Ryūkyūan Glass:  An Account of War, Hardship and Okinawan Rebirth


“A rebirth out of spiritual adversity causes us to become new creatures.”  ~ James E. Faust, American religious leader

The accounting of the development of Ryukyu Glass is one crafted out of war, hardship and Okinawan rebirth.

The Nearly Complete Devastation of Okinawa in 1945

The Nearly Complete Devastation of Okinawa in 1945

The craft of glass blowing was still in its infancy when war finally arrived on Okinawa’s shores in the spring of 1945.  Prior to that time there was relatively low demand for glass, with pottery being the mainstay trade supporting needs for crockery.  Homes and businesses of the time still lacked windows as we know them in our modern, western sense.  Pragmatic items, such as gas lamps, medicine bottles and sake or awamori jars were the extent of glassware items which were locally manufactured.

Typical Post-War Okinawan Dwelling

Typical Post-War Okinawan Dwelling

Thus, the very few highly skilled glass makers who made up the trade on Okinawa were likewise devastated during the fierce Typhoon of Steel suffered by the island and its people.  Upwards of fully 1/3rd of Okinawa’s civilian population was outright killed, with probably upwards of another third injured or disabled; almost every single survivor was internally displaced, having lost their homes and most of their belongings.

Kadena Traffic Circle circa August 1945

Kadena Traffic Circle circa August 1945

The demand for glass, however, suddenly spiked during Okinawa’s recovery and occupation by allied (American) forces immediately following Japan’s surrender.  Those tradespeople left returned to their shops in the hopes of rebuilding, but often found little more than piles of burnt rubble so iconic of the complete devastation visited upon the Ryukyu Islands.  Desperate times almost always call for desperate measures, and Okinawans were forced to make use of whatever structures, fuels and raw materials which were available.

The Soda-Lime Composition of War-Era Coke Bottles Still Provides Beautiful Sea Glass on Okinawan Beaches Today!

The Soda-Lime Composition of War-Era Coke Bottles Still Provides Beautiful Sea Glass on Okinawan Beaches Today!

The Okinawan people began collecting bottles discarded by occupying forces.  Legend has it that Coca-Cola bottles tossed from ships and found in the many military’s camps’ trash heaps fueled the initial glass boom on Okinawa immediately after the war.  I can tell you this:  scuba divers routinely still find Coke bottles dated “1945,” and sea glass is a full-time hobby for many since there seems to be a never-ending supply of smoothed and rounded glass washing up on the Okinawa’s shores.  Lucky for the island, there was a steady and sustained stream of cast-off glass courtesy of the Americans.  One man’s trash is another’s treasure.

The Vivid Colors and Intricate Designs of Ryukyuan Glass Today

The Vivid Colors and Intricate Designs of Ryukyuan Glass Today

These discarded soda-lime glass bottles were melted down and re-blown on Okinawa into what slowly morphed into a unique type of recycled glassware:  Ryukyu Glass.  This locally made glass quickly became popular with American GIs who bought them in some cases as vestiges of far-away civility left behind, or as souvenirs for girlfriends or family.  So, not only did the occupation of Okinawa supply raw materials for this new industry, it also became its largest economic base.  Prior to Okinawa’s reversion and return to Japanese sovereignty in 1972, 60% of the glass fashioned was exported to the United States via troops stationed in Okinawa, 20% went to mainland Japan, and the remaining 20% was sold locally within the Okinawan prefecture, which includes the majority of the islands in the southern half of the Ryukyu Island chain.

Ryukyuan Glass

Ryukyuan Glass

Since those hard, early times of the late 1940s and 1950s when this vocation was struggling for a stable foothold, the Okinawan art of glass-making has blossomed into one of the island’s proudest, yet youngest traditional craftworks.  Now known throughout Asia, visitors come from far and wide to buy exceptionally ornate pieces selling for thousands and thousands of dollars.

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For her birthday this year, I treated Jody to a weekend get-away centered on a hands-on glass-blowing experience, something we’ve been meaning to do for over three years now.  Staying at the Okinawa Renaissance Hotel for two nights, the local glass factories in Okinawa’s Onna area were within easy driving distance.

The Glass (Foreground) We Decided to Attempt

The Glass (Foreground) We Decided to Attempt

The first location we tried is called Okinawa Kougei Mura.  A large glassware showroom is found here, along with an adjoining and rather disorganized glass-blowing studio largely open to the elements.  The sales area displays a huge array of glass pieces of every design, but be warned that there is only a small selection of items (mostly cups and a few vases), that you can try your own hand (and mouth) at producing, which are found outside next to the factory floor.  Further, the experience here includes only a minimal 2 steps of hands-on during the glass forming process.  On the flip-side, this is an inexpensive and relatively quick encounter.

Our Wedding - Hard to Miss THAT Color!

Our Wedding – Hard to Miss THAT Color!

7396101154_9fb381e9e1_b7395692146_cf91e76b9e_bHere we decided to make a set of Ryūkyūan glasses in roughly the colors featured throughout our wedding – blue and turquoise.  We selected a rather unique design, a wide-mouthed tumbler with a bumpy-textured base and flared top.  The craftsmen on the studio floor apparently speak very little English, so Jody and I made it very clear exactly what we wanted to the always polite and over-dressed sales woman, who then reminded the glass-blowers at least 4 or 5 times about the flared rim we so eagerly wanted!

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-jody-with-a-completed-drinking-glass

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-kevin-necking-a-glass-3jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-jody-blowing-glass-2Jody was to make two glasses, and I would make the remaining two.  Instead of each making two and then switching roles between artisan and photographer, for some reason the shop had us alternate one at a time.  Not a big deal, except for having to don – and then slip off all the protective gear an extra time!  The glasses turned out beautifully, except for the one birth defect I forced during one of my attempts.  Forming the flared top was perhaps the most delicate part of the entire process, and of course this was one of the hands-on elements!  For one of my prenatal glasses I was, let’s say, a little too eager.  I’ll leave it up to the reader to see if you can spot my “special” glass, which already provides an amusing story and priceless memory of our weekend.  Be advised that you are the master of your glass’ destiny, and being hand-formed each and every time, no two pieces are alike.  Which is exactly what makes this all so uniquely charming!

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jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-things-you-can-makejodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-things-you-can-make-2Since we wanted to make something more, well, special, we decided to go to another location, a factory with a much more extensive showcase and workshop called “Onna Glass Studio.”  Here we were not disappointed.  But we were overwhelmed!  There is a substantial room, separated from the store’s high-end showcase, literally crammed full of glass pieces, consisting of what seems like every type and color of glass vase, cup, bowl, and drinking glass you could imagine.  And any one of them was fair game for production on the factory floor.  It was actually really difficult to select something that we desired to make; the options appeared almost endless.

Models of What We Were to Create!

Models of What We Were to Create!

I think I might have spotted my glass desideratum first.  After probably a full thirty minutes scouring through the showroom, I saw it:  an oddly proportioned long-neck, crackled vase/bottle with a flared top in the most interesting color of blue, historically the rarest color in glass as I understand it.  It’s a bottle that one would imagine from which a genie would appear.  Proudly bringing it up to the counter with a huge smile on my face, the saleswoman immediately shuts me down with a dismissive “no have, no color, cannot make….”  Did she have any idea how hard that was to find!?  I settle for a very similar design but in a slightly less-attractive fluorescent green.

Winding Molten Glass on the Iron Blowing Pipe

Winding Molten Glass on the Iron Blowing Pipe

Jody selects a rather fascinating bottle with a twist.  Literally, a bottle with a twist.  Like a twisted bottle – very cool!  The model we contemplated was rather asymmetrical, something that she also found very alluring.  Her bottle’s color gently faded along the bottle’s length between a bright red and a diminished yellow.  After negotiating price – and this place is open and even encourages haggling, a rarity for Japan – we were off to the factory floor.  Be ready to spend a few dollars here if you select a larger piece of unusual design.

Keeping the Molten Glass Formed

Keeping the Molten Glass Formed

At the Onna Glass Studio, you “the creator” are much more involved in the birthing process, from conception to delivery.  Yeah, sure, the three staff members surrounding you the entire time are helping (quite a bit actually) like midwives, but you certainly feel like you are doing the work.  Did I mention how much you have to spin the blowing bar and molten glass – constantly – the ENTIRE time??   Both Jody and I were counseled, gently at first and then with more eagerness, a number of times to “keep spinning, fingers only,” which we found nearly impossible.

Blowing Glass between Collection from Various Kilns

Blowing Glass between Collection from Various Kilns

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-kevin-picking-up-molten-glassjodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-molten-glassMolten glass is first wound on an iron pipe, a hollow bar that is used to collect, blow, shape and form your creation.  Constantly spinning the bar, its tip is carefully placed into kilns operating at over 1,300C/2375F to pick up molten glass.  The heat in the vicinity of the furnaces is oppressive, and once its protective cover is opened, a wave of heat radiates and seems to strike you much like a physical shove.  Multiple stops are required at various different kilns to get the right amount and the right types of glass, all of which is white-hot when wound.  There is a small amount of blowing in-between to shape the glass and keep it spherical.  Did I mention yet that during the entire time you have to constantly spin the bar??  The glass at this point is more liquid than solid, and it can’t be neglected for more than a short heartbeat or two.

Blowing Glass to From in a Mold

Blowing Glass to From in a Mold

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-drinking-glass-moldjodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-molten-glass-to-become-a-glassNext it’s off to blow the glass into a mold.  A heavy-duty, thick-sided iron mold is placed on a sheet of steel on the floor, squarely behind a heat shield designed to protect lower bodies of craftsmen.  We are directed to finally stop spinning the pipe, and place it carefully vertically straight down into the open mold.  The mold is then closed, and you blow through the pipe until the molten glass entirely fills the confines of the cast.  Things happen quickly now because the design must be completed before the glass starts to chemically fuse and cool back into a solid – a process which is already happening.  From what I understand, glass is an unforgiving medium, and re-firing cannot be used to fix many mistakes.

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jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-kevin-with-his-finished-bottlejodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-kevin-blowing-his-bottleMy piece has a crackle design near its base.  Taking the formed glass from the mold, still on the end of the blowing tube and glowing red-hot now instead of white, I dipped (with guidance) my piece into cold water just for an instant or two.  The sharp temperature difference produces cracks only on the surface of the glass, which remain only as a subtle design element not interfering with the glass’ functionality.

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-spinning-glass-montage-2

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-jody-necking-her-bottle-2jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-cutting-kevins-bottle-at-the-neckNow we sit in the finishing chair.  We were both involved in flaring our bottle’s lips, a technique that involves placing outward pressure with metal tongs on quickly cooling glass, now barely glowing, while the piece is rotated horizontally on guides.  After the flare is finished, we score the specimen’s water cool water is applied, creating a natural fracture point in the crystalline structure.  Lifting the bar slighting, we bring it down with some force and the bottle gentle is released from his metallic captor.  The area, on the bottom of the glass, is quickly re-fired and smoothed by the shop’s staff.

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Cooling Kiln

Cooling Kiln

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-forming-a-drinking-glass-2Now that the pieces are done, they are placed into another larger not-so-hot-but-still-freakin’-hot kiln for controlled cooling.  Jody’s bottle actually fell over, which initially I thought was a mistake, but something the craftsman who placed it that way wasn’t overly concerned about.  In hindsight, this is probably how the additional asymmetry of that particular design is introduced because Jody and I both noted its equal proportions when molded.

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-jody-shaping-the-neck-of-her-bottle

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-masterpieces-the-bottle-we-coundt-make-but-still-scoredjodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-masterpieces-kevins-crackled-bottleReturning the next day to pick up our masterpieces, we were amazed to see our completed works!  Jody, however, noticed a sharp spike of glass on the very top of the rim of her bottle’s neck.  When we asked if there was anything that could be done about it, a woman working the showroom took sandpaper and attempted to “erase” the issue.  As you might guess, this did blunt the defect, but more so scratched the glass….  Realizing we were unhappy with that result, she tried to just give us the model we had initially selected from the floor to show the craftsman what we wanted to create.  “No, no, no we don’t want that, we want the one we made!”  Jody, being coyly smart and fast on her brainstem, went and got the blue bottle that I had wanted to make, which the ladies working there were only too happy to part with.  They couldn’t make it anyway.  So, we walked away with our two hand-made pieces, AND with the fabulous sapphire decanter.  SCORE!

Our Bottles!

Our Bottles!

Reservation is not required at either location.  Neither was very crowded.  We waited behind a group of three at the first location, and had no wait at all at the Glass Studio.  Once your piece is selected and the factory floor is ready for you, the process takes roughly 15-20 minutes, but you are required to leave your masterpiece overnight for proper cooling, so make sure you allow for pick-up the next day.  And be forewarned that these pieces are NOT commercially produced and therefore should not be exposed to heat or hot foods or drinks, and cannot be used in the oven, microwave, or dishwasher.

Our Glasses!

Our Glasses!

Go and experience this corner of our Far East Fling.  Rebirthing these glass creatures anew provides a spiritual connection to Okinawa, her history and her people which will last through time.  But their emotional essence – the soul of Ryūkyūan Glass, just might help you overcome an adversity or two of your own in the future.

 

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Okinawa Glass Studio

Hours:  Daily from 0800-2200

Phone: 098-965-3090

Sorry, Yen Only, but Cards Accepted

Address: 85 Fuchaku, Onna Village, Okinawa 904-0413, Coordinates: 26.4590571, 127.81162829999994

Directions:  From Kadena Gate 1, go north on 58 (right) past Kadena and Yomitan.  Pass the Renaissance Resort, and then the Kafuu Resort further up the road.  Onna Glass Studio is on the right hand side, almost directly across from the Sun Marina Beach and Hotel

Geisha & Maiko vs. Hose & Heels: Working Women of Gion, Kyoto


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“The biggest industry in Japan is not shipbuilding, producing cultured pearls, or manufacturing transistor radios or cameras. It is entertainment.”  ~Boye De Mente, Some Prefer Geisha

“Geishas are not submissive and subservient, but in fact they are some of the most financially and emotionally successful and strongest women in Japan, and traditionally have been so.” ~Iwasaki Mineko, Geisha, A Life

“There is currently no western equivalent for a geisha—they are truly the most impeccable form of Japanese art.” ~Kenneth Champeon, The Floating World

Modern Hostesses and "Snacks"

Modern Hostesses and “Snacks”

Japan-travel-Kyoto-Pontocho-Alley-visitWhat is up with all the prom dates and late-night flower shops?” I ask Jody as we wander the streets in and around Gion.  Women, or more correctly young girls, scurry about the streets in their über high heels and hipster nylon leg fashion, dressed to the nines for a ball extravaganza that never seems to materialize…while flower arrangements that more resemble funeral ornamentation are whisked away to the many small bars that dot each alleyway.  Perhaps the Japanese are subconsciously mourning the loss of their old ways.

Kyoto has a fetish obsession with nylons, which I admit I enjoy

Kyoto has a fetish obsession with nylons, which I admit I enjoy

FCP%20Legs%20Beautiful-smallJust after sunset something odd happens on the outskirts of Gion in Kyoto, the original capital city of Japan and still it’s cultural and religious center.  Young ladies frequent the numerous small nylon and pantyhose shops found there, dressing up on their way to “work” as hostesses and “snack bar” girls, far from the geisha ideal and sensuality of the past.  The ever-resourceful Japan has invented the “snack bar” (basic bars, older women) and “hostess club” (plush lounges, younger women), both places that come pre-stocked with attractive women, where drunk men can find female companionship without worrying about breaking the ice – or even rejection, and women can get paid for babysitting inebriated and males with low self-esteem.  Leave it to fickle Japan to work out such a regressive lose-lose system.

Me and Jody in front of the Yasaka Shrine

Me and Jody in front of the Yasaka Shrine

Traditional wooden nameplates of Maiko

Traditional wooden nameplates of Maiko

Gion (祇園, ぎおん) is a small historical district of Kyoto, Japan, dating back to the Middle Ages.  Centered in front of the nearby Yasaka Shrine, the neighborhood was designed and built to accommodate the needs of travelers and visitors to the shrine, and then evolved to become one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan.  Jody and were fortunate enough to stay on the very outskirts of Gion in an old, authentic Machiya (see Timeless Townhouse to read about that adventure!).

A collage of our Machiya stay in Gion

A collage of our Machiya stay in Gion

Geisha neckGeisha (芸者), geiko (芸子) or geigi (芸妓) are traditional Japanese female entertainers who act in general terms as hostesses, but whose skills center on perfecting and performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, traditional dance, skillful games and intelligent conversation.  The word consists of two kanji characters, 芸 (gei) meaning “art” and 者 (sha) meaning “person” or “doer.”  The most literal translation is “artist,” “performing artist,” or “artisan.”  The geisha of the Gion district (and in Kyoto generally) actually call themselves geiko, more directly meaning “a child of the arts” or “a woman of art.”

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then-now-geishaContrast this with Japan today, which offers various flavors of hostess clubs and “snacks.” Many young Japanese women work as kyabajō (キャバ嬢), literally “cabaret girl” (although there is no dancing or nudity), and most use a professional name genji-na (源氏名).  The Japanese hostesses of fast-paced, impersonal modernity, rather than highlighting traditional high culture and ideals of sensuality, instead are relegated to lighting cigarettes, pouring drinks, offering flirtation more than wit, and singing karaoke pop songs to entertain today’s average Japanese Joe Sixpack.  Although such hostesses are often said to be the “modern counterpart of geishas,” these groups of women are literally worlds and time apart.

Sadly, not Geisha...or even Maiko.

Sadly, not Geisha…or even Maiko.

672px-Maiko_in_GionMaiko (舞子 or 舞妓), literally “dance child”) are apprentice geisha, and actually are the one who wear the white make-up and elaborate kimono and hair dress which we in the west hold as the popular image of geisha.  A year’s training leads to a woman’s debut as a maiko, and under modern Japanese law, all must be 18 years of age, except for those in Kyoto, where women can apprentice as early as age 15 (as opposed to age 3 or 5 a century ago).

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14195691615_ccc5a28e7c_bShiroNuriSeriesMaiko are considered one of the great sights of Japanese tourism, and although most westerners don’t’ realize, they look very different from fully qualified geisha.  The scarlet-fringed collar of a maiko’s kimono hangs very loosely in the back to accentuate the nape of the neck, a primary erotic area in Japanese sexuality.  She wears the same white makeup for her face on her nape, leaving two or sometimes three stripes of bare skin exposed.  Her kimono is bright and colorful with an elaborately tied obi hanging down to her ankles.  She takes very small steps and wears traditional wooden shoes called okobo which stand nearly ten centimeters high (4 inches).  There are five different hairstyles of a maiko, all impossibly ornate and complex, each marking a different stage of her apprenticeship.  Around the age of 20–22, the maiko is promoted to a full-fledged geisha in a ceremony called “turning of the collar” (erikae) where white replaces red.

The whole idea behind Japanese Hostess clubs and Snack bars....

The whole idea behind Japanese Hostess clubs and Snack bars….

60947212_66fb58d83c_mattachmentModern hostesses’ professional wear consists generally of very short skirts or cocktail dresses, but range to prom-like gowns, both looks completed with stylized “big hair,” sexy high heels, and what only can be described as a fetished-obsession with nylons and pantyhose.   These girls drink with customers, sharing in a percentage of drink sales. For example, a patron purchases a $20 drink for the hostess (in addition to his own), which usually are non-alcoholic concoctions and guarantees the hostess’s undivided attention for the subsequent 30-45 minutes.

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ShiroNuriSeries14584584159_e22d477ea9_bIn modern times the traditional makeup of apprentice geisha is unmistakable, though established geisha generally only wear full white makeup during special performances.  This makeup features a thick white base with red lipstick and red and black accents around the eyes and eyebrows.  The application of makeup is hard to perfect and consumes vast amounts of time, and is applied before dressing to avoid dirtying a kimono.

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Yikes.

Yikes.

Not a geisha

Not a geisha

Personal introductions to geisha and maiko were, and still are often required today.  However, modern patrons of hostess clubs are greeted warmly (if not insincerely) at the door and invited directly in.  At some establishments, a customer is able to choose his specific female companion, but that decision is most often left to the house’s mamasan, herself once a hostess who’s worked her way up cleaning splashes off the glass ceiling and into management.  In either case, the hostesses usually rotate after a certain amount of time or number of drinks, offering customers a chance to see a fresh face.  Personally speaking, I have always been assigned a “snack” in a “Snack Bar,” but have had choice in the Okinawan Hostess Clubs I’ve visited.  For the experience.  And nothing more!

There is no greater insult to Geisha than this.

There is no greater insult to Geisha than this.

A mature and established Geisha and her Maiko.

A mature and established Geisha and her Maiko.

airfrance3A maiko’s eyes and eyebrows are drawn in; the eyebrows and edges of the eyes are colored black, and red is applied around her eyes.  The lips are filled in, but not in our more familiar Western style, but instead red and white is used to create various optical illusions and representations, such as a flower’s bud. Maiko wear this heavy makeup almost constantly, but it does change over time to a more subdued style to better reflect her maturity and to help display her own natural beauty.  For formal occasions, mature geisha still apply white make-up, but for geisha over thirty, the heavy white make-up is only worn during the special dances that require it.

Well, I was wrong.  Manson as a Geisha is indeed worse....

Well, I was wrong. Manson as a Geisha is indeed worse….

Katie, you're no geisha....

Katie, you’re no geisha….

There is one way in which geisha and their loosely modern equivalents seem to converge: in addition to their on-site duties, hostesses are generally obliged to engage in paid dates called dōhan (同伴) with their patrons outside of the bar, beyond regular working hours.  Although characterized much differently, maiko and geisha are also paid for such alone time.  While the intersection of prostitution and both geisha and hostesses remain vague and unsure, the fact is that sometimes sex occurs on these “paid dates.”  Although such an arrangement of sex for money is clearly dictated by geisha, there are ongoing concerns about human trafficking and sexual slavery with hostesses, particularly those of non-Japanese citizenship.  Note that since Japanese law narrowly defines prostitution specifically as “intercourse with an unspecified person in exchange for payment,” non-coital services remain legal and are widely offered and available.  If only Clinton had been President in Japan, he actually wouldn’t have had sex with that woman!

Monica, not a Geisha.

Monica, not a Geisha.

Geisha Girls from our "Sayonara" going-away party last year

Geisha Girls from our “Sayonara” going-away party last year

13933417728_f4b9093d88_bUnfortunately, in modern Japan, geisha and maiko are now a rare sight.  In the 1920s, there were over 80,000 geisha in Japan, but today, there are far fewer, with most estimates between 1,000 and 2,000.  World War II heralded a huge decline, especially after 1944 when geisha teahouses, bars and houses were all forced shut by the government so that everyone could work in factories in support of the war effort.  At the end of the war such facilities were reopened, but geisha as a label was irreversibly defamed as common prostitutes began referring to themselves as “geisha girls” during Japan’s post-war occupation.  An association which the American GIs bought, hook, line and sinker.

I'm pretty sure this Geisha and Maiko are the real deal.

I’m pretty sure this Geisha and Maiko are the real deal.

Our "real" sighting!

Our “real” sighting!

14606602998_d3487a96e9_bThe most common (mistaken) sightings are those of tourists who pay a fee to be dressed and made up as a maiko.  The Gion neighborhood in Kyoto has five hanamachi (“flower towns”), or geiko districts, and despite the geisha’s considerable decline in the last hundred years, Gion remains famous for the preservation of forms of traditional architecture and entertainment, and remains one of the places in Japan where a foreigner has a good chance of actually seeing a geisha.  While we did see plenty of woman playing the part, we maybe, just maybe saw one in a rickshaw…and I’m almost positive we followed a maiko and her geisha for a block or two (see below).

Not as sure about this one....

Not as sure about this one….

Personally speaking, the intrigue and sensuality of geisha and maiko, regardless of how backwards and repressive some in the West may think such lifestyles are, should and will always outclass and outlast the rather demeaning heels and hose of the snacks and hostesses that now frequent the streets of Kyoto.  I feel for the Japanese women today who, although they most likely think they are exercising free-choice in pursuit of their destinies, have given up so much status, income and power of the past.

vintage geisha girls

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At least they are dressed well for the funeral. And how’bout those flowers….

Me and Jody with our performing Maiko for the night.

Me and Jody with our performing Maiko for the night.

Tattoo You? Round Two.


“The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune’s spite; revive from ashes and rise.” ~Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

“She said, ‘a tattoo is a badge of validation’.  But the truth of the matter is far more revealing.  It’s a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.”  ~Jimmy Buffett, Beach House on the Moon

“Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix” ~Christina Baldwin quotes

The Japanese Phoenix:  Hou-ou

The Japanese Phoenix: Hou-ou

dragon-and-phoenixThe Arabian-Western phoenix we are all familiar with has a close analogy in Asia.  Dating in China from the 11th Century BC, the Chinese Far East Phoenix is known as Fèng Huáng or Feng Huang (鳳凰), and in Japan, the creature is referred to as the Hō-ō (鳳凰) or Hou-ou.  The Kanji for “Phoenix” is made up of Feng 鳳 representing the male phoenix, yang and the sun, alongside Huang 凰 representing the female phoenix, yin, and the moon.  In Asia, the (female) Phoenix is often portrayed with a (male) dragon, either as mortal enemies or as blissful lovers, the duality of roles adopted by couples at varying points in their relationships.  Adopted as the symbol of the imperial household, particularly the empress, this mythical bird represents, in general, fire, sun, justice, obedience, and fidelity.

Chinese Fèng Huáng in Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand

Chinese Fèng Huáng in Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand

KairoPanel_Hou-ou_8150clipAccording to legend (mostly from China), the Hō-ō appears very rarely, and only to mark the beginning of a new era — the birth of a virtuous ruler, for example.  In other traditions, the Hō-ō appears (nesting) only in peaceful and prosperous times, and hides itself when there is trouble.  As the herald of a new age, the Hō-ō descends from heaven to earth to do good deeds, and then it returns to its celestial abode to wait the start of the next, new time.

I am inked, and inked with a Far East Phoenix.  My original tat is of origins and impregnation while stationed previously in Okinawa (Japan), with a genesis that took years to finally coalesce (read about it here:  Tattoo You?  Absolutely).  Although my ink is positioned to avoid daily public exposure and consumption (generally speaking), it is also positioned so that I, for often long periods of time, forget about it…as odd as that sounds)…until…someone asks me about it.  Or my wife has to scratch that certain spot of my back which happens to coincide with the Phoenix’s tail, which can result in Nirvana (I think everyone should have an itch and spot like this)!  Only then is its presence reaffirmed in my psyche, and more often than not, I’m only too happy to share my story (usually abridged, depending on the audience).  That’s the whole point of a tattoo, isn’t it?  To graphically tell a personal story?

A temporary tat I got in 1999 to freak my mother out!  It worked....

A temporary tat I got in 1999 to freak my mother out! It worked….

EhafHWhich brings me to an interesting tangent.  How many of you out there know someone who has a rather generic or dare I say “mundane” tattoo?  You know the kind I’m talking about:  the dolphin on the ankle, or the rose on the shoulder-blade, or worse, some form of Asian kanji writing anywhere on the body….  I bet if you stop and really take stock and inventory, you can come up with at least two or three people, given the popularity of tattooing today.  This can be a fascinating insight to these particular people:  if one is not going to take great care and great pains on placing permanent art on one’s most personal and irreplaceable canvas, what other areas of life come (and go) so easily?

I considered Bettie Page for a long time.  What a silly story that would've made!

I considered Bettie Page for a long time. What a silly story that would’ve made!

Worse, think about those people you may know that have a tattoo, maybe an ornate design or some really intricate ambiguous layout where meaning is hard to grasp and any story remains hidden.  To me, these make the best kinds of ink, the kind that make people wonder, contemplate, and finally, inquire.  But what if that (ink’d) person refuses to tell their story?  Why graphically display such symbology if only to keep it locked away inside.  I know someone like this – not well and have never asked – but I don’t hesitate to conclude that there isn’t really a story there, at least one with any deeper meaning, and this, in my opinion, is why these types of people with ink hide behind their “art.”

soup tatoo

By the way, a word of caution here:  after having lived in Japan for my 6th year, and having seen how badly and hilariously English and Japanese can be translated back and forth, please take a moment or three decades to reconsider that kanji character you have so badly been wanting (see here). Or, to make this much more plain, look at how silly pedestrian English words would appear as tattoos on Asians….  ‘Nough said.

if-the-japanese-tattooed-english-words-on-themselves

But back to MY story surround MY ink.  As you may recall from my previous blog on the subject, I was able to successfully translate conflicted and dark feelings into permanent art to adorn my body, initially back in 2005.  The biohazard design I ended up selecting symbolized such feelings succinctly, yet in a way that translated directly onto my skin.

The biohazard motif I had settled firmly on held the central idea of man being his own worst enemy, but also could so easily be extended to include those wars, conflicts and smaller upheavals we all find omnipresent in our daily lives.  However, what started as a personal yet metaphysical conflict mostly within myself quickly morphed into a wider outside battle at the time my ink started to dry, philosophically speaking, as my marriage was liquefying down the drain.  Thus, my original tat became, somewhat on purpose but mostly a result of collateral damage, tied excessively to the pain and suffering of a disintegrating 16 year marriage and 18 year relationship.

DVNCb

And although that original tat did serve as a visible mode of attaining a form and depth of corporeal catharsis, I reached a point in my life where I no longer wanted to forever and always associate the pain of ink with a past marriage which had, in totality, become toxic.  Although these memories remain with me today, they certainly all have, at worst, faded, but at best, they have in many cases surrendered to exactly what most feelings are:  a contemporary reflection of only a temporal phase of life.  So, sometime after divorce in 2006 my consciousness started to almost immediately drift.  And finally, in roughly 2010, it had traveled far enough away from my initial viewpoint for me to again seek a change (for the better)…and new transformative ink, on top of the old.

Bad Transformation; I'm not sure which one is worst!

Bad Transformation; I’m not sure which one is worst!

I started to re-research a refreshed approach to morphing my art to something which would better match my now-current story.  And that story is a much different story than that told by my ink back in 2005.

I have recovered from emotional devastation of the destruction of a previous marriage, and the bitter betrayal of someone who once was loved and cherished.  I have recovered from the financial disaster of divorce and the irresponsible deficit spending that followed; only just this month (January 2014), can I claim once again that I am debt-free, the first time since 2005…although the witch continues to get a portion of my military retirement.  I have accepted the tragic loss of my status, influence and proximity as a father to my children during their adolescent years.  And, most importantly, I have found the love of my wife, a woman who is truly my equal (except for blogging – WINK!), and who loves me easily and unconditionally the way we all deserve to be loved and equally cherished in life.

Phoenix

So, again, the central question of inking:  graphic design!  My life has always revolved around flying, literally as long as I can remember.  I am a pilot, flew in the military, and continue to skydive today.  I also am enamored with myth and legend, particularly when it comes to their symbols and symbolism.  I almost immediately thought of integrating a Rising Phoenix into my biohazard symbol to show rebirth, resolution, resolve, and recovery.

untitledimagesIn Greek mythology, a phoenix (Ancient Greek φοίνιξ phóinīx) is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn.  Associated with the sun and most likely of Egyptian origin, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.  As part of our collective myth and legend in the Western world, the phoenix symbolizes renewal and resurrection.  It’s interesting to note that many cultures have formed independent analogues of the Greek/Egyptian phoenix, including those of Persia, India (Hinduism), Russia, Turkey, Tibet, China and Japan.

I am NOT a graphics artist....

Rough Ideas: I am NOT a graphics artist….

After toying around with various designs and layouts for about a year, and researching the myth as well as how others had translated such ideas into art, I began my graphics design in earnest.  I decided to avoid the more ornate and flowery, colorful phoenix portrays, and instead pursed a more minimalistic tribal style.  Finally, when I had narrowed my choices down, and after finding a tattoo artist (and service) I was confident and comfortable with, I was able to finalize the new blueprint.  The tattoo artist here was indispensable; knowing both the medium and media, he was able to make some fine tweaks and additional recommendations on transforming my “permanent reminder” to match yet another temporary feeling….

Finalized & Stylized Design

Finalized & Stylized Design

Thus, my artistic upgrade was completed in two phases:  the bird itself fencing in the original biohazard tattoo, followed by the flames and biohazard re-treatment which together give rebirth to the creature (and my new lease on life), while subsuming the biohazard symbol itself…along with a tainted past.  My new era ensues.

Phoenix Risen, Phase 1

Phoenix Risen, Phase 1

We all need a harbingers to help announce and illuminate new eras throughout our lives, when the old have become stale and cumbersome.  Change is the only constant in life, and if you let it, affirmative change can serve as the egg for your very own phoenix.  Together, you both can rise from the ashes, no matter how bad you think the destruction may be.

Phoenix Risen, Phase 2

Phoenix Risen, Phase 2

Thankfully for me, my harbinger resides with me, mostly out of sight, but always there in spirit (and the mirror if I really look).  And while this permanent tattoo certainly serves my current temporal views and feelings more appropriately today, you may note that the tattoo is offset and asymmetrical, a reflection of the nature of life itself….  BUT, in a more pragmatic sense, because I’m leaving room for an old Far Eastern-influenced tattoo idea that continues to congeal the more time I spend in Asia….

Stay tuned for that development.

(...but here's a hint!)

(…but here’s a hint!)

Tattoo You? Absolutely.


The Price was WRONG
The Price was WRONG

“Outside of having kids, getting tattooed is one of the worst mistakes a person can make, yet somehow (much like having kids) millions of people do it every year.” ~Aviva Yael

“She said, ‘a tattoo is a badge of validation’.  But the truth of the matter is far more revealing.  It’s a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.”  ~Jimmy Buffett, Beach House on the Moon

Do you have a tattoo?  If so, what’s the story behind your ink?  If you don’t have a tattoo, what might you consider getting emblazoned permanently on your skin?  I think many people, even most people ask themselves such questions silently and without witness, and although tattoos are more popular than ever, how many really go to the permanent extreme?  And, perhaps more interesting, why do people reach such a dramatically inked conclusion??

I was always captivated by this tattooing scene in "The Bounty"

I was always captivated by this tattooing scene in “The Bounty”

I am inked, and it’s one of my past Far East Flings.  And while the physical tat was implanted here in Okinawa in 2005, the genesis of my body-art goes back many years.  My ink is not for daily public consumption, generally speaking.  It is positioned so that it can be covered by a collared shirt, and a short-sleeve tee only hints at its presence on my upper back.  Back in 2005 when I was still on Active Duty, the Navy’s tattoo policy was referred to as the “25 percent rule,” which stated that no more than 25 percent of any limb or part of the body that does not show while in uniform could be tattooed.  Tattoos on those portions visible were required to be no larger than an open hand for lower arms (fingers together), and no larger than a closed fist for women on their legs that would show in a uniform skirt.  The neck has always been and is still off-limits in the Navy for tattooing….  Although I’m the last to follow the rules of “The Man,” at the time I was bound.  So, initially my tattoo was small, and relatively hidden on my upper back.

Modern rules have changed the Navy's love affair with ink

Modern rules have changed the Navy’s love affair with ink

I had been contemplating a tattoo for quite some time prior to 2004-2005, but the real dilemma in a tattoo is exactly what Jimmy Buffett captured in the opening quotes:  no matter how well thought through, and how well graphically and symbolically planned, a tattoo is a permanent symbol of something that is more likely than not temporal in nature.  Sure, we all like to think that certain core elements of our internal nature don’t change or meander with the wanderings of time.  And while that may be true for the most central elements of character (once we reached something like our mid-20s), for most everything else we are continually and constantly shaped and molded by our environment’s intersection and quite possibly conflict with our inner-selves.  It can’t be helped; we, in this shared human condition, lead both evolutionary and, at times, revolutionary lifestyles that are seldom, if at all, static.  Change is really one of the only constants through time.

So, what to choose?  This is the short, simple question that kept me at bay for literally years.  But my plans and schemes were evolving.  You see, starting in the late 1990’s, I began to change my opinions and views of man, mankind, and the nature of violence, armed conflict, and the devastation and suffering they cause for mere political aims.  Up until that point, I was more than happy to be on the “tip of the spear” flying attack aircraft off of aircraft carriers as a Bombardier-Navigator in the mighty A-6E Intruder.  Carry a nuke or two?  Sure!  Toss cluster munitions on troops in the open?  NP.  Drop a string of “dumb” 2,000 pound bombs across more than 600 feet of city streets to take out one simple telecommunications building in the heart of Basra, Iraq?  Well, if you say so.  Of course there are losers and winners in war, so might as well be on the aggressive, winning side….  Or so I thought.

Me and the Mighty All-Weather Attack Bomber, the A-6E Intruder (1991)

Me and the Mighty All-Weather Attack Bomber, the A-6E Intruder (1991)

That all changed rather abruptly in 1998.  Two things struck home, in relative quick succession, coupled no doubt by a universe unfolding pretty much how it should.  While training to go over to Italy in support of the Bosnia conflicts at the time, I went to see the then new movie Saving Private Ryan on the Army Ranger base where I was stationed.  Most people seeing the flick were in uniform, and were there at that particular base training for the exactly that as was portrayed on the silver screen.  Needless to say, after the movie and upon exiting the theater, there wasn’t a word spoken.  By anyone.  The only other time I’ve ever experienced anything like this mass silent contemplation was after seeing The Passion of Christ.  That’s pretty good company I would say.  Up until that point war movies had only really touched on the nerves that Ryan was able to make sing, and certainly it should give anyone pause in considering the glory of warfare.

Savagery cleanly and clearly portrayed

Savagery cleanly and clearly portrayed

And then off to Bosnia I went where I was the NATO Training Chief at the Combined Air Operations Cell (CAOC) in Vicenza, Italy.  Now, this – being “forced” to live in Italy in a flat with a rental car and weekends off – was pretty much the best unplanned thing to happen to me in the military, besides maybe being “forced” to Okinawa the first time.  BUT, there is no free lunch; every good deal comes with a price, and no good deed goes unpunished.  And the price was seeing a truly devastated region of the world…from the ground, up close and personal…not from 20,000 feet in a relatively safe, sterile cockpit.  Sarajevo was an occupied city, and suffered a level of destruction reminiscent of the old WWII photos of any number of unnamed bombed-out German cities late in the war.  The only thing keeping the peace was literally armored personnel carriers (APCs) and combat troops stationed at every intersection.  There were no-go minefields everywhere signified with what appeared to be yellow crime-scene tape.  Most all the glass was gone – shot out and destroyed, cemeteries were vandalized and degraded, and many of the destroyed buildings were left as-is out of fear of bobby-traps inside.  The hotel were the allied forces headquarters was located was formerly a resort spa and hot springs; the massage rooms in the basement had been turned into torture chambers, and the locker rooms served as executioners’ hallows; there were bullet holes all over the walls to serve as silent witness to the brutality and genocide that had occurred there.  It was a truly shocking experience for me, something that began, finally, to open my eyes to the personal role that I was playing in the military-industrial complex that is, quite simply put, cold and numb to the human condition.

Bosnia devastation; might as well by 1944

Bosnia devastation; might as well by 1944

Then in the fall of 1999, I found myself on the ground in East Timor (Indonesia) as part of the military stabilization force sent there to stop a brutal civil war and more genocide.  Cities burned to the ground and massive amounts of people which the military refers to as “Internally Displaced Persons (IDP),” or, citizen refugees in their own country.  I was at the Dili Airfield when the first of the IDPs were returned to their home regions within East Timor.  The streams of people coming off the C-130 transport aircraft were overcome with emotion at being returned and reunited with their homeland; women would come up to me crying, hugging me, utterly and emoting what could only mean thanks, happiness, and sadness all at the same time.  Men would drop to their knees with their hands clasped in a profound combination of prayer and thanks.  And, in a scene out of any number of nameless WWII movies, I actually got to play the American GI who hands out MRE ration candies and food to all the children, who, without exception, and even though surely quite shell-shocked by the whole affair, responded as all kids do – with a great big if not shy smile!

Me in a flak vest at Dili Airport (1999)

Me in a flak vest at Dili Airport (1999)

These experiences forced me to generate a new view of the world, one where any type of violence waged en masse on a people, country or region has unimaginably horrible and long-lasting consequences.  There are always innocents who pay the price in any war.  And when the rich wage war, which they have always done and continue to do, no matter the country concerned, no matter the political party that beats the drums of war, and no matter how righteous and well-intentioned the military forces involved may be, it is always the poor that die, and everyone suffers.

I started to have way too many questions....

I started to have way too many questions….

This all had a profound effect on me as a warrior.  I had no qualms about supporting Kuwait in 1990-1994, where I deployed twice via aircraft carrier under the Bush 41 and then the Clinton Administrations.  I had no issue stepping in to help stop the wanton violence and undeniable genocide and ethnic cleansing being doled out throughout the former Yugoslavia.  But when it came to the “Global War on Terror (GWOT)” and the rhetoric of the Bush 43 Administration, I had grave misgivings about our country’s goals, exit strategies, let alone the reality of what really could be accomplished with yet another imperial western power waging a modern crusade against the Middle East.

We are responsible for 18%

We are responsible for 18%

Okay, maybe the GWOT shouldn’t be quite characterized to such an extreme, but I felt we were clearly on the wrong path, and that going back into Iraq in 2003 – Iraq has never been about any “war on terror” – would be perhaps the worst mistake our country would make for the 21st Century.  We’ll see.  I was beginning to have a harder and harder time in the military, and found myself questioning authority, our country’s leadership, and my own role in the whole quagmire.

iraq-map-300x231

So, in 2004 I found myself quite troubled at deploying, on no-notice, to Iraq with the 31st MEU for an 8-month cruise aboard the USS Essex in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The only conclusion I could reach at the time was that I would do whatever it took to protect the lives of US servicemen and women; the political aims and military objectives quite honestly I could give a shit about.  The 31st MEU during that period from the fall of 2004 through the spring of 2005 lost over 50 marines (55 if memory serves me correctly), a price much too high in my mind for what was accomplished – or not – in Iraq.  In my opinion, one marine’s life wasn’t worth today’s outcomes in that part of the world.

We are all humans....

We are all humans….

This long story slowly led me to the conclusion and that we – mankind – are our own worst enemies.  It is not nature, not the environment, pollution, or global warming.  It is not about energy or other natural resources, nor about freedom or the type of government one country may have, or even about what supernatural power or being to which you may or may not pray.  It is in our very capacity to do harm, so quickly, so easily, and with so little thought about the unintended consequences and 2nd and 3rd order effects that always result in and when killing.  Individually we are all responsible for these aftereffects; however, it can verge on the obscene when a population either endorses or even encourages unbounded aggression.  This formulation and collusion of ideas, combined with my traumatic exposure to scenes of massive death and destruction in Banda Ache, Indonesia, after the tsunami of 2004 changed my very core.

Landscape of Thorns:  A timeless warning

Landscape of Thorns: A timeless warning

So, how to translate all these conflicted and dark feelings into permanent art, to be adorned on my body?  That was still difficult.  I knew the direction I wanted to take, but continued to toy graphically with how best to symbolize such feelings succinctly, yet in a way that would translate well onto my skin.  I remembered back to a Discover or National Geographic article from years prior an article that focused on a team of professionals from many varied walks of life who were given the responsibility for designing a warning “system” that would cap our proposed nuclear waste dumping sites in the mountains of the west (see an interesting blog here).  Oh, and it had to last a minimum of 10,000 years, and it could not be language-based or centric.  Think about it – that stuff stays dangerous for a mighty long time (some of it with a half-life of 220,000 years), and there’s no guarantee that language or our current notions of denoting “danger” would apply to the peoples – or even aliens – that could trespass that far into the future.  I can no longer recall the details of the article, but I remember an artist’s portrayal of a series of very long, sharp spires and blades made of the hardest metals and stone (spike fields and landscape of thorns), somewhat loosely based on the sharp points of the biohazard symbol in common use today.

spikes01

That was it!!  The biohazard symbol!  I could scale it to fit the Navy’s silly “25% rule,” and could position it so that it was high on my back, but hidden in uniform.  I could add a touch of color by shading the inside yellow, helping the bold, thick black border to standout against my skin (and through my already graying back-hair – yikes!).  So, I began toying with the graphical treatment in earnest.  BUT, still, there’s that idea of permanence on your body, and when are you “sure enough” to pull the trigger, umm, or go under the needles?

Biohazard-Symbol-Desktop-1024x576

I became sure once I discovered my wife cheating on me with Okinawa’s revolving buffet of boys, courtesy of Gate 2 street and Club Fujiyama’s (among other places).  But those details are for a different blog…which will be covered soon.  However, my ink already started to dry, philosophically speaking, as soon as I knew my marriage was liquefying down the drain.

The pain of a disintegrating 16 year marriage and 18 year relationship was almost too much for me on top of all the other emotional turmoil I was attempting to deal with at the time.  But this pain also fit perfectly into the motif of the now congealing tattoo conception swirling around in my head.  My biohazard idea of mankind being warned against itself could – and was for me – extended to include those wars, conflicts and smaller upheavals we all find almost omnipresent in our daily lives.  Like those suffering a marriage in catastrophic collapse, or perhaps for those that agonize as the product of a double-crossing, back-stabbing best friend or close coworker.  Sure, this all fits!  I become more and more sure of this direction.

But the coup de grace for me was this:  enduring the physical pain of the tattoo would be, for me, a form of corporeal catharsis, where I would forever and always associate the pain of that particular encounter with the emotional pain I was suffering at the time.  I would endure, and be better for it, by channeling much of my turmoil to be vanquished…or at least contained by this other form of suffering, a memory that is still vividly alive with me today as it was back in the fall of 2005.

More sophisticated needles were used in my case (thank goodness)

More sophisticated needles were used in my case (thank goodness)

After some finalizing of my design, and after carefully selecting a tattoo artist and shop that ended up being located almost directly across from the Camp Foster “Commissary Gate” (it is still there), and after scaling appropriately and checking placement of the stencil actually on my back, the artistic performance started.  I had my iPod, I had my earphones, and I cranked the angry white punk music I was so fond of at the time:  New Found Glory, Yellowcard, Chevelle, Disturbed, Finch, Evanescence, Hawthorne Heights, Matchbook Romance, Senses Fail and Nine Inch Nails to name but a few (Interestingly enough I still listen to angry white music, but now it’s more of the rock genre:  Metallica, Linkin Park, Korn, and The Offspring).  I recall jamming, listening to a playlist created especially for this event (how I wish I had a hardcopy to better remember it by!), and I reminisce suppressing the pain below, much as described by Chevelle’s Send the Pain Below:

But long before, having hurt,
I’d send the pain below,
I’d send the pain below.
Where I need it.
0432290cfe28403217e3a9c31369f1112d

So that is the story of my first ink, but it is not the final story.  Much like Buffet’s quote at the opening, the permanence of that ink reminder in 2005 reflected only what become a temporal phase in my life…although it took another five years for my psyche to drift far enough away from this viewpoint for me to again seek a change and new ink.  Unfortunately I do not have, handy at least, a clean and clear picture of that initial tattoo, and I don’t want to spoil an upcoming follow-blog posting about my most recent ink’d transition I undertook in 2011.

And that – and a pic (or two) of my ink, my friends, is for my next Tattoo You installment.

Tattoo You? Absolutely, given the right Territory


Tattoo….  Absolutely.  Given the right Territory.

Do you have a tattoo?  If so, what’s the story behind your ink?  If you don’t have a tattoo, what might you consider getting emblazoned permanently on your skin?  After all, tattoos and Asian are synonymous…at least in the Navy.

What kept sailors' hats on in the 1940s??

What kept sailors’ hats on in the 1940s??

I do (I was in the Navy, and stationed in Asia), and it all started right here in Okinawa in 2004.  But when I started to research and write a blog about the story behind my inked permanence, and while trying to find that just right perfectly crazy connection to Japan, I came across a topic that, well, had to be broken out as a stand-alone conversation:  Zettai Ryouiki Koukoku.

Thigh Advertising.  Genius or demeaning??  Both!

Thigh Advertising. Genius or demeaning?? Both!!

Let me get this straight:  my tat is not for advertising, nor really even for daily public consumption (given its placement).  However, use of tats for advertising was very recently proposed, and not just by a liberal-leaning and progressive marketing company (are there any other kinds?  A rhetorical question for a certain mother-in-law in the advertising industry….), but by The Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau (OCVB) along with the Okinawan Prefectural government.  Seriously.

thighad

The OCVB and the government have cancelled their plans to use space on Japanese and Okinawan women’s bare thighs for marketing the Ryukyu Islands as a graduation trip destination to students in Japan’s other prefectures.  After reporting by the local Okinawa Times, numerous complaints were logged criticizing the plan as “undignified” and “not an appropriate use of taxpayer money.”  Citing such criticism, the two bodies stated, “Placing temporary tattoo-like stickers on the thighs of young women to advertise Okinawa is not in line with prefecture’s brand image.”

You think?

Parading around town....

Parading around town….

With “thigh advertising,” a new method of marketing gaining traction in Japan, young ladies wearing miniskirts or short shorts parade around town with promotional stickers placed on their zettai ryouiki or absolute territoryZettai Ryōiki (絶対領域) (or Ryouiki as alternate spelling) loosely translates into “absolute territory” and is the area of bare skin seen between a skirt and thigh-highs or socks, a strategic body location that’s often fetishized in Japanese anime and manga.  The idea of “Absolute Territory” comes from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, which initially referred to an “AT Field,” or, a nearly impenetrable barrier (force-field) generated by Angels and Evangelions – in essence, an inviolable area created God.

Can you spot the Absolute Territory??

Can you spot the AT Field??

However, at the time, a popular Chatterbot (known throughout Japan as Jinkou Munou, literally Artificial Intelligence without Intelligence) was noted for eccentric anime character design.  Unveiling its newest character creation Mayura, imagined to be dressed in a black turtleneck, a grey checkered miniskirt, and black over-the-knee-socks and boots, the bot proclaimed, “The distance between the knee socks and miniskirt is invincible!  I can even say that it’s God’s Absolute Territory.”  Thus, while “absolute” in this context hints at the idea of “inviolable sanctuary,” there was also an almost direct and immediate tie-in with Neon Genesis Evangelion.

A lessor-known Divine Proportion

A lessor-known Divine Proportion

And, as a mathlete, I was tickled pink to find that this segment of weird fetish in Japan has its own “Divine Ratio,” akin to the one of the same name found repeated in nature and art over and over again, strongly related to the idea of God’s Territory.  Some have suggested that the ideal “Divine Ratio” is 4:1:2.5, referring to Miniskirt Length to Exposed Thigh (Absolute Territory) to Thigh-High Length above the Knee.  Oh, and it seems that the acceptable margin of error is ±15%.  Someone has really thought this through….  Unfortunately for him, he’s most likely destined to never touch a woman’s thigh on account of all the weirdness.

Please, no math in my fetish.

Please, no math in my fetish.

Given that mathematical ideal, it’s only perfectly normal to think that there should be a grading scale by which to judge the quality of Absolute Territory.  And there is.  Which is roughly as follows (although these too have recommended absolute distances associated with them):  Grade A – Thigh high socks, thigh-highs or stockings; Grade B – Over-the-knee sock; Grade C – High socks; Grade D – Three quarter socks; and Grade E – Crew socks.  Ankle socks are an instant Grade F.  Only the top two Grades (A & B) are considered true zettai ryouiki and are only properly achievable by females.  Thank goodness.

"F" is not even worth listing

“F” is not even worth listing

Interestingly enough, there appears to be also a most coveted Grade S (wonder what that stands for) that can be reached only from Grade A, and with the addition of two other critical elements:  1) Twintails hairstyle, more commonly perhaps known as pig-tails; and 2) a Tsundere personality.  What is the latter you ask?  Good question.

Tsundere_by_Kersey475

Tsundere (ツンデレ, pronounced tsɯndeɽe) is a portmanteau of two Japanese phrases:  “tsun tsun” (ツンツン), which is to turn away in disgust, and “dere dere” (デレデレ), meaning to become something akin to “lovey-dovey.”  The term refers to characters who act under a mask of indifference, dislike, or even open hostility to the object of their affections, but secretly (or not-so-secretly) harbor feelings for them.  A tsunderekko is a tsundere female; more rarely you may see tsunderekun for a tsundere male.  Two prime examples of Grade S Absolute Territory include Rin Tohsaka and Hiiragi Kagami.

Rin Tohsaka.  Grade S.

Rin Tohsaka. Grade S.

So, in an attempt to cash in on this craze, a Japanese marketing firm is launching zettai ryouiki koukoku, or “absolute territory PR”.  There are three criteria for prospective thigh flashers:  1) you must be a female; 2) you must be over 18; and 3) you must have over 20 “connections” on your social networking site, whether that’s Facebook, Twitter, or something similar.  It’s a one day gig, during which you’ll wear a sticker on your thigh, and participants will get paid between ¥1,000 and ¥10,000 (roughly $10 to $100USD).  You’ll need to be photographed in at least two different locations and then upload those photos on a social networking site.  So, in a sense, it’s not about advertising live in public, but using the idea of drawing eyes to Absolute Territory in public that makes this so…alluring.  From what I can find online there is no shortage of applicants (これはつい見ちゃう自信アリ! 絶対領域に貼りつける広告ステッカー「絶対領域広告 Absolute Territory PR, Kotaku Japan).

From the PR Firm's Website....

From the PR Firm’s Website….

So, given this background and pop-cultural shift in advertising in Japan, Okinawa seems to somewhat at odds with the times.  When asked for a further explanation regarding the cancellation of this type of advertising, the Okinawan prefecture’s tourism promotion section replied, “Though we believe it would prove to be instantaneously effective in marketing to young people, when looking at the image of the prefecture as a whole, the demerits are considerable.”  The OCVB continued, “As funding is coming from national government coffers, we decided it was not worth fighting those opposed.”

Really, we are supposed to read stuff posted *there*??

Really, we are supposed to read stuff posted *there*??

Talk about a Tsundere attitude.  Now, if only the OCVB uniform consisted of twintails and thigh-highs…but there’s little doubt their disposable Foot Sox dooms the government to Grade F, perhaps fitting for this epic failure.

Grade F for Epic Fail

Grade F for Epic Fail