Sunday, July 29, 2007

postheadericon Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster's Daughter by Shoko Tendo

Translated by Louise Heal

Hardcover 192 pages

Genre: Memoir/non-Fiction/Japan

Publishers : Kodansha Intl Jul, 2007
Price : $22.95

Distributers (Canada):Fitzhenry & Whiteside

I grew interested in this story after reading about it in the Guardian UK. Shoko Tendo is the daughter of a member of the Yakuza in Japan. According to Wikipedia, the Yakuza (ヤクザ or やくざ ) are members of traditional organized crime groups in Japan. Yakuza groups are referred to as the "Japanese mafia" with reference to Italian-Sicilian organized crime.

Shoko had a pampered childhood but when she was six her father was sent to jail and that event triggered his descent from a top ranking member of the Yakuza to a man hounded by debtors. His descent also meant troubling times for the home and family and when she was 12 years old Shoko, in a fit of rebellion, decided to follow in her older sister's footsteps to become a yanki. Yankis are usually a sub-culture of bored, disenchanted Japanese youth between the ages of 14-19 years. They love to ride fast bikes, sniff paint thinner and embrace a lifestyle of sex, drugs and violence.

Soon, running around sniffing paint thinners didn't do it for Shoko anymore and she graduated to hard drugs (speed) and would attach herself to men who would be willing to buy the drug for her. Many of the men she hooked up with just used and abused her but she put up with it because she needed the drug, also, going home to a house besieged with creditors made her very depressed.

Finally, in her late 20's after a botched suicide attempt Shoko decides to ask forgiveness of her parents (especially her mother) for putting them through all of us and settles down into a more normal lifestyle but not before she takes herself off to a tattoo parlour and gives herself
a tattoo that winds its way to her chest and across her back, culminating, on her left shoulder, in the face of Jigoku Dayu, a famous courtesan from the Muromachi era with breast exposed and a knife clenched between her teeth.

I was quite disappointed with the book. Shoko is not terribly different from any adolescent anywhere in the world who falls in with the wrong crowd and adopts the sex,drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle. As the daughter of a Yakuza I expected there to be more information on the Yakuza, their origins, how they operate, the culture, etc., instead, what you get is the story of a desperately unhappy girl who makes so many wrong decisions in the early chapters of her life. I guess some would argue that
much has been written about the male members of the yakuza fraternity already, the drink, the money, the women, the fast cars and the violence. Much less is known about the women in their lives, their wives, daughters and lovers. Tendo has been all three.

The book made me think about tattoos though and their significance. For some they are just body adornments done on a whim and sometimes regretted because of their permanency; for others, it is a religious ritual and they will, as mentioned on Chumma Chumma's blog have a prayer or a deity drawn for strength or spiritual well being ; some sport military tattoos that tell a story of the battalion, brigade or platoon they belong to; some use tattoos to indicate which street gang they belong to, but I am most interested in that group of people that use tattoos to commemorate milestones in their lives for they always have the best stories.

If you would like, feel free to chime in with favorite your tattoos or tattoo stories. Mine has to be the one of the woman who had "DO NOT RECUSITATE" drawn across her chest. Guess she was really serious about doctors not trying to prolong her life. Read about it at the BBC site here.

Finally here's a cool site mooched from Tanabata's wonderful blog

What is your Japanese name?

My japanese name is 長谷川 Hasegawa (long valley river) 千秋 Chiaki (very fine in autumn).

Take your real japanese name generator! today!
Created with Rum and Monkey's Name Generator Generator.

Pictures of the author, Shoko Tendo
Wednesday, July 04, 2007

postheadericon Faces of India...part 2

Thank you so much, all of you, for your wonderful responses to the first set of's the next lot. Hope you enjoy them as much as my dad enjoyed taking them.
Ok, so this little boy doesn't look too happy to have his picture taken! BTW, the sale of old newspapers is a thriving business in India.

A clothing store on Bangalore's famous Commercial Street. Wait, those mannequins don't look Indian!

A Sari-Clad Janitor

A roadside temple on an overcast see a temple on almost every road in Bangalore
Temple roof detail
Ohhh, look at all those fresh vegetables!
A roadside butcher at Cox Town market. I have to wonder, is there an extra charge for the flies packed along with your leg of lamb?
Never been good at identifying fish, so if you want to give it a go, please do!
I am told the vigorous head massage is the best part!
A prize if you spot the cracked pot...
Wednesday, June 20, 2007

postheadericon Faces of India..Part 1

My father has a new pastime, he takes his camera with him on his evening walk through the market and captures the local people as they eat, work and play. Thought you might like to see some of his pictures. Feel free to click on the picture for better clarity.

Bhelpuri Vendor with a happy customer!

An equally happy cement store worker

Shy coconut-seller

Casket makers...I kinda fancy the mustard-yellow one! ;)

A dirt poor cobbler or Mochi as they are known as in India

A Mango and Banana seller. Can anyone identify those mangoes?

Who will buy these wonderful shirts and trousers?

An urban beggar man

I have no idea what these lads are smiling about. I'd be so glum if the ice cream store was closed as it seems to be.

Clusters of bananas, not my favorite fruit!
Saturday, June 02, 2007

postheadericon Born -Again Virgins

Hymenoplasty: I first heard of this procedure when I lived in the Middle East, but since it was always spoken of in whispers, I thought it was an urban legend. Fast forward to now...several leading newspapers last week reported that hymenoplasty, or restoring a woman's virginity by surgically reattaching the hymen, is fast becoming a phenomenon of sorts among women of Muslim origin in Europe, especially France, Germany, Sweden and indeed other parts of the world, too.

But now the chair of the French College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians is calling for an end to this practice in France. Dr. Jacques Lansac believes there is no place for this kind of surgery in secular French society...he believes that giving in to a procedure like this goes against all that France stands for...equality of women, human rights, religious extremism etc.

But how do we turn our backs on these women who in all likelihood could be killed by their fathers, brothers or husbands (Honor killings) if it is found out that they are not virgins? Aren't doctors morally bound to help these women who could face certain death if they are discovered to be non-virgins?

But I could also make the argument that if we give in to the fundamentalists in this matter, what's to stop them from making more demands as the years go by? What if they want to stop sending their girl children to school, are we to stand by and watch that happen as well?

Apparently, this (having to be a virgin when you get married) has given rise to a very creative alternative...many immigrant Muslim women in Europe are now very keen to marry non-Muslim men who do not care if they are virgins or not. Is fundamentalism pushing young women away from Islam?

Hymenoplasty is not uncommon in the North America, however here women do it for the thrill of appearing virginal again or as a treat for that special someone in their lives. Is that just plain weird? Ok, I do understand vaginal rejuvenation (surgery to tighten one's vagina) because that has certain benefits for the woman as well...but hymenoplasty or even labiaplasty (which surgically reshapes or reduces the external appearance of the vagina, but in doing so one gets rid of skin rich in nerve endings) for that matter escapes my understanding.

Anyway, if you want to weigh in on any of this I'd be pleased to see your comment.
Thursday, May 17, 2007

postheadericon Lust in Translation

Book: Hardcover |304 pages | 19 Apr 2007 | The Penguin Press

For those of you who do not wish to read on, I'll understand, but for the rest of you,
Pamela Druckerman, former foreign correspondant for the "Wall Street Journal" came upon the idea to write about infidelity when on a trip to Columbia she kept being propositioned by married men all the time. Once she got over her shock and horror, she realized that extra-marital affairs are not frowned upon everywhere in the world and she decided to explore what the rules of infidelity were in different countries resulting in this cracker of a book, "Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee".

T0 make it more interesting and readable, I've decided to share, countrywise,what Druckerman found out about infedilty in her research and trips abroad and how it contrasts with the American view:

Let's start with
Finland, because, in sexology circles, Finland is known for having Europe's best sex research (in 1970, Finnish researchers sent uniformed nurses door-to-door to question people on their sex lives and got a 91% response rate!). The Finns aren't ambivalent about sex...they see it as a positive experience. Unlike elsewhere, the Finns or their media do not focus on the perils of sex, such as diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Also, they travel a lot, creating a lot of opportunities for affairs. Although they value being faithful to their partners, they believe that if there is an opportunity for an affair that no one will get to know about, they will grab it with both hands because they consider it a positive and valuable experience!

The French surprisingly (and I say surprisingly because watch any French romantic comedy and you will imagine that l 'adultere is a national pastime) are boringly and staggeringly faithful to their spouses. When, and if, they do stray they don't tell their spouses and their spouses don't seem to want to know "...Extramarital sex becomes "adultery" only when your partner finds out". Also, although they view adultery as a transgression, they seem to understand that it can and does happen and do not usually experience terrible guilt over it. The only realm of French life where infedility is derigueur is politics (there are some very nice passages on Mitterand, Chirac and even France's new PM, Sarkozy in this book)

The Russians probably have the most laidback attitude when it comes to extramarital affairs, a fling is almost always welcomed and enjoyed, not at all surprising when you read about the problems facing today's Russians (alcoholism, violent crime, cramped living spaces, poverty, illhealth, car accidents). An affair seems like therapy for all the problems they have in their day to day lives. Another reason there's so much adultery in Russia is that there are so few men. "...For Russian women in their 30's and 40's a man who isn't married or an alcoholic is as rare as a Feberge egg."

From all accounts, the Japanese are probably having the least sex of anyone around. It's the land of the single bed. The minute a Japanese wife has her first child, she moves out of her bedroom and into the child's room and sleeps there until he is 5 or 6, giving rise to a phenomenon they call a "sexless marriage" or the abbreviated, "sexress". Many of the men actually pride themselves on having chaste marriages. Sexress has spawned the development of a thriving sex industry with hostess bars (where businessmen pay by the hour to talk to young women); Sex clubs (self-explanatory); love hotels (where couples can rent rooms without comingn face to face with a clerk.) Japanese couples have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. "Have your affair, but be discreet about it" is what Japanese women seem to be saying to their husbands.

The chapter on South Africa was the saddest chapter to read...the culture seems to not just accept, but even encourage promiscuity and with AIDS being so prevalent, not being monogamous is a death sentence, literally and yet, King Mswati III, King of Swaziland (the last absolute monarch of Africa) with his multiple wives is held up by most South African man as someone to admire and emulate.

Polygamy is legal in Indonesia and although it has fallen out of favor, the fact that it is legal makes easier to justify. "...Polygamy legitimizes the idea that one woman isn't enough and effectively gives married men permission to date , even if they have no plans to convert thier mistresses into wives." Although extra-marital affairs are forbidden by the Koran it doesn't stop Indonesians, especially the upwardly mobile, from having them.

China's new economic boom means that even working class men in China can now afford to keep second wives or yi lai as they are called. Many Chinese explain away their extra-marital affairs by saying it is not cheating when you fall in love with someone other than your wife. Does that sound familiar to Westerners? Although you can sympathise with the Chinese when they say it because romance was considered a vice during the Cultural Revolution. Are the Chinese simply making up for lost time?

The American view:

"Adultery provokes more outrage in America than in almost any other country on record (Ireland and the Philippines are two exceptions)."

Americans have become more tolerant on practically every major sexual issue from having a child out of wedlock to divorce ... and homosexuality. They are more accepting of all these issues except infidelity, where they seem to have become stricter.

Not only do the Americans feel a lot of guilt, but they also believe there must be complete honesty between spouses, which means, when and if they have an affair, they will feel a burning need to confess every little detail of the affair to their partners once the affair is over. Americans are extremely bothered by "lies" or "witholding the truth" in relationships. Even when it comes to their leaders having affairs (eg. Bill Clinton) the American public were more concerned about him lying about the affair than the affair itself.

Adultery is traumatic everywhere, but in America it's especially so. The reactions of a betrayed spouse resemble the post-traumatic stress symptoms of the victims of catastrophic events like 9/11 or the Asian tsunami.
"Betrayed spouses" as they're called here, can take years to recover, they feel so out of control,they feel their going crazy. One person described a spouse's betrayal as feeling worse than when she lost her child. In Europe, betrayed spouses either take the affair with a pinch of salt or like in France, they may opt for a "revenge affair".

It's hard to sum up a book which is packed with so much information, but if I can make any conclusions it would be:

1.Religion is not a deterrent when it comes to adultery. In other words, religious societies can have the same rate of infedility as non-religious ones.

2. Location trumps religion because the stats have consistently shown that people in warm places are more promiscuous, with Scandanavia and St. Petersburg being the exceptions.

3. There appears to be more infidelity in poorer countries than others,especially by men.

While the evidence Druckerman presents is primarily anecdotal (this is not a scientific study by any means)she still manages to provide the reader with a cultural, albeit voyeuristic, guide to infedility in various parts of the world in an engaging and interesting manner. The anthropologist in me enjoyed this book! Oh, and one last word, don't be fooled by the cover, there is no sex in this book!
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

postheadericon The Seven Wonders of Canada

The National and Sounds Like Canada are searching for the Seven Wonders of Canada and need our help.

After pouring over 18,000 suggestions from Canadians all over, the Seven Wonders team at the CBC had the unenviable task of reducing all those pitches to a short-list of 50 nominees.

I want you to take a look at the nominees and if there is something on there you recognize and have visited and would like to see it nominated as a wonder of Canada, please feel free to do so, here.

Guess you're wondering which one gets my vote, well, even if you're not, I'm going to tell you :) ...It's the NorthWest Passage. The Passage is rich in scenic beauty and history and is also endangered on account of global warming, just for that I think it deserves a vote!

While CBC and the National were putting together the WOnders of Canada, I had to ask myself why they were doing it, what is the value of an exercise like this, and ofcourse many different things came to mind...

It instills a sense of pride in one's country

It honors monuments, institutions, natural wonders together as a nation

It encourages dialogue...Canadians are coming together from all parts of Canada and indeed, the world, to talk and debate on the various nominees

Last, but certainly not least, if you believe that your physical landscape has a lot to do with the making of who you are then this list is a representation of the Canadian people themselves...who they are, what they believe in and what they stand for. The list gives one a sense of place, a sense of what Canadians are all about.

Vote with me!

To read more about the Northwest Passage and what it means to Canada, go here

And listen to Stan Rogers' glorious hit, "Northwest Passage", here
Wednesday, April 25, 2007

postheadericon PROVOKED (the movie)

Jag Mundhra

Cast: Aishwarya Rai,
Miranda Richardson, Naveen Andrews,
Nandita Das, Robbie

Release: April 2007

In 1989, Kiranjit Ahluwalia housewife of Indian(Punjabi) descent living in London, set fire to her husband, Deepak, as he lay in a drunken stupor in their bedroom. Kiran admitted to killing him in self-defence (she was afraid for her life after he came close to killing her several times in their abusive 10-year marriage) She was sentenced to a life in prison because the judge ruled that self-defence could not be used in her case as her last physical beating from her husband occured more than two hours before the killing signifying that the murder was premeditated and not in self-defence.

Kiran's cause was taken up by a women's group called "The Southall Black Sisters" . SBS is a non-profit group working against domestic violence and they brought her plight to the attention of the media by organising rallies and gathering public support. When her appeal was heard, in September 1992 at the Old Bailey, Ms Ahluwalia’s plea of manslaughter on the grounds of "diminished responsibility" was accepted. The judge sentenced her to three years and four months in prison — the exact time that she had already served.

By acknowledging the state of "diminished responsibility" and of "being provoked" the British court allowed, for the first time, "the battered woman syndrome" as a legal defence, acknowledging that a battered woman doesn't always strike out in self-defence immediately, many a time the hurt and the abuse will lie smouldering within her and she might strike out even at a time of low abuse, because she believes she will be abused again. Kiranjit’s case upturned the British judiciary and her appeal and retrial are now the stuff of every basic criminal law text in Britain.

So, while the story itself is compelling...I thought director Jag Mundhra could done a much better job with the movie. The movie "Provoked" was based on Kiranjit Ahluwalia's memoir "Circle of Light". Aiswarya Rai who plays Kiranjit, was inconsistent...she was good in some parts but failed miserably when trying to play the shy, battered, non-English speaking Kiranjit. She does get better as the movie progresses or so I thought. The character of Deepak Ahluwalia, the abusive husband, played by Naveen Andrews (of "Lost" fame) could have been fleshed out some more...the viewer doesn't get to know Deepak well and why he was so violent towards his wife. The movie seems to point to alcoholism, but the viewer realizes there has to be something more. The one actress who stole the show is Miranda Richardson (who is also in prison for killing her violent husband and who befriends Kiranjit in jail).

Having said that however, I think the movie should be seen because it speaks very strongly about domestic violence suffered by women. And in recent years, South-Asian women in Canada, especially from the immigrant Punjabi community, have witnessed a rise in the number of domestic violence victims. "...One in every four South Asian women is abused - physically,
emotionally, financially or psychologically,"
says Baldev Mutta, community development officer at the Peel Health Department, Toronto, a government agency.

This raises some troubling questions:

Why is this happening to this group of women? How do we empower them? Why are these men so violent? Do they need help too? What happens to the children when they witness such terrible abuse in their homes?

I guess there will always be more questions than answers.

Read more about Kiran Ahluwalia go HERE