Autoethnography

Reading {J}ournal—contextual essay

View the Digital Artefact here: https://miasreadingjournal.wordpress.com/

Previous blog posts: (1) (2)

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Contextual essay

In the “Modern Life and Other Nonsense” section of the Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories (2018), Jay Rubin has curated a wonderful, though small, collection of what is labelled in Japan’s literary theory as “popular literature” (Shaw 1935, p. 292). Marking the fourth turning points in the country’s literary timeline—the nineteenth century (Sanderson & Kato 1939, p. 211), these stories offer a refreshed view of the rich and diverse literary landscape of Japan.

(more…)

Luk Thung and the Sound of Siam – Digital Artefact

My digital artefact can be viewed here: https://soundcloud.com/appltones/luk-thung-and-the-sound-of-siam-digital-artefact

Contextual statement – task 3

Given the heart of this project being around the meaning and feeling of traditional Thai music and how I react and relate to it, it seemed only necessary to undertake an auto-ethnographic study in the form of a podcast.

Auto-ethnographic methodology

“When researchers write autoethnographies, they seek to produce aesthetic and evocative thick descriptions of personal and interpersonal experience.” (Ellis et al, 2011)

For the sake of authentic auto-ethnographic research, it was deemed fitting that reactions to the music, or at least some of the reactions, had to be fresh or live.

To achieve this, two things were ensured:

  • The podcast was done in one take
    • Although this was difficult and took planning to ensure timing and structure was well established prior to recording, it was an essential way to keep the methodology authentic, “aesthetic and evocative”.
    • Songs were chosen at random from the record to be listened to during the podcast
    • Another effort to ensure the listener was able to grasp how I, the auto-ethnographer was reacting to the music.

Epiphanies

“When researchers do autoethnography, they retrospectively and selectively write about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or by possessing a particular cultural identity.” (Ellis et al, 2011)

Epiphanies are what make auto-ethnographic research so valuable. This experience was highly intriguing due to the observation that before beginning the podcast, only one epiphany had been thought of for discussion, however as the recording took place and the previously unheard songs were heard, more came to mind. This can be attributed to the personal and concurrent style of auto-ethnography, where the research relies on the ongoing reaction and feedback of the reader.

A perfect example of an auto-ethnographic epiphany is best seen in the reflection towards the end of the podcast where it’s discussed how it seems these songs have strong psychedelic influences, and it’s questioned whether this can be put down to the past drug culture of South-East Asia, or its simply the listener’s interpretation.

Personal touches

Auto-ethnographers “must use personal experience to illustrate facets of cultural experience, and, in so doing, make characteristics of a culture familiar for insiders and outsiders.” (Ellis et al, 2011)

Although this podcast was planned to be in a live, or fresh setting, it was always intended to keep in touch with a personal connection. While it often contains commentary on music features, much of the reflection is based on my own persona as a passionate music fan. Heavily reflected also are the links I find between my own common listenings, and the unheard, fresh sounds of Luk Thung, an important part of keeping in touch with personal, auto-ethnographic research and presentation.

References

Ellis, C., Adams, T. and Bochner, A. (2011). Autoethnography: An Overview. [online] Volume 12, No. 1(10). Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095 [Accessed 22 Oct. 2018].

A Crack at Cosplay: Contextual Essay

DA: https://claudialouisemuller.com/2018/10/26/a-crack-at-cosplay-autoethnography-and-digital-asia/ 

Contextual Essay 

Over the course of my time studying Media and Communications, it has been made abundantly clear to me that the power of autoethnographic research is unmatched, and will always result in otherwise unattainable insights. As a methodology, it accesses a range of data that one would not consider in formal methods for the risk that it might bias their results. Ethnography flips this ideology and says yes, your cultural framework will always alter the way you react to a topic, or at the very least shape the way you interpret it.

I think one of my past blog posts summarises this reflexiveness in a way I couldn’t put any better; “I quickly realised that by immersing myself into the experience I felt vulnerable and certainly out of my comfort zone. Whether that be the idea itself as a daunting action, concealing your own identity as another’s for costume play, or whether it be the unfamiliarity with the field site itself, I was acutely aware that I was letting my feelings, thoughts, and vulnerabilities influence the way the project was migrating (Ellis et al. 2011, 14.1.3)

I found myself incredibly inquisitive about this area of research, and as a result, ended up picking up my old past time of sewing in my spare time. I thought this may have something to do with Ellis’s notion that autoethnography and writing “personal stories can be therapeutic for authors as we write to make sense of ourselves and our experiences” (Kiesinger, 2002; Poulos, 2008), highlighting the empowering nature of research that allows you to fully submerge yourself into. A project like this giving “…people a voice that, before writing, they may not have felt they had” (Boylorn, 2006; Jago, 2002). Interacting with cosplay and participating myself allowed me to be much more involved in the area, and in some ways relate to the area of study that I could not by simply reading papers on.

While I did go into the project with an open mind, I found my own understanding of what cosplay is was challenged and morphed as I tried to be reflexive in my process. I discovered that is in fact much broader than previously thought, and I guess that was a poor and incorrect assumption I had gathered in my previous state, and know now that cosplay encompasses a large demographic of people, with different interest and craft levels, who cosplay characters from a mass range of sources and cultures. In reflection, this perhaps would be a good topic to look at transculturally, as it is a much bigger global phenomenon than I had realised – a result of my upbringing with no friends who were ‘into’ cosplay; “Autoethnographers also recognize how what we understand and refer to as “truth” changes as the genre of writing or representing experience changes.(Ellis et al. 2011, 14.2.25)

I do believe the scope of this project could have been a lot wider, with so many avenues to find yourself down. I often found myself discovering new elements of my field site that I wanted to expand on, and felt limited with the project constraints. Developments for further research would include the flow of the practice globally, partly missed because of my own self-involvement in the project. This perhaps is a limitation of autoethnography, in hindsight, whereby self-obsession on involvement in the project maybe narrows our scope down too much, focusing on hidden insights rather than bigger picture issues that other methodologies uncover.

 

Contextual Essay References

Boylorn, Robin M. (2006). E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one). Qualitative Inquiry, 12(4), 651-680.

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 14.1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

Jago, Barbara J. (2002). Chronicling an academic depression. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 31(6), 729-757.

Kiesinger, Christine E. (2002). My father’s shoes: The therapeutic value of narrative reframing. In Arthur P. Bochner & Carolyn Ellis (Eds.), Ethnographically speaking: Autoethnography, literature, and aesthetics (pp.95-114). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.

Poulos, Christopher N. (2008). Accidental ethnography: An inquiry into family secrecy. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Grand Finale Anime Food Project

insight

After a month of anime exploration, Japanese history lessons, kitchen decimation, and editing mishaps the illustrious Anime Food project has finally come to a close. This project which came about from my desire to learn more about Japanese food and pop culture was riddled with failures and minor successes. None the less the research project still resulted in what Ellis et al.(2011) would hopefully describe as an ‘aesthetic and evocative thick description’ of my own personal experience with the field site – or at least my attempt at doing so.

The process of conducting this project far outweighed my original expectations, as the time and effort needed to holistically research and interact with my field site quickly overcome what I had originally planned. After days of researching and watching anime, I then needed to conduct further research into the specific Japanese dishes and how they would realistically

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A Crack at Cosplay: Autoethnography and Digital Asia

https://claudialouisemuller.com/2018/10/26/a-crack-at-cosplay-autoethnography-and-digital-asia/

Hey hey there, if you have somehow stumbled upon this blog post and are wondering how to find your way back, please, do sit for a minute and I will walk you through something you might be interested in. You see, for one of my third-year classes – Digital Asia BCM320 – I was tasked with exploring a segment or part of a culture that I had little to no history with and use the experience to shape an account online detailing the process. Sounds odd, but trust me, you’ll want to read on.

There were several topics that interested me, including aspects of Asian culture such as anime, traditional cuisine, meditation, the JDM car scene, JRPGs, and Chinese floristry. None, however, that interested me nor fit this task as well as cosplaying did. And so, here we are. In a previous blog post I detailed the reasoning behind my interest in the area; “I have always been aware of its existence and acknowledged its seemingly large following purely from interactions online, but with friends recently getting into it and my club having several interactions with the Universities’ Cosplay society, my interest has been peaked.”

What resulted was an in-depth study into cosplay through primary and secondary research, both looking into its origins and identification and attempting to form an understanding through participating in the activity itself. Detailed in my second blog post, I quickly realised the uneasiness I felt heading into this project – sure, I wanted to have an authentic go at my field site and wanted to detail the experience through @cosplaystudies – but I was quite nervous about the whole scenario; “As I went on to have my first swing at cosplay, or whatever it was that I deemed a variation of it, I began to realise that the research project was as much about myself as it was about the topic; “..autoethnographies offer a diverse body of works, with many often producing essentially autobiographical accounts of the self as both researcher and the researched” (Kien, G. 2007).”

Armed with determination, the Internet, and the benefit of employee discounts on clothing, I set out to collect primary data to collate on @cosplaystudies and bring it together with more formal understanding right here on my blog.

Previous to this study, I had little to no interaction with cosplaying whatsoever. My very narrow view of the area was limited to a far-off activity that was popular in Korea(?), and some distorted view of a very white-washed and watered down Marvel costume convention that was an iteration of the practice. I’m sure you can see why it intrigued me so much. I was moved to combine the field site with my fondness for Studio Ghibli, as a quick search of popular Cosplays revealed several familiar characters from the anime studio.

Cosplay was originally coined in Japan, first appearing across magazine pages in the 80’s; whereby the practice spread globally, taking foot most firmly in North America. A global craft nowadays, there is a strong subculture in Japan for cosplaying, which I discovered has unique in the sense that there is a stronger focus on aesthetics rather than authenticity (Lee, C. 2015); “The origin of cosplay was in those really old sci-fi conventions or renaissance fairs, where people started making their own costumes,” “Asian cosplay has been a lot about face value, makeup and looking good, looking pretty. But western by comparison has always been an emphasis on creating costumes, elaborate props, creating gimmicks and innovation in what you wear.”

Creators like Anya Panda, HerszloCast, and this special from the Try Guys (this, in particular, came across as a trusted source which is a component of the makeup for my cultural framework of understanding), gave me the starting point I needed and encouraged me to cosplay. This video in particular from Anya Panda was a fantastic starting point, and a warm welcome of encouragement to start somewhere.

My first attempt for Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle was somewhat poor in terms of authenticity upon reflection, however, I was so intimidated by the whole notion of going out to take photos in character that I felt this was a good starting point. Being in front of the camera and the whole process of coordinating my roommate to come out and take photos was very daunting, and I have an enormous amount of respect for those cosplayers friends and family who are behind the camera for them whenever they need. This was a valuable insight into a part of cosplay that I had previously never considered before.

My second attempt was much more driven and had a purpose beyond the project, whereby I had a cosplay-themed event to attend. The event saw many people cosplay western superheroes from the Marvel and DC universe, and very few anime/manga costumes. There were three as far as I could tell; myself, as Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service, a friend as No-Face from Spirited Away (!) and a friend who arrived as Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender (arguably, an Americ-anime). Even though the majority didn’t recognise me and No-Face (not for authenticity, but for lack of knowing the films themselves), it was the most heartwarming thing when people who did recognise us, fanned over our choice of cosplay. The feeling was quite indescribable, and many of them said they had wished they would have thought of doing something similar.

In many ways I could relate to Adam Savage’s Love Letter to Cosplay, in the sense that it truly is an extension of the characters themselves, and I fawned over the potential of a metanarrative and alternate universe where maybe, No-Face and Kiki might be friends, as we joked around and got into character; “...We are all of us on that floor injecting into a narrative that meant something to us, and we are making it our own.” I can definitely see how there would be a grand sense of community, particularly at conventions and online. There is, however, quite a bit of tension amongst the cosplaying community that I became rapidly aware of in my research.

Youtuber Akidearest summarises this unrest that is rampant throughout the cosplaying community, begging for the community to reign in their criticism and encouraging them to not be so hypocritical by welcoming so many to the world of cosplay, only to shame them for poor efforts or drag them down in envy. I also stumbled across several unpopular opinions on Reddit showcasing this attitude; where users criticised the practice for moving down a more accepting route of those at all levels and condemns those who have strayed from traditional cosplaying forms;

 

I hate cosplay “culture” from r/unpopularopinion

 

“Wearing a costume allows a person to tap into confidence they didn’t know they had” Mindy Weisberger from LiveScience states, studying the psychology behind cosplay and the ability for it to be empowering – an idea also raised by HuffPost. I can completely see post-project how it does, in fact, empower and is a fun and creative outlet for both young and old, that in my own opinion, is a safe and prosperous past time. There are dozens of resources that reiterate the enabling power of cosplaying and is a direction I would have liked to take this project further if given the chance.

This project was the very tip of the iceberg I believe, and I can see myself more invested in the idea more so now than ever. It became clear to me the true value of an autoethnographic approach to researching a topic like this, in the sense that I have experienced emotions similar to those in practice that I never would have been able to purely from secondary sources. I can see how the practice of cosplay has become a global phenomenon, not bound to a singular culture but a subculture in itself. My lack of knowledge in the area let me try it out with an open mind, not without first breaking down some – very nervous – barriers. This layered account (Ellis et al, 2011), as I said in my earlier post, allowed me to utilise my own cultural framework to gain a better understanding of other cultures around me, and in turn, was a reflexive and malleable research project that melded to time constraints, personal limitations, and new directions as I saw fit.

 

References

Webt-who? A Study on South Korea’s WebToons

Our DA studies a new format of comic books that are digital and vertically-composed. Originating in South Korea, WebToon as a platform has expanded into a global cult favourite amongst illustrators and audiences and has changed the way we enjoy comics forever.

Conducted by Claudia Muller (5397212), Mona Fakhry (5476938 , Misha Goldrick (5139284), Matilda Jesiolowski (5632572), and Ray Duy Hải Nguyễn (5508551), we collected our data across our twitter accounts (which you can find on this twitter list), and assembled our findings into our very own, self-created Webtoon which you can find here:  https://www.webtoons.com/challenge/dashboardEpisode?titleNo=232872 (best read on a mobile device for true WebToon experience!

Asia One, 2016, ‘It’s time for webtoons to go global in 2016′,
[online] http://www.asiaone.com/showbiz/its-time-webtoons-go-global-2016

Dispatch & SBS 2018, ‘Top 5 Webtoons That Were Made Into Movies’, 18 May, viewed 6 October 2018, <https://www.koreaboo.com/lists/top-5-webtoons-made-movies/&gt;

Jenkin, H. 2007, ‘Transmedia Storytelling 101’, [online] http://henryjenkins.org/blog/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html

Kim, M 2015, ‘ ‘Webtoons’ become S Korea’s latest cultural phenomenon’, Al Jazeera, 1 July, accessed 7 October 2018, <https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2015/06/korea-latest-cultural-phenomenon-150630055 6 53457.html>

Lehar, J 2017, ‘Webtoons – a daily treat in South Korea’, Tuned in Asia, 21 July, accessed 8 October 2018, <https://tunedinasia.com/2017/07/21/webtoons-daily-treat-south-korea/&gt;

Republic of Korea, 9 July 2010, Korean wave, hallyu in Singapore, CC BY-SA 2.0
Jung, H 2015, ‘South Korea ‘webtoon’ craze making global waves’, Business Insider, 24 November, accessed 7 October 2018, <https://www.businessinsider.com/afp-south-korea-webtoon-craze-making-global-waves-2015-11/?r = AU&IR=T>

Rich, J 2017, ‘America’s New Cultural Invasion Is Manhwa, Korean Webcomics’, 18 November, viewed 5 October 2018, <https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/11/18/america-cultural-invasion-manhwa/&gt;.

Sohn, J 2014, ‘Korean webtoons going global’, Korean Herald, 25 May, accessed 7 October 2018, <http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20140525000452&gt;

Won, H.L 2017, ‘Why South Korean Filmmakers Are Adapting Local Webtoons Into Movies and TV Shows’ , Hollywood reporter, [online] https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/why-south-korean-filmmakers-are-adapting-local-webtoons- movies-tv-s hows-1054466

Individual responses to the burning of various incenses

Tamara’s personal experience:

  •      During the incense burning, I felt an openness of the mind and a sense of connection with my surroundings at the time
  •      I found that the different scents gave me different thoughts, perspectives and reactions
  •      The more natural and perhaps subtle smells definitely gave me a sense of peace and tranquillity while the more harsh smells did not give me that same sense of connection with my surroundings and nature
  •      Different scents made me tune in to my surroundings more and take note of things such as birds and other sounds
  •      Overall, I can understand why incense has such a strong history in religion and social contexts as I too felt a sense of connection and peace that is often associated with religion and notions of a higher order

 

Ruth’s personal experience 

When we lit the first incense stick it was quite a nice scent, it was the pure agarwood. Personally, I’m not much of a ‘scent’ focused person. I don’t really use many candles and have only seen incense in those spiritual shops or in certain restaurants. I did like it; I felt it was very relaxing. The second stick (sandalwood) was quite similar, It smelt natural. The third, which was chakras, I didn’t find it as nice as the others. It smelt a little soapy and unnatural and much stronger than the other ones. We were unsure if it was a traditional scent from India and we have this certain idea of what they should smell like or if it might have been an adapted one for less traditional consumers. For the last stick of incense, we were completely silent. This made the experience very calming as we were also outside on the grass and in the sun. It was very pleasant. Although it was nice, I probably wouldn’t do it often or every day like some people do however it is understandable of how there are spiritual and mental to the act. 

 

Sophie’s personal experience 

I’ve used incense before, for the most obvious reason – fragrancing an area or space. But I hadn’t ever experienced a feeling of calm. Most of the time, I put incense on and leave the room. However, burning incense in the outdoors made me more aware of my surroundings and immediately, I felt at ease. Proving my research to be correct. The differing scents had unparalleled effects. Some were so strong that my head would ache, whilst others were the opposite. Despite being a shared experience, it was unique to the individual in terms of one’s reaction and overall opinion.

 

Kate’s personal experience 

I was expecting the incense to set off my hayfever, it is often set off by strong scents such as perfume. Thankfully this didn’t happen. I liked the scents and they made me feel relaxed. I can’t confess any sort of spiritual experience but I did feel relaxed. It was nice to sit and listen to the sounds of nature. Curiously I was left feeling light-headed something that lasted for a while.

 

Eliza’s personal experience 

I bought an array of incense types for the practical task of burning the incense, some traditional such as agarwood, sandalwood and frankincense, and others based on the attractive scent or type of packaging I feel had been customised for westernised societies. The first stick we burnt was the pure agarwood, it was potent in its intensity but I enjoyed the scent and it gave me a nostalgic feeling of the holidays I took as a kid to a beautiful Buddhist retreat on the north coast. It could have been the memories or the familiarity with burning incense but it was an overall pleasurable experience burning this incense. I felt pretty well calm the whole way through burning the rest of the incense as it’s something I personally burn in my room all the time, it also reminds me of home because my mum always used incense.. whether it be while she meditated, general relaxation while cooking dinner and listening to folk, or just to make the house smell oh so good. One of the packets labelled ‘7 chakras’ claimed to help make zodiac predictions come true.. I found this a commercialised form of incense, a tactic to get people to buy it, and the smell of the packet alone was similar to a recently cleaned bathroom. I found by the end of the experience, which I think is noticeable in my body language seen in the video, I was calm and relaxed. The day had been non-stop up until that point and it allowed me some time to zone into my surroundings and be present in the moment.

Cooking with Blake, Tanae & Cassie

Welcome to our group digital artefact!

We all can’t deny that we all love the good spontaneous take-away Chinese meal to save ourselves from doing our own cooking. There are always a huge variety of things to choose from, it’s cost-friendly, it’s an extremely easy process (either you pick it up or pay that little extra for delivery) & it’s seriously tasty.

Chinese cuisine has been around in Australia basically since the 1850s and we can thank Chinese immigrants within the Gold Rush era for that.

In the first half of the 20th century the Chinese restaurant was one of the most visible symbols of cultural diversity in Sydney” – B. Nichol, National Library of Australia Presentation.

300px-Immigrants_arriving_in_Melbourne_Chinatown

The overwhelming majority of Australia’s original Chinese community came from Kwangtung Province (located in Southern China) with its distinctive Cantonese cooking style based on fresh fruit/vegetables, fish, poultry and pork. Rice was also grown in large amounts and was served as a nutritious base for a variety of food combinations, with herbs and spices.

Majority of this was happening in Melbourne (presumably because this is where the Gold Rush took place) and it had great substantial growth.

  • 1930’s: 18 Chinese cook-shops/restaurants listed in trade directories
  • 1970’s: 150 Chinese restaurants operating in the city and suburbs of Melbourne
melbourne china town

China Town in Melbourne

Cantonese food that was available in these restaurants was extremely approachable due to the emphasis on freshness of produce and its large palette.

The dishes were a variation on the theme – now sometimes referred to as ‘chop suey cuisine’. Thus fried rice, sweet & sour pork, lemon chicken, and chow mein (without any mein ((noodles)), became the signature dishes of ancient and refined cuisine” – Annette Shun Wah, Sydney Morning Herald.

Chef Neil Perry feels as though we as a country are eating more and more authentic and regional Chinese food. This is due to the Australian citizens becoming more adventurous when it came to the cuisine. Due to this Chef’s have started to slightly change the recipes on some of our favourite recipes and dishes to give them new flavour and to make them healthier.

Thus being the reason why we decided to experience some of this traditional Chinese (Australian) cuisine in all of its glory. By actually COOKING IT. Yes, that’s right. We actually went and bought the ingredients, followed a recipe and successfully cooked a meal.

authentic traditional chinese food

The three of us came together due to our love for Chinese cuisine and inability to cook it. So we all agreed we needed to try something new and we got our chef on after researching about the history of the food here in Australia.

We chose to cook a simple, yet traditional and highly popular *Lemon Chicken*. Our reasoning for this was because we wanted to cook something that would be a recognisable dish to everyone, we all were familiar with it and enjoy eating it cooked by a restaurant, and neither of us had never cooked a traditional Chinese dish before which was our main point of this as we wanted to try something new and push ourselves a little bit.

We found a recipe online and we gathered the ingredients required. The three of us documented ourselves turning Tanae’s kitchen completely upside down cooking to produce what you’d probably call a ‘short cooking segment’ that you’ll find on youtube.

We didn’t want to create a cooking tutorial, we just wanted to document our experience on cooking the dish for the first time. So rather than teaching people how to cook the dish through our actions we show you how we taught ourselves with only ONE TAKE!!!

Obviously the footage was edited to shorten it because cooking the dish actually took a lot longer than expected. I promise though you’ll still get to see the good parts.

We all felt as though this was a really eye opening experience even though its something so simple. We really enjoyed the process of bringing our dish together and doing something out of our ordinary. Would we do it again? Yes, highly likely, although we would probably try something new next time and something maybe a little less time consuming. Either that or we will have much better time management in the future.

PTR-Lemon-Chicken-Chinese-Style-close-up-

Give it a watch and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Group Members:
Blake Sykes
Cassandra Bradley
Tanae Armstrong

 

References:

Maxabella, B 2018, ‘A (brief) history of Australian food,’ SBS, 21 June, https://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2018/06/21/brief-history-australian-food

Nichol, B (insert date here), ‘Sweet and sour history: Melbourne’s early Chinese restaurants,’ National Archives of Australia, http://www.multiculturalaustralia.edu.au/doc/Nichol_MelbChinRest.pdf

Savill, J 2013, ‘Canto Cool,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 September, https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/canto-cool-20130923-2u91r.html

Shun Wah, A & Aitken, G 1999, Banquet: ten courses to harmony, Doubleday, Sydney.

 

 

 

South Korea’s Illegal Tattoos – A Look Into the History & Culture

Getting a tattoo is illegal in South Korea.

Well… Not quite. It’s not illegal to have a tattoo in South Korea and it’s not technically illegal to get one in Korea, but “under criminal and medical law, only licensed doctors can perform tattooing on their ‘patients.‘” There probably isn’t a single person on Earth who would go through medical school to become a tattoo artist. Despite this illegality, Korea has a thriving underground tattoo artist scene.

Many tattoo artists promote themselves on social media. Many more tattoo artist accounts have conspicuously been deleted or are private (img src: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7)

But there’s also a lot of stigma surrounding tattoos in Korea. Vice magazine published an article (our first encounter with Korean tattoo culture) interviewing several female tattoo artists about some of the difficulties they’ve faced:

vice1

How do people react when they see your tattoos?

“People typically avoid me when they see me on the street. Some people are fascinated by my look, but most feel uncomfortable and scared.”

How has having tattoos affected your day-to-day life?

“[…] My parents are also very devout Christians and their church has stopped me from coming to services because they feel like I’m sort of “satanic” being with my tattoos.”

 

 

Considering the nation’s rise as a cultural powerhouse (through K-Pop and K-Drama) and how trendy it’s pop culture scenes are, we were shocked that something like tattoos would be illegal and so heavily frowned upon.

So the two of us decided to do some research into South Korea’s tattoo culture. After looking into the history of tattoos in Korea and the perspectives of some Korean natives, we realised that the treatment of tattoos isn’t too different from experiences in our own lives – it’s just more intense in Korea.

We’ve collected highlights from our discussion & perspectives in this podcast:

 


History – Criminal Stigma

In South Korea tattoos are traditionally associated with criminals and gangs – and there’s a history behind this.

Sometime during Korea’s Goryeo era (918 A.D. – 1392 A.D.) the practice of tattooing criminals with their crime’s was adopted from Japan. This continued into the Joseon era (1392 A.D. – 1910 A.D.) before falling out of practice (Park, 2016). In South Korea tattoos still carry this criminalized stigma. Some people feel uncomfortable around tattoos, people with tattoos (or visible tattoos) are not allowed in most Korean bathhouses, and they can impact your chances of employment.

In our experience as Australians, we’ve noticed that this same stigma can be found (although it’s much less common). There are plenty of people who will be uncomfortable around or avoid people with particular types of tattoos, due to concerns about criminal connections. Neither of us really carry this perception, but we’ve definitely heard it expressed.


Ideology – It Disrespects Your Parents

What most surprised us about Korean views on tattoos, (as expressed in the recorded interviews below) was the idea that tattoos are damaging the pure body that was gifted to you by your parents.

In our experiences as Australians, individuality and independence from one’s parents is encouraged. The idea of not getting a tattoo because you owed your entire body to your parents seemed almost absurd.

vice2

How does your family feel about your tattoos?

“My parents are both preachers and they believe that your body should be a temple of God. Needless to say, they were shocked.”

What is it like being female with tattoos in Korea?

“There’s an expectation for girls to be modest and demure, but I think it’s such a double standard.”

vice3

 

 

 

 

 

How does your family feel about your tattoos?

“My dad still doesn’t know that I have tattoos. I only visit home during the winters or when it’s raining so I can wear a sweater or jacket and cover up. I wear a lot of long dresses too.”

Do you think the perception towards tattoos in Korea is changing?

“Tattoo culture is like fashion; it’s always changing, and changing quite rapidly. I just hope it changes for the better.”

 

 

But such devotion to one’s parents is deeply embedded within Korean culture, via the ideologies of Confucianism.

“Today, Confucianism is not a formal religious institution in Korea but rather a code of latent ethics and values that has profoundly influenced the society for nearly two millennia.” – Park & Cho, 1995, p.118

Confucianism promotes a strong hierarchical relationship structure in society – including the relationship between parents and children, also known as filial piety. This concept of filial piety (or hyo in Korean) encourages the reverence of one’s family and ancestors.

“Parents are revered because they are the source of your life. They have sacrificed much for you. One should do well and make the family name known and respected: bring honor to your family” (src)

So while this idea of getting tattoos as being incredibly disrespectful to your parents and family is still pretty foreign to us, we’re now able to understand that thought process. It would make a lot of sense to a society that’s been influenced by such an ideology for two thousand years – the criminal stigma surrounding tattoos probably exacerbate this perception of disrespect.


Conclusion & a Disclaimer

It’s important to note that neither of us speak Korean, and the vast majority of our sources have been mediated; they are largely created by outsiders (non-Koreans) or authentic Korean accounts have been presented to construct a particular narrative (as all media presentations do). While we’ve done our best to accurately research and present our findings, there is the possibility that we’ve misrepresented or misinterpreted things. But, well that comes with the territory of looking into a foreign country’s illegal underground subculture.

Either way, this experience has been enlightening. With the illegality and stigma in South Korea towards tattoos, but with their history and the longstanding moral virtues of the nation in mind we can understand it, even if we still disagree with it. If it were up to us we’d abolish the law outlawing tattoos artists’ work, but then, we’re outsiders to this culture. It’s hardly our place to make demands of the nation, is it?

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Sources

Park, IH & Cho, LJ 1995, ‘Confucianism and the Korean family’ Journal of Comparative Family Studies, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 117-134.

Park, J 2016, ‘Signs of social change on the bodies of youth: tattoos in Korea’, Visual Communication, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 71-92.

 

 

Going Out With a (Muk) Bang

Mukbang, Korean for ‘eating broadcast’, first arrived to the internet 10 years ago – and no one could predict the popularity it would garner. The mukbang has been defined as a ‘new and unique phenomenon developed in a specific socio-historical context of Korea’ which ‘breaks the norms of traditional food culture and challenges the social norms governing the body and subjectivity’ (Destefanis, p. 112).

(more…)