Japan Subculture Research Center has taken a long sabbatical since December of 2013. We meant to get things off with a bang this January but our editor in chief and assistant editor were both out of commission. So we’re taking the opportunity today to relaunch the website and wish you all a happy Chinese new year. The Chinese new year and once upon a time, the Japanese new year as well, followed the lunar calendar, so today’s new moon (Friday) means we can all say goodbye to the (water) snake year and say hello to the (wooden) horse year!
It’s going to be a busy year for all of us at JSRC but we’re looking forward to it. Thank you to everyone who submitted articles last year and we encourage you to submit more this year. BTW, if there are any young bilingual aspiring journalists out there interested in a poorly paid internship at JSRC–just let us know. And if you have an interesting story on Japan that you’d like to submit, send it our way. We have a limited budget but we’ll see what we can do.
In the meantime, look up at the moon today and wish everyone a Happy New Year!
The Tale Of Genji (源氏物語) is said to be the first novel ever written. It is certainly the first ancient Japanese literary classic to be turned into a pole dance and performing arts spectacle like nothing I’ve ever seen before: Genji–The Other Side of The Story.
If all Japanese literature was this sexy and fun, I’d have become a scholar not a reporter. I went expecting to be appalled but was impressed that the lighting, music, and dance actually came together so eloquently that it conveys much of the mood of the original literary work.
The author of The Tale Of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu, was a lady in waiting in the Heian era court and has the proud distinction of being Japan’s first novelist. There are some who see the novel as partly her autobiography but no one is sure. The book itself is about a relative of the Emperor, the Shining Prince Genji, and his playboy antics, romances, loves, and losses in the Royal Court.
Genji is a sort of male slut, sleeping with every woman he possibly can and occasionally even a very cute young boy. While not a sympathetic character, he does come across as an individual who slowly learns what it is to really love a woman and lose those you care about.
Lu Nagata, a performance artist, created the play based on the legends surrounding Murasaki Shikibu. Murasaki also makes an apperance in the novel; Lu the writer and choreographer of the play, also appears in the play as well.
The premise of the script is that while in unrequited love with the Emperor, Murasaki Shikibu attempts to rid herself of these feelings through her novel. Through Genji, she expresses her conflicting emotions which can not be expressed in reality. Genji represents not only her unuttered emotions, her soul, her everything but also her ideal representation of a lover. She has become so engulfed in her fantasy that the perception of reality and fantasy become indistinct. Genji springs from the pages of the book to offers her a life altering decision: will she live out her fantasies or live in reality?
Thus the stage is set for a mystical Nutcracker meets Noh plus comedy, improvisational dance, strip-tease, burlesque and the finest aerial arts and acrobatics.
Ms. Nagata plays the role of Murasaki Shikibu in some of the performances, wielding a giant writing brush with great flair and penmanship. Avoiding showy dance moves she gracefully invokes the melancholy beauty of Shikibu and her writings.
Tomonori Muraoka does a head-spinning turn as the Shining Prince, twirling and somersaulting across the stage at a frenzied pace and displaying musculature that looks like it was carved in marble. He interacts sensuously with the dancers who play his numerous lovers, never faltering in his steps and performing amazing acrobatic tricks. One scene in which Genji pours hot tea over the body of his lover recalls scenes from the motion picture classic Showgirls. Green tea has never been so sexy.
There are a number of discordant elements in the production that somehow seem to work. The homely girl in the novel who’s love for Genji is almost never returned, Suetsumuhana, who’s name literally means, “the last flower to be picked” makes an appearance. She is played by a talented transvestite with a Harpo Marx wig.
For those familiar with the book, you will find some of the more memorable chapters enacted on stage—-from the jealous ghost that attacks Genji’s lover to the melancholy farewells and meditations in the chapter Maboroshii （幻).
Of course, I’m biased in my review. The Tale of Genji is one of my favorite works of Japanese literature and Lu Nagata is an old friend and one of my favorite pole dances fitness instructors. I have no idea what most people will make of it but I found Genji: The Other Side Of the Story definitelyworth watching. Even if you know nothing about the original novel, you’ll find some things in the performances that are moving, entertaining, and linger with you. For more details click here or read below.
The show is performed every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday of November 19th 2013 until February 18th 2014.
*If you do go see the show, mention this article, say “LU” and get 1,000 yen off the door price.
Tue. and Thu. Performances
1st Open 18:00 Start 18:30
2nd Open 20:30 Start 21:00
1st Open16:00 Start 16:30
2nd Open18:30 Start 19:00
S seat：7,800 yen
A seat：5,800 yen
Moon Cat Circus Theater Japan （THE FACTORY）
EBISU FORT 1F 1-24-2 Ebisuminami Shibuyaku Tokyo 150-0022
There is a complimentary drink if you purchase tickets in advance and say ‘Pole Dance Tokyo” or ‘Lu” at the door.
*Lu Nagata will perform only on 19th, 21st Nov and 17th – 29th Dec.
A committee within Japan’s lower house is currently deliberating a new bill that will punish leakers of designated “special” state secrets. The LDP Cabinet recently approved a bill to punish civil servants, lawmakers, and journalists who leak information that it deems will harm national security. The government will be able to determine what they will call “special secret”— almost without limit— because the definition of these possible secrets are “too broad and vague”, according to critics of the new bill. The Abe administration says that the secrecy bill is necessary to protect sensitive information given to Japan by the United States and other foreign countries.
Four lawmakers from four different political parties, briefed reporters today on the dangers of the Designated Secrets Bill at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan (FCCJ). Earlier this week, the FCCJ issued a strong statement of opposition to the bill as well.
Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party and wife of a famous anti-nuclear lawyer explained, “This bill represents a great threat to journalism.” A citizen or journalist investigating an arbitrarily declared state secret who reveals it could be prosecuted and jailed for up to 10 years. “The criteria for prosecuting an individual are too vague,” she added. “If a journalist or a member of an NGO accidentally overheard a state secret, he/she would be prosecuted.” Fukushima explained that if a lawmaker got hold of a state secret and wants to reveal it, he/she could also be prosecuted.
“A citizen or journalist investigating an arbitrarily declared state secret who revealed it could be prosecuted and jailed for up to 10 years.”
Article 19, an organization based in the U.K. and the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan have both issued a declaration earlier this week to urge Japan’s National Diet to reject the pending Secrecy Bill, as it “unreasonably” violates international standards on freedom of expression and the right to information.
The FCCJ statement admonished the Japanese government that investigative journalism is “not a crime, but rather a crucial part of the checks-and-balances that go hand-in-hand with democracy.” Fukushima added that from the standards of the international community, the drafted Japanese bill has too many flaws. Freedom and human rights were suppressed under Japan’s military government’s rule before and during World War II, she pointed out, and discussed how this bill represents a regression for Japan. As the definition of secrecy is “too vague,” there would be a possibility that the government haphazardly restricts the general public’s knowledge by designating anything embarrassing for the ruling powers a “state secret.”
Sohei Nihi, from Japan’s Communist Party said that the “most dangerous aspect of this bill” is that the average person will not be informed that a particular piece of information has been designated as a secret. “The Japanese people would be ignorant of these secrets and the bill will lead to a general suppression or reluctance of people to seek for information, ” he added. Considering the huge amount of opposition to this bill, the ruling party inserted a clause, which says that “there will be due consideration given to people’s right to know and journalists’ right to research and seek information.” However the seeking of information will have to be done in an “appropriate manner,” (正当な行為) and it is questionable and unclear bywho and how will this “appropriate manner” be determined. As a result of some deliberation within the Diet committee, it was decided that the courts would make the fundamental decisions and the individual targeted could be subject to arrest and interrogation before a case is even brought to court. In effect, the law will work as presumed guilty until proven guilty.
The “most dangerous aspects of this bill” is that the average person will not be informed that a particular piece of information has been designated as a secret
Of course, exceptions would be made to individuals not aware of holding information classified as a state secret who make it public. “This sounds good in theory but who and how will it be determined that the leaker really wasn’t aware in advance before disclosing a state secret?” Sohei Nihi pointed out. “The government could force the individual to confess, as this kind of practice has taken place in Japan in the past,” he added. Ryo Shuhama, member of the upper house and representative of the People’s Life Party said that the general public was seriously concerned about this bill. According to some newspapers polls about 30% of the Japanese population favor the bill, 42% are against the bill, 68% have concerns over the definition of “secrecy” could be eventually expended, and 64% feel that this bill should not be passed in this current Diet session.
Taro Yamamoto, actor turned lawmaker last summer, is well known for his anti-nuclear stances and his audacious behavior. Yamamoto breeched imperial etiquette last month by handing a letter to the Japanese emperor in the middle of a royal garden party to which he was invited. Yamamoto, who was one of the first politicians to point out the harms of the secrecy bill even before it changed its name from “secrecy preservation law” to “secrecy law,” said that the bill is basically already in effect. He explained a situation in which the authorities told him that information regarding nuclear facilities exported to Vietnam could not be revealed. According to Yamamoto, the government spent the equivalent of 2.5 million dollars in securing a deal to export nuclear technology to Vietnam—tax money that was taken out of the reconstruction budget for earthquake and nuclear accident ravaged northern Japan.
“There is already a great deal of secrecy preservation in Japan,” he said. Yamamoto said that the government is truly trying to increase the power of the state and that the secrecy bill will eventually lead to the oppression of the average person and freedom of expression. “The path that Japan is taking is the recreation of a fascist state. I strongly believe that this secrecy bill represents a planned coup d’état by a group of politicians and bureaucrats,” he warned.
The secrecy bill has been compared to the peace preservation law (治安維持法) that passed in the period before World War II. Mizuho Fukushima explained that when that law passed it was not considered to be a frightening or threatening law. However, once people started to be arrested, it had a chilling effect on media, citizens’ groups and the general population. During the military rule and the war years in Japan, laws and rules were strengthened so that towards the end, it is said that even weather reports were considered state secrets. There was a famous case involving a young student in Hokkaido (the Miyazawa case) who happened to reveal the location of a particular airport to a foreigner and was sent to prison for divulging a state secret. “Once you open the door to such kind of laws, the government will have the right to designate anything as a state secret and by speaking about it or mentioning it, you can be arrested and prosecuted.” Fukushima explained, “Especially during war time, it was very difficult for defendants and lawyers to fight their court cases, because they were not told what exactly what was the state secret that they had been accused of having revealed.” she added.
“The path that Japan is taking is the recreation of a fascist state. I strongly believe that this secrecy bill represents a planned coup d’état by a group of politicians and bureaucrats”
IMA, a Tokyo-based group that welcomes volunteers of all ages, Japanese and international, will sponsor an autumn flea market, bake sale and a full day of workshops on 11/17.１１月１７日、IMAのフリーマーケット第二弾がありますので予定を空けておいてくださいね！(日本語の紹介は記事末） IMA welcomes everyone, children and adults to join in the fun and festivities and help IMA raise money for a number of projects to support the people of Tohoku whose lives were shattered by the great earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disasters of 3/11. A full description of the day’s events can be found on this Facebook page. The Flea Market venue is in downtown Okachimachi– 2-26-8 Taito, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0016.
Eat some food, or volunteer and bring some, find some cool stuff, make a small contribution to the people of Tohoku. It’s a good way to spend a Sunday.
Cynthia Popper, journalist, has written more on her blog post about the event. JSRC would like to thank her for bringing it to our attention.
The situation in Fukushima
Two international NGOs which compiled a list of the worst polluted areas in 49 low- and medium-income countries included a note on Fukushima, a recently published report showed. The New York-based NGO Blacksmith Institute and Zurich-based Green Cross Switzerland said that Fukushima was “one of the worst” nuclear accidents in the world, pointing out the ongoing radioactive material leaks in the air and in the underground water.
The NGOs reportedly said that the radioactive Cesium-137 released by the disaster could begin flowing into the U.S. coastal waters” in early 2014.
The groups’ Top Ten Toxic Threat Report listed Chernobyl in Ukraine, Kalimantan and the Citarum River in Indonesia and Hazaribagh in Bangladesh as among the world’s worst polluted places in 2013.
Meanwhile, the evacuees of the Fukushima region are very unlikely to return to their homes. The government promised it will state that areas where annual radiation dosage exceed 50 millisieverts are uninhabitable and that it will provide financial help to residents from these areas to find housing elsewhere. Zones where return is “difficult” would apply to about 25,000 residents and zones that will be lifting the evacuation orders would apply to 33,000 residents, according to the Mainichi newspaper.
IAEA to work with Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority on Fukushima nuclear disaster monitoring
After a meeting held in Tokyo with the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, and the Chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), Shunichi Tanaka on Thursday last week, it was decided that experts from the U.N. atomic energy agency will start helping Japan to monitor the radioactive water leaks around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant by November.
Earlier last week, the chairman of the NRA admitted that another “careless” accident resulted in the leak of 7 tons of highly radioactive water from a pipe mistakenly disconnected by a worker at the crippled facility for a period of more than an hour. Reportedly 6 among 11 workers were affected by the incident. They were wearing waterproof jackets, protective gears and full-face masks and it was reportedly “highly unlikely” that they suffered from internal exposure, the plant’s operator said. The facility reported 300 ton of radioactive water leaking from a storage tank into the groundwater last August as workers over-filled the already over capacity tanks. Last week, TEPCO said 430 liters of radioactive water leaked from another tank due to the miscalculation of the inclination of the ground where the tank was built.
According to Yasuhiro Muroishi, an expert from the Radiation Monitoring Division of the NRA, Yukia Amano also pointed out that the NRA’s lack of information displayed in English language on its homepage was an issue. “We need more manpower to conduct the translations of the reports submitted by the Japanese side when international experts will start their joint radiation monitoring of the sea,” Yasuhiro Muroishi said.
The radiation leaks continue
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently said that Japan is open to foreign expertise regarding the contaminated water problem. In a speech at the International Olympic Committee’s general meeting in Argentina in September, he was criticized for declaring that the radioactive water leaks at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant had been “completely blocked,” within a zone of 0.3 square kilometers in the plant’s port area. Earlier this week, TEPCO announced that 1.4 becquerels per liter of radioactive cesium-137 was detected in sea water taken from around 1 km around the plant. Experts say that cesium-137, which has a half-life of about 30 years can cause cancer and accumulates in fish. Last month, Korea banned fish imports from certain prefectures in Japan, concerned by the increasing radioactive water leaks.
The strangely titled documentary A2-B-Cwhich examines the lives of the children in Fukushima prefecture who have been diagnosed with thyroid cysts and nodules and how it affects them and their families—will be shown at 5pm on September 14th at the PIA Film Festival in Tokyo. The title comes from the code that is used to indicate the test results of thyroid screening. The Japanese government vehemently denies any links to thyroid cancer or thyroid abnormalities in Fukushima children and the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March of 2011; the film lets the viewer decide for themselves whether they believe it or not. What it does not shy away from is depicting the fog of uncertainty and fright of those children and their loves ones, dealing with the fear of developing full-blown thyroid cancer, and living in a contaminated area.
The director of the film, Ian Thomas Ash, in a brief talk with JSRC, stated the most surprising thing he uncovered during the filming was the blame-the-victim mentality of the Japanese government. “Some mothers of children positively diagnosed with thyroid cysts and nodules were told by the doctors or officials, ‘Your fear of radiation and your excessive worrying caused this to happen.’ In other case, the parents were told, ‘Well, you live outside the evacuation zone, so even if this is related to the radiation—it was your decision to stay and your financial burden to bear (自己責任).’ It’s as if they really believed that radiation stopped at the imaginary lines drawn by the Japanese government.” He notes A2-B-C is the second in a series of documentary films which will follow up on the initial findings.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured the world in his efforts to get the Olympic bid that there was no problem at Fukushima and “that it was 250 kilometers from Tokyo.” For those living in Fukushima, there appears to be more than a few serious problems remaining. This 71-minute film that may not change how you think of nuclear power but may make you wonder about what the finals costs are of having it.
They’re uncomfortable sights, even for seasoned ringside aficionados: A deaf man and his opponent–paralysed from the waist down–bound at both hands and feet, reduced to head butting. Two men, normally wheelchair bound, writhe around on the canvas ring delivering blows to one-another with their elbows. It feels dangerous, almost wrong.
The members of Doglegs, the self-described “superhandicapped” pro wrestling league, aren’t looking for your pity, however. They want you to watch, wide-eyed, and feel the power, the ability, and the fire hidden inside their unusual frames.
The idea for Doglegs was born in 1991 at a volunteer group for the disabled. Two men were arguing over a mutual romantic interest, and as the argument became more heated punches were thrown and a brawl began. The group went wild, both fighters and spectators, at the sudden, electrical feeling of strength and empowerment the fight had given them. The leader of the volunteer group saw the potential: pro wrestling as a platform for these fiery fighters to be seen, and to challenge the public’s views towards disability.
Fast-forward 20 years and Doglegs has developed quite a following, with public tournaments several times a year and somewhere around 30 fighters dogging it out. Disabilities range from those physically able-bodied, but afflicted with mental illnesses like alcoholism and clinical depression, to “miracle heavy class”, where fighters are unable to stand. Audience members are often also disabled or come from the disabled care community, along with a core base of able bodied supporters and fans. But regardless of their background, after seeing a Doglegs match viewers are left with much to think regarding their preconceptions of the disabled.
Director Heath Cozens wants to spread this mind-blowing opportunity to a wider audience. For the past three years, he has been documenting the lives of Doglegs wrestlers, with the hope of introducing their struggles and glories to people in and outside of Japan.
His film centers around “Sambo” Shintaro, a man with cerebral palsy who is one of the heartbroken brawlers from the very first Doglegs fight. After 20 years, Shintaro is ready to retire from the league and focus on living a happy, normal life. Doglegs leader and organiser of the original volunteer group, Yukinori “Antithesis” Kitajima won’t make it easy on him, however. The able-bodied fighter challenges Shintaro to the match of a lifetime, on which his future hangs.
The bouts may be difficult to watch for some–seemingly “weak” people being violently beaten for the sake of entertainment. But that uncomfortableness is part of the film.
Says Cozens, “Hopefully, people will have unresolved questions and conflicting emotions forcing them to reassess their own assumptions about disability, how disabled people should be treated, and who gets to decide: Is what Doglegs is doing aspirational, healthy, fun? Or does it exacerbate and endanger already vulnerable people?”
For Doglegs brawlers themselves, wrestling is unquestionably about empowerment, and giving the finger to a society that often pushes them to the wayside. Says Shintaro, in an AFP news clip about the league, “This is a thing disabled people aren’t supposed to do, but we do it–and that’s why I like it.”
Cozens sees that as one of the keys to the film. “A lot of non-disabled people have resistance to seeing disabled people–they avert their eyes. But people with disabilities need to be seen to be recognized on a human level. How do we bridge the gap? In this film, with drama, humor, and a dash of violence. In other words, entertainment. When people can empathize with the characters, then they start to see beyond their disabilities.”
Currently, Cozens is seeking the financial support necessary to complete post-production on the film. He has high hopes for its release. “I hope the disabled people who watch will be inspired by the Doglegs fighters’ bravery and bravado, to live life on their own, unapologetic, terms. Maybe we’ll see some Doglegs spin-offs happening in the States? It’s already happening here in Japan.”
For those who want a sneak peek of what it’s all about, on June 2, the crew will be hosting a fundraiser to help raise awareness of the film and funds to complete post-production. Along with live music and special guests, the event will feature two real, live Doglegs matches–an opportunity for attendees to find out how empowering disabled pro wrestling can be, for both them and the fighters.
There was a time when Japan’s so-called Speed Tribes aka 暴走族 (bosozoku) terrorized the nation. What first started out as a bunch of kids imitating the US Hell’s Angels generated into a massive outpouring of alienated youth and vicious in gang fighting and traffic obstruction that became a national problem. By 1976, what was once rebel youth had already started being incorporated into the Japanese mafia, with the Yamaguchi-gumi taking over the Musho-Mado (生無魔道), one bike gang.
The National Police Agency in their White Paper on Crime circa that period noted, “少年を主体とした暴走族は、車による暴走行為にとどまらず、その機動力を利用して、広域にわたって強盗、強姦等の悪質な犯罪を行っている。 暴走族の少年に対する補導状況について、最近3年間の推移をみると、表4－6のとおりで、犯罪によって補導された少年は、昭和51年は2,309人で、前年に比べ減少したが、強盗、強姦、放火等の凶悪犯で補導された暴走族の少年は、51年には172人と著しい増加傾向にあり、暴走族の悪質化が一層浮き彫りにされた。 〔事例1〕 暴走族「生無魔道」グループは、暴力団山口組組員を相談役に置いて、同組を背景に入会金5,000円、月会費3,000円を徴集していたが、同グループの少年がグループから脱会しようとしたところ、落とし前と称して5万円を恐喝したほか、同様の方法で脱会者15人から総額53万円を恐喝していた（京都）。 〔事例2〕 暴走族「狼」グループの少年5人は、アベックを襲って強姦することを共謀し、深夜暴走中アベックを見つけては、その女性をグループのたまり場であるアパートに連行し、輪姦を続けていた（静岡）”
Over time, changes in the laws and massive police crackdowns started putting the gangs out of business, but some of the members can’t leave the past behind. Jamie Morris’s new film is a documentary on the fading out of the bosozoku focussing on one former member who wants to keep the speed demon tradition alive.
The web site explains the film, Sayonara Speed Tribes, as follows: Japan’s infamous ‘Speed Tribes’ – kamikaze styled biker gangs- have, for decades, delighted would-be rebels and terrorized the general public. Idolized in the underground, demonized by the mass media and hunted by the police, their numbers continue to dwindle into extinction. As an OB (Old Bro) Hazuki is tasked with passing on a dying tradition, but more importantly he must search out a new road or become extinct himself.
Check out the trailer here below: (just click on the image)
We at JSRC haven’t had a chance to see the entire film yet but from what we have, it looks damn interesting. If you’re interested in Japanese subculture, fast and furious rebellion, and motorcycles–catch this film when it opens this week in Shimokitazawa.