In Japan, the convenience store “baito” or part time job, is a rite of passage. Teenagers work at their neighborhood ‘conbini’ after school as a way of padding their allowances and college students work graveyard shifts to pay for living expenses. I did it, my friends did it. Most every Japanese person I know has worked at a conbini at one point or another. And in 2016, Sayaka Murata won the prestigious Akutagawa Literary Award with her autobiographical novel “Conbini Ningen,” in which the protagonist woman is addicted to her conbini job, to the point that she can’t think about anything else.
“I know it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m hyper sensitive but honestly, I feel that women shouldn’t have to deal with porn, especially in a convenience store. It’s sexual harassment.”
In case you think conbini work is boring and easy, let me tell you right now that the job calls for brains, guts and ace reflexes. For women, it’s often a test of mental endurance as well. A woman I know, in her late 30s, has been working the 9 to 7 shift at her local Family Mart for the past 5 years. She says the job is fine, except for one thing: she hates handling the porn magazines that comprise a “not insignificant chunk” of the store’s revenue. “I hate touching those things,” said this woman who has been diagnosed as an HSP. “I know it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m hyper sensitive but honestly, I feel that women shouldn’t have to deal with porn, especially in a convenience store. It’s sexual harassment.” Twenty-seven year old Reina, who quit an office job to work at a Seven Eleven run by her mother, says she feels “slightly sick” every time she has to ring up a porn mag for a male customer. “I’ve been at the job 3 years and I still can’t get used to it,” says Reina. “I don’t lose my cool or anything but I get really uncomfortable. I don’t talk to my mother about it but I call tell she knows how I feel.”
But Reina and thousands of conbini workers like her are about to get a break. In deference to the Tokyo Olympics and the expected soar in foreign tourists including families and minors, major convenience stores Seven Eleven and Lawson have announced the decision to abolish all porn magazines from their outlets by August 31st. The third member of the conbini triumvirate Family Mart, has announced that the company has “no intentions of following suit.” Bad news for my HSP friend (who wants to remain anonymous). At her place of work, the porn stays.
Reina says that the announcement gave her much “relief,” though there are some months to go before she’s free from the unpleasantness of handling porn for work. “That stuff is always about rape,” she says. “The covers show women being tied up and the headlines are violent. Frankly, they’re scary.”
In Japan, the public display of porn – rape or otherwise – has long been a sore point. In 2004, then Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara issued a law that required convenience store porn magazines to be partially bound in cellophane, to prevent casual riffing. “If anyone wants to look at those things, they’re going to have to show some courage, go up to the register and pay for them, right in front of everyone else.” This was a statement Ishihara apparently made to an aide, and later picked up by Japan’s sports tabloids, infamous for their own abundant porn content.
For some weeks afterwards, “show some courage” was a popular, mirth-filled punch line among Japanese men. Whether Ishihara really said those words isn’t the point – the move was classic ex-Governor. Always a gung-ho macho, one of Ishihara’s pet laments was the “pathetic-ness” of the slinky, under-confident Japanese male. He didn’t need to trot out the Olympics to turn the screws on their source of fun.
Unfortunately, his cellophane law simply gave rise to another problem: “harmless porn.” Instead of riffing through X-rated content, men turned to “gurabia,” magazines that featured bikini-ed young women on the covers in provocative poses and more of the same inside the pages. Since the women weren’t nude, the magazines couldn’t be described as hard porn. And the blurbs were all about how “beautiful” or “cute” the girls were so how could it be offensive, right? (Though their cup sizes were loudly touted along with their prettiness) Emboldened by this new wave of accessible and ‘kawaii’ porn, salarimen took to visiting the conbini on their lunch hours and picking up the magazines along with their bento and canned coffees. The early naughts were also about “tosatsu,” or shooting voyeuristic pictures of random young women on the streets, or catching them unawares through open windows. And these photos often found their way into – you guessed it, “harmless porn” magazines, stacked on conbini shelves.
Now, 15 years later, porn magazines (whether hard or harmless) comprise a dismally shrinking market. In the late 1990s, the conbini magazine market sold to the tune of 500 billion yen a year and the adult genre made up nearly 50% of that revenue. Retail analyst Hiroaki Watanabe says that those heydays are long over, and the market has been reduced by almost 70%. “These days, the main clientele of adult-only magazines are seniors, who don’t have smartphones or Internet access,” he says. Indeed, the aforementioned Reina says that porn mag buyers are nearly always “older men, who never make eye contact and have an air of shame.”
Indeed, the aforementioned Reina says that porn mag buyers are nearly always “older men, who never make eye contact and have an air of shame.”
At this point, Mini Stop is the only major convenience store that has completely cleared theirs shelves of adult mags. This is understandable, as Mini Stop is owned by retail conglomerate AEON known for a squeaky clean, family-oriented image. As for the conbini triumvirate, about one-third of their outlets don’t carry adult magazines, according to the companies’ PR.
The PR for Family Mart stated that ultimately, the company leaves the choice to stock porn up to the individual outlet owners. “Some of our outlets don’t carry magazines at all, regardless of content,” said the PR spokesman. “Anyway, we’re heading toward an era where customers can purchase and download magazine content right at the cash register. Paper magazines will be obsolete.”
Ex-Gov Ishihara probably didn’t see that coming. If a tap on a smartphone is all it takes to buy porn at the local conbini, what’s going to happen to male courage?
Journey beyond Roppongi (old), Shibuya (teenyboppers) to XEX Nihonbashi this Sunday starting at 6:30 for dance, music, entertainment and booze. It’s DME NIGHT
3 hours of music, dance, DJs and drinks. Also featuring special guests, The Dream Team, with a singer alleged to be the second-coming of Whitney Houston. Features live performances by Jai, Zenon, Miku, and a dance showcase (starting at 8pm) featuring our favorite cosplayer/peformer Fenix (“Storm) and others.
There’s speculation that The Dream Team might include Tokyo’s favorite siren, Zoe. But you’ll have to go to know.
The argument that “It’s worse in XXX (China,North Korea, US) so it’s okay to have XXX (sexism/racism/fascism/wage slavery/death by overwork) in Japan” is silly. It’s like the accused in a murder trail arguing, “I should be declared innocent because I only killed one person in the robbery but my partner killed three.” Some things are never okay. Whataboutism is the last resort of the intellectually dishonest weasel. (Sorry kids).
I don’t think that the work we do is shouting to the wind. Every effort matters. Sometimes sarcasm is an effective tool. We try to be polite in our response to the comments but rudeness is sometimes met with rudeness. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり
Does any of our work make a difference? Yes.
Actually, in my time as a reporter, me being “Jake Adelstein”, on editing duty today–criticism of huge problems in Japan, via articles that I have written and written with others, resulted in better laws against human trafficking, comprehensive measures to deal with dioxin pollution, and the Japanese government recently admitting that there is a huge problem with exploitation of underage girls that needs to be dealt with.
I and many of the writers on this blog who live in Japan, love this country, and loving a country doesn’t mean remaining silent; it means speaking up about what is wrong, and correcting it. The effort doesn’t always work but sometimes it yields results. And people who can’t see any fault or social problems in their country or refuse to do anything about it or just as complicit in the rise “dark corporations,” greedy nationalists, death by overwork, exploitive enterprises, corrupt politicians, and the nuclear industrial complex that have done so much harm to the nation. For decades many warned of the dangers that TEPCO and its poorly managed nuclear power plants held. They were ignored. It doesn’t make them any less correct.
The battle to protect human rights, worker rights, equal rights, the environment, democracy, the public right to know, justice, gender equality and to fight poverty and end corruption are important struggles. All over the world. Japan is no exception.
I’m a Soto Zen Buddhist priest in training, which is a part of Japanese culture–surprise! I wouldn’t argue the metaphysics of Buddhism are true, but there are universal truths and there is a motto that I have as an editor and journalist and try to keep in my own personal life. Pardon the idealism but I believe this creed applies everywhere in the world.
So below is a modified version of our editorial policy, adapted from the Dhammapada (法句経）. Thank you for your consideration.
Jake Adelstein, Japan Subculture Research Center, editor in chief
Conquer anger with compassion. Conquer evil with goodness. Conquer trolls with humour & sarcasm Conquer ignorance with knowledge Conquer stinginess with generosity. Conquer lies with truth
Some men in Japan just don’t seem to get that objectifying women is wrong.
In the land of the rising sun, the objectification of women is not only a thing, it’s a solid tradition and time-honored marketing ploy. Sometimes though, the tables can be turned the other way. This happened when Weekly SPA, a magazine famed for insisting that sex and money are the only things worth striving for, came out with a story in late December about which colleges had the most number of ‘yareru’ (i.e., easily f*ckable) women. Honorable first place went to Jissen Women’s University, followed by other prestigious women’s universities Otsuma and Ferris. Co-ed universities Hosei and Chuo came in 4th and 5th.
Normally, this would have caused a total of zero ripples on the calm surface of Japan’s societal pond (all the scum lurks beneath) but one young woman dared to raise her voice. This is Kazuna Yamamoto, a senior at International Christian University. Yamamoto saw the article and wrote to petition websitechange.org – that Japan should stop objectifying women, and noted the nation’s women “do not exist [soley] for the benefit of men.” In two days, Yamamoto’s petition amassed close to 30,000 sympathizers.
SPA editor-in-chief Takashi Inukai issued a public apology, saying that ‘yareru’ was in this case, inappropriate. Sorry. What SPA really meant to say, was ‘become on friendly terms with.’ Come on guys, is that the best you could do?
To make matters marginally more demeaning, SPA’s article was really about the practice of ‘gyara nomi,‘ which is a thing among young Japanese. (The ‘gyara’ comes from guarantee – in this case, cash.) In a ‘gyara nomi,’ a group of men meet a group of women at a drinking party. The men pick up the tab, and they are also obligated to offer money to women they find especially attractive. The women may or may not be pressured into sex by accepting the monetary gift but according to ‘Reina,’ a woman who regularly attends such gatherings, says “the sex is sort of mandatory. I mean, you can’t say no after the guy pays you. For myself and a lot of other girls, it’s a side hustle.” SPA covered an actual ‘gyara nomi’ party and an app that matches up college girls from the aforementioned universities wanting to earn a little cash, and men looking for a quick roll in the hay. It goes without saying that gyara nomi are limited to women under 25, (pre-Christmas cake age) though men do not face that censure.
Two factors are at play here: the objectification of women surely, but it’s also about women seizing the opportunity to cash in on their objectification. In a pathetically perverse way, you could say this is a win-win situation, or at least a supply and demand equation. Such a scenario is nothing new under the rising sun. Until Japan finally opened its doors to the West, objectifying women was so taken for granted the women themselves thought nothing of it.
By the way, the geisha trade of old was all about pushing the envelope of objectification: the closer a geisha got to simulating a perfectly made-up doll who danced and poured sake for her male clients (with a hinted promise of post-party sex), the better.
And in spite of all the water under the bridge and modernization with a vengeance, not a whole lot has changed. The practice of gyara nomi attest to the fact that Japanese men would would rather pay for sex, than god forbid, having to go through the arduous process of talking with a woman and getting to know her, and her consent– before taking her to bed.
As for the women themselves, like the aforementioned Reina many see their youths as a side hustle. If men and society insist on viewing college girls as ‘yareru’ cuties slinging Samantha Thavasa handbags over their arms, then there’s no shortage of college girls who bank on that view. Wearing short skirts, attending gyara nomi parties and then the next day, laugh about the men with their girlfriends at Starbucks. What’s the harm – but more to the point, how will they finance those Samantha Thavasa handbags if not through men? No self-respecting college girl wants to admit she had to buy one all on her own. With the exception of a weird few who want to waste their precious youth pursuing a medical degree (we know where such lofty ambitions wind up), young women find it easier to cater to male fantasies, and be compensated in one way or another for their trouble.
An apology from SPA will not likely change the way things are, but maybe, just maybe – it’s a tiny step taken toward…not anything so drastic as equality but non-objectification? On the day after the SPA fiasco, Peach John – one of Japan’s most lucrative women’s lingerie companies – issued an online apology about ‘inappropriate wording’ on one of their products. This was a supplement, touted as a ‘love potion.’ “Slip it into a loved one’s dish or cup, to get that person in the right mood for love” said the product description. (Editor’s note: At least that sounds better than menstrual blood in Valentine’s Day chocolates ) Peach John terminated its sales and promised that they will be “more careful” about choosing the right phrases. Cash, potions, deception, discrimination…would this all go away if Japanese men and women just learned to talk to each other?
Recently a Company called Shuukan Spa has released a ranking of “University students with easy-access girls” on a public magazine. (Published October 23, 2018)
2018 was a year where women from all over the world fought for women’s rights, so that our voices were delivered.
Japan will be having the first G20 summit this year, 2019 and it is ridiculous for an article such as this to be published. It’s not funny at all.
I would like to fight so that especially on public articles such as this one, sexualizing, objectifying and disrespecting women would stop.
We demand Shuukan Spa to take this article back and apologize, and promise to not use objectifying words to talk about women.
This sexualizing of women is not funny.
In Japan according to a study done by the Ministry of Justice, only 18.5% of the women report sexual assault or rape.
How about the left over 81.5%?
They don’t speak up. Can not speak up.
Because sexual assault, random guys touching your butt in public trains, having their crotch up your butt, rape, is something women have to deal with.
Because We use underaged girls in bikinis to fulfill the fetish of those who love baby faces.
Because we idolize young girls.
Because honestly, the society hasn’t changed ever since the time of comfort women.
Because men and women do not believe that we are worth the same as men.
In this world, 1 out of 5 women are raped or sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday.
According to the ministry of Justice, only 1 out of 10 people actually get convicted, after being sued for sexual assault.
In 2018, the world fought.
In some countries, abortion finally became legal.
100 year anniversary since Women got voting rights.
Women in Saudi Arabia were able to drive.
And using Social Media, people spoke up using #MeToo #NoWomenEver and in South America, #NoEsNo and #AbortoLegalYa.
This year we will not only hold the G20 nor but the W20 (women 20)
We demand that the media stops using words to discriminate women, objectify women, disrespect women and sexualize women.
We, women are not less than men.
We are human too.
We do not LIVE for men.
We do not exist for men.
Let’s raise our voices because I am sick of this society where women are objects.
By all means, do go and tell your side of the story to them, motherfucker.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I heard that your daughter gives really good head… and so does your son.
Hey, I wanted to hear if your children are getting a good sleep because… when you get fired, and I get fired, you’re going to have to put your kids out of international school and into Japanese school and I’ll be teaching there. (The tape recording is below ↘）
Where I come from, you don’t mess with a man’s car, a man’s woman, a man’s dog, or a man’s job. You go behind someone’s back, and they come knockin on your front, with a shotgun. And I suppose you’ll send this to your mommy to defend you, right? (2011)
I have a talent for pissing people off. I’m sure it comes from a personality defect, of which I have many, and I will strive to work on improving my generally surly nature.
However, while I’m surly I don’t delight in the suffering of other people. Unfortunately, I have a cyberstalker who does. And when he can’t get to me, he attacks my friends. Or uses his virtual sock-puppets (Chris Beck, Kita (I don’t have the balls to use my real name) Yaesu to do it.
The worst troll in the world is one that claims to be a journalist—they abuse our profession by writing with malice, distorting the truth and mixing it with enough lies to make it seem plausible, and claim to be “reporting” to do it. I call them “trollnalists”.
There is a certain disgruntled self-professed journalist Christopher Johnson aka The Troll who has a personal vendetta against me and anyone who is my friend or employer. The reasons are very simple: I made the mistake of asking about his visa status when he was denied entry into Japan and/or deported in 2011. I then refused to write an article on his behalf in 2012. He took it very personally.
He’s accused me of 1) being addicted to meth-amphetamines 2) not having been a police reporter, which is probably because he can’t read enough Japanese to figure out what 警視庁記者クラブ means 3) being a womanizing asshole 4) plagiarism 5) being completely wrong about yakuza involvement in the nuclear industry 6) being mentally ill and in addition, he’s stalked and defamed my friends and colleagues, especially female reporters. It goes on and on.
He’ll probably alter his crazy blog posts soon to eliminate claim #5. He’s devoted 40 sprawling pages to my life which he continually rewrites when glaring errors are found. No one is sure what he does to support himself these days but perhaps his famous brother, Gordy Johnson aka Grady Johnson is supporting him. Who knows?
He is right about number 3. Gotta work on that. I can be an asshole and a womanizer. Guilty.
I didn’t mind so much his man-crush and attacks on me, but now he continues to harass other journalists I know, accusing them of plagiarism. He accuses them of taking money from corporations to slant their coverage, etc. He writes their editors, calls their offices, tweets at them endlessly. It’s hard to really explain how venal this individual is so I’ll let him speak for himself.
This is the kind of guy I’m dealing with. The kind of guy who left messages like this for his co-worker at NHK in 2007.
I will have to tell you that Tanaka-san and Iida-san are now well aware of your fucking bullshit. By all means, do go and tell your side of the story to them, motherfucker.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I heard that your daughter gives really good head… and so does your son.
Hey, I wanted to hear if your children are getting a good sleep because… when you get fired, and I get fired, you’re going to have to put your kids out of international school and into Japanese school and I’ll be teaching there.
It is a revolting thing to do, for which CJ has never apologized. It makes him sound like a pedophile–and although he spent many years in Thailand, there is no evidence that he is one. But it’s still a fucking awful thing to say. An apology would be nice.
Dave Schaufele, the NHK co-worker, sent JSRC a note on the incident:
“It’s time to stand up to this bully. I would have no hesitation beating the living crap out of this sicko after his comments about my children, as would any father in a similar position I suspect. So if he ever sees me again he better turn the other way and run.
Friends at NHK who know CJ recommended that I just ignore him because he’s mentally unstable. But if his slanderous meltdown rant is starting to spread I guess I need to reply and set the record straight.
I must admit I’m so short of time between work and family that I haven’t even started a Facebook page, let alone made 14,000 blog posts as “Greji” whose slang and poor spelling might indicate that English is not his first language. CJis simply delusional.
I suspect he knows I’m not Greji but was simply looking for a way to use NHK’s name in the headline and fabricate a high profile story that would make him seem like a victim instead of a predator. CJ knows that his own actions resulted in his loss of work but his alter ego is trying to find someone else to take responsibility.
CJ pulled all the hateful slander completely out of his ass. I have many Jewish friends and have never made any anti-Semitic remarks nor written anything about Johnson’s girlfriend or family and therefore he can provide no examples at all in his rant.
I made no phone calls to him period; another fabrication to try and justify his pedophile phone messages left on my keitai answering system. Playback is continuous once activated and no alterations were made whatsoever.
I do sometimes get a sunburned neck when working outdoors but have no neo-nazi contacts or own any guns. I guess those were the most hurtful fabrications Johnson could come up with in his appeal for sexual-predator sainthood.
He’s a mental case whose 2 sexual harassment complaints on file at NHK got him fired in 1995 but he managed to sneak back in years later. I was unaware of his past and when he first started work I actually tried to help the guy out as a fellow Canadian by giving him over $1,000 in extra work, which he thanked me for by inviting me over to his XXXs place for a beer. Seems like he’s been freeloading off her for years. But as the old saying goes – no good deed goes unpunished. CJ left town on short notice and our NHK boss asked me to cover a couple of his shifts. When he returned he went psycho and tried to get me fired, which backfired because the bosses remembered that he was the pervert they got rid of in ’95. When he made disgusting sexual comments about my young children I played his phone messages for my boss and it was 3 strikes you’re out – again – for that sicko.
I guess CJ figured that if I hadn’t posted his phone messages in 5 years I have probably lost or erased the file so it’s safe to slander me and headline NHK’s name to regain his Economist notoriety. I did erase the file because I didn’t want to hear his voice again. For the record I haven’t spent a minute thinking about the asshole during the past five years and this is my first and only blog post related to him in all that time.
Now you know – the rest of the story.”
He does what trolls do. He writes my employers, he makes threatening calls to the FCCJ. He has a penchant for harassing my female friends especially. Maybe in his mind they are the weaker sex. I gather he’s a misanthrope and a misogynist. I wish he would just attack me. It’s such a dishonorable thing to do to attack the friends of the person you hate. Even the worst yakuza aren’t usually that low.
He is angry that I would not take up his cause or defend him. I don’t know him well and I didn’t think he had a position that I could defend and I politely declined to offer my support. By asking one pointed question, about his visa status, he perhaps feels that I sprung a hole in his credibility dyke, which caused him a flood of attack and ridicule.
I don’t know; I’m not a mind reader.
Recently his threats have escalated. He is very fond of threatening to sue people for slander. He also poses threats to them as questions under the guise of being a journalist. He makes sexual slurs about female reporters. He has spent an inordinate amount of time trying to make me angry and scare individuals working with me. For many months, I ignored him. He went away. I ignored him again. But he came back and started harassing anyone he can identify as my friend or employer.
I realized that stepping back was the wrong approach. It was a cowardly act to do nothing. This man under the guise of ”journalism” has terrorized individual after individual because everyone hopes that he will grow bored and find a new person to attack and stalk–and thus they do nothing. This is understandable. But because no one stands up to this bully, the number of those who have suffered because of him keep growing.
Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” Einstein was right. I’m doing something about.
The more I know about the individual and his past, the more I began to feel increasingly uneasy. He has a history of making insidious threats. On October 16th, 2007, he left disgusting messages on the answering machine of an NHK colleague that implied he would sexually molest the individual’s children. The tape contains what seems to be the sounds of said journalist masturbating over the phone.
Allegedly, the dispute The Troll had with a co-worker ended in him making several obscene calls to the man’s home phone which resulted in his firing from NHK. NHK has not confirmed this although others who were working at NHK have and so has The Troll in his own blog.
Transcripts of threats made to NHK co-worker October 16th, 2007
The story of the Troll who threatened to molest the children of a fellow NHK worker
I will have to tell you that Tanaka-san and Iida-san are now well aware of your fucking bullshit. By all
means, do go and tell your side of the story to them, motherfucker.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I heard that your daughter gives really good head… and so does your son.
Sounds of what may be masturbation
Hey, I wanted to hear if your children are getting a good sleep because… when you get fired, and I get
fired, you’re going to have to put your kids out of international school and into Japanese school….
For the record, this is his explanation:
“The letter enraged ●●●。 His new round of phone calls and letters now insulted ●●● and my family,including my brother, leader of one of Canada’s most popular bands at that time. I couldn’t take it anymore. Regrettably, I lost my temper. During a heated exchange of insults by email and phone, I left a nasty message on his phone. I responded to his insult that, “I hear there’s a job opening for a teacher who likes children, right up your alley”. In effect, I said to him: “if you get me fired from NHK, I will have to get a job teaching English again, and I might end teaching your children.” ●● claims he recorded it. He probably took the comments out of context, and possibly tampered with them, given his skills at voice acting and doctoring evidence and twisting facts…”
You can listen for yourself.
In addition, in May of 2011 he also made several threats to the journalist who replaced him at France 24.
Although I received the journalist’s permission to post this and verified it with three sources, I have deleted the name of the journalist threatened and changed the name of the one making the threats. Why? Because it’s customary practice in Japan to not publicize the names of people who are possibly mentally ill and may be under investigation for criminal offenses.
Other than blocking out some names, to protect the individuals from the loathsome attacks and smears of the troll, I have altered not a word, but put some sections in bold that are particularly disturbing. I’m reasonably sure the Troll aka Hostile Journalist will coming looking for me since by opposing him, I’m obviously a mofo.
We shall see.
PS. To Hostile Journalist: Do not even think about threatening (脅迫罪) anyone who cooperated with this article other than myself. Have some decency.
The story of the Troll threatening the journalist aka “The Mofo” that “stole” his job
Troll’s Letters To His Replacement at France 24 May-June 2011
The Troll, quoted here as “Hostile Journalist” sent a series of hostile emails after being fired by France 24. The reasons he was fired or let go may or may not have to do with the emails he sent. The emails were provided by a past victims of the Troll and on my own initiative I have kept his name non-public for fear that The Troll will retaliate against him as well.Hopefully, he is intelligent enough to realize that the emails he has sent constitute a threat. If he has a problem with this posting, I hope he will be a man and come after me and not the journalist who was kind enough to give me the materials. The letters began with an unsolicited posting from Troll.
The Troll Writing To France 24 Journalist Who Replaced Him
20 May 2011
I’m Troll, a veteran Tokyo-based journalist who has covered almost every major story in Asia and around the world since 1987, including the wars in Yugoslavia, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq, for major media worldwide.
I’m going to cut straight to the point about this. I do not allow people to take freelance strings that I have cultivated over the years. For your information, Loick Berrou hired me in July 2007 as the France 24 Anglo reporter in Tokyo, and since that time I have done hundreds of live phoners and on-camera
reports from Tokyo (often using the satellite feedpoints at Reuters and NHK), Tibet, China, Burma and Thailand (using feedpoints at Asiaworks).
I have taken great risks to build up the network. I was the only foreign journalist in Lhasa the week of the riots in March 2008, and I broke the story worldwide on France 24, beating BBC, CNN and everybody else. I also snuck inside Burma and reported on the crackdown on protesters, and Cyclone
Nargis, for the network. Last year, I did a flurry of reports amid gunfire and explosions during the battle of Bangkok (working in the same battle-zone where France 24 cameraman Nelson Rand was shot several times.)
Immediately after the March 11 quake, I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to arrange logistics for●●●, one of the network’s top Francophone correspondents (you can see the work we did together on the documentary The Battle of Bangkok). I also did 60 live reports for France 24 the first four weeks
after the quake, while you were working for somebody else, apparently.
I do not know what university training or professional qualifications you have in journalism, and I’m not familiar with the impact of your work. I’ve worked around most of the top journalists in Asia, and I don’t recall meeting you.
As for me, I have been through a weeding out process, of four years at Canada’s top journalism school at Carleton University in Ottawa, and then some of the leading networks and newspapers in Canada, before coming to work as a professional journalist in Asia. I learned to speak and read Japanese beginning in 1989, and covered the Kobe earthquake and sarin gas attack for CBC TV in Canada and others in 1995.
Like many other pros, I naturally have issues with amateurs who come to Japan, declare themselves journalists, hang around the FCCJ to pick up work, and then consider themselves experts in our field. Doctors and lawyers would not tolerate this in their fields either, and I think I have every right to call someone’s bluff on this.
While I was covering the TEPCO presser today, I found out from●●, ●●● and a senior person in Paris that you, somehow, have become the France 24 correspondent in Tokyo. I do not accept this, for any reason, and I will do whatever is necessary to protect a position that I have earned with the network, at great personal risk and sacrifice.
It’s not personal, it’s professional, and I can assure you that I will stake my 25-year career on this. If I tried to steal someone’s string, which has earned them thousands of dollars over the years, I would expect them to fight me for it.
I will tell you very frankly that I am a 6-foot, 200-pound guy from a rough part of the Detroit area, and I’ve been through too much – 9 wars, where I lost 7 friends – to let anyone disrespect me.
The Troll later discovered his email was forwarded to France 24 prompting another email.
That is very sleazy to send a letter, which I sent to you and you alone, to my employers at France 24. If you have any manhood, you will meet me in person to settle this. And you can bring your pals XXX and the other jerks who diss me on Facebook and at the FCCJ as well
The Journalist Responds To Troll’s Implied Threats
Troll-guy ,your unsolicited message appears to be a clear threat of violence towards me. Please clarify if I’m mistaken in this.
For the record: I was approached in Feb to work with F24 and have done a few bits of work with them since. I have no interest in who has worked with them in the past, continues to work with them now, or will work with them in the future.
I have no idea what issues you have with F24, but please take them up with the organization.
Equally, I have no idea what issues you have with ‘jerks’ on FB or the FCCJ, but please take them up with the people involved.
The Troll Responds To The Journalist
Who the hell are you talkin to me like this? You think your ass is powerful? You are a 5-foot 6, 150 lb dweek in shorts and sunglasses looking over your shoulder in a crowd. And I suppose you’llsend this to your mommy to protect you, right?
You aren’t the asshole ●● who smashed my brother’s head against the grocery store wall, and beat up my father in front of my mother and sister across the street from our house, and then laughed at my little brother in the court house. aYou aren’t the crackhead who shot my uncle ●● in the head in Detroit. You aren’t the home invader who murdered my brother’s drummer in his house in ●● this Christmas. You aren’t the gang that strangled me and beat me unconscious and broke my nose and ribs and left me naked in a park to die in Nairobi, or the jerks who mugged me at knifepoint in Rio de Janeiro. Youaren’t the Chetniks who severed the head of my roommate ●●●in Vukovar. You aren’t Khaled Sheikh Mohammed who cut up Daniel Pearl like a goat a few weeks after we had Thanksgiving dinner in Islamabad. You aren’t the Taliban motherfuckers who murdered●● and raped and killed the women in the van in Afghanistan. And you aren’t the gunmen who shot ●●●●● three times last year when we were working for France 24 in Bangkok. You are a spineless sewer rat who sends a private confidential letter to my boss to shaft me out of a job worth perhaps 10,000 year or more, a job I earned while you were a driver with another network and writing an FCCJ article slagging off serious pro journalists who hired you. Where I come from, you don’t mess with a man’s car, a man’s woman, a man’s dog, or a man’s job. You go behind someone’s back, and they come knockin on your front, with a shotgun. And I suppose you’ll send this to your mommy to defend you, right?
Where I come from, you don’t mess with a man’s car, a man’s woman, a man’s dog, or a man’s job. You go behind someone’s back, and they come knockin on your front, with a shotgun. And I suppose you’ll send this to your mommy to defend you, right?
The Journalist Responds To The Troll
It seems you got a rough deal off F24, which is a shame, but I really think your anger is directed in the wrong direction. To state the obvious, I don’t make the hiring decisions. I was asked to work with them in Feb and was surprised not to hear from them during the post-quake period. It seems they used someone else – that would be you. Now they’ve asked me to do the odd phoner.
I don’t know why they they’ve made that decision- it’s between you and them.
I was more than a little surprised to come in on Friday night to a long abusive threatening email from someone I’ve never met. I forwarded it to the people at F24 – ●● saying I had no idea what your history with them is and the situation needed clarifying .If you wanted a respectful response, you should have a sent a respectful email. This will be my last response to any insulting/ threatening mails.
“If you wanted a respectful response, you should have a sent a respectful email. This will be my last response to any insulting/ threatening mails.
That seems to be the best approach to dealing with this fellow. He does make a lot of threats. He, or his proxy, even threatened the editors at Wikipedia, when they refused to post an entry for him. He accused an employee of Google Japan of deliberately altering search results to make him look bad. He does manage to get under my skin. However, I’m certainly not the only one.
If you’d like to know more, please check out Japan Probe which has article after article about his not so amusing attacking on others journalists, his implied threats, his rantings, and his career history as a malcontent and troublemaker in Japan.
I took this post down once. I’m reposting it so that everyone knows that this is a man that threatens to molest children and viciously attacks other members of the journalism community. He may be a journalist; he is also very close to being a cyber stalker. I won’t write his name because he thrives on attention. I tweeted a parody of his blog today that has his actual name on it. I should have read it closer. I was taught that the mentally unstable should have their names undisclosed because they aren’t entirely responsible for their acts. I don’t know if that is the case with this individual but I suspect as much. Possibly a sociopath with delusional disorder. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
I won’t engage with this individual in any way. Because there’s a difference between him and me. I give a damn about my sources and my friends. I’d rather people think I’m a jerk than violate the three things I believe in: protect your sources, write the truth, and if you can’t do both, then don’t write the story. Some people may not agree with that philosophy. It’s what I believe in. I don’t have a perfect score on protecting my sources. I get to live with that for the rest of my life. I atone and I carry on.
Because where I come from, when you attack a man’s friends and defame them, stalk women, and threaten to harm children–you’re someone who needs to go to jail until you learn to behave like a human being, not a troll. Or am I simply too old-fashioned?
I recognize that people have a right to start their lives over–that they deserve a second chance. And I’d be willing to give this man a second chance, if he showed any remorse, if he apologized to all those he’s wronged. He won’t do that. He won’t even answer three simple questions 1) Did you threaten to molest a man’s children when you were working at NHK? 2) Did you threaten another reporter in 2011? 3) Have you misused the position of being a journalist to harass women that reject you and people who disagree with you?
There is no solution to dealing with a man like this. As long as he has access to the internet, he will continue to try and destroy those whom he perceives as his enemies—and there a lot of them. He’s bordering on criminal behavior and when he finally crosses the line, I hope to see that at last he gets the attention he deserves. Because where I come from, when you attack a man’s friends and defame them, stalk women, and threaten to harm children–you’re someone who needs to go to jail until you learn to behave like a human being, not a troll. Or am I simply too old-fashioned?
Thanks to the True Story Award, a new prize for written reportage, from 30 August to 1 September 2019, over 60 reporters from right around the world will come together in Bern, Switzerland. Nominate the best journalists and stories in Japan.
Today, submissions open for the True Story Award, the first global award for reporters writing for newspapers, magazines and online publications. The prize recognises written reportage from all countries and in 12 of the world’s most widely spoken languages. The prize will be awarded to work that stands out through in-depth research, journalistic quality and societal relevance.
The prize seeks to motivate journalists from across the world and to support their work. In many places around the world, the loss of diverse and independent media coverage of events and developments is damaging the ability of the public to freely form critical opinions. Which makes it even more important to have courageous and innovative reporters – in all societies and countries. It’s for these reporters that the True Story Award has been created. To begin with, a jury representing 29 countries will nominate a total of 42 reporters. Following this process, an eight-person jury will determine the winners.
The nominees and selected members of the international jury will be invited to attend the prize ceremony in Bern, Switzerland. But it doesn’t end there. At a three-day festival, they will share stories about their work in various contexts around the globe. At some 50 public events, they will provide insights into the conditions under which their research was carried out, will discuss some of the obstacles and resistance they faced, tell stories, and provide the public with new persepectives on contemporary events. It will be the first festival of its kind in the German-speaking world. Apart from the award ceremony, entry to all events will be free.
The prize was conceived and launched by Reportagenmagazine, and the True Story Award and the accompanying festival will be carried out in close collaboration with Bern Welcome. The prize is funded by the newly founded True Story Award Foundation.
Marcel Brülhart, Chairman of the Board, Bern Welcome, bruelhart (at) recht-governance.ch, +41 (0)79 359 59 66
Bern Welcomebrings together city marketing, tourism and local activities in the city of Bern. This merger is the first of its kind in Switzerland.
The organisations Bern Tourismand Bern Meetings & Eventsare both included under the umbrella of Bern Welcome AG, and share a joint strategic and operational structure.
Bern Welcomeis primarily funded by the city of Bern, the business network BERNcityand the associations Hotellerie Bern+Mittelland andGastroStadtBern.
Reportagenis an independent magazine for contemporary storytelling. Outstanding authors tell fascinating stories from around the world. Researched in the field, with the protagonists themselves, and off the beaten track. A new edition every second month. In a sleekly designed paperback and a digital format.Reportagenis available in bookstores and from newsagents, in the App Store and by subscription.
“You want a no-data plan? We have one, but it’s almost the same price as having data…”
Last week, I walked into a U-NEXT store to check out smartphone plans. I’ve had a Japanese flip phone since 2013, and I wanted to see if I could buy a SIM-only plan from them instead. This is when I learned that no salesperson today is prepared to deal with customers who want data-free plans. The assumption is that everybody wants mobile data — the more, the better.
I walked out of U-NEXT without buying anything. Data is cheap, but you can’t put a price on attention and presence.
The cost of data has fallen considerably over the last few years. Even here in Japan, where the de facto cartel has kept contract prices and cancellation fees high, you can, at the time of writing, sign up for a u-mobile 1-year contract for a relatively low monthly sum of JPY1,360 per month for 3.3GB of data with no cancellation fees after one year.
(The salesperson really tried to upsell that data plan to me.)
Prices never used to be this low. When I lived in Tokyo from 2012–2013 as an exchange student, your options for mobile data plans were 2-year contracts with hefty cancellation fees for breaking them a year in. The only option at the time that didn’t involve a cancellation fee was a Softbank prepaid flip phone. I took it. Public WiFi was virtually nonexistent back then. I recall mild inconveniences, but nothing particularly terrible.
Moving back to Japan in 2015, I continued using the same phone and number. Barring a period of around 6 months where I owned a company-sponsored smartphone with data, I have not had mobile data since 2015.
Everyone I have talked to about this has bemoaned their various states of addiction to their phone, for whatever reason; very few do anything about it. Fortunately, I have not really needed to do anything — doing nothing to change my data situation is exactly what’s keeping me sane.
It’s hard to say without data (ha!), but it seems that owning a smartphone these days equals having a data plan. It is inescapable, maybe even inevitable. There’s plenty of talk about switching off the phone, but few discuss the merits of actually forgoing mobile data altogether. Most articles indexed on Google talking about this are dated to several years ago. (See Further Reading below.) But given the conversations and growing awareness surrounding internet addiction, I think eliminating mobile data should be one choice in an arsenal of options to manage the time we spend on our phones.
It’s a weakness
Not having mobile data began as an exercise in moderate frugality , but as the years went on it became more about preserving my sanity, preventing myself from free-falling into constant swipe-mode. Airplane mode isn’t enough for me because it’s too easy to switch back to cellular mode. My last job left me so addicted to looking at email that every instinct in me now has to fight the constant and imaginary demands on my attention, to consciously stop myself from reaching for the phone. I fail at this dozens of times a day, sometimes stopping at just lighting up the phone screen with the home button.
I then imagine how much worse this would be if I had mobile data and did this outside my apartment. So every year I wonder if I will succumb and pay for the convenience of a data plan; every year I find myself increasingly unwilling to do so.
Everyone I have talked to about this has bemoaned their various states of addiction to their phone, for whatever reason; very few do anything about it. Fortunately, I have not really needed to do anything — doing nothing to change my data situation is exactly what’s keeping me sane.
I think I’m lucky: most of my friends are great at being present. They turn their phones face down, or keep them in their bags. I hear this is becoming rare, which feels like a deep loss. Mobile data has, in the last few years, reduced everyone’s collective ability to be present in the moment.
I’ve sat at dinner tables where everyone’s face is lit by the glow of a smartphone screen as they post something to Instagram, reply to a WhatsApp message that just flew in, or deal with an ‘urgent’ work email (which is never really all that urgent; such is the tyranny of capitalism). I have watched people I have been just a little in love with read emails on their phone or scroll through Facebook, while we’re out somewhere in the city, and have felt my heart break a few hundred times. I can see the involuntary twitch of their hands reaching for their phones when we talk.
It happens to me too. When I’m in a place with WiFi, I am more distracted, more prone to flipping my phone open. Some part of my brain is low-key reminding me that I have messages to reply to, emails to send, Instagram feeds to check. I have frittered away hours and hours scrolling and swiping. I am also a bit shit at being present in the moment even without my phone. The only time I can’t look to my phone is when I’m outside in the world without data.
None of this is to say that having mobile data makes everyone automatically become a little bit shit. But the ubiquity of mobile data has made it easier for otherwise lovely people to disregard social courtesies. It helps people justify scrolling through their phone at the dinner table because everyone else is doing the same thing.
The other part of being present when I’m out is seeing the world in ways I might otherwise never notice if I’m walking around staring at a screen. I might never have begun photographing doors, or plants. I might have been too busy uploading photos to social media to pay attention to the mountain in front of me. I like to think I’m better than that — but I’m not.
Why I don’t need mobile data
A few things make it easier for me to opt out of mobile data:
I don’t have a job that requires me to look at emails 24/7. No watching the stock market, or employers who breathe down my neck asking me if I’ve seen this thread. No customers who want urgent answers to their trivial questions. And so on.
It’s quite the opposite: I focus substantially better when writing in completely disconnected environments.
(Yes, I think I’m very lucky — and I wish everyone else could have something like this, obviously.)
I read, write, and speak fluent Japanese. Which means no need for Google Translate. Navigating Tokyo is not an issue.
I don’t have kids. I mean, people have raised children for centuries without mobile data, but modern parents seem to think that constant connectivity is necessary for parenting. (Another kettle of fish altogether. Please talk to someone else about this.)
I have high-speed WiFi at home. This is something I’m lucky enough to be able to afford, and it’s also necessary for my work. Given the choice between mobile data or an internet connection, I’d choose the latter every time.
There’s free, public WiFi all around Tokyo. Yes, really! See the last section of this piece.
The truth is that I am as addicted to social media as the next Instagram junkie. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. I find myself reaching for my phone every few minutes; on the train I sometimes even open apps that I know won’t load just to quell my dopamine-addicted brain. It’s precisely because I know myself too well that I continue choosing not to have mobile data instead.
(Plus, that’s an extra $15 a month I can spend on runny eggs — which give me more pleasure and joy than any amount of feed-refreshing ever could.)
But but but
Isn’t it inconvenient? Sometimes. But that’s all it is — an inconvenience. I don’t miss having it when I’m outside. If I need it, WiFi access is available at home, at cafes, in train stations. Plus, public WiFi is great for accessibility across socioeconomic classes, and for tourists.
Sure, I’m an impatient motherfucker and rage as much as anyone else at certain inconveniences. But if there’s anything Japan’s million bureaucratic procedures has taught me, it’s to be patient with inefficiency. I don’t love inconvenience, but the cost of convenience is so much higher. Tim Wu says it more eloquently than I can.
What if we’re meeting and I’m running late? I don’t usually know when a friend’s running late, so I just have to trust that they show up, whether it’s on time or a few minutes late. That’s what we all used to do pre-smartphone. Again, much depends on having a reliable public transportation system. I remember it being significantly more difficult to be punctual in Malaysia.
If someone flakes on me and decides not to show up, that reflects badly on them. The upside is that this encourages specificity in deciding on meeting points (“Let’s do Exit B6 at Ginza Station, I’ll be above ground at the fire hydrant”) but also weeds out flaky people who you probably shouldn’t be friends with. If they can’t respect your time, they don’t deserve it.
Besides, if they really need to contact you, that’s what a phone number’s for. I hope I have your numbers for when the next earthquake hits.
What if you need to look something up? What burning fact would I need to look up right away that I couldn’t look up later? Do we really need to watch that video right now? See also: delayed gratification.
But you’re using your phone outside? Like on the train? Yeah, I’m usually reading articles I’ve saved to Pocket, writing/taking notes on strange people around me, or editing photos.
What about Google Maps? Look up routes and directions before setting out. Offline maps are useful and work well. There’s also something to be said for looking at the scenery around you instead of at your blue-dot-self moving around on a screen.
There have definitely been times when my offline maps stopped working while I was on the move, or things didn’t update. So I also like asking strangers for help, or looking at area maps in the neighborhoods. Talking to people! What a novel concept.
Uber? Grab? Lyft? Thankfully, none of these exist in Japan. Tokyo’s incredibly efficient public transportation system eliminates the need for ride-sharing apps… for now.
Maybe ride-sharing apps would be useful in more remote areas where there are fewer train stations. But then again, they probably wouldn’t be operating in those areas, and I’d still have had to walk for miles along Route 207 from Nagasaki to Saga prefecture just to find a bus heading to Tara. (True story. I don’t think having mobile data would have changed anything, except I’d have spent more time complaining about it to friends online — and maybe found a bus slightly faster.)
What if you need to drive? On the off-chance that I ever sit behind a steering wheel in Japan, I hope the car comes with sat-nav. Otherwise it’s back to pre-2007 days of parking by the roadside flipping through a map book.
What if you’re in the countryside? Even better! I can switch off! Researching stuff to do before you travel/leave your accommodation, or just using whatever WiFi is available there. I’m usually visiting someone who knows the area (and probably has mobile data, let’s be real.) There were also a couple of times I thumbed rides in Hokkaido and Aomori when I was stranded and couldn’t figure out buses.
I remember Couchsurfing with a couple in Aomori City back in 2013. They lived, insofar as was possible, a very off-grid lifestyle — no internet (they’d check their email at Internet cafes), only flip phones (one of the few things they used electricity for), no refrigerator, no washing machine. We’re no longer in touch, but it left a huge impression on me.
The only times I’ll have mobile data are when I travel to places I’m unfamiliar with and where I don’t speak the local language(s), like Morocco or Thailand; or, when I’m back in Malaysia and rely on Grab to go places. Even then, it’s optional. I went without a data plan in Busan because most cafes had free WiFi and I spent most of my time with a friend living there. It’s quite fun muddling through menus and going through the usual motions of cross-cultural communication — hand gestures, smiles, everything you need for your fellow human beings.
And so it is
Frankly, I like not having data. I like being able to say no to looking at emails. I love having my mind back, wandering into other connections and thoughts without the constant drip of stuff from the internet. I love looking at my friends when they talk.
If you have mobile data and like it, good on you. I don’t wish to suggest that living without mobile data is a viable choice for everyone, nor do I want to sound like I’m preaching some ‘elite’ hippie lifestyle from a pedestal way up high. There are plenty of reasons to have mobile data — war refugees using social media to keep in touch; not being able to afford high-speed internet at home (though given the price of mobile plans in Japan this is pretty much similar); work conditions (which is a problem with society at large).
But if you think you can’t go through daily life without mobile data, you are wrong. We’ve survived for millennia without it, and when the next natural disaster in Japan knocks out mobile data providers for a bit, it’ll be useful to have actual phone numbers or to be okay with being a little disconnected for a while.
A Short List of Free Public WiFi Places in Japan (Mostly Tokyo)
Tokyo is a pretty great place to live without mobile data these days if you already have an internet connection at home. Try the following:
Tokyo Metro stations. Very rarely, the internet is down, and I feel a flash of irritation — and then I chide myself and take out the Kindle instead.
JR stations. It’s patchy and sketchy, but many major JR stations in Tokyo now have free WiFi (under the JR East Free WiFi network)
Some libraries, like the Hibiya Library with its characteristically low-security password (numbers 1 through 9. FIGHT ME HIBIYA STAFF). The Tokyo Metropolitan Library’s WiFi has so far been unreliable.
Some cafes have it. But it doesn’t really matter if they don’t.
7–11 and Lawson’s have reliable WiFi. Accessing Family Mart’s WiFi requires a lengthy registration process before you can even go online, and it’s slow as hell. Don’t bother.
Yes, it’s all unsecured WiFi. Don’t buy stuff with your credit card, use it only when you need to, don’t register with your real email address, and all that.
Flory Leow is a sporadic writer, photographer, foodie and student of history living in Tokyo and blogging here and there. This article was previously published on her blog and has been reprinted here with her kind permission.
In Tokyo, about two million people live below the poverty line. That means many families find it difficult to put food on their tables. The need is especially great during the holiday season, when many other residents are enjoying festive meals and celebrations.
For the second-straight year, Tokyo-based indie rock band Instant Karma is teaming up with the Second Harvest Japan food bank to help feed the less fortunate. The band is holding a night of music and fun at Ebisu’s What the Dickens pub on Monday, December 3, 2018.
Admission to the event is free, but attendees will be encouraged to make donations to the food bank which, in turn, will use the money to provide meals and food for those in need.
“We wanted to do something for others over the holiday period,” says Instant Karma guitarist/vocalist Mike de Jong. “Nobody should go hungry over the holidays.”
The band will play three sets of music, combining popular cover songs with originals. All four band members have agreed to turn over their payment for the night to the charity.
The Second Harvest food bank was established in 2002. The non-profit organization works with community groups to gather and distribute food to people across the country.
Last year’s Second Harvest event at What the Dickens raised several thousand yen for the charity. This year, organizers and participants are hoping for even better results.
“Last year’s show was a lot of fun. But it was more of a year-end party for volunteers,” says de Jong. “This year, it will strictly be a fundraiser. So even though it’s a Monday night, please come out and support people who need our help.”
Contact: Mike de Jong at Instant Karma
MDMedia20 [@] gmail.com for more details. (Remove the brackets in the address above when you send an email. 😉）
You don’t know cool until you’ve seen ZAN (international title: “Killing”). A period action film set in the late Edo Period, ZAN is everything that The Last Samurai is not: minimalist, unpretentious and totally unsentimental. Back in Old Japan, sentiment was often a luxury few people could afford. It was hard enough to secure things like food and basic comforts, and the situation was harder for the samurai because they had to keep up appearances as the authoritative class.
“I want you to think about all the mistakes you’ve made in your life up to this point,” he tells his bleeding victim. “You have plenty of time for reflection until you finally manage to die.”
ZAN notes that a samurai was defined by two things: 1) his sword and 2) his ability to kill others with that sword. The film also makes no bones about the incredible pain and grossness that accompanies a sword fight. It’s not like a TV period drama where one swish of a katana brings on instantaneous death–the process takes hours or even days of intense suffering. In one scene, after a close battle a samurai slices off the arm of an opponent, right from the shoulder. “I want you to think about all the mistakes you’ve made in your life up to this point,” he tells his bleeding victim. “You have plenty of time for reflection until you finally manage to die.”
Chilling. Isn’t it? ZAN is a lesson in Edo Period brutality and despite the obvious disregard for period detail (like speech patterns and vocabulary) it all feels eerily true. No one cracks a smile, wears make-up or even changes out of soiled kimonos. The sky is heavy with perpetual rain, the houses are pitch dark, cramped and dingy. The threat of pain and death is ever-present and the only respite is sex, or more often, masturbation. Something has got to give, but you sense right away that the giving isn’t going to be happy.
ZAN is directed by Shinya Tsukamoto – arguably the most innovative auteur working in the Japanese flm industry today, and distinctive for working solo. An indie wunderkind, he directs, writes his own screenplays, works on his own production designs and acts in crucial roles, in his own and other peoples’ films. Tsukamoto even auditioned for Martin Scorsese’s Silence and got the part of Mokichi. Rumor has it Scorsese thought Tsukamoto “looked familiar,” as the American director is a fan of his work, but didn’t believe that a man of Tsukamoto’s repute would actually show up for an audition. Scorsese was later flabbergasted to learn the truth and professed to be “in awe” of Tsukamoto – at least that’s the story floating around in the Japanese movie industry.
But it’s easy to believe that Scorsese was impressed because as an actor, Tsukamoto radiates a macho allure that’s hard to resist. In the movie, he plays an older samurai named Sawamura, a mysterious vagabond traveling from village to village in search of talent. Sawamura has an agenda – to form a platoon of free agent samurai and offer their services to some powerful lord. The era is late Edo, when the whole of Japan was in the fever grip of confusion and intrigue, all the while being pressured by Europe and the US to open up the nation, after nearly 260 years of isolation. Against this backdrop, hordes of samurai were fired from their clans and left to fend for themselves. Many of them were recruited as foot soldiers by the Tokugawa shogunate and its supporters that were anti-foreigner and desperate to preserve the status quo. Sawamura’s own political views are unclear but most likely he has none. Like many unemployed samurai at the time, gaining a steady position was the biggest priority and as a samurai, that meant killing people with his sword. “I want to do my part in these chaotic times,” he explains.
Sawamura’s statement reveals the Edo samurai mind-set: Fighting for a cause or a political slogan was tacky. Killing to assert one’s identity as a samurai, was more like it. He wanders over to a village on the outskirts of Edo and observes a young samurai, Tsuzuki (Sosuke Ikematsu) having a mock sword battle with farmer boy Ichisuke (Ryusei Maeda). Tsuzuki had been hired on a farm in lieu of food and board, and had been giving katana lessons to Ichisuke whenever they had a moment free from working the rice paddies. Tsuzuki is an excellent swordsman and under his tutelage, Ichisuke has acquired a lot of skill. Sawamura wastes no time in recruiting them both, and proposes leaving for Edo in two days. Ichisuke is keen to go but Tsuzuki is inexplicably reluctant. The presence of Ichisuke’s sister Yu (Yu Aoi) is part of the reason – Tsuzuki always masturbates to the sight of her bathing and the story suggests he is a virgin. Could it be that he’s also a virgin as a murderer, and for all his grace and expertise with the sword, Tsuzuki has never brought his blade down on another man’s flesh?
ZAN twists and writhes its way to a bloody climax and by then you become well aware of the wondrous weirdness of the samurai. They are darkly backward in their thinking, swayed by a single desire to assert their samurai identity, which is on par with the will to kill. It overrides all other desires – for happiness, for justice, even for survival. It depicts not the noble samurai of Japanese fiction and The Last Samurai, but the samurai as they really were: bloody, brutal, barbaric and with no notions of the word Bushido(武士道). Bushido, both the word and the concept of a noble samurai were retroactively imposed upon the Edo-era culture by the writer Inazo Nitobe in 1900. His book Bushido: The Soul of Japan, written in English, was aimed at Western audiences, and tried to elevate the popular image of Japan. (The “Cool Japan” strategy of 1900).
In ZAN, the opening of Japan to the West and the subsequent demolishment of the samurai was just around the corner, but Tsuzuki and Sawamura are locked into an existence that no one, not even themselves, could fully comprehend or accept. They take us to a place that defies logic and explanation, to a time when such things were beside the point. It’s only when the lights come on that we take stock of what Japan has lost in the wake of modernization and wonder briefly whether the trade-off was completely worth it.
Editor’s Opinion: Yet, are the samurai really missed? ” For the peasants and underclass who were often brutalized by the samurai, probably not. Samurai could legally murder the lower class of merchants, farmers, prostitutes, etc–kirisutegomen–for being impolite or simply being annoying. The movie reminds us that maybe for the rest of us, the cutting down of the Samurai was a boon to Japan, not a curse. What do you think?