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Japan Asia Folklore Fantasy YA

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#1 jadah

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Posted 06 April 2015 - 05:55 PM

Hi all!

 

I'm doing research for a novel set in Japan and wondering if anyone on AQC has roots there. I'd like the novel to be set in a rural city, possibly with some kind of folklore or superstition attached to it. A Japanese-American teen girl will be living with her Japanese grandmother. What is the familial set up like? What is the culture like - what's considered rude, or polite, etc.? I need to know everything you can think of! If it helps, I'm pitching the novel as Spirited Away meets Labyrinth.

 

Crossing my fingers someone here can help!

 

Thanks in advance!


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#2 MZM

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Posted 06 April 2015 - 08:11 PM

Lol, I'm working on a similar Japan-set UF MG/Low YA story right now (mine is set in a suburb of Tokyo). I was pretty shocked when I saw your post! We all like to think we're unique =(

 

Maria



#3 jadah

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Posted 07 April 2015 - 06:26 AM

I'm sorry that you are not confident enough in your writing to find it unique. The truth is that no story is ORIGINAL. All stories are recycled. After so many years, who can expect to write a brand new story? But all stories ARE UNIQUE. No two stories will ever be told the same way twice.

 

There are many novels set in Japan, but my novel is not the same as those novels.

 

Does anyone actually have any insight into Japan?


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#4 MZM

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Posted 07 April 2015 - 06:45 AM

I didn't mean to offend, haha. Was just a comment =) Kind of when you find someone using the same retelling of a fairy tale you had thought of and you tell them, dammit, I was thinking of that, too! And yes, no story is fully original.

I guess "surprised" would've been a better choice than "shocked."

 

Asking things like "what's the culture like?" is way too broad. I suggest familiarizing with the culture by reading manga starring MCs in the same age as yours or watching J-Dramas (Japanese TV shows) as well as articles about Japanese society, etc, then ask for more specific things.

As for family, it's a patriarchal society where the woman has all the power in the home and elders are always right even when they aren't.

 

Maria M.

 

Edit: wording!



#5 Bvarnell101

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Posted 07 April 2015 - 01:53 PM

One of the first things you should probably know about Japanese culture is that family is of the utmost importance. While the tradition of "bringing honor to the family" is not as big of a deal now as it used to be decades ago, family is still one of the most important aspects of Japanese culture. There is, after all, a reason people go by their family name first and their given name last.

 

What time period is your story set in, if I may ask?



#6 ah_522

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Posted 07 April 2015 - 02:48 PM

Can you put in more details about your story? I've lived in Japan, and my Japanese is proficient, but I'm afraid I can't help too much if I don't know the context. Is your MC Japan-American from Hawaii? California? East Coast? What period is this? Post WWII? Contemporary? 

 

Do you have a specific region of Japan in mind? Okinawa (which has its own distinctive cultural differences compared to say...Hokkaido)? The smaller islands? Do you have certain myths in mind like the Snow Woman? Kappa? 

 

I recommend checking out some books, watching j-dramas, manga, fairy-tale anthologies like MZM said. If you want to see cultural critiques of contemporary Japan (by contemporary I mean the 20th century), I recommend Kurosawa films. He's probably Japan's most famous film maker. 

 

There are also several important things to note about contemporary Japanese culture:

-when divorce occurs, custody is usually given to the father, since it's a patriarchal society

-women are still expected to give up their jobs after marriage to be a housewife (it's a real problem the Japanese govt is trying to fix and a lot of foreign companies are head-hunting the talents away)

-Japan has one of the highest population stats of elderly people

-there is a bit of an exodus to the cities for the youth to find jobs, etc and leaving their way of life behind

-the Japanese economy has been stagnant for quick some time, and people are losing faith in Abe (the current pm) (http://www.economist...-excuse-further)

 

Not sure if anything else is helpful, but I recommend the books/drama route. Hope I've helped. 



#7 jadah

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Posted 07 April 2015 - 07:38 PM

Thanks guys. So it's set in modern times. The main character is from a small, podunk town in the states. I realize my question may seem too broad, but I have very, very little knowledge of Japan or the Japanese culture, therefore I'm not sure what questions to ask. Are chopsticks used for all meals? Is it impolite to wear shoes inside? Are kimonos still worn, and if so, in what situations? What are the older generations like compared to younger generations? Any information helps. I also don't have a Japanese town in mind yet. Maybe you have suggestions? The story is (obviously) in the super beginning stages. Eastern culture is so different from Western culture, and I just want to make sure I get it right, so I'm gauging the scale of what I'll be working with here.

 

Thanks for your help.


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#8 Bvarnell101

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Posted 07 April 2015 - 09:05 PM

The first thing you should probably do is figure out where exactly your story takes place is. Different prefectures have different traditions. For example: Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto are all different prefectures, and each has their own personal traditions that set them apart from each other. Likewise, those who live in the North Kanto region have different traditions than those who live in the South Kanto region. Once you pick a location, you can research into that specific location. I would recommend using google maps or another map program to find a specific region of Japan that matches your setting, then begin researching that particular prefecture's traditions, their lifestyle and culture.



#9 Caligulas

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Posted 08 April 2015 - 09:10 PM

Are chopsticks used for all meals? Pretty much unless it's liquid and/or western foods.

Is it impolite to wear shoes inside? Impolite probably isn't even the right word, it's such a cultural standard to take off shoes upon entering the house that it would be really weird for someone not to. Sort of like going to bed wearing your wet coat.

Are kimonos still worn, and if so, in what situations? By average people? No, unless they want to dress up for some reason like a festival or an event that is highly traditional. People wearing kimonos daily are likely those owning small tea shops or other traditional business, Geisha, and the like. That's not to say that there are definitely different fashion trends in Japan.

What are the older generations like compared to younger generations? I'm not sure how to answer this one because this is really broad. The subject of family was brought up so I'll remark on that. Family is a big deal in Japan. They live an interdependent/interconnected lifestyle with the family. However, in modern times and with women gaining more control over their lives all over the world, family is taking a back burner for many Japanese youths. The reason being lack of adequate daycare facilities and women wanting more to secure their own futures over getting married. Since family is to integral to lifestyle, taking that leap is not an option for many young Japanese people, this has also lead to a decline in birth rates drastically for several years. If you're juxtapositioning the grandmother versus young girls, this is something to keep in mind.

Any information helps. I also don't have a Japanese town in mind yet. Maybe you have suggestions? I don't think you need a specific town, you can even make one up like we do in our western writing. I would suggest choosing what climate you want your story to take place in and accessibility to major cities, that will help you narrow it down so you can start looking at regional culture. I would suggest however, you try to stay in the Tokyo region if you want your story to appeal to a western audience since most if anything people know about Japan tends to be related to that area. 

 

Another note, someone suggested watching anime, reading manga, watching popular shows from Japan to get an idea of the culture. I don't agree with this. Though manga/anime are much more prevalent in Japan than western societies (of course), picking any random title to indulge yourself in will not give you insight on "Japanese culture". It will give you insight into a subculture. Everybody in the states doesn't watch Big Brother, read Batman, and laugh at South Park. You just picking something random to watch will give you as much insight into the culture at large as picking those mentioned titles would to a Japanese person about American culture. Furthermore, anime/manga though viewed by a much wider demographic than in western countries, is still only majorly viewed by a subculture. To get a generalized view of the culture at large this way you would have to watch an outrageous amount of anime, spending a tedious amount of time doing that than just reading on the culture from google.

 

My MC in my manuscript is Japanese American and though I am FAAAAAR from an expert on the place, Japan has been immensely interesting to me for well over a decade. I agree with the poster that suggested narrowing down where your MC will be. As well, watch youtube videos about everyday life in Japan. They're the closest I've come to feeling like I'm there without being there.

 

Last note, I've read several books from Japanese authors and what I've noticed more than anything is that it's not so much what your character does that will make them authentic Japanese seeming, but how they think. I'd suggest going about your story as normal when you've got your bearings and then alter your scenes to "make-sense" for a Japanese person. But since your MC is Japanese American I'd wager her misunderstanding of others mindsets would more be the issue. Japanese people are not very direct and avoid conflict. The very structure of the language highlights this as opposed to English more emphasis is laid on the subject than the action. Example: Western - Someone broke the vase Japanese - The vase was broken. It's an incredibly interesting subject I've studied on in a couple of courses, but I digress. As a teen girl, your MC will likely be around other teen girls in Japan where cute is everything, high-pitched voices, the V sign, mobile phones for days, basic teenager stuff. Bolder Japanese girls like to stand out a bit by coloring and cutting their hair (but don't go full anime). The main thing you're going to need to read up on is the school system however. It's much different than in Western countries and going to be WAY different in a rural setting.

 

Hope I helped at all.



#10 MZM

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Posted 08 April 2015 - 11:36 PM

 



Another note, someone suggested watching anime, reading manga, watching popular shows from Japan to get an idea of the culture. I don't agree with this. Though manga/anime are much more prevalent in Japan than western societies (of course), picking any random title to indulge yourself in will not give you insight on "Japanese culture". It will give you insight into a subculture. Everybody in the states doesn't watch Big Brother, read Batman, and laugh at South Park.

 

But those titles do give you insights into the culture. If I was Japanese and wanted to learn about American teen culture I could pop in "Teen Wolf" and learn a lot. Not about werewolf teens, but about the other things they do. General strokes about family dynamics, school dynamics, school sports dynamics. You can learn they use school buses, that they change classes instead of staying in the same, parties, school dances, etc.

If the MC is say 15, and you pick a shoujo manga, even one with mythology elements, you will learn a lot of general things from every day life as well. If the MC is say 20 and you pick a more serious J-Drama you will learn about the marriage expectation, how romance is perceived through early adulthood, etc. And for example, you can watch "Azumanga Daioh" and get even better broad strokes about everything high-school.

Once you have the general strokes, you can look up more detailed things.

 

Maria M.



#11 jadah

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 07:18 PM

Thanks, this is really helpful.


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#12 Caligulas

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 07:20 PM

But those titles do give you insights into the culture. If I was Japanese and wanted to learn about American teen culture I could pop in "Teen Wolf" and learn a lot. Not about werewolf teens, but about the other things they do. General strokes about family dynamics, school dynamics, school sports dynamics. You can learn they use school buses, that they change classes instead of staying in the same, parties, school dances, etc.

If the MC is say 15, and you pick a shoujo manga, even one with mythology elements, you will learn a lot of general things from every day life as well. If the MC is say 20 and you pick a more serious J-Drama you will learn about the marriage expectation, how romance is perceived through early adulthood, etc. And for example, you can watch "Azumanga Daioh" and get even better broad strokes about everything high-school.

Once you have the general strokes, you can look up more detailed things.

 

Maria M.

 

You're free to feel however you want about it and the OP can do whatever they want to do as per research. I have been watching anime for 15 years of my life and most of what I've learned about Japan didn't come from it. Does Teen Wolf tell you what everyday life is like for a 14-year-old living in Brooklyn? How about 19-year-old Hispanic youth in the rural south? As I already made a point of mentioning, picking any random show to watch is going to give insight into a subculture. That's a very inefficient way to conduct research--she could easily pick a few good books and documentaries and learn far more. Especially when no one gives OP any idea of what to watch. She can put in Hellsing and learn a load of nothing. She could watch School Days, Code Geass, and Tenjou Tenge--all shows with teens in high school settings--and get three extremely different perspectives on high school life because they're cartoons. They have skewed perspectives because they're meant for entertainment. Not education. Saying that Japanese culture can be easily deduced from watching a cartoon is insulting to Japanese culture. That's all I'm saying about this, I was offering OP the info she asked for, not asking for a debate.



#13 Bvarnell101

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 07:21 PM

Anime and manga are only one part of Japanese culture. While I love anime and manga, I agree with Caligulas. It's a definite subculture and only tells you a bit about the Japanese people as a whole. You can learn from watching anime and reading manga, but you'll only learn a limited amount from it. To learn more, you'd have to watch a lot and read a lot. You'd also have to be very specific in what you watch. Slice-of-Life would give you the best look into Japanese culture, but it still wouldn't give you everything you need to know.

 

My suggestion is to study. Study a lot about Japanese culture; their way of life, their religions, their traditions and customs. It's very different over there than it is in the US and Europe, so be prepared to learn a lot.



#14 jadah

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 07:44 PM

I was suggested Haruki Murakami novels by several people, so currently reading Hard-Boiled Wonderland. Thinking of just going to Japan in January.


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#15 Caligulas

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 07:53 PM

Thinking of just going to Japan in January.

Can...can you take me with you?



#16 Bvarnell101

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 07:55 PM

I was suggested Haruki Murakami novels by several people, so currently reading Hard-Boiled Wonderland. Thinking of just going to Japan in January.

If you want to use novels as a way of learning a bit about the culture, I'd suggest reading a little of everything. I myself am a big fan of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Highschool DxD, A Certain Magical Index, Spice and Wolf (though this has a more European setting), Accel World, Baka and Test, Ballad of a Shinigami, All You Need is Kill, and Another. I'd also suggest reading their older novels if you can find translations of them: And by old, I mean some of their really old stuff. Kafka on the Shore, Kokoro, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace, After the Quake, Forbidden Colors... granted, some of these aren't that old, but they're still really good.


Can...can you take me with you?

I'd like to join you as well!  :laugh:



#17 jadah

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 08:01 PM

You guys just get your tickets and let's go!!!! :D


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#18 Caligulas

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 08:11 PM

You guys just get your tickets and let's go!!!! :D

I wish I could afford it. :sad:

 

If you do plan to go however, check out AirBNB. AMAZING way to save on your rooming needs. Last I checked some people (likely older individuals without a dire need for money) had very beautiful, traditional Japanese places to stay for like 30 bucks a night. Definitely worth looking into.



#19 Bvarnell101

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 08:21 PM

I hear getting tickets to Japan is actually quite cheap right now.

 

If you travel there, I would like to suggest visiting to these places: Osaka, Akihabara, Hiroshima, Itsukushima, Kenroku-en, and Fushimi Inari Taisha.



#20 jadah

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 08:30 PM

I'll check out AirBnB and hostels as well!! I'll already be in Asia so my ticket would be super affordable. Might as well go, right?! Thanks Bvarnell! I'll check those places out.


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