Tokyo LGBT community and supporters protest Ishihara’s homophobic comments

By Mizue Watanabe★

Tokyo’s LGBT community and its supporters held a lecture event January 14 to address the homophobic statements made in early December by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara. The two-part event saw politicians, LGBT activists, and even an openly gay manga artist speak to an audience of over 350 people, the majority of which were Japanese.

The meeting was held in reaction to comments made by Ishihara December 3 during a statement regarding a bill to put more stringent regulations on anime and manga. He said that “Homosexuals have been appearing on television as if it were no big deal. Japan is becoming too unregulated.” When a journalist from the Mainichi Shimbun asked Ishihara for clarification on these comments on December 7, Ishihara elaborated: “I feel that [homosexuals] are missing something. Maybe it has something to do with their genes. I feel sorry for them as a minority.” Recalling his experience observing a gay pride parade in San Francisco, Ishihara added that, “I saw the pride parade, but I just felt sorry for them. There were male pairs and female pairs, but I felt that something was missing.”

Perhaps reflecting the peripherality of LGBT issues in mainstream consciousness, only the Mainichi, the Asahi Shimbun, and the Tokyo Shimbun reported these comments.

The Association to Protest Governor Ishihara’s Homophobic Comments hosted the lecture event as a protest against the governor’s discriminatory remarks as well as a show of solidarity among the LGBT community and its supporters. The first part of the event featured a panel discussion of LGBT activists and community advocates discussing their reactions to the governor’s comments. This was followed by informal statements by three municipal politicians, including Aya Kamikawa, an assemblyperson for Tokyo’s Setagaya ward and the first openly transgender politician to be elected in Japan. The second part of the event focused on some of the daily struggles of the LGBT community in Japan, and featured manga artist Taiji Utaguwa’s rendition of recent gay history as well as a “close talk” with two gay couples.

Although serious in nature, the event involved light-hearted moments as well, such as when the opening discussant unleashed two giant balloon balls reading Ishiharasumento-kin (“Ishiharassment” Germ) into the audience. “Please be careful everyone, they’re highly infectious!!” she yelled, to the audience’s delight. Many of the participants, however, spoke of their serious concern with the governor’s comments, noting their distress that these comments were being made from the governor of Japan’s largest and most cosmopolitan city. One activist compared Tokyo to Paris and Berlin, which both have openly gay mayors.

A common sentiment among participants was that Ishihara’s statements make light of the difficulties that many LGBT individuals struggle with in their day-to-day lives, including within the home, at school, and in the workplace.

Although a date has not yet been set, an event organizer announced that the protest against Governor Ishihara’s statements would continue with a public demonstration scheduled for March.

Ironically, Ishihara’s remarks came during Human Rights Awareness Week in Japan, held annually from December 4 to December 10. Activists have pointed out that although the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had listed “eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation” and “eliminating discrimination based on gender identity disorder” as two official goals, the comments by Tokyo’s highest elected official make a joke of this.

Since his election as governor of Tokyo in 2001, Governor Ishihara has become notorious in the domestic and international press for a string of disparaging comments, attacking women, the disabled, foreigners, and even – perhaps most bizarrely – the French language.

In May 2001, when addressing the issue of crimes committed by non-Japanese residents of Japan, Ishihara suggested that, “Foreigners have criminal DNA.” However, despite Ishihara’s tendency to couch his prejudicial views within “biological” terms, neither of these comments is known to have any scientific validity.

*For an amusing commentary on Ishihara’s commentary, check out this clip by transvestite celebrity, Matsuko. 「石原都知事は狂っている」(Governor Ishihara is crazy!)

Tranvestite Celebrity Matsuko on Ishihara's homophobic comments and attempts to censor manga, "He's crazy!"

★Watanabe Mizue is a sociologist researching human rights issues in Japan writing under a pseudonym. JSRC would like to thank her for contributing this article.

Happy New Year Japan! Don't bite off more than you can chew–it could be fatal. A Special Holiday Public Service Announcement

It’s that time of the year again, where Family Mart employees don their Santa suits, KFC production goes into high gear, eager bargain hunters start planning their January 2 sale strategy, and families across the country worry about having to launch their fingers down a loved one’s throat to dislodge unfortunate New Years mochi.

Yes, those sticky race cake treats essential to every Japanese holiday celebration are, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, one of the biggest dangers to the young and elderly over New Years. In the four years leading up to 2010, the Tokyo Prefecture Fire Department reported that, out of 4,719 choking incidents, 606 occurred in January, when mochi is most often consumed. Also, a 2006 MHLW survey of fire departments and emergency centers found that over 20 percent of the 803 calls received about choking incidents involved mochi–figures they estimate represent a mere 22 percent of the total population.

But how to remove sticky mochi that’s lodged in grandpa’s throat when a good whack on the back has failed? By vacuum cleaner, of course.

Although not officially recommended by any emergency services, the vacuum cleaner rose to popularity after a series of New Years incidents where the elderly were saved by quick-thinking relatives willing to jam a hose down their throat. A popular emergency suction nozzle especially for mochi rescues exists that can easily be attached to any commercially available vacuum cleaner, though the thin, narrow nozzle that comes with most machines will reportedly work in a pinch.

As an aside, the Heimlick Maneuver isn’t often mentioned in advice for the lay-person, and “Heimlick Maneuver choking” brings up a mere 1,320 results on Google Japan compared to the 51,300 for “vacuum cleaner choking”.

Of course, some people do survive without a vacuum cleaner or CPR.  Luck helps.

One ex-yakuza boss recalled his near-death experience with mochi. “I’ve almost been killed several times in my life, but the closest I ever got to dying was when I was 16 and almost choked to death on a mochi right before hatsumode. I crammed a whole one into my mouth and then wasn’t able to swallow it or spit it out. I couldn’t breathe and then I passed out, still poking at the mochi with my fingers in my mouth—I woke up to find that I’d puked it out. The luckiest day of my life. That stuff isn’t fit for human beings. Deadly shit.”

Still, if you don’t have luck, it pays to suck. Keiko Musashi, 34, a physical therapist in Tokyo, tells how here grandmother was saved fifteen years ago.“Obaasan had bad teeth and she loved mochi. On the third day after New Year’s,  she ate one too many ozoni and started choking. We could see the edge of the mochi in her throat. We pulled the end and only a bit came out. She was turning blue and then my Mom remembered seeing a public service announcement (PSA) on television about what to do. So she grabbed the vacuum cleaner hose, turned it on and stuffed it in to Grandma’s throat and jiggled it around until she sucked up the mochi. Mission accomplished.”

To this day, Ms. Musashi and her mother refuse to buy a cyclone-type vacuum. “If it doesn’t have a hose, it’s not good.”

So if you do insist on eating those foul Japanese delights this New Year’s day and before or after your first visit to the local shrine—at least you make sure you have an old-fashioned vacuum cleaner (掃除機) nearby. Even if no one chokes to death, it’ll be handy in starting the New Year with a clean house.

Tale of the celebrity cannibal

The Korean custom of eating dogs is something that on occasion mistakenly gets loaded on to the Japanese. To the French and Dutch in the summer of 1981, mention of the Japanese likely brought to mind one individual who ate a completely different type of meat–human.

Issei Sagawa had just completed a semester of study at the Sorbonne Academy in Paris, France, when he invited his Dutch classmate Renée Hartevelt to dinner. Sagawa shot and killer her, then spent the next three days eating her body. He was caught trying to dump her remains in a lake, and investigators discovered further remains still in Sagawa’s fridge. According to his testimony, Sagawa had found Hartevelt to be incredibly beautiful and he wanted to “absorb her energy” in order to compensate for his own “weak, ugly, and small” stature.

Sagawa was found to be legally insane, but was released into the hands of the Japanese authorities. After being examined by psychologists, who found him to be sane but “evil”, he was released.

The folks over at VBS TV have just released a short documentary on Sagawa (part 1 and 2). For those unfamiliar with Vice Mag and VBS TV, I warn you that it’s not for the faint of heart and NSFW.

Perhaps as an unfortunate testament to the Japanese penchant for the unusual, Sagawa now lives as a minor celebrity. He’s also a painter according to this macabre YouTube clip, and he tries to persuade potential clients that he has better and more delicate taste than Hannibal Lecter. Somehow his blood-red shirt doesn’t put us at ease.

Deai kissa matchmaking cafes more than just a meet n' greet

In the wake of the September murder of a 22-year-old university student by a man she met at a deai kissa, or matchmaking cafe, the Mainichi ran an article (Japanese here) that takes a look inside the very same venue where the pair met. The cafe is still running business as usual, still turning a blind eye to the interactions between customers in their “meeting rooms”. The Mainichi article gives attention to two potential sides of the deai kissa coin, interviewing both a woman who waits for a customer looking to negotiate, and another who visits to escape the doldrums of life as a telephone receptionist.

But what really goes on in a deai kissa? Are the clubs as management makes them out to be–innocuous meeting places for would-be couples–with a stray shady deal happening now and then, or are they knowingly operated as hotbeds for prostitution?

Continue reading Deai kissa matchmaking cafes more than just a meet n' greet

Singing cops throw away retirement plans to serenade fellow seniors

Could we somehow combine the two?

From the sugary sweet yet sexy AKB48 to… retired cops?! Yasushi Akimoto, the producer and director famous for pandering to the desires of millions of 40s and 50s-ish salarymen in a socially-acceptable way with the infamous Akiba-kei idol group, has set an October date for the debut of his next project: OJS48.

News of OJS48, whose letters stand for “OJi-San,” hit the Japanese media Tuesday. A bit of a misnomer, the group is formed by only 16 members but includes retired cops and detectives from across the country who call various departments of the police force their alma mater, from a force kendo instructor to a cop who worked the organized crime beat. Their debut single, “Shinkokyu” features main vocals by 63-year-old ex-Osaka detective Mitsuo Nakatani, who now works as a security guard in a shopping center and for the past year has been basking in the spotlight of an Akimoto-produced solo single. Interested parties can get a sneak peak of the signature OSJ48 tune on their Web site as well as catch a glimpse of the NPA “old boys” that have replaced days of shogi in the park with dreams of stardom. Those eager for a further listen can not only download the track early on iTunes, but also let everyone within an earshot know of their new “boom” with a “Shinkokyu” ringtone.

Unsurprising in a country full of endless entertainment tie-ups, the group is actually part of Akimoto’s new business venture of the same name as the single. The “Shinkokyu Club” is a community site started by the entrepreneur and pitched as a portal to help those in their Golden Years to make the most of their leisure time. “Why not stop now and then and take a deep breath?” the site proposes. After a glimpse up the frilly skirts of the AKB ladies, some Shinkokyu Club members might need to pause and take quite a few deep breaths.

It’s often joked that those gearing up to retire within the next ten or fifteen years are arguably the target audience for sultry teeny boppers AKB48, the similar NMB48, and actually-of-age SDN48. While a grey-haired troupe of senior discount card holders seems like a sudden and unusual jump, Akimoto could be hoping to spread his assets by mining a similar audience from a different angle. The producer’s first effort at a male idol group, OJS48 is obviously of a generation or two older than Japan’s other well-known artists within the Johnny’s empire. But despite the rising elderly population in the country, until now Japan has yet to give birth to much new entertainment oriented towards the demographic.

Will old folk shell out part of their pension to listen to retired police officers croon about the bitter-sweetness of life? Or will the sounds of these weathered veterans catch on amongst a younger crowd, in a sort of pop-enka revival that would ironically make OJS48 irresistible to the ABK48 crowd? Tie-ups, crossovers, graduation ceremonies, World Cup theme songs, products at 7-11–it will be interesting to see of OJS48 will be able to rock the idol formula used by the younger generation and put more money into Akimoto’s pockets.

Shafuu 101–Choosing a company for the new generation

Learning Japanese business culture is always a hot topic for those looking to deal on this side of the Pacific, but little do many know that Japanese young adults are almost just as confused by the the traditions and hype surrounding the complex world of Japanese shafuu.

In Japan, corporate culture amongst established companies is not something that is organically developed or that reads from the pages of a self help book. Traditionally there have been two kinds of companies: 体育会系 (taiikukai-kei, sports-oriented) and 文化系 (bunka-kei, liberal arts-ish). From the definition it’s likely easy to grasp the general concept, and while bunka kei companies are more desirable for those calm, artsy types who enjoy having a life outside or work, taiikukai-kei are renowned for providing the motivated with high-energy, aggressive environments in which they can shoot for the stars–but often not, because unlike Western companies, until recently most traditional taiikukai-kei companies feature lifetime employment systems, 年功序列 (nenko joretsu, seniority by length of service) and all those other ultra-Japanese business practices that have gradually become archaic. Taiikukai-keihere) companies are also renowned for they way they treat employees, going beyond the typical forced overtime and into the realms of abusive language and behavior to subordinates and even reports of regulated haircuts for new hires. (Read more about company culture and how it’s begun to affect young people

For May, perhaps to give April’s new hires a belated heads up that they may have made a bad decision, magazine Zaiten has a special feature on “Real Job Hunting,” featuring a fantastic chart, translated below:

Continue reading Shafuu 101–Choosing a company for the new generation

Fuzoku Friday: Desire proves profitable option in real estate sector

Just another night on Love Hotel Hill in Shibuya. The businesses are now making for an attractive investment option as a "recession-proof" revenue stream.
Just another night on Love Hotel Hill in Shibuya. The businesses are now making for an attractive investment option as a "recession-proof" revenue stream.

Weekly magazine Shukan Post reported in their April 30 issue on an interesting trend in the currently slow world of real estate investment, digging into the popularity of so-called “Loveho Funds.”

About as Japanese as a REIT can get, the funds work by grouping the capital of interested parties together and purchasing love hotels, instead of more typical investment property such as condominiums. Explains financial planner Masayuki Kidaira, “While condos and office space have their earnings determined by rent prices, love hotels are a business where earnings can be two or three times as much.”

One well-known fund is Initia Star Securities‘ “NEO HOPE” series of seven “leisure hotel” funds that began in 2008. Investments cost as little as 100,000 or 500,000 yen, and properties are purchased, renovated and run with investor money over the course of three years, distributing dividends twice per year. Yearly dividend yield ranges from 5 to 8%, much higher than a typical investment’s 2-3%.

But why do the hotels make such a good investment? First of all, they’re profitable: Love hotels employ a system encouraging use for only two or three hours at a time making for a high customer turnover. The business is also widely known as being one of a few lucky “recession-proof” industries. They’re also cheap to run, with the ability to employ a small number of foreign laborers because customers rarely interact with the employees.

Moneyzine also points out that, because love hotels operate under unusual regulations and commercial practices, the hurdle is high for those trying to enter with no experience. On top of that, very few large corporations are willing to invest a large amount of money in producing a chain of hotels because of the possible negative effect it would have on the company’s reputation. Thus, the relatively small number of hotel operators live without fear of new competition stealing their business.

Despite corporate hesitation, in recent times love hotels have lost much of their seedier image. In areas like Tokyo, “fashion” or “boutique” hotels offer stylish and exotic accommodations, brand-name amenities, and now give patrons a key so they may go in and out–all under the traditional “rest” and “stay” payment systems.

According to a 2006 Forbes article, however, love hotels and securities have met before. This time around, however, with their improved image and the sagging real estate market they may prove to be more attractive than before.

Modern love hotels are shedding their image of sleaze and going upmarket, like this Bali An "boutique hotel" in Chiba. The businesses are now making for an attractive investment option.
Modern love hotels are shedding their image of sleaze and going upmarket, like this Bali An "boutique hotel" in Chiba.

Fuzoku Friday: Girls with unhappy parents more likely to do compensated dating: Aichi police survey

The Asahi Shinbun posted an article about a survey done by the Aichi Prefectural Police regarding enjo kosai, or the practice of school girls exchanging companionship and sexual favors for money and gifts. According to the article, the survey focused on 100 girls between the ages of 13-19 who had been caught participating in deai-kei online dating sites.

Nearly 70%, or 67 girls, said that they would never want to create a family environment like their parents have compared to 18% of 100 girls in the same age range who were randomly surveyed. 46% said they were ignored by their parents (compared to nine in the random survey) and 36 girls said they were abused by their parents (compared to seven in the random survey).

The report went on to say that 77 out of 100 girls surveyed randomly said they were normally home by 9pm, while only 34 of those involved in enjo kosai answered similarly. Thirty-eight of those who had been caught said they often stay out past 11pm.

While the survey results aren’t anything startling or new–anyone working in child welfare or juvenile delinquency could tell you that an unhappy home environment and little parental involvement often results in youth committing crimes–this was still the first time a survey has been done focusing on girls who have been caught in enjo kosai.

“Many teenagers doing enko (enjo kosai) feel alone,” says Polaris Project representative Shihoko Fujiwara. “Kids may turn to prostitution because of a lack of social protection, in the cases of poverty or abuse, but a lot of them may lack self esteem because they’re never really treated as valuable by their parents.”

As an interesting aside, throughout both the survey and the article, girls who had been caught doing compensated dating are referred to as higai shonen (被害少年 – damaged youth). Some girls are technically in violation of deai-kei site laws, but they’re also victims of child welfare laws being broken.

Says Fujiwara, “For a lot of kids enko is a way to make money, but at the same time it’s self-destructive behavior.”

Some girls get wrapped up in en-deri–an abbreviation of enjo kosai delivery health–a service that provides call girls who are underage. According to the Sankei Shinbun, en-deri is a booming business that is easy to set up because entrepreneurs need only a single computer to get started, and employees, known as a “cast,” are easy to come by.

Says the article, in the case of one en-deri business, the girls were taking home 50% of their earnings. One 16-year-old girl reportedly made over ¥350,000 in 15 days–a feat for any high school student. Hearing a story like that, many likely wonder about the motivation of girls who turn to prostitution.

In the end, Fujiwara says there is no one factor to blame but that society as a whole needs to try harder to support children and young adults. “Right now society pressures just parents and schools to raise kids,” she points out. “But what if parents are abusive? There needs to be more social resources around kids within the community.”

The darkest month of the year

A blue light installed on the end of a JR train platform as a suicide deterrent. JR theorizes that the lights may help prevent people from jumping because of the color blue's "calming effect."
A blue light installed on the end of a JR train platform as a suicide deterrent. JR theorizes that the lights may help prevent people from jumping because of the color blue's "calming effect."

Weekly magazine Shukan Post’s most recent issue contains an interesting article about a topic that likely falls close to home for many dwellers of the Japanese concrete jungle. Train jumpers, a form of suicide Japan is arguably infamous for, are so common in the Tokyo area that we hardly blink an eye when we see a train delay due to the ominous “人身事故” (jinshinjiko–human accident).

In fact, in a recent news story covering an accident (its unclear whether it was a suicide or not) on the Tokyo Monorail Line on Tuesday, alternative news site Sponichi Annex actually quotes one bystander as saying, “駅に来て事故を知った。これから帰るのに、振り替え輸送の私鉄の駅まで歩かなければならない” (“I found out about the accident when I got to the station. I just want to go home, now I’ve got to walk all the way to a station on a different line”).

According to the Shukan Post, on average March has the highest rates of suicides of any month out of the year with an average of 100 people taking their own lives every day. The reason is unclear, they say, but may have something to do with the fiscal year, which ends on March 31. In a 2008 survey of population trends, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare lists suicide as the top killer of people aged 20-39. As the Post puts it, Japan is a country where “those in the prime of life choose death.”

Continue reading The darkest month of the year