My top 5 female book characters

Alternatively titled “girls that changed the way I look at myself and the world).

Hello my loves,
hope this finds you well!

SO.

All of us little bookworms have these characters. The ones that make you tear up just thinking about them, the ones that you’d protect with your life, the ones that you relate too just a tad more than people think is healthy. It’s generally not a bad thing -unless you relate completely with Patrick Bateman, in which case I would kindly but urgently suggest you talk to someone about that.

When I was a kid, I would spend hours upon hours reading, running to the library every two days to fill up my little backpack with as many books as I was allowed (at one point, a kind librarian gave me a slip that allowed me to take up to 12 books, instead of the regular 5. I have forgotten her name, but I will forever be grateful for her existence.). I just mean to say, I’ve had my fair share of characters pass by my eyes, but there’s only a handful of them which have left behind such an impression that until this very day, my heart starts beating faster when I think about them.

Let’s just dive straight in, and let me tell you about some of my loves, in no specific order.

First up, we have a predictable presence.

Hermione Granger

I assume she is on so many favourite lists, as she was a character with messy hair and big teeth, who loved books and learning, who struggled to fit in, but ended up finding friends that would last forever. She always reminded me that it’s alright to speak out, and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of, even when other people think you’re weird.

Now I do love Emma’s performance in the films, but I have to say that she is not exactly who I imagined when I was reading. I saw a girl with way bigger hair, a lot heavier, and more bossy looking than Emma ever did! The closest I can come to finding what I imagined is this gorgeous girl:

https://www.facebook.com/HeirApparentCosplay/

Isn’t she dreamy?

In the same line we have:

Ginny Weasley

Now, this wasn’t an immediate love. It took a while before I really took to her – her little crush on Harry bothered me a lot when I started reading the books, but it only took a year or two for me to appreciate her gutsy bravery, big mouth and no nonsense behaviour. She taught herself how to fly on her brother’s brooms when they weren’t watching? Yeah, big love right there.

George Kirrin

aka one of the reason’s all my nicknames throughout my life have been “boy’s names”. George (Georgina Kirrin) was all I aspired to be as a kid. With her chopped hair, shorts and shirts, walking around in the sun until her skin was covered in freckles.. I loved everything about her.

Now Enid Blyton has her problems as an author. Misogynist gender stereotypes, racist slurs, bizarre use of language, a very privileged (and very white) interpretation of British society… I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to reading the books because I feel as an adult, the problematic nature of the stories would ruin the memory I have of them! But in my head, George is still the coolest kid on the block, and whenever I cut my hair short, I must say I channel her quite a bit.

Also, her dog!!!!!! AH. Those fond fond memories.

Jo March.

Winona Ryder as Jo in the 1994 version of LW

As I’m currently re-reading Little Women (for the first time in English, as well!) my love for her is rekindled and I feel my heart fill to the brim with affection for this kid who dresses up as a man, doesn’t fall for the boy who in in love with her, and ends up marrying and older man who is much more of a friend to her than an actual love-interest. Once again, this is one of those gender-defying, potentially-but-not-explicitely lesbian characters, and I am just SO in love with her. Jo had such a massive influence on my young, wild, short shaggy haired self, and when I read the book now it’s more than clear to me that Louise Alcott queer coded her character, and it’s exhilarating to realise how much comfort her character brought me as a child, stuffing my trousers with socks so the boys would let me join in their football game (that is a whole other story).

Perhaps now you are thinking, “James, you are really reaching here,” but let me drag up this quote for you, from a Penguin Classics introduction of Little Women:

“In an interview with the writer Louise Chandler Moulton, [Alcott] later commented with pre-Freudian candor on her own feelings: ‘I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man’s soul, put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body … Because I have fallen in love in my life with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.’”

I don’t want to say “she was a lesbian”, but guys, I’m pretty sure Louise was a lesbian. And since she based Jo on herself, a more liberated and happier version… I’ll let you connect the dots here.

Jo March, my love. (and I do love Winona best as Jo, even though there’s some debate on her being a convincing tomboy or not)

the face you make when you see a hot woman and must keep it cool

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After that fair share of tomboys, let us take a step back to the bookish characters.

Matilda

Would this list ever be complete without the bookish character of all characters?

accurate depiction of the author

There’s not really anything to say about Matilda that has not already been said. Roald Dahl’s book has several different fully fledged women, both good and bad, and even though I’m pretty sure Dahl didn’t intend for Matilda to become a – dare I say it – feminist icon for young girls, he achieved exactly that, giving little ones a girl character who is confident in who she is in what she can do, and who isn’t afraid to reject beauty standards and expectations of how women are “supposed” to be.

(was anyone else confused to find out Matilda wasn’t written Mathilda? How quaint.)

Not to mention the musical’s soundtrack is incredibly addictive. Especially the songs “Naughty” and Revolting Children, which got me through the last exam I took. Thanks Revolting Children, you’re all great. A* for all of you.

Of course I have met plenty a wonderful female character in my almost 20 years of reading (loosely counted. I’m good at reading, bad at maths), but these five will always have a special place in my heart, because they shaped me into the person I am today, and taught me to be brave and strong, smart and kind, wild and loud, and mostly, proud.

What are some of your favourite female book characters? Do you have any in common with me?

Lots of love,

James

Continue Reading

bookish conundrums #1

Listen, I’m a bookworm. A bibliophile. Some would say a hoarder of words, though I’d rather say I’m a collector of stories, perhaps even a proud bibliobibuli, a book-bosomed bibliophagist. Now that I’ve successfully thrown in a bunch of words from this article, let me cut to the chase.

I have a lot of books in my possession. A lot of which, I haven’t even started to read yet, as I discovered recently during my big clean out of my bookshelves (an endeavour of which I’ve made a video for your entertainment). For the last couple weeks, I’ve been stared at by these books, all of them neatly labeled “unread” to confront me daily with my shortcomings. Needless to say, I’ve been overwhelmed by shame and self-doubt. Can I call myself a True Reader, when so many of the books I have are left unread?

The solution to this problem seems simple in theory, but the execution is so much harder. Of course it would make sense to “just read them!” however the reality is a complicated combination of a long to-do list of other things, procrastination, and a severe case of wanting-to-buy-new-books-instead-fever. I think it’s fair to say I’m struggling with this minimal lifestyle I’ve been trying to achieve.

So I’ve decided to listen to my own advice for once (because just like Alice, I do rarely follow it), and take baby steps. One at a time. Pit pat pit pat until I’ve read all of those books that are living on my shelves – or at least give them a go, and donate them when they don’t tickle my pickle.

I’m starting off with “Watching the English” by Kate Fox, a fine choice considering how many BBC productions I’ve consumed the last year. (I fully blame my beau, a specimen of Welsh constitution who dropped me in a hole named Gavin and Stacey and Planet Earth, and I can’t seem to get out).

I’ll keep you updated on my progress 🙂

A light hearted post to get back in the habit of blogging. I’m working on this little thing called consistency, and as with everything, it’s taking time. I’m too much of a perfectionist, one of my teachers once said. Since I rewrote one little sentence at least 14 times, I’m inclined to believe her.

Continue Reading

SCANDALOUS SHOULDERS IN JAPAN

With the arrival of summer came the arrival of sudden humidity, scorching bright sun and temperatures that made my little West-European self feel like I was on a summer holiday in some southern location. On top of that, the half-amusing, half-devastating phenomenon of May Sickness (五月病) took its toll, and left us feeling tired, grumpy, and mostly, hot. The urge to pull out the swimwear and the sunglasses has been pretty intense ever since those first summery days, and a lot of the exchange students (especially the European ones) have been rocking the shorts, sandals, and tank top looks. The reactions we got from some of our Japanese friends living in the dormitory, gave us the first hint that something was up.

Little comments like: “how sexy” or “exotic” (a very interesting phrasing I might write a separate post about) whenever we came in wearing tanktops or strapless dresses. At first we assumed it might be about the cleavage, but as it turned out, it wasn’t. The great, foreign-made mistake, was showing the bare shoulders.

Now, it has to be said that bare shoulders are not completely absent in Japan. Definitely not in Osaka, though I have been informed by Tokyo-dwelling friends that Osaka is a bit of an odd place, where standards and expectations are very different. Eating and drinking on the streets, for example are generally more accepted In Osaka than anywhere else. Still frowned upon, but it’s not uncommon to see businessmen rush by with a coffee, or to see teenagers sipping juice on their way back from school. Just like that, it’s not uncommon to see girls and women with some of the latest fashionable off-shoulder shirts with ruffles.

Aside from the little comments and glances occasionally thrown our way (which we have accepted as standard, along with the daily “I love you”, “how do you like Japan?” and “I want to practice English, speak with me?” that all the exchange students have experienced), there is no one calling us out on the bare shoulders. After all, there are more people showing them off, which seems fair enough, since the average temperature in Suita has been around 26°C for a couple of weeks.

Yet last week, we heard through the grapevine – a friend who talked to a friend who got a message from someone who follows on of our teachers on Facebook who read on his profile – that there has been serious discussion happening within the older generation whether or not this is inappropriate. Said teacher had written it was “absolutely indecent” and “showed clearly that the girls were only coming to university dressed that way because they wanted to get a man to date them”. We’re ignoring the very sexist nature of this statement, and instead, focus on why bare shoulders are so provocative, so offensive, so very dame (not done).

Strangely enough, there doesn’t seem to be a clear direct answer. I did a couple google searches and I do find people saying that shoulders ARE indeed provocative, (in one amusing little blogpost, someone said “Forgive me, I’m gaijin! Bloody gaijin…shoulder whores!” ) but aside from the general “it’s just how Japan is” or “we Japanese, don’t like it” there is no one who has posed a theory on the WHY. If someone has and I have just overlooked it, excuse the potential ignorance of this post.

As pretty much everyone knows, when we think of Japan, we think of kimono. And if we look at the way the kimono is worn, we see that everything from the neck down is very firmly covered, both for men and women. Sometimes even with several layers. It’s very hard to find pictures that do show the shoulders.

Playing Samisen (w bare shoulder) ca. 1880-1890 by Adolfo Farsari

However in my search I have found a couple of them, dating from around 1900, in the middle of the Meiji period, but often these were taken by foreign artists and have a definitely voyeuristic, erotic air to them. For example Playing Samisen (w bare shoulder) ca. 1880-1890 by Adolfo Farsari.

French Japonisme

Or we have pictures from abroad, with (non-Japanese) girls wearing kimono-inspired clothing and showing their bare shoulders. They’re cute, playful and pretty, with a romantic air around them.

Quick historic framing for such pictures : Starting from the Meiji restauration in the 1868 and the opening of Japan, there was the rise ofJaponisme abroad, a sudden peak in interest in this country which had for so long been inaccessible. Photographers, painters, etc. were intrigued by the music, style and fashion of Japan, which led to endless creations abroad that were heavily influenced by Japanese art-styles. For example there is the (obviously problematic yet charmingly entertaining) musical The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan, from which we might recognise “three little maids from school

Early 20th century American Japonisme

The casual portrayal of the shoulders in these pictures is something that is definitely not present in Japan. The kimono slipped down from the shoulders seems to always have been a very erotic image, in a way that doesn’t convey when brought into a Western setting

Perhaps it’s just a cultural thing that happens naturally, a piece of history that stuck around until now, with people forgetting why it is that way. Perhaps it’s less natural, another one of those “different from the west” concepts that got subtly enforced until no one remembers where it comes from. It’s interesting that there is no clear-cut answer for my thought, but then again, when it comes to Japan, is anything really clear cut? 🙂

Continue Reading

さくら満開

Yesterday morning; the cherry blossoms that were but promising little buds for weeks, suddenly burst open, covering the entire park outside our dormitory with clouds of muted pinks and whites. When I stepped outside, families were scattered all over the park, cans of peachy alcohol in their hand (and strawberry lemonade in their bags for their children who were more interested in running around than in looking at the flowers).

I snapped a picture of them, but as clouds were thick in the sky, it didn’t do them any justice, and with the promise of rain, I saw my little dream of experiencing the magic of cherry blossoms go up in thin air. This morning on my way to class (and on the way back!), I took another look, and thought to myself “pretty, but..” nothing else. One of the friends I was with, must have seen my face, because they smiled, and said:「見飽きない」”I’m bored of seeing them”. I thought, maybe I’m already bored of them too? A bit disappointing, but then again, I’ve been blown away by so many things in Japan, perhaps the cherry blossoms are just one of those things that gets so hyped up that the actual experience just can not live up to the expectation.

Later that day, after the sun had gone down, I went with Jo for a walk to get some food and a couple of items I needed from the store. It was raining softly, the pitter patter of the drops on the leaves all around us, nobody else around. As we were strolling through the silent park, we too, grew quiet. The light of the lanterns guiding the way shone through the tree branches, making the cherry blossoms stand out, their little petals strong and proud, despite being so fragile. We both let out a sound of awe and surprise, and laughed. “I guess this is why people go to watch them at night,” I said, “they’re beautiful.”. I made a feeble attempt at capturing a picture, but as expected, that didn’t turn out very well.

Walking through these endless rows of blossoming trees, I was struck with the memory of a couple words, a line from a song I hadn’t listened to in almost a decade, yet the melody and soft voices were as clear to me as all those years ago.

「ねえ さくら満開 胸の中
 もう 言葉にならないくらい
 恋の花が満開」

the cherry blossoms are in full bloom in my chest
even more than words can express
the flowers of love are in full bloom

So odd it was to remember, the words suddenly clicking and the cherry blossoms right in front of me, their scent intoxicating in the warm evening. It made a lot of sense to me then, the beauty of cherry blossoms. They’re only here for a short time, but they spread so much joy to people, and manage to make them stop and think, even if only for a moment. Cheesy it may be, but what a powerful thing!

I felt very full of love for these little blossoms, and even though I didn’t get the picture I wanted, maybe that’s exactly the point. It’s a beauty and appreciation that exists in a single moment, and then it’s gone. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying; And this same flower that smiles today – Tomorrow will be dying. (Robert Herrick)

A little bit of a reminder to live in the now, to enjoy what’s around you, to take it as it come and not expect it to be a certain way.

     

Continue Reading

Found in Translation

As almost every person who enjoys watching movies, I do have my appreciation for Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. A story that deals with being overwhelmed by your surroundings, with the feeling of living in a culture that’s so unfamiliar to you that you feel like you’re drowning. An aesthetically pleasing and touching take on the quirky, confusing Japan that all of us (think that we) know and distantly appreciate. Of course, Japan isn’t just that. Nor is it just the traditional temples and tea ceremonies. Japan, as every other country, but at the same time more than every other country, requires not only superficial knowledge, but also understanding of the culture and language to break through the sparkly layer that lies on top of it. Kind of like how you have to get through the layer of foam to get to the best part of the cappuchino.

Now I’m not pretending I’m somehow untouchable by the whole foreigner-syndrome, or that I understand everything that’s happening around me (definitely not), because as one of my professors once said; “You can study Japan for your entire life, and still know as little as the day you started.”

Yet, beyond the big buildings, the loud music and the cute culture, beyond the exclamations of OhYourJapaneseIsSoGood (it honestly isn’t) and WillYouSpeakEnglishWithMe lies a world of little encounters and personal stories that have rekindled the love I have for this country, the language, and the people in it.

The Japan I know…
* is the drunk guy crying on a street corner at sunset because he’s going to marry the girls of his dreams and he’s so happy he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
* is old ladies chattering about dinner and how proud they are about learning a new skill.
* is gyoza in bars with tattooed man telling boisterous stories you don’t even want to consider not believing.
* is helping someone carry bags and receiving an orange as a thank you.
* is random little gifts of tea and holding hands with other girls and sharing your food.
* is a girl clinging to your neck in the middle of the night because she’s queer and doesn’t know how to tell anyone except the one foreigner she spotted and realised was queer as well.

But I digress.

Japan is a country that’s easy to get lost in when you’re too certain about what you’re going to find. But when you just jump in, eyes wide open and hands stretched out to grab at everything you can, that’s when you start finding.

So on this blog I will talk about some of the things I’ve found, since I’ve come to live in Japan.

Hope you’ll enjoy this journey with me.

Love, FJ xx

Continue Reading