An Introduction to Domestic Violence in Japan

For more detailed information, see Ken’s three part series on the 2006 survey on domestic violence by the Cabinet Office of Japan (Gender Equality Bureau) at What Japan Thinks here.

Alternatively, for those of you more interested in domestic violence in Korea, then see here for the first installment in my series on that. Further afield, see here for information on the dramatic decrease in spouse-to-spouse murders in the US over the last 30 years (extreme, but still related), which deserves to be much more widely known.

(Via: Feministing)

Korean Gender Reader

supposedly-fat-kim-yu-bin-김유빈(Source: 원더풀홀릭)

1. God Moves in Mysterious Ways

My opinions on the marketing of teenage girl groups like the Wondergirls (원더걸스) have become much more nuanced since I wrote controversial posts like this and this a year ago, although regardless of my criticisms I never had anything against any of the groups or the singers themselves. And good on Kim Yu-bin (김유빈) above for standing up to the netizens who can’t tell the difference between turning “fat” and turning into a woman.

2. Korea Drops from 64th to 68th in its Gender Empowerment Measure

Probably the most stunning indictment of Korea’s gender relations, it’s worth quoting this Hankyoreh report in full for those of you who haven’t heard of the GEM before:

South Korea fell further out of the mid-low range last year compared to other world nations in women’s rights, a report shows.

According to [2008 data] released Monday, calculated by the United Nations Development Programme for over 100 world nations, South Korea earned a score of 0.54, falling four spaces to 68th from its 2007 ranking of 64th.

The GEM is an indicator of women’s degree of participation in political and economic activity and the policy-making process, using for its evaluation factors such as the number of female legislators, the percentage of women in senior official and managerial positions, the percentage of women in professional and technical positions, and the income differential between men and women. A value closer to 1 indicates a higher level of empowerment.

In the first set of GEM calculations released in 1995, South Korea ranked 90th out of 116 countries, but its ranking gradually rose after that, reaching 68th in 2004, 59th in 2005 and 53rd in 2006. But its ranking fell once again in 2007, as it fell considerably compared to the overall average for nations assessed in areas such as percentage of female legislators and female professionals.

Like Michael Hurt pointed out back in 2006, these figures need to be placed in the context of Korea’s ranking in the Human Development Index (HDI), which combines things like life expectancy and education levels. Roughly speaking, the more developed and better a country is to live in the higher its HDI ranking will be, and usually its GEM will be pretty similar too. But then look at these (click for a much larger version):

south-korea-2008-gender-empowerment-measure-gem-ranking-by-human-development-index-hdi(Source: UNData)

In brief, of the best 25 countries in the world to live in, only 4 are not also among the best 25 countries in terms of women’s rights and levels of economic and political power: Greece on 26, Israel on 29, Japan on 58, and finally Korea on 68. Put another way, women will certainly have a good quality of life in Korea, but they have less chance of becoming a politician or even a middle-manager or computer programmer than in:

  • 59 Kyrgyzstan,
  • 60 the Dominican Republic,
  • 61 the Philippines,
  • 62 Vietnam,
  • 63 Moldova,
  • 64 Botswana,
  • 65 the Russian Federation,
  • 66 Uruguay,


  • 67 Nicaragua, the HDI of which was 120th(!) out of 179 countries surveyed.

In fairness though, Korea has actually improved in absolute if not relative terms:

In South Korea last year, women accounted for 13.7 percent of legislators, 8.0 percent of administrative and managerial positions and 40 percent of professional and technical positions, while the ratio of female to male income was 0.52.

The overall percentage improved from 2007, but South Korea was pushed down in the rankings through an overall improvement in gender empowerment among other nations examined. The overall average values for the nations studied were 19 percent for the percentage of female legislators, 29 percent for women in administrative and managerial positions, and 48 percent for women in professional and technical positions.

True, the gap between Japan’s HDI and GEM is also so high, and I can’t blame Korea’s low GEM ranking almost entirely on military conscription in this series but also regularly claim deep economic and social similarities between the two countries in other posts. While I do eventually plan to start covering gender issues in at least Japan and Taiwan though, until then I’d strongly caution against looking for easy explanations such as shared Neo-Confucianism, as Singapore’s HDI is 28 but it’s GEM 15(!), and China’s 94 and 72 respectively for instance (unfortunately there are no separate figures for Hong Kong, or for non-member state Taiwan). Moreover, China’s comparatively good GEM score is not due to the number of women in state-owned enterprises, as they almost always held lower, non-advancing positions within them and were the first to go when they were privatized, wound down, or restructured (but it may account for Vietnam’s relatively good one though).

caucasian-and-korean-lingerie-models3. Korean Lingerie Models too Embarrassed to Show Their Faces?

As long-term readers of this blog will know, the main reason that there are so few Korean women in lingerie advertisements is because many Korean porn stars have done so in the past, giving the industry a dirty reputation, although stereotypes of Caucasians’ more liberal sexuality and their role as signifiers of “developed country status” certainly also play a part.

FeetmanSeoul argues that this accounts for Korean models’ virtual disguises(!) at Levi’s “Best Body” fashion show in Myeongdong last week (source, right), although it may well have been the choice of organizers rather than the models themselves.

4. Korea’s Double-Standards Still Devastating for Female Celebrities

As I explain here, it’s still open to debate whether singer Baek Ji-young (백지영) has successfully salvaged her reputation after a sex video scandal in 2000, but another case that deserves to be far better known is that of Ivy (아이비), for whom simply the threat of the release of a similar video was enough to derail her career in 2007. On top of that, despite the trivial fact that the video didn’t actually exist, and that her ex-boyfriend was ultimately sent to jail for making the threat, she was sued by various companies she modeled for and endorsed because of the “damage to their reputations.”

Unfortunately, she is still considered beyond the pale. As PopSeoul! explains, songs originally written for her are now being used by other singers instead.

5. Sexual Violence

  • It’s good that the drunken executives that harassed a 19 year-old student were arrested, but not that she accepted monetary compensation from them rather than pressing charges. As for why this is a feature of the Korean justice system, see here.
  • One of the five teenagers that drugged and raped a 16 year-old in Suncheon is a student at one of Brian in Jeollanamdo’s schools. Make sure to ask him for follow-up details.
  • The Supreme Court upheld a 10 year sentence on Jesus Morning Star cult leader Jung Myung-suk for the sexual abuse of five Korean followers between 2003 and 2006.
  • On Wednesday serial killer Kang Ho-soon was sentenced to death for the murder of a total of 10 women, including his wife and mother-in-law. See here and #5 here for more details.

6. That Movie Poster

Yes, for the movie Ogamdo (오감도, source), apparently causing quite some controversy with it’s depiction of a women’s naked buttocks (a first?), but really quite predictable given things like this (see #1) and this. ogamdo-오감도For more on the movie itself see here (including details on the owner of said buttocks), and there’s a nice…er…meaty discussion at KoreaBeat too.

7. Anti-Miss Korea Festival

Held at Seoul University on Saturday, and now in its tenth year, bizarrely there appears to be a great deal of information on it available in English, particularly in Australian newspapers (maybe this has something to do with that?) but virtually none in Korean, at least for this year’s event! As Australian newspapers are unlikely to report on how it went though, then I’ll keep looking for “안티미스코리아대회” on Naver, but in the meantime you might find this journal article about the 2000-2001 Drama Viva Women (여자만세) that it inspired interesting.

8. The Differences Between How Koreans and Westerners Perceive and Discuss Appearance

What is said to you and about you by Koreans often shouldn’t be taken at face value, but on the other hand is invariably very blunt, and this habit can take a great deal of getting used to. For a big discussion on how to navigate this cultural minefield, see The Hub of Sparkle here.

9. Monsters-in-Law

A Korean take on domineering mothers-in-law. For the religious/ethical and demographic reasons for why it’s no generalization to say that they’re much worse than their Western counterparts, see here and here respectively.

10. Welcome, Brides, But…

A good recent summary of the problems faced by migrant brides, although I concur with J. Scott Burgeson’s criticism of the author as being unable to ‘transcend the “pure-blood” ideology she claims to critique.”

Koreans’ Indoor Childhoods are Clouding Their Vision

girl-with-huge-glasses-in-libraryIn yesterday’s Korea Times. Long-term readers may recognize the topic from this brief report I gave on it back in January, but, as I’ll explain, I’m very glad I decided to take a second look at the science involved:

Why do so many East Asian children wear glasses? Because they don’t get enough exposure to sunlight, according to a study released by the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence in Vision Science earlier this year. Which may well prove to be a damming indictment of education cultures that confine huge numbers of children to institutes when they’re not at school (source, left: unknown).

Rates of myopia (short-sightedness) have dramatically increased in East Asia over recent decades. To pick the best-known example, data on male conscripts in the Singaporean army shows that 40 years ago, roughly 25% of Singaporean children finishing high school had myopia, but now that figure is closer to 90%, despite students being healthier and taller overall. Similar rates are found in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Guangzhou Province in China.

These general figures belie what is actually a very real threat to public health. Beyond simply consigning 9 in 10 students to eyewear, according to Dr. Ian Morgan of the Vision Centre, up to 20% of students in those regions are in the “high myopia” category, which translates into a roughly 50/50 chance of going completely blind by the time they are middle-aged. Governments across the region are expressing serious concern.

Previous popular explanations for the worsening vision included East Asian children spending more time at their desks and computers (“near work activity”, when the focus of vision is within a short range over an extended period) these days, or alternatively that there is a special East Asian genetic susceptibility. Both theories have been demolished by researchers at the Vision Centre, who compared myopia rates of 6 year-old children of Chinese origin in Singapore and Sydney.

In brief, only 3% of those in Sydney suffered from myopia, compared to 30% in Singapore. That there was any difference undermines a genetic explanation, but whereas most people might have expected it to be accounted for by the latter’s greater amount of near work activity, to researchers’ surprise in fact Sydney children did more, which suggested that the myopia must be triggered by some other environmental factor. Eliminating all other variables, the critical factor appeared to be that Sydney children were spending far more time outdoors. To be precise, 13-14 hours a week compared to 3 or 4.

While the exact mechanism between sunlight exposure and preventing myopia is still to be determined, the researchers believe that the neurotransmitter dopamine is responsible: known to inhibit eyeball growth, sunlight causes the retina to release more of it.

Evolved to literally keep an eye on the horizon, humans are naturally long-sighted (with short eyeballs), but our eyeballs lengthen as we grow and become more accustomed to near work activity. Myopia occurs when the eyeball has grown too long, meaning that the focus of light entering it falls short of the back of the eyeball, requiring corrective lenses to correct it.

That Singaporean children don’t get enough exposure to sunlight may sound counterintuitive, but in fact the hot and sticky climate makes children more inclined to spend time in air-conditioned environments indoors, and just like in many East Asian countries with more agreeable climates there is also a relative lack of parks and open spaces. Regardless, culture is undoubtedly the biggest factor. Australia is well known as a sporty outdoor country and after-school institutes are almost unheard of. In contrast, many East Asian children’s 6-day school and institute schedules deprive them of sleep to levels that would be considered borderline child abuse in Australia, sapping them of the time, energy or inclination to play outdoors in the sun.

There are additional medical problems associated with a lack of sunlight. Light skins are very popular among many East Asian women, evidenced by the plethora of “skin-whitening” pills, lotions and creams available in cosmetics stores, and in Korea it is already a common sight this spring to see women making sure to cover their faces with books and handbags as they cross a sunlit street, even if just for a few seconds.

While there is nothing at all wrong or unhealthy with this in itself – quite the opposite – the sun is avoided to excess by South Korean women. A 2004 endocrinology study by Severance Hospital in Seoul showed that the nation’s women are seriously deficient in Vitamin D, making them more likely to suffer osteoporosis later in life. In fact they posted the lowest Vitamin D levels of all 18 nations surveyed, with 88.2% of the women surveyed failing to reach a healthy threshold (source, right: the Korea Times).

sunlight-prevents-myopiaWhile it is possible to absorb Vitamin D through food, the surest way is through exposure to a few rays of sunlight every day, and Korean women would be well advised to ask themselves if ultra-pallid skin is really worth the price of full health. Just as Korean parents might wonder if higher TOEIC scores are really worth the price of their children’s long-term health (end).

I confess, I struggled with the science in this article. No, not because it was out of my field of expertise: as it so happens, not only do I have very bad eyesight myself (-7.5 for those of you who know what that means), and so am intimately familiar with diagrams of long and short eyeballs and so on from countless visits to opticians, but in fact my original major at university was astronomy too (no, really), and I learned so much about optics instead of actually looking at stars that I ended up dropping that major altogether!

More then, because the authors of the articles I linked to in my original post proved to be much less concerned with how sunlight prevents myopia as explaining that it had been discovered that it did, and so what proved to be the key information about the effect of dopamine on inhibiting the growth of the eyeball was missing from them. Fortunately though, I eventually found it in this press release by the Vision Center itself, and suddenly everything clicked. But without it, those articles and the dozen more I pored over while researching this post simply don’t make sense, and although it’s tempting to forgive those authors that lacked a science background especially, some advice from my (last) high school physics teacher seems apt here: if you can’t explain something to someone else, then odds are you don’t understand it yourself.

Words I’ve lived by for the past 16 years. Meanwhile, my frustrations with science reporting aside, see here for more information on the Severance Hospital study demonstrating Korean women’s severe Vitamin D deficiencies. And I’m too harsh really: this radio interview of Dr. Ian Morgan is still useful and interesting despite everything.

Update) Unfortunately, as parents’ angry complaints against this proposal for a 10pm curfew on hagwon teaching indicate, the norm of keeping children indoors studying until as late as 12:30am(!) five to six nights of the week isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Where do Ajosshis Come From? Part 3: Manchukuo and The Militarization of Daily Life in South Korea

(Movie poster for “The Longest 24 Hours,” (기다리다미쳐, 2007), a lighthearted look at military service from the perspective of conscripts’ girlfriends; also known as “Crazy4wait.” Source: 여자도 모른는 여자이야기)

It’s been quite a while, so to remind readers, in Part One of this series I argued that a virtual gender apartheid existed in modern Korea, with women excluded from economic and political life here to an extent much more reminiscent of Middle Eastern countries than what one would expect in a modern liberal democracy. If that sounds like mere hyperbole to new readers, then sure, it probably would to me too(!), but by all means examine the evidence given there, to which I would now add that Korea has the lowest number of working women of all developed countries also, and that spousal rape isn’t even a crime here (see #2 here).

(Update, February 2014: Part One has since been deleted sorry)

How to explain this? Well, naturally many specific elements of Korean women’s disadvantaged position in Korean society are no great mysteries: decades of salaryman male-breadwinner forms of employment for instance, explain a great deal about the lack of women in senior positions in companies (a parallel is how the Cultural Revolution four decades ago resulted in an “intellectual skills gap” that still affects the Chinese economy), and deeply hierarchical and sexist Neo-Confucianism has had a profound influence on Koreans’ worldviews, even extending to how men’s and women’s bodies are perceived and valued differently, and from which it is no great leap of the imagination to see echoes of in – amongst other things –  the widespread use of doumi (도우미) or female “assistants” and scantily-clad “narrator models” (나레이터 머델) here to sell mundane household items or open even the humblest of new stores and restaurants respectively.

korean-doumi-shop-assistants-and-narrator-models-도우미0-나레이터-모델(With apologies to Michael Hurt for the use of the top image, but like he says, despite their ubiquity most doumi are embarrassed by their jobs and very reluctant to have their photos taken; after half an hour of looking (in Korean!), this is the only similar one I could find. Bottom image taken from shytiny)

But both those and many other factors commonly cited are by no means confined to Korea, and while going into greater detail would undoubtedly tease out plausible reasons why Korean women are worse off than, say, their counterparts in Japan or even China (hardly well-known for gender equality in themselves), here I am more concerned with the systematic nature of women’s exclusion in Korea. Ergo, however cliched it sounds, this series is all about seeing the forest rather than the trees.

With that in mind, based on my readings of especially Kwon (2001) and Moon (2005) and on my own nine years’ experience of the militarism that is still inherent to many Korean institutions (especially schools) in particular, then I laid the blame for that exclusion squarely on the continuation of and widespread public acceptance of the universal male conscription system, and all that that entails: nothing else seems adequate to explain so widespread and pervasive a phenomenon.

Again, that may well sound somewhat exaggerated at first: after all, South Korea is by no means the only country in the world to have conscription, and while I’d venture that a cross-country comparison would undoubtedly demonstrate at least a tendency towards lower levels of women’s empowerment in those countries that had it, that the “feminist paradises” of Sweden and Norway also have it, for instance, shows that any link would by no means be clear-cut. But then for most of the brief history of South Korea the military has had a uniquely pervasive role in society, one not revealed by any casual comparisons with other military regimes, and this really needs to be fully appreciated and understood before some of my more outlandish sounding claims about the effects of conscription on gender roles here can be assessed objectively. Hence, while it will take us far in time and space from what would normally come under the rubric of “Korean gender issues” – and which explains the 9 month hiatus, for unfortunately my beginning to write the series coincided with my wanting to examine more “traditional” aspects of that subject – I realized that the Korean military itself needed to be studied first, and so Part Two was about its origins in the Japanese colonial state, again much greater in size, scope and ambitions than a simple conflation with its European and US counterparts would suggest.

This post continues where that left off, focusing on the short-lived Japanese colonial state of Manchukuo (Manchuria region, 1932-1945), which eventual nreturnees to Korea among the  720,000 Korean immigrants there (from 1932-1940) and a sizable proportion of the South Korean bureaucracy, armed forces, and police of the 1950s and 1960s had some first-hand experience of living in and working for. In particular, Manchukuo was where president Park Chung-hee (1963-1979) above (source) spent most of his formative years as an officer in the army (even going so far as to sign an oath of loyalty to it in his own blood), and, as we shall see, is what he would effectively recreate in South Korea in the 1960s and 70s.

Korea’s Wild Wild West?

(Source: 이것저것 연습장)

Okay, first the big picture:  what were Japanese motives in occupying what was to become Manchukuo? Well, primarily because it greatly expanded the Japanese imperial empire, still much smaller, weaker, and younger than its European and American counterparts as explained in Part Two. But more practically speaking, it also provided:

  • A bridgehead for the invasion of China, well connected by rail and road links to Korea even before the 1930s
  • A buffer-zone between the USSR and both the more developed and crucial colony of Korea, and indeed there would be several clashes between the two on the Machukuo border in the late 1930s
  • An important source of particularly mineral resources in its own right, without which the later invasion of Southeast Asia wouldn’t have been possible
  • And finally, an escape valve to ease Japanese (and Korean) domestic agrarian population pressures and poverty, exacerbated by the depression.
(The Prewar Expansion of the Japanese Empire. Source: Wikipedia)

The 2008 movie The Good, The Bad, The Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈) in the poster above happens to be set there, and by all accounts it is fun to watch, but unfortunately its depiction of life there in the 1930s as Korea’s version of the Wild West is probably exaggerated at best. While it’s true that the Chinese Warlord Era as a whole is not exactly well known for the stability or internal coherence of its various regimes, and that things would have been quite chaotic around the period when warlord Zhang Xueliang withdrew his forces from the region and ceded it to the elite Kwangtung Japanese Imperial Army after the Mukden Incident of September 18 1931, that strategic retreat was largely dictated by forces beyond his control, such as Chiang Kai-Shek being unable to provide assistance. In fact, his regime was far more coherent than most of that era, being able to effectively wipe out opium-trafficking and internal corruption in the previous decade for instance. Moreover, much of the state bureaucracy was bequeathed to the new Japanese colonial state, and as soon as April of 1932, it was one of the most controlled, regimented regimes in Northeast Asian history.

Don’t worry if that was all above your head: suffice to say that Manchukuo state organs were in many senses grafted onto the preexisting ones of Zhang Xueliang’s regime, but with the crucial difference that recent events meant that there were no longer any substantial non-state actors like a business or landed class to impede them in instilling notions of loyalty and nationalism in their new pool of workers and soldiers.

And whom were by no means unwilling victims of the process either. For example, writing about the Korean “Truth Commission on Forced Mobilization under the Japanese Imperialism (sic)” in 2006, Michael Breen said:

The Truth Commission on Forced Mobilization under the Japanese Imperialism (sic) announced on Monday that 83 of the 148 Koreans convicted of war crimes were victims of Japan and should not be blamed….

[But they] were not tried as soldiers or POW camp guards who had done their jobs. They were tried for over-zealousness, for decisions and actions over and above the call of duty. They were the thugs, the brutes, the monsters, the most horrible of the ”horrible people”….By what authority does the Truth Commission have to remove their individual responsibility with its class act defense of nationality? Such skewed morality led to the crimes against the lowest class– ”prisoners” — in the first place. People who committed crimes against humanity are not innocent by virtue of being Korean any more than Japanese who brutalized Koreans are innocent by virtue of being Japanese.

….[the Truth Commission] should recognize that the idea that Koreans were all unhappy citizens of imperialism bar a few collaborators is a myth. Koreans were Japanese citizens, and it did not occur to many to support the allies against their own country. Ask anyone who lived in that period, and they will tell you that the political correctness of the post-colonial generation is distorted.

They will also tell you that from 1937-42, Koreans in the Japanese army were volunteers — who included King Kojong’s son, an army general — and that large-scale forced conscription only started in 1944. The Commission should know that those rounding up comfort women were Koreans and those torturing people in police stations were mostly Koreans. Koreans, in other words, were more ”horrible” to Koreans in many cases than the Japanese were. The solution to this dilemma is to accept the notion of individual responsibility.

And according to Suk-Jung Han in his July 2005 Japan Focus article “Imitating the Colonizers: The Legacy of the Disciplining State from Manchukuo to South Korea,”  similar senses of citizenship were instilled in new Manchukuo citizens by means of:

  • State-Sponsored Confucianism
  • Mourning Rituals and Ancestor Worship
  • State-foundation Gymnastics
  • Anti-Communist Rallies

A combination which will probably sound very familiar to those of you even with just the most basic of knowledge of South Korea’s history. Indeed, as Han’s article is only 14 pages long and very readable in its own right, rather than provide a detailed discussion of what you many of you will go on to read there regardless, it’s probably wiser if I just provide some excerpts here, starting with:

The legacy of Manchukuo can be seen in numerous “naturalized” events in South and North Korea. So-called “national ceremonies,” such as paying a one minute silent tribute to the war dead in front of monuments, marching, lectures on the “current emergency situation”, movie-showing, poster making, student speech contests, rallies, big athletic meetings, and so on- largely related to anti-communism, and all too familiar to South Koreans for several decades from the 1950s- were originally national events of Manchukuo in the 1930s.

For state-sponsored Confucianism, some crucial clues as for how South Korea has come to be known as “More Confucian than China”:

South Koreans grew accustomed to the Confucian ideology of loyalty and filiality (choong-hyo) stressed by Syngman Rhee’s regime (1948-1960) as well as Park Chung Hee’s (1961-1979). The post-liberation ideology was different from the Confucianism of the Chosun dynasty, which had been not only the official ideology but also the basis of ethics and cosmic philosophy. The former was less intense than the latter. But Confucianism was still influential in the post-liberation era. Important Confucian concepts, like loyalty to the nation, were instilled in students. It was Manchukuo that energetically patronized Confucianism. Manchukuo differed from mainland China where Confucianism was severely attacked by the May 4th intellectuals and their heirs. Also, Manchukuo differed from Japan in the 1930s when Shinto was deployed as the state religion.

About the importance of mourning rituals and ancestor worship, which might sound outlandish to many outside of Korea, but intimately familiar to anyone who’s ever experienced either of the two biggest occasions of the year Seollal or Chuseok in an actual Korean home, and learned first-hand just how morbid they can be, at least symbolically:

Although monuments for the war dead began to supplement Confucian shrines as the site of important ceremonies, the mourning ceremony, either for ancestors or soldiers, was long essential to Confucian practice inside and outside the home. In April, 1935, officials and army officers attended a great mourning ceremony (zhaohunji, shokonsai), held at the newly built monument in the capital. The assembly, opening ceremony, invocation of the spirits, enshrining of the dead, offering of food, and tributary speech solemnly proceeded. This was simply one example of numerous mourning ceremonies of subsequent years, particularly after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war.

The mourning ceremony for dead officials, policemen and soldiers was an important an event, next only to one worshipping Confucius. Although prewar Japanese society also had ceremonies for the war dead at Yasukuni shrine, they were not equal to those in Manchukuo. In Japan, all the war dead (except those who died in hospitals, rather than at the front) were enshrined at Yasukuni. Ceremonies for all were held there at fixed dates. In Manchukuo, by contrast, ceremonies were held at numerous places and at various times. Each ministry of the central government, central police board, army district, province, and county office organized a committee for constructing monuments. Monuments and plazas for the war dead were built across the nation.

seollal-shrine(Offerings of food and drink at a temporary mini-shrine devoted to the spirits of dead ancestors, to whom male members of the family must bow to in ceremonies on Seollal and Chuseok. Source: DiscoverKorea)

For state-foundation gymnastics:

Most middle-aged and older South Koreans remember Jaegun gymnastics from the 1960s. “Jaegun chejo shiijak (let’s start Jaegun gymnastics), one, two, three, four!” The song was broadcast in the early morning across the country in the 1960s following Park’s military coup. [9] Most family members woke up to this song-like command and practiced Jaegun gymnastics, still practically asleep. Jaegun, meaning reconstruction (of the state or nation), was the catch phrase of Park’s regime. Several other songs about Jaegun were written and propagated for citizens and students to memorize. The model for Jaegun gymnastics was the Jianguo (state foundation or construction of the nation) gymnastics of Manchukuo. Jianguo and Jaegun had the common Chinese character of foundation or construction (“jian” in Chinese, “gun” in Korean). Jianguo was the essential word in Manchukuo, from “Jianguo spirit”, “Jianguo celebration day” to “Jianguo University” and “Jianguo exercise.” Hence, construction and reconstruction were the key words for Manchukuo and South Korea.

And still as big a part of the collective Korean psyche that there are still many references to it in popular culture, even that explicitly catering to young people that would barely remember it, if at all. One recent example of which was in a commercial for an eyeliner, as I discuss here:

Also of note:

In Manchukuo, exercise and sanitation were important fields in which the regime invested. There were special weeks of exercise and street cleaning. During this time, the human body came under the jurisdiction of the state. One month after its foundation, the regime prepared an athletic meeting….Imitating the German fascists, the rulers of Manchukuo were interested in the physical training of citizens….Through sports, Manchukuo sought international approval, for which the regime was so thirsty.

This importance of this will become apparent in later posts when I discuss Korea’s population control policies of the 1960s and 1970s, only marginally less rigorously pursued and personally invasive than their Chinese counterparts, and a good illustration of which is the withdrawal troops from the DMZ at the height of tensions with North Korea in order to implant IUDs and perform (voluntary, but rather highly encouraged) sterilizations on citizens in remote rural areas and islands. No, really.

crimson-dawn-by-spargett(“Crimson Dawn” by Spargett. Source: A Muchness of Me)

And finally, for anti-Communist rallies:

South Koreans became sick and tired of anti-communist rallies (bangongdaehue) or “Great gathering for destroying communists” (myulgongdaehue) under Syngman Rhee’s and Park Chung Hee’s regimes. Old folks and housewives were led by officials of city districts and neighborhood districts, and students led by teachers gathered in great stadiums and shouted anti-communist phrases. Again, the model was Manchukuo. In prewar Japan, of course, there was mass mobilization (through such organizations as the Military reservist association and National youth association). After the Manchurian Incident, in particular, jingoism spread among news media, magazines, movies, and literature. According to Louise Young, however, neither government repression nor market pressures can entirely explain the enthusiasm in the 1930s. It was voluntary. Journalists of Asahi or Mainichi supported the army, because they had conviction (Young 1998: 79). Also, the main enemy in Japanese society was not necessarily communist Russia (although it may have been for the Japanese army). Hence, there were no anti-communist rallies in Japan. By contrast, there were myriad anti-communist rallies in Manchukuo. Also, Manchukuo had many more occasions for rallies. Manchukuo was a pioneering place of maximum mobilization, summoning people day and night. The fascist gatherings of Germany and Italy flowed to both North Korea and South Korea through Manchukuo.

Hell, for all its anti-Japanese rhetoric, even at least one of South Korea’s national holidays (until 2005) ultimately comes from Manchukuo too:

In 1936, “tree-planting day” was added. There were other celebrations such as, those for Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations, the entry of Japanese soldiers to Manchuria, the visit of Japanese royal family members, and the abolition of Japanese privilege, even one for the founding of the post office.

For a little more on the national-security mania of South Korean military regimes, see here, but that will be the main topic of *cough* a much bigger Part Four.

But let me stop this post here, for Han’s section on “Inheritors in the 1970s,” in which South Korea sounds like a carbon copy of all the above, really needs to be read in its entirety, and my amount of copying and pasting has already become a little excessive. Apologies for that, and I don’t like looking lazy either, but I confess that the question of how to summarize an article that most readers would go on to read regardless proved such a stumbling block for me that it’s taken me nine months to return to it. And that was despite the fact that the next post in the series will be about something I read in 1997 which – in no uncertain terms – was such a revelation to me that without having done so I literally wouldn’t be in Korea or even East Asia today too, let alone have started this blog (but hence its title). Better then, to be a little lazy in this one post then to procrastinate any longer!

democracy-park-monument-busan(Source: Brian Yap (葉); CC BY-NC 2.0)

Love Stinks: Why More Korean Women Wear Deodorant Than Men

성유리-sultry-sung-yuriIn today’s Korea Times. I’ll chime in here with links and extra information that I couldn’t provide in the 800 words allowed there (source, left: fotoya):

“Men can sweat up to 50% more than women,” or so says deodorant maker Rexona. Yet not only do very few Koreans ever wear deodorant, advertisements for it that have started appearing in recent years have almost exclusively been aimed at women.

Far from being counterintuitive however, a study published last Monday in the journal Flavor and Fragrance demonstrates that women have very good reasons to pay more attention to how they smell.

Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia asked male and female volunteers to rate the strength of 32 underarm sweat samples collected from both genders, and then 32 more that had been disguised by different fragrances typically used to control or mask underarm odor. While both men and women rated the unadulterated samples as equally strong, 19 fragrances successfully disguised the smell for men, while women were deceived by just two.

Investigating further using only female volunteers’, again the unadulterated samples were rated equally strong, but whereas six fragrances succeeded in disguising the men’s smells, as many as 16 worked on the women’s.

Yes, I also thought that it was strange to test only female volunteers in the second series of tests, and I’m confused about the composition of the sweat samples in the first series too: were they just random samples from men or women, were they mixed together into some form of asexual smell, or what? Unfortunately, the above is the best I could make out from 4 even more confusing and widely divergent reports on the study here, here, here, and here, and with what I’m being paid then my sense of journalistic integrity doesn’t quite extend to paying for access to the study itself I’m afraid!

In other words, while women’s noses are more sensitive than men’s, their own odors are more easily disguised, leading women to wear more deodorant or perfume than men.

Naturally there’s much more to it than men’s worse sense of smell, as I’d wager that — at the moment at least — in most cultures it is much more culturally acceptable for women than men to spend a great deal of time and money investing in how they smell, and express an interest in “smelly things” in general, although this study does at least point to a possible biological basis for that. One commentator on one of those other reports argues that the proportion of male to female chefs suggests otherwise, but others argue that that is more due to discrimination than anything else.

As an aside, in the mating game, this may not always be good strategy: other research has shown that the scent of a woman’s sweat is particularly attractive to men at the most fertile time of her monthly cycle.

composite faces of the 10 women with highest and lowest levels of oestrogen(Composite images of women taken with the most (L) and least (R) amounts of estrogen when ovulating. Source: New Scientist)

I’ve lost the link behind that sorry, but with the proviso that what counts as “common sense” and “natural” in gender studies and behavioral science is very much dependent on its era (scroll down a little here for a classic demonstration of that), with so much else about women being the most attractive at the most fertile parts of their cycles then I don’t think that readers will be needing much convincing.

But there is much more than this behind the gender bias in the marketing of deodorant in Korea.

In their low deodorant uptake, Koreans are the exception rather than the rule. While it is true that the first aerosol deodorant was launched as recently as 1965, the first roll-on applicator tested in 1952, and Mum, the first ever commercial product for preventing body odor, only invented in 1888, every major civilization as far back as the ancient Egyptians has left a record of its efforts at disguising underarm body odor. So what makes Koreans so different?

Diet, weight, fitness and climate certainly all play a role in how much one sweats, how smelly it is, and one’s ability to smell others. While explanations involving ethnicity are fraught with danger, it is true that Northeast Asians have fewer of the apocrine sweat glands most associated with odor than average. Famous human behavioralist Desmond Morris (The Naked Woman, 2007) has argued that this makes them less susceptible to body odor. But while Northeast Asians on the whole may smell less than other groups, that does not mean that many individuals – particularly men – can relax about their personal hygiene.

That many do is probably at least partially due to a host of cultural and economic factors: for instance, during much of Korea’s recent history deodorant would have been considered a luxury that few needed and even fewer could afford; a notion that still lingers in the gifting of such basic items as spam and cooking oil for national holidays. Another is Korean men’s mandatory military service, a defining experience forcing youngsters to get used to going without many everyday basics.

nivea-deodorant-korea-데오드란트With a nod to all the commentators on my earlier big post on deodorant use and its marketing in Korea (source, right)…

On the other hand, given women’s physiological advantages and their dominance of the “smelly industries” worldwide, the very word “perfume” has feminine overtones to many Western male ears. It is reasonable to assume that “deodorant” has similar connotations for most Korean men. Yet looking at the popularity of kkotminam or “flower men” in Korea, challenging traditional notions of masculinity and spending more time and money on their appearance, deodorant manufacturers should be keen to tap into a whole new market.

Unfortunately the timing is bad: while “look at this strange side of the recession!”-type stories are in vogue at the moment, with everything from skirt lengths, alcohol and tobacco consumption, number of breast enlargement surgeries, lipstick sales, and even vasectomies variously being described as going up or down with the economy, experience from the financial crisis of 1997-98 suggests that sales of men’s cosmetics are about to drop. After four years of 10-20% growth from 1992, sales dropped 28.6% the next year, and ad spending by 37%.

Those last figures come from p. 125 of “The Trend of Creating Atypical Male Images in Heterosexist Korean Society” by Lim In-Sook, Korea Journal, Vol. 4 No. 4 Winter 2008,  pp. 115-146, available online here. They put paid to any side-notions I had that flower men ideals for men partially came from the need to stand out in the suddenly very competitive job market after the Asian Financial Crisis (which just goes to show that women’s changing tastes probably had more to do with it!), but given their relative popularity now then that may not be what happens to sales of men’s cosmetics during this latest recession though.

When (if) things pick up though, forget about those Korean deodorant advertisements for women that emphasize mother figures and friendships. Expect those for men to associate the right deodorant with sexual success.

Another recent study from the International Journal of Cosmetic Science has demonstrated that how a deodorant makes a man feel is much more important than any changes to his scent. Lest that sound like exaggeration, researchers found that women looking at men through one-way mirrors rated those wearing certain deodorants more attractive than others, due simply to the confident swagger the act of wearing the deodorant had given them!

An annoying, tantalizing way to end an article? That must mean I’m learning the tools of the trade then! For that above study see here, and I discuss it in more detail in that earlier post of mine.

“Breathless”: A New Korean Movie on Domestic Violence

breathlessMy own series of posts on domestic violence in Korea is on temporary hiatus as I realize I should finish others first, but in the meantime the new movie “Breathless” (똥파리, or “shit fly” in typically earthy Korean) on that theme looks like something I should definitely take some time to watch. In the words of Korea Times reporter Lee Hyo-won, whose film reviews are of such high quality that I confess I cut out and keep most of them (source, left: KoreaFilm):

…”Breathless” explores the murky gray zone between compassion and cruelty, redemption and revenge, and the blessings and curses of family bonds. In a nutshell, it’s a family drama that’s inappropriate for children. While harrowingly violent, however, the multiple-award winning film by director-lead actor-producer Yang Ik-june seethes with warmth and humor.

The film is making headlines for entering almost 20 international film events and picking up top prizes, including, most recently, the SIGNIS Prize and the Audience Award, Wednesday, at the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival. And the movie does not disappoint, and establishes Yang as a name to watch out for.

Read here for the remainder, and here for an interview and short biography of producer, director and lead actor(!) Yang Ik-june (양익준), who sounds like a bit of maverick:

”I want to say ‘ – you’ to the world through my films,” he said. He also wants to show the male private parts onscreen someday. ”Koreans think it’s artistic when they see it in a foreign film, but here they censor it. We feel unstable in this world because we want things to be safe all the time, but we need to be courageous,” said the director, who respects cineastes like John Cameron Mitchell (”Shortbus”). ”Sex is part of life,” he said.

For more on the recent decision to allow Shortbus to be screened, see here. I definitely share his sentiments, and, as someone notorious among my friends for never shying away from sexual topics myself, I very much look forward to more films from him!