Monday, 1 June 2015

The Tokyo Beatles, Culture, Odd and Even Numbers

While Westerners show a tendency to prefer even numbers, Japanese prefer odd numbers - with few exceptions such as "eight" ("increasing property) and "nine" ("suffering"). In the Seven-Five-Three Festival, for instance, boys and girls at the age of three, boys at the age of five and girls at the age seven celebrate their growth at shrines. According to a custom, festivals are held on odd numbered days in odd-numbered months. At weddings, there is the tradition to give gifts of 10.000, 30.000 or 50.000 yen, never 20.000 or 40.000 yen.

Even numbers, on the other hand, generally do not have positive associations. "Two" means separating, "four" is associated with death and "six" means "good-for-nothing". At funerals, condolence payments are entirely in odd numbers. Hospital sickrooms avoid the number "four" as it sounds like the pronunciation of the word meaning "death".

The clear roles of odd and even numbers can be traced back to the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang (Nishiyama, 2004) - literally meaning dark and bright - which describes the complementary, interconnected and interdependent character of apparently opposite or contrary forces (via).

The Tokyo Beatles were a Japanese cover band, "a group of skinny, mop-topped Japanese rock and rollers" that drove their fans wild borrowing their name of "a group of skinny, mop-topped British rock and rollers". The band was most popular for some time and had "highly energized fans" but broke up after seven years in the 1960s "without too many people noticing they were gone" (via).

::: "I want to hold your hand" in Japanese: Dakishimetai 

Michael Rougier (1925-2012) was a LiFE Magazine staff photographer for 24 years (via) and an accomplished sculptor. He was recognised as a "stellar photojournalist" and won the "Magazine Photographer of the Year" award from the National Press Photographers Association in 1954 (via). In 1964, he was on assignment in Japan where he did not only take photographs of the Tokyo Beatles and their fans but "an astonishingly intimate, frequently unsettling portrait of teenagers hurtling willfully toward oblivion" (via).

- Nishiyama, Y. (2004). The Cultural History of Numbers. Studies in Economic History, 8, 146-174.
- photographs by LIFE photographer Michael Rougier (1964) via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via