Hello again from J-List. Well, Otakon is over, the 20,000+ anime fans have gone home, and I'm headed back to Japan today. It's been great seeing all the fans with their cosplay, brimming with the vibrant energy of the Anime Generation. The only thing I can compare a convention like this to is Woodstock, back in my parents' day, but luckily for us, great anime events like this happen every year.
While I've been away, Japan has been embroiled in debate about the upcoming election, when voters will shake up the allotment of seats to Japan's various political parties in an effort to determine the future of Prime Minister Koizumi's plan to privatize postal services. Japan's system of political parties is quite different from the U.S., and politics in general can be a challenge for gaijin like me to follow. First, there's the mighty Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has ruled almost uninterrupted since it was formed in 1955. Opposition parties include the Democratic Party of Japan (the strongest alternate party, which hopes for big gains this election), the New Komeito (the unofficial political party of the Sokka Gakkai conservative Buddhist movement, although they won't admit to this publically), the Japan Communist Party and so on. But since the LDP is so large and strong, often the real battles take place between the various factions inside the party, which are basically parties within the larger group. The Mori faction (which Mr. Koizumi belongs to) is backing reforming the postal services, while many members of the Hashimoto faction (famously tied to pork-barrel construction projects, which are legion in Japan) are opposing the privatization, even to the point of quitting the LDP and making a new party, the Kokumin Shinto or New People's Party. Incidentally, the word for faction (habatsu) is often shortened to just ha when denoting this or that group. So if you're a Mac user, then you're Mac-ha (pronounced Makku-ha); if you prefer soba noodles over udon, you are soba-ha, and so on. Just a little tidbit of Japanese language for you ^_^
Although the people regularly mix themes from other religions as if they were fashions (Christian weddings, Shinto prayers for good luck on the New Year, and so on), by and large Japan is a Buddhist nation. In many homes, you can find a butsudan, or a Buddhist altar, basically a place where you go to say prayers and revere family members who have passed on (since Buddhism in Japan, at least in the Nichirenshu sect that my wife's family practices, is all about remembering one's ancestors). Once, my kids got into a fight over something, and to change the subject I asked my daughter (who is quite a spiritual girl) to show me how to pray properly at the butsudan, something she does every morning before she goes off to school. I thought, light some incense, how hard can that be? My daughter surprised me by bringing out some small prayer books (she found an easy-to-read one for me since I'm American) and reciting a long prayer to Buddha, which she was very familiar with. I think my eyes had turned into little black manga points as I watched that, but it was really interesting, too