Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Gunma’

Can’t get enough of that chin-don

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 11, 2012

IT’S been entirely too long since the last chin-don report, and the objective of this post is to rectify that shortcoming immediately.

For those unfortunates who have yet to be exposed to the glorious goofiness that is chin-don, it is — among other things — Japan’s unintentional contribution to urban street/world music. The form arose more than a century ago with the creation of bands that mixed Western and Japanese instruments (mostly percussion in the latter case) to play anything and everything from the Western and Japanese musical repertoire as they marched through town in outlandish costumes and makeup to advertise local commercial establishments in any way they could figure out to attract attention. That involves clever repartee, unicycle riding, and kitchen sink juggling in addition to the music.

There’s been a grassroots popular revival of the style in the past few years, though it never went entirely away. A national contest for chin-don bands has been held in Toyama for more than half a century, but many of those bands are professional. (The truly far gone do it for a living.) Every year in early November, there’s a national contest for amateurs only in Maebashi, Gunma. This year’s jamboree was the 10th, and it began on Saturday.

Ten teams from Gunma, Tokyo, Saitama, Tochigi, Iwate, Aichi, Nagano, and Toyama participated, and the team from Iwate was crowned the champion.

The entertainment on the second day — today — was a grand parade through the commercial district of Maebashi.

Here’s a taste of what it looked and sounded like yesterday. One of the groups consists of high school students. Anyone who still thinks the Japanese are a nation of straight arrow conformists should hit the chin-don tag below for previous posts and see how quickly those preconceptions shatter!

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We love chin-don too!

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 23, 2011

CHEESE and crackers, Laurel and Hardy, strawberry ice cream and tempura — felicitous combinations all, but none are so fine as the pairing of high school girls and chin-don!

We Love Chin-Don Girls

As long-time friends know, chin-don is that whacked-out Japanese urban street music presented by musical jesters decked out in Edo High Camp, armed with Western and Japanese and instruments, and performing a repertoire from the Western and Japanese Hit Parades stretching as far back as the turn of the century — the 20th Century, that is. Now I ask you: Could anything be sweeter than these young sweeties getting down to century-old East Asian funk in a style that makes Weird Al Yankovic and Spike Jones look as straitlaced as a Salvation Army marching band?

Those lucky enough to be at the Lunar Park amusement park in Maebashi, Gunma, last Sunday would have seen six female high school seniors from the Tatebayashi Commercial and Technical High School in Gunma’s Meiwa-machi working out in a group called We Love Chin-don.

They aren’t the only Gunma girls with a chin-don jones. Their formation was inspired by the Chin-don Girls, another group of students from the same high school who were graduated this spring. They were the first to perform at Lunar Park last year.

The new group was started by senior Kawasaki Ayumi, who saw last year’s band up close and personal and thought they were too cool for school. She rustled up five of her friends to continue the new tradition. They were tutored by the Umaya Bashi Chin-don Club of Maebashi, an amateur group who won a national championship in April at the national chin-don competition in Toyama. They also picked up tips by watching videos of the Chin-don Girls in action.

We Love Chin-don began performing in local festivals and senior citizen homes in July, and their Lunar Park performance was a joint appearance with their mentors. Said Kitahara Yuichiro, the big chikuwa of the Umaya Bashi Chin-don Club:

“Today they performed with a lot of guts, and all their practice resulted in a big success.”

Said the big chikuwa-ette Miss Kawasaki:

“The great part about chin-don is that we get excited by coming in contact with other people. We want to pass chin-don on to the younger girls in school.”

This time we’re in luck! We Love Chin-don will next appear at the 9th National Amateur Chin-don Competition in Maebashi on 5-6 November. That gives us two weeks to get ready.

Now if only they had seen fit to put videos of their performances, or those of their models in the Chin-don Girls, on YouTube or a similar site. They haven’t — yet — so we’ll just have to make do with this brief clip of their teachers in the Umaya Bashi Chin-don Club.

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Government in absentia

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More than a problem with intelligence or skills, the incompetence of the “Incompetent Gang of Four” (Kan, Sengoku, Maehara, Okada) is apparent in their overconfidence and inability to see beyond their own self-protection. They are unable to solve any problems because of an irrefutable absence of the ability to negotiate or to learn. In the worst case, they are unable even to recognize the problem. As shown by an attitude and statements that suggest the ones in the wrong are a stupid public that won’t support the Cabinet, and the Liberal Democratic Party who challenges them to debate in the Diet, failure is always treated as an external problem. The “Incompetent Gang of Four” is always right.
– Miyajima Satoshi

EVERYONE KNOWS the current Japanese government is in trouble, but it’s even worse than you knew: They’re operating as if they’ve been infected by the same Stuxnet worm that attacked the Iran nuclear program from the inside out. The world’s first weaponized computer virus took control of the centrifuges and damaged them without destroying them, while concealing what it was doing from the engineers at the control panel. As this report says: “In other words, the worm was designed to allow the Iranian program to continue but never succeed, and never to know why.”

Is there a better way to explain the behavior of the Kan Cabinet?

Outside Tokyo

A city council election was held in Matsudo, Chiba, on 21 November. The Democratic Party endorsed 11 candidates in that election, including four incumbents, and nine of them lost. One of the incumbents didn’t receive enough votes to have the cash deposit for his candidacy returned. Your Party backed two new candidates, and their aggregate vote total exceeded that of the four DPJ incumbents by more than 1,000.

Reporters for the regional edition of the Mainichi Shimbun interviewed the defeated candidates. Said one:

“We called voters to campaign for their support and votes, and as soon they heard it was the DPJ they hung up on us.”

He said he didn’t realize the central government could have that much of an impact on elections. (He should have paid closer attention to the American election returns earlier this month.) He added that people would yell at him in public when he tried to give street corner speeches:

“If that’s how you’re going to act, the DPJ can’t be entrusted with the national government.”

Moaned another one of the losers:

“One long-time party supporter asked me to leave when I visited him. ‘Go home’, he said, ‘I’m not letting the DPJ in.’”

All the DPJ candidates reported that voters dismissed them at their public campaign appearances and expressed anger at being “betrayed by Prime Minister Kan”.

Every picture tells a story (Sankei Shimbun photo)

In fact, this might have been the first election anywhere in which the losers agreed with the voters. Another incumbent, the party secretary-general in Chiba’s seventh district, said the candidates had daily “mini-meetings” during the campaign, and they often asked themselves, “Just what are they doing (in Tokyo)? It wasn’t just the gaffes—it also was the Senkakus and the Okinawa base.”

They tried to distance themselves from the national party by telling the voters they too wanted the government to get serious, but as one of the defeated candidates explained, “In the end, we had to carry the burden of the party name.”

The Mainichi thought one of the reasons for the outcome was the increase of independent voters due to the influx of new residents resulting from the urbanization of the area. Voters everywhere are more frequently identifying themselves as political independents, and that trend is particularly strong in Japan. The gaggle of RDD public opinion surveys find that those who claim no party affiliation make up more than 40% of the electorate, while the Jiji news agency poll, which is generated by face-to-face interviews, shows the default figure of independents to be more than 50%.

As for what the Matsudo election portends for the DPJ, Ubukata Yukio, the DPJ Diet representative from Chiba’s sixth district, distributed an e-mail magazine with the title, “We can only apologize to the DPJ candidates”. Mr. Ubukata wrote:

“If we go into the local elections next spring the same way, we’ll have the same results throughout the country.”

Meanwhile, two Chiba City councilmen affiliated with the DPJ left the party the same week.

Inside Tokyo

Nakano Kansei served as the DPJ Secretary-General in 2002. Last week he said:

“A national strategy is not possible without foreign policy and defense, but I doubt the current cabinet is headed in that direction.”

At a dinner with other politicians on the 29th in Tokyo, Ozawa Ichiro was resigned to the government’s failure. He was quoted as shrugging off the Kan Cabinet: “What can you do about it?” (sho ga nai)

He added:

“At this rate, the local parties will revolt, and the DPJ government will collapse from the bottom up.”

They thought someone would fall for it?

The quasi-public television and radio network NHK broadcasts important Diet proceedings live. On the 10th, they began coverage of Question Time in the lower house budget committee at 11 a.m. The committee session had begun 30 minutes earlier, but the broadcast was delayed because the DPJ government had not granted NHK permission. A political reporter for a national newspaper told one of the weekly magazines that the committee proceedings were supposed to have started at 10:00 a.m., but the opposition Liberal Democratic Party objected to NHK when they saw there would be no broadcast. The start was delayed 30 minutes.

The reason NHK didn’t turn on the cameras? “The DPJ told NHK that the LDP said a broadcast wouldn’t be necessary.”

The committee’s business that day? The first round of opposition party questioning of the government after reports had emerged that a Coast Guard officer had uploaded to You Tube the videos of the Chinese fishing boat ramming in the Senkakus.

Last year, the DPJ campaigned on the promise of a “clean and open government”. Those words have now become a weapon in the hands of every print and broadcast media outlet in the country.

Speaking of the video

The Kan Cabinet claimed that the national interest would be harmed if the videos were released to the public.

Last week, the upper house budget committee finally received a 44-minute video from the government, which it distributed to all the opposition parties. The LDP gave a copy to the national media.

If the national interest has been harmed, no one seems to be aware of it.

Sleepy and tipsy

Gendai Business Online ran an article describing the government’s initial response to the appearance of the videos on You Tube. Lower house DPJ MP Kawauchi Hiroshi heard that the videos had been uploaded from a reporter on the night of 4 November. He immediately called the Kantei (the Japanese version of the White House) to confirm the facts with Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and the measures they would take to deal with the situation.

“It was just before midnight when I called the Kantei to get in contact with Mr. Sengoku. An aide answered the phone and said, ‘I cannot connect you with the Chief Secretary.’ When I asked why I couldn’t talk to him in this emergency, he replied, ‘The Chief Cabinet Secretary has already retired for the night. I will inform him of the matter tomorrow morning.’ I was stunned.”

The Gendai article notes that Mr. Sengoku is the point man in the Kan Cabinet for gathering important information. When he is sleeping and not to be disturbed due to extreme fatigue—something that is happening with greater frequency—not only is there no crisis management, the Kantei itself ceases to function.

Prime Minister Kan Naoto has been complaining that he lacks information because Mr. Sengoku is monopolizing the flow, but when the video went up on the Net, he was out drinking with another DPJ Diet member. Saito Tsuyoshi explained:

“Mr. Kan invited me out for some drinks to celebrate my appointment as Acting Diet Affairs Committee Chair. We arrived at a traditional Japanese restaurant in Akasaka after 9:00 p.m. and had dinner. One of Mr. Kan’s aides was also with us, but there was no indication whatsoever of any report that the videos had been released.”

They left after 11:00 p.m., when word on the Net was spreading and the mass media was beginning to move. At that point many ordinary citizens knew more about what had happened than Prime Minister Kan.

Mr. Kan learned about the videos after midnight and characteristically lost his temper. He turned on the TV and started shouting, “Where? What channel is it on?” When he was told it was on the Net and not on television, he was frantic. “How do you watch You Tube? What do you do?”

Mr. Sengoku, by now awake, was more interested in who released the videos. He first suspected the culprits were either the Coast Guard or the Naha prosecutors.

They started discussing the possibilities. Mr. Kan’s aides suggested Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji, a Sengoku ally. Mr. Sengoku brought up the name of Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a Cabinet minister in the Hatoyama government and an Ozawa Ichiro stalking horse who has been critical of the government’s handling of the incident.

In other words, the highest-ranking officials in the DPJ government suspected the videos were released by other high-ranking officials in the DPJ government.

Foreign affairs, part #2

DPJ Diet member and former Environmental Minister Ozawa Sakihito, the head of a study group of party members, arranged a meeting with Chinese ambassador Chen Yong-hua. He and his group thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the Senkakus and the North Korean shelling of South Korea. They invited all 412 of the DPJ Diet members to attend.

22 showed up.

Shooting blanks

Boldly going where no LDP government has gone before, some ministers in the Hatoyama Cabinet took immediate action to demonstrate that a governmental New Age had arrived in Japan after forming a government in September 2009. Then-Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Maehara Seiji started firing right away, and one of his targets was the suspension of construction work on the Yamba Dam in Gunma. He was anxious to show that the days of unnecessary pork barrel construction projects were over.

Unfortunately, Mr. Maehara had not studied the issue in depth before making his decision. The dam in question was controversial in the truest sense of the word. Many people opposed the project, launched decades ago to provide more water to the Tokyo region, but many also thought there was a need for it, particularly the public sector at the sub-national level. The due diligence required to make a sound decision was neglected in favor of a publicity splash.

Earlier this month, Mr. Maehara’s successor Mabuchi Sumio quietly lifted the suspension on work on the dam.

Ibuki Bunmei was right: Like grade school boys with pistols…


A ceremony was held on the 29th marking the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Diet. Attending were the Emperor and Empress, and their second son Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko (the parents of the future Emperor).

After an initial ceremony, the Prince and Princess stood up to wait for the arrival of the Emperor and Empress. One MP, identified only as a “veteran DPJ Diet member”, couldn’t restrain himself and yelled out:

“Hurry up and sit down. Can’t you see we can’t sit down either?”

The incident was related by Your Party upper house member Sakurauchi Fumiki on his blog, who also said the comment “was beyond imagining”.

The Sankei Shimbun interviewed the member in question without mentioning his name. He allowed that he “might have” said it and complained again that no one could sit down.

Like grade school boys with pistols who have to go to the bathroom…

Other people’s money

Last week, the Diet passed yet another stimulus package, this one worth $US 61 billion. One would have thought the nation’s sewers were clogged from all the stimulus money that’s already been flushed down the toilet.

The news reports were vague about how the money would be spent, saying only that the funds would be allocated to help support local governments. It’s true that several prefectural governments are struggling to keep their heads above the rising tide of red ink. Could the stimulus actually have been a public sector bailout?

Here’s a hint: One of the party’s biggest organizational supporters is the labor union for local government public employees.

The bureaucrats too

Recall that Koga Shigeaki, a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry and a critic of DPJ civil service reforms, was asked last month to testify in the Diet. Mr. Sengoku opposed his appearance and added a gangsterish threat:

“It could adversely affect his future.”

Mr. Koga had been tasked to visit local companies around the country, discuss their interaction with the Ministry, and to file a report. The title of the final three pages of his report was Personal Comments, and they were sharply critical of METI conduct.

The opposition in the Diet asked to see a copy of the report. METI obliged, but removed the three pages with Mr. Koga’s criticism before sending it over. When they were called on it, the ministry explained:

“’Personal Comments’ are the individual impressions of the person himself, and are not part of a survey report for the Diet members.”

And the prosecutors

Livid over the YouTube release of the Coast Guard’s Senkakus videos, Sengoku Yoshito ordered a full court press of an investigation that mobilized up to 80 members of the prosecutors’ office. “This is a grave situation,” he thundered, and made it known that he wanted to nail the leaker’s hide to the wall.

The prosecutors decided not to arrest him.

In their 5 December issue, the weekly Sunday Mainichi wonders if the prosecutors wanted to extract some revenge from Mr. Sengoku for shifting on them the responsibility for the decision to release the Chinese fishing boat captain without a trial.

A source familiar with the investigation said it was likely the probe would continue, and that the leaker might eventually be fined for violating the National Civil Service Law.

Rather than get upset, Mr. Sengoku should be relieved that the government will be spared the entire country demanding to know why the Chinese skipper went scot-free while the Japanese Coast Guard navigator had to face trial.

Political onanism

Here’s DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya speaking in Tokyo recently, as quoted by the Mainichi Shimbun:

“We won’t be the ruling party forever, but if we can (stay in office), I think about eight years (would be appropriate).”

In other words, he thinks the Diet should not be dissolved during the remaining three years of the term, the DPJ will win the subsequent election, and the new term would also last the full four years.

One Japanese blogger wondered if the country could survive that long under uninterrupted DPJ rule.

Mr. Okada may not have been joking. Prime Minister Kan invited his predecessor, Hatoyama Yukio, out to dinner at a Tokyo Chinese restaurant on the 27th, and the two met for about 90 minutes. Mr. Kan told him:

“I won’t quit even if the Cabinet support rate falls to 1%.”

Last week, Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito was formally censured by the upper house. That is legally non-binding, but it has an impact nevertheless—Fukuda Yasuo lasted only two months after being censured, and Aso Taro three.

Mr. Sengoku was asked on the 29th if he would resign. He answered:

“Absolutely not. I’m completely committed to my duties now…I’ve gained the confidence of the lower house. (i.e., the no-confidence motion didn’t pass the DPJ-dominated chamber.) There has to be a legal disposition regarding the issue of whether there is confidence or censure (i.e., the censure is not legally binding).”

Yes, Japanese attorneys can be every bit as assertively obnoxious as their brother lawyers in the West.

MLIT Minister Mabuchi Sumio was also censured by the upper house, and he won’t resign either. As he explained,

“Reform is my assignment.”

L’etat, c’est moi” in Japanese is 国家は私である, in case you’re wondering.

Meanwhile, Shinhodo 2001 released its latest public opinion poll on Monday.

Here are some of the results for the answers to the question of what the Kan Cabinet should do next:

Dissolve the lower house and hold a general election: 47.4%
The Cabinet should resign en masse and allow a new government to take over: 14.2%

Thus, more than 61% of the respondents think the Incompetent Gang of Four should be gone. They disagree only on the manner of departure.


Do not support the Cabinet: 72.6%
Support the Cabinet: 21.0%

The Cabinet’s ability for crisis management is high: 2.2%
Normal: 22.0%
Low: 74.0%
Don’t know: 6.4%

What party do you intend to vote for in the next election?

DPJ: 13.6%
LDP: 29%

Mr. Sengoku thinks it’s all the media’s fault. At a news conference on the 30th:

“We’ve implemented different policy reforms, but the mass media never writes anything positive about us.”

How quickly he’s forgotten.

For several weeks, the circumstances of Mr. Kan’s support rating resembled the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote after running off the edge of a cliff and furiously windmilling in midair before plummeting to the canyon floor. Many voters bought the argument that there had been too much turnover in the Prime Minister’s office, so the government was buoyed by negative support rather than positive support. The new poll results show that what some are calling the Own Goal Cabinet has performed so abysmally, even that argument can no longer keep them airborne.

In just six months, they’ve managed to alienate most of the electorate, most of the party members at the sub-national level, and former party executives at the national level. Incompetence on that scale isn’t a fluke—you have to work at it.

How do they expect to deal with the public, the opposition in the Diet, and overseas governments now that they are essentially a squatter government? Your guess is as good as mine.

It doesn’t require any guesswork to understand why they’re so desperate to hang on, however. Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku are men of the left who’d dreamed of taking power for 40 years before their chance finally came. They are well aware that once they leave, a second chance to put any of their philosophy in practice is unlikely to come for some time. Admitting failure isn’t part of their worldview.

Japan is now a country with a government in absentia.

Great trumpet solo:

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Letter bombs (7): More on Isesaki

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, June 24, 2010

READER ACEFACE, employed by a media outlet in Japan, sent in a comment to our previous post that deserves greater attention. The piece in the Guardian about the facial hair ban in Isesaki was more poorly conceived than I thought. Here’s what Aceface has to say:

I stayed for six days in Isesaki, Gunma, in the spring of 2001 for an assignment on one of those “take a short walk in the neighborhood” type of stories.

At the time, nearly 10% of Isesaki’s population were foreign residents, which is not that unusual for Southern Gunma, where many Brazilians and Peruvians live and work. But Isesaki also had residents coming from more than 70 countries. I was surprised to find a man from Equatorial Guinea registered as a resident foreigner there. The percentage and the variety of the residents match only one place in Japan–Minato Ward in Tokyo, ground zero for foreign diplomatic missions.

After I checked the Internet, (Japanese-language link) it seems the number has been reduced a bit to 12,296 people from 63 countries, and the ratio to the entire population is around 5.90%.

The City of Isesaki does hire many foreigners as temporary workers, such as substitute teachers at school and translators in city hall. And while I’ve never run into Sikhs, I’ve met lots of foreigners with facial hair.

Cities along the Tobu Isesaki line are known to have a significant Muslim population. The first shop you see after you get off from Isesaki station is a halal food shop. There were at least three mosques when I was there back in 2001. I was told by one of the Muslim residents I met in the city that one was “a bit fundamentalist”.

I can’t exactly tell how true it was, but one thing for sure is this guy was working in Isesaki and recruiting comrades for his cause from 2002 to 2003. (English-language link)

With that information in mind, the ban on facial hair for public servants in Isesaki has a whole different meaning.

Indeed it does, Aceface. So much for the “lovingly tended full beard” angle of McCurry’s article. A contemporary journalist stumbles across a real story and has neither the wit to understand what he was looking at nor the iniative to do more research. This will come as no surprise to the consumers of the contemporary journalism product.

They don’t want potentially dangerous people with Japanese language ability working as substitute teachers? I don’t blame them a bit.

Here are excerpts translated into English from the Japanese-language link provided by Aceface. They are taken from Isesaki’s website and describe and explain the activities of the International Department.

(begin translation)

If you walk the streets of Isesaki today, you’ll see many foreigners. They often participate in local events, including the Isesaki Festival. Many children of non-native parents attend local primary and junior high schools. Restaurants serving cuisine from overseas, shops selling overseas food and clothing, and rental video shops with overseas titles are a common sight in town. There is even a supermarket-type retail outlet consisting of separate shops operated by people from overseas. Entering the facility is like taking a trip outside Japan.

Therefore, the Isesaki International Exchange Association offers services and conducts events for the non-native residents who live among us. These include consultation services, Japanese language classes, and exhibits of the artwork done by foreign students at public schools. There are an increasing number of situations, however, in which we cannot interact as we have in the past with the growing foreign-born population.

We established the International Department in 2004…That department set up a council for foreign-born residents of the city, the first of its kind in Gunma. It has 20 members from 13 countries. The objective is to create a multi-cultural city by incorporating the views of foreign-born residents and to create a consensus of opinion as Isezaki residents, despite their foreign nationality, based on considerations of cultural differences with Japan. As a result, many non-native residents have participated in such projects as the Tone River basin Clean Campaign and the planting of flowerbeds and trees at the public housing projects where many of these residents live. In one year, they offered the following suggestions:

1. Provide Japanese-language documents that are easier to understand by including reading aids for the kanji
2. Create a community center for the interaction of non-native and native residents of the city
3. Have council members actively participate as Isezaki citizens in city government activities with positive results

Within the city government, we have also created the Research Project Team to Promote Internationalization consisting of members of related municipal departments. They have since installed signs at public housing sites in five languages providing easy-to-understand instructions for separating and putting out household refuse. They’ve also created pamphlets in four languages providing explanations of the foreign resident registration system, national health insurance, and tax payments.

In addition to the foreign residents’ association and the project team, associations have also been formed for natives of Brazil and Peru, who have the first- and second-most residents of the city registered as foreigners when classified by country of birth. In the future, we will encourage the creation of organizations that promote internationalization, and plan to make every effort to have those organizations work with the foreign residents’ association and project team.
(end translation)

My last post linked to a Guardian article that tried to depict the Isesakians as throwbacks to an imagined age of absolute conformity in postwar Japan. Soon after the post went up, a curious flurry of similar English-language articles on the same topic popped up on my RSS feed—even though the Guardian published the original article more than a month ago.

Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

Well, now they’ll be able to write a follow-up article with plenty of nuance that provides an accurate picture of life in Isesaki, including the sincere effort of the native residents to interact with their foreign-born population, without having to resort to the tired and inaccurate narrative of the Japanese as xenophobes.

We all know how busy they are wearing out shoe leather on their reportage, so Aceface’s description and my translation should be more than enough to give them a head start and save them some legwork. It shouldn’t take long at all for those follow-up pieces to appear.

Right, guys?

Thanks also to reader RMilner for thinking to ask a question that brought an answer few expected.

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Letter bombs (6): Ignorance goes viral

Posted by ampontan on Monday, June 21, 2010

For people whose job it is to describe the world, journalists often seem to have remarkable difficulty imagining life in other people’s shoes.
– Michael Kinsley

The buzzing of the flies does not turn them into bees.
– Georgian proverb

JOURNALISTS and their employers have always been dependable for providing an undependable view of events that is more agenda-driven entertainment than information. Former American President Harry Truman once sighed that he felt sorry for his fellow citizens who woke up in the morning and read the newspaper, thereby thinking they knew something of what was happening in the world.

Isesaki flag

The revolution in information technology that has occurred since Truman’s time has given us much more tech than info. Though more pixels are hurled onto more screens, and more talk is belched into the ether, its accuracy and value are in indirect proportion to its quantity. The new technology also allows anyone to participate, but as the Georgians had it, the buzzing of those flies does not turn them into bees. The cacophony they create resembles nothing so much as a conductorless orchestra of vuvuzelas on a radio with a missing volume knob. Ignorance has gone viral.

They’re even more dependably undependable regarding Japan, a subject they almost never get right. A Japanese friend still keeps a clipping from an American newspaper he saw while on a trip to that country with a map of Japan showing Yokohama where Osaka is. (Osaka is 241 miles almost due west.) But as this post will show, they really don’t want to get it right.

This edition of Letter Bombs contains three items sent in by readers, one of which has an embedded fourth item. To these I’ve added a discovery of my own. All of them demonstrate that neither the bees nor the flies care a whit about the facts. They’d rather feed on the offal of a narrative of Weird Japan, the Goofball Kingdom of East Asia, populated by losers and perverts.

The Bogus #1

Mac sent in the first article by The Guardian’s man in Japan, Justin McCurry, whose body of work suggests his ambition is to become the thinking man’s WaiWai. McCurry slid forward on his stool at the FCCJ bar and pulled out another one. There are too many fascinating stories in this country of 127 million to cover them all, but the one McCurry selected for his Guardian readers was about the municipal government of Isesaki, Gunma, a city of 209,000 people, ordering its employees to shave their facial hair.

His manner of presenting information about Japan has become so predictable it deserves to be recognized as the McCurry Method ™. This consists of blending dollops of mythomania into meaningless generalizations applied to the entire population and to entire eras with the journalistic equivalent of an industrial paint sprayer, propelled by a condescending sense of superiority.

He starts with a line straight out of the Ryan Connell WaiWai stylebook:

(B)ureaucrats in one town could find themselves sent to the bathroom, razor in hand, for sporting even the suggestion of a five o’clock shadow.

There’s a reason they don’t issue artistic licenses to the people writing for a daily paper. None of this works even as hyperbole, least of all the idea that the average Japanese man is capable of producing a five o’clock shadow. Well, some are—by five o’clock the next day.

Authorities in Isesaki, Gunma prefecture, have ordered all male employees to shave off their facial hair, and banish all thoughts of growing any, following complaints from members of the public who said they found dealing with bearded bureaucrats “unpleasant”.

Might as well use that counterfeit artistic license until it expires from overheating. Imagine an Isesaki municipal bureaucracy capable of mind control, banishing thoughts of banned beards from all those who dare enter its precincts. You can’t even look out the window and daydream of a tidy Van Dyke.

Here’s a textbook application of the McCurry Method ™:

The Isesaki ban is reminiscent of the strict rules on physical appearance enforced by conservative companies in the postwar period in the belief that Japan’s rise to economic superpower required absolute conformity.

That’s in contrast to the wild and crazy guys with beards to their sternums, ponytails to their shoulder blades, and rings in their ears, lips, and noses to the grindstones at the hip, tolerant, a-go-go American and British industrial corporations of the 50s and 60s.

Shall we hold a pool to speculate where McCurry got the idea that the Japanese corporate establishment “believed” that “absolute” conformity was the key to becoming an economic superpower? Here’s where I put my money: He pulled it out of his backside.

What’s he going to write next? The robotic Japanese are automatons and economic animals who live in rabbit hutches, dream of conquering the world economically because they couldn’t militarily, and are so xenophobic they think Wogs begin at Calais?

Whoops, sorry about that last one. That comes from McCurry’s neck of the woods.

For an illustration of the strict ban on facial hair in Japan during the postwar period, here’s a photo of the man at the top of the social ziggurat in those days:

But this was the first time that an absence of whiskers had been enforced among civil servants, the internal affairs and communications ministry said.

But this was probably not the first time McCurry rewrote something to enhance the narrative. What the ministry really said was that they had “never heard of” any municipality in the country introducing such a rule, not that it had never happened.

The ban, the first of its kind among Japanese public officials, applies to any manifestation of facial hair, from lovingly cultivated full beards to trendy goatees and designer stubble.

And we all know that the range of facial hair from lovingly cultivated full beards to trendy goatees and designer stubble constitutes the A to Z of masculine hirsuteness.

A more realistic view was offered by Nakata Hiroshi, now running for an upper house Diet seat. When he was the mayor of Yokohama, he would have been in a position to institute such a ban.

Some beards are stylish, and some are unsightly, and it’s not possible to clearly define what would or would not make other people uncomfortable. This is a service industry whose employees should be aware that they interact with the public, and that everyone is checking out everyone else’s appearance.

Here are some more things McCurry didn’t see when he wasn’t looking: Facial hair for male employees is also banned at 7-Eleven Japan (full-time employees and student part-timers alike), Oriental Land, the operators of Tokyo Disney Resort, and the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, the country’s premier sports franchise.

He also missed this site for a business consulting firm in the U.S.:

(E)mployers in the USA have a legal right to ask you to adhere to dress codes:
“A person can be fired because the company doesn’t like your shoes,” explains Robert D. Lipman, who manages the New York employment firm Lipman & Plesur, LLP …“People say ‘This is America. We should be able to do what we want.’ But I tell them that once you walk into a private employer’s workplace, your rights are limited.”

Less than a minute of research turned up this site from solicitors in Britain:

Standards of dress and personal presentation are relevant to most employers and having a policy on dress code can be important.
Where the employees meet customers and are effectively the shop window for the company, the benefits of presentable appearance are obvious. But even where the employee’s work is internal, there are less tangible benefits such as:
•creating a team atmosphere,
•engendering standards of professionalism, and
•creating a corporate image.

McCurry seems to fancy himself a successor to the tradition of British essayists, so it’s fitting to close this chapter with a quote from one of the best, William Hazlitt:

“The true barbarian is he who thinks everything barbarous but his own tastes and prejudices.”

The Bogus #2

Aceface found an article by people who didn’t look very hard either: a group of Internet hucksters calling themselves Business Ideas International, who claim to be based in Japan. A look at their website turns up business ideas resembling the sort of suggestions that used to be advertised on matchbook covers in the United States. (Start a DJ business and rock your way to financial freedom! How to get paid to play video games!) The combination of lackwits producing junior high school prose and preening with the conceit that they know what they’re talking about makes one wonder how they succeed in business even when they really are trying, much less offer advice to others.

The title is: 5 Twisted Business Ideas (That Could Only Have Come From Japan)

Sushi, Geisha, Schoolgirls and Anime are usually among the first things that come to mind when people mention Japan. Business Ideas International is based here in Japan though – and we’ve got the inside scoop. We can tell you from first-hand experience that the quirkiness of the land of the rising sun is not just limited to these usual pop-culture icons.

Give the business mavens credit for thinking outside the box. Who else would consider sushi and geisha “pop-culture icons”?

As someone who has regularly interacted with both Japanese and American schoolgirls, by the way, I’d say the Japanese variety are considerably less quirky.

(H)ere’s just a sampling of five twisted business ideas that could only have come from Japan.
#1 Love Doll Rental
It’s weird enough that some guys settle for a “real life” doll instead of a real girlfriend. But leave it to the Japanese – the place where these dolls-as-partners were invented – to take things a step further.

The earliest recorded instances of love dolls are the “dama de viaje” or “dame de voyage”. Those are Spanish and French terms for female dolls sewn out of old clothes for use as substitutes on sailing ships during long voyages. The Japanese and German navies performed similar experiments in the 1930s, and the Germans called theirs seemannsbraut. The Japanese like the term Dutch wives.

There was a big to-do in Britain in 1982 when a company called Conegate tried to import inflatable sex dolls from West Germany, but customs seized them. They were so anatomically accurate the authorities considered them indecent. The High Court overturned the verdict of an initial hearing on appeal and allowed the sale of seemannsbraut in the UK.

You see, here in Japan, if you’re not a “one-fake-woman” kind of guy, and prefer to “work the scene” you can opt to rent a love doll by the hour.

Thus demonstrating the aptness of Henri Amiel’s epigram that cleverness is serviceable for everything and sufficient for nothing.

But there’s a reason for the rentals.

With $2 million in sales last year, (Matt) McMullen now employs 14 people at his San Marcos, Calif., company (Real Doll) and makes about six or seven dolls a week, each requiring 80 hours of labor.

The linked article says that some dolls sell for as much as $US 6,500. To get an idea of what’s available, here’s a website with immaculate English offering “realistic latex & silicon love”.

Could it be that BII is chagrined they didn’t come up with the rental idea themselves?

Business Ideas International prides itself on being a publication that is SFW, so we won’t go into too many more details. Needless to say, let your imagination wander – what ever pops into your head, yup, that’s what they do.

How would the people of Business Ideas International know what Japanese men do with sex dolls? Unless…

#2 Roadside Alcohol Vending Machines
Nothing takes the edge of (sic) the morning drive to work like an early A.M. beer-buzz right? If you agree, you’ll love Japan. Here there are literally thousands of street-side alcohol vending machines. You can just pull up to one, stick in your ID and a couple hundred yen, and out pops a can of premium beer or potent Japanese sake. Open her up and keep on driving. Gives a new meaning to “one for the road”.

Anyone who thinks the Japanese show up for work with a morning buzz because they bought some beer at a vending machine instead of pulling into a 24/7 convenience store offering a greater selection of the same product is not old enough to work for a living. Incidentally, drunk driving laws in Japan are more stringent than in the US. Any alcohol in your system at all lands you in jail. No malarkey about blood alcohol percentages.

Remember, these people claim to be based in Japan.

The vending machines selling alcohol are for walk up (or pedal up) business, not drivers, but let’s not judge Business Ideas International too harshly. Anything to do with business, ideas, or Japan seems not to be their forté.

#3 Every Invention By Dr. Nakamatsu – Ever
If you don’t live in Japan, chances are you haven’t heard of Dr. Yoshiro Nakamatsu.

Even if you do live in Japan, chances are you haven’t heard of Dr. Nakamatsu.

Dr. Nakamatsu’s most notable invention is one that helped change the world at the time – the floppy disk. IBM made a deal with him in the late 70’s for his floppy-disk related patents that are bound by a non-disclosure agreement, so they may take most of the credit. Although the sum paid to him has never been revealed, he has lived the life of an extremely eccentric multi-millionaire ever since. Besides the floppy disk, Dr. Nakamatsu also holds patents for the core technology behind the CD, the DVD, the digital watch and even the taxi-cab meter.

They missed the patent for the automated pachinko machine, but what the heck. BII thinks that every invention by Dr. Nakamatsu ever is twisted. However, they do note that he also sells:

Pyong-Pyong Flying Shoes, Love Jet 200 Anti-Impotence Perfume, Yummy Nutri Brain Food…

Put “eccentric inventor” into Google and you’ll get almost two million hits. Dr. Nakamatsu actually appears in a few of them, but most of them refer to the tradition of eccentric English inventors.

Either Business Ideas International is jealous that Dr. Nakamatsu has more money than they ever will, or this is some undergrad’s idea of a put-on.

#4 Maid Cafes
Cute Japanese girls dressed in French maid costumes take your order and serve you food. They also occassionally (sic) get up on stage and sing and dance for you. ‘Nuff said.

Nah, not nearly “‘nuff said”.

Let’s talk about the American-based restaurant chain Hooters. The waitresses wear orange shorts cut at crotch level, tanks tops designed to show off their superstructure—hence the name “Hooters”–pantyhose, and bras. This is taken from the company’s website:

Hooters of America, Inc. is the Atlanta-based operator and franchiser of over 455 Hooters locations in 44 states in the US, Argentina, Aruba, Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, England, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Korea, Mexico, Paraguay, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Venezuela and the Virgin Islands. The privately held corporation owns 120 units.

Now there’s a Business Idea International! Hooters has yet to hit Japan, however. Maybe all that latex & silicon love is squeezing them out of the market.

The element of female sex appeal is prevalent in the restaurants, and the company believes the Hooters Girl is as socially acceptable as a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, or a Radio City Rockette…Claims that Hooters exploits attractive women are as ridiculous as saying the NFL exploits men who are big and fast. Hooters Girls have the same right to use their natural female sex appeal to earn a living as do super models Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell. To Hooters, the women’s rights movement is important because it guarantees women have the right to choose their own careers, be it a Supreme Court Justice or Hooters Girl…Sex appeal is legal and it sells.

They’re feminists!

Hooters does not market itself to families, but they do patronize the restaurants. Ten percent of the parties we serve have children in them. Hooters is in the hospitality business and provides the best possible service to anyone coming through the door. For this reason, the chain offers a children’s menu.

So to sum up: A children’s menu in a restaurant called Hooters wink wink nudge nudge is normal, but some Japanese men patronizing restaurants with waitresses wearing French maid outfits is twisted.

#5 Live Seafood Restaurants
While many English-speaking countries have caught the Sushi Restaurant buzz, food connoisseurs abroad are still missing out on the REAL seafood dining experience here in Japan.
Apparently for the Japanese, just serving your food raw was not good enough for them. “If we’re not going to cook it”, an enterprising restaurant owner apparently thought, “why should we even bother killing it?”…


…and so the live seafood restaurant was born. That’s right, in Japan, you can go to a restaurant and be served a plateful of food that’s still alive and kicking.

Putting aside the image of kicking seafood, the folks at Business Ideas International apparently have not been to China or South Korea. Not very international of them, is it? Neither do they read Britain’s Telegraph, nor visit YouTube:

Chinese diners eat live fish in YouTube video
Animal rights campaigners have criticised the Chinese over their extreme eating habits after a video of diners eating a live fish became a hit on the internet.

The article is dated November 2009. The BII piece was posted in May 2010.

The Telegraph article contains this passage:

Reports have claimed some restaurants offer monkey’s brains. Other dishes include rats, dogs, snakes, lizards and baby mice.

I’ve also heard the monkey brains story from a Japanese man who operates a small restaurant and likes Chinese food. He visited China on a special tour for people in the industry.

Yesterday, I did a search at Google Videos and YouTube: “China live food” got 2,400 and 1,780 hits respectively. “Japan live food” got 1,800 hits and 1,410 hits, and “Korea live food” got 1,140 and 911. Not all of them were about the actual consumption of live food, however.

Incidentally, unless you’re interested in getting ill, all shellfish must either be eaten live or be cooked while live. The Health Department of the State of New York has issued an official warning. Raw oyster bars have long been popular on the American East Coast and in France. They’re so common in the U.S. the dish is called shooters.

Hey, who’s up for some shooters at Hooters!

At the very least, we hope this post has made you realize that no business idea is too strange or outlandish.

It also made me realize the extent to which ignorance has gone viral.

The Bogus #3

As we saw from the previous example, there exists a type of low intelligence that’s become convinced of its cleverness without seeing through the transparency of its oafdom. An even clearer demonstration is the Adam Frucci post at Gizmodo sent in by Dokushoka. It’s the journalistic equivalent of picking one’s nose in public.

The title is: Elderly Japanese Would Rather be Tended to by Robots than Foreigners

Frucci provides no specific information on what elderly Japanese think. How can he? That’s because he pulled it out of the primary source for people who write about Japan: His own backside.

What he does is provide in this “article” is a hot link at the bottom to the BBC, which is presumably his source. The link covers the space of only three letters inside parentheses, meaning most people will miss it or not bother with it. That’s the point.

Those few who do click on the link will be directed to a BBC report by Roland Buerk. It has no text—only about 2:40 worth of video, which means even fewer will bother. That’s also the point.

I watched.

That title is: Japan MAY accept robots over immigrants. (Emphasis mine) It’s about the nursing shortage in Japan. In his own variation on the McCurry Method ™, Buerk provides no specific numbers about a national nurse shortfall, but just expects everyone to take his word for it. He does talk to one woman employed at a hospital who says it’s difficult to find staff.

Back to Frucci:

Many of the potential nurses to tend to said old people happen to be from neighboring Asian countries. Not so fast! What about robots?!

Not so fast indeed! What about reality?! Frucci eliminates a critical part of Buerk’s story, which is that nurses must pass a medical terminology test in Japanese to stay more than three years. The failure rate is 98%. Buerk calls this “an example of Japan’s barriers to immigration”.

I’d call that another example of faux journalism and cultural arrogance. How loathsome of those Japanese to spend 1,500 years developing a difficult written language just to prevent other people from moving there.

The BBC briefly interviews a Filipino nurse complaining that even Japanese people have trouble reading the test vocabulary because they’re specialized kanji.

But of course they’re specialized kanji—they’re medical terms. Most laypeople in English-speaking countries couldn’t pass a medical terminology test in their own language either. How many people do you know who could define nosocomial infection, iatrogenic illness, or lethologica without looking them up? The English-language Internet is filled with advice to students for dealing with medical terminology tests.

Had anyone involved with the story known what they were talking about or cared to discover the truth, they’d know that learning kanji is sometimes a beneficial shortcut. Before I came to Japan, I had no idea what nephritis was. When I came across it in kanji, I understood immediately: inflammation of the kidney.

Back to Frucci:

Japan is a very racially homogenous society, where immigration is frowned upon and genetic purity is seen as a good thing.

Putting aside what Frucci thinks he knows about Japanese attitudes toward “genetic purity”, here’s a link to an article published in the monthly magazine Voice—available at newsstands everywhere—almost seven years ago by six members of the now ruling Democratic Party in Japan calling for the immigration of 10 million people. Two of them are now in the Cabinet.

And with the birthrate slowed, they’re moving towards an era where (sic) a full half of the population will be over 65.

His source, Buerk at the BBC, says only that a quarter of the population is over 65 now. He says nothing about an era “where” a “full half” of the population is over 65.

See what I mean about pulling stuff out of their backsides?

Buerk’s turn:

Compared to the melting pots of London and New York, foreigners really stand out here.

On the contrary, the many Chinese and Korean foreigners here don’t stand out at all, but then some people think they all look alike. As Britain’s Prince Philip had it, they’re all “slitty-eyed”.

In passing, I’ll note this belief that the term “foreigner” belongs exclusively to them is endemic among Caucasians in Northeast Asia.

The possibility of allowing mass immigration is barely even discussed.

Buerk doesn’t seem to be big on reading Japanese either. He’s also not the first European to look the other way when the subject is the impact of mass immigration in Europe. After all, Mohammed has been the most popular name for baby boys in London and Yorkshire since 2008. Here’s a headline from a Swedish newspaper a few months ago: “Gothenburg Man Arrested over Somali Terror Plot”.

Eventually they COULD be put to work in restaurants and shops…Accepting a robotic future in Japan COULD be more popular than accepting mass immigration. (Emphasis mine)

Eventually somebody COULD do some real research about this country—it’s easy if you try—but that’s not bloody likely, is it?

The Beeb and Buerk knew enough to use the weasel word to give them plausible deniability against the charge of overt statements without a basis in fact, but that flew over Frucci’s head. He writes:

That means they’ll need one of two things to take care of that aging population: foreign nurses or robot nurses. Guess which option seems more reasonable to them?

Frucci is also a masterful prose stylist…

Yes, robotic fucking nurses.

…whose primary source after Buerk is his buttocks:

(H)ospitals are going to be shut down because of a lack of staff and people are going to be left without vital medical care.

Not even Buerk claimed people were going to be left without vital medical care.

Here’s some more glittering prose:

Sooner or later, they’re going to need to allow immigrants from neighboring Asian countries to enter the country and work in much greater numbers in order to make up from (sic) the soon-to-be greatly diminished Japanese workforce.

Soon according to Buerk was 40 years, if current demographic trends hold.

And not just to build goddamned robots.

But perhaps I misunderstand. Frucci may be deliberately adjusting the level of his writing and intellectual content for his audience. From the comments:

I just wrote a research paper on this same subject. The Japanese are very xenophobic and homogeneity is important to them. So to except about a million (yes I said a millions about 15 million to be exact) immigrants is a tough thing for them.

Here’s another:

Japan is such an odd place that I am willing to believe that they think robots are better than humans of a different ethnicity. Stay classy Japan.

Recall what President Truman said about the effects of newspaper journalism? Here’s one more:

Foreigners also prefer that robots take care of old Japanese people.

How much do you want to bet that guy fancies himself a master of wit and repartee?

The Bogus Bonus!

I ran across this article in Britain’s Telegraph by Danielle Demetriou. That it was the only article about Japan on an American site with political and social commentary demonstrates the poisonous effect journalists have on the views of their product’s consumers in the Anglosphere.

It’s a perfect fit for this post. It now contains links to an aggressively ignorant business promotion site and an aggressively ignorant tech blog sandwiched by poorly researched articles from British broadsheets of the left and the right.

Here’s the headline:

Tokyo sees rise in ‘divorce ceremonies’
As Japan’s divorce rate soars, couples in Tokyo are ending their marriages with as much care as they began them. (Emphasis mine)

It includes this sentence:

Their introduction is timely: more than 251,000 divorces took place in Japan in 2008, a figure blamed partly on the poor economic climate and the end of the salaryman-led family units which used to be the bedrock of much of Japanese life.

Comparing that with this section of the English-language website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications brings up some intriguing questions.

In Japan, divorces were on a generally upward trend from the 1960s until 2002 when they hit a peak of 290,000. Since then, both the number of divorces and the divorce rate have declined for six years straight. In 2008, the number of divorces totaled 251,000, and the divorce rate was 1.99 (per 1,000 population).

Did Demetriou access this herself, get the accurate divorce statistic, and pull the rest out of her backside to juice up the story? Or did someone access it for her first and fail to provide the full context, forcing her to pull the rest out of her backside to juice up the story?

And just what is “soaring divorces blamed on the poor economic climate and the end of salaryman-led family units” supposed to mean?

Japan’s divorce rate per 1,000 population is one of the lowest in the world and is declining. The unexplained and inexplicable reference to the “end of salaryman-led family units” is a borrowing of the McCurry Method ™. Now I’ll borrow the pretentious phrase of those thin-skinned scribes caught with their pants down pulling stuff out of their backsides: I stand by my claim that the journos are making stuff up to ridicule the Japanese and thereby sell product.

Saori Teshima had long dreamt of the moment.

How would Demetriou know?

So goes another divorce ceremony – a bizarre, but increasingly popular ritual among Japanese couples, who choose to end their marriages with the same pomp and ceremony with which they began them.

Who is Demetriou to use “bizarre”, the contemporary teenager’s default term of derision, to describe a preference for ceremonies to mark the milestones of one’s life? I was graduated from school twice in my life—once from high school and once from university. Japanese also have graduation ceremonies for those finishing kindergarten, primary school, and junior high school. They also have entrance ceremonies and ceremonies to mark the start of the school year.

Saturday night, I attended a party for a man’s kanreki—his 60th birthday. The Japanese have observed customs associated with kanreki for several hundred years.

But it’s understandable why some British would consider a divorce ceremony bizarre. Their divorce rate is roughly six times that of Japan. From the Office of National Statistics, UK:

The rate of divorce in the United Kingdom has been dropping in recent years. In 2007 the divorce rate in England and Wales was recorded at 11.9 people per every 1000 of the married population. This is the lowest divorce rate recorded since 1981.

If they started conducting divorce ceremonies, when would they ever sober up enough to go to a pub for the binge drinking required to properly enjoy a soccer match?

Britain also has the highest number of unmarried mothers in Europe. Ceremonies and commitments? Screw that for a lark.

Pioneering the trend for divorce ceremonies is Hiroki Terai, 29, an entrepreneurial former sales man from Japan’s Chiba district…

Chiba is a city and a prefecture (i.e., province or state) right next to Tokyo. Odd that The Telegraph’s Japan correspondent wouldn’t know that it isn’t a “district”.

…who dreamt up the idea after friends of his decided to separate last year. Since setting up a company devoted to divorce ceremonies in March, he has been contacted by more than 700 people and conducted 21 divorce ceremonies – costing from £44 to £700 – with a further nine booked.

In other words, this “increasingly popular ritual” is performed for 0.01% of all divorces.

Roland Kelts, a Japan culture expert and lecturer at the University of Tokyo, described how divorce ceremonies were a welcome tool for Japanese to deal with shifting family structures.
“Today’s Japanese women are well-educated and worldly,” he says. “They watch Sex and the City and wonder why their husbands are not more dynamic. And their husbands, having lost the security of lifetime employment and its perks, are wondering why their wives are so impatient. No wonder divorce has risen to a third of Japanese marriages.”

Only an academic could achieve the hat trick of pulling something from his backside, applying the McCurry Method ™, and beclowning himself in a few meaningless sentences. My favorite was the non sequitur of men losing their lifetime employment perks and then wondering why their wives were impatient.

Kelts’s “discipline” is pop culture in general and manga in particular, which might explain why he’s hit an intellectual glass ceiling here. Yes, an entire nation of Japanese women, just recently backwards and uneducated, knew nothing about sex before they married and even less afterwards, but turned on the cable to Sex and the City and found it so believable they got impatient with their limp, uninterested husbands.

And so the divorce rate has fallen for six years straight.

The Bona Fide!

It’s time for a palate cleanser after swallowing all that inedible fare. Fortunately, Mac also sent in a Youtube video of a live performance by the Shibusashirazu Orchestra, whom he says played at his local rice festival. The music is a heady blend of modern jazz and pop played with straight-ahead gusto on both Western and traditional Japanese instruments. To this they add free-form stage performers and modern and traditional Japanese dance. Their name literally translates to “not knowing tasteful sobriety”, and that’s no joke.

If they were from America or Europe, you’d know about them already. But after you watch the clip to the end, you’ll know something McCurry, BII, Frucci, Buerke, Demetriou, and their readers don’t.


* Any municipality with a flag such as the one used by Isesaki has to be a cool place no matter what happens there.

* Haruyama Fumio, the chair of the human rights committee of the Gunma Bar Association, says the Isesaki facial hair ban restricts the freedom of individuals.

Count on a human rights lawyer to know nothing about human rights.

Part of the transaction between the employer and the employed is that the employed voluntarily gives up certain rights at the employer’s request. That’s why none of the staff at the elegant hotels in London’s Mayfair district wear Hawaiian shirts and beach sandals to work, for example.

If Justin McCurry wants to work out of his rabbit hutch, he has every right to wear a French maid costume, paint his face to look like Hello Kitty, and identify himself as Justine on the telephone if he chose to do so. No one would care. But his employer would surely object if he were to dress and behave that way on the rare occasions he sallies forth to interact with the Japanese public as part of his job.

Of course, if people found dress and facial hair codes to be an infringement of their rights, they’re free to refuse a job offer.

All of this should be elementary.

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Posted in Food, Foreigners in Japan, Government, Letter bombs, Mass media, Music, Popular culture, Sex, Social trends | Tagged: , , , | 27 Comments »


Posted by ampontan on Thursday, March 25, 2010

HERE WE GO AGAIN: If what you know about Japan you learned from the English-language media, then everything you know is wrong.

Long-time friends have seen that demonstrated dozens of times on this site, followed by the occasional drive-by from the FCCJ spitball artists.

The last time there was a drive-by, a sympathetic soul who linked to my post also tried to be fair. He wrote that he thought the person responsible for that particular item of yellow journalism wasn’t being malicious on purpose.

Well, he can stop trying to be fair. This time, the lid’s been raised off the sewer. Only this time, someone else did the heavy lifting.

There’s a website named Spike Japan that doesn’t have many posts (and the ones it does have are long). Several of the posts deal with what passes for English-language journalism about this country.

The author of the website, a foreigner, says he is interested in the decline of rural Japan. He was shown an English-language article in the Daily Yomiuri about a town (machi) in Gunma named Kanna that is suffering from a population loss.

He thought a lot of it was clearly wrong, and spoke directly to the author of the piece. She insisted that her facts and figures had come from interviews with the mayor and other residents during a visit.

He decided to look into it himself, so he visited Kanna and talked to the same people. Here’s what he found.

Your headline numbers, the big ones, are precisely, up-to-the-minute correct—the overall over-65 percentage is indeed 22%, and the overall under-15 percentage is indeed 13%. Your other numbers are without exception wrong.

I’m beginning to see a pattern here, wouldn’t you agree? The numbers you think you can easily inflate without anyone noticing, you do, the ones that you think someone might notice, you don’t.

Most of the rest of the information in the Yomiuri article seems to have been pulled out of thin air. For example, the author claimed that children were sent out of town to go to high school–despite the existence of a high school a few hundred yards from one of the places she visited. Spike Japan has a photo.

The author of the Yomiuri article was Catherine Makino. She was the President of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan from July 2008 to June 2009.

You can read the Spike Japan article here to see how he handled it.

One caveat: Spike Japan gets a little nitpicky with the English translation of the word shuraku, or settlement. He says places like that should be considered hamlets instead of villages. It can get complicated, but in Japanese, shuraku and mura (village) are close to being synonymous. One of the definitions of mura in the Reikai Shinkokugo Jiten, a J-J dictionary, is shuraku. There are also examples given of shuraku on the Web, and all of them are defined as a type of mura. Then there is the specialized use of the words in cultural anthropology to consider.

But I’m getting a little nitpicky myself!

Be that as it may, there’s no longer any reason whatsoever to assume that any piece of journalism about Japan in English is credible, either in whole or in part. It’s all suspect from the start. The burden of proof is now on them. And if the author of this Spike Japan piece is giving it to us straight, they’ll lie about that, too.

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December means spring cleaning in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 15, 2008

IT’S DECEMBER, and that means the Japanese are getting started on their spring cleaning chores. Families throughout the country will soon be freezing their fannies off as they clean their houses inside and out. It’ll make a lot more sense when you realize that one expression in Japanese for New Year’s is shinshun, which is literally “new spring”. New Year’s in Japan is considered a time of renewal, so it’s a spring cleaning in more ways than one.


And in Japan, where cleanliness is closer to godliness than anywhere else, the cleaning has become an annual religious ritual at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The first photo shows the Spring/New Year’s cleaning of the shinkyo, or sacred bridge (literally divine bridge) at the Nikko Futarasan Shinto shrine in Nikko, Tochigi, on the 12th. The activity is called a susuharai, which is a combination of the words susu, or soot, and harai, or cleaning, with the added nuance of purification.

About 20 people were involved, including priests, shrine maidens, and members of the local committee for preserving cultural treasures. They used three-meter-long sticks with sasa, or bamboo grass, on the end, to wipe off the posts. More conventional methods work best for the steps however, so they used old-fashioned mops and cloths to clean those. It took only 30 minutes to do the whole bridge, but susuharai goes a lot faster when a crew of 20 works together to apply the elbow grease.

Nikko Futarasan is a cultural landmark, incidentally—UNESCO combined it with the nearby Nikko Tosho-gu shrine and the Rinno-ji Buddhist temple to make it a World Heritage Site, but it was famous long before UNESCO came along. The shrine also has two swords that are national treasures of Japan and more buildings and cultural artifacts registered as important cultural assets than you can shake either a stick or a susu broom at.

The bridge itself, which crosses the Daiya River, is also famous, and you’ve undoubtedly seen other pictures from different perspectives. In fact, the shrine has a website with photos taken throughout the year that it offers to the news media. And for those who want to see what the bridge looks like this very minute, the shrine also provides a live camera view, which you can see here. A truck was driving by the last time I looked.

Getting clean at yearend in Japan is not just a Shinto custom—the Buddhists do it too. The second photo shows priests at Kashozan Miroku-ji, a temple in Numata, Gunma, cleaning their famous tengu masks on the 12th.


No, it is not out of the question for a Buddhist temple in Japan to have as a prime attraction three large masks of a mythological creature whose Pinocchio-like nose is surely a phallic symbol. Those noses, by the way, are from 5.5 to 6.5 meters long.

It is not possible to briefly explain what tengu are, so here’s a link that will provide more information on the checkered but fascinating background of these characters. One intriguing legend is that they were said to punish Buddhist monks who used for their own ends the supernormal powers gained through religious practices. Having three big reminders staring at the priests every day as they go about their business makes it a lot less likely they’ll misuse their magic with female parishioners, despite the ideas those noses must put into their heads.

Look at that photo of the brooms wiping off the tengu noses long enough and you’ll be convinced there are jokes just waiting to be found about sneezing and all sorts of other activities. There’s probably a particularly rich vein to be discovered by exploring the phallic symbolism, and wouldn’t you know, the phrase “coming clean at New Year’s” floated into the ether all of a sudden. Perhaps there’s a Buddhist sutra I can chant for keeping my mind from drifiting too far off course.

There’s been a temple on the site since 848, incidentally, so the local wise guys have probably had that territory well covered for more than a millennium.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, the temple bells in Japan toll the joya no kane, which are 108 strokes to cleanse away the 108 delusions of mankind. It’s an old Buddhist ritual, so don’t start thinking about 108 strokes, tengu noses, and coming clean at New Year’s.

The chief priest played it straight, however. He said, “This has been a year of uncertainty both in politics and in the economy. We hope to wash away that uncertainty along with the dirt, and move on to the next year with the firm tread of the ox.” (Next year is the year of the ox.)

When you’re a priest taking care of tengu with noses that long, playing it straight and hiding your supernormal powers is the safest option. I wouldn’t turn my back on them either!

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Posted in Holidays, Religion, Shrines and Temples, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »