Mochi made with hate

Wednesday was “Kenkoku kinen no hi”, or “Foundation Day”, here in Japan. Foundation Day, or “Kigensetsu” as it was originally called, started out as a religious glorification of the Emperor, celebrating the fact that the original Emperor Jimmu (ostensibly directly descended from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu) ascended to the throne of a unified Japan on February 11th, 660 B.C.
Handa enjoys a mochi (actually Monju). It reads “Iwai”, which means “celebration”.
Foundation day eventually became heavily associated with nationalistic rhetoric and notions of Imperial divinity during the 2nd World War, and was thus discontinued during the Allied occupation. For reasons that to this day are still unclear, it was reinstated as a national holiday in 1967 and has been celebrated ever since then.
The implications of this have been two fold. One is the fact that we get a national holiday on a Wednesday, smack dab in the middle of the work week. The second is that the Uyoku (ultra right wing nationalists) now have a day to call all their own.
Many people mistakenly think of Japan as a calm and peaceful place of pink hello kitty fluffy mascots and serene pieces of sushi chilling with zen-like tranquility on blocks of wood. While this is true in some respects, if there is anything my blog has taught you, I hope that it’s the fact that there’s another side to Japan – a dark and foreboding place filled with all sorts of less than pleasant (but still quite quirky) creatures and things, most of which inhabit the halls of my school and are referred to as my students.
Tennis eating a scone. She stole a bit of Moby’s sandwich when he was away!
Despite the general professed love of peace and dewey eyed aspirations at being “Global Citizens” that seems to be the party line around these parts, not all Japanese are as enamored of their recently-minted role as passive onlookers in global affairs. While this is a rather small minority, unfortunately for the rest of us, they are a small minority with really loud voices, and even louder bullhorns.
The role of the right wing nationalists (Uyoku) in Japan is very complex. They exist in a curious intersection of corporate special interests, high power politics, seedy underworld Yakuza maneuvering and militaristic right wing aims. While a full examination of this infinitely intriguing, but little discussed aspect of modern Japanese society (which is far more pervasive than we might initially believe) is beyond the scope of my poor little blog, suffice it to say that after you look into the subject, you’ll never approach Japan the same way again. For our current purposes however, let us simply address some of the most readily apparent characteristics of your average Uyoku tout you’d meet on the street.
1. They dress really badly, and usually sport some sort of ceremonial vestment
2. They have a penchant for using obscure kanji that nobody else knows
3. They’re really, really LOUD.
4. They have bull horns.
5. They’re really, really, really LOUD.
6. They drive around in big black vans with the hinomaru (rising sun) painted on it.
7. Said vans have bullhorns on them.
8. They’re really, really, really, really LOUD.
9. They hate foreigners.
10. They think Japan is #1 (“dainihon”) and everyone is inferior. Especially foreigners.
11. They’re really, really, really, really, really LOUD…. and they have bullhorns.
Did I mention these people are loud? Basically it’s a sure sign you’re adjusting to life in Japan when you can have a completely normal conversation with someone outside of a coffee shop while a massive van spouting all sorts of pictures of the Yasukuni shrine, ultra-rightist politicians and 76 bullhorns erupting from the top is screaming ultra-nationalist slogans not more than 3 meters in front of you and not blink an eye. You get used to them and their incessant chants of “banzai” and “dainihon”, (and countless other unintelligeble rhetoric – they may have bullhorns, but they’re not very good ones), but that doesn’t make it any less annoying!
So what does this have to do with anything? Well yesterday being “Foundation Day”, all the Uyoku were out in force to convince us that the time has come to venerate the Emperor, rebuild the Japanese army, expel all the foreigners (“Sonno Joi” – “Respect the emperor, expel the barbarians”) and basically pick up on that old idea of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” that was so popular back in the day.
Seeing as how walking around in a street crowded with blaring hate-filled rhetoric on your day off tends to wear on one’s nerves, we retreated to a nearby coffee shop to enjoy some of the world’s best scones. (they really are…!). Anyway, as we walk in, we ran into some other JETs we know (someone once said that “JETs roam in packs”, and I have to tell you, that’s so true…) and sit down and start talking. “What”, I inquire, “were you guys up to today?”
The husband of the owner and a random cute Japanese kid.
The usual random assortment of bored gaijin pastimes starts being listed (you know: shopping, hanging out in coffee shops, visiting the garden for the umpteenth time, getting drunk, etc.). All of a sudden, one of them pipes up:
“Oh, while we were shopping, some really nice people gave us some great mochi (rice dumplings) to eat!”
This piques my interest, since I had previously noted some Uyoku handing out little gift boxes on the street to anybody foolish enough to stop / be trapped in their midst.
“Say, the people who you got that mochi from… they wouldn’t happen to have been wearing some black vestments, be standing next to a big black van with a red hinomaru on it, and uhhh.. SCREAMING at the top of their lungs, would they?” I hesitantly inquire.
A pause as people mull it over.
“Actually, yeah, that would be them!! Do you know what they were going on about?” respond my scone-satiated companions.
“Ummm… can I please see the box of mochi you’ve received?” A rustle as someone bends and retrieves said mochi from their bag.
Rightwing hate notwithstand, Mr. Panda likes food!
Now for those of you not up on your kanji, the box above reads (from top to bottom):
“Kigensetsu – Dainihon Kamikaze – Yamatokai”
which in english would translate as:
“Foundation day” (the original word, which has strong nationalist connotations vs. the modern phrase) – “Great Japan (or “Japan is #1!”) Divine wine” (you all know kamikaze) – “Yamato group” (“Yamato” is the original, ultra traditional name for ancient Imperial Japan). You will notice that the second to last character has the pronunciation written in to the side, as the kanji is so obscure your average Japanese can’t read it without help.
“Umm…” I begin… “you DO realize that the people who “gave” you this most probably hate your guts with a burning passion, right?”
As one, everyone’s eyebrows raise. I explain the kanji, the fact that this is right wing mochi (for lack of a better phrase LOL!), and all the associated baggage that goes with the nationalist Uyoku here in Japan. Like the fact that they hate foreigners.
There is a long pause. Eventually Tennis pipes up.
“So, essentially what you’re saying,” she begins, “is that this is Mochi made with Hate?”
And that does it – I burst out laughing, as does everyone else present. The idea of a bunch of blonde haired, blue eyed gaijin innocently sticking their hands out to grab a box of mochi as they pass by a rabid, slavering pack of right wing nationalists who want nothing more than to kill them / deport them still cracks me up even now when I think of it. Anyway, from that moment on, our little Foundation Day presents have been referred to as “the mochi made with hate”…!
What a day!!!
Yuki doesn’t get a Valentine’s Card, but I made her an even cooler gift for her B.day!!
Anyway, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, so happy Valentine’s Day to all the loyal members of the House of Panda, no matter where you may be in the world! I’m thinking about secretly going down to Kansai to surprise M for Valentine’s Day, and in an unusual change of pace, I’ve been all aga-ga (is that a word?) making Valentine’s Cards for some of my friends, most notably the lovely inaka girls, since they were complaining that here in Japan, the girls get shortchanged on Valentine’s Day (in Japan, only girls give boys chocolate on Valentine’s day, though in all fairness, there is an artificial holiday on March 14th called “White Day” when the boys repay the favor). I did manage to snag my fair share of chocolate as well, particularly from my adult students, who have plied me with all sorts of yummy chocolates, home baked cookies and even a gigantic choco-panda! Mmmm… I can feel myself getting fatter by the second!
Now listening to: “Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch – Oh No”
11:01 pm

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