Gokusen: The Japanese Morality Tale

Gokusen was a Japanese manga series(2000-2007) by Kozueko Morimoto that was later converted to a three season TV program(2002, 2004, 2008.)   Gokusen(“gangster teacher”) concerns the adventures of orphan, Kumiko Yamaguchi, who has been brought up by her gangster grandfather in the Oedo Clan.  She is in line to take over as the fourth head of the Clan, but chooses instead a life teaching estranged, would-be delinquent boys in all-male private high schools as a homeroom teacher.  Because of Kumiko’s training in the Oedo Clan, she has become an expert in all forms of martial arts and can defeat most opponents easily, even groups of opponents.  The role of Kumiko in the TV series was played by former Japanese model, Yukie Nakama.  Throughout the series, other Japanese models appear as well, usually as school colleagues.

3D at each school contains the worst students, future delinquents, kids with no apparent future, troublemakers in general.(The one exception is Sawada, Shirokin High School’s top student, who gives a stirring and insightful valedictory speech at graduation.)  Thus, Kumiko or Yankumi(her students name for her) has her hands full right from the start.  Her specialty is mathematics and the first day we see her writing equations on the blackboard that require complex numbers as solutions.  However, her mathematics skills are never appreciated by her students.  And this is important.  Formal education with a small e:  mathematics, languages, history, science, music, art, physical education, etc. is minimized throughout the series.  Indeed, excellent students are often shown to be arrogant, domineering, and even engaging in criminal activity just for sport.  The emphasis here will be on universal moral Education(education with a capital E) and that is where Kumiko demonstrates her strength.  The main reason for the particular emphasis is that formal education does not apply to everyone;  not everybody is skillful in the above-mentioned disciplines.  However, universal moral Education is just that:  It is universal, so it applies to everyone.  That is the point Yankumi will try to make with her troubled students.

Kumiko’s first step is to observe her students carefully to find out which one of them is the leader.  Then, she tries to gain that student’s confidence and support.  This is often a difficult task, but essential,  because that student will convey her principles to the group.  Her goal is to show that school is more than formal education, but that there are experiences that school provides that impact all their lives.  Above all, there are friendships that are made in school which will last a lifetime.  This principle is repeated emphatically whenever any student separates himself from his schoolmates.  Friendship means you are never alone and Yankumi emphasizes that there is nothing she wouldn’t do to save her precious students.  Her students begin to see through her actions that she means what she says and often fights off opponents to help them and is unwavering in her support of them at school.  She teaches her students about other experiences that can be shared by them regardless of society’s condescension.  Fighting is meaningless, she says, unless it is to defend another person or is carried out to achieve a noble goal.  When Kumai, the worst student in his class, fights to protect a girl, he is rewarded by gaining a girlfriend and eventual wife.  Later, other students from Akadou Academy share Kumai’s profound feelings for the awesome birth of his daughter.  Students learn to appreciate the great sacrifices their parents have made and not to take their parents for granted.  The parents, though, are sometimes overindulgent, or sometimes overly strict and unwilling to listen to their children.  In each case, the student learns to appreciate a moral lesson from life.  And, Kumiko reminds her students that they have a choice to make something of their lives and that there are beautiful human experiences which can be shared by all.

The Watermelon Game: “Confession” The Japanese Way

In many Japanese pre-schools, children play an outdoors game called the watermelon game.  A small table with a watermelon is set up on the grass.   Each child  is then blindfolded and spun around.  Sound familiar?  The child is given a long stick or pole to strike the watermelon.  If the child is in danger of striking another child, s/he is pointed in the proper direction and given encouragement by the other children.  If the child is able to split the watermelon, well and good.  However, if the child misses, a “confession”  is in order.  The child must state which member of the opposite sex s/he has a special liking for.  Needless to say, the children try to split the watermelon with all their might.  The game prepares them for “confession”  at a later and more meaningful stage.  The Japanese custom of “confession” follows them through adulthood, when “confessing” one’s secret love for a member of the opposite sex can have serious repercussions, such as marriage.  To “confess” is taken seriously by both sexes as a way of expressing what is truly in one’s heart.

A Flowering Of Peaches And Motherhood: Bride In Her Unlucky Year(32)

Ryoko Shinohara as Akiko.

In the Japanese 12 part series Bride in her Unlucky Year(Hanayome wa Yakudoshi), peaches play a major role in determining characters’ futures.  Akiko, a former news announcer, is in her 32nd year; her unlucky year.  First, she loses her job to a younger girl, whose only advantage is her beauty.  Then, she is given an ultimatum:  to pose as a fake bride in the country for a television program or work in a warehouse.  After phoning a number of ex-boyfriends, who might suit her purpose, and not finding any takers, she comes across Ichirou Azuchi, whose family owns a peach orchard, although Ichirou himself owns a lingerie store in Tokyo.  The series features the common Japanese themes of city versus country and  modern sophistication versus traditional values.  Akiko decides to go to the Azuchi home to apply for a three-month bridal training program.  Her first confrontation is with her mother-in-law to be, the commanding matriarch of the Azuchi clan.  But all Azuchi sees is a lady in simple dress selling peaches at a stand.  She tastes one of the peaches and finds it delicious.  Thus begins her slow accommodation into the Azuchi household.    As Akiko sees the love her domineering “Mother”  has for each individual peach, she begins to realize that despite an austere exterior, “Mother” has a kind heart.  When Akiko helps out in the orchard, she learns to value each person’s unique contribution.  But most of all, she feels the need to heal the breach that has separated mother and son for twelve years, largely due to a misunderstanding.  When Ichirou yells at his mother:  “You can only love peaches, you can’t love people!”, he fails to realize that to her they are one and the same.  Each of her three children were given their own peach tree at birth, and Ichirou’s mother takes special care of each of them.  So, Akiko’s bridal training course involves the taking care of peaches, which are to be nurtured and saved at all cost.  Although, she is unmasked as a fake bride, while using the family for a show, her concern for all family members; her braving a typhoon to help “Mother” save the peaches, and, especially, her healing of the rift between Momoko and her son Teechan, earn her a permanent place on the Azuchi farm. And Ichirou is now a much more mature husband.  Such is the power of peaches and motherhood.