Saturday, July 19, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Britain's secretive S&M scene


By Julian Joyce
BBC News

Sex seems to be everywhere these days, yet the details of Max Mosley's privacy hearing have helped lift a veil on one type of sexual behaviour still shrouded in secrecy - sadomasochism.

As well as the whipping, the searching of hair for lice, and the harsh commands barked in gruff German, a News of the World video shown in Max Mosley's High Court case has revealed a more tender face of the supposedly dark sadomasochistic lifestyle.

There were images of a post-session impromptu tea party between Mr Mosley and his female companions, alongside courtroom evidence from friends. It's something advocates for tolerance are keen to talk about, amid concern the Mosley case will further increase suspicion of such activities.

In doing so, they come up against the guardians of traditional morality - such as the Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) group which condemns "unconstructive" relationships based on "the dominion of one person over another".

Max Mosley and umbrella
Max Mosley has called it "a perfectly harmless activity"

Nobody knows how many people are involved in the "scene": a loose grouping of people across the country who enjoy an unorthodox - and under current laws potentially illegal - sexual lifestyle. However, one US study suggests 11% of women and 14% of men have engaged in BDSM - an abbreviated acronym for bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism - activities.

If those figures are translated to the UK, it could mean around four million people have tried BDSM. A smaller, but still substantial, number has chosen to make it a "lifestyle choice".

The Mosley case has also confirmed historical prejudices about Britain's long-standing "spanking" tradition - the famous flagellation scene in the 18th Century novel Fanny Hill, being just one example. "Just a little harmless English S&M", was how Time magazine headlined its account of the court hearing. It concluded: "On this island where manners mean everything, one takes one's whipping with a stiff upper lip."

According to the former editor of the Erotic Review, Rowan Pelling, Britain is "still known abroad as the 'nation of floggers'".

"A lot of it has to do with the way we have historically treated children," says Ms Pelling, "sending them away to boarding school from an early age. Plus, the British are thought to be repressed - and any repression will result in somewhat recherche and unusual sexual activities."

Fetish parties

Faith, a professional "mistress", offers up a starker insight. Reclining on a large velvet covered bed in the "playroom" attic of her country cottage, and surrounded by the tools of her trade, she describes sometimes extreme acts in words of "trust" and "consent".

When a client walks through the door I will have them strip and kneel on the floor in front of me
Faith, a professional mistress

For £160, usually preceded by an e-mail discussion as to what will happen, she offers "to help explore a client's fantasy, self and sexuality".

Although at ease with her chosen lifestyle, she would rather her identity was kept secret to save any grief from neighbours.

Anonymity is a basic tenet of the BDSM world. Many of the men she sees are married or, like Mr Mosley, she says, in high-profile jobs that prevent them from taking part in Britain's lively BDSM "scene" with its fetish parties and informal get-togethers.

"Most clients I see are submissive - they want me to be in control," she says. "When a client walks through the door I will have them strip and kneel on the floor in front of me - they will not even question that."

What follows depends on what has been previously agreed, but Faith is adamant that she offers not just the indulgence of a fantasy, but therapy that helps those who are distressed by their fetish - or disappointed when the reality of their fantasy fails to live up to expectations.

"At that point I need to find something that he can cope with, that he actually needs. So it needs me to be very supportive at that stage - to instantly switch into nurturing, trying to pull him together and pull him through and explore what will work for him."

She muses over her clients' motives. "It's a natural part of human nature to seek some kind of endorphin rush. You can do that through sport and nobody thinks that wrong. If you take that same rush and put it into a BDSM environment you can see why people like spanking. They have got the fear of coming into this environment and fear of putting themselves in that position of trust.

Brutal murder

"Then they get the pain and challenge that creates the endorphins - so they accentuate that with the pleasure.

"For me, it's about instilling a little fear - to get a rush."

"When we are out socially, she will go ahead and open the door for me."
"When she serves coffee it will be placed carefully in my upturned palm so I don't have to reach for it."
"There is a big difference between a dominant and a bully. I am very aware that I am receiving the gift of submission. "

Psychologists say that those who embark in BDSM "play" usually come to an agreement about the roles they will play: dominant ("top"), or submissive ("bottom").

Sometimes the practices move out of the bedroom and into everyday life.

In such cases, both people consent to a longer-term master-slave relationship, based on mutual trust, and on the condition that either can pull out at a time of their choosing. But lurid reports of BDSM sessions that have gone wrong - such the brutal murder in 2004 of film agent Rod Hall during an S&M "game" - have helped create a difficult environment in which these relationships can flourish openly.

According to Darren Langdridge, co-author of a book about BDSM, Safe Sane and Consensual, the media "have focused on the non-consensual examples of BDSM - but there are many couples who make BDSM a part of their stable relationship".

The problem, he says is that when sex and violence get mixed up, people struggle to understand it, and get worried.

"But in my view BDSM as just another extension of everyday sexual experience."

It's not an argument that wins over traditionalist opponents of the BDSM lifestyle. Seeking pain, they say, is "not constructive".

"We feel strongly about the value of human life, and whilst these sorts of things may happen between two consenting adults... it is the dominion of one person over another," says a spokesman for Care. "Because it is this sort of relationship we do not see it as constructive. These practices can also lead to serious injury, or even death. And it is the families of the people who die who suffer in the end."


But many of those in BDSM relationships are fiercely protective of their lifestyle choice. Some are almost evangelical about its benefits.

A "dominant" calling himself Sir Guy says it's a "chance to forget all adult responsibilities and - in the best sense of the word - be irresponsible. One of my puppies [his term for a submissive] refers to his sessions as 'holidays from humanity'."

Skin Two ball
The Skin Two Rubber Ball, for those who can take their BDSM public

Another, "Suzanne", a 42-year-old submissive married to her dominant "master", says she has given herself "totally to the man".

"We never argue and his word is final. It means that I don't have to worry about making decisions. It's a relaxed lifestyle that gives me a tremendous sense of freedom."

Some research backs up anecdotal evidence that people who choose BDSM as a way of life are no more unstable than the general population - and might even be happier.

A soon-to-be published study of nearly 20,000 Australians concluded those who took part in BDSM activities were "no more likely to have been coerced into sexual activity and were not significantly more likely to be unhappy or anxious".

"What we are finding is that people who engage in BDSM activities are not weirdoes," says Dr Richard de Visser, of Sussex University, "they just choose a certain sexual activity."

Yet some say suspicion has helped demonise BDSM and create discriminatory laws - such as the one that forbids, unless "transitory or trifling", blood-letting during sexual play. It is this law that the News of the World claims Mr Mosley broke - and part of its justification for publishing details of a secretly-filmed session.

Yet those who share Mr Mosley's sexual tastes haven't necessarily welcomed the wider expose this case has brought. Deborah Ryan, of the lobby group Backlash - a group that campaigns for human rights issues within the BDSM community - is worried more people will get the wrong idea about BDSM.

"A lot of the time it's about understanding the language - and what really is going on. Actually, at the end of the day it's just a game - and no more threatening compared to the other games people play, like Dungeons and Dragons, or even going to Star Trek conventions."

In Japan, Buddhism May Be Dying Out

Published: July 14, 2008

OGA, Japan — The Japanese have long taken an easygoing, buffetlike approach to religion, ringing out the old year at Buddhist temples and welcoming the new year, several hours later, at Shinto shrines. Weddings hew to Shinto rituals or, just as easily, to Christian ones.

Skip to next paragraph
The New York Times

When it comes to funerals, though, the Japanese have traditionally been inflexibly Buddhist — so much so that Buddhism in Japan is often called “funeral Buddhism,” a reference to the religion’s former near-monopoly on the elaborate, and lucrative, ceremonies surrounding deaths and memorial services.

But that expression also describes a religion that, by appearing to cater more to the needs of the dead than to those of the living, is losing its standing in Japanese society.

“That’s the image of funeral Buddhism: that it doesn’t meet people’s spiritual needs,” said Ryoko Mori, the chief priest at the 700-year-old Zuikoji Temple here in northern Japan. “In Islam or Christianity, they hold sermons on spiritual matters. But in Japan nowadays, very few Buddhist priests do that.”

Mr. Mori, 48, the 21st head priest of the temple, was unsure whether it would survive into the tenure of a 22nd.

“If Japanese Buddhism doesn’t act now, it will die out,” he said. “We can’t afford to wait. We have to do something.”

Across Japan, Buddhism faces a confluence of problems, some familiar to religions in other wealthy nations, others unique to the faith here.

The lack of successors to chief priests is jeopardizing family-run temples nationwide.

While interest in Buddhism is declining in urban areas, the religion’s rural strongholds are being depopulated, with older adherents dying and birthrates remaining low.

Perhaps most significantly, Buddhism is losing its grip on the funeral industry, as more and more Japanese are turning to funeral homes or choosing not to hold funerals at all.

Over the next generation, many temples in the countryside are expected to close, taking centuries of local history with them and adding to the demographic upheaval under way in rural Japan.

Here in Oga, on a peninsula of the same name that faces the Sea of Japan in Akita Prefecture, Buddhist priests are looking at the cold math of a population and local fishing industry in decline.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that the population is about half of what it was at its peak and that all businesses have also been reduced by half,” said Giju Sakamoto, 74, the 91st head priest of Akita’s oldest temple, Chorakuji, which was founded around the year 860. “Given that reality, simply insisting that we’re a religion and have a long history — Akita’s longest, in fact — sounds like a fairy tale. It’s meaningless.

“That’s why I think this place is beyond hope,” Mr. Sakamoto said at his temple, which sits atop a promontory overlooking a seaside village.

To survive, Mr. Sakamoto has put his energies into managing a nursing home and a new temple in a growing suburb of Akita City. That temple, however, has drawn only 60 households as members since it opened a couple of years ago, far short of the 300 said to be necessary for a temple to remain financially viable.

For centuries, the average Buddhist temple, whose stewardship was handed down from father to eldest son, served a fixed membership, rarely, if ever, proselytizing. With some 300 households to cater to, the temple’s chief priest and his wife were kept fully occupied.

Not only has the number of temples in Japan been dipping — to 85,994 in 2006, from 86,586 in 2000, according to the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs — but membership at many temples has fallen.

“We have to find other jobs because the temple alone is not enough,” said Kyo Kon, 73, the head priest’s wife at Kogakuin, a temple here with 170 members. She used to work at a day care center while her husband was employed at a local land planning office.

Not far away at Doshoji, a temple whose membership has fallen to 85 elderly households, the chief priest, Jokan Takahashi, 59, was facing a problem familiar to most small family-run businesses in Japan: finding a successor.

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Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

A graveyard at a Buddhist temple in Tokyo.

His eldest son had undergone the training to become a Buddhist priest, but Mr. Takahashi was ambivalent about asking him to take over the temple.

“My son grew up knowing nothing but this world of the temple, and he told me he did not feel free,” he said, explaining that his son, now 28, was working at a company in a nearby city. “He asked me to let him be free as long as I was working, and said that he would come back and take over by the time he turned 35.

“But considering the future, pressuring a young person to take over a temple like this might be cruel,” Mr. Takahashi said, after giving visitors a tour of his temple’s most important room, an inner chamber with wooden, lockerlike cabinets where, it is said, the spirits of his members’ ancestors are kept.

On a recent morning, Mr. Mori, the priest of the 700-year-old temple, began the day with a visit to a rice farming household marking the 33rd anniversary of a grandfather’s death. Bowing before the home altar, Mr. Mori prayed and chanted sutras. Later, he repeated the rituals at another household, which was commemorating the seventh anniversary of a grandfather’s death.

Increasingly, many Japanese, especially those in urban areas, have eschewed those traditions. Many no longer belong to temples and rely instead on funeral homes when their relatives die. The funeral homes provide Buddhist priests for funerals. According to a 2007 report by the Japan Consumers’ Association, the average cost of a funeral, excluding the cemetery plot, was $21,500, of which $5,100 covered services performed by a Buddhist priest.

As recently as the mid-1980s, almost all Japanese held funerals at home or in temples, with the local Buddhist priest playing a prominent role.

But the move to funeral homes has sharply accelerated in the last decade. In 1999, 62 percent still held funerals at home or in temples, while 30 percent chose funeral homes, according to the Consumers’ Association. But in 2007, the preferences were reversed, with 28 percent selecting funerals at home or in temples, and 61 percent opting for funeral homes.

In addition, an increasing number of Japanese are deciding to have their loved ones cremated without any funeral at all, said Noriyuki Ueda, an anthropologist at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and an expert on Buddhism.

“Because of that, Buddhist priests and temples will no longer be involved in funerals,” Mr. Ueda said.

He said Japanese Buddhism had been sapped of its spiritual side in great part because it had compromised itself during World War II through its close ties with Japan’s military. After Buddhist priests had glorified fallen soldiers and given them special posthumous Buddhist names, talk of pacifism sounded hollow.

Mr. Mori, the priest here, said that after the war there was a desire for increasingly lavish funerals with prestigious Buddhist names. These names — with the highest ranks traditionally given to those who have led honorable lives — are routinely purchased now, regardless of a dead person’s conduct in life.

“Soldiers, who gave their lives for the country, were given special posthumous Buddhist names, so everybody wanted one after that, and prices went up dramatically,” Mr. Mori said. “Everyone was getting richer, so everyone wanted one.

“But that gave us a bad image,” he said, adding that the price of the top name in Akita was about $3,000 — though that was a small fraction of the price in Tokyo.

Indeed, that image is reinforced by the way the business of funerals and memorial services is conducted. Fees are not stated and are left to the family’s discretion, and the relatives generally feel an unspoken pressure to be quite generous. Money is handed over in envelopes, and receipts are not given. Temples, with their status as religious organizations, pay no taxes.

It was partly to dispel this bad image that Kazuma Hayashi, 41, a Buddhist priest without a temple of his own, said he founded a company, (obohsan means priest), three years ago in a Tokyo suburb. The company dispatches freelance Buddhist priests to funerals and other services, cutting out funeral homes and other middlemen.

Prices, which are at least a third lower than the average, are listed clearly on the company’s Web site. A 10 percent discount is available for members.

“We even give out receipts,” Mr. Hayashi said.

Mr. Hayashi argued that instead of divorcing Japanese Buddhism further from its spiritual roots, his business attracted more people with its lower prices. The highest-ranking posthumous name went for about $1,500, a rock-bottom price.

“I know that, originally, that’s not what Buddhism was about,” Mr. Hayashi said of the top name. “But it’s a brand that our customers choose. Some really want it, so that means there’s a strong desire there, and we have to respond to it.”

After apologizing for straying from Buddhism’s ideals, Mr. Hayashi said he offered his customers the highest-ranking name, albeit with a warning: “In short, that this is different from going to a shop in town and buying a handbag, you know, a Gucci bag.”

Saturday, July 05, 2008

From Pretty Boy to Action Star: Lee Jun-ki Changes Shape

Lee Jun-ki in SBS drama 'Iljimae.'/Courtesy of SBS
Guryepo Beach in southwest Taean, the site of the devastating oil spill late last year, is seeing a return of the crowds. It's the location of the SBS drama “Iljimae,” in which Lee Jun-ki (26) plays a man who is transformed from urchin Yongi to the chivalrous Iljimae.

"This chicken meat is so tough, my teeth nearly came out." Lee recites the line sitting in the corner of a seaside hut. In the scene, Iljimae, starving, cooks up a chicken behind his master's back, showing the human side of the valiant fighter. Then, at 9 p.m., the first short break after filming since the afternoon.

"I asked the director when I would finally get to shoot the action scenes which the viewers will be dying to see. But I'm still not flying about," says Lee. Iljimae's stunts were withheld until the 10th episode. The story centered instead on Yongi's training and his double life, which all serve to avenge his fathers' death. He was portrayed as a loose, comic character.

Lee became a star overnight in 2006 in the film “The King and the Clown” in which he played a man in woman's disguise. Now he wants to prove himself in an action role. "I shook off the memory of ‘The King and the Clown’ while doing the TV drama ‘Time Between Dog and Wolf’ last year. A comic role is a first for me, which is more difficult than being the leading man. I'm coasting on confidence alone."

In the original comic strip, lljimae disguises himself as a courtesan to obtain information from officials. Sounds familiar? But Lee shakes his head saying, "Will the viewers want to see me again dressed as a woman? I don't think so. I don't want to be a 'pretty boy’ again. But I don't know what the producers think.”

His physique is as pretty as his face. He's a taekwondo expert, but his body is far from brawny. "I don't want to be stuck in one shape. An actor's body should be formless, ready to change into any form. I don't like weight training. I like running about outdoors but not lifting heavy equipment in the stuffy indoors. It's not my style."

While filming “Time Between Dog and Wolf” last year, Lee said he has yet to be recognized as an actor. But his confidence has grown. "I believe more and more people are recognizing me as an actor and not just a celebrity."

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