Woman Under The Sand (short story)

by Kaori Shoji

Japan Subculture Research Center is proud to present the latest addition to a series of short stories, by our resident book reviewer and social commentator, Kaori Shoji, on the often tragically mismatched marriages of foreign men and Japanese women–The Amazing Japanese Wife. If you see echoes of someone you know or yourself in this story, be rest assured that you’re a cliche—but take solace in the fact that misery is universal. This new story is apocryphal in the sense that the protagonist is unmarried–but seeking to be married.

“Kimie felt as if her insides had dried out and her blood vessels were clogged with sand. Did the woman in the novel die in the end? Kimie couldn’t remember but neither could she recall when she had her last period.” 

One


In high school, Kimie read a novel about a woman who lived in a shack that was sinking into a sand pit. One day, sheer chance leads a man–an outsider–to wander into the woman’s shack. Initially, she’s kind and welcoming but she takes steps to ensure that the man can’t leave. Soon she sets him to work shoveling the ever-present sand out of her door, which she herself has been doing everyday for years. Otherwise, the sand will claim the shack completely and the woman will have no place to live. 


At the time, Kimie was sixteen and was reveling in the power of her sexuality. She didn’t need to trap a man in the sand to get him to do anything–most of them were putty in the hands of a girl in a school uniform. When she stood on the platform of the train station she could feel the particles in the air around her change and shift, as men craned their necks to get a better look at the back of her knees and her neck and her long, perfect hair. A man in a neat, expensive-looking suit once gazed at her intently and pressed a 10,000 yen bill in her hand. “This is so you can kiss me later,” he whispered, before striding rapidly away. 


For all that, the woman in the shack that was sinking into the sand, haunted Kimie. As she grew older it seemed she was turning into this woman, shoveling out sand alongside the man she had trapped. She knew exactly how this woman felt, and how earnestly she needed the man in her sand blown life. After she hit her forties, Kimie identified more with the man. She could picture him, desperately clawing at the sand, eyes darting wildly as he searched for a way to escape. 

Two


Kimie had turned 47, and was living with her mother in the same house she had lived in since childhood. 


Three weeks into the pandemic shut-down, Kimie felt her synapses fraying, and then unraveling. Her hair was falling out in chunks and her skin was clammy to the touch in some places, while in others it was dry and chilly. The soles of her feet had the texture of old, cracked rubber. She would get up in the morning, and too distracted to open the curtains, would immediately turn on the news, mentally preparing for the day’s dreary horrors as if they were a mere extension of her fitful nightmares. 


“Kimi-chan, Kimi-chan!” After half an hour of staring at the screen, the calls of her mother from the kitchen downstairs, would alert her to the fact that she had procrastinated long enough. It was time to face her mother at the table, over coffee and toast with synthetic butter and cheap jam. 

The sight of her mother, aged 77, instilled a sense of silent panic deep within Kimie’s soul. This is where I’m going, this is what I’ll look like. She knew such thoughts were vain and unworthy but she had decided long ago that it was okay to have them. Until five years ago when her father was still alive, Kimie could convince herself that she valued her parents because they brought her up and sacrificed much for this life of hers. In her youth, this life had seemed to be the most enticing item in the whole shop. She had pointed to it with her finger and it became hers, gift-wrapped and bow-tied. The bill had been sent round to her father, who paid without complaint. But now the sand was getting into the nooks and nannies and crevices of her pretty little life. 

On good days, Kimie would tick off her milestones in her mind, if only to remind herself that she was special, and her life was, if not completely wonderful then surely presentable. A semester in a high school in Missouri, courtesy of a school-sponsored home stay program. She had called her father collect to ask for 500 extra dollars to spend on a prom dress, subsequently torn in three places by her geeky, fumbling boyfriend as he frantically groped her in his parents’ car. A year in Pennsylvania during university because she had insisted to her father that she needed to improve her English in order to land a good job. Her father had wired 800 dollars into her account every month so she could eat well, go to parties and well, improve her English. (Which she did! She scored 900 on TOEIC!) A trip to Italy and France as a graduation present. At the time, all these things made enormous sense to her, and besides, her mother had encouraged her every step of the way.  “I want you to have the life that I could never have, Kimi-chan,” she intoned, the closest thing her mother ever came to a prayer. She would also say, “The world is so different from when I was young. I had no choices, no options, nothing but the life that was put in front of me.” This was her mother’s mantra, pulled out whenever she got into a fight with her husband or daughter, knowing it would make them feel guilty enough to shut up and back off. 

Kimie had allowed herself to buy into the myth that her mother, comfortably ensconced in their house in a Tokyo suburb purchased with a 30-year mortgage, had been abused and victimized by the Japanese social system. By embracing that myth Kimie took it upon herself–the brilliant girl who had studied in the US, could speak English and got a job in a bank–to be happy and successful. This would compensate for her mother’s apparently miserable and downtrodden existence. 
Kimie had believed she was doing the right thing, only to realize in middle age that she was trapped, a prisoner in the cell of her own bedroom. 

Three

Kimie’s younger brother had always rebelled against their parents and left home at the same time he chose a university in the northern tip of Japan–as far away from Tokyo as he could get without going abroad. Relatives had pitied her brother, he chose a national university with low tuition and turned down their father’s offer of a loan so he could rent an apartment. Instead, Kimie’s brother Youki spent four years in a cramped, filthy college dorm. Occasionally, he called to let his family know he was all right. After graduation, he stopped by to say he had found a job at a mid-sized electronics manufacturer. Youki had none of the privileges Kimie had taken for granted but he gained the kind of strength and freedom she couldn’t even fathom. Now, Kimie found it hard to wrap her mind around the fact that her brother had his own house, a family, even a dog–an elegant Dalmatian named Sabu whom she had seen only once. Youki had left and never came back. She had been the cosseted, dutiful daughter who stayed, and stayed and stayed at home. “At least I have you, Kimi-chan,” her mother liked to say. “As long as you’re still here, I have nothing to complain about, really.” 


Kimie felt as if her insides had dried out and her blood vessels were clogged with sand. Did the woman in the novel die in the end? Kimie couldn’t remember but neither could she recall when she had her last period. 


“Kimi-chan, are you working today?” Her mother, chewing toast, tossed the question in the air and Kimie nodded with a small grunt. There was a Zoom conference at 3PM for which she planned to turn the camera off. Until then she could pretend to do some paperwork, answer some emails, make a few calls. How long would that take? Maybe a couple of hours. Even with the Zoom conference slotted in, there were still ten or more waking hours that had to be whiled away somehow, secluded in her prison cell. Putting her dishes in the sink for her mother to wash, Kimie plodded to the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face. She saw no reason to change out of her pajamas, it wasn’t like she was going anywhere. 

Kimie didn’t like life under the pandemic. At times, the strain of being cooped up inside a small house with her mother felt intolerable. But she hated her pre-Covid life even more, with a ferociousness that had her contemplating suicide at least three nights a week. 

In late 2019 Kimie had an epiphany: instead of dying she would get married! Marriage would at least, enable her to leave her mother and the wretched house. In January, she signed up with a ‘konkatsu (marriage agency),’ dutifully paying the 300,000 yen registration fee and answering each and every match-up question. She understood from the hour-long meeting with the agency’s ‘counselor’ that these days, it was quite common for women in their 40s and 50s to look for partners, but the road to an actual wedding could take longer than expected. The 300,000 yen fee would cover her match-ups for up to one year. “What happens when a year goes by and I’m still single?,” Kimie had asked and the counselor, intimidating with her glowing skin and sleek hair, had chirped that most women found someone within 6 months. “Our advice is: try them out. Most of our clients haven’t dated in awhile and they’re all a bit rusty. We find that when the woman takes the lead, everything tends to fall in place. So don’t say no until you’ve tried them out!” 

After screening a half dozen applicants, Kimie settled on the 56 year old Yamanishi-san, whose portrait photo reminded her a little of her father when he was that age. Yamanishi-san’s texts were charming; he seemed to know how to strike just the right tone between elaborately polite and paternally friendly. They agreed to meet for lunch in a kaiseki restaurant (his choice) in the posh district of Ginza, where he had booked an alcove facing a Japanese garden. “I love gardens in the winter. They’re so calm and soothing,” he texted, and Kimie felt a little thrill of anticipation. It had been a long time since she had been courted, on any level, by a man. Maybe she really was about to get a ticket out of the sand shack–her private nickname for home. 


Exactly 24 hours before the appointed time, she had her roots done at an expensive salon in Aoyama. Two weeks prior to that, she had bought a dress at a department store, along with a fresh pair of panty hose and brown leather pumps. On the day, she scrutinized herself in the mirror and decided she didn’t look a day over thirty-nine. Saying nothing to her mother, Kimie went to the restaurant with as little anxiety as she could manage. If this worked out, she would break the news to her mother gently, and suggest moving to a house in the immediate vicinity so they could visit often. 

Yamanishi-san turned out to be a bit heavier than his photo, and with noticeably less hair but Kimie was willing to overlook these minor flaws. What was much more jarring, was the rift between his digital texts and his real life persona. Yamanishi-san didn’t even look at the garden but kept his gaze firmly on Kimie’s chest, as if he were a chef contemplating the char marks on a grilled steak. “You have a good body for a woman of your age,” he said. “Have you done much sports in school? I like a woman with good muscle tone.” Kimie smiled and said no, not really, she had been too busy studying English.

“Ah, yes! I read that in your resume. You’re not some idiotic female with zero skills, you’ve been out in the world and you can speak English! My mother would like that. She used to be a teacher in her day. She likes women with knowledge and work experience. She can’t stand dumb girls.” 

The conversation went on in this vein and Kimie could hardly bring herself to sample the meal, made up of exquisite morsels of food artistically displayed on polished lacquerware. All she wanted to do now was go home, and slip into bed with her phone. She stopped listening to Yamanishi-san altogether and thought about Spotify. She really should update her playlists. 


Suddenly, in the middle of wresting a thin piece of radish from a tiny portion of soup, Yamanishi-san fixed her with an intense stare and said, “Okay, I seriously have to ask you this question if we are going to take this relationship any further. What color is your that?” 

Kimie could feel her cheeks tingle, and then burn, and could only mimic the last word in his question. “That?” she blurted, like a fool, she thought. Yamanishi-san nodded vigorously and said, “Yes, your that. You know, I can almost tolerate black nipples though I would much prefer them to be a lighter color. But a woman’s, you know, that–should never be dark. If we are to have sex, I don’t think I can perform very well if your that is a dark color.” 

After a full ten seconds of silence in which Kimie sat there, her face turned desperately to the winter garden which struck her as being dull and ugly, Yamanishi san said in a gentler tone, “I’m sorry to have to ask you. But this is…not love, it’s not dating, don’t you see? This is an arrangement preceding marriage. I think that you are a smart, modern woman and maybe we could come to an understanding, the two of us. But neither of us is young, and there’s no time for beating around the bush. I have my priorities and I am being honest about them. Won’t you give me an answer?” 

“I don’t know. I don’t usually look.” With that, Kimie stood up, clutching her handbag, and walked clumsily to the reception area where she asked for her coat. As soon as she was out of the restaurant, she grabbed her phone and blocked Yamanishi-san’s number after deleting all his texts. 

Finis

Kimie’s thoughts often wandered back to that lunch, but the memories were not of Yamanishi-san. Indeed, within hours of that experience he had felt like a figment of her imagination, spawned as the result of the meeting with the chirping counselor and her stupid advice. 

What Kimie recalls is how, as soon as she had gotten home and climbed the staircase to her room, she stripped off her coat and dress and peeled off her pantyhose. She took a mirror from her make-up drawer and held it close to her vagina. For several seconds, she had to struggle to see, but when she got a good enough view, she let out a sigh of relief. Her ‘that’ wasn’t black. In fact, the color could even be described as being on the light side. “If we are to have sex,” she whispered to herself. Then she had put the mirror away, pulled up her panties and got into bed. She could hear her mother calling her name from the kitchen but she shut her eyes tight and willed herself not to hear. The sand was seeping into her room, gathering in mounds all around her bed, lulling her to sleep. She would shovel it out later. 

Note: Ms. Shoji should be credited for coining the word WAM (Western Anglo-Saxon Men) also (White American Men)–a more understandable term for the Charisma-man type of entitled self-important foreigners that once flooded these shores but now mostly live in Hong Kong, Beijing, or Singapore. Also, it should be noted that Ms. Shoji has always been an equal opportunity misanthrope, as evidenced in her book review entitled 21 Reasons Why Japanese Men Suck.

TOTAL RECALL: REMEMBERING JAPAN’S TEMPLE OF SPEED

An iconic photo taken by Joe Honda

In 1967, Japanese photographer Joe Honda became the first Asian to capture the international motorsport scene. 

More than 300,000 35 mm photographs and five decades later, Emiko Jozuka—Honda’s daughter—is reviving his legacy in an exhibition held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan between December 5, 2020, and January 8, 2021. The show will move to Hong Kong in February 2021, in Honda’s first international exhibition in Asia, outside of Japan. 

In partnership with award-winning Tokyo photography atelier Shashin Kosha, this exhibition brings to life memories of motorsport’s golden age through a series of historic and rare photographs from Joe Honda’s rediscovered archive. It offers an intimate glimpse into Japan’s emergence on the global automotive and motorsport scene. 

“The October 1966 international Fuji Speedway race was a landmark event that changed my father’s life, the art of motorsport photography and Japan as a nation. It was the first global race in Asia that defined Honda’s work and paved the way for Japan’s golden age of motoring,” says Emiko Jozuka, director of the Joe Honda Archive.

To the Japanese cognoscenti, the American Indianapolis 500 was a celebrated race, and hosting the first international Indy event in Japan heralded their country’s arrival as an industrial power. One photo in Honda’s series captures British driver Jim Clark flanked by curious Japanese onlookers as he prepares his IndyCar. In another, we see motorsport legend Jackie Stewart racing around the precarious bends of the Fuji Speedway.

Born in 1939, Joe Honda graduated from the Nihon University Department of Fine Arts and trained with famed photographer Yuji Hayata before going freelance. He began his five-decade-long career at the October 1966 Fuji Speedway race, where he crossed paths with British racing stars such as Jim Clark and Graham Hill, who had come to Japan for the first time. In 1967, Honda travelled to Europe to capture the Formula One season, and became the regional representative of the International Racing Press Association (IRPA). 

Over a prolific international career, Honda captured iconic 35 mm film shots of Formula One stars such as Bruce McLaren, Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. He documented Formula 1, 2, 3, NASCAR, Indy races, 24 Hours of Le Mans, Paris-Dakar rallies, motocross and classic car races. His work was also exhibited in major art galleries such as the Nikon and Canon Salons in Tokyo and published extensively in works and publications related to the Formula One and the automotive industry.

“Honda’s archive spans 50 years and travels from the grit and glamour of motor racing’s golden years through its evolution into a technological arms race funded by big business. His photographs represent the developments, people and culture that shaped the motorsport industry. Preserving and showcasing them is crucial as they document a pivotal period in history, showing major shifts in the automotive and photographic industries through one artist’s perspective and evolving practice,” says Jozuka.

www.joehonda.com | https://www.facebook.com/joehondahisworks | https://www.shashinkosha.co.jp/english/about_us.html

Arrangements: Members of the public who wish to see the exhibition can get in touch with Emiko Jozuka, the director of the Joe Honda Archive, who is organizing a limited number of private tours.

For more information, interview or image requests, please contact:

Emiko Jozuka email: emiko.jozuka@gmail.com

Mobile: +85298562017   | WhatsApp: +85298562017  | LINE: emi337

Curator bio and additional comments

Emiko Jozuka, director of the Joe Honda Archive

Emiko Jozuka is a Japan-born multimedia journalist for CNN Digital Worldwide, who grew up in the UK. She has worked for WIRED and VICE Media Group in London and the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and freelanced in Turkey. She holds degrees from the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lettres et Sciences Humaines in Lyon, France. In 2017 Jozuka founded the Joe Honda Initiative to share Honda’s collection with the broadest possible audience, attain support to catalogue and establish a foundation that democratizes access to art, photography and motorsports.

Takuji Yanagisawa, president of Shashin KoshaIn 1990 Takuji Yanagisawa became the second company president of award-winning Tokyo-based photography atelier Shashin Kosha. Since its founding in 1950, Shashin Kosha has merged tradition with innovation to support and showcase the work of Japan’s most outstanding photographers. In 1976, Shashin Kosha became the only photo atelier to win a special award for achievements and contributions to photography from the Japan Photographers’ 

Award-winning indie Japanese film, STAY, showing tonight in Tokyo, prior to Amazon Japan release

TOKYO – November 6, 2020 The award-winning independent motion picture STAY by filmmaker Darryl Wharton-Rigby will screen at the Legacy Foundation Japan’s Legacy Lounge on Sunday, November 8 at 6pm prior to its November 17 release on Amazon Japan.

“I am excited to that STAY will finally be seen by audiences in Japan,” said Wharton-Rigby. “When I started filmmaking, I never imagined I would make a film in Japan. From Baltimore to Tokyo – What an incredible journey.”

STAY “a touching romance” follows the story of a couple who fall passionately in love over a weekend; Ryuu, a Japanese man who is a recovering addict, and Hope, an American enjoying her last days in Japan. The film features emerging Japanese star, Shogen and introduces British model/actress, Ana Tanaka. 

Lensed by photographer Jeremy Goldberg and a score by Himaness, STAY, Wharton-Rigby’s second feature film, was shot on the Tokyo streets in 15 days, guerrilla style, a technique the filmmaker has used throughout his career. 

“We have believed in this film and are excited to come home to Japan,” says Executive Producer, Christopher Rathbone. “Given the global festival acceptance and the awards won, STAY has been a real crowd pleaser. Audiences really like this film.”

“Shooting STAY in Tokyo on the BlackMagic Pocket Camera made us virtually invisible and allowed us to capture the city up close and personal. We shot on train platforms and trains, Tsukiji Fish Market, ramen shops… Everywhere,” explains Writer/Director Darryl Wharton-Rigby. Every day was something new and challenging. We were constantly on edge. I really wanted STAY to show Tokyo in a real and natural way.”

The Legacy Foundation Japan Legacy Lounge is located on the 9thfloor of 2-chōme-8 Azabujūban, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0045, which is above Soul Food House..

NEWSFLASH: Japan calls the US Election by issuing “President Biden Burger”

IT’S OFFICIAL! A Japanese diner, TSUNAMI NAVY BURGER, located near the US military base in Yokosuka, calls the election for Biden w/ release of the Biden Burger: 600 grams, full of Philadelphia Cream Cheese (thanks Pennsylvania) and ¥1980 ($18). The diner might retire its predecessor, the fatty, artery clogging Trump Burger–but the jury is still out.

This gourmet delight was modeled on the Philadelphia Cheese steak sandwich. It contains a generous thick patty of beef, onions, peppers, paprika, sautéed mushrooms, lots of Philadelphia cream cheese–in a nod to Biden’s home state, Pennsylvania, which may have ensured his victory, and sprinkled with potato chips for a salty accent and a better mouth feel. It’s the taste of victory.

The Trump Burger which has been served since 2016, is a heart-clogging blend of peanut butter, soft-boiled egg, two bacon strips, Sloppy Joe sauce (ahem), cheddar cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato with a tiny USA flag on top (probably made in China).

The deadly Trump Burger. It may taste good going down but the heartburn lasts four years.

Head down to TSUNAMI NAVY BURGER to celebrate if you’re a Democrat or to cheer yourself up if you’re a Trumper. Bon Appetit!

Face savouring food
The Election of the 46th US President Commemorative Biden Burger. The secret to its deliciousness are the old-fashioned potato chips, solid beef, and liberal amounts of Philadelphia Cream Cheese and brotherly love.

Take A Riverboat Cruise To Snarky Japan–You’ll laugh, learn, possibly get seasick. It’s the podcast you shouldn’t miss…or the boat you shouldn’t miss. Maybe both.

The Japan By River Cruise podcast will take you on a wonderful snarky journey through current Japanese events and the culture. Laugh and also grow wiser.

Japan By River Cruise presented by comedians Ollie Horn and Bobby Judo, is a weekly podcast about the surprisingly fascinating, tumultuous, and often cutthroat world of the modern river cruise industry in Japan, as well as its 1200-year history–and current events.  Each week, the show invites guests with particular insight into Japanese culture, politics, or history to talk about all of the latest developments in the Japanese news, but also river cruises*.

(Editor’s note: As of November 2nd, 2020, almost all river cruises are currently suspended due to the outbreaks of COVID19 that took place on yagatabune (屋形船) which were considered hotbeds of infection, until the foreigners were blamed, and then even after Governor Yuriko Koike tried to blame all infections on ‘the night village’ aka people working in the adult entertainment industry–host clubs, massage parlors, hostess bars–these boats still got a bad rep. River cruises are expected to pick up again when Japan finds a way to test as few people for the virus as possible while raising the capacity of people they could test, if they actually wanted to test them).


Past episodes have delved into the Suga and Abe administrations with investigative journalist Jake Adelstein and former LDP aide (and alleged sycophant–just kidding, he’s not) Derek Wessman. We looked into the behind the scenes of being a pop-idol in Japan with former-idol Amina Dujean, talked about the Japanese reception of BLM with author and activist Baye McNeil, and also discussed river cruises.


Whether it’s business culture with consultants like Rochelle Kopp, Japan-based travel influencing with YouTuber Currently Hannah, language learning with Japanese teachers like Akiko Kitamura, or river cruises with all of the guests, the show explores topics that Japan residents, tourists, and admirers alike can enjoy. It’s all done in a light, comical format that will make you laugh, and also might get you a ten percent discount on your next Japanese river cruise. Plus, many of the speakers are eloquent and would never write a run-on sentence.


New episodes stream every Friday and the show is available on all major podcast platforms, including Spotify, iTunes, and Google Podcasts.
Upcoming shows will discuss the “invention of the Samurai Way,” developments in Japanese cuisine, Japan’s struggles with Western-style diversity and inclusion training, and….boats. 
You can listen to a short collection of the highlights of previous episodes here: https://jbrc.link/trailer

And find new episodes every week at Japanbyrivercruise.com

The (Homoerotic) World of Tom of Finland: Reality and Fantasy opens September 18th. First time Tom shows in Japan!

Tom of Finland (1920-1991) was a pioneer in LGBQT and homoerotic art, blazing a trial in Finland and his works have been shown all over the world. From today September 18th, his work will be exhibited for the first time in Japan (ever) at Parco Shibuya. In a country where alternative sexuality is still barely recognized and some politicians spew homophobic bile, it’s a small accomplishment that the show is being held.

The exhibition will only last until October 5th.

The show has taken nearly years to put together, was delayed by COVID19, and ran into numerous obstacles along the way; thanks to the collective efforts of all involved, including the Embassy of Finland, the show is finally taking place. The whole story behind the curtains is told eloquently in this piece by Justin McCurry in The Guardian

I almost gave up’: Tom of Finland exhibition to finally open in Japan

Be sure to try the Tom of Finland vodka. The hard stuff.

The exhibition will show that his work was a catalyst for social change and acceptance of homosexuality while celebrating sensuality and the beauty of the male body. The curator of the exhibit and director of The Container, Mr. Shai Ohayon points out that Japan is still very much behind in the recognition of gay and LGBQT rights.

(From the press release) “Historically, the images highlight milestones and artistic stylistic developments in Tom’s life and practice—starting with his 1940s and ‘50s paintings in gouache, of men in stylish attire and uniforms, such as sailors, soldiers and policemen, in fantastic and romantic compositions, influenced by his army service in Finland—to his stylized depictions of leathermen and muscle men in the ’60s and ’70s”

The exhibit is being sponsored by: The Finnish Institute in Japan. Finnish Institute in Japan. The Container (art gallery) and PARCO.

The exhibition was designed to coincide with Tom’s 100th birthday anniversary and features a selection of 30 historical works, ranging from 1946 to 1989. They span the artist’s entire professional career, and highlight both his artistic versatility and present his identity as an LGBTQ legend who paved the way for LGBTQ rights worldwide and helped to shape gay culture.

2020/09/18~2020/10/05 Reality & Fantasy: The World of Tom of Finland at GALLERY X (B1F, Shibuya PARCO) https://art.parco.jp/

Open hours 11:00-21:00 *Last entry time 30mins before close *Close at 18:00 in 10/05 Admission is 500 yen.

*Pre-school child not allowed in

A documentary on the importance of Tom of Finland and the meaning of his art will also be shown at at two different theaters during the exhibition. “Award-winning filmmaker Dome Karukoski brings to screen the life and work of one of the most influential and celebrated figures of twentieth century gay culture: Touko Laaksonen, a decorated officer, returns home after a harrowing and heroic experience serving his country in World War II, but life in Finland during peacetime proves equally distressing. He finds postwar Helsinki rampant with homophobic persecution, and men around him even being pressured to marry women and have children. Touko finds refuge in his liberating art, specialising in homoerotic drawings of muscular men, free of inhabitations. His work – made famous by his signature ‘Tom of Finland’ – became the emblem of a generation of men and fanned the flames of a gay revolution.

Movie Screenings:

Tom of Finland (2017), directed by Dome Karukoski

from 2020/09/18~2020/09/24

White Cine Quinto

(8F, Shibuya PARCO)

https://www.cinequinto.com/white/

From 2020/09/25~2020/10/08

Shibuya Uplink

安倍総理の”辞任劇”の真相。勇退ではなく訴追からの逃亡

この記事は米最大級のニュースサイト「The Daily Beast」(ディリー・ビースト) に8月28日掲載。日本語版に当たり有志の協力に感謝。なお原文の直訳ではないのでご了解下さい。

日本国首相・安倍晋三総理は8月28日、辞任を発表しました。健康上の理由とされるが、もう一つ、理由がある。劣悪で不健全な環境の刑務所暮らしを思って怖気づいているのだ。

記者会見で安倍総理は辞任の理由として潰瘍性大腸炎の辛い病状に言及したが、支持率が急落し、自らの関わる刑事事件の捜査が進む中での辞任である。それ以外の事件の再捜査を求める世論も高まっている。

安倍総理は辞任したのではなく、逃亡したのだ。

安倍総理は、公職選挙法違反で検察の捜査下にある。そして同様の公職選挙法違反で、安倍総理が自ら抜擢した前法務大臣(河合克行被告)は目下、東京地裁において公判中である。この公判では、安倍総理がこの事件にも関与していたことを示す証言も出るかもしれない。

辞任に追い込まれるまで刑事捜査の手から自分を守ろうとする安倍総理の骨折りは水泡に帰した。

ある自民党の重鎮が匿名を条件にデイリー・ビーストに語った。「安倍総理が検察庁に自分の選んだ検事(黒川弘務元検事)を送り込めていれば、今も権力にしがみついていただろう。安倍総理が警察庁の次期長官に選んだ中村格(元警視庁刑事部長)は今月になって候補を外されたから、安倍総理は検察にも警察にも検挙される可能性があると恐れている。辞任することで疑惑の目から逃れることができる」中村氏は安倍総理と親しいの伝記作家による強姦事件の捜査を打ち切らせた警察庁の高官である。

法務省の情報筋がデイリー・ビーストに語った。「手打ちがあった模様だ。安倍総理は『社会的制裁』に甘んじて辞任し、数々の刑事事件に関与する安倍総理への取調べは終わる」元特捜検事の郷原信郎氏は「安倍総理の関与が争点となるであろう刑事事件の公判が始まったその週に辞任するのは偶然とは思えない」と言う。

The Tweet of Defeat  (政権打倒のツイート)

同情を買うように辞任することで、「安倍晋三物語」は美談として語られるが、一冊の本でも読めばいかに腐敗した政権が一目瞭然です。

今年に入り、世論調査で安倍政権の支持率は27パーセントまで下がった。これからしばらく日本国内の報道では、なぜ安倍総理の権力掌握と世論の支持が衰えたのか様々に論じられるだろう。今年は確かに失態続きだった。安倍総理は五輪開催の願望に取り憑かれ、東京が安全だと見せるために新型コロナウイルスの脅威を無視した。各家庭に2枚のマスクを配るという政策は、マスクが足りないときに計画されたが、高くついた失敗に終わった。マスクは小さすぎて汚れており、配られるのも遅かった。このマスクは日本語でアベノミクスのように聞こえる「アベノマスク 」として嘲笑された。アベノミクスとは金融緩和と財政再建という想像上の「矢」から成る安倍総理肝煎の財政政策であったが、再建は成らず政策は完全な失敗だった。

安倍総理は日本の「検査しなければわからない」というコロナ対策が素晴らしく上手くいったと主張したが、その後この対策は失敗し、感染率は再び急増した。これはGo To Travelという間違った英語名の旅行促進キャンペーンの実施を安倍総理が頑なに推進したことで拍車がかかった。このキャンペーンは結局、感染流行が再燃して多くの人がGo To Quarantine (検疫へ)という意味になってしまった。

安倍総理の人気を損なったのはコロナウイルス感染症流行への対応の失敗ではなく、感染症流行の最中に自分の権力を固めようと試みたことだった。ツイッターでは数ヶ月前に#さよなら安倍総理 というハッシュタグがトレンド入りした。

安倍総理時代の終わりの始まりは5月のとあるツイッター投稿だった。日本の主要メディアをコントロールすることにあれほどの労力を費やした首相がソーシャルメディアによって引き摺り下ろされたのは皮肉なことだ。

5月9日の夜、35歳の会社員の女性のツイートが世論の異議申し立てに火をつけた。普段は政治に関わらない日本のセレブや元検事らによってツイートの嵐は激化し、自民党員さえも異議を表明した。

ツイートの内容は些か単調なものだった。しかしその「検察庁法改正案に抗議します」というハッシュタグで、5月14日までに800万ものツイートが投稿された。

ここに至る伏線はこうだ。

アベノミクスは失敗に終わり、大手企業が儲かり、庶民への「ドリップ」は無かった。

安倍総理は徐々に政府機関や公共放送のNHK、そして報道機関に統制を加えるようになった。2014年には内閣人事局を設置し、何百人ものトップ官僚の任命に内閣が権限を持つようになった。野心的な政府職員は注意深くなり、以来、安倍総理の機嫌を損ねず気に入られるように努めてきた。安倍総理は直接自分が頼まなくても公務員が醜聞をもみ消すよう奨励した。またメディアに飲み食いの接待をして機嫌をとり、気に入らないことがあると容赦無く締めつけてきた。日本の報道の自由ランキングは安倍総理が首相になった当時は世界22位だったが、現在では66位だ。

コロナウイルス流行が始まった頃、安倍総理と自民党は非常時に内閣が絶対的権力を掌握できるような憲法改正に向けて画策した。その動きは失敗し、保守系雑誌の『プレジデント』でさえこれを火事場泥棒のようなあざとさと書いた。この夏、安倍総理が検察庁を支配下に置こうとしたのは、やりすぎもいいとこだったのだろう。

Fatally Wounded  瀕死の重症

検察官らに対する動きは1月31日、安倍総理内閣が日本で検事総長に次ぐ検察ナンバー2である黒川弘務検事長の定年延長を決定したときに始まった。黒川は安倍総理および菅義偉内閣官房長官に非常に近いと言われていた。報道は黒川を「安倍総理政権の守護神」と呼んだ。

検察官の大多数は法によって63歳で退官するよう求められているが、黒川は留任を許された。安倍総理はこれについて、定年延長を可能とするよう法律の解釈変更を行ったので問題なしと説明した。野党や法学者に加え、世論もこれには猛反発した。

行政は一歩も引かなかったが、後になって検察庁法の改正案を提出した。これが黒川を留任させ、検事総長を交代させるための道を開くことを後付けで正当化する措置とみなされた。

松尾邦弘元検事総長ら検察OBは法務省に対し、意見書を提出し、その中で、今回の法改正は安倍総理政権が検察を政権の意のままに動く組織に改変させようとする動きであると明確に表明した。意見書は「法が終わるところ、暴政が始まる」というジョン・ロックの言葉を引用していた。

安倍総理はこの法改正案を国会で擁護し、「内閣によって恣意的な人事が行われるという懸念はあたらない」と述べたが、世論調査ではわずか16パーセントの人しかその言葉を信じなかった。

例によって安倍総理は、これまでの評判の悪い法制定の時と同じように法案を強行採決するつもりだった。

5月18日には、安倍総理内閣の支持率は34パーセントにまで急落した。同じ日に自民党はこの法案審議を延期することに同意した。

その夜、600人を超える弁護士らが、桜を見る会のパーティー開催に公的資金を不正使用したとして、安倍総理に対する告発状を東京地検に提出した。

安倍総理の拙い判断には不運が続いた。週刊文春が黒川が記者と明らかに違法である賭け麻雀を常習していたことを報じた。黒川は訓告を受け、辞表を提出して辞職を認められた。

8年近く政権が続き、安倍総理は思い上がり、昨年には国会で「私が国家ですよ」と宣言した。安倍総理は長い間勝ち続けているが、運が永遠に続く人はいない。検事らを堕落させようとするこの法改正の企ては、戦争映画の大作のタイトル『遠すぎた橋』をもじると「遠すぎた法案」ということだろう。この法案は後に丸ごと廃案となった。

Already on Trial?  すでに公判中?

安倍総理が直面する問題は現在行われている「桜を見る会疑惑」の捜査だけではない。

親しい友人であり支持者でもある人物の注目の公判に、安倍総理は引きずり込まれている。この6月、衆議院議員の河井克行被告(57)と妻で参議院議員の河井案里被告(46)は広島県で数百万円の現金を政治家や支持者に手渡した疑いで起訴された。これは2019年7月の参院選において票の取りまとめをした見返りであったとされている。安倍総理は2019年9月に河井克行被告を法務大臣に指名した。克行氏は10月31日に辞職した。

2人の公判は今週始まった。

自民党本部は河井案里の選挙運動資金として1億5千万円を提供しており、その一部は地元の政治家らが票の取りまとめをするよう買収するのに使われたのだろう。もし安倍総理自身が自民党総裁として巨額の資金提供を承認したのであれば、安倍総理は世間の注目を浴びるだろう。

元東京地検特捜部検事の郷原信郎氏はデイリー・ビースト紙に次のように語った。「河井夫妻の公判では安倍総理の関与が示されることは、検察側の冒頭陳述から明らかだ。安倍総理自身が抜擢した前法務大臣が他の政治家の買収に深く関わるというのは常軌を逸している。もし安倍総理が刑事責任を回避できるとしても、この件に関して道義的責任を負う。」

郷原は、安倍総理が首相の職に留まることができないのは、この公判に巻き込まれるのかどうか、巻き込まれるとしたらそれはいつなのか、分からないことのストレスも一因であると見ている。

安倍総理の足元では3番目の火種、すなわち森友学園問題もくすぶっている。2017年、9億5600万円相当と評価された国有地が右翼の学校経営者に1億3400万円で売却されたことが明らかになった。この取引には安倍総理首相と妻昭恵からの催促があったとされる。そもそもその学校は安倍総理晋三記念小学校と命名されることになっていた。

このスキャンダルが明るみに出たとき、財務省官僚は安倍総理関与を隠すために文書の改竄を行った。国家公務員の赤木俊夫氏は言いなりになることを拒絶して2018年3月に自ら命を絶って抗議した。赤木氏は告発文を残し、それを今年になって妻が公開した。日本の世論の70パーセント以上が森友加計問題の再調査を求めている。

He didn’t learn  安倍総理は学ばない

安倍総理はこの夏、記者会見や国会審議の一切を避けて事実上1ヶ月に渡って姿を消していた。そして今、安倍総理は自分を取り巻くスキャンダルについて論じることを容易に避けることができる。安倍総理は今週、汚職事件への自らの関与について質問が出ないように時期を見計って公然と病院を訪れた。安倍総理が河井夫妻の公判開始の前日である8月24日に慶應大学病院を訪れたことで、世間の注目は事件への安倍総理の関与から安倍総理が首相を続けられるかに移った。

安倍総理の大逃亡はカルロス・ゴーン前日産会長の高飛びほど劇的ではないが、勇敢な大奮闘だ。

安倍総理は日本の憲政史上最長在任の首相となったが、これほどの長期政権でこんなにも成果がないのは前代未聞である。もし安倍総理がなんらかのレガシーを残したとしたら、それは数々の評判の悪い法案を成立させ、それが今や地雷のように存在していて、いつの日か日本のはかない民主主義を吹き飛ばしかねないということだ。その中にはSF映画の『マイノリティ・リポート』から抜け出してきたかのような共謀罪法、報道と内部告発者を弾圧して黙らせるための、ジョージ・オーウェルの世界を思わせる秘密保護法、そして表向きは平和主義的な日本が戦争を遂行できるようにする安保関連法がある。

現安倍政権は2006年から2007年の惨憺たる第一次安倍政権に続く2度目の任期だった。安倍総理が返り咲くことができたのは、右翼の神道カルトである日本会議の支持によるもので、日本会議は安倍総理以後も末長く国会においても強力な威力を発揮し続けるだろう

歴史を忘れるものはそれを繰り返す羽目になる、と言われる。おそらく安倍総理の愚劣さの根源には、本人が有名な歴史修正主義者であり戦争犯罪者の孫であること、そして第二次世界大戦時に日本が行った残虐行為を決して認めることができないでいることが挙げられる。安倍総理が指名した政治家や仲間の多くがヒトラーを称賛していた。安倍総理は躍起になって過去を否定しようとしてきたあまり、自分自身の歴史からすら学ぶことができないようだ。だから安倍総理の人生は失敗の繰り返しにしかすぎないなのだ。

安倍総理は2007年に辞めた時とほぼ同じやり方で官邸を去る。自分の取り巻きがらみのスキャンダルに足をとられて政権運営が覚束なくなり、人気もなく、無能で的外れだとみなされて去るのだ。

惜しまれることもなく。

「晋ちゃん珈琲」は報道の自由・男女平等・人権・平等な社会などを大切にする人は毒。裕福な人及び晋ちゃんの友達に絶品。「美味しいコーヒー」は否めないが、日本社会の庶民なら後味が悪い

THE BADGER AND THE STARS (a poem)

by Shoko Plambeck
The day my birth records were sent to a Shinto shrine
my father skinned a badger and hung its coat above my crib.
The tale of my birth supposedly unfolds like this:
The day I was born the stars were restless
and the earth was tossing a blizzard thick as cream
through the Nebraskan plains.
My father was on his way to work in his red Chevy
when he came across a dash of brown,
obscured by the snow like a fainting spell.
He shot it, thinking it was a soft furred marten,
but what he killed instead was a badger.
The badger of the plains. Symbol of earth, grounding
and consistency; finding her in such weather conditions
was like the moon waxing when it should wane.


Still, he put the creature in the back of his truck.
When he got to work, there was a call from my mother:
It’s two months early, but I’m going into labour.
My grandparents got the same call and flew in from Japan.
When my obaachan first saw me she announced,
This girl will be named Shoko, spirit in flight,
and years later when I moved from place to place,
hobby to hobby, man to man,
she’d lament naming me so irresponsibly.
In a shoebox, I went home.


The badger skin was nailed above my crib
and my birth records were sent to the monk at the family
Shinto shrine. The results came weeks later. My mother read
as I drank eagerly from her; she herself was a dark star
but at twenty-four she could not even imagine
what that would mean. Only years later
would she say that the badger had to be a mother
and the unimaginable must have happened
to make her split into the fatal snow.


My mother read: The child will need to seek grounding.
In the moment she was born the stars were restless
and they will reverberate through her blood forever.
Before she could read any further,
my grandmother snatched the fortune out of her hand
and read: bright as Sirius, inconstant as Mercury.

******

This poem was originally posted in Matador Review but was reposted with permission of the author.

Shoko Plambeck is a writer, traveler, and poet. She studied English literature at Temple University in Tokyo and the  University of Vermont. She currently lives in Japan but can’t wait to move back to the US to be with her cockatiel and poetry books again. 

‘White Day’: a new poem from ume’SHHU

It’s been several months since we announced the publication of the Japanese angsty poetry collection, Molasses and Shochu, but we wanted to share this new addition by Phoebe Amoroso also know as ume’SHHU.

For those of you who are not familiar with long-standing Japanese tradition, Valentine’s Day here is celebrated by women giving chocolate to men, sometimes out of obligation aka 義理チョコ (giri-choco), and sometimes, containing trace amounts of menstrual blood. On March 14th, men reciprocate by giving white chocolate to the women they fancy or who bestowed chocolate upon them.

Although, as you will see, the complexity of this poem, written by Ms. Amoroso, briefly touches upon these cultural traditions. They are important confectionary artifacts that have existed many decades after being created by Japan’s male-dominated cocoa industry and society at large. Please see the annotated version in the hardback edition of the book to deepen your understanding.

This chocolate isn’t black
Nor as large as I had hoped.
Every March 14th
Is my Friday 13th.
I have no lover 
To sweeten the occasion. 
Ever hoping for a Melty Kiss
But forever doomed 
To Crunky Balls from the conbini–
I had, after all, merely been convenient.
There is no sugar coating that fact. 

Even though, Japan
Has resigned me to smaller portions
I was not expecting this starvation.
I stared at the wrapper on my desk
And wondered how obligation could be so bitter.
Unwrapping the white KitKat
I held every total loss,
My palm sticky.

White chocolate should not exist.

Sadogashima in a time of COVID19

From Island to Island: Sadogashima in a time of Covid19

by Louise Claire Wagner

Anything and other than expected. A journey to some parts of Sadogashima

*This articles is reposted with permission from https://www.louiseclairewagner.com

When years ago, I first took notice of Sadogashima’s existence, I was instantly intrigued by the idea to visit there one day on my own. Though, I could not really tell why. For sure, pictures of the landscapes and the curiosity to discover the local culture played a part, howbeit Japan counts numerous astonishing places, and ultimately, I have to admit that it was above all the idea to break away which allured me as much. Indeed, I associated physical and mental distance with Sadogashima; disconnection, not with Japan, but somehow with the world. Before undertaking my journey, I had only briefly read some background information and not made any particular travel plan, as I wished to leave freedom to my own perceptions. However, and despite the aim to head out without any expectations, I quickly got confronted with fact that I had unconsciously and unwillingly pictured this place as well as my stay. 

Seemingly small, Sadogashima, located off Niigata, is the largest island in the Sea of Japan. Its area is approximately 855 square kilometres and its coastline stretches around 280 kilometres. The population was at about 56,000 in the end of March 2018. Although I knew about this, I still couldn’t get rid of the idea that Sadogashima had to be compact and it was only through several walking and bicycle tours, and the distances together with the (hilly) relief put my physical capacities to the proof, that I finally started to agnise the island’s vastness. 

Excavations from ruins indicate that Sadogashima has been inhabited for about 10,000 years. It was one of Japan’s independent provinces in the Nara Period, and early designated an island of exile. Beginning in AD 722 with Hozumi Asomioyu, further exiles included figures such as the former Emperor Juntoku in 1221, the Buddhist monk Nichiren in 1271, and Zeami Motokiyo in 1434, a Noh actor and writer, all of whom expressed critical opinions about the respective then-ruler. Today, many people ascribe the miscellaneous population and the cultural richness of the island to the prior exiles. Sadogashima is also known for its gold production, and back in the days, it was notably the shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu who promoted the development of gold and silver mines by placing them under the direct control of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The prosperity attracted diverse workers and resulted in a rapid rise of the island’s population, which reached a peak of 125,597 in 1950. The mines were operated from 1601 until 1974 and definitely closed in 1989. With a remarkably rich, diverse and well-preserved environment, Sadogashima was the last natural habitat of the internationally protected wild Japanese Crested Ibis (Toki) which became endangered and went extinct in 2003.

Sadogashima (2019 ©jakeadelstein)

However, artificial insemination started in 1999 and after 2000, baby birds were raised with increasing success and released back into nature.

Today, the main industries on the island are agriculture and fishing, and although for me everywhere on the archipelago fish and seafood has so far been delicious, the incredible freshness and quality of Sadogashima’s catch (combined with a glass of local sake) was so tasty that I had to enjoy it for every single dinner.

A cup of sake at a shrine 2019 ©jakeadelstein

When some weeks ago, I boarded the ferry that brings one within two and a half hours from Niigata Terminal to Sadogashima Ryōtsu Port, I immediately was captivated by the particular atmosphere and intrigued by some other passengers. There were few people; a group carrying music instruments, some families, a young couple with camping equipment; a couple with numerous stuffed manga characters (that got carefully installed along one of the ferry’s windows), as well as several dispatched individuals whose actions did occur rather incomprehensible to me… But this was only the beginning of my reflection upon the island’s curious population.

©louiseclairewagner ”Upon The Sea of Japan 2″

The accommodation I stayed at disposed a very small number of rooms, some shared facilities including a charming and neat salon and kitchen, and (just as I had pictured !) a large terrace with ocean view. There I was, the sea in front of my eyes, fairly disconnected, and incredibly happy. 

At my arrival, most of the other rooms were occupied by a Japanese three-generation family who enjoyed dinner at the first floor-situated gourmet restaurant. Besides some words and friendly gestures, we did not further communicate though. 

The following day, after returning from a long trip to the very south of the island, I met two young women who had planned to eat downstairs the accommodation and stay overnight. When they told me that they both lived on Sadogashima, and one of them only few minutes away from the accommodation, I was rather surprised and wondered why they would book a room although they could practically walk home. Anyway, I didn’t want to be unpolite or intrusive and therefore just imagined possible reasons. As they proposed, I joined them later for some delicious fish, seafood and sake at a nearby izakaya. We shared very pleasant moments, and I ended up being kindly invited to have lunch with them the next day. 

No sooner said than done, we were headed to a local restaurant. When in the end of the lunch, one of the staff pulled down her mask, smiled, and asked me if I remembered her. I was rather perplexed : it was the middle-generation mother who stayed at the same accommodation as me two nights before. The girls explained that her family owned the restaurant we had eaten lunch at and that she lived nearby. 

The same evening, I crossed paths with three older women, who were calmly sharing some citrus fruits in the common living room. Although already tired, I could not decline their invitation to join them for a little talk. When they told me that they just finished dinner at the restaurant downstairs, that they would stay for a night at the accommodation, yet that they all lived on the island, I started to really wonder about Sadogashima’s curious inhabitants, their tendency to eat out during the week and their way to treat themselves by combining gastronomic pleasure with an overnight stay. 

“On The Edge” ©louiseclairewagner

The last day before heading back to Tōkyō, I had a pleasant conversation with the proprietor of the accommodation, who generously gave me a voucher for a future stay. When I told him about my amazing yet peculiar experience with all the locals, he mentioned that this may not happen a next time and finally unveiled the secret: because of COVID-19, Sadogashima had launched a campaign for its inhabitants, in order to stimulate the tourist industry and local economy. 

As mysterious it seemed, as simple it was. I had to smile. About the situation and about myself. About how we imagine things if we don’t know and don’t ask. About the curiosity of life, and the beauty of the unpredictable… Had I maybe imagined myself alone on a deserted island or amidst some stranded tourists, but hardly surrounded by these nice new acquaintances. 

I would be lying if I said that it was love at first sight, and Sadogashima probably counts amongst the places which require not only time but also an open mindset in order to be enjoyed. Nevertheless, its particular atmosphere, the pureness of nature and honesty of people caught me, and it was with a nostalgic feeling that I left the island behind. When on the way back I found myself all alone on the large deck of the ferry towards Niigata, I had surprising sensations, feelings of energy and enthusiasm, and finally understood why I had been intrigued by Sadogashima for so long. Very differently than expected, it seemed that I precisely found what I had hoped for.

Addendum

Certainly, there are many more aspects of the island that I could and should discover, but this shall remain for the future. Now I know some locals I sincerely wish to meet one day again, and not to forget, I still have my voucher.

For the original artwork and more musings on Japan, life and art please go visit LCW: Louise Claire Wagner

Born and raised in Basel, Switzerland, Louise Claire Wagner is based in Tōkyō, Japan and is an award winning photographer.