madder. His favorite pastime was archery, but he only enjoyed the sport when using live targets. Prisoners of war were considered fair game for the Sultan, but when there was an insufficient supply. After four years of misrule – or, rather, no rule at all – the Janissaries decided he must go…. It was the first regicide in Ottoman history.

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Ottoman Marriage and Divorce Practices, c. 1600

From The Sultans, by Noel Barber (Simon & Schuster, 1973), pp. 70-71:

Most Turks at this time seem to have been reasonably happy with one wife, perhaps because the dowry was given by the bridegroom, or because divorce in those days was easy — understandably so, since many boys married at thirteen or fourteen to girls of eleven and twelve whom they never saw before the nuptials.

But easy divorce had several curious consequences. A man could not marry a divorced woman until she had been divorced from her husband for four and a half months. If a man divorced his wife twice, he could take her back. But if, as sometimes happened after marital tiffs, he divorced her a third time, and then realised he still loved her, she could not return to him until she had been married to someone else. This was meant as a check against abusing easy divorce but it soon produced a professional intermediary willing to marry the lady for one night. He was usually old, paid for his services, and expected not to be over-enthusiastic in the performance of his duties.

Divorces — often followed by remarriage — were common among one class in Constantinople: the men who did have one or more concubines. Inevitably this led to friction, scenes of jealousy, and often physical violence, particularly if the wife felt that she was being cheated of her marital rights, for though the husband could call for his concubines six nights a week every Friday was strictly reserved for his wife.

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Match-fixing as rite of passage in sumo

From Sumo: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Japan’s National Sport, by David Benjamin (Tuttle, 2010), pp. 208-210:

As I’ve pondered yaocho [match-fixing]… I’ve developed a grudging admiration for the Sumo Association’s almost mystical power to oversee it without seeing it. Sumo’s elders keep their little cheating problem in check first by the skillful use of the schedule, giving rikishi every chance to avoid the last-day crisis [finding themselves at 7-7, with the final match deciding whether they will rise in rank with a winning record or fall with a losing one]. Extending this sense of control beyond one basho, I’ve notice that yaochozumo follows a kind of ebb and flow, proliferating for a while, until some silent signal from the Sumo Association curtails it abruptly.

It appears — Kitao/Futahaguro’s disavowal supports the supposition — that many young rikishi are weaned gradually (perhaps reluctantly) into the ways of yaocho. The secret is kept away from those (like, perhaps, Futahaguro) who don’t need help, from those who wouldn’t benefit enough from it, and especially from those who might be indiscreet. By allowing it but holding the secret tightly within a chosen brotherhood, sumo’s elders control yaocho more effectively than if they tried to ban it.

Yaocho‘s profoundest hold on rikishi — and the reason, I think, that the secret is so well guarded — lies in its use as a rite of passage into sumo’s inner circle.

As he reflected on his ten years in sumo, one of Kitao/Futahaguro’s most heartfelt remarks was this: “The rikishi bow to each other before the match and after. Sumo people say that sumo begins with politeness and ends with politeness. That’s a beautiful tradition, one of the things I miss most of all.”

In saying this, Kitao/Futahaguro used the word “rei,” for “politeness.”

Eventually, in that spirit of “beginning with politeness,” each rikishi, at some point, is initiated into sumo’s secret brotherhood by accepting sport’s politest offer. What higher act of rei than to concede the victory to an opponent who needs it? And what better sign of rei in the initiate than the gracious acceptance of the offer? And what better test of a rikishi‘s commitment to the brotherhood than his willingness to subordinate his competitive passion to the greater good of all, the collective need? Especially when he knows that he won’t get in trouble for it! And even better that he knows it will help break down those icy walls that stand between sumobeya, and will make him feel — once and for all — like one of the guys!

Yaocho prevents great upheavals in the ranks, and makes change a gentle process. All the new blood is filtered and diluted by the humbling process of yaocho. One of the sumo nuances that the observant fan eventually perceives is that a young rikishi proves his readiness to compete at the highest level not by showing that he can win in makuuchi, but by developing a talent for judicious defeat.

Conversely, yaocho also identifies dissenters, those whose pride inhibits them from losing even a meaningless match, even to help a colleague. Those rikishi aren’t cast out indiscreetly (perhaps for fear that they might speak up), but their path becomes harder, their progress slower, their status always a little shaky. Among the most prominent of these uneasy princes in past years were Onokuni and Asahifuji. If they submitted to yaocho, they didn’t do it often enough or with the proper alacrity. Some rikishi, I think — especially former collegiate wrestlers — are never initiated into the yaocho club at all, because they might not be trustworthy. Sumo gets them too late in life, too fully formed, and too ethically fastidious.

And some sumobeya are more inclined to play the game than others. The boys from Sadogatake-beya, for example, are always ready to make a deal. But the Kasugano rikishi, not so much.

As they govern all other aspects of their sport, sumo’s elders govern yaocho with a politeness that borders on intimidation. No one, even a yaocho resister, ever steps very far out of line. To betray the group is tantamount to betraying one’s family. When a rikishi resorts to yaocho, he’s expected to use it sparingly, silently, with dignity (rei), and with a consciousness that yaocho serves not to further his private glory, but to keep the family in balance.

Yaocho is an invisible, but palpable presence in sumo. Look for it, and you’ll never spot it. Even resisters — and I’m certain that there are some — will deny its existence. By comparison, the Cheshire cat’s smile is a bite on the ass. But yaocho is there, and will stay there because it ameliorates one of sumo’s greatest problems, the loneliness and persistent mediocrity of most rikishi. When someone takes a dive on your behalf, it keeps you afloat. When you tank a match for another guy, you feel a little more deeply the sympathy of your group, your sense of belonging. If you’re really talented, you can win day in and day out all by your lonesome. But cheating needs company.

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Methods of Social Control in Vietnam

From: Vietnam: Rising Dragon, by Bill Hayton (Yale U. Press, 2010), Kindle Loc. 1550-88:

Since the 1990s, the ‘Cultured Families’ [gia đình văn hóa < 家庭 Ch. jiating, Jp. katei ‘family’ + 文化 Ch. wenhua, Jp. bunka ’culture’] campaign has become more prominent, mainly because of the failure of a more heavy-handed system. From the earliest days of communist Vietnam, the cornerstone of social control was a system of household registration called the ho khau [= hộ khẩu 户口 < Ch. hukou, like Jp. 户籍 koseki]. It still exists. Every person has to be registered in a specific place at birth. If they want to move, they need the consent of the authorities both where they’re registered and where they want to go. Borrowed from China, the system was initially intended to control anti-communist resistance. Over subsequent decades, even though the central state lacked the resources to ensure it was fully implemented everywhere, it became the basis for economic planning, the provision of social services and the distribution of food and goods.

As the economy liberalised, however, it became easier for people to evade the system. The distribution of state-supplied jobs, food and housing had once been largely dependent on holding a valid ho khau, but as more goods and services became available on the open market, its power was reduced. Villagers left their villages without permission, unregistered housing sprang up in the cities and illegal traders tramped the streets. Daily life could, to a larger extent, bypass the authorities. (Hence the need to augment the ho khau with the ‘Cultured Families’ campaign.) The ho khau survives, however, because it continues to be a useful tool for the state: it reduces migration, provides useful economic data and, above all, helps the police to keep tabs on people. It’s another lever in the official tool kit. Anyone without a valid ho khau is permanently at the authorities’ mercy. Unregistered households have to build a life’s worth of corrupt relationships simply to keep living and working in a particular place. If they misbehave, life can get very difficult.

The consequence for the unregistered can be severe. If an unregistered couple wants to get married, register the birth of their child or even be buried in the cemetery they will find it difficult, sometimes even impossible. They could return to the place where their official ho khau was registered, but if they have been absent for more than six months, they may find that their name has been removed from the register. As a result they will be officially beyond the law. Often the only way to survive is through bribery – paying local officials either to grant them a ho khau or to turn a blind eye whenever they need to do something which requires it. Their births won’t be registered or their marriages licensed, their housing will be illegal and their living conditions precarious. They’re not included in population statistics, poverty calculations or social services provision. More than a quarter of the babies born in 2000 weren’t registered. In just one year that implies 250,000 undocumented children. As a result, the government was forced to adjust the rules to fit reality. New laws and regulations were introduced from 2004 allowing children to be registered where they are born, not where their parents’ ho khau was issued. But local authorities are reluctant to regularise so many new inhabitants whom they would then be obliged to take care of. Consequently communities are growing up across Vietnam, perhaps a few million people in all, who do not officially exist.

In spite of this, and other, clear evidence of the failure of the ho khau system, there’s no sign of it being abandoned. In part, this is because it continues to perform its original function, allowing surveillance of the population. In addition to its more general roles in controlling movement and guiding economic planning, the ho khau is the basis of the Public Security Ministry’s system of political records, known as the ly lich [< 履歴 Ch. lüli, Jp. rireki, as in rirekisho ‘curriculum vitae’]. The ly lich has a long history. In its original incarnation, in the 1950s, individuals were obliged to write their life histories for the police. Those who had worked for the French, been members of non-communist political parties or were part of the landlord class, or whose parents or grandparents did so, could then be kept out of important positions or pushed down the queue for goods and services.

Today the legacies of those old ly lich continue to blight the lives of descendants, particularly among former officials of the old Saigon regime and their children. And new ly lich are still being written. The essay format continues to be used for most people applying for jobs in the public sector and for anyone wanting to join the Communist Party. But the police also compile their own ly lich on those they consider subversive or worth watching – journalists, foreigners, those who have contact with journalists and foreigners, and so on. It may no longer be a universal requirement and it’s no longer such a public procedure but it continues to exist in the processes of the Ministry of Public Security. From secret police files and residency permits to neighbourhood wardens and cultured family campaigns, Vietnam has built a low-tech but effective system of near-total surveillance.

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