Occupy Tokyo: Another Good Excuse to Come Out and Hate on TEPCO

Saturday, October 15th, Occupy Wall Street went global. Around 300 people around Tokyo came out to march in 2 separate locations. Japan Subculture went to check out what was happening at Hibiya Park, where 100 protestors marched through the Roppongi district.

How did Occupy Tokyo come about? The story is another testimony to the efficiency of social networking in organizing demonstrations. According to participants, just a few days prior to the event, “meetup” group members on the forum Occupy Together were testing out interest in Tokyo. Michele from California, one of the first to post on the Tokyo thread, tells about how she and many others decided to participate; “It started off with the post ‘What’s going on in Tokyo? I’m ready if you are’, and picked up from there”. It moved from the forum to Twitter, and then Facebook; and on Saturday about 150 people showed up at Hibiya Park to march in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests.

While many of the demonstrators carried signs in step with the New York City movement, many were not related to income inequality at all. Several people were out protesting against nuclear power, TEPCO, and the government, and there was also a small cohort carrying signs that said, “Free Tibet”.

All pictures were taken by Said Karlsson. More of his work can be seen at www.saidkarlsson.com.


The Procession



 The Characters

many present were echoing Occupy Wall Street's dissent
"Japanese people - keep your mouth shut til you get slaughtered like sheep? Smash your TV!"
many held signs protesting the Chinese government's treatment of Tibet
a woman in a passing bus contemplates the protest
boys in a passing bus take interest
anti-nuclear signs were among the most numerous
anti-nuclear signs were among the most numerous
Michele, from California, and her son (middle and left) with friend Rohini from Seattle have washed and re-used this towel many times since before the Iraq invasion. It previously read, "War is Wrong"

Japan-related blogs now have a homebase!

Your most favoritest Japanese underworld guide and yakuza blog, Japan Subculture Research Center (<— us!) has recently been listed on the brand-new Japan Blog Directory!
The Directory is only 2 weeks old, and yet already lists 55 blogs organized by category (eating, culture, travel, etc.). GREAT to peruse if you need a  distraction from work, even if your work is…blogging.
What is the Japan Blog Directory?
The Japan Blog Directory started on September 29, 2011 as an authored directory of Japan related blogs. It currently lists about 55 blogs listed in 15 categories.
The ambition is to list all blogs related to Japan. In order to keep it user friendly, pages by category are authored and the best blogs will be highlighted. In future the Japan Blog Directory might also host awards for the best new blogs or the best blogs in each category based on proposals and votes from the readers.
Blogs are listed by category and a consolidated feed of all listed blogs gives an easy overview on what people are talking about. Each new blog is introduced with its own post and then listed in one or more of the category directories. From time to time selected blogs are featured and given a special post providing more information about the author and introducing a selection of their best posts.
The criteria for adding a blog are very simple:
– The contents should mainly be related to Japan
– It should be written in English (exceptions are allowed for photo blogs)
– It should be updated regularly. Blogs with no updates for a year get de-listed
As of now the blog directory lists around 3-5 new blogs per day and also has a growing number of followers on Twitter (japanblog).

Who runs the Japan Blog Directory?

Nicolas Soergel, creater of Japan Blog Directory
The Japan Blog Directory was started by Nicolas Soergel – a french-german who lives in Japan for about 12 years.He came to Japan to work as an executive for a foreign company but got inspired when supporting his wife managing her traditional family business (Chinriu Honten Limited, ちん里う本店) of producing and retailing umeboshi and ume sweets since 1871. Today Nicolas still works for a foreign company on weekdays and supports the family business during weekend.
Nicolas got featured on Japanese TV as well as the Japan Times. In 2011 he started a series of blogs to promote Japanese culture. He first started with NIHONGO ICHIBAN – a blog supporting students of Japanese to learn Japanese characters, grammar and vocabulary. Soon after Nicolas launched NIHON ICHIBAN, a blog to introduce Japanese culture to foreigners. When Nicolas was looking for sites to promote his own blogs he quickly realized that there were only very few sites to promote blogs related to Japan. This is why he decided to create the Japan Blog Directory and provide a free promotion platform to all bloggers who write about Japan.
My personal favorites include:
bento.com, which is also accessible by smart phone, is “a restaurant guide is the source for unbiased, expert advice on where to eat and drink in Tokyo and throughout Japan”. Its easy to use, can sort entries by cuisine or location, and has saved me many times from eating something chain or mediocre when wandering around a part of the city I’m not so familiar with.
Randy’s Favorite Rural Getaways in Japan – a surprisingly comprehensive list of “rural Japanese travel getaways, with comprehensive facts on using Japanese inns, transportation, and baths — plus abundant insights on Japanese culture.” It is apparent by the detailed descriptions of these locations that the author has a real passion for getting out of the city.
What Japan Thinks – A fascinating site that translates opinion pools and surveys on topics from “keitai to kimono”. Though accurate and thorough, there is no serious statistical analysis here – but did you know that according to a recent internet-based questionnaire, 49.3% of cellphone users in Japan own a smartphone?
You can subscribe to the email list, to receive notifications of newly-added blogs, and you can even register your own blog, so long as it fits the requirements.
We would love to hear which blogs you all liked!

Japan's First Food Bank: Applying Japanese Efficiency to the Problem of Hunger

What do you know about poverty in Japan?

What demographics constitutes “the poor” here? And how do poverty levels compare with that of the United States, for example?

Martin Fackler in the NYTimes writes: “Many Japanese, who cling to the popular myth that their nation is uniformly middle class, were further shocked to see that Japan’s poverty rate, at 15.7 percent, was close to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s figure of 17.1 percent in the United States, whose glaring social inequalities have long been viewed with scorn and pity here.”

Fortunately, Japan’s first food bank, Second Harvest, had been on the job since 2000 – a time when the very idea of a food bank was completely alien to the

In Japan the poverty rate for single mothers is 67%.

country. By 2009, the NPO estimates that yearly it serves over a third of the 650,000 Japanese that lack “food security”.

(As an aside- there are several food banks in the U.S. which use the same name, though none of them are affiliated with Second Harvest Japan).

Charles E. McJilton, founder and CEO of Second Harvest Japan, stressed that he doesn’t like to characterize what he does as “helping people”, but rather “providing the tools and assistance to people in need” because ultimately — “people can help themselves”.

McJilton himself appreciates the opportunities others gave him to succeed, having brought himself out of less than auspicious beginnings; by the time he was 16, he was a drug addict and an alcoholic. As a way to “give back”, his counselor recommended he start volunteering at a crisis clinic; “one aspect of volunteering is certainly doing something good”, he notes. “But another aspect is seeing for yourself, what is going on in society, and making your own judgement about what is going on.”

He would later put his values into play in a more radical way- by living along the Sumida river, where many homeless reside in make-shift tents or even cardboard boxes. “I had a lot of head knowledge about homelessness, and poverty”, he says, but at the same time desired to really “live out” his values. He initially resolved to stay for 3 months; he left after a year and 3 months. “When I started living along the river, poverty and hunger were no longer a theory to think about but a reality to live with each day”. 

However, McJilton points out, “poverty isn’t just about homelessness” – one of the most prevalent misconceptions about poverty in Japan. While Second Harvest does serve the homeless community (every Saturday in Ueno park) the aid goes to mostly welfare institutions (such as orphanages, hospices, battered women’s shelters, etc.) and individual families, as you can see in the chart below.

For the relative wealth of the country, the number of people who lack food security is immense; but so is the amount of food that goes to waste in Japan. Almost a third is thrown out for not meeting the fastidious requirements of the Japanese consumer (the “3P’s” , according to McJilton: pristine, perfect, and pretty).

The following chart, found on Second Harvest’s website, explains how a food bank works:

“Second Harvest Japan collects safe-to-consume food that became unsalable for various reasons from food companies and individual donors. Then, we distribute the food to those in need such as low-income households and single mother agencies. “

Second Harvest now delivers to 170 agencies in the Kanto area monthly, examples of which are listed here.


Second Harvest Business Model

In a country with so much food waste, the potential for relocating resources is frustratingly clear. Nevertheless, McJilton had a tough time selling the idea in Japan to both donors and recipients. As its existence belies the nationalistic myth of an egalitarian Japan, poverty is a touchy subject with the Japanese; and in a society where the human relics of World War II still grace us, their spines sharply contorted due to malnutrition and hard labor –  so is food waste.

As over 600 companies have donated food since 2002, McJilton seems to be successful in navigating these delicate topics. He exhibits a good understanding of the specific concerns for both parties. Corporations, which often end up throwing away perfectly good food, worry that the donations will be re-sold or that the food would go bad before distribution and make people sick. On the other hand, those in need have a great cultural aversion to accepting aid; they also are wary that they will be later charged for the food, or receive spoiled goods.

CEO McJilton, left, receives a donated truck from NuSkin - from Second Harvest Newsletter

“We have never gone out and asked for food or money.”

It may seem like a strange strategy for attracting donors, but McJilton insists that this policy has helped retain clients and improve relationships. For companies, there are incentives to donate; rather than paying for discarded food to be destroyed, a company can save 80 million yen a year by donating. They also receive free distribution of their products to potential new buyers.

The food bank, of course, has certain standards for food donations: no dented cans, no expired food, nothing opened, etc. A letter of agreement between the food bank and the donor spells out the different responsibilities of both parties. McJilton identifies two reasons that this works better than the traditional method of requesting donations; first, the written agreement ensures that there is equality between the two parties. “We believe if we go out and say ‘onegaishimasu!’ to ‘those above’, there is a great potential for us who are giving out to be ‘down below’. You, (donor), have an excess resource, a tool–lets make a match.”
Secondly, McJilton also observes that the companies who recognize the benefits of a long-term business relationship with Second Harvest keep coming back. Those, however, who give because they sense obligation or guilt? “They might come back one or two times”.


“(McJilton’s) belief that all relationships should be based on equality resonated with me. He doesn’t beg for donors, nor does he feel elevated due to his public service. He simply believes in equal footing in his partnerships. How often do we bow before others or think of ourselves as doing someone a favor?”  – Soness Stevens, Living Visions


Second Harvest and Tohoku

The earthquake has spawned an additional food crisis in the radiated and partially-evacuated North, a challenge that adds to the non-profit’s ambitious goals. Though Second Harvest does not usually buy food for distribution, since the March 11th earthquake the organization has been spending up to 3 million yen a week on food.  McJilton laments that the amount of food donated could certainly feed Tohoku; however, doing business in Japan of course means following the customs, and in the case of disaster relief, this means providing identical and equal portions of food to all who receive.  In order to ensure this is so, the food must actually be bought.

over 800 people line up in Tohoku to receive emergency supplies brought by Second Harvest

Their recent newsletter states that Second Harvest is “planning to build a local food bank network to provide long-term support in the region.”

If you are interested in donating or volunteering, please check out Second Harvest’s volunteer schedule.  Volunteers are always welcome!, and so is good food.

20msv/yr: What Does The Rest Of The World Think?

July 19th, 2011
Fukushima City

“It is correct, is it not, that Fukushima citizens have the same and equal right as other Japanese citizens to spend their life without receiving unnecessary radiation doses. That is correct, is it not?”
– Fukushima citizen

“I dont know whether or not they have that right”
– Akira Sato, Director of the government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters

Before the March 11th earthquake, Japan’s standard for radiation exposure for the general public was, uniformly, 1 millisievert (mSv) per year. While this standard remains in place for the rest of the country, a provisional standard raising the limit to 20 millisieverts per year was enacted for Fukushima prefecture; this “adjustment” has been greatly contested by Japanese citizens as well as the global community, as this figure is also used to determine the evacuation zone. For context, 20 millisieverts per year is also the limit for nuclear workers. Though repeatedly implored to justify the change, government officials have yet to account for why this standard is suddenly acceptable.

How was the provisional standard decided?

On April 19th, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) issued a notification to Fukushima Prefecture. The notification stated the maximum allowable permitted value for use of school grounds shall be 3.8 microsieverts per hour of radiation; this calculates to 20 millisieverts per year.

Fukushima Citizens Groups

After discovering high levels of radiation on school grounds, concerned residents formed The Fukushima Conference for Recovery from the Nuclear Earthquake Disaster, and called for a study to be done. Fukushima prefecture cooperated, and the study revealed that 76% of Fukushima prefecture schools had levels of contamination exceeding the designation of a workplace as “radiation-controlled” (0.6 microsievert per hour). Such areas are off-limits to individuals under 18. Even higher radiation levels were recorded at over 20% of the schools, levels warranting “individual exposure control” if occurring in a workplace – which, according to NSC documents, requires that individuals be monitored with dosemeters.

Concerned teachers and parents collaborated on various efforts to reduce radiation exposure to children, and citizen’s group demanded that the schools be promptly decontaminated and closed until safe.

The government responded not with measures to aide such efforts, but by distributing pamphlets that include questionable claims. MEXT published a controversial booklet and distributed it to all Fukushima schools. Titled, “To Correctly Understand Radiation”, the pamphlet offered justifications of the 20mSv/year standard claiming, among things, that

– ‘for “definitive impact” there is a “threshold” below which there is absolutely no damage found. For example, temporary decline in white blood cells will be seen [only] above the threshold level of 250mSv.’
– ‘no clear correlation has been seen between radiation and an increase in the probability of cancer.’

According to the Fukushima Conference, this greatly shifted the tone of the debate; many felt their concerns were largely assuaged by the agency’s confident declarations of safety. This development created an atmosphere where it became more difficult to voice concerns – those in opposition to MEXT’s stance found themselves criticized for “over-reacting”.

Many international groups have come out to criticize the 20 millisievert standard, and, inadvertently, to counter points made in MEXT’s booklet; all have pointed out that children are particularly vulnerable to the long-term effects of radiation.

L’Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire (IRSN)

On May 27th, France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) highlighted an area northwest of the plant that lies beyond the 20-km (12 mile) zone whose inhabitants have already been evacuated. This report was created to “provide insight” on evacuation measures “to minimize the medium and long-term risks of developing leukaemia or other radiation-induced cancers”. The drafters inform the reader that “it is of the utmost importance” to remember that “these dose estimates only refer to external exposure due to deposits, and do not take into account the additional dose that could be received as a consequence of consumption of contaminated foodstuffs produced locally. It is estimated that the effective dose from ingestion may be significantly higher than the external dose according to the deposit conditions and depending on the effectiveness of implemented food restrictions”.

France starts evacuating at 10 millisieverts; the IRSN, in its study, has recommended that an additional 70,000 Fukushima citizens be evacuated.

Japan Medical Association

On May 12th, the association issued the following statement:

“The scientific basis for choosing the maximum amount of 20 mSv in the band of 1 to 20 mSv is not clear. The government’s action should be more carefully deliberated considering the fact that growing children are more sensitive to radiation exposure compared to adults. We as a nation should make the utmost effort to reduce the exposure to radiation of children, as well as adults. We are responsible for the children’s health and life.” The statement continues, “We urgently request that the Japanese National government strive to reduce children’s exposure to radiation in the fastest and most effective way possible.”

Physicians for Social Responsibility

The U.S. affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in late April issued a statement criticizing the Japanese government’s provisional standard, citing research on the link between low-level radiation and cancer. The statement reads:

“It is the consensus of the medical and scientific community, summarized in the US National Academies’ National Research Council report Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VII (BEIR VII report), that there is no safe level of radiation. Any exposure, including exposure to naturally occurring background radiation, creates an increased risk of cancer. Moreover, not all people exposed to radiation are affected equally. Children are much more vulnerable than adults to the effects of radiation, and fetuses are even more vulnerable. It is unconscionable to increase the allowable dose for children to 20 millisieverts (mSv). Twenty mSv exposes an adult to a one in 500 risk of getting cancer; this dose for children exposes them to a 1 in 200 risk of getting cancer. And if they are exposed to this dose for two years, the risk is 1 in 100. There is no way that this level of exposure can be considered ‘safe’ for children.”

Japan Federation of Bar Associations

Even the attorneys had to chime in! Utilizing their legal skills, the association analyzed the ordinance on the “Prevention of Ionizing Radiation Hazards”, pointing out that “the maximum dose permitted by the new guideline, however, far exceeds (the ordinance’s) limit. Moreover, the Ordinance was enacted to regulate activities involving radiation work and therefore assumes that some degree of control over the degree of radiation exposure is possible. The current situation, however, involves an ongoing crisis, and exposure due to changing weather conditions is entirely possible. The guideline must take full account of such unforeseen factors.” The association goes on to call for the establishment of a “considerably lower radiation limit for children”.

illustration by Mari Kurisato

The government has responded with its usual incompetence. In fact, no government agency (MEXT included, but also NSC, and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare) has actually taken responsibility for this standard. While MEXT established the 3.8 microsieverts/hr provision for school grounds, when the agency faces questions on the resulting 20 msv/hr standard, the bumbling equivocations begin. MEXT’s statement, “we do not believe that there is danger at 20 millisieverts…however, we do not believe that it is fine at 20 millisieverts” seems like a modern zen riddle, requiring multiple re-reads that garner little elucidation. And while the ministry of education did, according to the Fukushima group, rescind the 20 millisieverts standard at a press conference, there have been no concrete actions taken to suggest that it has indeed been rescinded.

The conference, when asked if they had experienced any resistance from the government for their actions, say that though the government has not directly harassed, when they tried to sell a flyer to a newspaper they were told that “nothing that mentions radiation can be distributed in the newspapers.”

It seems that many residents feel that they have already been exposed to the worst of it; conference members expressed concerns that none of the exposure from March 11 to April was counted when the government was setting the provisional standard, of course the interval in which the greatest amount of radiation was most likely released.

More work by Mari Kurisato, who does the wonderful illustrations for our blog, can be found here: http://marikurisato.com/

Protesters Come Out in Record Numbers Against Nuclear Power

A large and diverse crowd, constituting of citizens from all over Japan as well as a large number of foreigners, assembled in Central Tokyo yesterday for the “Goodbye Nuclear Power Plants” rally.

Several anti-nuclear power celebrities, including Nobel laureate and author Kenzaburo Oe, musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, freelance journalist Satoshi Kamata, and author Keiko Ochiai were in attendance. The latter three, according to the Japan Times coverage, participated as architects of the event.

The number in attendance was, predictably, debated; according to an article in Seattle PI, “Police estimated the crowd at 20,000 people, while organizers said there were three times that many people.” The Japan Times also reported the 60,000 estimate.

The reported number of attendees marked a fairly dramatic increase from the supposed turnouts of prior events, including the April 10th protest in Koenji (the first major anti-nuclear protest that was held in Tokyo after the 3/11 earthquake), and the May and June protests – all of which were considerably smaller (though no less passionate).

The photos below were taken by Onnie Koski at the June 11th protest in Shinjuku, which various sources estimated had a turnout of ~10,000 people.

Amy Seaman contributed to this article.

Note: As mentioned above, these photos were taken from the June 11th protest and are posted to give a sense of what the protests have been like up to now. If you have any photos of the most recent protests, submissions are highly welcome.

the police prepare for the event
demonstrators came out with hand-made signs and balloons
people of all ages and nationalities were present
several musicians attending bringing instruments such as trumpets and snare drums
some signs echoed the anger citizens reported when interviewed at the rally - anger that is particularly directed at TEPCO and the government

TEPCO's "Severe Accident Manual" Takes On Barcode Hairstyle

The House of Representatives Special Committee on Promotion of Science and Technology and Innovation had requested TEPCO submit two operating manuals: one for accidents, and one for severe accidents.

On September 12th, 3 copies of the document, which included only the front binding and the table of contents, were passed out to the committee. Of approximately 50 lines of text, all but 2 had been blacked out.  In an additional gesture of complete paranoia, the documents were collected from the committee before the meeting adjourned.

Under the laws that govern nuclear power in Japan, The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) has requested that TEPCO submit the documents to the committee in full.

When asked why so much of the document was redacted, TEPCO invoked intellectual property rights and concern over protection of nuclear materials.

Jake’s note: The weekly magazine 週刊ポスト (09/30号) speculates that the redacted paragraphs have to do with a cover-up of the earthquake damage to the reactors and TEPCO prioritization of saving the reactors rather than preventing disaster,  which may have started the meltdown in one of the reactors BEFORE the tsunami arrived. They make a convincing case.

While the document remains shrouded in mystery, fortunately, through the help of Hugh Ashton, Stephanie, and our crack team of investigative journalists, we were able to get ahold of the original document and translate it into English. However, for national security reasons we have left some of it redacted. Here it is:

The TEPCO Severe Accident Manual, translated into English. (Note: this is a parody and not the real manual which is probably much more funny, albeit unintentionally.)

North Korea Turns 63, Party Guests Seem Kinda Angry

63 years ago today, everyone’s favorite totalitarian regime (and land of our Dear Leader!), was founded.

To mark the anniversary, NGOs committed to humanitarian concerns in North Korea have joined forces, launching The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) at a press conference yesterday at the Foreign Correspondents Club. The press conference was followed by a protest held in front of the de-facto North Korean embassy in Tokyo (Chosen-Soren), where the coalition demanded that every one of the more than 200,000 prisoners held in political camps be released. (*Japan and the US both consider North Korea a threat to national security. The recent executive order by President Obama targeting the yakuza was intended to be an indirect blow to North Korea by cutting off their funding. See notes at end of article)

Demonstrators outside the de-facto North Korean embassy
Demonstrators outside the de-facto North Korean embassy in Tokyo, the Chosen-Soren

ICNK unites 40 groups committed to stopping human rights abuses in North Korea, marking a first in the humanitarian efforts to hold North Korea accountable; up until now, NGOs committed to this cause were working more or less separately. The organization brings what was once a mostly regional effort to a global scale, by linking organizations across the continents. It is hoped that these groups, banded together, can generate exponential strength as a unified front.

According to a former UN special rapporteur on North Korean human rights, crimes against humanity in the regime are “in its own category”. Vitit Muntarbhorn, who worked for 6 years in the post, estimates that the camps hold 200,000 to 300,000 prisoners, who are subject to systematic torture, near starvation, and systematic rape of female prisoners. Those outside the camps, depending on the depth of their allegiance to dictator Kim Jong-Il, fare only marginally better in the “state of fear”; Muntarbhorn’s 2009 investigation discovered that 40% of North Koreans are starving. Public executions are believed to have increased four or five fold in the past ten years. The full investigation can be read here.

The past 15 years have been dedicated to promoting awareness of these issues. However, Human Rights Watch Asia Director Phil Robertson stresses that the ICNK “is going to be an action coalition”.  Coalition members laid out their strategy at the press conference.

The coalition’s foremost concern is lobbying for a UN “commission of inquiry” of North Korea. Rather than having a single rapporteur monitoring the situation from afar, such a commission would lend “a group of leading experts and jurists, from around the world, selected and mandated by the UN” the authority to demand entry into the country for an investigation.  Members stressed that they are lobbying strongly for an independent and impartial investigation.

The press was skeptical. Given the relative economic and political isolation of the country, how can we force North Korea to change, much less to cooperate in an investigation? Indeed, North Korea has never allowed the UN special rapporteur into the country.

Coalition members were realistic about the likelihood they will be granted access in North Korea to carry out an investigation. However, they were seemed confident they could nevertheless affect change. The President of Seoul-based Open North Korea, Tae Keung Ha, points out that international pressure in the past has indeed led to changes in the regime. After the issue of prisoner camps was made known, the number of camps decreased from ten to six.  As another concrete example, 20 years ago, Amnesty International tried to visit one prison; though they were not allowed in,  the camp was abolished immediately after their attempted visit.

Dove-shaped balloons are released with the the names of over 600 friends and family members who are known to be detained in North Korean penal institutions

Ha’s comment that “Kim Jong-Il considers himself as an international leader” received laughs of surprise from the press. “He makes a lot of his image in the international community. So, the more that we talk about it, the more international pressure, the more they will respond.”

Mr. Robertson acknowledges the obstacles; “It is a failure of political will”. He mentions the usual excuses given by bureaucrats-  Kim Jong-Il’s shaky grip on reality, his nuclear capacity, the fear of another attack across the DMZ (the demilitarized zone), even attacks carried out by the North Korean government against its own people. Nevertheless, council members believe that “the machinery of the UN would have the capacity to make a wide range of recommendations on how to end impunity in North Korea”.

According to Benedict Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (which has also done its own investigation into North Korean human rights violations), there are four ways of securing a commission of inquiry: through the security council, the human rights council, the general assembly, and the secretary general. He adds, “We are not specifying categorically which we will use, but we believe it will likely succeed in the human rights council or the general assembly, where China and Russia do not have veto power.” He also acknowledges that China and Russia will “still remain major players”, but that there may be ways to soften any opposition they bring. It also seems that there may not be as much individual support for the regime within the countries that publicly offer it support; according to a council member, one Russian diplomat privately described North Korea as “the neighbor from hell”.

The annual UN Human Rights Resolution is passed in either November or December; it is in this resolution that the drafting countries (including Japan, South Korea, the EU, Canada) will hopefully include a call for the commission to be created. The Japanese government plays a very critical role here – it authors the initial draft of this resolution.

Upon completion, the press conference moved to the Chosen-Soren, where protestors outside the embassy held signs in English, Korean, and Japanese, and led chants in all three languages. A letter to Kim Jong-Il, asking for entrance into the country to conduct the investigation, was successfully handed over to an official inside the embassy.

Ms. Kim Hye Sook, center, spent 28 years in a political prison.

Ms. Kim Hye Sook, survivor of a political camp, attended to show support for the coalition. Having been detained from the time she was 13 years old, it was only when she was released 28 years later that she was informed of her crime: her grandfather had escaped to South Korea, and she was considered guilty by association.  The BBC has done an excellent interview with Ms. Sook. When I spoke with her, however, she wanted readers of the blog to know that North Koreans are fed propaganda about the Japanese people – and that it was only upon coming to Tokyo that she understood the lies she had been told. She feels gratitude for the work that Japanese NGOs are doing for this cause.

*Jake’s note: On July 24th, President Barack Obama declared war on the yakuza (ヤクザ)aka The Japanese mafia, in an executive order. According to several sources, part of the reason for doing was that many of the yakuza are North Korean Japanese with affiliations to North Korea. There have been several cases where yakuza members were found to be importing drugs and guns from North Korea. Yakuza groups continue to provide them with a source of revenue. In his executive order Obama noted, “(the yakuza) are becoming increasingly sophisticated and dangerous to the United States; they are increasingly entrenched in the operations of foreign governments and the international financial system, thereby weakening democratic institutions, degrading the rule of law, and undermining economic markets.  These organizations facilitate and aggravate violent civil conflicts and increasingly facilitate the activities of other dangerous persons.  I therefore determine that significant transnational criminal organizations constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, and hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.” The threat the yakuza pose to US National Security is signficantly  related to their dealings with North Korea.

Yakuza Friendly Hotels–on the way out. Goodbye Nine-Fingered Discount!

As a part of broader initiatives to expel organized crime from business, new “yakuza exclusion” provisions by the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) go into effect today.

The JTA maintains a “Model Accommodation Contract”, which serves as a widely-accepted set of guidelines recommended for hotels, ryokans, and other lodging facilities.

The agency explains on its website: “As anti-social forces threaten the physical and financial safety of tourists and the hotels themselves, we have enacted new provisions to our existing laws.”

Along with informative stipulations such as “guests may be turned away if there is no vacancy” and “guests may be turned away if equipment breakdowns occur due to a natural disaster”, a new clause states that if a guest is discovered to be an organized crime member, their hotel reservation may be cancelled or they can be turned away. Additionally, they can also be kicked out. Guests may also be asked to leave they act in a violent manner or if they make “considerable trouble” at the hotel.

According to an article in the Asahi Shinbun, the National Police Agency had called for such measures to be taken since 2006. Police hope that such a measure, finally in place, will spread through the rest of the country. Arima Hot Springs Tourism Association, for example, had already implemented such measures. This association of hotels is located in Kobe, which is also the home of the Yamagumi-guchi.

Sado-san of the Japan Tourism Agency, who is coy about his first name, stated that there was no reason in particular that the Agency has decided to implement these provision now; he refers to the ongoing dialogue concerning such provisions that the agency has had with the police over the past few years. Kind of a, “just getting around to it” sort of thing, it seems.

The below excerpts of the contract are taken from the English version online.

Article 5 – Refusal of the Conclusion of the Accommodation Contract
05.01. The following are cases where our Hotel (Ryokan) will not accept the conclusion of the Accommodation Contract:

(4) When the Guest seeking accommodation is considered to be corresponding to the following (a) to (c).
(a) The law in respect to prevention, etc. against illegal actions by gang members (1991 Law item 77)
stipulated article 2 item 2 (hereinafter referred to as “gang group”.), gang member stipulated by the
same law article 2 item 6 (hereinafter referred to as “gang member.”), gang group semi-regular
members or gang member related persons and other antisocial forces.
(b) When gang group or gang members are associates of corporations or other bodies to control
business activities.
(c) When a corporate body has related persons to gang members.

Article 7 – The Right of Our Hotel (Ryokan) to Cancel the Contract
07.01. The following are cases where our Hotel (Ryokan) may cancel the Accommodation Contract:

(2) When the Guest is clearly considered to be corresponding to the following (a) to (c).
(a) Gang group, gang group semi-regular members or gang member related persons and other
antisocial forces.
(b) When a corporate body or other organization where gang groups or gang members control business
(c) In a corporate body which has persons relevant to gang member in its board member.

Japan Tourism Agency has given the finger to the nine-digit crowd aka the yakuza.

Jake’s notes: Most major hotels in Japan since 2009 have embedded an anti-organized crime exclusionary  clause into the overnight stay contracts guests sign when checking in. A yakuza member who signs in as a hotel guest and conceals his/her yakuza affiliation can then be arrested for fraud, if the hotel agreement has that clause. The anti-organized crime clause was the brain-child of deceased lawyer, and former prosecutor Igari Toshiro. This contractual clause was used this year to arrest the second highest ranking member of the Yamaguchi-gumi Kodo-kai for “playing golf under false pretenses.”  Yakuza are great fans of expensive luxury hotels but as illustrated in Itama Juzo’s classic film 民暴の女(Minbo no Onna/The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion)–they often cost the hotel more in business and in financial losses than what they pay for their top-of-the-line rooms.

The New Sex-Ed: Yakuza Awareness Classes

This August, Police in Fukuoka have started conducting organized crime education and awareness classes at middle and high schools in the prefecture. Prefectural police report that the current cultural tolerance of the yakuza often results in admiration of them by misinformed youth; indeed, many yakuza first participated in gang activities in their formative early teens. The police have therefore created this program to educate middle and high school students about the realities of yakuza life.

The curriculum includes ways of dealing with yakuza confrontations (for example, what to do when approached in the workplace by a yakuza demanding to be payed off), a run-down of how the yakuza make money (through drug smuggling, loan sharking and other illegal activities) and general advice on how not to get entangled in a gang.

Of the 69,000 students who had taken the class before June of this year, 24,000 were asked to participate in a survey. According to the results, 40% had some yakuza presence in their lives. 2% had reported they were even invited to join a gang. 97% of students reported that the classes were easy to understand, and that “they now understood the truth about the yakuza.”

In the space allocated for comments, some reported that there were shootings near their house, and that they were afraid of being hit by a stray bullet.

Seven teachers have a special license to teach the class. They plan to visit 545 public and private schools at least once by March of next year.

Jake’s note

In terms of eradicating the yakuza from general society, Fukuoka Prefecture is highly progressive. In March of 2010, convenience stores in Fukuoka prefecture, at the request of the police, stopped selling and handling yakuza fan magazines.

It’s probably the beginning of the end for the fanzines. Without their use as recruitment tools and propaganda for organized crime, the Japanese public’s attitudes towards them may begin to change as well. On several fronts Fukuoka is thinking ahead to create a society without yakuza, or at least one where it is difficult for them to recruit young blood.

In addition to the anti-yakuza curriculum they have created, the Fukuoka Prefectural Police Department, working in conjunction with the Centers to Eliminate Organized Crime, produced a realistic depiction of yakuza life in their educational film 許されざる者 (“The Unforgivable”). The film is a surprisingly accurate portrayal of yakuza life, the merits and demerits of the life.

In this scene, an errant yakuza is beaten to a pulp, while the text explains that modern laws forbid yakuza to force members who want to quit to chop off their pinkies and or/ interfere with the resignation.

Yakuza cops play all the yakuza in the film, which gives the film a surprising amount of intensity. In many ways, its one of the best yakuza films in recent years.

The police will rent it to anyone who’d like to see it.

Taro Kono: A new leader for a new LDP?

Taro Kono, 2010, illustration by @marikurisato 

“I’m really getting sick and tired of talking pessimistic about the future of Japan. Two years ago, I said, let me run the LDP, I can probably run it better than anyone else.”

With that, Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) member Taro Kono simultaneously opened the press conference and announced his intention to seek the presidency of his party. Kono, who was first elected in 1996 and currently serves in the Lower House, won the 2nd largest number of votes for the presidency last year. He lost to former Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, an old-school politician with no charisma but plenty of factional support.

Is it possible that Japan’s former ruling political party, the LDP, which ran the country for five decades and introduced nuclear power, could also be the same party to lead Japan out of the nuclear mire? Many people would argue this is unlikely. It was the LDP which created the nexus of bureaucrats, corrupt politicians, dysfunctional oversight agencies, and the monopolistic electrical power companies known as Japan’s “nuclear mafia”. It’s hard to conceive they could also be the one to break up the system and put Japan back on track; most people are justly dubious.  However, there is rising popular support for Mr. Kono both within his own party and the Japanese public. He has become a political celebrity, often interviewed in magazines and on television.

Kono speaks English fluently, a rarity among Japanese politicians. He attended university in the States and went on to work for two southern politicians in the 1980s. His confident, even aggressive style is also unusual among his peers. On the currently ruling DPJ, he comments, “Really,  they are just taking orders from the bureaucrats. They don’t know what the hell is going on”. And about the quarter of his party that threatens to leave if he wins the presidency? “That’s OK, we don’t need them. We can ask better members of the other parties to join us.” For an LDP politician, that voice of inclusion and sanity is widely different from the usual tribal politics that dominate the organization.

Among the things he is pushing: deregulation, pension reform (he rants: “2004 reform was a big failure. No one is talking about that right now. Where did it go? I am the only one talking about this.”), and of course, like all radical politicians, the eventual phasing out of Japan’s nuclear power program.

This, and his relative youth, distinguish him considerably from the old LDP guard. In a US cable dated October 27th, 2008 (courtesy of Wikileaks) Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer reports: “During this meeting, (Kono) voiced his strong opposition to the nuclear industry in Japan, especially nuclear fuel reprocessing, based on issues of cost, safety, and security. Kono claimed Japanese electric companies are hiding the costs and safety problems associated with nuclear energy, while successfully selling the idea of reprocessing to the Japanese public as ‘recycling uranium.’…He also accused METI of covering up nuclear accidents, and obscuring the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry.”

Kono envisions the phase-out concretely; he hopes to have all nuclear plants decommissioned by 2050, replaced by renewable energy and then, if necessary, supplemented by natural gas. Acknowledging that overnight abandonment of the nuclear plants isn’t realistic, his plan includes allowing the use of nuclear-generated energy until renewables can take over; this has a time limit, as he also opposes building more reactors. But first: fire the upper management of TEPCO, do tests on both the hardware and the software, and after that discuss which plants are safe to operate.

One of the main concerns Kono has about nuclear energy in Japan is the ever-increasing amount of spent fuel that is piling up without a place to store it, or a working strategy to discover one. Though the government claims it will find a place to dump the nuclear waste by 2028, the testing required to meet that deadline hasn’t taken place and thus is probably 10 years behind schedule. However, the government still hasn’t admitted to this, and of course more and more waste is produced every day. He likens this faith, blinded by the shiny shiny yen, in an abruptly sobering way: to the Japanese army of WWII.  “Anything is possible if you have mind to do it… but at the end of the day you just lose everything.”

His outspokenness on this issue and others have made him many enemies. As the only member of his party who has questioned the safety of nuclear power, he reports that he is often asked “Are you a  Communist?”  Some have even publicly called for him to join the socialist party (he jokes that he isn’t sure if this is an upgrade or a downgrade from “Communism”).

Pointing out that the DPJ is owned by the power company labor unions (while the LDP is essentially owned by the companies themselves), Kono doesn’t convey optimism about the current system’s ability to objectively handle this crisis. He also warns that though the media has stepped up its reporting on energy companies since the accident, they are also held back by the possibility of losing lucrative advertising from the power companies. “Probably every single media in Japan is bought and paid for by power companies. When I go to TV stations in Tokyo, they say, well they understand that TEPCO will probably not be buying much more advertising time. But local TV stations still get many offers from electric companies. So if the major TV stations criticize power companies, the local ones won’t receive that advertising. So they have to be a little calm right now”.

Kono also laments a missed opportunity for the LDP to reform. When the DPJ took power for the first time in 40 years, the senior LDP leaders realized that their party needed to change. “I thought DPJ would rule the country for 10 years and that they will do the reforms that LDP couldn’t have done. So for LDP it would be a dark 10 years–though we could use those years to get rid of the old people and bring in a young generation.” But now, Kono believes, due to the unexpected failure of the DPJ, the sentiment among those LDP have changed; by the weakness of their competition, the LDP has been lured into complacency, “and the moment to change the party disappeared”.

Still, he observes, “If you go talk to people on the street, they hate the DPJ. But they don’t feel the LDP has changed a bit.” Despite irritation with one party, distrust of the other remains; just one of many discouraging parallels to the current political U.S. system, one of the republics after which the Japanese one was modeled.

On how his party has treated him since the disaster: “Now, a lot of senior LDP members look at me and say, you are right. There was an accident. But I was never talking about an accident, just about the danger of the spent fuel.”

He jokingly suggests that this means no one was “actually listening to what [he’s] been saying”; but it is telling that the LDP politicians confused those two subjects. One might speculate that to the bribed politicians who willfully ignore concerns about nuclear safety, subversive types [like Kono] haunt a conscience that was long-ago smothered in the asphyxiating folds of TEPCO’s pocket; perhaps, any suggestion of genuine oversight seems like “the right choice”, and in the mind of these civil servants, Kono’s warnings occupy a space in their brain not specifically about “spent fuel” or “industry-government collusion”, but more broadly labeled “accountability”, “statesmanship”, or maybe “civic duty”.

As the conference came to a close, Kono, maybe unconsciously, provided a thought-provoking reference to his previous WWII analogy:  “If we have a mind to do it, there will be more investment, more research and development, and more people will see the bright future with renewables. There are some scholars who say that renewables are not enough. But people said the same thing about nuclear power plants, that they would be safe. But that wasn’t the case. I don’t really care what they say. We simply have to set the goal and work towards it.”