Hello Kitty isn’t a cat?

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Japan’s most beloved icon, Hello Kitty, is not a cat. Or is she? We don’t even know her nationality. Is she British or Japanese? Is she human? Or is she perhaps the daughter of a survivor of the Island of Dr. Moreau?

A recent report in the Los Angeles Times which quoted an anthropologist as saying she was told by Sanrio that one of Japan’s most beloved mascots, Hello Kitty, is not a feline (Felis catus) left fans reeling in shock.

Christine R. Yano, an anthropologist at the University of Hawaii and author of Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek Across the Pacific, which was published last year by Duke University Press, told the Los Angeles Times, “…Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.”

The revelation caused a wave of shock and disbelief—and ruined childhoods—throughout social media that has even captured the attention of Japanese national broadcaster, NHK.

“Hello Kitty is a character born in the motif of a cat, but is a 100% anthropomorphic girl. We welcome this understanding of Hello Kitty by people throughout the world,” said Sanrio when reached for comment by NHK.

Even Peanut’s character, Snoppy, took to Twitter to confirm that he was, in fact, a dog and not a little boy.

Yano also told the Los Angeles Times that Hello Kitty is British and was created during a time in which Japanese women were fascinated with British culture.

They loved the idea of Britain. It represented the quintessential idealized childhood, almost like a white picket fence. So the biography was created exactly for the tastes of that time,” said Yano.

Sanrio’s official biography of Hello Kitty also confirms her as being British. However, according to an article in the Atlantic Wire written by Jake Adelstein, Hello Kitty’s Guide to Japan in English and Japanese (ハローキティの英語で紹介する日本) written by Koji Kuwabara suggests differently. In the book, which explains Japanese culture, Hello Kitty is seen showing her American boyfriend, Dear Daniel around Japan and inviting him into her home, in which the floor is covered with tatami mats, and introducing him to her family, who all reside in Japan. In the book, Hello Kitty demonstrates such a wide knowledge of Japanese culture and customs that the reader can’t help but assume that she is, in fact, Japanese.

“That’s the kind of stuff the Chinese say when they pirate our national treasures and goods. It’s outrageous. And unforgivable,” said Tatsuya Nakajima, the leader of right-wing group Junshinkai when asked what he thought about the idea that Hello Kitty wasn’t Japanese.

Because Hello Kitty has pointed ears, whiskers, and a fluffy tail, it’s easy to understand why people would question the idea that she isn’t a cat. Japan Subculture Research Center staff lend their voices to the debate.

Angela Erika Kubo: I honestly don’t give a fuck. I honestly doubt that there is any sort of plastic surgery or genetic manipulation out there that can turn a little girl into a furry creature with no mouth. It’s no wonder Hello Kitty weighs three apples—she’s so severely malnourished since it looks like she’s unable to eat. Also, the fact that Hello Kitty owns a cat herself doesn’t mean anything. Humans keep monkeys as pets and genetically both species are remarkably similar.

Jake Adelstein: I believe that Hello Kitty is not a cat. She is a human being with cat DNA and represents a failed attempt by the Japanese government, the Ministry of Health & Welfare, to create a new breed of Japanese woman who would be silent, fecund, and give birth to litters of Japanese cat people, thus solving Japan’s declining birth rate and growing rat problem at the same time. If you’re familiar with the history of Japan’s biological warfare unit and how they all went to work for the Ministry of Health after “the reverse course” during the occupation—it’s all very clear. Technically, I would classify her as Homo catus.

The UN Hates Japan’s Hate Speech Indifference; LDP May Love Chance To Shut Up Protesters

Japanese bookstores are rife with anti-Korean magazines and periodicals that asperse Korea and ethnic Koreans living in Japan. This is a recent round-up of slurs and hate filled prose, including off-colour remarks from a Japanophile white man in Texas---Texas Daddy. (テキサスオヤジ)
Japan does not outlaw hate speech or hate crimes. Japanese bookstores are rife with anti-Korean magazines and periodicals that asperse Korea and ethnic Koreans living in Japan. This is a recent round-up of slurs and hate filled prose, including off-colour remarks from a Japanophile white man in Texas—Texas Daddy. (テキサス親父)Because who could know more about Korean and Japanese history than a white guy in Texas?

September 1st

The United Nations’ The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination last week issued a report urging to Japan to crack down on the growing  cases of “hate speech” targeting foreigners in Japan, especially hate speech against ethnic Koreans and other minorities. Japan currently has no law forbidding speech that promotes racism, sexism or violent attacks on minorities. Violent acts committed on the basis of racist and/or religious prejudice aka “hate crimes” are also not forbidden in Japan.

The panel suggested that Japan introduce legislation to outlaw hate-speech, investigate groups and/or individuals that take part, and prosecute them. Since the Abe administration took power in 2012, incidents of anti-korean protests and hostility towards ethnic koreans in Japan, as well as other foreigners, have become more noticeable and strident. The far-right, at their rallies, often  demands “an end to special treatment of Korean Japanese” and for their expulsion. The far right and the internet centred new right wing (ネット右翼、ネットウヨ)also campaign for revisionist histories of Japan and the banishment of all foreigners, not just ethnic Koreans.

The panel also suggested that Japan should reprimand and sanction public officials and politicians who engage in hate speech or promote intolerance.  The previous governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, made several racist statements that did not advance the image of Japan.

Japan joined the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1995. Since then the committee has given Japan two improvement orders and this time was the third. The panel asserted that the Japanese government should work on accepting its past history of aggression and exploitation of non-Japanese during Japan’s imperial era, and that it should also work on eliminating discrimination against foreign workers.  It did not directly address Japan’s shoddy treatment of foreign nationals, who must pay taxes, but are legally denied the welfare benefits from doing so.

The UN committee does not give ratings to countries on well they are doing in “eliminating racial discrimination” but the essence of third improvement order to Japan was: “you’re failing miserably. Do something.”  And sure enough, according to some reports, the ruling coalition is moving forwards to draft some kind of  legislation banning: “hate crimes”.

However, many in the legal community feel that the current government will use the new anti “hate crime” legislation to stifle anti-nuclear protests or criticism of the government. The Liberal Democratic Party hates criticism. It’s win-win situation for the Japanese government of Japan. They can save face with the UN while shutting up those annoying anti-nuclear protestors or perhaps even critics of the government. Actually combatting racism doesn’t need to be done at all.

Banzai.

 

 

 

Japanese Giant Robot Thief is Caught

Update August 19, 2014: The toy store thief has been arrested. The president of the company which runs the store issued a statement on August 19th saying, “We would like to thank the media who brought up the Tetsujin 28 theft incident. It became a hot topic and attracted a lot of interest, and because of that the police put their dignity on the line to investigate the crime. The culprit was successfully arrested, and the goods will probably be returned. This is all thanks to everyone and I am really grateful. Thank you very much.”

 

Sometimes, to catch a toy thief, extreme measures are required. We can only ask ourselves –what would Tetsujin 28 and his boy detective master do in a similar case…

 

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“If you don’t return the wind-up robot, we’re going to expose you as a thief to the world.”

Most leave the punishment of criminals to the police, but one toy and comic book store in Japan has decided to take the law into its own hands and see justice done—or maybe give a thief a chance to redeem himself. “Mandarake”, a used anime and manga (Japanese comics) goods chain of stores is threatening to publicly release the picture of a man who allegedly shoplifted a rare wind-up robot doll from the store. They have given him fair warning and posted the equivalent of a WANTED poster on-line

On August 4th, the thief stole a tin wind-up toy robot valued at 250, 000 yen ($2,500) from a Mandarake store in Tokyo’s Nakano ward. The company, Mandarake, which owns the store put up a public notice on its website which said that if the thief did not return the item within a week from the day it was taken (August 4th) they would show his face to the world.

The deadline is midnight August 12th Japan time.

The store already posted a blurred image of the man (taken from a security camera) on their web page (see picture) and if their demands are not met they will would remove the mosaic from his face and reveal his identity.

The shop’s stunt raises questions of whether or not they are committing a crime themselves, amongst the legal community and has created a lively on-line debate.

“Under the provisions of the Penal Code, it’s criminal intimidation if you threaten someone, even if it’s to take back a legitimate loan,” said Hisashi Sonoda, a criminal law professor from Konan University Law School, according to the Sankei Shimbun. A Tokyo police officer in the criminal investigative division told JSRC on background, “Technically speaking, the way the store is handling it could constitute criminal intimidation but no sane police officer would want to take that case. And I doubt any prosecutor would actually file charges. The wording of their warning could be a little better.” The detective also noted that if the store exposed an innocent man, they could be held liable for criminal defamation, which is a crime punishable with time in jail. In fact, even if the man is guilty, in some cases it could still be considered defamation under the current law.

Despite the risks involved, the company intends to carry out their warning if the goods aren’t returned.

Return Tetsujin 28 evil-doer and all might be forgiven.
Return Tetsujin 28 evil-doer and all might be forgiven.
警告 8月4日17時頃 まんだらけ中野店4F変やで25万円の野村トーイ製 鉄人28号 No.3 ゼンマイ歩行を盗んだ犯人へ_Page_2
You can ride but you can’t hide from a giant robot. (Okay, he stole a mini version of it it but still. This is the crime in action. The face of the wind-up robot doll thief will be revealed on August the 13th. Unlesss

 

“We are really just hoping that the thief will return the stolen goods,” Masuzo Furukawa, the president of the company, told the JSRC via email. “Our basic principle is ‘condemn the offense, but not the offender,’ but if he doesn’t return the stolen item we will release his photograph and take actions to identify the criminal.” He said that they had footage of the suspect stealing the robot and there was no doubt that they had the right man.

A source familiar with the investigation said that they suspect the suspect likely stole the figure because he is an avid fan who could not afford the doll but desperately wanted it. It would now certainly be an item hard to resell.

The toy is a model of Tetsujin 28. Tetsujin is a giant robot, who first appeared in a manga written and illustrated by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, which was popular in the 50s. In the original story, the robot was developed in the final days of WWII, by Japan’s Imperial army as a secret weapon to help the empire win the war. After the war, numerous heroes and villains fought for possession of the remote control that would allow anyone to use the giant robot, for good or evil. Finally, he comes under the control of a young private detective used Tetsujin 28 to stop crime and fight other robots. Sometimes, Tetsujin 28 and his boy master even worked with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.

Speaking of police, according to the National Police Agency, shoplifting in Japan is a persistent problem. Although shoplifting incidents have slowly decreased since its peak of 158, 020 cases in 2004, in 2013 there were 126, 386 cases that amounted to more than 2 billion yen in damages. There were 85, 464 people arrested in 2013. 37.7 percent of them were over 65. Many elderly cite economic hardships or debt as a reason for stealing, with many of the items being inexpensive items such as groceries and daily necessities. The plump young man in the photo released by Mandarake doesn’t appear to be starving.

The hours are ticking away. Will the thief do the right thing and turn back in the toy—taking advantage of a generous offer—and follow the righteous path of a superhero and reform his thieving ways. If anything, he should at least be grateful that the owners of the store didn’t have a life-sized Tetsujin 28 robot hunt him down—because those days of killer robots may not be that far away. In any event, all will be revealed on by August 13th, and for one toy thief—this 13th may be a very unlucky day indeed.

Update: Due to pressure from the police, “Mandarake” decided to not release picture of the male thief’s face, the Asahi Shimbun reported on August 14th. The Nakano Police Department allegedly said that the store’s threat and the media attention surrounding it “hindered the investigation” and they asked the shop not to make the suspect’s face public.

A female claiming to be a friend of the male suspect also allegedly called the store approximately 7 P.M. and asked whether the store would really forgive the suspect if he returned the item by 8 P.M. No return was made.

While the store was unable to carry out their own justice by unmasking the criminal the media attention surrounding the story serves as a warning to robot-stealing bandits everywhere.

“We’re struggling to respond to everything. I think it raised a problem, but the response was greater than expected. From now on it will be difficult for us to respond by making the photo of the face public,” the Asahi Shimbun quoted public relations director, Katsuya Nakamura.

 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plagiarizes himself: If you can recycle nuclear fuel, why not speeches?

If you felt a sense of déjà vu when listening to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe give a speech at the ceremony commemorating the 69th anniversary of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing on August 6th, you’re not alone. Parts of Abe’s speech are nearly identical to the one he gave last year, the most notable different being that he changed “68 years ago” to “69 years ago.” I decided to take a page out of Abe’s book and copy and paste his speeches. Paragraphs that are similar to each other have been made bold below. Both speeches were taken from the Prime Minister’s cabinet website. Although the middle of both speeches differ from each other, the second to last paragraph of this year’s speech, in which Abe gives his condolences to those who suffer from nuclear radiation-related diseases and calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons, in particular is only a rewording of at the same idea conveyed in last year’s speech.

Editor note: There is indeed, as Ecclesiastes once noted,  nothing new under the (land of the rising) sun

Prime Minister Abe has a habit of repeating himself, which isn't great when people are actually paying attention. So much for that "heartfelt" speech.
Prime Minister Abe has a habit of repeating himself, which isn’t great when people are actually paying attention. So much for that “heartfelt” speech.

 

平成25年8月6日

広島市原爆死没者慰霊式並びに平和祈念式あいさつ

広島市原爆死没者慰霊式、平和祈念式に臨み、原子爆弾の犠牲となった方々の御霊に対し、謹んで、哀悼の誠を捧げます。今なお被爆の後遺症に苦しんでおられる皆様に、心から、お見舞いを申し上げます。

 68年前の朝、一発の爆弾が、十数万になんなんとする、貴い命を奪いました。7万戸の建物を壊し、一面を、業火と爆風に浚わせ、廃墟と化しました。生き長らえた人々に、病と障害の、また生活上の、言い知れぬ苦難を強いました。

 犠牲と言うべくして、あまりに夥しい犠牲でありました。しかし、戦後の日本を築いた先人たちは、広島に斃れた人々を忘れてはならじと、心に深く刻めばこそ、我々に、平和と、繁栄の、祖国を作り、与えてくれたのです。蝉しぐれが今もしじまを破る、緑豊かな広島の街路に、私たちは、その最も美しい達成を見出さずにはいられません。

 私たち日本人は、唯一の、戦争被爆国民であります。そのような者として、我々には、確実に、核兵器のない世界を実現していく責務があります。その非道を、後の世に、また世界に、伝え続ける務めがあります。

昨年、我が国が国連総会に提出した核軍縮決議は、米国並びに英国を含む、史上最多の99カ国を共同提案国として巻き込み、圧倒的な賛成多数で採択されました。

本年、若い世代の方々を、核廃絶の特使とする制度を始めました。来年は、我が国が一貫して主導する非核兵器国の集まり、「軍縮・不拡散イニシアティブ」の外相会合を、ここ広島で開きます。

今なお苦痛を忍びつつ、原爆症の認定を待つ方々に、一日でも早くその認定が下りるよう、最善を尽くします。被爆された方々の声に耳を傾け、より良い援護策を進めていくため、有識者や被爆された方々の代表を含む関係者の方々に議論を急いで頂いています。

広島の御霊を悼む朝、私は、これら責務に、旧倍の努力を傾けていくことをお誓いします。

 結びに、いま一度、犠牲になった方々の御冥福を、心よりお祈りします。ご遺族と、ご存命の被爆者の皆様には、幸多からんことを祈念します。核兵器の惨禍が再現されることのないよう、非核三原則を堅持しつつ、核兵器廃絶に、また、恒久平和の実現に、力を惜しまぬことをお誓いし、私のご挨拶といたします。

平成二十五年八月六日 内閣総理大臣・安倍晋三

平成26年8月6日

広島市原爆死没者慰霊式並びに平和祈念式あいさつ

広島市原爆死没者慰霊式、平和祈念式に臨み、原子爆弾の犠牲となった方々の御霊に対し、謹んで、哀悼の誠を捧げます。今なお被爆の後遺症に苦しんでおられる皆様に、心から、お見舞いを申し上げます。

 69年前の朝、一発の爆弾が、十数万になんなんとする、貴い命を奪いました。7万戸の建物を壊し、一面を、業火と爆風に浚わせ、廃墟と化しました。生き長らえた人々に、病と障害の、また生活上の、言い知れぬ苦難を強いました。
 犠牲と言うべくして、あまりに夥しい犠牲でありました。しかし、戦後の日本を築いた先人たちは、広島に斃れた人々を忘れてはならじと、心に深く刻めばこそ、我々に、平和と、繁栄の、祖国を作り、与えてくれたのです。緑豊かな広島の街路に、私たちは、その最も美しい達成を見出さずにはいられません。
 人類史上唯一の戦争被爆国として、核兵器の惨禍を体験した我が国には、確実に、「核兵器のない世界」を実現していく責務があります。その非道を、後の世に、また世界に、伝え続ける務めがあります。
私は、昨年、国連総会の「核軍縮ハイレベル会合」において、「核兵器のない世界」に向けての決意を表明しました。我が国が提出した核軍縮決議は、初めて100を超える共同提案国を得て、圧倒的な賛成多数で採択されました。包括的核実験禁止条約の早期発効に向け、関係国の首脳に直接、条約の批准を働きかけるなど、現実的、実践的な核軍縮を進めています。
本年4月には、「軍縮・不拡散イニシアティブ」の外相会合を、ここ広島で開催し、被爆地から我々の思いを力強く発信いたしました。来年は、被爆から70年目という節目の年であり、5年に一度の核兵器不拡散条約(NPT)運用検討会議が開催されます。「核兵器のない世界」を実現するための取組をさらに前へ進めてまいります。
今なお被爆による苦痛に耐え、原爆症の認定を待つ方々がおられます。昨年末には、3年に及ぶ関係者の方々のご議論を踏まえ、認定基準の見直しを行いました。多くの方々に一日でも早く認定が下りるよう、今後とも誠心誠意努力してまいります。
広島の御霊を悼む朝、私は、これら責務に、倍旧の努力を傾けていくことをお誓いいたします。結びに、いま一度、犠牲になった方々のご冥福を、心よりお祈りします。ご遺族と、ご存命の被爆者の皆様には、幸多からんことを祈念します。核兵器の惨禍が再現されることのないよう、非核三原則を堅持しつつ、核兵器廃絶に、また、世界恒久平和の実現に、力を惜しまぬことをお誓いし、私のご挨拶といたします。

平成二十六年八月六日
内閣総理大臣・安倍晋三

For those who cannot read Japanese, you can take a look at the English translations of the speeches, which are also similar to each other. The italics are parts of his speech that are almost the same as the year before.

Address by Prime Minister Abe at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony

Wednesday August 6, 2014

Here today, on the occasion of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony, I reverently express my sincere condolences to the souls of the atomic bomb victims.  I also extend my heartfelt sympathy to those still suffering from the aftereffects of the atomic bomb.

On this very morning 69 years ago, a single bomb deprived well more than 100,000 people of their precious lives.  It destroyed some 70,000 buildings and swept away the entire area through its hellish fires and its blast, turning the area to ruins.  Those who survived were forced to endure unspeakable hardships of illness and disability and tribulations in their daily lives.

The enormous price that was paid should be regarded as an immense sacrifice.  However, our forebears who built post-World War II Japan had etched deeply upon their hearts that they must never forget the people who perished in Hiroshima.  It was in this spirit that they created, and then bequeathed to us, a homeland of peace and prosperity.  We cannot help but find the most beautiful form of achievement in the streets of Hiroshima, full of greenery, where the continuous chirping of cicadas breaks the silence even now.

As the only country in human history to have experienced the horror of nuclear devastation in war, Japan bears a responsibility to bring about “a world free of nuclear weapons” without fail.  We have a duty to continue to convey to the next generation, and indeed to the world, the inhumanity of nuclear weapons.

Last year at the High-Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament, I declared my determination to achieve “a world free of nuclear weapons.” The draft resolution on nuclear disarmament submitted by the Government of Japan had more than 100 co-sponsor states for the first time and was adopted by an overwhelming majority.  Working towards the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, Japan is also advancing realistic and practical nuclear disarmament by directly urging the heads of state and government of relevant nations to ratify the Treaty and through other such efforts.

In April this year, the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative Ministerial Meeting among foreign ministers was held here in Hiroshima.  From this site of an atomic bombing, our thoughts were sent out powerfully to the world.  Next year will be the milestone year of the 70th year since the bombing, and the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which is held once every five years, will also be convened.  We will advance our efforts to realize “a world free of nuclear weapons” still further.

There are individuals who are still now enduring pain and suffering caused by the atomic bombing and waiting to be recognized as having an atomic bomb disease.  At the end of last year, the Government conducted a review of the criteria for granting recognition, bearing in mind the discussions held by relevant persons over three years.  The Government will continue to make good-faith efforts to enable a large number of people to receive such recognition as soon as possible.

This morning, as we mourn the souls of the victims in Hiroshima, I pledge that I will redouble my efforts to carry out these duties.  I would like to conclude with my heartfelt prayers once more for the repose of the souls of the victims.  I would also like to extend my best wishes to the bereaved families and to the atomic bomb survivors.  I will close my address with a pledge that Japan will firmly uphold the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles” and spare no efforts in working towards the total abolition of nuclear weapons and the realization of eternal world peace, so that the horror and devastation caused by nuclear weapons are not repeated.

Shinzo Abe
Prime Minister of Japan
August 6, 2014

This isn’t the first time Abe has recycled speeches. Users online have remarked that Abe also used the same phrases at a memorial service for dead soldiers in Okinawa two years in a row.

With a long succession of prime ministers who rarely last more than a year, perhaps Abe didn’t expect to be in office for so long and didn’t think of setting the time aside to prepare something more original. More likely, he was being lazy.

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Editor note 1: Maybe he just hates 1) remembering Japan lost the war 2) Japan might have won the war if they’d built their atomic bomb earlier 3) He thinks this whole Hiroshima thing is a pain in the ass because it really reminds people of how dangerous and destructive nuclear power is and that the Fukushima meltdown mess is an ongoing disaster. This isn’t helping him and his pals at TEPCO or his LDP cronies with a lot of TEPCO and KEPCO stock.

Editor note 2: I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the man. After writing about the yakuza for 20 years, I run out of ways to discuss them without some repetition–but then again, I’m not expressing my ‘heartfelt’ sympathy to them or their victims either.

The Ides Of October: Japan’s nuclear reprocessing “dream” is the world’s nightmare

Japan plans to restart its troubled nuclear fuel reprocessing facility, Rokkasho (六ヶ所再処理工場)  in October of this year, but is that a good idea? Experts say Japan should simply shutter its nuclear reprocessing plants & avoid making more dangerous plutonium. Why doesn’t this happen? We decided to see if we could explain. Here is our short primer on the nuclear fuel cycle follies of the land of the rising sun.

Why do most nuclear power dependent countries including Japan want to reprocess spent nuclear fuel?

 This is a very good question. If you have no idea what reprocessing nuclear fuel is all about, please hold on. We’ll get to that. Let’s talk a little bit about nuclear plants in general.

The Rokkasho Nuclear Fuel Cycle PR Center can explain to you why nuclear spent fuel is so hand to have.
The Rokkasho Nuclear Fuel Cycle PR Center can explain to you why nuclear spent fuel is so handy to have.

Guess what? Building a nuclear power plant on a volcanic island isn’t a good idea. In fact, it’s probably very dangerous and stupid. This is the conclusion the island nation of Taiwan reached last week. Taiwan’s government said on Thursday it would seal off a nuclear power plant due to open next year. The public has repeatedly criticized the plant as unsafe, and it will be shut for three years, at a cost of nearly 162 million dollars, pending a referendum on its future.

Meanwhile, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan is rushing to restart its nuclear reactors (despite widespread opposition) and plans to reopen the dysfunctional Rokkasho Nuclear Reprocessing Facility in October. Japan’s plans to have a self-perpetuating nuclear fuel cycle have been a colossal & expensive failure—and the Rokkasho facility (as well as many other nuclear facilities) pose a serious threat to the safety of those living near them and possibly the rest of the world. Japan’s nuclear security is poor at best and the workers are not screened making them a potential target for terrorists.

Mr. Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University, and Mr. Klaus Janberg, former CEO of a German nuclear service company and nuclear advisor, told reporters in Tokyo last month that storage of spent nuclear fuel should be an alternative to the reopening of the Rokkasho Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Plant operational this year. Mr. Hippel is the former Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He advised the Clinton White House on aspects of the joint U.S.-Russian non-proliferation programs.

Why does Japan reprocess nuclear fuel even though it would be far cheaper to store it?
Why does Japan reprocess nuclear fuel  even though it would be far cheaper to store it (saving at least 2 billion dollars a year)? Because they don’t have enough space.

As mentioned above, Japan’s nuclear reprocessing plant is planned to finally start running by this October, after more than 20 years of disastrous attempts to make it work. In July of this year, the two nuclear experts proposed to the Japanese government, including the Foreign Ministry and METI (Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry) officials that it would be advisable to install dry cask spent fuel storage units at nuclear power plants sites and elsewhere to prevent the Rokkasho reprocessing plant from generating plutonium that would further increase Japan’s excess stock. They said their proposal could help implement possible alternatives to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s commitment made at this year’s March Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague not to possess plutonium reserves without specified purposes. Abe pledged to minimize stocks of separated plutonium by matching supply and demand.

The two experts spoke at the FCCJ on July 1st about Nuclear Security and Reprocessing: Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Option & an Alternative to the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. We have summarized the Q & A below, adding exposition where we felt it was needed.

Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University (right)  Klaus Janberg (left), Former CEO of Gesellschaft für Nuklear Service, experts in the nuclear industry say Japan should leave Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant shut and store nuclear waste.
Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University (left)
Klaus Janberg (right), Former CEO of Gesellschaft für Nuklear Service, experts in the nuclear industry say Japan should leave Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant shut and store nuclear waste.

Why do most nuclear power dependent countries including Japan want to reprocess spent nuclear fuel?

 The Rokkasho plutonium plant was built to end Japan’s dependence on imported uranium, oil, gas and coal. Most countries started civilian reprocessing to acquire plutonium breeder reactors, like the Monju breeder reactor, in Japan. It turned out that such reactors are much more expensive and much less reliable than water-cooling reactors. Currently, the argument in Japan is that spent fuel pools are filling up and it is necessary to have a place where to send the spent fuel. Rokkasho is the only place.

This chart shows how nuclear fuel reprocessing would work ideally. "Let's recycle our limited important resources!" Yes, let's. Just don't spill any plutonium or let the bad kids get any.
This chart shows how nuclear fuel reprocessing would work ideally. “Let’s recycle our limited important resources!” Yes, let’s. Just don’t spill any plutonium or let the bad kids get any.

“TEPCO and KEPCO (Kansai Electric Power Company) built and completed in Mutsu city, in Aomori Prefecture, a spent fuel storage facility, which would be much enough for storing the spent fuel but Aomori, which also hosts the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is reluctant to use the storage facility unless the reprocessing plans begins,” says Frank von Hippel, He explained it was a political problem rather than a technological problem.

There is a nuclear fuel storage facility not being used due to political reasons rather than technical ones.
There is a nuclear fuel storage facility not being used due to political reasons rather than technical ones.

 

Several countries like the UK an the US have also tried to operate plutonium “breeder” programs but abandoned them after several accidents occurred and because they have come to the conclusion that it was not economically feasible. They are now struggling with what to do with the tons of leftover plutonium.

Japan is the last state without nuclear weapons to still reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

Japanese officials also know how costly it is to continue the project that started almost thirty years ago. But why do they insist continuing the process?

 “Keep the zombie alive”

 

Why does Japan cling to its spent nuclear fuel reprocessing program despite all the economic and technical problems?

Japan cannot stop its nuclear fuel cycle plans because the Japanese government has an agreement with Aomori Prefecture, where the Rokkasho plant (located in Rokkasho village) was built. If they can’t reprocess the spent fuel stored there, Aomori Prefecture will remove it immediately. According to high Japanese government officials, the agreement is equivalent to an international treaty, therefore it cannot be turned over. Besides, Japan has nowhere else to move away the fuel. And which country in the world outside of Japan could ever take it? Right now, all the spent nuclear fuel (使用済み核燃料) stored at Japan’s nuclear facilities, on the assumption that it can be reprocessed, is counted as an asset by the power companies.

If Japan abandons its nuclear fuel cycle plans, the “asset” would become a huge liability and every single electric power company would become insolvent. In other words, as long as the pipe-dream of nuclear fuel reprocessing is government policy,  the nuclear waste itself— is an asset; it has value. But if the stored fuel is found to have no value, than the fuel and the costs of storing it–all of this become a liability. If this were to happen, TEPCO, (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is already a de facto insolvent entity. The so-called nuclear village insists that this would be disastrous for the Japanese economy.

The current administration wants to make sure Rokkasho is ready to go and restart reactors to keep TEPCO alive. If TEPCO has another fiscal period where they are in the red, banks will stop lending them money. Restarting the reactors is one way to keep the TEPCO zombie alive.

Now, you may counter by saying, “Hey didn’t TEPCO make 4 billion dollars last year?” Yes, well part of that was a gift from the Abe government which agreed to pick up 47 billion yen (That’s $458,134,380) worth of cleanup costs for the water leaking out of Fukushima—because TEPCO was doing such a lousy job. Okay, well, 3.5 billion is still a great profit. And TEPCO will stay in the black—just as long as nuclear waste is considered an asset.

Some current and former U.S. officials said they expect Japanese officials will abandon their plutonium fuel program once they realize how much it will cost. But it isn’t happening.

The US has been building a MOX plant for its excess weapon plutonium, it was supposed to be operating in 2007 but experts are now saying it can start by 2020. But it has become so expensive that the Obama Administration is talking about abandoning the project and trying to find another cheaper way to the plutonium disposal management.

But for Japan, which is supposed to be a country of honor and promises kept, it is very unlikely. Reportedly, Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda in 1977 called the program’s promise of energy independence a “life and death” issue, and that attitude persists at the highest level of the Japanese government.

“It is in the Japanese mentality to never go back after they made an agreement,” a prominent anti-nuclear activist and attorney told JSRC when discussing the agreements in place that keep Aomori’s Rokkasho plant alive.

How safe is the Rokkasho plant from terrorism? The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is formerly responsible for ensuring that plutonium does not get removed from the Rokkasho plant by a third party, how accurate is the system installed there since it is going to start operating this October?

The measures and accuracies for the IAEA checks that plutonium won’t leak from the plant is of about 1%. If operating at full capacity, it would separate about 8 thousand kg of plutonium per year. Therefore 1% accuracy is about 80kg. The IAEA considers 8kg is enough to make a nuclear weapon. In other words, if the 1% not accounted for was actually stolen, it would be enough material to produce the equivalent of 10 nuclear weapons in a year. The IAEA recognizes that that’s not good enough, and added a system they called “surveillance and containment,” to monitor all the doors to ensure the plutonium could not be stolen.

“I don’t know about Rokkasho. The problem is that there is no way to check within the accuracy measurement that everything is still there. Reprocessing is recognized as a serious problem for safeguards and for these reasons, even though the IAEA spends globally 20% of its safeguard budget on Rokkasho and Tokaimura, it is recognized as being a hugely costly operation,” Frank von Hippel explained.

The US spends about a billion us dollars a year for the security of nuclear materials. Even so, the US still has some problems. Last year, an 82 year-old nun reportedly penetrated the security system and went to the central part of a nuclear facility. There is no perfect security. “The only perfect security is to not have the nuclear material in the first place.” Von Hippel said. “If you aren’t making nuclear weapons, I’d argue that nobody needs to have the nuclear material that could be used to build them.” (Of course, some would argue that Japan wants plutonium precisely for those reasons.)

Final disposal of the spent nuclear fuel: at which stage is the nuclear material less harmful?

The fuel is the most dangerous when it’s in the reactor, becomes less dangerous when it goes into a pool, even less dangerous when it goes into a cask, and least dangerous when the cask is buried deep underground. The two countries that understood that it isn’t in their best interests to keep the spent fuel on the surface of the earth forever are Sweden and Finland. The issue in Japan may be the suitability of the geological situation of the country. Those casks that contains spent fuel elements under helium that keeps the fuel intact—they can keep the fuel for about 38 or 39 years.

Why do the power companies not want to abandon nuclear power? 

Nihon Gennen, the company which owns the Rokkasho plant, is currently bearing a huge debt for the construction of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, and the electric power companies are guaranteeing/insuring this debt. The current law states that the money to pay back the debt with the fund raised by the consumers can’t be used if the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is not running. The moment you say that you stop the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, Nihon Gennen will go bankrupt. And the debt will be a loss for the electric power companies. The major electric power companies will register a collective loss of about 2 trillion yen and those companies can’t endure this.

Instead of thinking about all these impossible things, Japan believes it will be easier to start running the reprocessing plant. If the reprocessing plant becomes operational, there will be an additional amount of plutonium that will be produced, and that plutonium will be useless without the Monju plant running. In which case the plutonium will have to be burnt with (plutonium thermal use) MOX fuel. And therefore they can’t stop the MOX plant either.

As long as Rokkasho and Monju keep running, the power companies make money—if they are put out of commission, the power companies fail. All the politicians, scholars, ex-bureaucrats, investors and their cronies who are riding the nuclear gravy train will be left out in the cold and suffer losses as well. The so-called costs of nuclear energy do not take into account compensations for disaster, nor the costs of storing nuclear waste for centuries. The cost is only cheap for the power companies—the taxpayers pick up the rest of the bill. The storage facilities for nuclear waste in Japan are nearly full and no one wants to take them.

Kei Shimada, a japanese photographer and director of the documentary movie “Rokkasho Mirai” (2013) told JSRC that at the time under the DPJ, right after the Fukushima nuclear accident, when the cabinet proposed the zeroing out of nuclear power stations in all Japan, the head of Rokkasho village and the city hall members opposed the phasing out of nuclear energy and they repeatedly went to Tokyo to demand the continuation of the nuclear energy policy.

“As for the villagers, there are so many of them who work at the Rokkasho plant, that in case a zero nuclear energy policy in Japan is decided, and in case the Rokkasho plant has to close, they will all lose their jobs. That’s the kind of reaction I heard from the villagers of Rokkasho when the government was walking towards a no nuke policy. Therefore, I think that after the LDP started ruling the country, the people around Rokkasho were happy about the movement to restart the nuclear power plants. But it doesn’t mean that the anxiety has disappeared. I think the people are anxious, but they are also torn between the fact that they will loose their jobs and therefore their living.”

The Rokkasho reprocessing plant is designed to extract metal from spent reactor fuel. If it starts running this time, it will separate more plutonium, despite the fact that Japan already has about 45 tons of it stockpiled in Europe and domestically–enough for more than 5,000 nuclear bombs. The US and the IAEA has continually raised concerns that the lax security at Japan’s nuclear power plants—which do not even run background checks on the workers–and tolerate yakuza (gangsters) working on site–could make them a target for terrorists. However, when we examine the history of mismanagement and incompetence of the utility companies running the plants, it seems the greatest credible nuclear threat of them all is yet another accident.

 

 

Notes:

Several JSRC members contributed to this post. 

Frank von Hippel is Professor of Public and International Affairs, emeritus and co-chair International Panel on Fissile Materials. He served as Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (1994-5). Nuclear consultant Klaus Janberg managed the development and production of the casks at GNS that provide interim storage for spent fuel in Germany and a number of other countries.

 

 

 

 

The Last Day of Sanja Matsuri Today! (May 18th) Get your mobile phones out & welcome portable Gods

While we plan to run a full photo essay later in the week, for those of  you looking to get lucky, Asakusa is the place to be.  The Sanja Matsuri ranks as one of the greatest festivals in all of Japan. What is it? This is one of those times we will let the JNTO spell it out for you.

 

“The Sanja Matsuri, a symbolic festival of Tokyo, is one of the largest festivals of mikoshi (portable shrines) held in Asakusa, which is a quarter where you can still find traditional houses and streets. Every year, hundreds of thousands of spectators visit Asakusa during the three festival days. With amazing vigor, men carry several dozens of portable shrines on their shoulders. There are also portable shrines carried by women only, and by children only. The most exciting moments are when the portable shrines are jolted vehemently, for this jolting is believed to intensify the power of the deities mounted on the portable shrines. On the Saturday around noon, small and large portable shrines gather at Asakusa Shrine, and then set off to parade through the town streets. On the Sunday, three especially large-sized portable shrines join the parade. These huge portable shrines depart from Asakusa Shrine early in the morning at 6 o’clock, and return around 8 o’clock at night.”  from the Japan National Tourism Organization.

 

 

 

The Sanja Matsuri is held every day. Today May 18th  (2014) is the last day this year. Photos by Chloe' Jafe
The Sanja Matsuri is held every day. Today May 18th (2014) is the last day this year. Photos by Chloe’ Jafe

CJ Sanja Matsuri 02 CJ Sanja Matsuri 03

Soulbeat Asia: Awesome Music Until Sunday the 18th in Toyota City: Get moving & grooving

If you’re looking for world music try heading to Aichi Prefecture’s Toyota City today. Saturday and Sunday are the last two days of Soulbeat Asia where you can see and hear the latest great traditional bands from Mongolia, Okinawa, Japan (yes, we know Okinawa is part of Japan but it might as well be another country)  and other parts of the world. There’s drumming, chanting, singing, and swaying. And beautiful Toyota city as well.  (Okay, but the festival is outside, in the park.) 2012 favorites, Mongolia’s greatest traditional fusion rock band (if you ask us), HANGGAI, makes a return.

Soulbeat Japan Day 2 starts today (Saturday) & continues until Sunday. Music seekers, go forth!
Soulbeat Japan Day 2 starts today (Saturday) & continues until Sunday. Music seekers, go forth!

Everything you want to know is here on the soulbeat asia website. If you can’t read Japanese, find a friend who can. It you love ethnic music, this is the place to be this weekend.

Go-Betweens: The World Seen through Children

For any art fans out there, Mori Art Museum, located in Roppongi Hills, will be holding a new exhibition from Saturday, May 31 through Sunday, August 31, 2014. The exhibition, titled “Go-Betweens: The World Seen through Children,” will feature children through various forms of art and different perspectives such as politics, culture, family and other aspects of the world surrounding children. Notable in a country that is lacking young people.

Won Seoung Won Oversleeping (from the series My Age of Seven)2010 Type C-print  86 x 120 cm
Won Seoung Won
Oversleeping (from the series My Age of Seven)2010
Type C-print
86 x 120 cm

 

The exhibition will feature 26 of the world’s top artists, notably Jacob A. Riis. Riis is well known for his coverage of the impoverished in the New York City slums through his reporting and photography. The exhibit will feature Riis’s documentation of late 19th century immigrant children in the city, who often served as “go-betweens” due to their role as a bridge for their parents, who had a poor grasp of English.

In addition to Riis’s works, other highlights will be displays of works by Lewis W. Hine, whose photographs helped change America’s labor laws, and Miyatake Toyo, who documented life in a Japanese-American internment camp in California. All works serve as valuable historical documents that brought about significant social change.

Miyatake Toyo From the series Manzanar War Relocation Center1942-1945 Gelatin silver print 50.8 x 60.8 cm Collection: Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
Miyatake Toyo
From the series Manzanar War Relocation Center1942-1945
Gelatin silver print
50.8 x 60.8 cm
Collection: Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

In addition, the exhibit will feature newcomers to Japan’s art scene such as Rineke Dijkstra and video artist Fiona Tan. The exhibition will also feature never –before-seen works by Teruya Yuken, whose art is staged in the forests of Yanbaru in Okinawa.

“In general (in Japan also) there are quite a few “children-themed” exhibitions around, but believe that there have hardly been any exhibitions that deal with the “darkness” or issues of the children’s surroundings,” the public relations department at Mori Art Museum told the Japan Subculture Research Center.

There will also be film screenings throughout the summer, a selection of 7 films that cover the theme of children in some way. One notable showing is Hafu: the mixed race, which received critical acclaim last year following its release, on July 5th.

Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2014

Tokyo’s annual gay pride parade will be held tomorrow. From 11 A.M. to 6 P.M. at Tokyo Yoyogi Park Event Square & Stage. The parade, which is the third to be held, is designed to bright awareness to problems facing LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) and other sexual minorities. There will also be various booths, food, and performances available.

More information can be found on the official website.

 

Happy New Year Of The Horse 2014 (馬年) Come ride with us!

January 31st, 2014–The Year Of The Horse 

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!

Happy Year Of The Horse! Just get on and let the horse go where it goes.
Happy Year Of The Horse!
Just get on and let the horse go where it goes.

 

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!

Today's new moon on Friday January 31st marks the end of the Snake Year and the start of the Horse Year, according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. Happy Horse Year 2014! We couldn't find any horses in Tokyo that weren't being served as sashimi (raw meat/馬刺し)so our acting editor in chief just inserted himself in this photo instead. We're riding into the year of the horse at full gallop!
Today’s new moon on Friday January 31st marks the end of the Snake Year and the start of the Horse Year, according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. Happy Horse Year 2014! We couldn’t find any horses in Tokyo that weren’t being served as sashimi (raw meat/馬刺し)so our acting editor in chief just inserted himself in this photo instead. We’re riding into the year of the horse at full gallop!