All posts by Louis Krauss

Japan’s Communist Party Wishes PM Abe Knew Shame or at least the Potsdam Declaration

Recently, the FCCJ has been a revolving door for leaders of the various governmental parties, all of whom want to explain their varying stances on the proposal for a new collective self defense policy. On Tuesday, the speaker was Japan Communist Party chairman Kazuo Shii, who in many ways expressed more pacifist sentiments than Natsuo Yamaguchi did for the New Komeito, which is supposed to be centered around pacifism and Buddhist teachings. Whereas Komeito and Abe might have given up on the democratic, capitalist nation Japan has been building towards since WWII, Shii pointed to the past to imply that Abe and the supporters need to acknowledge they lost the war and move on.

The war that Japan's leaders want to forget haunts the nation.
The war that Japan’s leaders want to forget haunts the nation.

“This is an administration that does not feel remorse about the war, and because of that it feels the need to destroy article nine and is intent on being able to deploy forces to anywhere in the world. This is a development that I think poses danger not only for Asia but the world.”

In particular, Shii took issue with Abe explaining their involvement with allies and their conflicts by fighting “from the back” as opposed to the front lines. Shii and many officials against the legislation think this is much too vague of an explanation, and that it could likely be a way for Abe to inch Japan closer to being able to declare war (even though Abe’s cabinet and political scholars cannot name any countries that could potentially threaten Japan).

Still, Shii acknowledged that the Communist Party is not totally in favor of eliminating the forces that do protect Japan:

“We would like to dissolve the US Japan security pact and change it to an amity alliance, however it is not our intention to dissolve our self defense forces after making this alliance.”

In his speech which was like a monologue, Shii referenced how Abe has admitted to not reading the Potsdam Declaration, and because of that claims he doesn’t truly understand why being remorseful for Japan’s “aggressive” stance during the war will help him give up with this proposed law to increase the country’s military capabilities. Following a meeting on Monday, the Diet extended the current session for 95 days, the longest in Japan’s history. While there may be a few arguments in Abe’s favor for the proposed law, Shii did a good job of explaining why Abe’s cabinet is most likely still upset about losing the war, and is essentially going down a bad road to engaging in unwise military decisions in an attempt to claim Japan’s superiority over the U.S. The JCP, along with several other groups opposing the law met recently and assured one another they would be firm on their stance that Abe’s proposed law is not the right direction to be taking.

“All the Abe administration talks about is military matters,” Shii said. “We got the sense that they have no Democratic vision at all. What is most dangerous is that the attitude they’re taking says if you have a military problem you solve it in a military way.”

The Potsdam Declaration were the terms of Japan’s surrender. They specifically state:

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Japan agreed to those terms. The Abe government seems to find that highly disagreeable.

Pole Dance Tokyo: A Sophisticated Sexiness

Pole Dance Lessons Lu Nagata Sensei - 33 - Version 2

DSC03049 DSC03050 Pole Dancing in Tokyo sounds like another terrible sex-laden non-fiction narrative by a foreigner about living in Japan, but since 2007, it has gradually become one socially accepted and amazing way to stay in shape in this city.

Whenever that lewd friend of yours sees a freestanding pole in a restaurant or bar, they will most likely associate it with the shadier variety of pole dancing that’s more recognized by the public. However, in a similar way that e-sports are becoming more recognized as a legitimate athletic activity, pole dancing is quickly developing a more professional and respected aura around it as an art form.

Pole dancing originated not from the American burlesque bars where it got its sexual connotation, but from the Indian sport of mallakhamb, in which gymnasts stack on top of one another against a tall wooden pole while posing. In the 1920s, this sport was altered to be used in magic shows and soon became popular on cruises and in circus shows. After moving to bars and combining it with burlesque dance, a downward spiral began that essentially removed any artistic respect pole dancing once had.

But beginning in 2006, this all began to change as pole dancing started gaining popularity in dance studios. In 2008, Ania Przeplasko founded the International Pole Dance Championships which were held in Manila, but already two of these competitions have been held in Tokyo, now seen as the pole dancing mecca. Part of the reason why its become so popular here recently is due to dancer and teacher Lu Nagata, who founded the Pole Dance Tokyo studio in 2007. She and Anna Przeplasko are long-time friends who helped popularise pole-dancing as a sport, an art, and a fitness regime in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Asia. Lu also choreographed and wrote a dance retelling of the Japanese literary classic The Tale Of Genji (源氏物語). When the JSRC made a group visit for an introductory class taught by Nagata–sensei, there were several foreign champions there. Even male pole dancing competitions have become more common lately.

Still, it will likely be challenging to convince the public that pole dancing is cleaning up its act, so I’ll give a rundown of what my experience visiting Pole Dance Tokyo was like.

The first thing that might surprise you is that the studio located in Akasaka is a well-lit dance studio with about a dozen poles scattered throughout the room. There’s nothing sleazy or super sexy about it. It is stylish and clean. When we visited, Nagata was teaching a class of much more experienced pole dancers who were understandably surprised that a group of unfit reporters and their friends felt the desire to try pole dancing. Thanks to JSRC editor/founder Jake Adelstein who knows Nagata, we were able to set up a group lesson.

After stretching and some basic exercises in sensuality, Nagata took us through several moves such as spinning with legs around the pole, away from it, and holding ourselves up sideways with our arms (she claims you don’t need arm muscle strength but this one will most likely leave you sore). If you imagine having to swing your head toward the ground as your arms hold up your suspended body, that’s a bit what it was like. If you can execute the inverted pole stance (upside down), you’re in amazing shape. (Kids, don’t try this at home or on the local park swing set).

pole dancing2

Once we had these spin variations down (barely), and managing the challenges that come from the pole being too slippery, she had us put it all together for a choreographed routine. After putting on some quality Nicky Minaj music and switching on the multi-colored strobe lights, Nagata had the group go through several of the moves while also making sure to “maintain the sexiness” that is associated with pole dancing. Obviously, the more experienced dancers did much better than the others and especially one friend of a JSRC contributor who was reluctant to come. As pole dancing changes with the times, some twerking was also expected. Anaconda is the song most suited for doing it.

Sexy pose time but Jake isn't looking very sexy.
Strike a pose.
Sexy time pose. Jake is not being very sexy.
Sexy time pose. Jake is not being very sexy.


Was I embarrassed? A little bit, of course, but as an intern at Japan Subculture Research Center (JSRC), I didn’t have much of a choice.  I would definitely recommend anyone visiting Tokyo to try a visit for a lesson. Lu is often in London but all the teachers have a great reputation. In these lessons, it feels less like a dance class than it is an introduction to any quirky hobby like rock climbing or snowboarding (at least until the pop music and stage lights go on).

Funner than it looks.
Funner than it looks.

Jake Adelstein and Angela Kubo contributed to this article. Mostly by being really silly. 


Android Festival Takes Over Roppongi Hills–Ends June 20th.

Sure, Apple can claim they have the most popular and trendy smartphone, but do they sponsor festivals offering free food, ramune and games? (Editor’s note: Not yet). From June 16-20, the Android Company is holding a festival they’re calling “Matsuri with Android” at O-Yane Plaza in Roppongi Hills to endorse their various phones. Here are some of the main attractions at the festival:

Taico (太鼓) phone/drumming game

For anyone who’s played the taico arcade game that’s so hard to miss in Tokyo, you’ll enjoy this Android-ified version in which you take two Galaxy phones and bang on virtual drums as little symbols appear on a screen. What’s cool is every time you hit a beat correctly, a big wall of LED lights in front of you will glow in a rainbow-like explosion. Whoever hits the most correct notes and gets the high score will win a Nexus phone.

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Four contestants prepare to hit some virtual drums.


Virtual Android masks

Similar to those hip new Japanese photo booths that enlarge your eyes, the festival features a room that will have cameras scan your face and put a random android robot head on you. It’s pretty fun, but a little weird when you see random guys you don’t know trying to cram into the picture.

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A group watches their heads get Android-ed.


Food and drinks

If you download a specific Android app for your phone, you can go to several booths and get free cotton candy, yakitori and ramune (soda with a marble inside the top of the bottle that tastes like carbonated PEZ). Along with that is a café that sells custom green Android-themed lattes, fruit juice and cocktails (although the cocktail was pretty weak). It’s free and it’s fun. Imagine you’re at a matsuri (祭り)festival of future Japan and it’s quite fun. Even if you belong to the Cult of Mac.

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Try out a green late or cocktail at the Hills Cafe.


Anime Jazz: A Japanese Genre that Really Swings

Japan has a knack for adapting foreign cultural genres. But once you get past the corny western-themed bars and pop boy bands, you’ll find that the country has taken once-respected American art forms such as jazz and animation and helped them regain their former glory. While some might argue that Japanese musicians can’t truly play jazz since they are so far removed from the African American community that developed the genre, they have—in similar fashion to Charlie Parker and Chick Corea—put their own spin on it through a Japanese lens. In the words of Miles Davis: “I don’t care if a dude is purple with green breath, as long as he can swing.”

In my freshman year at Oberlin College, I had to come up with a theme for my first radio show and decided without any prior knowledge to mix two of my biggest passions: jazz and anime. After finishing my semester DJing “Pacific Bebop” (a title that combines the robot-flick Pacific Rim and Cowboy Bebop,) I realized I had uncovered a number of hidden gems in this tiny category of anime shows with sophisticated jazz soundtracks. Here are a couple of the anime soundtracks that took center stage on “Pacific Bebop.”

Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Aporon)

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For those who enjoy angsty drama-filled anime but also want to learn a bit about jazz, this is the show for you. Whereas Cowboy Bebop features the freeform, Afro-Bop side of jazz anime, “Kids on the Slope” is a much quieter show that focuses on fleshing out its main characters and ties in nicely with its jazz standard soundtrack.

Taking place in the 1960s in Kyushu, we are introduced to Kaoru, a timid high school student who becomes friends with a half-American bad-boy/drummer named Sentaro. After Sentaro takes Kaoru to the local jazz record store he hangs out in, the two begin bonding over their mutual love of music and soon form a jazz trio with the record shop owner on bass, Kaoru on piano and Sentaro on drums.

Produced by anime director and jazz-lover Shinichiro Watanabe, “Kids on the Slope” features live recordings by young Japanese stars Shun Ishiwaka (drums) and Takashi Matsunaga (piano). Not only is the music good, Watanabe insisted that the animators painstakingly animate each musician’s hand and arm motions so each key press or drum hit you see perfectly mimics the real thing. Some of the highlights from the show include a heart-melting rendition of “My Favorite Things” by the lone female character and a battle of the bands that symbolically pits the jazz duo’s unrecognized talents against a rock band (rock being the genre that essentially killed jazz’s status as a popular genre).

From a musical perspective, “Kids on the Slope” focuses mostly on standards and the hard bop subgenre that developed in the 1950s-60s. During this time, American jazz musicians had to tour the world due to the Beatles’ newfound popularity and added aspects of R&B and gospel into their songs. This meant places like Switzerland, France and Japan were exposed to jazz greats like John Coltrane, Art Blakey and Charles Mingus. The cover versions in the show do a great job at both honoring these past legends while also putting a new spin on each song.

Check out this culminating moment of the show when Kaoru and Sentaro perform a medley of three standards:


Cowboy Bebop

While “Kids on the Slope” represents the quieter, cafe appropriate side of the genre, “Cowboy Bebop” showcases the rambunctious and party-like aspects of jazz. Instead of handpicking musicians, composer Yoko Kanno brought in her big band Seatbelts to record the new music for the show. Just from listening to the intro song “Tank!” listeners are given a taste of what this sci-fi/western/jazz anime is all about.

Somewhat a Japanese version of Dirty Harry, “Bebop” focuses on the space bounty hunter Spike and his friends as they chase down the galaxy’s most notorious villains. Each fight scene is accompanied with either a modern or funky jazz tune, ranging from the more laid back “See You Space Cowboy” to speedy bop tunes such as “Rush.” While nowhere nearly realistic as “Kids on the Slope”, “Bebop” is excellent in that it translates jazz into this cool futuristic world. For me, the best thing about jazz is that when you’re listening to a legend like Cannonball Adderley, all you can think about is how cool he is and how badly you want to be like him. In “Bebop,” Kanno’s music really helps sell Spike as the badass cowboy we all want to be; especially when he’s flying through space and an echoing ballad accompanies his travels. Yoko Kanno also has done the music for the much loved sci-fi police series The Ghost In The Shell which inspired The Matrix. 

One thing in common with both of these shows is that Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno have both worked on them. Yoko Kanno composed and arranged the music for both shows, while Watanabe is the mastermind director who seems to always take on jazz-influenced anime. In Baltimore’s anime convention Otakon a couple years ago, I got the chance to interview Mr. Watanabe and ask him a bit about his interest in jazz.

“I don’t remember exactly how I met jazz, but I remember I walked into a record shop and I was listening to ‘Kind of Blue’ by Miles Davis,” he said. “It really inspired me, it really hit me, and I fell in love right then and I left the store with the record.”

Whereas American jazz musicians are always harping about returning to the roots of jazz in the form of blues and gospel, Japanese musicians seem more interested in paying reverence to the “cool” image created by guys like Miles Davis.  In both “Bebop” and “Kids on the Slope” there’s a visualization of the coolness of jazz that is rarely seen. Even though there are just a handful of anime jazz shows(including others such as Lupin III), I recommend everyone check these two out if you’re a jazz fan having difficulty getting into anime (or vice versa).

Here are a couple more jazz anime tunes you may enjoy:

Yuji Ohno- Love Theme, Lupin III

John Coltrane- My Favorite Things, Kids on the Slope

Seatbelts- Rush, Cowboy Bebop



Renowned Diver Visits Japan to Remember Lost Turkish Ship and Swim with the Whales

From countless tsunami-related disasters to lopsided naval losses, the Ocean has been the setting for many of Japan’s darkest moments. It’s even been unkind to those who visit it with the best intentions.

Recently, Turkish world-record holding diver Sahika Ercumen has been visiting Japan to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the sinking of the Turkish frigate Ertugrul, which crashed off the coast of Kushimoto in 1890. After Ercumen and her team sailed out to the original crash site, they then dove to the bottom to examine the remains and leave a plaque stating Japan and Turkey’s joint sympathy for the 533 sailors who died during the crash.

Treating the event as a display of Japanese-Turkish camaraderie, many living in Kushimoto lined the streets waving Turkish flags to welcome Ercumen. Even princess Akiko of Mikasa attended the event.

After struggling to dive in the crash area’s rough conditions, Ercumen noted that braving the waves gave her a better sense of what the being on the sinking Ertugrul must have been like.

“We looked to the sea and we started understanding what they went through 125 years ago because the waves were so strong and I could barely fight against the current,” Ercumen said.

It certainly is saying something coming from Ercumen, who holds multiple world records in free diving amongst both men and women. In 2011, she made it into The Guiness Book of World Records for swimming underneath a sheet of ice for 110 meters while holding her breath.

At her presentation at the FCCJ on Tuesday, Ercumen lauded the Japanese people’s friendliness and the contributions Japan’s mostly female Ama divers have made to free diving.

“I’m impressed about traditional Japanese Ama divers, because that was really the start of free diving,” Ercumen said. “Japanese women divers have been diving for pearls and seaweed for 2,000 years in your tradition, so we would love to make some documentaries with them.”

Along with her love of diving and desire to commemorate the Turkish lives lost here, Ercumen is also visiting Japan to express her hope of protecting the ocean and its sea life. In Japan, a country where documentaries such as The Cove have been made to show how extreme some of its fishing traditions can be, one would think she would come bearing a message of forewarning about the dangers of overfishing, right?

“Well this is an eco system,” Ercumen said. “I eat fish, I eat my friends. But, I mean, they eat plankton, so it’s part of the system … I’m most focused on protecting their playground. If we pollute the water, that’s a bigger issue to me than just eating one fish.”

Not only a world-class diver, Ercumen graduated as a certified Nutritionist from Baskent University and believes that the health benefits of eating fish must be considered when protecting the environment.

“I’m a nuitrition specialist, so maybe if I were just a free diver I would say something else,” Ercumen said. “There’s a protein found in fish called Omega 3, and people really need these things.”

Ercumen is visiting Japan for her first time, and says that after diving in Okinawa she would love to explore more of it, especially since Turkey lacks the diverse sea life of Japan.

“I’d love to dive with whales and sea mammals. We don’t have them in Turkey too much, so we never met with them. But in Japan my friends told me when they are diving they can hear the sounds of the whales.”

This more peaceful side of the ocean is something Japanese people are much less accustomed to. If people like Ercumen can promote competitive free diving amongst Japanese youth, maybe Japan can one day shake its image of being an insensitive slaughterer of sea mammals.


The Deadly Chokehold of the Japanese Family

The Japanese family is in trouble. But then again, that’s nothing new. Traditionally speaking, family ties are the most sacred of Japanese relationships. But I’m not so sure, it seems like a lot of Japanese —  especially parents — have historically and consistently treated their offspring like shit. Time and again, they’ve shown how family means diddly-squat in the face of work/profit/duty. Take for example one of the most most-loved women in Japanese history — 17th century nanny Masaoka. When assassins sought to kill her clan lord’s baby son, Masaoka switched him with her own child, who wound up murdered. She’s considered the towering monument of Japanese womanhood. As for fathers, they’re historically famous for butchering each other’s sons (not to mention wives, sisters, courtesans, and anyone else who stood in the way of expanding the clan and pledging loyalty to the powers that be).

The Japanese Family is its own horror show? (Family Guy was never a hit here).
The Japanese Family is its own horror show? (Family Guy was never a hit here).


Such stories abound in the nation’s history, and the logic supporting that legacy carries right over to present day. The majority of white collar workers find it really, really hard to put their family before work and social commitments — a national character trait that’s embedded in the social system.

Not surprisingly, the literature surrounding the Japanese family is apt to be either negative, sad, tragic or all three. The rock bottom birth rate compounded with the high divorce rate says much about the modern Japanese love relationship, but the parent-child issue is worse. The number of child abuse cases are way up — in 2013 the number of abuse cases handled by child consultation centers rose above 70,000 — along with the child poverty rate: one out of six kids in Japan are going hungry.

The older generation isn’t faring much better. Baby boomers in their seventies have an average 20 million yen stashed in their savings account while their middle-aged children are scrambling for ways to dodge the cripplingly high inheritance tax, long before the parents are dead. Try looking for love somewhere in this icy tundra and you’ll end up with not much more than a pocket calculator and a self-help manual.

Under the circumstances, now is a good time to talk about a book called “Kazoku to yu Yamai” (The Disease Called Family) by Akiko Shimoshige. It’s flying off the shelves (that is, for a non-manga publication) and over 250,000 copies have sold since the book first came out in March.

Shimoshige — a former NHK newscaster whose father was an elite in the Japanese military during WWII — lets rip with her deep hatred and mistrust of the Japanese family in general, and the complicated but none too warm feelings she has for her own family in particular. By her own account, Shimoshige had never lacked for anything, and at a time when other girls in her generation had little choice but to marry and become the dreaded Japanese housewife, Shimoshige got herself a solid education and a career in the media. She married a journalist and had no kids, which left her free to pursue her work and sow the contempt she felt for “ordinary Japanese people whose new year cards are printed with the latest photos of their families” — a custom she feels should be abolished immediately.

Contempt seems to be the operative word in Shimoshige’s book — start to finish, she looks down on the Japanese family in any way, shape or form. When you consider how the Japanese thrive on being told how awful they are (another national character trait) it would seem she’s adopting just the right tone for literary success. “Kazoku to yu Yamai” tells you that Japanese fathers are narrow-minded and self-seeking, Japanese mothers are downtrodden and willfully uninformed, and that Japanese children are victims of repressive families and antiquated schools, both hell-bent on fostering mediocrity. The hated symbol of the Japanese home, according to Shimoshige, is the “kotatsu and mikan” (the kotatsu is a heated low table with a blanket to keep out the cold, and mikan are mandarin oranges. Japanese families have traditionally convened around the kotatsu to talk, eat mikan and keep winter woes at bay) set up as fostering laziness and bad habits.

As far as books about family psychology go, “Kazoku” doesn’t offer much in the way of knowledge or insight. It’s almost exclusively based on personal experience, and boils down to the fact that Shimoshige is from a very privileged background. While professing to dislike her father for his militaristic views and outdated elitism, she devotes a huge chunk of the book to his career and subsequent downfall after being condemned for war crimes during the Tokyo Trials. Her father lost his job, and apparently couldn’t quite grasp the fact that he was no longer a decorated military brass, with a legion of underlings at his beck and call. Her mother devoted her entire life to the care and support of this man, and Shimoshige laments that with her brains, her mother could have done so much more. Other adults in her family were academics and corporate bosses, and Shimoshige cites them as examples of how intelligence and success can liberate the Japanese from the bonds of the family. Still, she writes with a touch of loneliness: “No one in my family has ever asked me for help. They were too afraid of being a burden on me.”

Indeed, the Japanese way of expressing love is to lift that burden, and according to Shimoshige the more intelligent a person is, the less dependant they are on their families. Maybe so – consider Yukio Mishima who committed seppuku on national television without letting his family know about it. But imagine their aftermath. Imagine the burden of having to live with such a thing, weighing on the mind year after year.

Personally, I’ve always had a thing for kotatsu and mikan. And hey, is it such a bad thing for people to be a burden on each other? In the US, people are giving out free hugs on street corners and parents are exhorting each other to talk to, and play with their kids, every single day. Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons said as part of his acceptance speech: “Call your mother” and the guy is 60 years old. Meanwhile, in Japan the fashionable thing is to not hug your kids, but give them video games and strap them to car seats. If family is a disease, then Shimoshige should rest easy — most of us here are free of the virus.

by Kaori Shoji