Japan Ten Years From Now. The Truth May Sort Of Be Awful But The Movie Is Great

by Kaori Shoji

We’re nearing the end of the world but there’s a sliver of a chance that we may be able to go out in style.


That pretty much sums up the message behind “Ten Years Japan (十年)” part of a film project in 4 Asian locales (Honk Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan) to imagine the future of their nations, 10 years from now. “Ten Years Japan” is a 5-story omnibus, showcasing the talents of five directors – three of whom are women. You can see it in the way they grapple with themes like aging, nuclear fallout and a mother-daughter relationship. Gender comparisons are always dangerous but in the case of “Ten Years Japan,” these women directors clearly offer more wiggle room for hope and emotions like heartfelt gratitude, wrenching nostalgia and love. In the bleakest moments of their stories you sense that love will show up, eventually; a much-awaited guest late for the planet’s last dinner party.

The launch force behind “Ten Years” was Hong Kong in 2016. Hong Kong’s “Ten Years” played to wildly enthused audiences at home and went on to the international film festival circuit, but the contents were viewed as “problematic” by Beijing and banned in mainland China. Inspired by the Hong Kong team and their stories, the Thailand version came out in May this year. And now we have our own, here in Japan, which has been playing in a few Tokyo art house theaters for a limited 3 week release from November 3rd. Which is way too short to do this film justice but given the current political climate, maybe we should be thankful it’s being released at all.

“Ten Years Japan” was creatively supervised by Hirokazu Koreeda whose name and international repute has become on par with if not replaced, that of Takeshi Kitano. Koreeda is now the film critics’ darling in Cannes and London and when he speaks, his words become news print.

Koreeda shows a side of Japan that rarely makes it to the international stage. No samurai, geisha or yakuza splash guts and sex  in his vehicles. Instead, he wants to tell stories about quietly dysfunctional families. Or a mom who abandoned her four kids and never told anyone, until one of them dies. In his latest triumph “The Shoplifters” Koreeda addressed the problem of poverty and child abuse and was snubbed by none other than Prime Minister Abe when the latter said that Koreeda was perhaps, exaggerating a bit and that poverty in Japan is practically non-existent. Cue: sad laughter.

Koreeda has repeated said that he’s interested in the here-and-now of Japan, and working with performers that can transport and translate the urgency of our times onto the screen. This is probably why Koreeda demonstrates a flair for working with child actors. In his stories, they are sharp observers of adult sins and tellers of inconvenient truths as at the same time they are victims in a world over which they have no control.

A stark example of that is seen in “Itazura Doumei (Mischievous Alliance),” a tale directed by Yusuke Kimura. In this, elementary school education has become all about relentless surveillance, as the pupils are made to wear command devices on their heads, obeying instructions on where to go next, what to study and how to interact with classmates. They also receive “suggestions’ to consider this career or that, and how they can optimize their studying choices. Sort of like push notifications on a much more pushier level. The teachers fare no better. Only the school janitor (played by the always reliable Jun Kunimura) seems to enjoy a modicum of independence. The janitor takes care of an aging horse (part of a school experiment), soon to be exterminated on the whim of a digital authority. He can’t help but side wth the rebellious Ryo (Seiya Ohkawa) when the latter breaks the key to the stable and sets the horse free.

Another tale of childhood helplessness is “Sono Kuukiwa Mienai (You Can’t See This Air),” directed by Akiyo Fujimura. In this, the stage is an underground nuclear shelter inhabited by a small community of survivors. Mizuki (Ririya Mita) nurses a growing obsession with “the world above” as her anxious mother (Chizuru Ikewaki) warns there is nothing but danger “up there.” Mizuki longs for sunshine and rain until she can’t stand it anymore. The audience is left to surmise the consequences of her escape to freedom.

Utsukushii Kuni (美しい国) is a sharp poke in the ribs of Prime Minister Abe, who authored a book of the same title. The episode depicts in subdued tones, the ultimate outcome of Japan’s militaristic leanings as the Ministry of Defense puts a mandatory draft into place. The episode centers around an up and coming advertising executive who must inform a famous artist that her propaganda poster design, just isn’t quite what the ministry wants. It ends with a subtle twist, reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode, that leaves the viewer with a tiny chill–in a moment of quiet understated dread.

Perhaps the most harrowing is the first story: “Plan 75” directed by Chie Hayakawa. It’s about our super-aged society: the most urgent and costliest problem facing Japan today. Hayakawa imagines a near future in which the government launches the titular program: people over 75 are offered a quick and painless euthanizing. The public service announcement advertising this expedited exit, sponsored by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, is such a dead-on parody of  Japanese PSAs that it almost seems real. Those urged to cross over to the other side, of course, are the low-income elderly or the infirm. But there are perks; those who agree to die even get a cash reward of 100,000 yen, so they can go out in relative style. There is an unforgettable death scene where an old man lays prostrate on a clinical cot – there are sounds of another man groaning nearby. The old man is visited by an intense loneliness and just as he’s about to burst into tears, a pair of female hands reach out to clasp his own. His face relaxes and there’s a wave of joyful relief. Cliched as it sounds, “Plan 75” confirms the old adage: all we need out of life is someone to hold our hands when we die.


“Ten Years Japan”

1) “Plan 75” Directed by Chie Hayakawa.
Starring: Satoru Kawaguchi, Kinuo Yamada, Motomi Makiguchi

2) “Mischievous Alliance” Directed by Yusuke Kimura.
Starring Jun Kunimura

3) “Data” Directed by Ai Tsuno
Starring: Hana Sugisaki, Tetsushi Tanaka

4) “Sono Kuukiwa Mienai” Directed by Akiyo Fujimura
Starring: Chizuru Ikewaki

5) “Utsukishii Kuni” Directed by Kei Ishikawa
Starring: Taiga, Hana Kino

“Hey you grubby kids, get off my fashion runway!” Minami Aoyama Vs The Ruffians

by Kaori Shoji 

Who would have thought a plot of land in a Tokyo neighborhood could cause such a ruckus? The construction of a Child Consultation Center (Jidousoudansho  児童相談所) in prestigious Minami Aoyama has its residents up in arms and the Japanese media is depicting their anger as petty and narrow-minded. There’s an old adage: “Rich folks never argue” but in this case, it looks like those folks are ready for more than a little arguing over what they see as their own, precious turf.

Minami Aoyama is the creme de la creme of posh Tokyo neighborhoods, famed for its sky-high COL as it is for the number of brand boutiques and high-end restaurants. Among the noted institutions in the area are the high fallutin’ Nezu Art Museum, the snarky Prada building, the Comme des Garcons flagship store and Tessenkai Noh Theater. Even the tourists strolling the streets here seem to have a loftier agenda.

Minami Aoyama is located in Minato-ku, Tokyo’s most expensive ward and home to many foreign embassies including the United States. Last month they announced plans to build a Child Consultation Center on a plot of land just minutes away from Omotesando metro station. Slated for completion in April, 2021, the Center will be a much-needed facility in Tokyo’s 23 Ward Area, functioning as a safe house for abused children, single mothers and victims of domestic abuse. Minato-ku bought the 3211 square meter plot from Tokyo for 7.24 billion yen and will proceed with construction in August, 2019.

Under other circumstances, this is a laudable move. There were over 130,000 cases of child abuse reported last year in Japan – the highest ever recorded, and the tragic death of a 5-year old girl in February heightened public awareness of a real and urgent problem. It also shed light on an inconvenient truth: Japan’s social system sucks when it comes to dealing with dysfunctional families and general child support. As it stands, there are only 7 such facilities in Tokyo’s 23 ward area, a number that’s dismally low compared to cities like London and Paris. You could say Minato-ku was making an effort to catch up to global standards.

But Minami-Aoyama residents opened fire during the 2-day meeting with the Ward office, saying that such a building is “unsuitable to the cityscape of Aoyama,” and will “disappoint in-bound travelers hoping to experience the exclusive atmosphere of Aoyama,” “lower the value of local real estate and give the entire area a bad name.” The media immediately honed in on their chorus and news reports televised an anonymous resident (a disembodied voice directed at an official in a conference room) expressing her distaste at seeing “children who can’t even attend the local elementary school,” daring to show up on pristine Aoyama streets. She was gently reprimanded by an official who explained that the objective was to help children in need. “They have done nothing wrong,” said the official. “The fact that they can’t go to school is the reason why these facilities are necessary in the first place.”

Cute dogs, okay, but poor kids, no way.

Social commentators, academics and even comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto went on the air to say that the real disappointment here was the “snooty narrow-mindedness of Minami Aoyama residents.” Indeed, the whole fiasco revealed an unpleasant side to Aoyama locals, long thought of as liberal fashionistas with cash to burn. “Actually, they’re demeaning their own town and themselves,” said a newscaster.

Though the controversy has calmed down, it has definitely left claw marks on Aoyama’s glossy image. The term NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) was batted around by both the media (as something negative and petty) and the locals (as a way to defend themselves). Tweets to the tune of, “only happy, well-off people should live in Minami Aoyama. The residents here pay high taxes so they have a right to protect their streets from unhappiness,” are still floating around.

Ah, the right not to feel unhappy. Along with NIMBY, the debate over this right has gone viral, not least because it figures into real cash flow in the Tokyo real estate market. Housing journalist Atsushi Sakaki pointed out online that while “everyone understands the need for social welfare facilities, there is a strong local undercurrent of resistance to those facilities. For the privileged residents in Minami Aoyama, it’s hard to admit that unhappiness and tragedy exists, and harder still to have to live with a problematic institution in their own neighborhood.”

On a real estate market level, those emotions immediately translate into hard cash. “In the real estate world, there’s what’s called an antagonizer,” said Sakaki. “The antagonizer could be a prison, a juvenile correctional institution, or an industrial waste plant. In any case, the presence of an antagonizer lowers the image of the locale, which in turn has a negative effect on real estate prices. Given the current state of the Tokyo real estate market, that plot of land in Minami Aoyama should have been slated for a tower mansion.” Certainly Minami Aoyama’s top realtor Green Seed, would agree. It’s rumored that Green Seed is the secret instigator behind Minami Aoyama’s NIMBY anger-mongering, and that they’re planting fake tweets to discourage Minato-ku from going ahead with the project. Sakaki commented that for a local realtor, letting a choice plot of land go to a public works project implies hundreds of millions of yen in potential losses.

Both Tokyo and Minato-ku seems saturated by tower mansions but developers say they want to build more. Real estate prices are soaring, side by side with newly constructed condominiums of steel and glass that tower ever higher into the sky. In Minato-ku neighborhoods like Aoyama and Roppongi, newly erected high-rise condominium units start at an average 100 million yen for a modest 45 square meters and are snapped up immediately by IT moguls and Chinese developers.

Market pundits warn that the real estate bubble will burst once the Tokyo Olympics – now a little over 18 months away – packs up and skips town. But right now that’s as hard to imagine as the next Big Earthquake that could turn the capital into mountainous piles of rubble or hurl the city into a blackout nightmare, leaving many tower mansion residents helpless inside their high-in-the-sky chambers. Whether that would count as distasteful unhappiness remains for now, a mystery.

“I Know Your Name….” Sex-work and blackmail in Japan

“I know your name.”

photo by ©Jake Adelstein

I shuddered while reading the first line of this email on my mobile, I remember dropping it on my bed in disbelief. This wasn’t the usual time-waster, this wasn’t the usual sex pest abusive messages that escorts usually got.

“I know your name it’s ______ and you’re a student at _____ University”.

My heart stopped. I don’t use my first legal name anywhere online, nor do I tell people it. The only person who would know my entire legal name would be someone with access to official documents about myself. Like a professor.

“If you don’t send me nudes, and whatever the hell else I might want. I’ll expose you. I’ll tell everyone at University about you. I’ll tell your talent agency about you.”

Plenty of people within the entertainment industry moonlight as sex workers, including now famous A-list Hollywood actors. The difference between myself and them was that I was an idol. An idol in Japan is a young person active as a singer, as a dancer and most importantly a talent, whose biggest attribute is Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club-esque squeaky clean nature and hopefully manga-like cute cuddly shining eyes, perpetually open wide.

“If you don’t send me nudes, and whatever the hell else I might want. I’ll expose you. I’ll tell everyone at University about you. I’ll tell your talent agency about you.”

In Japan, I had come to meet a few idols who worked jobs as hostesses, girls bar work, erotic massage and for escort services. I even knew a guy who knew a guy who claimed to be the Papa-San or “sugar daddy” of a lesser known ***48 member. As common as this tends to be, it obviously is a liability for talent agencies.

For lack of more eloquent words, I was scared shitless. Whoever this person was had leverage on me as a student, as a migrant and as someone in the entertainment industry. However, I was more afraid that if I heeded his orders it would quickly elevate to more unscrupulous demands.

So, I ignored it. I ignored it for as long as I could. Until two weeks later he sent information about fan event I would be holding with something threatening along the lines of:  “It would be a shame if I came here and showed everyone your ad. You’re a dirty whore! Muahahahahah” The original email was worded differently, but the meaning was clear.

He was trying to exploit my latent feelings of shame around the sex work I was doing at the time  and the stigma society has around sex workers and migrant sex workers. As dumb as this is, I ended up sending him a few recycled lewd photos. I was too afraid of the repercussions…or maybe I have a humiliation kink I can’t admit yet. Even though I can dryly laugh about the situation now, it was horrifying when it was happening to me.

He predictably took it up a notch. “Go to coordinates _____ and there’s a vending machine. Put ¥20,000 (roughly $180) under it. Don’t look around or ask questions. If you don’t want this option you can give me blowjobs every week but you will remain masked the entire time”

20,000 yen it is, I decided. I kept being urged by friends to report this to the police. Despite what I said in my twitter post in Japanese, I didn’t. Well technically I didn’t. I’ll get back to that. I couldn’t report it to the police because what I was doing to earn money was probably way outside of the kind of work my visa would allow.

Later that day I looked up the coordinates to the vending machine where I was instructed go leave the cash. I wanted to sarcastically reply, “which vending machine” because in Japan there’s a vending machine on every street corner, sometimes on every floor of a building. The coordinates were smack dab deep in Dougenzaka, Shibuya’s red light district, also known as “Love Hotel Hill’.. It’s a bit like all of Roppongi but without drunk expatriate asshole merchant bankers. It’s also a bit like the East side of Ikebukuro but without the old men holding hands with high school girls openly. It’s a bit like Ueno but Dougenzaka doesn’t reek of piss. You get the idea. Dougenzaka is a red light district. It has the neon lights, beat cops, happening bars, love hotels and all the trimmings. But it tends to be a bit quieter than the others. Somewhere nicely in between the gaudiness of Kabukicho in Shinjuku and the tawdry sleaziness of Uguisudani.

He wasn’t the most intimidating guy to bring along, however he had a penis and he was Japanese.

I decided, that I would pay him once but no more after that I told myself. Going with me was a male friend. By friend, I meant a guy who was a part-time host at a host club and part time nursery school teacher who I had friend-zoned. I don’t like host clubs or hosts, both are painfully boring to me. I’ve never understood the appeal to the host system. I’ve had this theory, since most of the women patrons of host clubs are also sex workers, who have to deal with assholes all day, hosts allow them to try their hands at the dynamic themselves. Something like “reverse sexism”. As I said, I don’t like hosts but this guy was different. He was a total geek.

He was a Kaiju (怪獣) and Kamen Rider (仮面ライダー) nerd, totally into the world of Japan’s  superheroes and super monsters, and quite small in stature. He wasn’t the most intimidating guy to bring along, however he had a penis and he was Japanese. If the situation became out of hand, those two important factors would be all that would matter with having an ally on my side.

As we toddled down the dark Dougenzaka alley trying to find the exact location of the vending machine from the email, Kaiju-host told me “I don’t feel so well about this.” Well no shit Sherlock. Neither did I, but in my mind if I gave this guy money he’d lay off for enough time for me to figure something clever out.

“I think this is it!” We walked near a vending machine similar to one I had seen on Google maps. The location was a far cry from the neon lights and drunks bumbling out of Izakayas. The only illumination about was from that vending machine; the neon glow lit the alley like a lighthouse far in the distance. I wish I could say something more meaningful or prolific about that, but I can’t. Just know the place was really damn dark and the only light was from a metal box with drinks inside of it. I would definitely feel more afraid being alone there. I remembered the line from the email: “Don’t look around or hang about too long!” I wondered whether or not this idiot was hiding somewhere in the darkness with a trench coat on and a seventies porn mustache ready to pounce.

I slid the envelope containing the ¥20,000 under the vending machine.

“Man! T–t-this is crazy!!!”

As Kaiju Host whimpered I wondered to myself why I brought him, of all people, as some sort of security. Then I quickly reminded myself he was Japanese with a penis, and the professor harassing me was most likely American or Canadian, based on his writings. In my mind if the police had any questions, providing this idiot actually did pounce in a trench coat, me being a whore was cancelled out by having a Japanese person with me and maybe I would have a fair chance.

I went home that night and emailed the idiot professor who somehow thought 20,000 yen was a lot of money to blackmail someone for.

“I’ve given you the money. Please leave me alone”

I stupidly assumed all was well the next day when he responded,  “Great. I’ve got it. I won’t bother you anymore.”

And then silence. I assumed silence was great in this case, until two weeks later when I was contacted again. I know the readers are probably wondering where this story ends, if it’s fake or if I’m really all that stupid for continuously giving into his demands. I’d say a bit of the latter is true.

“You know…I’m starting to think you should um, come to a love hotel once a week or so and give me a free blow job, while wearing an eye mask so you won’t know who I am.”

And I ignored them. The emails got more and more harassing with every day, with about fifty or so emails sent every single day over a week’s time.At this point, I confided with a few friends about what I should do. Whether Japanese or not they all had a theme

“Go to the police. He will lose his job, everything. It’s illegal!”

“Dude this is how people get killed. You need to tell the police or I will!”

As much as I wanted to, as much as I told myself to do so- I couldn’t. I knew the score. Women are stalked in Japan all  of the time and police often do nothing until it’s far too late for the woman. Women have been stalked, beaten and even murdered with the Japanese police and media blaming her post-mortem for “leading him on”. It wasn’t until 2014 that Japan’s stalking laws drastically changed, society will take longer however. So to say I was hesitant on contacting authorities at all in an understatement.

So I did the best next thing.

I impersonated a police officer. This guy seemed like an idiot, so I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to fool him. I searched online for Japan’s laws on stalking and internet harassment. “Bingo!” I found a long bill of text and decided to use it. There was a lot of complicated wording in it, but it didn’t matter as long as it looked official to scare him.

I took time to translate the text, because I imagined this guy as one of those Western men in Japan who took zero time to learn anything beyond “Areegatoe” and broken pick up lines to use on obviously resisting Japanese women.

“Haha” it was so funny how official the penal code looked. I even added in Japanese and English: THIS IS AN OPEN POLICE INVESTIGATION. LAW ENFORCEMENT ARE LOOKING INTO YOUR ACTIVITIES AND HAVE TAKEN CONTROL OF THIS ACCOUNT.

He responded almost instantaneously, “I’m sorry can we reverse this somehow? I was just kidding.”

Thankfully, I never heard from him ever again. But it still haunts me. My legal name isn’t public knowledge and it isn’t something I even used within university. This was someone with access to my legal documents, my Instagram, my twitter and was most likely a lecturer, as he claimed himself. Everyday at University from that point, I wondered, “Is it him?”

The university I went to wasn’t renowned for having a great administration or anything. There were so many strange people there. I had far too many theories on who it might have  been and far too many unusual suspects.  Maybe you don’t have sympathy for me because you don’t like sex-workers and don’t believe people should have the right to full autonomy of their bodies. But the sin of having consensual sex, for money shouldn’t be one that has so much shame attached that it could lead to someone in authority blackmailing a student.

A part of me laughs a bit though, at the entire experience and wondering if he was scared shitless for a few months worrying if it was the day law enforcement would come question him. Or maybe he didn’t care at all.

At least he left me alone.

 

The Eternal Outsider :Ten Years Black in Japan–a book review

by Kaori Shoji

Trevor David Houchen was an expat in Nagoya for about 8 years before getting divorced from his Japanese wife. He tried to get joint custody of his two young children but was defeated in court and went the way of other divorced dads in Japan i.e., a six-hour long, unsupervised meeting once a month. After some mental health issues and a string of failed relationships, Houchen decided that he was through with Japan and vice versa. He boarded a plane back to the US and in LA, started writing what would become “The Eternal Outsider – Ten Years Black in Japan,” and remarried another Japanese woman. (Editor’s note: The book bears some similarity to Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs, previously reviewed here).

Houchen and his wife now live in Atlanta. His book – a hefty 508 page volume packed with explosive sex scenes and lengthy, soul seaching monologue, came out this month via a self-publishing company in New York. Houchen hopes the book will provide a passage back to Japan that will lead to a reunion with his kids. He hasn’t seen or heard from them since leaving Nagoya nearly five years ago.

Houchen’s story is by no means unique – an interracial marriage gone sour followed by an exit out of the archipelago is a tale oft-told by foreign men. Ditto the separation from the children which has become a huge problem in the past 5 or so years, despite the Hague Convention. Barring extreme and/or extenuating circumstances, Japanese courts favor Japanese mothers when it comes to child custody rights. And foreign-born parents are almost always banned from taking their kids out of the country.

Houchen’s plight is sad but “The Eternal Outsider” isn’t out to invite reader sympathy, not least from the presumed target audience of American males interested in Japan. Many will pick up the book, just from the photo of the Japanese-looking young woman wearing that classic Japanese expression which can be both a come-on and a signal of distress. Once they dip into the pages though, resentment may come bubbling up like coffee in an old-fashioned percolator. Houchen is black American, and through the book he inducts the reader into a whole other world of foreigner male entitlement that exists in East Asia. For many Japanese (and other East Asian) women, dating a white man equals romance and prestige. But dating an African American – now that brings some SERIOUS cache. Among other things, it broadcasts that the woman is earthy, sassy and adventurous enough to try dreadlocks. It also means she rocks – mainly in the sack which is the most important place to rock anyway. A friend of mine who once dated Kevin-from-Bushwick gleefully declared: “I feel like my butt is now 10 centimeters higher than it used to be!” To get that effect the rest of us would have to spend 100 hours in a Cross fit class.

Which is part of the reason why Houchen was able to experience what he describes in the book – never saying no to a bevy of Nagoya beauties who literally break his door down in order to share his bed. Sometimes, he has to do the work and actually ASK a woman out, but hey, why bother when the answer is ‘hai (yes)’ every single time? Most of them have the good grace to proffer their bodies and ask nothing in return. Many of them pay for his meals and clothes or in one case, gifts him an electric piano. One lover whom he refers to as ‘H,’ plonks down her own cash to support his magazine and music business and picks up the check for everything else.

Houchen’s success rate is phenomenal and you almost imagine him grinning with nostalgia for those golden days or shaking his head in pity at the sorry state of dating in his own USA. Guys not getting any? Guys sending hopeful dick pics to Tinder dates? Seriously, Dudes, just hop on a plane to Japan!

The other part is that Houchen – for all his self-absorbed, sexual predator asshole-ness, is actually a stand-up kinda guy with a real love for this country. He’s nice to his numerous girlfriends, nice to his ex-wife, obviously loves his kids and even tries to get along with his in-laws. This is Nagoya we’re talking about, a region famed for its ultra-conservative attitude towards dating and relationships. Nagoya parents are known for laying down the law when it comes to their children’s marriages and will meddle in everything from baby names to the color of the bath mat in a newlywed’s home. Most of them are NOT thrilled by the idea that their precious offspring could be involved with a foreigner. The fact that Houchen was able to swing a marriage at all is a miracle but as he writes in the book, “No, I’m not Japanese. But I tried. So hard….I tried my best to be invisible, to compact myself into a smaller, paler, less amped and less woke version of myself.”

That worked for awhile until it didn’t. “International Marriages,’ as they’re called in Japan, is still frowned upon by many in the older generation and according to “The Eternal Outsider,” Houchen’s in-laws looked upon him as a sort of disease to which their vulnerable daughter fell victim. There’s a hilarious account of how one day, his mom-in-law showed up at Berlitz, where Houchen was in the middle of teaching, and demanded to see him. Houchen had to excuse himself from class to go out and placate an older Japanese woman who suspected  that he was unemployed and came to check if he was lying. The incident rattled Houchen and he couldn’t recover enough to keep teaching the student. Berlitz ended up firing him.

“The Eternal Outsider” is an engrossing read but speaking as a Japanese woman, many of the pages was torture to get through. Somehow, it reminded me of a news story that was floating around in the mid 1990s, about how easily Japanese women capitulated to foreign men. It goes like this: Six Japanese college students – all young women, went on a holiday trip to Rome. In a restaurant, they were picked up by a local man who invited them all back to his apartment. They went, and he proceeded to have his way with them – all at once, and all on his own. These women weren’t tied up. They simply lay there on their backs while the man whizzed his way from one to another, all through the night. How’s that for stamina?  Houchen talks about how humiliating the divorce was for him, but hello – there’s a sizable amount of humiliation on this end too, except no one wants to talk about it. Houchen’s book certainly doesn’t.

Speaking of humiliation, Houchen fell apart when he discovered that his ex-wife had installed a Japanese man in the apartment they had shared and who was “a good five inches shorter” than Houchen. She had her parents, their kids and this new man who was already being referred to as “Papa.” He describes her united front as “a team” whose very existence drained all joy out of his life in Japan. In the meantime, he never stopped sleeping with any woman who happened to drop in, including a former student whom he used to teach at a local junior high school.

On the one hand, this stuff could be fodder for a hit series on Netflix. On the other hand, you could shrug and say “shouganai (it can’t be helped)” – he got what was coming to him.

Still, I’m uncomfortable about leaving it like that. The book reveals in a deeply observant way how ultimately, Japan and Japanese women refused to be messed around with, particularly by a foreigner. And in the end, Houchen’s wife and copious lovers all vanish like smoke from a pack of Seven Stars: Houchen’s preferred cigarette brand in the land of the rising sun. Sure, he had the time of his life but it was just that – a time. And now it’s gone.

Hey Fellas, Wanna be a “Guyjin” Idol In Japan? Read the story so far and then think on it…

by James Collins

On a typical day in December 2016, while drinking beer and eating yakitori in a smoke-filled Izakaya somewhere outside of Tokyo, I confessed my idea of creating Japan’s first all foreign male idol group to my girlfriend. Fashioned after the ubiquitous AKB48 idol group, I called the group Guyjin48, a play on the Japanese word gaijin, which means foreigner. The group would have members from all over the world, which would sing songs entirely in Japanese. The idea had struck me shortly after moving to Japan in 2013 while surfing for Japanese music on the Internet. It was my first time being introduced to the concept of Japanese idol music, but for some reason I felt compelled to try and create a group of my own, regardless of the fact that I had absolutely no experience in music production. My girlfriend liked the idea and the next day we created a logo, wrote out the concept, and created our first help-wanted ad looking for future foreign idols of Japan.

The guyjin idol band that could have been

The concept of the Guyjin48 project evolved over a period of three years, mostly from observing Japanese society and learning about the many pressing issues the country is dealing with, i.e. their greying population and the dire need for foreign labor. So the group went from being simply an act of curiosity to having an actual message and becoming more of a conduit for creating meaningful conversation, even if at surface level it appears to simply be only a bunch of foreigners singing idol music. Japan needs diversity. Japan needs to learn how to play nice with their impending deluge of foreign immigrants. Not exactly the most popular conversation right now, but one that must be had in my opinion. Like medicine-coated in sugar in order to make easier to swallow, I thought pop music might make the conversation a little easier to have.

A couple weeks after announcing the project, Crunchyroll, a widely used Japanophile website created an article based on the little information we had on the internet, and within hours the article had been translated into several languages. Other articles popped up here and there and it seemed there was a thirst amongst niche groups of foreigners who relished in the idea of finally being able to become a real idol in Japan. We began receiving multiple applications a day from people all over the world wanting to join the group, mostly from Indonesia. We also got our first bit of negative attention from the western community who claimed I was a disgusting racist for using such an offensive word as the group name.

It has almost been two years since starting the project with absolutely no experience and very little money. We have since changed the name to COLORFUUUL, we were able to team up with DJ Shinnosuke from the hip-hop group Soul’d Out, and I have finally been able to meet people in the industry and have started to see support from certain media outlets.

Despite all of this, and despite the fact that we have been able to create an album, created original dances, and already have multiple performances and interviews lined up, we recently have had a pretty big setback. Three out of the five original members of the group decided to leave, all within a matter of a few days. So we are once again looking for people to help us make this project a reality.  (Editor’s note, there has been at least one successful foreign idol in Japan, Ms. Amina Du Jean) who retired last year.)

So lonely….

If you think you can dance, sing, and have what it takes to be a foreign idol in Japan, then you might be what we are looking for. Auditions will be held at the end of October, so if you are interested please send applications to:

contact@jamtinpro.com

This is a chance to not only be part of a project attempting to pave the way for the foreign idol community but also to do your part in spreading a message of diversity and acceptance in Japan. Then maybe one day we can all hang out at that one place in Golden Gai that still doesn’t allow foreigners at the moment.

 

 

COLORFUUUL: 日本初全メンバーが外国人男性の

アイドルグループは募集中。

 

2016年12月、東京を離れてある居酒屋で私は焼き鳥と酒を堪能しながら、日本初全メンバーが外国人男性のアイドルグループを作りたいという思いを彼女に明かした。近年人気を博した国民的アイドルグループAKB48と同じように、グループの名前をGuyjin48にしようということも決めていた。Guyjinは外人という言葉をもじっており、外国人と英単語の男子という二つの意味がかけられている。日本に住んでいる各国からのメンバーを集めて、日本語の曲を歌わせるという構想を持っていた。2013年に来日してから当分の間日本の音楽シーンについて調べていたのだが、AKB48の存在を知ってからは、彼らの外国人バージョンのグループを作りたいと強く思うようになった。なぜそのようなアイディアをとっさに思いついたのかは今でもよく覚えていないが、プロデューサーとしての経験ゼロの私であったがすぐに挑戦する気持ちがみなぎっていた。彼女に相談すると、「いいアイデアだね。やってみよう」と賛成してもらい、次の日からすぐにロゴやコンセプト、求人告知を製作することに一緒に取り組んだ。

 

Guyjin48のコンセプトは3年間ずっと磨き続けてきた。最初は面白半分のような計画であったが、日本社会を観察し日本が今直面している色々な問題を知っていく中で、もっと社会貢献を目的にしたものにしようと考えるようになった。表面的にはただの外国人アイドルグループに見えるかもしれないが、彼らの活動を通して、日本社会の問題を提起することができる有意義な会話を生むことができることを目標とした。日本はもっと多様性に寛大な社会になるべきである。近年増え続けておりこれからもその数の増加が予想されている、日本国内の外国人労働者を含めた在日外国人と日本人がより仲良く,お互いのことを理解し合える環境を作っていくべきである。なかなか取り掛かりずらい問題ではあるが、東京オリンピックの開催やグローバル化が進む昨今の世の中で、早急に取り組まなきゃいけない問題であるのではないかと個人的に思う。堅苦しい話題であるかもしれないが、だからこそGuyjin48のようにポップな音楽を通して問題提起をすることが効果的であると信じている。

 

Guyjin48のコンセプトを発表した2週間後、「Crunchyroll」という英語圏の日本マニアの方向けのウェブサイトにグループのことを取り上げて頂き、数時間のうちに色々な言語の記事があちこちに拡散された。その時点で、日本で本格的なアイドルになりたいという夢を抱く外国人の数はとんでもないことが分かった。それから絶対グループに参加したいとアピールする応募者たちから毎日たくさんのメールを受け取り、また興味深いことに過半数はインドネシア人であった。Guyjin48のコンセプトへの反響は大半がポジティブなものであったが、そうでないものも少数ではあったが存在した。「外人」いう言葉は、一部の西洋人には非常に攻撃的に受け取られてしまい、彼らからの反応は喜ばしいものではなかった。このような反応は最初から危惧していた要素ではあったが、一部の人からは予期していなかった厳しい言葉も浴びせられてしまった。

 

経験とお金を全く持たずしてGuyjin48のコンセプトを発表してからほぼ2年が経過した。誰のことも傷つけないようにグループの名前をCOLORFUUULに変更して、元SOUL’D OUTのShinnosukeさんに作詞作曲をして頂き、業界の方とも顔を合わすようになり、メディアにも時おり出して頂けるようになった。

 

順調にみえたグループであったが、最近大きな挫折を経験することになってしまった。初のアルバムを製作し、三曲分のダンスも作り、ライブやインタビューもこれから何本も入っていたのだが、5人いるメンバーのうちの3人が突然脱退してしまった。したがって、日本初の全メンバー外国人男性アイドルグループを実現するにはまた新たなメンバーを募集しなくてはならないことになってしまった。

 

そこで歌とダンスに自信があり日本でアイドルになれる資質を持ち合わせていると思う方は、ぜひメンバーに応募していただきたい。10月下旬にオーディションを行う予定があるので、応募したい方はcontact@jamtinpro.comまでメールを送ってください。日本に住む外国人にとっては、日本のアイドルの世界への扉を開くムーブメントに参加するだけではなく、日本国内の多様性と日本に滞在している外国人への寛容性を高めようというメッセージを広めるチャンスでもある。興味がある方はぜひ応募してください。よろしくお願い致します。

We’re Stuck With ‘The Last Samurai’ While Everyone Else Gets Crazy Rich

by Kaori Shoji

In high school, the girls around me had one wish–to have a different nationality, preferably American, and to trash our drab school uniforms for the outfits in “Beverly Hills 90210.” Being Japanese was just no fun, though it did seem better than hailing from other Asian countries. After all, this was the 1980s and the Japanese economy was gearing up to enter the bubble era. The Equal Employment Law for women kicked in. Chiaki Mukai was training to be Japan’s first woman astronaut. Takako Doi was rumored to become the future Prime Minister. Things were happening here, albeit minus the fun, sophistication and glamour we so coveted.

Little did we know that one day, Singapore and China would trump (pun intended) the US in many things regarding money, or that Asian women would come to rank among the richest in the world. These women would book first class flights on the five-starred Singapore Airlines to chill in the gaze of the Mer-Lion, and immerse themselves in gossip, shopping and spas with unlimited supplies of yuzu-scented sheet masks.

No yakuza, geisha, or Matt Damon here.

For that’s what the ladies in the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” do. On the occasions that they haul themselves off the mani-pedi bed or tear themselves away from the mahjong table, they reach for their phones to tap a few keys and murmur a few instructions, to put extra padding on their already bursting bank accounts. After that, they’re off to dinner parties where a billion orchid petals pave the paths and splendid fireworks explode in the background. Who do these people think they are, clones of Daisy Buchanan from “The Great Gatsby”?

Speaking of which, “Crazy Rich Asians” is the kind of insular, extravagant love story that would have made Scott Fitzgerald weep with envy. Director Jon M. Chu, who hails from Palo Alto and attended USC, has been working in films and TV since 2002 and this time, he literally hit the jackpot. Somehow the man knew that the world needed the sight of well-heeled Asians with perfect teeth, flinging their cash around at the same time they’re being swooningly romantic.

Chu dares to tread where no Hollywood movie about Asia ever has. There is no poverty or war. No samurai conflict. No appearance of Matt Damon (The Great Wall)  or any white saviors to save the day. No immigration issues.  Most importantly, there are no mothers crying about the sacrifices they made, to give their children a bright future in America. The mother in “Crazy Rich…” (played by a gorgeously frosty Michelle Yeoh) is the type who, when running up against a racist manager at a London hotel, calmly takes out her phone and makes arrangements to buy the hotel then and there. Minutes later she strides away, leaving the manager to get down on his knees and scrub the mud off the carpet from her son’s shoes.

When Hollywood does Asia, it goes for the jugular, like “Joy Luck Club” and “Sayuri” and “The Last Samurai.” Hollywood executives hear the word ‘Asians’ and immediately conjure an image of sweating maidens in rice paddies, or yakuza with swords in Shinjuku, or maidens and yakuza hooking up in Shinjuku, or all of the above. But in “Crazy Rich..,” Asians get to do what white people in movies have been doing for centuries. It’s about time.

In the US, “Crazy Rich Asians” was the movie sensation of the summer and it’s easy to see why. Apart from the endlessly entertaining antics of the Asian one percent “Crazy Rich…” knows how to entice an American audience. The characters have American names like Nick (Henry Golding), Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), Rachel (Constance Wu). They speak perfect English and hold engrossing conversations about love and family. They take their entitlement completely for granted. And they’re never weird. If they are, they’re weird in ways that Americans understand. Like in one scene, a bunch of catty woman put a dead fish in a girl’s bed as a bullying tactic, and it’s straight our of  “Desperate Housewives.” Or if you want to be authentic about it, “The Godfather.”

Meanwhile, over here in the Land of the Rising Sun, people’s names are adamantly Japanese. Women are told to shut up and bear children, or shut up and work until 50 after which they must quit to care for elderly parents. Prime Minister Abe, now firmly ensconced in his third term, has promised the nation’s women that “things are going to change.” Seriously? They ain’t changing fast enough. All over Asia, Asian women are liberating themselves from tradition and antiquated family values to get a lot richer a lot faster than the Japanese ever did. Japan had its five minutes in the economic spotlight in the late 1980s but the 20-plus year recession combined with the notion of “seihin (清貧・clean poverty)” just about did us in. Evidence to that is seen in the way “Crazy Rich Asians” completely ignores Japan. China, Taiwan, Hong Kong – these places all get mentioned but Japan? Nada. True, Japan-born actress Sonoya Mizuno is in the cast but she plays a filthy rich Chinese woman. Go figure.

We’re a tad miffed, to be honest. But that really shouldn’t stop Japan from savoring every single frame of “Crazy Rich Asians.” From the sleek, precision make-up on the women to the bared torsos of the males (firm, slender and hairless – God’s gift to Asia) to the decor and wardrobe to the food and cocktails, “Crazy Rich…” is one huge, glittering monstrosity of a sweet, sweet treat. No wonder that for an increasing number of Japanese who will never be crazy rich, Singapore has come to represent the unattainable Japanese dream.

Should Japanese men have the right to molest women on the train? A close friend of the Prime Minister writes, “Yes!”––the magazine goes out business

“The deepest suffering belongs to the men who are plagued with the symptoms of train groper syndrome (痴漢症候群) in which his hand automatically moves when he steps on a packed train and catches a whiff of a woman. Shouldn’t society protect the rights of them [train molesters]?–Eitaro Ogawa, close associate of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Shincho 45, on the rights of chikan

In this month’s issue of the monthly magazine Shincho 45 (新潮45), Eitaro Ogawa, author of many works praising the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe–and his advisor–published an essay apparently asserting that men (痴漢) should have their right to grope women be protected. Understandably, that is drawing the ire of the on-line community and the real world. UPDATE: In fact, on September 25, Shinchosha (新潮社) announced the publication was being shelved (休刊) for the time being. 

 

The author of this book, which had sales subsidised by Prime Minister Abe, has asserted Japanese men should have a right to grope women on the train. Yes, according to Eitaro Ogawa, if you’re a woman in Japan and you get groped on the train–it’s because you’re giving off pheromones. The scent of a woman is the culprit and the victim is the chikan (train pervert).

Ogawa’s rant was one of many articles in their special October issue about whether it was acceptable to discriminate against the  lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT).

It was a follow up to the August edition of the same magazine which published a piece by lawmaker Mio Sugita bashing the LGBT community as dead weight on society and a waste of any public funding.  In the magazine’s October feature section, ““Is Sugita’s article that outrageous?”, Ogawa and others sounded off on the topic. Prime Minister Abe has refused to admonish Sugita, claiming that she was “young and should be given slack”.

Ms. Sugita is 51 years old which makes the “crazy teenagers having fun” aka Brett Kavanaugh defense even more ridiculous.

She was recruited by the Prime Minister to join the Liberal Democratic Party.  She’s also blamed rape victims for being raped in other past statements.

The October issue in the special feature, has a rambling nearly incoherent essay by Ogawa on LGBT issues. He seems to classify homosexuality as a fetish, like an ass fetish, or a fondness for BDSM. However, his crowning moment comes in the following passage.

“The deepest suffering belongs to the men who are plagued with the symptoms of train groper syndrome (痴漢症候群) in which his hand automatically moves when he steps on a packed train and catches a whiff of a woman. Repeated offenses show that it is an uncontrollable urge stemming from the brain. Shouldn’t society protect and reserve their rights to grope [women]? Oh, you’ll probably say we should think of the the shock it causes for a woman. If you want to talk about shock, well, the sight of the honorable LGBT walking in the streets in mainstream media is shocking to me. Shocking to the point of a being deadly threat to me. I must ask of them to speak only after they have paid me a insurmountable amount for damages.”

〈満員電車に乗った時に女の匂いを嗅いだら手が自動的に動いてしまう、そういう痴漢症候群の男の困苦こそ極めて根深かろう。再犯を重ねるのはそれが制御不可能な脳由来の症状だという事を意味する。彼らの触る権利を社会は保証すべきではないのか。触られる女のショックを思えというのか。それならLGBT様が論壇の大通りを歩いている風景は私には死ぬほどショックだ、精神的苦痛の巨額の賠償金を払ってから口を利いてくれと言っておく。〉

Yes, according to Ogawa, if you’re a woman in Japan and you get groped on the train–it’s because you’re giving off pheromones. The scent of a woman is the culprit and the victim is the chikan (train pervert). Ogawa attempted to walk back his statement on television programs this weekend by saying the meaning of his essay got lost to the reader. A professor at Meiji University who appeared on a television program with Ogawa responded by saying, “If you write this kind of crap, so that the meaning gets lost, you should just stop writing. Seriously.”  Perhaps Ogawa only meant to be rhetorical but the text of his words, on their own, offend most sensible people. He may have been attempting to say that since in his mind, groping people on trains and being homosexual are just two different kinds of sexual perversion, that offering to protect the rights of one (homosexuality) over the other (men groping women on trains)  was ridiculous. Of course, he appears to be the most ridiculous of them all.

Ogawa has written many works lavishly praising Prime Minister Abe.  

On of his books lauding Abe,「約束の日」(The Promised Day) was published in 2012, right before the Liberal Democratic Party General Director elections which put Abe back in power for his second term as Prime Minister. The book was purchased in bulk by Abe’s political fund, 「晋和会」(Shinwakai).  They reportedly spent 7,000,000 yen (70,000 dollars) buying copies of the book, briefly elevating it to best-seller status.

Ogawa is one of several Abe literati profiting from their connection to the politician. Others include his unofficial biographer, Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a former Washington correspondent for TBS. In 2015, Yamaguchi was under investigation for the alleged sexual assault of journalist Shiori Ito and an arrest warrant was issued on rape charges against him. The arrest was stopped by Itaru Nakamura, a career bureaucrat from the National Police Agency, who also served as personal secretary to Abe’s cabinet spokesman. The investigation was then scuttled. Yamaguchi has denied all allegations. Ito is suing him in civil court for damages.

Ogawa was one of several members attending a party supporting Yamaguchi’s efforts to reinsert himself into the media after a period of being shunned.

Takanobu Sato, the president of Shinchosha Publishing Co. made a statement last week that the magazine’s special section contained expressions full of prejudice and was objectively offensive. There was little clarification of what exactly was unacceptable.

Ironically, Weekly Shincho (週刊新潮), in the last year has distinguished itself with outstanding investigative journalism and was the first publication to take up the case of Shiori Ito. It documented how a police investigation into her rape case was hijacked by political forces and how it was derailed by a close friend of the Abe cabinet, abusing his authority as a high-ranking police official.

Unfortunately, Shincho 45, has taken the approach of pandering to right-wing readers in order to boost sales. Or perhaps they are hoping that the Prime Minister’s political fund will buy $70,000 worth of an issue–now and then. Even within Shincho Publishing, there has been concern over the direction Shincho 45 has taken. In the company announcement of suspending the publication,  they admitted that in their trial and errors to boost sagging sales their had been insufficient oversight of the contents.

Ogawa has not walked back his essay.  So while conservatives may lament the loss of another right wing publication, on the other side, Japan’s train perverts can rest a little easier now that they know they have someone on their side whispering into the ear of the Prime Minister.

While Abe has deftly avoided making racist or misogynist statements, his propensity to surround himself with accused sex offenders, misogynists, gay-bashers and appointing rabid racists and sexists to cabinet positions, suggests that maybe he shares their view. One wonders. Under his reign, Japan’s gender equality ranking has sunk to a new low of 114 out of 144 countries.

Mari Yamamoto contributed to this article. 

Arjen Kamphuis, a Dutchman, went missing in Norway on August 20. Help find him.

Arjen Kamphuis, “free software advocate, sailor, carpenter, geek and damn proud of it” was last seen in Bodø, Norway on August 20th. He has long blonde hair and glasses. He is 47-years old, 1.78m tall and has a normal posture. He was usually dressed in black and carrying his black backpack. He is an avid hiker. Arjen is a Dutch citizen and did not arrive back home in The Netherlands. If you have any information, please write:

FindArjen@gmail.com

Arjen Kamphuis ble sist sett i Bodø, Norge den 20. August. Han har langt blondt hår og briller. Han er 47 år gammel og er 1,78m lang. Han er vanligvis kledd i svart og har store med seg sin svarte ryggsekk. Arjen er nederlandske turgåere på ferie i Norge.

FindArjen@gmail.com

Arjen Kamphuis was last seen in Bodø, Norway on August 20th

HodoBuzz: New York-based Japanese Filmmakers Tackle Japan’s Sexism and Press Freedom With Crowdfunding

As Japan spiral downs the gender equality rankings each year with impressive speed(114th out of 144 countries), progress, on the other hand is being made at a snail’s pace in every corner of society.

But Japan’s death spiral towards the bottom isn’t just the status of women, it’s also with freedom of the press. Japan ranked 11th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) annual world press freedom survey in 2010, this year (2018) it came in at 67.  The only reason it wasn’t lower was that under the influence of President Donald Trump, press freedom has taken a punch in the gut all over the world—Japan remains essentially just awful.  The media here has never been much of a watchdog, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has turned much of the press into simpering lapdogs. NHK has become Abe TV thanks to political appointments.  Japan’s few investigative news programs have been cancelled or so neutered they no longer have bark or bite.

But what if….there were still some journalists, fighting the good fight. and what if, it was a woman?

A crowdfunded Japanese drama “Hodo Buzz” depicts a female reporter trying to get real news out while battling all the obstacles inherent in Japan’s media machine.

A new show “HodoBuzz” made by Japanese filmmakers based in New York City takes on these very topics and JSRC is excited to support and watch a show about Japanese people who aren’t afraid to speak the truth and champions a tenacious and outspoken woman(!) who will not be silenced.

Read on to learn more and support their fundraiser campaign!

Derrrrruq!!!, a New York-based Japanese filmmaking team, launched a Kickstarter campaign last month for its new journalism drama HodoBuzz. The campaign seeks to raise $30,000 by September 4th to complete post-production, release, and promote the show.

HodoBuzz Kickstarter Page

http://kck.st/2u8rx8o

The project will only be funded if it reaches its goal of $30,000 by Tue, September 4 2018 11:59 PM EDT.

The creators have a good reason as to why they had to turn to crowdfunding. The show focuses on issues that the Japanese entertainment industry tends to avoid discussing: media sexism and press freedom in Japan. You can check out the series trailer made for the Kickstarter campaign. Don’t forget to turn on the subtitles!

Link: https://youtu.be/TxRQt5vA83g

HodoBuzz is a story about Asuka Wada, a Japanese female reporter. Tired of sexism and objectification in Japan’s TV industry, Asuka quits her job as a game show host in Tokyo to pursue her long-time dream: becoming a news anchor. 

A Japanese version of The Newsroom would be a thrill to watch.

Asuka moves to New York City, the world’s leading journalism center, to work for HodoBuzz, a digital news company.

The first sensitive issue HodoBuzz deals with is the rampant sexism in the Japanese media. In Japan, female TV reporters are constantly objectified. They are often referred to as “joshi ana”, or “girl announcers,” whereas male reporters are called simply, “announcers”. Female reporters have to dress up in a way that entertains the male audience. It is not uncommon for some female reporters to be assigned sexually charged assignments, such as reporting from a beach in a bikini. However, the most obvious point regarding the sexism female journalists face in Japan is that hard news or more “serious” topics are almost exclusively reported by male journalists.

Even at HodoBuzz, which is based in New York, Asuka’s boss, colleagues, and several viewers underrate her skills, because of her past as a game show host. Asuka will experience intense online harassment and bullying, due to the belief that she was hired for her looks, not her abilities.

The second issue the show uncovers is the constant breach of ethical journalism standards in Japan. In HodoBuzz, characters discuss real news, cite actual political commentary, and refer to known false reports by existing Japanese TV networks and newspapers. This has never been done on a Japanese TV drama, due to the strong and complicated codependent relationships among the news industry, political parties, TV stations, sponsor companies, and major talent agencies.

The nature of HodoBuzz has made it very challenging for the creators to get enough investment and distribution support. And it’s safe to assume that HodoBuzz won’t get good coverage from Japanese legacy media, either. Due to the time-sensitive topics discussed, Derrrrruq!!! decided to turn to Kickstarter.

Kickstarter video Link: https://youtu.be/AuhIUjyFGUk

Their team name, “Derrrrruq!!!,” was inspired by the Japanese expression “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”, which describes the conformist nature of Japanese society. Derrrrruq!!! aspires to be the nail that sticks out, a “disruptive” voice in the industry.

For the readers of Japan Subculture Research Center, Derrrrruq!!!’s three creators, Mari Kawade, Maho Honda, and Tsukasa Kondo, might look familiar. Their previous work, 2nd Avenue, was also a bicultural show set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The entire series of 2nd Avenue is available on YouTube to watch.

Link: https://youtu.be/9jbXtOYNS1w

Like 2nd Avenue, Derrrrruq!!!’s aim with HodoBuzz is to create a show that is hard to find in the Japanese entertainment industry. To learn more about HodoBuzz and to make a donation to the crowdfunding campaign by the September 4th deadline, please visit http://kck.st/2u8rx8o.

HodoBuzz Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/derrrrruq/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/derrrrruq

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/derrrrruq/

Website: https://www.derrrrruq.com/

 

Sayonara, Robuchon-san: A Eulogy to Japan’s Beloved French Chef

The news shook the world of Tokyo’s French cuisine, but the iconic Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon in Ebisu, was open for business. Diners clinked their glasses in honor of the late Joel Robuchon, the world famous chef who took “nihonno furenchi (French food in Japan)’ to a new level. In early August, Joel Robuchon succumbed to his battle with cancer. He was 73 years old – young by Japanese standards and way too young for people like Kazunari Mizuki, who had studied under the great master for 2 years before working as an entree chef at the Hotel Okura. “I never got a chance to say goodbye,” he said, his eyes getting moist. “Many of us in this business revered him so much. Without Joel-san, the French restaurant scene in Tokyo would never have gotten to this point.”

The finest coffee ice cream dessert ever.
Every dish, delicious and beautiful. A feast for the eyes and the palette

Indeed, Robuchon’s famed Chateau Restaurant (opened in 1994) was one of the first establishments in Tokyo to earn Michelin’s 3-star rating and the Chateau building itself has come to represent the wealth and glamour of Japan’s capital city. It’s also a pilgrimage site for Japanese couples. In a city notorious for workaholic singles and a rapidly aging population, the Chateau is the one place where men confer with the restaurant staff weeks in advance to orchestrate the perfect marriage proposal and the presenting of the ring. No woman can possibly say ‘no’ to a Robuchon proposal. The very fact that the occasion happened HERE of all places, makes her that much more precious, or at least worthy of a 80,000 yen dinner course and a sizable bling.

The food – though formidable, is almost beside the point. Joel Robuchon taught the Japanese that French cuisine wasn’t about food per se, but the experience as a whole. Everything from the decor to the lighting and wine selection to the impeccable service, should be a reflection of Robuchon’s personal philosophy: never settle for anything less than state of the art.

Presentation matters

He also had a deep respect for Japan and Japanese cuisine. He lauded the soy sauce as “one of the greatest culinary miracles” according to an interview he gave on Fuji Television, and even developed a special shoyu to accompany western dishes. Four months before his death, he had collaborated with sake maker “Dassai” to open a Japanese/French restaurant in Paris. One of his best friends was Jiro Ono, sushi master extraordinaire and owner of “Sukiyabashi Jiro’ in Yurakucho.

Before Joel Robuchon arrived on the scene, the Japanese and French cuisine had an amicable if overly polite, relationship. In prewar days, it was customary for master chefs of the Imperial Household to train in Paris, working their way up from scullery boy to line chef at various establishments. The young Emperor Hirohito was said to have treasured his chef, and counted on him to produce French dinners that would melt the hearts of visiting western dignitaries, even in the midst of rising political tension that preceded WWII.

Back then, only the top tier of the elite could hope to sit down to a full course French dinner and many Japanese had no idea what a fork and knife even looked like. It wasn’t until after the Japanese surrender and the late 1950s, that well-to-do families began dining in Tokyo restaurants, cautiously tasting dishes that vaguely resembled French cuisine.

Fork and knife, not needed, the meat is so tender.

In 1978, 33 years after the Japanese surrender, Joel Robuchon was appointed master chef at the Hotel Nikko de Paris (now the Novotel Paris Centre Tour Eiffel) Coincidentally, Robuchon himself was 33 years old, a still-young chef on the brink of success. That he chose a Japanese hotel to work his magic before opening his own restaurant (the legendary Jamain) three years later, speaks of his enduring love for this country. Robuchon opened restaurants all over the world but has said in numerous interviews that he genuinely enjoyed working with the Japanese, because “we share an innate respect for food and nature.”
Merci, chef. We shall miss you.