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Google Trends, NASCAR, Protest!

December 29, 2011

Google Trends

…is wonderful. It’s really interesting to see what exactly interests our population on a second-to-second basis. For instance, when Christina Aguilera messed up the lyrics to the National Anthem there was mass-hysteria. Except that the third most popular search was “star spangled banner lyrics”. It’s like having a window into the collective sub-conscious.

Unfortunately, not all the top hits can be so eye-opening. Today’s, for instance, was “kasey kahne”. I decided to check this out, and it turns out there was a bit of a kerfuffle when the NASCAR driver tweeted that a woman who was publicly breast-feeding her child was “nasty”. If anything it’s childish and awkward. Today’s searches pertained more to the fact that he publicly apologized for the statement.

However, I couldn’t help but sense that there was more going on than just a man who makes a living driving in circles putting his lead foot in his mouth. Turns out there was a PROTEST!

Mothers in solidarity with a Michelle Hickman staged a “nurse-in” in over 100 Target stores across 35 states! Apparently Ms. Hickman was asked to leave and threatened with a citation if she didn’t stop breastfeeding in a Target store. Although Target issued an apology and a statement on how they would work to prevent events like it in the future, many women participated in an act of civil disobedience by publicly nursing their children at targets.



10 Best Anthropology Blogs!

December 28, 2011

I’d like to Apologize…

I’ve been lame in posting. For a while there I was going strong, but something else happened in my life that has been occupying my time…I started managing the No More Deaths website. Not the official one for Tucson, cause that’s waaaaay above my paygrade. But I built a new site specifically for the Phoenix No More Deaths chapter. You can take a look at it here:

I like it, and it’s definitely still a work in progress.

Check it out

Anyway! This came to my attention:

The Anthropology Report is trying to put together a top-ten list of the best anthropology blogs. And mine is on the list! I’m not sure how, but apparently people have seen it! So the plan is for everyone to vote on their top picks, and they’ll rank all of them. Hopefully mine will be on there, but there are like a hundred applicants.

Vote for me HERE

So in the spirit of academic cooperation, here are my Top 9 (cause mine is first, duh) in no particular order:


Blog of The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN), formerly known as the Council on Nutritional Anthropology (CNA), organized in 1974 in response to the increased interest in the interface between social sciences and human nutrition.


These pages are all about the murky crossroads of marketing, development, intellectual property and advocacy. Blog by Boris Popović: “I look for stories of unusual suspects, i.e. poor people, earning income with specialty products, heritage, traditional knowledge, ideas, uniqueness & similar. Stuff often referred to as intangibles…”

Cyber Anthropology

Anthropology of gaming, blogging, social networking, online communities and so much more! Diana Harrelson writes on cyber anthropology, human computer interaction, user experience design, gaming and various other topics.

Zero Anthropology

At its most basic level, ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY is about anthropology after empire, that is to say an anthropology that emerges from the decline of European and North American geopolitical hegemony, that crosses the zero line demarcating the point at which that hegemony nears complete collapse.

Fieldnotes & Footnotes

Bree Blakeman, PhD student of Anthropology in Australia. This site is primarily a documentation of the process of writing a dissertation–of the thoughts and musings one has along the way. It is a way to acknowledge and celebrate the social nature of knowledge production within the academy–and to make Indigenous issues and intercultural relations a part of public conversation.

AAA – American Anthropological Association Blog

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) has created this blog as a service to our members and the general public. It is a forum to discuss topics of debate in anthropology and a space for public commentary on association policies, publications and advocacy

American Ethnography Quasimonthly

American Ethnography is a stranger in a 1972 Riviera, sunburst yellow banged up and dirty, raving coffee madness cruising Main Street of the quiet desert town at 15 miles an hour…”

Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives

How can we use material traces of past lives to understand sex and gender in the past? Rosemary Joyce is a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley and an archeologist who has conducted fieldwork in Honduras since 1977, starting as an undergraduate. Original interests in settlement patterns and cultural identity in what has long been called the “frontier” of Mesoamerica led to household archaeology, theories of material symbolism, and eventually to questions about how gender, sex, and other intersecting dimensions of identity such as race, ethnicity, class, and age are materialized.

Society for Visual Anthropology

Blog for The Society for Visual Anthropology (SVA), a section of the American Anthropological Association. We promote the study of visual representation and media. Both research methods and teaching strategies fall within the scope of the society. SVA members are involved in all aspects of production, dissemination, and analysis of visual forms. Works in film, video, photography, and computer-based multimedia explore signification, perception, and communication-in-context, as well as a multitude of other anthropological and ethnographic themes.

A Culture Of Cruelty

October 4, 2011

The organization I work with, No More Deaths, has produced a study…

It’s called a Culture of Cruelty, and I’m going to do my best to summarize their findings! Should be interesting, and hopefully clears up some of the confusion I’ve heard going around about it.

First of all: here’s the link to the site that has the whole thing on it: A Culture of Cruelty.

I feel that the best introduction is the one provided by the researchers at the above site:

We have entitled our report “A Culture of Cruelty” because we believe our findings demonstrate that the abuse, neglect, and dehumanization of migrants is part of the institutional culture of the Border Patrol, reinforced by an absence of meaningful accountability mechanisms.

When people are caught crossing, they are entered into short-term custody, at the hands of Border Patrol (BP). Thousands of them are deported back through a number of towns, including Naco, Agua Prieta, and Nogales. It is in these towns that No More Deaths (NMD) has been positioning volunteers to collect information on these immigrants’ experiences, and specifically how they’ve been treated by BP.


1. Volunteers were trained in survey techniques and it was confirmed that they spoke Spanish fluently.

2. All people who answered the survey were told exactly what the information would be used for

3. All personal information was kept secret, even on-site.

4. All participants were given the option of filing a report with the CRCL.

Demographics and Statistics

4,130: total number of interviews

12,895: total number of individuals

9,562: number of men sampled

2,147: number of women sampled

533: teenagers (13-18)

268: children (0-12)

29.5: average age (youngest was a newborn, oldest was 74)

Part 1

Defined Areas of Concern

There was another report entitled “Crossing the Line” that was produced in 2008 that defined several areas of concern with the practices of BP. These have been modified to be more applicable and provide recommendations for fixing existing problems. Here they are, with a little bit of explanation…

Psychological Abuse

NMDs used federal law and the UN Convention Against Torture to set the definitions of psychological abuse:

An act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering…upon another person within his custody or physical control

Based on this definition, the following observed actions of BP agents are defined as psychological abuse:

1. Threatening detainees with death

2. Playing Migracorridos, or songs about dying in the desert (BP went as far as to produce its own album of migracorridos, a sign of systemic abuse)

3. Preventing sleep

4. Threatening to leave women alone with a group of strange men

5. Forcing detainees to hold painful positions

6. Refusing to moderate temperatures (often while transporting detainees, agents will respond to requests to increase temperatures during cold weather and decrease them during hot weather by doing the opposite)

The data shows that of the 379 interviewees who reported psychological abuse, the number of reports from each demographic were proportional to demographic population (ie men didn’t report more abuse than children, or vice-versa)

Failure to Provide and the Denial of Water/Food in the Field and Processing Centers

This is self-explanatory, and it seems ridiculous that BP agents would specifically deny water or food to people who’d just crossed a desert. It begs the question: how are these actions gaining legitimacy as a way to treat another human being?

Included in these sections are unsanitary distribution methods. Often, BP agents would through frozen food on the ground. This is both unsanitary, degrading, and because the food was often frozen, inedible.

69 percent of people who stayed for more than 2 days received only crackers.

Failure to Provide Medical Treatment or Access to Medical Professionals

Given the environment that these people are being picked up in, medical treatment is often vital. As it has been shown, people as old as 74 are coming across. Many of these people come with medicine for pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and high blood-pressure. It has been regularly documented that BP agents refuse to give these medicines back, throw them out, or are simply confiscated. here are some other examples:

1. Open wounds, broken bones, etc going untreated before repatriation

2. Cactus wounds (one case was of a man who got a cactus spine in his eye, and sat for days without treatment)

3. Lack of treatment of debilitating blisters

Of 433 cases where treatment was necessary, BP tended to 59 (14%) of them, leaving 86% untreated

Physical Abuse

10% of detainees reported some form of physical abuse. There is no worthy justification for this. Children were just as likely to experience physical abuse as adults. Sexual abuse was committed against detainees. One woman described having to strip down, at which point the guards laughed at her, and touched her breasts. This was done in front of both male and female guards. There is no excuse for this kind of behavior.

Other forms of abuse:

Dangerous transportation practices, in which agents drive dangerously fast

Separation of family members

Dangerous repatriation practices, in which women and children were returned to Mexico at night, when they’d be more vulnerable

Lateral Repatriation

Failure to return belongings

Due Process, where people are forced to sign documents in a language they don’t understand, not providing access to the consulate when requested.

Part 2

Border Patrol Policy

It is BP policy to funnel border crossings to the more dangerous parts of the southwest, in a technique called “Prevention Through Deterrence”. The typical belief is that the wall is to keep people out, however, BP has routinely acknowledged that a wall’s primary purpose is to move crossings away from urban environments, which by virtue of being in the Southwest, means into the remote, deadly parts of the Sonoran Desert.

Hold Rooms and Short-Term Custody Memorandum (June 2 2008)

This Memorandum was acquired through the Freedom of Information Act, and sets standards for when migrants should be given access to food, water, medical care, and what processing center conditions should be to ensure humane treatment. Also protected are property recovery and due process protection, and special consideration for juveniles.

The Proper Treatment of Detainees Memorandum (may 2nd 2008)

This policy requires that detainees not experience any form of verbal abuse, and instructs Border Patrol employees to treat these migrants in the way that they’d like to be treated were their positions switched. These two memoranda don’t provide any guidance on how to avoid physical abuse, separation of families, and safe transportation/repatriation practices.

Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Local Arrangement of Repatriation of Mexican Nationals

This is an agreement between the Mexican Consulate and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that mandates that Mexican nationals be repatriated in accordance with their human rights, that their families be preserved, and ‘special needs’ deportees be given different treatment, such as for unaccompanied minors or women, who must be repatriated during daylight hours. Also covered is the requirement that BP and ICE alert the Mexican government to people with medical issues. Horizontal repatriation is also forbidden, where people are deported to places unfamiliar to them, often far from where they were picked up, often to areas subject to travel advisories by the US government.

No Transparency is also an issue

There’s no oversight of the actions of BP, especially on a day-to-day basis. As the study states: No More Deaths and other organizations have attempted to engage the system by submitting good-faith reports of abuse to the office of  Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL). There has been no discernible result from more than 75 reports of abuse. A point made in the report is that the CRCL is a subset of DHS, and often the responsibility of evaluating the abuse report falls to the same organization implicated in the report itself.

Part 3


This section of the publication deals with the contextual issues contributing to abuse by BP. They make the point that with the implementation of NAFTA, which wreaked havoc with the job market in northern Mexico, and the use of Operation Hold The Line, Operation Streamline, and Operation Gatekeeper, together known as the “Southwest Border Strategy”, it shouldn’t be surprising that actions coming from within an organization that goes out of its way and spends millions of dollars to maximize the suffering of an entire group of people, would also have a built-in culture of cruelty.

The criminalization both federally and locally of immigrants is also cited as a contributor to the sentiments of BP. The economic factors, such as the private prison lobby, and all the other private interests represented in border militarization contribute to a social climate that allows the culture of abuse to flourish in BP ranks.

The lack of external oversight of the actions of BP is one of the most serious problems with the organization. This is discussed earlier, so I won’t go into it.

Part 4

The previous 3 sections have dealt with the problems of current policy in Border Patrol, but the publication doesn’t just stop at tearing down the system. The purpose of this section is to provide a set of solutions to the problems described earlier. I think the most interesting one is for oversight.

No More Deaths calls for the creation of a government funded group of people, consisting of a diverse range of professionals, including medical and childcare experts, completely removed from BP or DHS, that would be able to evaluate reports of abuse in a fair way.

There are a bunch of other recommendations, so you should read the report and decide for yourself!

Response To The Report

The report has gotten attention from Fox News, NPR, KTAR, CNN, AZ Rep, Houston Chronicle, and many others! Border Patrol has given official statements, and it should be obvious that they’re merely repeating the party line:

Escalante, the Border Patrol spokesman, said migrants in custody are provided snacks and juice every four hours, and detainees who are in Border Patrol custody longer than eight hours are provided meals.

This is clearly not true, as the evidence shows. However, it’s not all just repeating the official policies. Alan Bersin, commissioner of the Customs and Border Patrol, said:

Since 2004 in October, 127 CBP personnel have been arrested, charged or convicted of corruption. Of the 127 arrests, 95 are considered mission compromising acts of corruption. This means that the employee’s illegal activities were for personal gain and violated, or facilitated the violation of, the laws CBP personnel are charged with enforcing.

Considering there are about 40,000 people who work for BP, and the abuses are so widespread, the mere 95 people arrested is not representative of the level of abuse going on.

Even so, it’s a place to start.








What is an Ethical Company?

September 13, 2011

I’ve been experimenting…

And researching this concept of an ‘ethical company’. What is it? How do you know?

The issue is convoluted.

Is an ethical company one that sells a valuable product? Is it one that does its best to honor its investors? Hows about one that uses fair work practices? The top search for Google today has been Living Social, and the deal the company cut with Whole Foods, a company regularly cited as a moral company. Their deal offers a coupon that costs $10, that is worth $20 dollars at any Whole Foods store, and at the time of this post, they were sold out at a million deals.

I do feel like this Living Social site is clever 

It encourages local businesses to offer deals, contributing to a local economy. Businesses sign a contract agreeing to honor a certain number of coupons. Living Social sells these coupons in a “deal-of-the-day”, and anyone who wants buys them, and the two companies split the earnings from the purchases.

The idea is based on the assumption that the local businesses are either able to give a certain amount of merchandise away for free, or they’re willing to decrease their profit margins, all in exchange for bringing new faces into their establishment. In general, this is a pretty cool idea. Obviously they don’t exclusively work with independent local businesses (as seen with this Whole Foods thing) but as it is, it’s a good way to spur local economies and develop community.

Some problems…

In doing a little bit of research, it turns out that their contracts aren’t strictly negotiable. I was reading the post on the Homebrew Exchange about their experience with Living Social, and it turns out that they tried to stipulate that there would be a limit of one gift certificate per person, thereby limiting their projected losses. Living Social apparently included that customers could buy multiple deals, if they were being given as gifts, and apparently the site’s shopping cart function allows people to buy as many as they want. As a result, the business wound up having to cut profits significantly more than they anticipated. And apparently this isn’t an isolated event.

So is which is more important?

The energy injected into local markets by getting local residents out and about, or that Living Social does what’s best for their profits at the expense of local businesses?


In looking for ethical companies, probably the most well-known auditor is Ethisphere, a company that generates a list of companies that live up to its ethical standards. This is a wonderful idea, and on the surface seems like a great undertaking. After all, I was looking for companies to invest in, and the first place I started was by googling “ethical companies”.

The organization shows which companies make the list, but do not divulge the reasons for each company’s selection. I came across a blog that elaborates on the failings of the list, that actually calls the process a joke. Apparently 15 of the companies to make it on the list from 2009 were a part of the Business Ethics Leadership Alliance (BELA). Apparently Suzanne Hawkins was the executive director of BELA, and does freelance consulting for General Electric. This, of course biases the ranking GE receives (a three-time winner, BTW). To sum up the complaint: it looks like at least 15 companies are voting for themselves.

While this undercuts the legitimacy of the list, it’s not the most frustrating aspect of this organization.

The most irritating thing is that the companies aren’t actually ethical

That’s not completely true, but the fact that there are companies that make the list that are committing a multitude of ethically untenable actions ranging from humanitarian crimes to ecological disasters is ridiculous. Here are some companies to make the list:


Coke, a major producer of  a delicious soft-drink and corrosive battery-cleaner has been incriminated in anti-organized labor practices, ecological damage, and murder. It’s believed that they had paramilitary groups target union leaders in Guatemala and Colombia back in the 70s and the debate continues through 2004.

Also, they are criticized for depleting water supplies in regions that are already short on water in India, as well as having something like 30 times the European legal limit on pesticides IN THEIR PRODUCTS. In addition, they have been appropriating culturally important land in India.


Caterpillar, the heavy machinery company has been violating emissions standards, and was recently forced to pay a crap-ton in fines for not meeting standards. They also maintain contracts with the Israeli Defense Force, and their machinery is outfitted for and used in combat situations, where earthworks are required. They are also regularly used to bulldoze Palestinian homes, which according to the Israeli government, falls into the same category as other “counterterrorism” operations. Along the same lines, the company has been involved in the militarization of the US-Mexico border, and the Israeli-West Bank border.

Dow Chemical (Corning)

Apparently Dow Chemical made the list in 2010, in spite of being responsible for Agent Orange and the world’s largest industrial disaster, in Bhopal.

Others include:

yes, even Whole Foods (anti-union)

Google (privacy issues)

Sodexo (agribusiness and genetic monopolization)

 So what makes an ethical company?

It’s usually easy to pick out the unethical companies. They’re the ones who’ve caused death, environmental destruction, and inhumane working conditions. The hard part is finding a good company. I’ve found a couple that I feel are basically good, such as Gore, which often is voted one of the best companies to work for, due primarily to their horizontally structured management. Zappos is another one, although they’re owned by Amazon now. Something I’ve noticed is that it seems like the best companies are usually not publicly traded, which makes investing in them tricky.

good luck finding an ethical company

Miss Universe Pageant

September 12, 2011

My Thoughts

I was first tipped off to the fact that the Miss Universe pageant was happening when I was going through my google reader and found this brilliant article in the Native Appropriations blog. I’ve been following this blog for a little bit, and I quite enjoy how the author writes about the very serious subject of cultural appropriation, often with a humorous touch.

Apparently, the Canadian contestant for the Miss Universe pageant dressed up with a “native style” headdress for the national dress portion of the contest. I can’t honestly guess what the people were thinking when they decided it would be okay. Not only is the woman not native, the costume isn’t authentic. She claims it’s Haida, but apparently it’s not.

The dress is reminiscent of a northwest indigenous theme, but the headdress is taken loosely from the Plains styles. It’s another example of mainstream society’s habit of lumping all indigenous cultures into one big awkward stereotype. If they actually had any interest in making an “homage” to anyone, they’d have done the some research. Instead, they’ve successfully reinforced popular stereotypes.

It's vaguely Haida-ish

This is more traditional artwork. Note the similar styles


Combining Cultures

Just last night I was working, and these people came in, and I inquired as to how their day had been going. The woman with the group responded that she’d just gotten back from Sedona, AZ, from her daughter’s wedding. I idly asked if it had been a new-age ceremony (I feel that depending on the context, new age religions can be both interesting and respectful), and while she said no, she did mention that they’d had some native tradition in the wedding. Having lived in northern Arizona for a few years, I’m familiar with some of the tribes in the general area, and I was interested as to which group they had included. She explained that it wasn’t “any one group” but that it was general “indian heritage”.

I get frustrated when this happens. Similar to the issues with the pageant, I feel it’s disrespectful, and a sign of ignorance and laziness when someone lumps so many groups into one homogeneous glob. At least make the effort to try to understand the people you’re claiming to honor. Who knows, maybe if people actually did understand the meaning behind the ceremonies they want to have done for them, they would feel less inclined to do so. Almost as if it were ruining their romanticized view of cultures that are very real, and very much alive today.


September 12, 2011

It’s been 10 years.

Ethnography Series II: The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

September 10, 2011

Ruth Benedict, US Military, and the Japanese

And the bartender says “What is this? Some kind of joke?”

Actually, it’s the setup for a fascinating sub-genre of anthropological research. I will say first of all, this was a hard book to get through. In a lot of ways it’s a rigorous taxonomy of Japanese culture, and gets pretty intense. Benedict was first started her research in 1944, before the war had ended. It was first published in 1946, and has acquired a large reader base, both in the US, as well as in Japan.

I dig the cover

I chose this book for a couple reasons, namely my interest in anthropology’s role in the military. First exposed to this whole controversy at the Southwestern Anthropological Association conference of 2009 with Montgomery McFate, this seemed like an good place to start.

The Book

This book is chock-full of relevant information. Even the Acknowledgements section put me on the trail of some juicy gossip from the anthropological community of the time. Turns out Benedict thanks both George Taylor, the head of the Foreign Moral Analysis Division of Pacific Affairs, and Clyde Kluckhohn. Born in the same year, Kluckhohn died, and Taylor remarried Kluckhohn’s wife. I haven’t found anything relating to the social interactions of the related groups, but I would imagine there would have been somereally awkward cocktail parties.

After the acknowledgements comes the foreword, by Ezra Vogel that gives a little bit of a historical context for the book. There are 13 subsequent chapters, each laying the groundwork for a specific aspect of Japanese society. I say “laying the groundwork” in part because an ethnography is necessarily surface (as compared to the black-box ingrained perspective of a native), as well as the fact that each section builds up to the next.

For the sake of brevity

I’ll concentrate on the more piquant subjects. (That’s right, I just used the word ‘piquant’)

One of the main themes that runs through the book, and indeed inspired the title, was a sense of contradictions. The author defines the Japanese in a series of apparent opposites, saying:

When a serious observer is writing about peoples other than the Japanese and says they are unprecedentedly polite, he is not likely to add, ‘But also insolent and overbearing.’ When he says people of some nation are incomparably rigid in their behavior, he does not add, ‘But also they adapt themselves readily to extreme innovations.’ When he says a people are submissive, he does not explain too that they are not easily amenable to control from above…When he writes a book on a nation with a popular cult of aestheticism which gives high honor to actors and to artists and laviches art upon the cultivation of chrysanthemums, that book does not ordinarily have to be supplemented by another which is devoted to the cult of the sword and the top prestige of the warrior.

This theme is repeated in her description of her work researching Japanese culture, saying that it both requires generosity and tough-mindedness. By this she means the sense that the generosity of ‘brotherhood’, where the basic differences between different groups of people are minimal compared to the similarities. She feels that this position almost requires a view that all people are essentially a different “print from the same negative”, and that in some ways, that requires a cultural conformity not possible. At the same time, the hard-line tough-minded people achieve a similar result by declaring that people must conform to a specific view of culture, or a form of ethnocentrism. She argues that it’s best to walk the line between the two, which I think serves for her as justification for US involvement in the Pacific war. It’s almost a libertarian view that countries should stay out of each other’s business such that each is free to entertain the pastimes of its national identity, without infringing upon the freedoms of other countries.

An important point: it is clear that Benedict supports US involvement, and obviously, Anthropology’s service in the war effort.

She expresses the view that, while it is possible for the United States and Japan to live in peace, this peace must not be at the expense of submission.

Because the Japanese were such a foreign enemy, says Benedict, tactically, the US was bamboozled by their military tactics, a problem that could be rectified by cultural understanding.

Chapter 2: The Japanese in the War

This chapter serves to expand the cultural reasons for Japanese involvement with the Axis Powers, and contrasts them with the US justification. The author presents a very altruistic view of  US involvement, stating: “Whether the Axis had seized power in Manchukuo or in Ethiopia or in Poland, it proved that they had embarked on an evil course of oppressing weak peoples. They had sinned against an international code of ‘live and let live’ or at least of ‘open doors’ for free enterprise.”

This view of US involvement is interesting on a couple levels. It supplements the view that the reason for the United States to enter the war was a moral one with the notion that free enterprise is something culturally basic in the Occident. Benedict doesn’t specify what she means exactly by “free enterprise”.

This is contrasted with the Japanese view that everyone, including foreign nations, should “take their proper station”. She represents their view that sovereignty means disorder, and that it would be to the benefit of the world that they take a subservient position in relation to Japan.

In another contrast, Benedict explains the differences in priorities between the US and Japanese. The US were relying on machinery and physical force, the Japanese putting their faith in the Spirit. She illustrates this with an interesting quote, in which it describes an air force pilot who, during a mission was shot and killed, but managed to carry out the attack, flew back, and reported the victory. By sheer force of will, it was said, did this man manage to keep his body functioning, until the point at which the victory was reported, when he collapsed and fell, dead to the floor.

Benedict also discusses the Japanese sense of honor. Honor was such a big deal, according to her, that the Japanese were expected to fight to the death. This has been documented in cases of kamikaze pilots, and as a result, american soldiers were often less likely to take Japanese prisoners. When Japanese soldiers were captured, it was considered a terrible betrayal to their country. They were reluctant to have their names sent back to Japan.  Under these circumstances, they often performed a complete about-face, and sided with Americans, sometimes leading US raids on military targets.

On the other side of things,  The Japanese couldn’t understand American POWs. There was nothing more stinging than a laugh fromt the American prisoners. When Americans, even unknowingly, violated Japanese custom, the punishment was harsh. These customs weren’t just personal interactions. Because the Japanese were expected to fight to the death, they were completely unprepared for US submission in certain battles. When Americans gave up and asked for their names to be sent home, it was extremely confusing for the Japanese, who felt that the Americans had committed a betrayal to their homeland.


I’m not really sure how much the story about the fighter pilot zombie was meant to be believed in a literal sense. Often times in cultural research, the researcher ascribes a more fundamentalist understanding to the emic perspective than is actually warranted. In the book, I see this happen a couple times.

The Kamikaze issue is crazy. Apparently the claim that all kamikaze pilots were volunteers is disputed. It seems that debate continues as to what amount of coercion pilots faced when joining the suicide missions. This is supplemented by the fact that there were a number of Korean kamikaze pilots, meaning either outsiders from Japanese society had some sort of conversion, or they were coerced in some way.

Chapter 3: Taking One’s Proper Station

This chapter develops what was briefly discussed in the previous about the ideal global organization of powers, Japanese style. Firstly, the social prescript of equality. By discussing the basic American tenet of equality, Benedict explains that the Japanese are more inclined to believe in hierarchy. This is mirrored on an individual human level, as well as through international relations. Where America (in spite of the Hamiltons of the founding fathers) is anti-aristocratic, the Japanese are strictly aristocratic.

Linguistic Anthropology!

Benedict refers to the language of respect in Japanese vocabulary. She argues that the social hierarchy is reflected in instances where one would use the second person in varying degrees of formality. This is assisted in various framing features, like bowing or kneeling. These degrees apply to both economic or social hierarchy as well as family or interpersonal hierarchy. This is compared to English, which has significantly fewer of these rules of language.

This chapter proceeds to investigate in-depth the stratifications of Japanese society. Long story short, everyone answers to the emperor.

Chapter 5: Debtor to the Ages and the World

BTW not all chapters require a summary (’cause they’re boring)

This is an important chapter, and one of a few that deals with the issue of debt in Japanese culture. In the west, we tend to think of ourselves as “heirs of the ages”. The Japanese have a slightly different view. We tend to view our existence as without agency, in other words, our creation was not our responsibility, so our choices are our own. It is possible to say that we “owe nothing to any man”. The Japanese take a different approach: as debtors to the ages, they are owe those that came before them. This is interpreted in the West as ancestor worship, though it’s slightly more subtle.

Chapter 5 deals primarily with On, a confusing Japanese word for debt. According to the author, on is like a load, or weight that one carries in the form of social obligation. One receives on from a superior, and becomes uncomfortable when the person to whom they are in debt is of a lower social standing. They call this creditor their “on man” and carry a load of obligations. On refers to all that a son owes to his mother, as a result of  all that she has done in raising her child, and this on implies the single-minded loyalty a son has towards his parents.

On is expanded to apply to the emperor, and is referred to as ‘imperial on’. On always implies a hierarchy, and someone who is a benefactor. On a person’s social scope, there’s a form of imperial on directed to the pinnacle of the social hierarchy. At times it has applied to feudal lord, shogun, and now Emperor. Benedict goes on to argue that soldiers fighting in the army, had “limitless on” to the emperor, with every cigarette distributed to the troops in the name of the emperor, or glass of sake was a reminder of their debt to this person. When Kamikaze pilots ended their lives, or soldiers fought to the last man, they were said to be “discharging their limitless on” for the emperor.

How to Thank Someone in Japanese

As the author points out, there’s a crapton of different ways to express gratitude. All of them are weird, and confusing. The first is “kino doku”. This would be if someone offered you cigarettes, you might say “kino doku” which the author claims means “This poisonous feeling”. The idea, she claims, is to express how bad it makes you feel that someone would offer you something without reciprocity. It is sometimes translated as “I’m sorry” to express this sense of bad feelings.

The next word is “arigato” which is probably the most common expression for gratitude, used in department stores and other businesses. The author translates this as “oh, this difficult thing” and refers to the special nature of a customer’s patronage, and serves as a compliment.

“Sumimasen” is an expression for gratification that is similar to “kino doku” in that expresses how one feels as a result of patronage, or gift-giving. It comes with the implication that “this feeling never ends, and under current economic customs, I will never be able to repay you, I am sorry to be put in this position”. This word conveys a debtor’s awareness that an on has been received which can never be repaid due to situational barriers, such as having a complete stranger chase and return your hat on a windy day.

Thoughts and reflections

It seems like Benedict is taking liberties with the interpretation of gratitude expressions. To be fair, the meanings have probably changed in the last 65 years, but even so, the people talking about the etymologies of these words have expressed a slightly different interpretation.

One interesting misconception I ran into was that the word “arigato” was a borrowed word from Portuguese, transliterated from the word “abrigado”. Apparently that’s 100% false. The reasons are discussed here. Basically, as far as transliterations go, it’s not the way the word would have been adopted.

As expounded here, the word “arigato” actually uses the concept of difficulty differently than Benedict interprets. It more closely corresponds to the idea that an event is improbable, rare, and special, and therefore, conveys the gratitude of the person supposedly “receiving on”.

Chapter 6: Repaying One-Ten-Thousandth

This chapter continues to deal with honor and social debt. The next level of analysis in this way is the repayment of debt. This can be divided into several different categories. These are those debts which are limitless both in duration and in value. The other is the type of debt that comes due for specific quantities, on specific occasions. These are gimu and giri respectively. There is another level of social interaction, adopted by the Japanese from the Chinese, called jen.

Jen is a term best represented by the word “personal relations”. In Chinese the word “benevolence” also applies, and it implies a social relationship where a people have the right to rebel if a ruler doesn’t have this concept of jen. In Japanese the altruistic social aspects were not adopted along with the terminology.

The Japanese pronounce it “jin” but use the same character as the Chinese do. It primarily serves to describe the set of actions that fall into the category of something that was not required. It is commonly associated with outlaws, and it is considered “doing jingi” if you grant amnesty to a criminal. It also has to do with acts that are “outside the law”, or virtue amongst gangsters. It is said that during the swashbuckling Tokugawa period that one gangster would put up another as insurance-from then on there was a debt that could come in handy later.

There are many more interesting aspects to this book…

I think it’s interesting to see this book in light of a pro-america stance, and also to look at it from a modern perspective on Japan. Let me know if you’re interested in any more information!