In a departure from our usual somber posting, I’ve written an original prose-poem, which is for a friend’s upcoming “Where is the Romance” theme party in Tokyo–a pre-valentines’s day event. I’ve been in Japan (not just Tokyo) for over twenty years now and it seems to me that this city as overpopulated as it is, is also a very lonely place. I’ve heard more dating horror stories than any man should hear in his entire life. If Hong Kong is the graveyard of marriages–Tokyo is where the infanticide of them is widely practiced–and marriages, when they happen, seem to last as long as the cherry blossoms or linger on, liked fish being dried in the sun. Of course, this also a city where fake marriages run 3,000 dollars for foreign women wanting to work in the entertainment industry, and gay men marry women to maintain appearances, and marriage fraud schemes are a semi-institutionalized crime.
I should say that I’m parodying one well-known author/poet with this masterpiece and whoever figures out who it is gets a pack of dried umeboshi and honorable mention on this humble blog. Hopefully, those of you familiar with Tokyo will get some of the subtler references. By the way, remember on Valentine’s Day in Japan–the women buy chocolate for the men.
It’s Valentine’s Day again in Japan or it will be soon….And while Valentine’s Day is a mutual exchange of gifts and professions of love in the West, in Japan it’s a holiday where women give expensive fine chocolate to the men they love and crappy obligatory chocolate to the men they work with or work for, known as 義理チョコ (giri-choko) or “obligation chocolates.”
According to Encyclopedia Aramata, Valentine’s Day was first introduced into Japan in February of 1958 by an employee of Mary Chocolate Co. Ltd, who had heard about the European chocolate exchanges between couples from a friend living in Paris He decided it would be a brilliant marketing technique in Japan so he organized a collaboration with Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It was an incredible….failure. “During one week we sold only about three chocolates worth 170 yen at that time,” an employee recalled. Yet this employee persisted, later becoming the president of the company, and by the 1980s, he and Japan’s chocolate industry, along with the department stores, had enshrined Valentine’s Day as a holiday that is “the only day of the year a woman confesses her love through presenting chocolate.” The spirit of love.
But of course, as time went by, giving chocolate became something women were expected to do for not only the their “true love” but people at work, their bosses, their friends, and even, their brothers. 義理チョコ (giri-choko) aka “obligation chocolate” has branched off into “友チョコ (tomo-choko)” chocolate for friends, 世話チョコ (sewa-choko), chocolate for people who’ve looked after you, 自分チョコ (jibun-choko), a present for yourself, and even the rare 逆チョコ (gyaku-choko) —the rare event when a man gives chocolate to a woman on Valentine’s Day (revolutionary).
When we say “Valentine’s Day” in Japan, it doesn’t quite mean what it means in the West. (We’ll talk about White Day in March). And if you think about it, what do we really mean when we talk about love? Japan has some very specific terms for discussing and classifying love. Although the terms can be expressed in English, the compactness of Japanese words for sex, love, and everything in between is quite charming.
Japan has many words for love and sex. It’s surprisingly rich in words for love such as 友愛 (the love between friends) and 親愛 (love between family members) and of course 恋愛 (passionate love) . Here are some of the words you may find useful as you travel through love hotel island.
*出会い（Deai）–“meeting people” Also used to describe dating sites 出会い系サイト and one-night stands.
不倫 (Furin)-“adultery, infidelity.” Has more of a negative connotation than uwaki
慈愛(Jiai)–compassionate love. Much like the love a parent feels for their child–a desire for the happiness and well-being of another. When the Dalai Lama speaks of love in Japanese, this is often the word used to translate his words.
*浮気 (Uwaki) –1) to describe someone who can romantically love many people 2) infidelity; an affair 3) being in love with in someone other than your partner 4) (old usage) cheerful and gorgeous
*恋人 (Koibito) “lover”
*熱愛 (Netsu-ai) “passionate love”
*恋愛 (Ren-ai) “romantic love” A word very popular in Japanese woman’s magazines
*恋い (Koi) “love”
*一物 (Ichimotsu) “the one thing” According to an old joke, the definition of a man is this: a life support system for an ichimotsu (the penis).
*慈悲, 慈悲深い (Jihi) (Jihibukai) “compassionate love/sympathetic joy” This comes from Buddhism and describes a maternal love, originally means to give joy and peace to someone and remove their pain. 慈悲深い人–someone who is compassionate and finds happiness in the happiness of others.
*情熱 (jounetsu) “passion”
*ラブ (rabu) “love” pronounced Japanese style.
ラブラブ (rabu rabu) “love love” used to described a couple deeply in love.
*同性愛 (douseiai) “homosexual love”
*愛 (ai) love. “to love” 愛する (ai suru)
*好き (suki) like. Used often to express love as well. 大好き (Daisuki) “really like” Old school Japanese males never say, “I love you” (愛している) they would say, Daisuki. This line:“君が大好きだ” (Kimi ga daisuki da). “I really like you” is often the profession of love in a Japanese movie or television show on both sides.
純愛 (Jun-ai) “pure love” An almost mystical concept of love as something beyond physical or material reality. I’m still not sure what this means but it sets off lights in the eyes of Japanese women. It’s a television drama buzz word.
*惚れる (horeru) fall in love
*惚れ込む (horekomu) fall deeply in love
*一目惚れ (hitomebore) love at first sight “hitome” first sight. “hore” fall in love (see above)
*セックス (Sex)—This is “Japanese English.” It means sex.
*前戯 (Zengi)–Foreplay. Mae (前）means before and “戯れ” means “play, goof around”. Technically this entry should have been before Sex (セックス) on the list but then I wouldn’t be able to make this joking reference here.
*セックスレス (Sexless)—Maybe half of Japanese marriages are sexless. Who knows why? It’s a common complaint for Japanese women and some Japanese men..
アイコンタクト (eye contact)” Important in courting.
*エッチ (etchi) A cute-word for anything sexual, flirty. Usually has a fun connotation.
*男根 (dankon) “male-root” If you can’t figure out what this means, please refer to 一物 (ichimotsu)
*おまんこ (o-manko) The female genitalia, sometimes just the vagina. Also referred to as simply manko. However, we prefer attaching the honorable “o” as in “orgasm”. Also, it’s never bad to show respect. Even amongst the closest of friends, decorum is necessary. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり
*愛人 (aijin) Lover. The aijin is usually the partner in a forbidden romance. Similar to “koibito” but more of a shady aspect.
*オーガズム (ougasumu) orgasm
オルガスムス (orugasumusu) orgasm in Japanese taken from German Orgasmus
絶頂 (zettcho) climax, orgasm in Japanese language
*失楽園 (Shitsurakuen) A very popular novel and movie about a passionate modern day affair that ends in double suicide, with the lovers found dead in each others arms in mortal post coitus bless. Yes, you wouldn’t think this would encourage people to have affairs but it did! Women’s magazines had multiple features on the books and movies.
潮吹き (shiofuki): female ejaculation. Some Japanese women release a squirt or excess lubrication on orgasm. There appears to be some science suggesting that this does happen.
鼻血 (hanaji): bloody nose. There is a strange folk-belief that when a Japanese man is sexually excited he gets a nosebleed. Go figure.
In Japan, when man or women reaches orgasm, they don’t come (来る) they go (行く/iku). Likewise, to make a man or woman reach orgasm, is to 行かす (Ikasu) “make go.”
楽園 (rakuen) mean paradise. 失（shitsu） means “loss” or as a verb 失う（ushinau） to lose.
If I was running a campaign aimed at women for Japan’s favorite 浮気（uwaki) dating site for married people, I might make a pun on this along the lines of “恋愛の楽園を失いましたか。Ashleymadison.jpで禁断の楽園を再発見しよう“ (Did you lose your lover’s paradise？Rediscover the forbidden paradise on Ashleymadison.jp) BTW, the site already had a 1,000,000 members within 8 months.
*恋い焦がれる (koikogareru)=”burningly in love” to be in love so deeply that it’s painful, to yearn for the other 恋い (love) + 焦げる (burn).
Not a negative word, but a way of expressing a deep passionate consuming love. Many men and women seem to be seeking
*ベッド (bed)—usually a roundabout way of discussing sex in Japanese female magazines
–プレイ”—(play) This is usually added to various types of sexual fetishes.
性愛 (sei-ai) Erotic love, eros (sex/gender 性 + love 愛)
For example, 赤ちゃんプレイ (Aka-chan purei)—When the guy likes to be diapered like a baby, possible shaved completely nude, and nurse, sometimes with a woman who’s actually lactating. I could tell you a really strange story about a police raid on a place specializing in this type of service but I’ll skip it.
*遊び (Asobi) “Play”—this can refer to sex, an affair, a one-night stand. It has a wide usage in Japan and adults “play” just as much as children. Hence the costume fetish in Japan—
コスプレー (cosupurei—“costume play”)
密事 (mitsuji)—An old word but a literary one for discrete affairs.
*禁断の愛 (kindan no ai) Forbidden love
*密会 (mikkai) secret meeting
*ばれない (barenai) to not be discovered, to get away with something
*絶対ばれない (zettai barenai) “absolutely no one will find out”
IT’S OFFICIAL! A Japanese diner, TSUNAMI NAVY BURGER, located near the US military base in Yokosuka, calls the election for Biden w/ release of the Biden Burger: 600 grams, full of Philadelphia Cream Cheese (thanks Pennsylvania) and ¥1980 ($18). The diner might retire its predecessor, the fatty, artery clogging Trump Burger–but the jury is still out.
This gourmet delight was modeled on the Philadelphia Cheese steak sandwich. It contains a generous thick patty of beef, onions, peppers, paprika, sautéed mushrooms, lots of Philadelphia cream cheese–in a nod to Biden’s home state, Pennsylvania, which may have ensured his victory, and sprinkled with potato chips for a salty accent and a better mouth feel. It’s the taste of victory.
The Trump Burger which has been served since 2016, is a heart-clogging blend of peanut butter, soft-boiled egg, two bacon strips, Sloppy Joe sauce (ahem), cheddar cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato with a tiny USA flag on top (probably made in China).
Head down to TSUNAMI NAVY BURGER to celebrate if you’re a Democrat or to cheer yourself up if you’re a Trumper. Bon Appetit!
The whole world is somewhat baffled by how Japan is handling the coronavirus aka COVID19 aka Sars-CoV-2. The Diamond Princess debacle in which inept Japanese officials turned a cruise ship into a floating incubator for the virus did not bode well. Early on in the crisis, several politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party expressed what was close to delight about the coronavirus disaster, stating that it would finally justify changing Japan’s constitution to a new one that gave the Prime Minister sweeping powers.
Japan has infamously under-tested, turning away most people who were not displaying already full-blown symptoms of coronavirus induced illness-–a fever over 37.5 degrees for four days, loss of sense of taste and smell, had been in contact someone diagnosed with the virus etc.– and has been extremely stingy in releasing information. Some suspect that Japan is hiding coronavirus cases and deaths in pneumonia statistics. Possible. Let’s assume that’s not true for the time being.
The Ministry of Health, which managed to get their own workers and medical staff infected on the Diamond Princess and then refused to test them, sending them back to work, where they infected others–doesn’t inspire confidence. The best they have done seems to be to warn people about the Three Cs (in Japanese 3の密. 密閉・密集・密接): closed spaces, crowds and close contact. Miraculously, avoiding an overlap of these three should keep you safe—until it doesn’t.
Despite having the first cases of coronavirus in January, the number of deaths in Japan remains very low, 108 today (April 12th) out of a nation of 126 million people
This week I wrote a piece for the Asia Times–TB vaccines offers hope in Covid-19 war –about studies that show a correlation between low numbers of deaths in countries that had a universal tuberculosis vaccination program for decades–and coronavirus. The vaccine is called BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin). Infection rates also appear to be strongly impacted positively by the vaccine. The vaccine is nearly a hundred years old. It was developed by French physicians and biologists Léon Charles Albert Calmette and Jean-Marie Camille Guérin in the 1900s and first successfully tested in 1921. Some theorize that when the vaccine is given to very young children and/or infants, that it creates ‘attained immunity’ which helps the older generation (those most vulnerable) battle the virus. Personally, I sort of hope that it’s true, that BCG is the BFG (Big Fucking Gun) in the war against this pathogen, kind of like the iconic weapon in the first-person shooter DOOM. (It’s a video game). It has been suggested that the vaccine only works if given to very young children and that the strain of the vaccine matters as well. Could be.
NOTE: BCG vaccine has many strains (types). The BCG-Japan strain seems to be the one that actually works against the coronavirus. France uses the BCG-Denmark strain. If anyone reading this has access to materials about the BCG-Japan strain, please share them with me. I would like to know.
There are problems with the theory that BCG vaccine is a silver bullet (or a BFG). Correlation is not causation. France and England had a vaccination program but they have a high number of deaths. They also appeared to have inoculated their citizens when they were in their teens rather than as infant, and both countries use a different strain of the vaccine then the predominant one used in Asia. However, even if the BCG vaccination works/worked to prevent fatalities, is there any reason to believe it will work on adults? In the Netherlands and Australia clinical tests are underway. We shall see.
One of the joys of running this blog, with the help of others, since 2007, is that sometimes we are leaked good information that can be used to generate a solid news story. That is usually rare. The nature of the internet is that you tend to get lots of criticism, threats, accusations or wild conspiracy theories that can’t be verified. Comments are all read and edited before being posted. Many on-line sites have gotten rid of comments altogether. When I looked at the comments and letters today, I thought of doing the same….once again.
But then I read this letter below. It’s intriguing. The anonymous source asserts that they are a member of the medical community in Japan. I have edited it slightly for clarity and removed some possibly identifying details. Below the letter, I have added some notes and observations.
As the headline tells you, it is a conspiracy theory, of sorts. A “conspiracy” is usually defined as a secret plan by a group of people to do something harmful or illegal. If the writer of this letter is correct, the steps Japan has taken so far are not completely harmful. Indeed, it could be argued that testing everyone is not a great idea and that it overloads the health care system. Japan’s approach to the coronavirus has had its merits.
“The Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control (JSIPC) updated their coronavirus manual on March 10.
The tone is calm. “Japan is moving from containment measures to a period of spreading infection and we must adjust accordingly,” it says. Since March 6, Covid-19 testing won coverage under national health insurance – ergo, “as public money is being used for the coronavirus testing, it is necessary to carefully screen who gets tested.”
It gently chides anyone who seeks “needless” testing and urges medical professionals to prevent overcrowding at hospitals by instructing patients with light symptoms to stay home and avoid others.
Critically, it points out that since there is no specific treatment for Covid-19, the priority must be treating the illness via its pathogen causes.
“The foundation of treatment is symptomatic therapy,” the manual reads. When signs of pneumonia are found, it suggests using all possible methods of treatment, such as giving oxygen and vasopressors as necessary. Above all, it reminds medical staff of the top priority: “Protect the lives of seriously-ill patients, especially in cases of pneumonia.”“
This makes sense on some levels. However, if you don’t know who has the coronavirus, how can you possibly contain it? The manual does note that Japan has moved beyond containment measures (水際対策) and must conduct a sort of triage.
I don’t know if it’s true nor can I say it’s untrue. Don’t believe it. I have limited resources, so I’ve decided to crowdsource this. I would like to know what you, the readers, think. And if anyone has supporting data, I’d love to have it–links and documents appreciated. If you can refute it, please do. Sometimes, many minds are better than one.
Send all mail, thoughts, comments, evidence and refutations to japansubcultureresearchcenter @ gmail.com with the heading, BCG and Japan.
Some short notes and observations on the letter are at the end of the document.
Dear Mr. Adelstein,
I’m ●●●● and I’ve just been reading your report into BCG.
You’ve got the half the story, and while there are clinical issues with the variables and the science, you’re on the right track.
The other half is on the Japan side.
Have you noticed why Japanese aren’t talking about their immunity through BCG? There’s reasons for this.
Japan has invested a lot of capital into developing and selling Avigan as a coronavirus treatment. They’ve put the weight of Japan Inc behind this, and [Prime Minister] Shinzo Abe is their pitch man.
Did you notice the abrupt change in Abe’s policy around the end of February? That’s because Japanese researchers and doctors, including my colleagues, became aware at that time that BCG vaccines were possibly also working with the immune systems of most Japanese under age 70. NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) and MHLW [Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare] policies prohibit researchers and doctors from speaking publicly about this. But this is well-known in the medical community here.
What’s not understood is whether BCG is protecting children in the same way. We don’t have enough scientific or anecdotal evidence to rule out tuberculosis vaccine in Japan with confidence, especially because of the large number of foreign workers and tourists from at-risk countries, or whether BCG is working properly in tandem with other vaccinations in Japan. In layman’s terms, the younger generation of children in Japan don’t have the same immune system as the older generation. While we have decades of data about the health of the older generation, we still have insufficient clinical data about kids who haven’t been alive long enough to build up a reliable data base.
In the field of medicine, you can’t make a diagnosis or prescribe treatment based on anecdotes or hunches. We have to follow regulations and existing practices based on years worth of data and peer-reviewed studies. We simply can’t assume that BCG is protecting children from the novel coronavirus. Thus the medical community instructed Abe to protect these children as a preventive measure owing to the lack of available data on how their immune system would respond to Sars-CoV-2.
This also gave Abe and the MHLW political cover. Instead of doing nothing, they had to do something (1) . Abe couldn’t publicly announce that BCG was protecting the innoculated population of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. As you know, Abe is beholden to Keidanren (経団連・Japan Business Federation) and companies such as Fujifilm Holdings and their subsidiary Toyama Chemical, which manufactures Avigan (3). Who is going to buy Avigan if all they have to do is buy BCG? Why should Japan promote Avigan if most Japanese don’t need it? That is their reasoning. This is all about the sale of Avigan. (5)
This also explains why Japan was resisting international pressure to postpone the Summer Olympics. Abe and his panel of experts were assuming that BCG was protecting most of the population from the novel coronavirus. They had to cancel the games because of foreign pressure and the International Olympic Commission (IOC) (4), not because of any concerns about an overshoot of cases here in Japan.
There’s another issue that the media are overlooking. Japan now has millions of foreign residents and foreign tourists who didn’t get BCG shots. They are the most likely groups to acquire the novel coronavirus and spread it through the population in Japan. But Abe couldn’t say that due to policies of boosting tourist arrivals and preparing for the Olympics. Even if you think he’s a racist xenophobe, you have to credit him for respecting the rights of foreign COVID patients. Look at what China is doing with Africans, and you’ll understand Japan’s official thinking on this.
This also explains the Ministry of Health policy of keeping people away from hospitals (2). We don’t want people with colds, H1N1, ordinary coughs or sniffles to show up at hospitals demanding swabs, which also put health care workers at risk. They should stay home and rest anyway. MHLW set up a hotline for this purpose. If they didn’t, half of Japan would demand a test claiming to be sick. In most cases, patients with real COVID19 symptoms aren’t going to die anyways if they had their mandatory BCG vaccinations. Japan only wants to treat the most severe cases while protecting medical workers from infection. This is a reasonable policy. Most doctors support this, though some feel that we should be more proactive with outreach programs and advocacy on behalf of patients.
Try to see things from our perspective. We are watching more than a hundred doctors and nurses die in Italy. We saw the same thing in Wuhan. This scenario is Japan would serve nobody. It’s not selfish for us to protect ourselves. It’s good public health policy, and Japan is doing the right thing.
Please understand that the science isn’t black and white on this. Just because Japan made BCG shots mandatory doesn’t mean that every doctor gave them out, or that every parent took their kid to the doctor for the shot. Millions of people fell through the cracks and didn’t get vaccinated for TB, especially in the 1950s and 60s when Japan’s health care system was evolving. That’s why you are seeing numbers rise now, though on a much smaller level than in the U.S. or Italy. Most of the new cases now are people who didn’t get BCG shots. This is the common view of medical practitioners here.
This is especially true of patients in areas such as Taito-ku, which is the closest thing in Tokyo to Skid Row in LA. Many of these new patients are homeless, or they were born into impoverished families who didn’t vaccinate their children. You will see similar stories in impoverished areas of Osaka and other cities. Look at the data and you will find it.
(4) It would appear that after the Olympic Games were postponed that suddenly the number of Covid-19 cases jumped considerably. Correlation perhaps. Governor Yuriko Koike, who had been remarkably silent about the dangers of coronavirus, suddenly began talking about ‘a lockdown’ and the need for hyper vigilance with the pathogen only after March 23rd.
5) The Japanese government, including our friends at the Ministry Of Health, have conspired in the past to keep important medical data away from the public. The result was many innocent people being infected with AIDS and dying. Green Cross was the beneficiary and some of their executives were convicted of criminal negligence resulting in death. Government officials basically walked. See below and research more if you’re interested. Green Cross Executives receive prison terms in Yakugai (薬害エイズ) case.
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.
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.”
Everyone knows there is a dark side to journalism. If they don’t, they just haven’t worked the job long enough. It’s even darker when you work for a Japanese newspaper that still has morning and evening editions. That means six deadlines a day, since each regional version has its own deadline. I don’t miss those days.
When you’re on the police beat, you essentially live within the police press club. There’s at least one 24-hour shift a week, in which you may or may not catch a couple hours of sleep between 2 and 5:30 a.m., when you have to check the papers to see if the team has been scooped and notify the boss and the reporter in charge of the division.
You’re never home. You’re never not on call. Most of us end up divorced or legally separated. You will not be able to avoid hounding the friends, families and victims of a horrible crime for their statements and photos of the deceased. It’s a hyena-like task that I still do and will always dislike.
The darker side of the police beat or investigative journalism in Japan, especially when covering the yakuza, or as the police call them boryokudan (暴力団), or violent groups, is that eventually you’ll meet with violence. And I have several times. It’s left me with a litany of injuries – a weekly regimen of physical therapy, chronic post-traumatic stress and some brain damage.
As it stands, the head injury I suffered in 2010 has been both a blessing and a curse. It has resulted in temporal lobe seizures, less frequent as time goes on. I have a lesion in my brain, located around the temporal lobe – the product of a two-story fall, I suppose that was the initial injury (1986). In January 2010, an angry source – an ex-yakuza high as a kite on some very good crystal meth – kicked me in the head after I set him off and what was a conversation turned into a knock-down brawl. I believe he was in the midst of meth psychosis so it was hard to hold it against him.
It took a few days to realize that I wasn’t quite the same after that. I think that’s when things started going wrong on the temporal level; time was out of joint.
You might think that being able to relive the greatest moments of your life would a wonderful thing. You would be wrong. A few times a week, I have the displeasure, usually at random, but sometimes triggered by a sound or scent, of re-experiencing a past event in my life. Often they are very mundane. I wouldn’t call them memories, they’re stronger than that – they’re more than flashbacks. For me, they constitute a temporal dislocation; a disruption in the chronology of life; identity; of who I am and how I feel.
These re-experiences are things like laying down on a futon, beside a window on a rainy day. A woman I used to love, putting her hand on my neck and whispering something into my ear about the growth of oak trees in the summer. I lose myself for a minute, maybe just a few seconds. When I sleep, it’s worse. Sometimes, I relive violent events in my life—with all the fear, adrenaline, anger and pain that came with it. I feel the glass in my feet and I can’t stand up. When I calm down and check the soles and see that there’s nothing there–then I’m fine. It feels just as real as it did back then. I know that there’s no threat but my body doesn’t listen, so going back to sleep isn’t really much of an option. I could take a sleeping pill but that’s also another world of troubles.
I write a lot at night. I know many cafes and bars that are open at 3am; it’s good to have a place to go when it happens.
Generally, I’m very good at covering up my temporal disorder. I slip up now and then. I used to buy picture books for my children and then realize it has been years since they read books without words. My daughter when she was ten once horrified me by telling me that she was going to need a sports bra. Because in my head, I can remember reading to her Alice in Wonderland, the pop-up book, just last night. That was probably six years ago at the time. Everything seems like yesterday.
At least I’m blessed with faculties that tell me my sense of time and chronology is out of whack. But when I’m tired or sleep- deprived, it’s much harder to remember what was past and what is present. After a flashback, I have this strange feeling that time should have stopped where it was; that I should be walking into work at The Yomiuri Shimbun and filing an article on the latest hit- and-run. Right after one ends, I feel myself right back where I was at the time. It’s as if the world had been rebooted and put back to factory-shipped state.
After my temporal clock resets, I find myself feeling about a person I once loved exactly as I did – at what were wonderful little moments in the relationship. Weren’t we dancing together last night in a seedy bar in New York? Why can’t we just start at that point in time again? Because what happened after that doesn’t feel like it happened. It feels for a few moments as if that’s where time stopped.
I feel like I could go back to any point in time and pick up where things were. The rest of the world doesn’t function like that.
I’ve lost a lot of friends over the years. My mentor and sort of second father, Detective Chiaki Sekiguchi died of cancer in 2008. A colleague at the newspaper killed herself. People who were good friends and sources have gone missing. In 2010, lawyer and mentor, Toshiro Igari, was probably killed in the Philippines after taking on my case against the publisher of a yakuza boss’ biography. After obtaining the autopsy report from the Manila police, it’s clear that suicide was not the cause of death. A source, but not a friend, was shot to death in Thailand in April of 2011. I miss him as well, despite myself. My BFF, Michiel Brandt, passed away due to complications from leukemia in 2012. She was 30. I’m now 50. I keep waiting for the pain of that loss to be a little less but it stays. Even when you are well aware that life is impermanent and death comes to us all, sometimes it just seems too soon. There’s a part of you that doesn’t expect you to outlive your friends, especially when they are so much younger than you. Sometimes, I see her in dreams as well.
Sometimes, I have flashbacks to moments where I was a total jerk. Where I was rude or insensitive and I feel the same pangs of regret in the present that I felt in the past. I relive the mistake with no possibility of correcting it.
I have keys to apartments to where I can never go back in the physical universe. But in my own mindscape, I was just there and will be there again. Everything should be just where it was. The peanut butter in the cupboard, my toothbrush in a drawer, the balcony door open. The computer would be on the desk where I used to keep it. My desk in the Metro Police Headquarters should still have my stack of yakuza fanzines on top, stuffed into a cheap cardboard box. I wish I could throw away the old keys but I have this irrational belief that I will need them—even though the locks must have been changed and there is no reason to go back and no one there I know anymore.
Some of the memories are horrific. And they come with all the pain and horror of the time: photos casually shown to me that I never wanted to see; the smell of rusty iron from a bloody body, laying cut to shreds on a train track; or the sensation of burning, when a thug stubbed out his cigarette on my shoulder.
In general, maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time in Japan, I try to take a stoic approach to things. The idea of seeing a psychotherapist to resolve mental issues seemed like a waste of time. But I finally went to see one in 2010, to try and do something about my insomnia. After a couple of sessions, the diagnosis was chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. He recommended anti- depressants to deal with the hyper-vigilance issues. I didn’t take them. I stopped going. I need to be hyper vigilant at times. It’s a survival mechanism.
I don’t want to turn it off; I just want to control it better. Meditation helps. Sleep helps. Exercise helps.
I thought that diagnosis would explain the strange flashbacks that were happening, but all I could find in the literature were references to people having flashbacks to traumatic events, not mundane or pleasant moments. It took a scan of my head and a visit to a neurologist to finally get diagnosed correctly.
There has to be a reason why we forget things. If we could recall the past too vividly, the present might pale in comparison. If we can’t forget, we can’t move on. Maybe our minds would explode with the complications of retaining memories of the past and awareness of the present at the same time.
I have anxiety about sleeping. I never know what time of my life I’ll wake up in. The persistence of the past both helps and hinders my relationships in the present. It helps because I get to relive mistakes and am thus reminded not do them again. It hinders because I’m able to forgive and then forget I’ve forgiven someone in the first place. Or forgive myself.
I’d like to walk on; I just keep treading water.
There’s a weariness that comes with covering violent crime, fraud, and human trafficking. There’s a sense of futility. You keep covering the same story, over and over – only the characters change. The narrative remains the same. In recent years, I’ve moved away from crime reporting and covering the yakuza. Bitcoin, politics, social issues, corruption, financial news. There’s a whole other world of things to report on–and just as important to know as well.
These days I’m in a good place mentally and physically. I am, if not happy, quite content with where I am and what I’m doing. But sometimes when I wake up, especially after having a disorienting flashback, I find myself strangely detached from life itself. I can only explain it by borrowing the words of Qoheleth, in the Book of Ecclesiastes:
What has been is still happening now
What has been will be again and be as it is
just as it was
There is nothing new under the (Iand of the rising) sun.
“Take this whisky, please,” said the elderly Japanese man running a liquor store in a small town in Ibaragi Prefecture. He was cheerful and insistent. “It’s called News and you’re a journalist, so it’s the perfect blend. Please, I have two bottles and it’s just gathering dust.” And as I protested, he pulled it off the shelf, lightly dusted it, put it in a bag and handed it to me.
It is April 20th 2019. I’ve been in Ibaragi for two days working on four stories with a television crew. The four stories are:
1) The problems Japan’s traditional lacquerware artists (urushi/漆の職人) are facing as the artisans capable of harvesting the sap from the urushi trees die off.
2) The mild and refreshing green tea of the region (奥久慈茶) which has almost died out due to the Fukushima disaster.
3) The tradition of crafting ink-stones (硯/suzuri) which are essential for beautiful Japanese calligraphy (Shodo/書道・習字)
4) The history of konyaku (菎蒻) which is used to make Shirataki noodles, faux sashimi, and has become very popular because it’s filling and low in calories.
I was also considering a fifth story about the local delicacy: Shamo. Shamo (軍鶏) are free-range chickens that were originally fighting birds (喧嘩鳥) used in cock-fights and later domesticated. We had lunch at a place famous for it’s Shamo Oyako-don, which is chicken and egg over rice. Oyako means parent and child and if you think about it, eating a chicken with egg, is kind of horrifying. Don’t think about it.
The town we were visiting once had a population of over 40,000 people 20 years ago, but is down to a third of that number. The Game Center is shuttered and looks like it has been that way for many years. Many of the stores on the main road are out of business. Trains come once per hour and after 5pm, you can’t even leave by train.
I had some time to kill after lunch at the local restaurant and walked over to the liquor store down the street. There appeared to be no one inside but the light was on, so I opened the door. Within a minute, a cheerful, and dapperly dressed thin man with grey hair and grey slacks came out and greeted me. I looked around the store—and on one shelf were three bottles of Suntory Whisky, each which must have been ten years old or more. We chatted and I tried to buy one of them from him.
“I couldn’t sell these to you in good conscience. They’re very old.” He opened one and showed me the line of the whisky. “You can see some of it has already evaporated. It wouldn’t be fair to sell it to you.”
I thought about just giving him three times the price of the bottle on display. The hand-written card in front of the bottle was slightly discolored. I realized that this guy had no idea how much Japanese whisky was now worth. And you know, like everyone in the world, I had this fleeting thought of, “Wow, I could really make a fortune buying this guy’s whisky for a fraction of what’s it worth.” I thought about doing that….and then I explained to him that the price of Japanese whisky, especially old whisky, was skyrocketing.
He listened with some interest and raised an eyebrow. “To be honest, I don’t really like whisky. I’d rather drink something else. So I had no idea. How about you? Are you a whisky fan?”
“I like sake–given a choice.”
He nodded. “Me too. This might be my favorite,” he said while handing me an empty bottle of Kudoki Jozu. The name of the sake loosely means, “Talking a woman (man) into having sex with you.” It is also a delicious, dry and tart wonderful sake. I told him that I was fond of Suigei (酔鯨/drunken whale) and the local brew. We talked for fifteen minutes but then I had to leave. I asked him to consider selling me one bottle of whisky and he said he’d think it over.
Today, I dropped by the liquor store once more, before it closed–meaning before 5:30 pm. He greeted me like an old friend and he showed me all his favorite booze, including the empty bottles, collector’s items, and everything Suntory that he had–as well as some rare Nikka whiskies. However, he wouldn’t budge on selling me any of them. “I don’t know if they’ve aged well. I’d feel bad.”
But then, as if he had been waiting, he pulled off a back shelf a 1000 ml bottle of a whisky I’d never heard of, Kirin-Seagrams whisky NEWS. I looked for some information on the bottle but all it told me was that it was 80 proof, malt-grain. And some odd notes in English: One Liter Per Month. NEWS is light & smooth. You can enjoy it on the rocks, with water, or with anything. NEWS can create your new lifestyle.
I thanked him—he was insistent I take it–and took the bottle back to where I was staying and began pulling up what I could find about it on the net. It had been launched by Kirin around 1983, and they had even hired a hot Hollywood actor, Jan Micheal Vincent, to shill it in a Japanese commercial. The commercial was taken off the airwaves when it was widely reported that Vincent was an alcoholic; his alcoholism was definitely not good news for the NEWS brand name.
I wondered what it might taste like. One guy had found a bottle in the home of a relative, consumed the whole thing and posted a review. He noted it was free from any peculiarities and had crisp and clear taste. I found one or two web sites selling bottles of it with prices ranging from $50 to $400 (as part of a set).
So as I sat in my room, my conscience began to bother me. Because I don’t think he realized he’d given me $50 worth of booze–and a whisky that is no longer in production. I decided I needed to buy something from his store at least. The problem was that there was no ATM anywhere in site. Even the convenience store at the station didn’t have an ATM. I borrowed money from the cameraman, rather sheepishly, and ran back to the store before it closed. He was mildly amused to see me again and before he could ask any questions, I said, “You gave me a great bottle of whisky. Let me at least buy something. What’s the best sake here?”
He thought about it and then pulled off the shelf a bottle of (家久長・霊水八溝/Hakucho-Reisuiyamizo). I bought it and asked it was dry sake (辛口) and he whispered, “It used to be very dry but these days it’s sort of in the middle. It’s still very good.”
He sold it to me at wholesale price. I didn’t have any room in my bags left for another bottle of sake and the 1000 ml bottle of whisky, so I looked for something else in the store. There was some really beautiful looking pottery–a sake glass, a tea cup, and a coffee cup. I asked if they were also for sale and he replied, “Oh, my friend asked me to put those there. He’s a potter. He makes good pottery. You can buy them, if you really want do.” And so I did.
He packed them up nicely and I profusely thanked him. As I was leaving and he started turning off the lights and closing the store, he said to me, the following words.
“Well, if you ever do make it back this way again, let me know. I might sell you the whisky if you really want me to. You might know better than me. But if I were you,” he paused, “I’d drink that whisky I gave you with a bunch of your fellow journalists. It’s a lot of whisky. If you never drink it, it’s just going to end up somewhere else gathering dust and that’s a shame. Good booze is meant to be savored, not to be kept on a shelf. Thanks for coming in.”
Sometimes, I forget one of the reasons I have come to love Japan over the years–the unexpected kindness of strangers. It happens more often than you’d expect.
And so even with what I paid for the sake, the teacups, the coffee cup and the sake glass–I still didn’t pay anything close to what the whisky is worth. So maybe I will drink it with a group of friends after all. The sake has been around longer than I’ve been in Japan and maybe drinking it with friends would be the perfect way to celebrate what will be over three decades in Japan this summer. (I arrived in Japan on September 14th 1988).
Of course, I also feel a journalistic duty to drink this booze. It looks like the liquor advertised in 1983 and is being sold at an incredible mark-up all over the world, but I can’t be sure. If I don’t open it up, drink it, and confirm it with multiple sources–I’ll never know whether it’s real NEWS or fake NEWS.
Sometimes, to make sure you’re getting real NEWS, you need expert advice, good friends, several sources and some big round ice cubes.
I’m claiming this word!
To completely implement the teachings of tidiness as espoused by Marie Kondo, the tiny Zen Buddhist-like wizard of minimalism and organization.
“Dude, he went #FullKondo & gave away all his manga. Just kept 30 issues of Berserk!”#FullKondopic.twitter.com/sYfHoXn0jC