October 28, 2005 Vol. 1, No. 6

(Photo courtesy of First Book)

Embassy of Japan Joins Book Relief Effort to Send Books To People, Areas Affected by Hurricanes

On Wednesday, November 2, 2005, the Embassy of Japan will partner with First Book--a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide disadvantaged children with new books--to host a series of three events at the residence of Ambassador Ryozo Kato. This partnership is part of the Book Relief initiative, which will place millions of books in the hands of the survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The central event of the evening will be a reception at the residence of the Ambassador. In addition, individuals and corporations that provide substantial support for this effort will have the opportunity to attend a VIP reception and/or private dinner at the residence.

In addition to the November events, the First Book-Embassy of Japan partnership will include several elements that highlight Japanese American culture and create a cultural link between American and Japanese children. One of the features of the partnership will be an exchange between schoolchildren in America and Japanese schoolchildren both in Japan and the United States. A customized bookplate will be created and sent to Japanese children who will write special messages to the children who have been affected by the hurricanes. Those bookplates will then be placed inside books and distributed to American children affected by the hurricanes. The Embassy will also be choosing several children's book titles that will be purchased and donated as a collection to select schools and libraries as they are rebuilt. These books will include Japanese folk tales, books about Japan, and titles written by Japanese and Japanese-American authors.

"The Embassy of Japan is proud to join First Book in providing books to children who have lost so much," said Ambassador Kato. "The Embassy has joined this effort as a tangible way to demonstrate the compassion and commitment of the Japanese people during this time of need. We believe this effort will forge an even stronger bond between the people of our countries."

"We are honored that the Embassy of Japan has become our partner in this effort and has graciously offered to host this series of events to benefit Book Relief," said Kyle Zimmer, President of First Book. "This is a tremendous opportunity that will enable First Book, through Book Relief, to better meet the needs of the families and programs that have been affected by the hurricanes. We look forward to joining the Ambassador and his wife, the Embassy of Japan, and many other concerned members of the national and international community to place wonderful new books into the hands of children who are in such need."

The reception is expected to attract attendees across a wide spectrum, including executives from the publishing industry and other corporations, authors, sports figures, elected officials, and other prominent members of the community. The Honorary Event Host Committee is an impressive list comprised of notables from many fields of endeavor:

Honorary Host Committee Co-chairs:
The Honorable Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
The Honorable Thad Cochran (R-MS)
The Honorable James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress

Honorary Host Committee:
Honorable Susan Collins (R-ME)
Honorable Trent Lott (R-MS)
Honorable Patty Murray (D-WA)
Honorable Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Honorable Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL-4th)
Honorable Richard H. Baker (R-LA-6th)
Honorable Michael C. Burgess (R-TX-26th)
Honorable Mike Conaway (R-TX-11th)
Honorable Danny Davis (D-IL-7th)
Honorable Doris O. Matsui (D-CA-5th)

Joan Allen, Actor
Wally Amos, Chairman & CEO, Cookie & Chip, LLC
Elizabeth Arky, Director, Government Relations, Accenture
Barbara Taylor Bradford, Author
Ruby Bridges, Author, Activist
Raymond S. Calamaro, Hogan & Hartson, LLP
Christopher Cerf, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Sirius Thinking, Ltd.
Harold Clarke, President and Publisher, Reader's Digest
Wilbur Colom, The Colom Law Firm
Deborah Dugan, President, Disney Publishing Worldwide, Inc
Dr. Seuss Enterprises, LP
Jane Friedman, President and CEO, HarperCollins Publishers
Laura Geringer, Author and Publisher
Chip Gibson, President and Publisher, Random House Children's Books
Peter Gold, The Gold Group, Chtd.
Darrell Green, President, Darrell Green Enterprises
Lisa Holton, President, Scholastic Children's Trade Books
L. Spencer Humphrey, Principle, Rocky Hill Group
Japan Commerce Association of Washington, DC
Susan Katz, President and Publisher, HarperCollins Children's Books
Reba McEntire, President, Starstruck Entertainment
Marlee Matlin, Actor
Shuji Mizumoto, General Counsel and Director, Legal and Government Affairs, Amway Japan Limited
Mary Pope Osborne, Author
James Patterson, Author
Tim Pinnington, Chief Executive Officer, TD Waterhouse USA
Paula Quint, President, Children's Book Council
Carolynn Reid-Wallace
Rick Richter, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Patricia Schroeder, President, Association of American Publishers
Charlotte Sheedy, Literary Agent
Tom Tolworthy, Chief Executive Officer, The Vitamin Shoppe
Workman Publishing Company
Judith Zimmer, Deputy Director, Street Law, Inc.

About First Book
First Book is a national nonprofit organization that gives children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books. In neighborhoods across the country, First Book Advisory Boards unite leaders from all sectors of the community to identify the most effective community-based literacy programs reaching children living at or below the poverty line and provide them with First Book grants of free books and educational materials. The First Book National Book Bank, a subsidiary program of First Book, is the first centralized system that enables publishers to donate books and educational materials online to reach millions of children who need them the most. First Book has distributed nearly 35 million new books to children in need in hundreds of communities nationwide. To learn more about First Book, please visit www.FirstBook.org.

About Book Relief
Book Relief, an initiative of First Book, is the nation's most comprehensive effort to place books into the hands of children and adults from whom recent natural disasters have taken so much. Book Relief is an unparalleled, publishing industry-wide program to place at least five million books into the hands of those displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as into schools, libraries, and literacy programs in the devastated areas as they are rebuilt. To learn more about Book Relief, please visit www.BookRelief.org.

The Embassy of Japan
In response to the widespread devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Japanese private sector and the Government of Japan immediately provided assistance for recovery and reconstruction efforts. Thus far, Japanese orporations have provided over $23 million dollars in assistance, while the Government of Japan has provided relief supplies, the release of oil stocks, and substantial financial assistance to the Red Cross. To learn more about the Embassy of Japan, please visit http://www.us.emb-japan.go.jp/.

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Japanese Horror: Thinking Ghosts and Minimal Blood

-By Shiori Okazaki
(Embassy of Japan)

Halloween is approaching again this year, and many of the commercial goods that flood the United States during this season also permeate Japan: while trick-or-treat or pumpkin carving has yet to enter the Japanese society, there are many costume parties in the urban areas, and western candy stores and bakeries create many sweets that are based on the motifs of jack-o-lanterns, witches, ghosts, and the colors of orange and black.

While Halloween has increasingly become a purely commercial tradition in the United States, it is even more so in Japan: what helps to believe this is that the western images of ghouls and goblins are completely different from those of Japan. Before western or American influence came in, what were the horror and supernatural traditions in Japan like? This essay will examine a few films and works of literature in an attempt to capture the essence of Japanese horror, while contrasting it to the American equivalent.

In general, much of Japanese fright can be categorized as eeriness of the supernatural and the dead, while western horror is more often than not about gore, materialistic blood, and includes living serial killers. Examples of American movies in the "slasher flick" genre would be: Friday the 13th, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Scream. In comparison, when there is a weapon-wielding killer in a Japanese film or story, it is a suspense, a thriller, or a mystery; the point is to guess who the murderer is, not to see the creative ways a body can be mutilated to death. Some American movies have departed from creepiness so much that they are purely about gore, and are in a category that does not even exist in Japan: one example is Peter Jackson's (the director of The Lord of the Rings series) Braindead, where an overbearing mother who is bit by a poisonous monkey becomes a zombie--and all those who are killed by her become zombies as well. This film is said to be the bloodiest of all time: in the final scene 80 gallons of fake blood was used, pumped at five gallons per second while the main character kills all the zombies, including his mother, with a lawnmower. Braindead does not cause a viewer to cower from going to the bathroom at night, but only creates pure physiological disgust, even managing to include comedy (such as when two zombies make love and instantaneously create an omnipotent zombie baby).

Even in the simple representation of ghosts, there is a large difference between Japan and the United States. While more recent American films have appealed to the hair-rising, back-tingling kind of fear, such as The Sixth Sense, even in this film, the horror comes from the surprise of suddenly seeing a bloody stranger. The Japanese version of The Ring, in comparison, does not use a single drop of blood, but instead represents horror in the way the screen is dark, the way the ghost drags herself on the floor, and the way her eyes are turned in an impossible angle. Traditional Japanese ghosts do look somewhat like Sadako: usually a woman wearing a white long kimono-like gown, her face almost impossible to see through her long hair, and dragging her hands in front of her. The only difference is that Sadako appears in the modern setting from inside a television set, and that she seems very concrete: the centuries-old traditional Japanese ghosts are translucent, their legs disappearing into the air.

Where does the Japanese tradition of bone-chilling fear, as opposed to the graphic terror of the western world, come from? In general, the American tradition seems to be more situational and based on unusual circumstances: moving into a house that is built on a cemetery (Poltergeist) or where someone was brutally murdered (The Amityville Horror), encountering the occult and Satan (The Exorcist), or unknowingly entering or living in another world (The Others and The Village). Many innocent people die, while screaming loudly and pouring much blood, because they inadvertently offend the dead.

By comparison, Japan's ghosts and creatures seem to be based on the everyday life. Lafcadio Hearn compiled Japanese horror legends in his 1904 Kwaidan, and several of them demonstrate the ethereal quality of ghost stories in Japan. "Yukionna" (or "Snow Lady") recalls the story of a winter woman demon who falls in love with a human enough to meet him in disguise, marry him and raise a family with him for years until he one day betrays her. In "Miminashi Hoichi" (or "Earless Hoichi"), Hoichi, a blind man who is skilled in reciting stories while playing the Japanese lute, unknowingly performs the story of the battle between the two greatest clans in Japan, the aristocratic Heike and the warrior Genji, in front of the ghosts of the defeated Heike clan. Akinari Ueda's Ugetsu Monogatari, (or Stories of the Rain and the Moon) also recalls many ghost tales, the most renowned of which is "Kikka no Chigiri" ("The Chrysanthemum Tryst"), about the friendship, loyalty and honor between two men. They swear to meet at a certain date, but one of them shows up not as a human but as a ghost: imprisoned and unable to move, he has killed himself in order to keep the promise, knowing that a soul can travel a great distance. None of these stories are truly scary: ghosts and demons think just as humans do, falling in love, enjoying a good performance, or keeping an honorable promise: they never set out to kill indiscriminately or in a violent manner.

One of the scariest and most renowned Japanese horror stories is the story of Oiwa, a woman who is poisoned to death by his evil husband so that he can marry another woman. Her face disfigured by the poison, she returns as a vengeful ghost and kills her husband and all those who wronged her. The Oiwa story is said to be based on a true incident, and carries an urban legend that those who perform in films or plays that recall this story will die early or become injured. For this reason, even now, more than 150 years ago after the story was first written, many of the performers receive a purification ceremony or visit shrines that are dedicated to Oiwa.

Japanese ghosts do not hurt anybody and everybody--they are angry for a reason, and will only avenge against those who hurt them directly (it is easy to assume that Oiwa would be furious that people shame her by continuing to tell her humiliating story). The ghosts are the solidification of people's feelings that have lived on for centuries after the body has died. One partly comedic story that demonstrates this belief in Japan is a legend long ago where a lord orders one of his servants to be beheaded for treason. The servant, before dying, declares that he has been wronged, and that he will return after death to avenge on the lord, his family, and the entire household of servants. After all, it is said that people can make a curse come true if they think about it the moment of their death. The lord then challenges him to prove that he can do this: "Why don't you bite that rock over there after you are beheaded?" he says. The servant angrily answers that he indeed will, and when he is killed, his head rolls to the rock, jumps up, and bites it, hanging in the air. When the head becomes still, everybody screams in terror that the household is now cursed, but the lord remains calm. "When this man died, he only thought of biting the rock and forgot everything else: therefore, there will be no curse." And the lord turned out to be right: nothing happened, and everyone lived a peaceful life.

It is difficult to make generalizations between Japanese and American horror, particularly because the films and works in both countries are changing, sometimes reflecting influence from each other. The Ring manifests influence from western films: Sadako died a brutal death, and kills anyone who sees her video (the scene where she crawls out from a blurry television is also very reminiscent of Poltergeist). Likewise, recent American films are beginning to depart from the classic gore genre: The Ring, The Grudge, and Dark Water have been remade from Japanese films into Hollywood blockbusters, and even some purely American works, such as The Others and M. Night Shyamalan's works (The Sixth Sense and The Village) thrive on the twist ending and the eeriness and shock more than gore. Recent films that are based on western classic literature, such as Dracula in 1992 and Sleepy Hollow in 1999, include plenty of blood but still convey the mystical and fantastical quality of its gothic origins, such as foggy woods, magic, and fatal but sexy creatures. It is important to note, of course, that there is a distinct difference between literature that has been turned into films and written-for-the-screen works: the latter tend to try to be blockbusters through their graphic stories, either in their bloody narrative or their shock factors. "Yukionna" and "Miminashi Hoichi" have been made into films many times, but is no where near popular as the striking and visual story of Oiwa, which was originally written down as a play. There will also be little point in writing a book with a story similar to Braindead: the summary would merely be that everybody dies and the hero survives.

Horror in itself is difficult to define, and the Japanese and American horror genres are increasingly changing and intermingling. But from a traditional standpoint, one can say that the Japanese version relies more on human emotion, be it anger or love, while the American version tends to express universal hatred or pure evil, accompanied by visual aspects such as blood and mangled bodies. So if you would like to make a statement this Halloween (and do not mind a long explanation to friends), instead of dressing up as a monster or a deformed mummy, why not be a sorrowful Heike ghost or the loving yukionna wife?