Tag Archives: japan

In the water where the city ends

11 Mar

One year since the tsunami and Fukushima. This beautiful video is a collaboration between singer Simone White and animator Hideyuki Katsumata. You can read an interview with them here.

hanna ♥


The arrival of the asian supermodels?

10 May

I’ve been trying to ration my magazine consumption lately, but I had to buy the latest issue of Vogue because one of the headline articles is titled “The Arrival of the Asian Supermodels”. Boo yeah! I thought. Take that idealised stereotypes of barbie women! He-llo asian invasion!

But reading the article highlighted two things for me – one is that the rise of Asian models is being almost exclusively driven by the new elite class of mega-rich Chinese. The Chinese market for luxury items has gained so much power that Givenchy showed their Spring 2011 collection using exclusively Asian models, in an attempt to appeal to this “new” demographic (below).

I’m happy that there will be faces that look more like mine peppering the media from now on. I’m glad that being Asian will be seen as simultaneously more ordinary and beautiful. But the fact that this is happening as a result of market forces and greater consumer clout is perturbing me. It’s the translation of money into beauty that ensures greater representation and yet highlights those other ethnicities or “markets” who remain invisible in the western media. Must we wait for economic development before we see beauty?

The second point is one about racism in the fashion industry in general. The first paragraph of the article summarises it perfectly:

Chinese model Li Ai vividly remembers her attempts to break on to the international fashion stage in the early 2000s. Season after season, as she made the London, Paris and Milan circuits, “at most places, casting said, ‘We don’t want an Asian,’ or, ‘We just want one and we already have her.’ I gave up and went home.”

The article also touches on the fact that many of the Asian models being used at the moment have particularly “western” features and do not necessarily conform to what is considered beautiful by Asian societies – “Often Western stylists and photographers mistakenly think they know what makes an Asian beautiful better than Asians themselves.”

I was pleased to be reading an article with these perceptive insights around race in Vogue. That is, until I turned to p.124, where I was confronted with a fashion spread titled “Neo Geisha” with the blurb “With the eyes of the world on Japan, designers are referencing the colours, shapes and forms of its past. The serene beauty of the traditional geisha gets a twenty-first-century remix”. 

Over the following ten pages, we see a white model in various states of geisha-inspired dress which include bondage referencing headdresses and some revealing boob shots.

There is so much wrong with this situation I find it hard to know where to begin. But I’ll have a crack at it:

Dear Vogue,

1) Why after an article 60 pages earlier referring to the rise of the Asian supermodel, do you use a white model in a fashion spread that is inspired by Japan?

2) Why do you use no Japanese designers? An excellent way to support Japan while “the eyes of the world” are on it in the wake of the earthquake, might be to celebrate Japanese designers and models.

3) A “geisha” inspired fashion spread is just weird. Geishas, even if they weren’t all “courtesans”, are commonly thought of that way. The geisha motif just perpetuates images of Asian women in the west being “exotic” and sexually available. And the bondage-inspired headdresses? Seriously?

4) You also use the word “oriental” to use an outfit. I would have thought after an article investigating racism against Asian models, you would have thought twice before using a loaded term that recalls colonialism and commodification of Asian culture.

That’s all.

hanna ♥

Bake cupcakes, not kids

11 Apr

I am becoming quite the protest-hopper! And I like it 🙂

Yesterday, my dad and I went to an anti-nuclear demo in Tokyo. It is estimated that between 5,000 – 15,000 attended (personally I wouldn’t have put it above 7,000) but anywhere on that scale is basically unheard of in Japan. There is not a strong tradition of big protest here, so it was super exciting to see the banners and the chants come out. The Japanese clearly win in the cutest banners ever competition.

Radiation levels explained

15 Mar

Of all the things I have seen, this visual depiction of what dangers different radiation levels pose has really clarified for me what the situation is for both the people battling at the plant, and for my dad in Tokyo. It is currently 400 mSv an hour at the plant.

I also love how cute this is. Got to love the Japanese.

Music Monday

14 Mar

I can think of no better song to share with you today than Wrong Ways, by my friend Amy. She is half Japanese, half American, and we grew up together in Tokyo when I was very small – I don’t think I’ve known anyone longer than her, apart from my parents! We’ve lived on different continents for many years, but somehow, our lives are still connected. Through the twists and turns of fate, we’ve ended up doing very similar work around youth advocacy and social justice. Except she’s waaaay cooler than me, because she also uses music and dance as a tool for her work!

Thankfully, I heard from her today and her family is safe, although shaken. When I listen to this, I feel like she sums up how it feels to live away from your birthland perfectly, especially when something like this is going on.

Super Sunday

2 Jan

1. I booked my mega spring trip this week! I’m going to San Francisco on the IPPR green jobs learning exchange, staying there for 5 day holiday and then on to Tokyo to see my dad and visit my grandparents. I’m really pleased that I have managed to combine the trips and cut out a flight. If anyone has any tips for SF let me know! And here is a beautiful video of Japan that is pretty abstract but really captures it for me.

2. It’s felt really good to do some proper revision this week for my exam. I am all over that North Atlantic Oscillation like a rash.

3. Oooh this is naughty. But I like it 🙂

4. Welcome to the Institute for Beyonce-related Cultural Studies. Brilliant op-ed from Tiger Beatdown.

5. Seeing loads of my family this week has been really fun, going out to dinner with my brother, revising with my sister, watching loads of films and generally hanging out. Yay.

6. My friend Robin told me she’s getting a tattoo when she next comes to visit me in Brighton – and now I’ve written it here she can’t back out! I hope it will be like this amazing tattoo above, but suspect it won’t be.

7. This is a guilty secret, but I love Russell Brand. His Radio 2 show back in the day would have me crying with laughter and I found the archives here!

hanna ♥

Pictures from weheartit.com

Love Miles

5 Dec

In the spring, I will fly to Tokyo. It will be my first flight in two years, which is not at all impressive (in terms of emitting less carbon) by the average standard, but far less than most of my friends. Even among my climate-y friends we sit on a wide spectrum – some haven’t flown for 5 years or more and some are seemingly jetting off somewhere every month, chasing the UNFCC around the world.

I have come to accept that my relationship with flying will always be a tricky one, as my father and grandparents have always lived in Japan, and I have always lived here (well, since the age of 4). It does not seem an option for me, as it does for some of my friends, to swear off flying altogether. The Trans-Siberian railway, with the costs and time involved, isn’t really an option for me either at this time of my life.

So, although I have come to this book a little late, I was very excited to see that George Monbiot’s Heat dedicated a whole chapter to what he calls “Love Miles” – flights taken to see friends and family. I was hoping that he’d address the complexity of the issue, the various moral codes that make up our decisions, the personal consequences of being exceedingly “green”. But disappointingly, he doesn’t. Most of the chapter is alarming facts about the aviation industry in general and only a few sentences address the title of the chapter, thus:

“When you form relationships with people from other nations, you accumulate love miles: the distance between your home and that of the people you love or the people they love. If your sister-in-law is getting married in Buenos Aires, it is both immoral to travel there – because of climate change – and immoral not to, because of the offence it causes. In that decision we find two valid moral codes in irreconcilable antagonism. Who could be surprised to discover that “ethical” people are in denial about the impacts of flying?”

I don’t deny that this is a dilemma many people face – I know someone who has a “no flying except for births, weddings and funerals rule” as well as people who’ve skipped weddings because of the emissions involved (and been brave enough to say so). But framing “love miles” only in terms of “form[ing] relationships with people from other nations” is grossly over-simplifying the issue and betrays Monbiot’s uncomplicated roots. And since the number of flights to visit friends and family is not far behind holidays (and currently more than business trips), this is an issue we must address.

I am dual heritage. I am of no one country. That was the way I was born and I celebrate that I’m lucky enough to have an insight into two very different cultures. But the fact I was brought up mainly in the UK and the distance between myself and members of my family was a choice made on my behalf. There is no one-off wedding in this dilemma, no agonising over whether to relocate. I am of two countries. So, when it comes to seeing my family, what is the ethical option? I am fully aware of the environmental implications of flying and I can completely empathise with Monbiot when he declares all flights to be morally untenable. But what are the moral implications of someone like Monbiot telling me that I can’t see my father? Especially if that someone is telling me that, comfortably surrounded by their UK-based family.

Perhaps this issue hasn’t been addressed before because environmentalists in the UK are typically white and British born. But it’s an issue that’s only going to get bigger. “Mixed race” people are the fastest-growing ethnic minority group in the UK, making up 3.5% of all births in 2005 – plus of course, there must be plenty of white, “mixed nationality” babies that aren’t included in that statistic. On top of that we’ve got first and second generation immigrants… not all of these people will have family abroad, of course. But I bet a fair few do.

So, we can continue to paint all flights with the same brush, and pretend that by holidaying at home in the UK we can solve the problem, or we can open out the conversation and include those who have been globalised by birth – those who have no one home.