Songs Of Winter Denial

Julie Yukiko (雪子)  Buisson aka Ukico has much in common with Snow-White, other than just her name, which literally means “child of the snow”—she is charming, peaceful, a beautiful woman with alabaster skin and blessed with an ethereal singing voice that calms the spirits of men and animals; she is enchanting.  Her first song, Denial, and the surreal mystical music video for it were released on September 11. 

She was born to a Japanese mother and French father and grew up in Paris. You could say she has made the best of her bicultural heritage, touching upon her roots to become a successful model and now a songwriter and singer. Her French-Japanese visage and sense of style helped her have a successful international modeling career.However, she has much more depth than her  surface appearances, and that is part of her appeal. 

Ukico (pronounced You-Key-Koh) was studying at the University La Sorbonne while pursuing her modeling career after high school. What sparked her interest in singing and songwriting was the death of her grandmother. 

Ukico
photo by Yulia Shur
make-up by Laurene Baudin

When she passed away, Ukico, wrote a poem as a eulogy, which she showed to her father—and to her surprise, he wept. 

“It moved my father to cry and it showed me how to paint a picture with words. He still reads the poem, sometimes.” She felt the power of words come to life.

She had often thought about becoming a singer/songwriter but lacked confidence in her ability to compose or to voice her emotions musically. But seeing her father’s response stirred something inside of her. 

“It was a wake-up call. I had always dreamed of studying and living in New York and pursuing music. I love so many different genres and singers. Everything from Massive Attack, to Little Dragon, to Lana Del Rey.”

The song writing of Fiona Apple was particularly inspirational to her. 

To pursue her musical career more seriously she entered a music engineering school in NYC, The Institute of Audio Research. After graduating salutatorian, she interned at the recording studio  Strange Weather based in Brooklyn.

She was given an opportunity  to work on  the production of  36 Seasons by Ghosface Killah. She also put in time at the  world famous  jazz club Birdland, live mixing for the Grammy Award winning band The Afro Latin Jazz orchestra, and other jazz acts. 

While in New York, she experienced the loneliness, alienation and emotional struggles that come with life in the Big Apple. 

She sought refuge in spiritual disciplines, yoga and meditation, eventually becoming adept enough to guide others.. Meditation and yoga are still a huge part of her life, and perhaps what gives her an aura of warm serenity—not the chilly vibe you’d expect from a snow woman. 

During her time in New York, she was also taken under the wing of Justyn Pilbrow, a respected music producer who has handled major acts such as Halsey and The Neighbourhood.

After leaving New York and coming back to Japan she also became more interested in her own Japanese background and traditional music. It provided her with some solace as

She continued to work with Justyn Pilbrow and was also able to collaborate on musical pieces with Japanese virtuosos of  Koto (Japanese lute), Shamisen, Shakuhachi (windpipes) and the Taiko (Japanese drum). 

Her first single, Denial, has instrumentation featuring the shakuhachi and taiko. “The shakuhachi is such a beautiful instrument—it can express so much pain and tension.”

The video of the song is based on the story of Japan’s creation, as told in the Kojiki, a classic of ancient Japanese literature. The creation of the world starts with the first two existing Gods Izanagi (male God) and Izanami (female God). After forming Japan’s islands they gave birth to other gods—the god of the wind, seas, and more.  But Izanami, after giving birth to the God of Fire dies from the trauma and fatal wounds.  Her spirit goes down to the underworld. Izanagi who misses her terribly, decides to descend to the underworld to bring her back—like Japan’s own Orpheus.

The video, using Butoh dancers, brings to life the myth of creation, death and renewal. But what is the song about on a personal level?  Fasting? Living without material goods? Denial of French culture, or Japanese culture?

Ukico answers, “It is a song about breaking up and the end of love. But it is a bit more than that.  I was protecting my heart, not to fall in love again. I was in denial of closing my heart when I started to write it. But also there was underlying denial that I am mad at somebody. 

But the real denial in the song is that I am angry at myself. It is because of myself, because of how I am choosing how to deal with things that the suffering comes. And there is some wisdom and transmutative power in understanding that.” 

A Requiem For Kyoto Animation (KyoAni)

The popular multi-lingual singer, Elizaveta, has released a tribute song “Meet Again” to those who lost their lives in the terrible arson attack on beloved anime studio, Kyoto Animation (KyoAni).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Xvd0FGCi7M

She will donate all the net proceeds from sales of this song to KyoAni’s official support fund.

BandCamp: https://elizaveta.bandcamp.com/track/…

iTunes: https://music.apple.com/us/album/meet…

Alternatively, you can donate to KyoAni directly to help them rebuild (official account info after the link): https://www.kyotoanimation.co.jp/info…

Japan Subculture Research Center asked Elizaveta to explain why she wrote the song and for the lyrics to the song. Here is what she had to say.

I wrote “Meet Again” not long after finding out about the tragic fire at Kyoto Animation. I had met some people from KyoAni, although just very casually, through a network of animators and visual artists I am occasionally part of, when in Tokyo.

I was hoping to be able to tour the studio and visit their shop, when visiting Kyoto next. I was also aware of their positive reputation, as they were known for being an employee-friendly company in an industry, which often overworks and underpays animators. They had a lot of women working for them, too, which was unusual, and a breath of fresh air.

In the hours and days following the tragedy, I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened, and following the news, which just got more and more grim.

The contrast between the beautiful, hopeful art produced by KyoAni and what happened to them, was very hard to reconcile with. I am not a starry-eyed optimist,  

but I do prefer to believe that good things happen to those who put out good things into the world. While I know it’s a naive worldview, it’s better than the alternative. This event, though, was not an accident, but an act of deliberate evil. All circumstances aligned for it to be as awful as could be. It was incredibly hard for me to accept it as reality. There had been no magic hero to save the day, and nothing to soften the blow. Kyoto is a peaceful, mystical city of a few thousand temples. But no deity stepped in to offer protection.

Once you accept that something terrible like this happened and there’s no way to explain it, you must allow for healing to start, or at least attempt to get on the path towards it. I can’t even start to imagine the pain and trauma of those who had gone through this experience and survived are now having to deal, and probably for years to come. My heart also goes out to those who got the call that day to find out their loved ones were no longer with them. Furthermore, the trauma to KyoAni fans around the world may not have been as direct, but it’s real nonetheless. When you make art, those who love and consume it, become believers of the things your art brings into the world. For KyoAni fans, it would have been beauty, hope and harmony. A tragedy such as this one kills faith that the world is in any way fair and a worthwhile place to be part of.

I wrote “Meet Again” the day I went to the recording studio, and the song practically wrote itself. I heard it in my head, and the lyrics came to be just minutes before I walked out to catch the train. This recording is the first take, which we recorded and filmed. It wasn’t quite perfect in a couple of places, and so I did another take, but I had a hard time singing then, because I was too close to tears. And so I made the decision to keep the first take, as it was, and record no more. 

I wrote this song as a way to heal myself, even though I was just a bystander of this tragedy. I hope it may serve as a source of healing to others affected by it. I still have hope and faith. There are so many things we do not know, and so much happens every day, which makes it hard to take heart and carry on. But carry on we must, and help those around us do so, too.

I don’t remember when
I got the call that day
They said you were no more
And then the ground gave way

I sat and cried all night
Still hoping they’d been wrong
A part of me had died
How could I carry on

As sunrise painted red
Inside my sleepless eyes
Still lying on my bed
I thought I heard a voice

It sounded like my love
A distant precious sound
But there was not a soul
That I could see around

I know you’re still with me
In other shape or form
Our union has survived
A deadly firestorm

And when I look above
I can transcend the pain
Soar high with me, my love
I know we’ll meet again.

<日本語歌詞>

何時のことか 覚えてない
もういないと 立ち尽くした

泣き明かした まちがいだと
身を裂かれて 歩みようも

夜明けの赤 腫れ目を染め
伏せたままで 聞こえたのは

君のような 遠くの音
影ひとつも 見えないのに

今も そばに 形を変え
つながりだけ 焼け残った

仰ぎ見ては 痛みを超え
君を連れて また会うまで
あの高みへ また会うまで

Born in USA, Russian-raised Elizaveta made her debut on Universal Records (US) in 2012. Since then she became the voice of the Tavern Bard in Dragon Age, has toured USA, Russia and Europe, was a repeat guest performer at the main TED stage, and released a number of multi-lingual recordings, heard in multiple films and TV series. She produced and released an all-Japanese language duet album Mezameru Riyuu earlier this year, followed by a 16-city tour of Japan.

[The Journalist] Shines Light on Japan’s Dark Side (film review)

by Kaori Shoji

Shinbun Kisha (The Journalist) is getting great box office and rave reviews, belying the myth that a Japanese movie about newsrooms and politics just won’t cut it. Based on the bestselling autobiography by audacious Tokyo Shinbun (東京新聞) reporter Isoko Mochizuki, The Journalist is a suspense thriller about how the titular woman journalist dared go after the government to unveil conspiracies and cover-ups. Infuriatingly, most of her male colleagues are intent on adhering to the status quo. Alone and isolated, the journalist teams up with a young bureaucrat from ‘Naicho’ – the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office – to expose a government scandal that’s almost an exact reenactment of Prime Minister Abe’s ‘Morikake’ incident. 

“All Japan needs is a mere facade of democracy,” goes a line in this movie, implying that the nation neither needs or wants the real deal. 

But now, with the House of Councillors election happening on Sunday, politics is on many peoples’ minds, including millennials that had shown zero interest in the past. Tickets in 42 theaters have sold out and the movie’s distributors announced that they will be printing 10,000 new copies of The Journalist pamphlet, as they’ve been selling off the shelves in theaters across Japan. Next week, the two main cast members will appear on stage at a theater in Shinjuku, to take their bows and answer questions from the audience. It looks like politics and newsrooms are a winning combination!

The Journalist is gripping, wrenching and ultimately cathartic, even if the plucky heroine doesn’t oust the evil government agents or get an enormous raise for her efforts. No, what happens is that news hound Erica Yoshioka (played by South Korean actress Shim Eun-kyung), after a series of grueling assignments that require round-the-clock investigating, not to mention the actual writing –gets to keep her job so she can start the cycle all over again in the name of quality journalism. Yoshioka also keeps her dignity and integrity intact, which is much more than one can say for Japanese movies about professional women, or let’s face it, women protagonists in general. 

The role of Erica Yoshioka is gutsy and intriguing and you can’t help but wonder why a Japanese actress didn’t snap it up. Rumors are going around that all the possible candidates had turned it down because they didn’t want to get involved in anything anti-government and were afraid of the backlash. Shim can return to South Korea, but Japanese actresses have to live and work here. 

Personally, I’ll take what I can get, and bask in the fact that The Journalist got made at all. Usually, such projects never get off the ground. Not only does The Journalist dig at some old scars the current Administration would rather forget, it bears the hallmarks of a well-meaning dud. There is no love story. There are no sex scenes or girl idols to alleviate the complete seriousness of the proceedings. And the director, Michihito Fujii, is only 32 years old with no blockbusters on his resume. Initially, Fujii turned down the offer of director since, as he professed in an online interview, “I didn’t know anything about politics or the news.” 
Still, once he signed on, Fujii did the research, hit the books and lined up interviews with government officials. The story benefits from his efforts but the directing seems just a tad stiff and two-dimensional. Perhaps Fujii was too caught up in the material to do more than connect the dots, albeit with meticulous expertise. 

As it is, The Journalists belong to Shim and Tohri Matsuzaka who plays Sugihara, the elite bureaucrat working for ‘Naicho’. They give their all to film and Matsuzaka has been commended on social media for taking on a “dangerous” role that could potentially give him a bad name (the anti-government name). 

Compared to Shim’s Yoshioka, Sugihara is more nuanced and inwardly tortured. His job is to protect the current administration and make sure the press don’t get their hands on any problematic information, but he has his misgivings. When his boss commits suicide to cover up another cover-up, Sugihara is shaken.

(Editor’s note–this is based on the suicide of a Finance Ministry official who killed himself rather than take part in deleting or altering government documents that implicated Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a scandal relating to a government land-sale to a right-wing elementary school, run by his crony. None of the other officials who participated in forging public documents, which is a criminal offense, were charged; the female prosecutor who dropped the case was promoted)

The boss’s last words to Sugihara had been “don’t end up like me,” and Sugihara can’t fathom whether that meant “don’t die” or “don’t get involved in anything bad.” For a Naicho bureaucrat, the two most likely mean the same thing. 
Matsuzaka is a revelation – he has always been good but The Journalist shows his range. Last year, he was doing sex scenes ad nauseum in Call Boy and here, he never even takes off his jacket. 

A word about Shim as Yoshioka: in the movie, her character has a Japanese father and a Korean mother, hence her accent when she speaks Japanese. Yoshioka completely lives for her job, to the point of excluding everything else from her life. It turns out that her father (also a journalist) had killed himself over an incident involving fake news. As his daughter, she had vowed to pursue the truth, whatever the cost. Shim’s performance is excellent, and one can only hope there will be a future where Japanese actresses will go for roles like this –  far, far away from the planet of ‘Kawaii’.

In real life, there aren’t a whole lot of women journalists working for Japanese newspapers. Many don’t make it past the first five years; what with the long hours combined with frequent transfers to regional branches, incidents of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and of course, that thick glass ceiling – the job doesn’t exactly encourage them to stay on. 

Isoko Mochizuki, the author of the book on which the film is based, however, is changing the scenery. As mentioned above, she’s a veteran reporter for Tokyo Shinbun which is famed for its hard-hitting investigative journalism and for being the Abe Administration’s most vocal critic. Her frequent cross questioning of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, has ripped a big hole in Japan’s infamous ‘kisha club’ system (where only the reporters of major newspapers are allowed to attend closed press conferences). And now, with the unexpected success of The Journalist, perhaps we can start discussing hard-hitting issues like democracy and freedom of the press. Who’s to say the Japanese don’t need it ? They seem to love films that bring up these issues.

Heisei to Reiwa ≠ Heiwa?

On April 30th, Emperor Akihito became the first sitting Japanese Emperor to abdicate the throne in over 200 years. Then, the following day on May 1st, his son Naruhito ascended the throne, becoming the 125th emperor thus marking the official start of the Reiwa (令和) Era.

In recognition of this momentous occasion, that PM Abe described to Trump as being “100 times bigger [than the Super Bowl],” many stores and companies released new products. Such as Reiwa branded sake and beer, a ¥100,000 truffle wagyu burger, foie gras and gold dust toped 3kg wagyu burger, gold dust seasoned potato chips and cans of Heisei Era air from Heinari in Gifu Prefecture, heisei branded bottles of water costing ¥2000. While many other stores simply opted to hold special time-limited sales.

At the same time, many Japanese consumers enjoyed an extremely long holiday (by Japanese standards) of 10 days and many went on spending sprees with some economists estimating there to be a nationwide spike in spending by tens of billions of Yen.

Meanwhile, many in China reportedly were baffled and disappointed that the new era name wasn’t based off of Chinese classics like many past era names and instead was instead allegedly derived from a collection of classical Japanese poetry from the late 7th to 8th centuries known as The Manyoshu.

One of the most odd effects of the new Reiwa era name, however, is the celebration of many Tibetans living in Japan due to the new era’s name sounding similar to the Tibetan word for “hope”. There are many people who hope and believe that the new era’s name is an auspicious sign for the Tibetan people; May 10th marks the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

Parade the Penis: Kanamara Matsuri

Text & video by Phoebe Amoroso, cover image courtesy of Kanamara Shrine

Our roving reporter, Pheebz, visited the annual Kanamara Festival on April 7th, which involves a lot of phalluses. The Kanamara Shrine (literally, “Metal Penis Shrine”) is where people pray for sexual health and fertility.

The annual festival – informally known as “penis festival” – has been growing in popularity, with 30,000 visitors in 2016, 60% of those coming from overseas. Could watching the phallic parade be something of a release?

What’s the story behind this upstanding event? Watch the video below to peel back the mythological foreskin and get to the root of the matter.

The festival has its roots in local sex workers praying for protection against sexually-transmitted infections, but in recent years, it has come to represent LGBTQ and diversity with profits going towards HIV research.

Quite rightly, however, many have pointed out the hypocrisy inherent in a country, which made international headlines for condemning vagina art by Megumi Igarashi, better known as Rokudenashiko. Who was arrested on obscenity charges for distributing 3D data of her vagina that she used to 3D print a vagina canoe as part of her work.

Yet the obscenity of the flagrant double standards provokes discussion, and an event that promotes inclusivity is worth celebrating in a notoriously conservative society.

Many festival attendees are likely satisfied with pure spectatorship and sucking on phallic-shaped candy, and that’s fine too. But for maximum enjoyment, it’s worth digging a little deeper into the legend of a SAVAGE VAGINA DEMON (you read that right).

One legend has it that a beautiful woman was plagued by a jealous demon, who hid in her vagina and killed Husband Number 1 by biting off his penis. Husband Number 2 met a similar fate. Dismayed, she enlisted the help of a local blacksmith who seems to have been really chill about dealing with vagina demons. He made her a metal phallus, which she inserted. The demon, of course, bit it, but he broke his teeth and fled. Presumably she lived happily ever after, especially since she had her own personal metal phallus.

Come along for the ride – watch our report. ↑

Book Review: Japanese Tattoos

By Taylor Drew

Coauthored by Brian Ashcraft, a senior contributing editor for the website Kotaku, and Osaka based tattoo artist Hori Benny, this book Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design was written with the goal with the intention of helping those that are thinking of getting a Japanese style tattoo (perhaps most commonly known outside of Japanese as irezumi・刺青). Both authors use extensive knowledge of Japanese style tattooing and personal interviews to guide the novice away from committing any cultural faux pas in a work that spans 158 glossy pages.

“Over the course of researching, interviewing, and writing this book, we consulted numerous friends, colleagues, experts, and total strangers with the goal of introducing and decoding the most prevalent motifs so that English speakers can have a better understanding of their meaning and hopefully get Japanese tattoos that can be worn with pride – as they should be”

The book begins with an introduction to the history of irezumi in Japan, from punitive tattoos, to prohibition, and all the way back to modern times. This first section also covers briefly some reasons why Japanese tattoos have changed over time. The book is then divided into six additional chapters based on the different styles and motifs found in irezumi, with numerous sections in each chapter that clearly divide different motifs in that style. A tattooist and client profile are also included at the end of every chapter, giving life to the theme of that particular chapter. There are also information boxes that provide additional information to support the content within the main body of the work. All of this is supported with high quality, full colour images of tattoos and virtually every single page of the book.

What I found extremely impressive about this book was the sheer quantity and quality of the accompanying images. Not only are specific motifs and their meanings clearly explained, but the authors have also provided imagery and explanations of the images themselves. The reader is able to enjoy each and every motif – usually in more than one style. Both Ashcraft and Hori Benny did an exceptional job collecting the various photographs of irezumi for the book.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of the book though, was the addition of the Tattooist Profile and Tattoo Client Profile at the end of every single chapter. While the majority of the book reads, to an extent, like an irezumi dictionary of sorts, these sections brought extra life into the vast amount of information being provided. We, as readers, are given the opportunity to hear the voices of individuals that are not the authors. These sections are personal and provide a real solid look into the minds of the tattoo artists and their clients. We are able to see their views on irezumi and what they mean to them personally. The extra insight brought in by these sections is a crucial component in what makes Japanese Tattoos work – it makes the “foreign” content relatable.

That being said, the large amount of information that the book contains is also a weakness. There were certain sections that I found difficult to read. There are extra text bubbles of information throughout the book, but in some places their existence takes away from the overall flow of the work. The reader is obligated to both stop midsentence to go read the “extras” or move on and hope they don’t forget to go back and read them again. Such as,

“The fox (kitsune in Japanese) is associated with the formless Shinto deity Inari, who is sometimes depicted as male, other times as female and sometimes as gender-less. Inari is not only the god of rice, sake wine, and fertility, but also the god of metal workers and commerce. Stone fox statues often appear at the more than ten thousand officially recognized Inari shrines in Japan, and because the fox guards these shrines, the animal is often confused with the god. The pure white foxes, however, aren’t simply the god’s messengers, but also guard and protect the shrines. These foxes also carry connotations of wealth and fertility, due to Inari’s rice associations.” (pg. 57)

The Fox (Kitsune/狐) Tattoo is a joy to behold.

I found sections like this rather disjointing and it did affect my reading experience. Definitely not a problem for many readers, but something that I wish would have been laid out a little better, especially considering the high quality of the content on every single page.

Overall, Japanese Tattoos was a fascinating read and I would recommend it enthusiastically to anyone interested in tattoos or keen to learn more about specifically about irezumi. While perhaps the academic might find the content a bit shallow in terms of the historical content, it is important to remember that that is NOT the goal that Brian Ashcraft and Hori Benny set for this book. They wanted to create a resource for English speakers who wanted to get Japanese tattoos. A goal that I would say they accomplished with flourishing colours.

Taylor Drew is a new contributor to JSRC she is a Canadian living in Tokyo since 2015. (Almost) fluent in Japanese. Loves Iwate and cats. 

No More Dashi: Four Delicious Vegan Restaurants In & Around Tokyo

by Anna Wildman

Eating vegan (a diet containing no animal products whatsoever) in Japan can be frustrating, given that most Japanese don’t seem to have even have the word “vegetarian,” let alone “vegan,” in their vocabulary. Even in Tokyo, one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, dashi (bonito fish flake stock/seasoning) seems to be in almost everything– from miso soup to potato chips. The “Impossible Burger” hasn’t quite made it to Japan.

Oftentimes, even the menus at veggie-forward restaurants (often with names that include the words “farmer” or “yasai,” meaning vegetable) are mostly meat-centric dishes with some organic veggies on the side. 
While culturally, eating vegan hasn’t hit the mainstream in Japan quite yet due to various reasons,  the vegan restaurants that do exist here are high quality and often very cozy and inviting. 

Below are four 100% vegan restaurants in or near Tokyo that I encourage you to try, or would encourage anyone to try. They are all quite different in terms of location and type of food, but the one thing that they all have in common is value — and the safety of knowing you are eating in a place that knows what it means to be vegan.

Saido

Located in Jiyugaoka, one of my favorite neighborhoods, is known for its trendy vibes and romantic streets, Saido (meaning vegetable street) is truly a hidden gem. After walking through a lush garden, expect to be greeted by a very cheerful and friendly Japanese woman. She will explain the menu to you in detail, giving suggestions (osusume) along the way. At lunch time, for about 2,000 yen you will receive a three-course meal that comes with soup, a gastronomic wonder of a salad that emits smoke when opened, and then the main course. Choose from one of the many noodle dishes (e.g. yakisoba, abura soba, ramen, tsukemen), unagi-don, katsu-don, or curry. 


https://saido.tokyo/

2 Chome-15-10 Jiyugaoka, Meguro City, Tokyo 152-0035

Closest Station: Jiyugaoka 

Olu Olu Cafe
A somewhat cluttered, homey Hawaii-inspired 100% vegan restaurant in the Sangenjaya neighborhood near Shibuya. Their menu is quite varied, with choices from hot fried (soy-based) chicken to ramen. 

The jambalaya there is one to write home about– or write an article about. Flavorful, subtly spicy, quality mock meat, and not too oily.  All main course meals are from 900-1,200 yen, and portions are fairly large. 

Once you’re done eating, head outside and walk around the area. There are plenty of parks, coffee shops, and clothing stores to be explored. 

https://oluolucafe.amebaownd.com/

1 Chome-11-1 Ikejiri, Setagaya City, Tokyo 154-0001

Closest Station: Sangenjaya

Kousaiken Gu
Since this restaurant is actually in Kamakura, it’s technically outside of Tokyo. Get on a train and go to the beach when you’re done. Even if you don’t go to the beach, it’s worth the trip thanks to its charm and quality. 

It is almost hidden, located just up the street from the crowded beaches of Kamakura in a very quiet and residential neighborhood. 

The restaurant has a mix of Japanese and Indian food with very limited seating– one inside and two outside seating area (with covering). The family who owns it originally operated the restaurant out of Nerima-ku in Tokyo, but moved it to Kamakura in 2017 where they have been running it ever since. They are very friendly and love to chat in English, so it’s a great place for tourists looking to take a break from kanji-riddled menus and staff with limited English abilities.
For 2,000 JPY, one can get soup, a large vegetable plate, curry, rice + puri, dessert, and tea. I was blown away by the value. My favorite was the vegetable plate, which came with about 10 different types of vegetables, all cooked in different ways. 

https://tabelog.com/kanagawa/A1404/A140402/14063693/

3 Chome-1-7 Zaimokuza, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0013

Closest Station: Wadazuka

Nagi Shokudo 

Conveniently located in Shibuya, it’s a tiny place with only two staff members including the chef. 

This is meant to be a traditional Japanese restaurant vegan-ized. They serve up karaage, seasonal veggie dishes, curry, miso soup, and more. If going for dinner, I recommend the couple deli plate for two. It includes a sampling of all of their different dishes for just 4,200 yen. 

https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1303/A130301/13048497/

15-10 Uguisudanicho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0032
Closest Station: Shibuya  

Some online resources to find vegan food: 

https://www.happycow.net/asia/japan/

https://vegewel.com/en/

Weathering With You (Review)

by Kaori Shoji

Imagine a rainy day that lasted forever

Certain facts of life we know to be true. The tide will turn. The sun will rise. Hayao Miyazaki is the god of Japanese anime. Still, the throne may be ready for a shakedown – or even a partial step down on the part of Miyazaki. Anime filmmaker extraordinaire Makoto Shinkai (Your Name) has blown a huge hole in the fortress of Miyazaki’s storied production company Studio Ghibli, with his latest: Tenki no Ko (International Title: ‘Weathering With You’).” It’s a semi-utopian spin on the dismally dystopian subject of climate change, and the ending has instigated a controversial firestorm on social media. The question at the eye of the storm is this: “Should we forgive the protagonists for putting their personal happiness before the greater good?”

Though the verdict is still out, my guess is that Hayao Miyazaki would probably say a loud “no way”. As the ultra-stoic-but-always-benevolent tyrant of Japanese anime, he has consistently sacrificed his characters’ romantic inclinations to “much bigger things,” as he once said in an interview – i.e., the benefit or survival, of human society. In a Miyazaki story, boy and girl will get to meet but they will never get together, as there are much bigger things at stake. 

In Weathering With You the Tokyo metropolitan area is locked into a rainy season that won’t go away. No one has felt the feeblest of sunshine or glimpsed a patch of blue sky for months. The only exit out of this perpetual wetness seems to lie in the hands of a pretty teenage girl named Hina (voiced by Nana Mori) Her sort-of-boyfriend Hodaka (voiced by Kotaro Daigo) is sort of her boyfriend, because they don’t exchange so much as a kiss–gleans Hina’s secret power. Initially, he advises Hina to cash in by starting a fair weather business and Hina agrees to go on social media and advertise her abilities as the “good weather girl”. Soon, orders for good weather start pouring in and Hina is summoned to a barbecue party here, a sports event there, or even an ancestral ritual at an old lady’s home. The money’s not bad either, and as Hina’s little brother Nagi (voiced by Sakura Kiryu) joins in, the trio start to feel like a cozy little family. 

Sixteen-year old Hodaka is too shy to admit his love for Hina–especially since she has informed him that her 18th birthday is coming up and therefore, she’s way too old for a kid like him. That doesn’t stop Hodaka from going online and researching the perfect birthday gift, which he buys with the money he made with Hina. All this will most certainly elicit stern disapproval from their parents but thankfully, there are no such people in Weathering With You. Hodaka has run away, from home and parents left behind on one of the Izu islands scattered along the Pacific. Hina’s mother died a short while ago and she is supporting Nagi in a tiny apartment near Shinjuku. First, she was on the night shift at a McDonald’s and when that didn’t work out, she made a half-hearted attempt to become a porn actress before Hodaka pulled her back. 

All the while, the rain never stops. 

Fans of Shinkai know dark skies and heavy rains are a big part of his m.o. Plus, the precise, almost photographic depictions of Tokyo’s train stations (mostly the Yamanote line) and streets, especially in the Shinjuku area. Weathering With You has ample portions of both – the story opens on rain-soaked streets, inky puddles and the lesser known alleyways in the Yoyogi neighborhood. When Hina clenches her fingers and prays to the heavens, the clouds part, exposing a glorious patch of azure sky and splendid slants of sunshine. People put their umbrellas away to look up with a smile, and Hodaka rightly observes that “it’s amazing how good you feel when it’s cleared up.”

The contrast of bad weather and good, is one of the factors that propel the story forward – you get a feeling of how badly people need the sun, and what lengths they will go to get it. 

The implication is that Tokyoites are ready to sacrifice Hina on the altar of blue skies, even if they’re only very vaguely aware of her powers or even her presence. In the movie, Hina is a ghostly figure whispered about on the Net, and her abilities are never totally understood. The terrible truth is that the more Hina makes good weather happen, the less there is of her own self; her trade-off with fine weather is her own, physical existence.

One morning when Hodaka wakes up, she’s gone without a trace, save for the bathrobe she was wearing the night before.  

(SPOILER ALERT: That is nowhere near the ending for Hina or Hodaka、so don’t let this review make you feel like we’ve ruined the movie. ↖) 

In reality, Japan braces itself for a rainy season (usually occuring at the beginning of June and lasting four to five weeks) that wreaks havoc on many areas across the archipelago. This year, southwestern Japan was flooded by torrential rains and in Fukuoka city, trucks and cars were submerged in rainwater while soil erosion led to landslides that caused thousands of people to lose their homes. Tokyo wasn’t as bad but enough water came down to partially shut down public transportation and delay construction on Olympic facilities. 

In Weathering With You rainfall spells dire consequences for the metropolis as entire neighborhoods disappear underwater and mighty architectural monuments like the Rainbow Bridge, become steeped in water. Still, as a sage old woman in the movie remarks, “It’s all right, Tokyo has gone back to its natural state. That’s all this is.” Indeed, the Japanese capital is a 400-year old artificial island made on a landfill and the greater part of Shinjuku as we know it today, used to be swampland. If we can live with that, surely we can live with Hina getting to have a life of her own, and maybe, eventually–perhaps–falling in love with Hodaka. And the greater good be damned. 

British widow fights to know the truth on 34th Anniversary of the Japan Airlines Flight 123 crash.

by Susanne Bayly-Yukawa

I am the British widow of Akihisa Yukawa who was one of the 520 victims who died in the Japan Airlines Boeing 747 flight 123 from Tokyo to Osaka crashed into Mount Osutaka – the world’s largest single aviation disaster.

I came to Japan to fight for justice – 34 years after his death. For the first time I have joined the Japanese bereaved to request a reinvestigation of the crash based on new evidence.

On 16th July I participated in a symposium at Waseda University which outlined the need for information disclosure of the Japan Airline flight 123 crash. The details of the symposium are here and why we feel that the real cause of this terrible disaster is still not known–please read here or read the Professor’s comments at the bottom of this post.

I am aware the Japanese government announced in 2000 that the documents about the crash were copied onto microfilms and would never be destroyed. I am joining the bereaved in asking for these documents to be released now. We all know that part of the plane is still in Sugami Bay, I am campaigning to have it salvaged and re-investigated. There is considerable evidence that was not included in the original crash report – these significant new facts simply cannot be ignored. In accordance with international guidelines there is a necessity to re-open the crash investigation based on these facts. This is the worst single Boeing crash in history, the bereaved – and the world deserve to know what really happened. It is a human right to know the truth. Powerful corporations over the world over continue to escape accountability and victims have no route to remedy. I am calling for a new international law to protect everyone from the harm caused by the lack of truth and accountability. I am speaking with a number of Japanese journalists/documentary makers and have agreed to be interviewed on the 12th August on the anniversary of the crash in Gunma. 

I am campaigning for the bereaved and my own personal case – both issues are about corporate accountability and transparency. 
Akihisa Yukawa and I lived together for seven years as de-facto man and wife and bore him two daughters, we could not have been happier, we had every intention to marry. Akihisa was working as a senior Sumitomo executive at the time of his death, he was building the aviation leasing business for his company. He was working very closely with Japan Airlines before the crash as the lead of the syndicate which led to the largest order of Boeing aircraft on record from Japan in 1985.
This order was announced just nine days before the crash, the aircraft were delivered after his death:
https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1985/1985%20-%202341.html?search=JAL

On Monday 12th August 1985, Akihisa was requested by his company to attend a business meeting in Osaka.
He was feeling unwell that day and had a very strong sense that he should not go – he tried his very best to cancel but his head office insisted it was necessary for him to go which led to his death in the JAL 123 crash.

I think it is time we all knew the truth about everything that happened.

“””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

Tohko Aoyama, JAL 123 researcher–

“On July 16, the Waseda University Faculty of Law and the Waseda University Comparative Law Research Institute co-hosted an academic symposium asking for information disclosure of the Nikko flight 123 (JAL123). For the first time, UK bereaved Susan Bailey Yukawa (Susanne Bayly-Yukawa) came to Japan and issued a statement asking for a reinvestigation with Japanese bereaved. Professor Christopher P. Hood at Cardiff University in the UK also sent a video message. The keynote speech was held by Mr. Hiroshi Miyake, a member of the Cabinet Office Public Document Management Act, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications information disclosure system member, vice chairman of the bar association and chairman of the board. I also mentioned the necessity of the reinvestigation. The legal path to reinvestigation has finally come to light.

Now I would like to share with you overseas people about the Nikko123 Flight crash and the story that is not written in the official accident investigation report.

On August 12, 1985, Japan Airlines flight123 crashed in Ueno village, Gunma Prefecture, and 520 people were killed. This is the world’s largest single airplane crash still now. Twenty-two of the victims were foreign nationals, including the United Kingdom, India, the United States, Korea, China, and Italy. At the time I worked for JAL as a stewardess belonged to the same group of the flight attendants who encountered the accident, but I was relieved because of the duties for an international flight. 34 years have passed since then. I got married and retired, put myself in the education world, then got a doctoral degree from the University of Tokyo. In the meanwhile, I have always questioned the cause of the crash of the Nikko123 and continued my research. As a result, I wrote four books.

One of them “New facts of the Nikko123 crash -close to the truth at the eyewitness accounts” breaks through 100,000 copies, thereby making the general public aware of the cause of the accident different from the accident investigation report. After a 34 years survey, I was convinced that the crash of the Nikko123 was not an accident but an incident.

According to the accident investigation report of the official announcement at that time, the aft pressure bulkhead that had been damaged by a hard tail-hit against runway in the landing at Osaka airport in 1978, was repaired in the incomplete manner by Boeing. Its bulkhead broke again in the operation of the Nikko 123 due to a repair error and its mount of pressurized air in the cabin darted out and accumulated inside of the vertical fin, finally blew up the top corner of the fin with pressure. However, despite all this the Japanese judiciary did not prosecute anyone for this reason. In other words, no one had any responsibility for the death of 520 people. It was written that the reason for the crash is that Boeing made a repair mistake and Japan Airlines missed it. But even after the accident, Japan Airlines purchased Boeing’s airplanes in following year one after another. Not only JAL but all rivals of JAL and Japanese Self-Defense Force also purchased aircrafts under the intention of the government (Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone). As a result, Boeing’s sales in Japan were the highest which resulted in 520 victims.

In 2015, News reported that most of the vertical fin and tails constructions blew off were still in the sea. Despite the direct cause of oneself, it is still sunk to the seabed 160m of Sagami Bay, below the flight route. This is the origin of the accident, nevertheless the Japan Transport Safety Commission which is in the Ministry of (Land, Infrastructure,) Transport (and Tourism,) refused the wishes of the bereaved and rejected to pull them up from the seabed for the reinvestigation. It was natural to do so because of a lot of doubts and an unconvincing non-prosecution.

I will briefly explain why they refuse so much, based on the facts.

The accident investigation report disregarded all the testimonies of many witnesses.
According to them, immediately after the emergency happened on JAL 123, the two phantoms that were launched urgently tracked the JAL aircraft, and near the crash point, local children said “A large airplane and two small airplanes are chasing” they were sure to look the situation.

In the ultra-low altitude flight of JAL 123, it was observed that an elliptical thing like a red airplane was stuck near the fuselage. In the vicinity of the crash site, adults also witnessed a bright red small plane flying. A non-duty SDF member witnessed that two SDF Phantom aircrafts were flying in an unusual situation, and this was described in the police report too.

I interviewed the chief of Ueno village of a crash site (Takeo Kurosawa). He said that he called the central government many times for crashing in his village. Nevertheless, coverage of the unknown continued throughout the night.

In the village at the crash site, many people gathered, including many SDF vehicles, police and riot police and so on, all night long. There was a big fire at the crash site on the mountain and there were many helicopters on it. It had been witnessed that they were going back and forth and raising and lowering things.

According to Mr. Antonucci’s testimony of the US military, the crash site was identified in 15 minutes after the accident, “so I went for relief, but the Japanese rescue team came and ordered a return”. However, he knew a report next morning that it was unknown all night, and he was hampered to say nothing.

If the two Phantoms were flying with JAL 123 at a bright time before the crash, the location was identified and reports that “the crash site was unknown all night” would not be held. In response to this comment, the SDF’s official announcement said that one minute after the crash, we sent out two phantoms, but we did do nothing before that, we had not had even one fly.

So what did the Japanese government and the Self-Defense Forces do all night without saving the passengers? I also briefly report scientific findings.

(1) I examined the remains (a few rocky blocks) collected at the crash point with a university research institute. As a result, it was found that the material was made of duralumin and was the remnant of JAL 123. Further, when black deposits were analyzed, a large amount of benzene ring, sulfur, chloroform were detected. Jet fuel used by JAL was kerosene JTA-1, which was a good product of high purity refined from kerosene, so why is a large amount of gasoline component benzene ring and sulfur detected in the crash site? This is a biggest question. Naturally, there was no gasoline on the product also no sulfur component in this mountain. Furthermore, why was the non-load chloroform attached?

(2) According to the detailed data for the condition of the body that was obtained and analyzed by the autopsy doctor, one third of the bodies were abnormal carbonized, one third of them were complete bodies, and another two thousand fragmental parts of bodies. The plane crashed on the summit of the ridge called “Osutaka no One” was broken into four parts, and one of them, the E compartment just in front of the rear pressure partition where the four survivors were sitting, slipped off from the summit and fell to a point completely invisible from the summit. It was deep bushes of trees.

Their tympanic membranes were normal despite the survivor experiencing a sudden decompression as the vertical tail blew off. The four survivors were listening to a large number of voices and encouraging each other. However, the helicopters flying above did not rescue them. According to the doctor, “100 people must be alive if they were discovered immediately after the crash”. In the crash site near the summit, the flames were rising until morning, and according to a local fire brigade who accidentally found a survivors, it was full of gasoline and tar odors. Why was the smell of non-load dangerous goods gasoline full? Tar was not a cargo. What did the existence of the SDF helicopters witness around the scene all night tell you? By the way, the components of the weapon fuel (flamethrower) possessed by the SDF members were gasoline and tar.

⑶ According to the autopsy doctor, there were many charred remains those completely carbonized on both the back and front near the summit. In addition, there were neither an engine nor a wing part (as storage located for kerosene fuel tank) in the vicinity. Carbonized to an extent that was clearly different from other aircraft accidents and traces of double burns.

⑷ The remaining fuel for about 1 hour flight rage burned for 11hours. The body must be burned twice. There was evidence that firearms were used, and material of the fuel promoter was discovered. Because of a component different from kerosene.

⑸ There is a shower toward evening every day at the crash site, the humidity is 75%, and summer mountain is not particularly likely to be a forest fire. In addition, it is obvious that summer clothes are not suitable for burning for a long time. The thick human body does not carbonize to bone, even if the surface is burnt and black. Why did you carbonize the bones?

All of the above are interviews with police doctor, local people, former SDF personnel, and transport minister at the time (Tokuo Yamashita), Secretary of Defense Agency at the time (Koichi Kato). Research were conducted at the professional research institute. The answer is that the SDF had some involvement in the crash. In fact, daily newspaper reports for a week before the crash were articles on domestic missile development and missile test success. On the day of the accident, the self-defense ship Matsuyuki was in public testing and was under missile testing.

This year, we are requesting disclosure of information, including a 34-year-old live voice recorder and the genuine flight recorder to clarify these in accordance with the law.
There should be no problem even if the materials and information are disclosed to the bereaved, since Japan Airlines and Boeing as the parties to the official cause of the accident have officially apologized and acknowledged. The government is obliged to answer the bereaved questions seriously. The reinvestigation is natural because it has not been prosecuted in the past. However, the accident investigation committee has refused to release materials for 34 years long with citing various reasons. This is the actual condition of Japan.

Japanese side bereaved family members are seeking to disclose information with their bereaved overseas, and formally request a reinvestigation regarding this unclear incident. There should be no reason for anyone to refuse this. There are many military involvement in what is considered to be an aircraft accident whose cause is unclear. This may be happening around the world. For that, Legal maintenance is indispensable in the international framework in the future, and British bereaved and Japanese bereaved are aiming for it.

August 1st, 2019″

Editor’s note: This article was submitted by Ms. Yukawa who has tried to hold a press conference in Tokyo. There are many theories about what happened to Flight 123, and many are dismissed as conspiracy theories. However, it seems reasonable that the information collected so far should be released to the public and to settle any doubts that the missing piece of the plane be recovered and examined. The blog below makes some interesting claims–the English is a little rough but read and reflect.

「日航123便墜落の波紋ー天空の星たちへ」公式ブログ

Youth Theatre Japan: Drama Changes Real Life For Kids and Adults


Japanese theatres offer a wide variety of performances, but Youth Theatre Japan (YTJ) offers the younger generations a chance to perform on the same stages as the pros that they admire. And, don’t think for a minute that they are simply just kids on stage, these young musically inclined talents spend countless hours honing their skills at YTJ auditioning for a role. Then only best out of hundreds of hopefuls are chosen, and from there they go into intensive dance, acting, and vocal training to be ready for the stage.

YTJ believes that through performing arts youth are able to grow and develop into stronger individuals who are able to clearly communicate their thoughts and emotions in a healthy way. Thus, Members at YTJ are constantly learning new skills, practicing their English during lessons, and getting ready for showcases. By use of Partnership, Project, and Performance YTJ-staff remind members to focus on the whys behind each new skill and task that they are required to learn.

YTJ staff help members understand the importance of setting goals, learning a new skill, trying their best, and moving forward with passion. All while helping members learn to communicate and express themselves through song, dance, and interpersonal skills. As Youth Theatre Japan`s mission to provide innovative, creative and positive youth development through a fusion of “Entertainment” and “Education”. YTJ staff treat each child as an equal partner to help them develop a deeper sense of pride in their roles at YTJ and build up their self-esteem.

Over the past 10 years YTJ has successfully blended “Education” and “Entertainment” into their company and now has 35 studios and over 8,000 members in the Kanto, Kansai and Chubu areas. In addition to producing musicals they also host the Japan Youth Dance Festival.

Their next production will be the YTJ Alice in Wonderland Jukebox Musical! Please check the dates below for a show near you!

YTJ’s talented performers will be performing each song in English. This event is family friendly and please be sure to come dressed in your best Wonderland attire. There will be a special prize for a lucky guest who reads the Queen’s Decrees on the Alice Official Site or English Facebook Page and comes wearing the special item she requested! Tickets are 6,000 per person, be sure to reserve your seat at the tea party of the year.

Then later on this summer come follow Kaito and his friends! Jump and sing along as they embark on an adventure that helps bridge cultural gaps through music. During the journey they will learn more about themselves and the world around them they build up new interest in other cultures and diversity. This musical features popular songs from around the world performed in English. Tickets are on sale now and only cost 6,000 per person. Please follow the link for more information and to see showtimes and location https://show.ytj.gr.jp/info/worldmusic.

Kanto Area

August 17th (Friday)

Doors open 12:45 / Start 13:00

Tickets (JP only) https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/112922/agreement

August 18th (Sun)

Doors Open 17:45 / Start 18:00

Tickets (JP only) https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/112926/agreement

Location:

※ Yokohama YTJ Hall tel. 045-507-7365

1-30-1, Nakagawa Chuo Tsuzuki Ward, Yokohama City 〒 224-0003

https://ytj-hall.jp/

Kansai Area

August 24 (Saturday)

1st Show

Doors Open 15:15 / Start 15:30

https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/113155/agreement

2nd Show

Doors Open 18:15 / Start 18:30

Tickets (JP only) https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/112343/agreement

August 25th (Sun)

1st Show 

Doors Open 12:15 / Starts 12:30

Tickets (JP only) https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/112920/agreement

2nd Show

Doors Open 15:00 / Start 15:15

Tickets (JP only) https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/112921/agreement

3rd Show

Doors Open 17:45 / Start 18:00

Tickets (JP only) https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/113194/agreement

Location:

※ Osaka Business Park Round Halltel. 0798-61-7778

2 Chome-1-61 Shiromi, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 〒540-6120

—————————-

YTJ Official Website: htt://www.ytj.gr.jp

Alice Official Website: https://ytj-show.jp/info/alice/

Alice Official English Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/YTJAlice/

World Music Official Site: https://show.ytj.gr.jp/info/worldmusic

Statue of a Korean Girl Causes Meltdown at Aichi Triennale

by Kaori Shoji

It’s 35 degrees Celsius in Nagoya City and the mercury is expected to rise even further. Maybe the recent incident at the Aichi Triennale has something to do with it – the heat feels merciless and suffocating, much like the protest calls that continue to plague an otherwise celebratory art event.

Whether in the state of California or on the prefecure of Aichi, Japan, statues of comfort women, raise the ire of certain Japanese males who would like to sweep the past under the chair.

For those not in the know, here’s a rough sketch of what happened: On August 1, the Aichi Triennale kicked off. Directed by celebrity artist Daisuke Tsuda, the Triennale aimed to close the gender gap and encourage increased participation from women artists and feminist themes. One of the main exhibits, “The Non-Freedom of Expression – What Happens Later,” caused a huge stir. Created by a Korean sculptor couple (whose identities have not been revealed in mainstream media), the centerpiece is a statue of a young Korean girl. The description says she is a comfort woman, forcibly taken from her home by the Japanese military during WWII.

On August 2, the Triennale offices are flooded with calls of protests and outrage, including one from Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura, who it was said, sputtered with anger all over his phone screen, and then followed that up with a written statement. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also phoned in his appearance, expressing concerns that a government funded art event was showcasing a statue loaded with anti-government sentiments – is this right? There were more than a few death threats, many of which expressed intentions to replay the recent Kyoto Animation arson incident that killed 35 people.

On August 3, Daisuke Tsuda holds a press conference announcing the cancellation of the exhibit. A controversial firestorm erupts across the archipelago.

It feels like the Japanese will never see eye-to-eye on the comfort women issue with their neighbors on the peninsula. On the list of old wounds that Japan would prefer to forget, or failing memory lapse, ignore completely – the sexual slaves known as “ianfu” or comfort women” to the western world, occupies first place. There’s something about this chunk of history that grates on Japanese male nerves, for it’s usually the men: politicians, commentators, academics and the rotund salariman sitting next to me on the subway – that get incoherent with indignation at the mere mention of the term. Last summer, I happened to be at an informal gathering when the subject came up. We were standing around a small table of drinks, and as soon as the word “ianfu” was uttered, the women scattered like sparrows and the men launched into a tirade that amounted to: “Of course there were comfort women in wartime. What else were they expecting? We were at war!”

Infuriatingly, the Japanese term for “comfort women”  (慰安婦・ianfu) is comprised of the kanji characters ‘ian’ which means to console and heal, and ‘fu’ which means female. ‘Ian” is still in circulation, most often in terms like ‘ianryokou,’ which refers to annual trips that many corporations dole out to their employees, ostensibly to let them relax and have a good time. Back in the mid-Heisei era, it was still quite common for these consolation trips to include geisha attendance and jaunts to strip bars, for the benefit of their male employees. In some companies, it was the norm for executives to invite prostitutes to their hotel rooms, and put it on their company tabs. For many, many Japanese men, a woman’s value is measured by how well she consoles and heals their tired nerves. One of the highest praises that can be bestowed on a woman, remains: ‘iyasareru’ (癒やされる)meaning, “you heal me.” When the outside world (in this case South Korea) dares to put a dent in that beautiful, traditional, man-woman relationship (i.e., the brave male being healed by a willing sexual slave, regardless of nationality) which Japanese men apparently see as their birthright, it probably feels like a punch in the face. Nagoya mayor Kawamura said as much when he wrote in his statement: “The collective Japanese heart has been trampled to bits.”

Awww, what a shame.

But the incident at the Aichi Triennale shows that though their hearts are trampled, Japanese men are capable of pushing back, albeit over their smartphones. At the press conference, Triennale director Daisuke Tsuda stressed that the cancellation wasn’t due to Mayor Kawamura, or the Chief Cabinet Secretary, or anything political. “It was because of the phone calls,” he said. “The office lines were jammed with protest calls and there simply weren’t enough staff to deal with them. Everyone was working overtime anyway, and I could not, in good conscience, ask these people to deal with angry callers on top of their already considerable workloads.”

Tsuda went on to say that the decision was “heartrending” because “this will create a precedent of being able to crush work of art with anonymous phone calls.”

And now that the statue has been taken away, we have yet to assess the repercussions. As the dust settles, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party members are getting their act together to say – altogether now, boys! – that threats and violence are BAD. Freedom of expression is GOOD.

Now that we’re clear on that matter, who’s ready to address the problem of comfort women?

The Muji Hotel: Where Japanese Consumerism Meets Cute With Zen Minimalism But They Don’t Make Out


By Kaori Shoji 

I am at the reception counter of Muji Hotel – the much touted and long awaited hotel produced by Muji, Japan’s popular minimalist clothing and household products brand. Muji, as you may know, stands for Mujirushi (無印) which literally means “no seal or stamp”; it’s a brand who’s trademark is no (visible) brand. Which is very Zen-like unless you look at the label inside.

When the hotel first opened in early April, rumor had it that every room was booked solid for the next 2 years. In late May, procuring a room (on a weekday) proved easy. Muji (rhymes with Fuji) has grown into a global label touting Japan-style simplicity and aesthetics but to the average  non-minimalist Japanese, it remains inscrutable, even unfathomable. Many see the pared down surfaces and uniform designs of Muji products as a tad too aggressively simple to fit into their own lives. 

Aggressive maybe, but never offensive. There’s not the tiniest fragment of offensiveness anywhere in the Muji Hotel, including the young woman who checks me in. She’s an epitome of serenity and calm, her hair in a neat bun at the nape of her neck and wearing what is clearly a Muji outfit (white shirt and loose black cardigan plus black pants) the uniform of the hotel staff. She speaks almost flawless Japanese along with English and Urdu which she says is her native language. Before handing me the card key to my room, the young woman gives me an ‘omamori’ or talisman, compliments of Muji – and explains that inside the tiny cloth satchel there’s an emergency whistle (“in case of a natural disaster and other unforeseen events”) and a tiny leaflet containing instructions on getting through emergencies great and small. I open this leaflet and on the last page there is this advice: “If you should feel lonely, look up at the stars in the night sky.” 

My room which is a single, feels spacious thanks to the high ceiling measuring over 3.5 meters. In Tokyo, high ceilings are a luxury and when it comes to hotel rooms, they’re the exclusive domain of high-end imported brands like the Peninsula, the Park Hyatt and the Ritz Carlton. Muji is distinctive in that it’s a genuine Japanese hotel, located in one of the choicest pieces of real estate in Tokyo, but only charges a fixed rate of 140 USD per single room, per night. Most importantly, it doesn’t suck or resemble a prison cell.

On the other hand, you can’t imagine anyone having a tryst here– it’s far too pristine and devoid of emotion. And a hotel without a tryst is like a cupcake without icing. Or am I being offensive? (Editor’s note: Not offensive. ‘A donut without a hole’ might have been an offensive metaphor but then again they eat donut holes in Australia, so who’s to say?)

Back in my room, a faint scent of linen combined with lavender lingers in the air, piped out from a portable aroma diffuser, one of Muji’s most popular items. Actually, everything in the room is made by Muji, from the bed to the packets of shampoo and conditioner precisely laid out in an oak chest (also Muji), to the little bag of complimentary snacks and the bottled water in the mini-fridge (also Muji). The idea is to let the guests get a taste of what it’s like to live a life defined by Muji, by spending some time in a space designed and totally controlled by Muji. And afterwards,  we can take the escalator down to any of the five floors of Muji’s flagship store that’s located right below the hotel. The hotel and the shop are in the same building, and some of the tourists check in with empty suitcases, to stock up on Muji products during their stay. It’s a pretty nifty arrangement for Muji and The Minimalists–which could be a great ambient music band name. 

The brand has always opted for discretion, restraint, understatement with a whiff of snobbishness. To admit to a love of Muji is to tell the world that as a consumer, you’re very woke. Muji covers all the bases that would gladden the heart of a discerning shopper: recyclable materials, ethical off-shore manufacturing, diversity among the staff, organic cotton in the clothing line and energy efficient appliances. Add to that the flat, unobtrusive, utterly desexualized designs and it all totals up to something that is for many minimalists, a guilty pleasure. Indeed, many Japanese minimalists admit on their blogs that if they have to shop at all, they shop at Muji. Others have taken it several levels higher by buying Muji houses (yes, they will make an entire house from the ground up) and outfitting it with Muji kitchens and bathrooms, after which they proceed to fill it up with Muji furniture and Muji food. 

Muji was launched in 1980 by retail giant Seibu Conglomerates, as an alternative brand to what (then) Seibu CEO Seiji Tsutsumi saw as the nation’s misguided and excessive consumerism.  Japanese consumers were hurling themselves into the go-go economy, believing that shopping nirvana was the closest thing to paradise. All of a sudden, the cramped living spaces of the average Japanese were overflowing with stuff. Few of it matched or made sense, and perhaps for the first time in Japanese history, people found themselves in possession of with more STUFF than they ever thought possible. 


Muji offered an escape hatch from the clueless clutter of it all, with uniform, collapsible shelves and drawers designed to hold the simplest, most non-intrusive products. Now, forty years later, any discussion of Japanese minimalism almost always precludes a discussion of Muji. Konmari may be riding on her big wave at the moment, but Muji had been on the beach long before she was decluttering the ocean.

But as the hotel room shows, Muji has perhaps, gone a bit overboard. They had always walked the fine line between selling their ideals and selling their products but with the opening of the hotel, it seems that boundary has been obliterated. Muji has merged the product with the ideal, and the whole package comes with a price tag. 

Consequently, the last thing you’d want to do in this space is to indulge in carnal pleasures, though to be fair, the hotel does encourage it. (Muji Prophylactics are sold on the third floor.)  But since I was alone, what else was there to do but open my laptop to work at the Muji desk, lit by a Muji lamp, wearing Muji slippers after taking a shower in the Muji bathroom? Maybe I’ll even follow Muji’s suggestion and look up at the night sky for a few twinkling stars–and then fall into a dreamless Muji sleep. 

Note: In a homage to Muji style, none of the photos in this article have been captioned.

Johnny Be Bad: A rare interview with Japan’s boy Idol-maker and pederast

(special contribution from Steve McClure)

This out of print book allegedly details the sexual abuse committed by Idol-Maker Johnny Kitagawa towards the young men in his stable and beyond.

Editor’s note: Japan’s most beloved pederast (a male who sexually assaults young men) , Johnny Kitagawa, died last week. He was an idol maker, the brains behind such super male idol bands as SMAP, Kinki Kids, and an entertainment legend. He was also so powerful that the seedy and dark side of his life was swept under the table even after his death.

There were some in the media that dared challenge the sleazy smooth Svengali. Weekly magazine, Shukan Bunshun ran a series of well-researched articles in 1999 describing how Kitagawa systematically abused young boys. Kitagawa then sued the publisher for libel but despite the testimony of alleged rape victims interviewed for the piece, the Tokyo District Court ruled in his favor. They ordered the publisher to pay 8.8 million yen in damages to Kitagawa and his company in 2002.

However, The Tokyo High Court overturned this decision in July 2003. They concluded that the allegations were true. “The agency failed to discredit the allegations in the detailed testimony of his young victims,” ruled the presiding Judge Hidekazu Yazaki. The case stood. The story was barely a blip in the Japanese media horizon. In an entertainment world where Johny’s stable of young boys was a prerequisite to ratings success, his ‘indulgences’ weren’t deemed worthy of reporting.

Johny granted few interviews–here is the story of one of them:

My interview with Johnny

By Steve McClure

It was only after I’d interviewed Johnny Kitagawa that I realized I’d scored a bit of a scoop.

“You interviewed Johnny? That’s amazing – he never does interviews,” my Japanese media and music-biz colleagues said. “How on earth did you manage to do that?”

It was 1996 and I was Billboard magazine’s Japan bureau chief. I was hanging out with an American producer/songwriter who had written several hit tunes for acts managed by Kitagawa’s agency, Johnny’s Jimusho. 

“Want to hear a funny story about Johnny?” Bob (not his real name) asked me. 

“Sure,” I said. 

“Well, the other day, Johnny told me he’d discovered a promising male vocal duo. I asked him what they were called.

“‘I’m going to call them the Kinki Kids,’ Johnny told me.

“I told him that ‘kinky’ means sexually abnormal in English slang.

“‘Oh, that’s great!,’ Johnny said. 

Bob and I laughed. 

“Say, Steve, would you like me to set up an interview with Johnny for you?” Bob asked. 

I told him that would be swell. 

Some days later I was informed that Kitagawa would grant me an audience at his private residence. I was enjoined not to reveal where the great man lived (it was Ark Hills in Akasaka, for the record).

I showed up at the appointed day and hour, and rang the doorbell of the condo high up in one of the Ark Hills towers. A browbeaten middle-aged woman answered the door. Evidently a domestic of some kind, she said I was expected and asked me to come in. She led me into a garishly decorated living room full of Greek statuary, Louis XV-style furniture and sundry examples of rococo frippery. There were no Ganymedean cup-bearers offering libations or any other signs of sybaritic excess.

I was ushered into the presence of the pop panjandrum. Johnny was sitting in an armchair beside a window with a stunning view of Tokyo. He was small, bespectacled and unprepossessing. If you saw him in the street, you’d never imagine he was the notorious and feared Svengali who had a stranglehold on the geinokai (芸能界/Japan’s entertainment world). 

After we exchanged pleasantries, I got down to business. I asked Johnny about his early life in Los Angeles. “My dad ran the local church,” he told me without elaboration in a quiet, rather high-pitched voice. I later found out that Kitagawa père had been the head of a Japanese American Buddhist congregation in L.A. 

Johnny was equally vague about when he first came to Japan. He reportedly arrived while serving as an interpreter for the U.S. military during the Korean War. 

This set the tone for the rest of the interview – it was hard to get a straight answer out of Johnny, at least when it came to his personal history. He was more interested in talking about all the boy bands he’d groomed and propelled to stardom during his long and extraordinarily successful career.

Johnny told me how he got his start in showbiz when he saw some boys playing baseball in a Tokyo park, and later molded them into a pop group called The Johnnies. That set the template for the rest of his career – scouting for boys and using them as raw material as his pop production line churned out an endless succession of unthreatening quasi-androgynous male idol groups. 

A classic showman, Johnny said he was more interested in live performances than records. He made his mark with coups de theatre like having ’80s male idol act Hikaru Genji do choreographed routines on roller skates. 

“Once you release a record, you have to sell that record,” Johnny said. “You have to push one song only. You can’t think of anything else. It’s not good for the artist.” The Johnny’s stable of acts has nonetheless racked up dozens of No.1 hits over the years. 

Johnny’s English, like that of many longterm expats, was quaintly fossilized. I could hear echoes of ’40s and ’50s America when he said things like “gee,” or “gosh” when answering my questions. 

Soon after the interview began, the browbeaten obasan put a steaming dish of katsu-curry in front of me. I begged off, explaining that I’d just eaten lunch. This didn’t prevent the arrival of another dish soon after: spaghetti and “hamburg” steak, as I recall. Hearty fare for starving young idol wannabes was my take on the menu chez Johnny. 

Having decided that “Are you or have you ever been a pederast?” might be somewhat too direct a question to put to the dear old chap, I lobbed a series of softball queries with the aim of establishing a friendly rapport. But even the most gently tossed questions elicited amiable but frustratingly vague answers from Johnny.

In the silences between his frequent hems and haws, the wind whined like a sotto voce banshee through the slightly opened window.

Johnny did tell me that he received 300 letters a day from guys wanting to sign up with his agency. I wasn’t sure if he was boasting or bored. 

The time came to leave, and Johnny accompanied me to the door. “Come back anytime,” he said with a friendly smile as he waved me goodbye. 

As I made my way down the hall to the elevators, I saw the finely chiseled profile of a young man peeking from around a corner, looking in my direction. He caught a glimpse of me and retreated. I resisted the temptation to tell him the katsu-curry was getting cold. 

Sadly, I didn’t take up Johnny on his kind offer to come up and see him sometime.